Sunday, July 7: On our way to Ronda this morning, we stop at the historic Teba Castle, scene of a famous battle with the Moors.
Estrella Castle, locally known as Castillo de La Estrella or Castillo de Teba, lies on a hill next to the village of Teba in the province of Málaga.
On the way to the castle and from the hilltop fortress, we can see wind farms all around. I don’t think I’ve ever been to any country that takes advantage of the wind like Spain does.
Estrella Castle was probably built somewhere in the 10th century by the Moors. During the 12th and 13th century, under Almohad rule, the castle was strengthened and enlarged.
In 1330 Estrella Castle was besieged by the Christian troops of Alfonso XI, King of Castile. When Muhammed IV, Sultan of Granada, reacted by sending an army led by a Berber general, Uthman bin Abi-l-Ulá, to relieve the defenders, the Battle of Teba ensued in the valley below the castle. (Estrella Castle)
Our guide Barry, who is Scottish, dramatically tells us the story of how the Scots played a part in this battle. Though the battle had no effect on Scottish affairs, it contributed in a small way to the demise of Muslim rule in Spain.
The events which led to that fateful day in August 1330 started on the death-bed of the King of Scotland, Robert the Bruce, in 1329.
Bruce had always dreamed of leading a crusade to the Holy Land. As he lay dying from leprosy, he instructed his beloved friend and second in command Sir James Douglas to remove his heart after death, place it in a casket, and take them on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and bury his heart in the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem.
Although Sir James Douglas was known in Scotland as Sir James the Good, in England he was referred to as The Black Douglas.
The Black Douglas took Bruce’s heart, embalmed it, then put it in a casket which he wore round his neck, and set off on the crusade to the Holy Land with a party of 25, made up of knights and noblemen. In the spring of 1330, they made for Flanders and during their 12 day stay, they attracted more followers from all over Europe. Their plan was to sail to northwest Spain to visit Santiago de C0mpostela, which had been ordained as a holy town by Pope Alexander III following the discovery of the remains of the Apostle James.
A pilgrimage to Santiago captured the imagination of Christian Europe as it was the 3rd holiest site in Christendom. At the height of its popularity in the 11th and 12th century, it attracted over half a million pilgrims each year.
However, before they could set off for Santiago, word reached them that the King of Castile, Alphonso Xl , in his efforts to drive the Moors out of Granada, had laid siege to the Castillo de las Estrella (Castle of the Stars) at Teba which was occupied by the Saracen Army of Mohammed lV, Sultan of Granada. The Black Douglas sent word that they were prepared to join forces with Alphonso and sailed immediately to help, making landfall at Seville and marching the short distance to Teba.
Alphonso, having heard tales of Douglas’s bravery and leadership skills, gave him the right flank of the Castilian Army.
On the morning of the August 25th the Saracen army had assembled below the Castillo de las Estrella. The Castilian trumpets sounded and Douglas, thinking it was a general advance, led his troops forward. The Scottish contingent charged the Saracens and, although not fully supported by the rest of the army, managed to hold them. Finally the Moors, unable to withstand the furious onslaught, fled. Douglas, as was his custom, followed them until, finding himself deserted, he turned his horse intending to join the main body. Just then he observed Sir William St Clair surrounded by a body of Moors who had suddenly rallied. With the few knights who attended him Douglas turned hastily to attempt a rescue.
He soon found himself surrounded and, making one last charge shouting the words “A Bruce, A Bruce,” took the casket containing the heart from around his neck and hurled it into the enemies’ path shouting “Now go in front, as you desired and I’ll follow you or die.” Douglas and a party of his followers were all slain, but they had diverted enough of the enemy forces away from the main thrust to enable the Castilian army to overrun the remainder and capture the Castle.
It has been speculated that the Moors’ lack of knowledge of European heraldry had a part to play in the death of Douglas. Noblemen on both sides were valued as hostages, but because Douglas did not display the red cross on his tabard that distinguished English knights, but instead had the 3 stars of the Douglas family on his harness and shield, the Moors did not recognize his status or they would probably have spared his life.
Douglas’s body was recovered from the battlefield along with the casket.
The only 2 remaining knights from the Scottish contingent decided that as Douglas’s body would not survive the long sea journey home in the heat of the summer, they would revert to the normal practice at that time which was to boil the body in a cauldron of vinegar until the flesh fell from the bones. The flesh was buried in Teba at an unknown and unmarked spot and his bones returned to Scotland, where they were buried in St Bride’s Kirk in Douglas South Lanarkshire, and the casket was returned to the new king of Scotland, David II, son of Robert the Bruce, who wished it buried in Melrose Abbey.
Thus, the Bruce’s last wish of having his heart buried in Jerusalem was never granted.
Although Teba was a victory for Alphonso, it would take another 60 years to finally drive the Moors from this area, but The Battle of Teba was the decisive action when the Saracen leader realized he could no longer defend his territory, and would have to rely on help from Morocco in future battles to retain Granada. Christian rule was not fully established in Spain until 1492.
Each year on the 25th of August the village organizes what they refer to as El Douglas Dia, when a pipe band from Scotland and Scots from all over the world, join together with the villagers and invited dignitaries to commemorate the Battle of Teba.
Sir James Douglas was only 44 years old when he was cut down, yet in the 26 years he lived in Scotland he had gained a reputation as a fighter for Scottish Independence only bettered by Wallace and Bruce. Somehow the history books overlooked the part he played in Scottish history, but thanks to the villagers of Teba this monument to his final courageous stand is lasting memorial to one of Scotland’s bravest Knights (Spain-info: BRAVEHEART The Battle of Teba).
After we leave Teba Castle, we head on to Ronda. We drive through rolling hills of neat patchwork farmland, planted with olive trees, grapevines and sunflowers.