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The old Kingdom of Navarre, a modern province of Spain

The Kingdom of Navarre, a former independent kingdom of Spain was also known as the Kingdom of Pamplona, which today is its capital city. The kingdom has now become a modern province of Spain located southwest of the Pyrenees and is bordered by France, the Basque Country and Aragón. The strategic location of the Navarre made it an object of contention among surrounding kingdoms. Navarra itself was once a country on its own with its own monarchy, until it was annexed to Spain in 1512. Here is a brief history of the old Kingdom of Navarre.

The Basque Origins

The Kingdom of Navarre was historically considered as Basque-based kingdom by virtue of its location. It occupied lands on western Pyrenees, alongside the Atlantic Ocean spanning the border between modern France and Spain on the coast of the Bay of Biscay. This area is basically the location of the Basque people, an aboriginal ethnic group that lived in these lands and are bonded by their common use of Basque language and shared lineage to the ancient Vascones and Aquitanians. Note however that the Vascones where the indigenous tribal group near Spain while the Aquitanians while the indigenous tribal group near France. Hence the Basque country was an area that is not politically cohesive and is simultaneously jarred in terms of language and culture. While the French called the Basques Pays Basque and the Spanish called them Vasconia, the Basques people actually called themselves the euskaldunak, which means “one who speaks euskal (Basque)”.

The Roman Empire

The Kingdom of Navarre began in the level domains near the present city of Pamplona. This is located at the lower part of the Basque country which the Romans took full control in 74 BC. It was the Roman leader Pompeii who established the city of Pamplona in 75 BC, which would later transform to be the capital of Navarra. The area was among the first divisions of the Roman province of Hispania Citerior. Under Roman rule, this area underwent fast urbanization and progress in terms of infrastructure, commerce, and industry. The influence of the Romans is reflected also in in the evolution of Navarro-Aragonese language today in the urban areas. However, the Basque language remains broadly spoken in the rural areas.

Iñigo Arista and the Foundation of Kingdom of Pamplona

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city of Pamplona and its surrounding lands found themselves threatened by French and Visigoths in the North and Moors to the south. The invasion and continuing threats from both sides forced the people to unite to fight them. This led to the rise of the Basque chieftain Íñigo Arista. But because he cannot fight two frontiers at the same time, he befriended the Moors and decided to just fight the French. Through this, he successfully got rid of Frankish partisans and crushed the Carolingian army in 824. He then founded the kingdom of Pamplona with the support of the Caliphate of Córdoba and the Muladi Banu Qasi clan. He was consequently recognized as the first king of Pamplona.

Arista’s alliance with the Caliphate disintegrated following his subsequent military expansion and strong association with the Kingdom of Leon, a Christian kingdom in the northwest region of the Iberian Peninsula. This is why Arista was later depicted as a rebel against the Emirate of Córdoba.

The Kingdom of Pamplona and Sancho Garcia

Under Sancho Garcia, the king of Pamplona in 905, the kingdom of Pamplona reached the height of its power. Through his military dexterity and diplomatic skills, he was able to expand the kingdom which practically encompassed all the modern Spanish province of Navarre and the Basque portions of France. Thus, he was able to launch an ephemeral supremacy over all Christian Spain.

The empire built by Sancho Garcia was, however, short-term. His eldest son, Garcia Sánchez III who took over as king of Pamplona after the Sancho’s death, would soon find himself besieged for supremacy against his very own brothers. In particular, he had clashes with Ferdinand, who inherited from their father part of the County of Castile and the lands between the Pisuerga and the Cea.

The quarrel between the brothers stemmed from disputing claims in the lands on the Pamplonese-Castilian border. The disagreement violently ensued to a war between brothers. And in September 1054, Garcia was killed at the Battle of Atapuerca. Ferdinand took from Pamplona the lands in La Bureba and the Tirón River.

The fall of the Kingdom of Pamplona and the Occupation of Aragon

Because of his untimely death, Garcia was succeeded by his 14 year old son, Sancho IV, as king of Pamplona under the guardianship of his mother Estefanía and his uncles Ferdinand and Ramiro of Aragon, illegitimate son of Sancho Garcia. Sancho IV was eventually assassinated after he lost support of the nobles. The death of his mother and his alliance with Ahmad al-Muqtadir, ruler of Zaragoza, prompted his collapse. His inopportune murder meanwhile opened new prospects for Castilian and Aragonese monarchs to claim territories in the Kingdom. Alfonso VI of León and Castile took control of La Rioja, Biscay, Alava, Durango and parts of Gipuzkoa. Sancho Ramirez, successor of his father Ramiro of Aragon, took control of the rest of the territory including the kingdom of Pamplona in 1076. Sancho Ramirez became the king of Aragon and Pamplona. At this time, the land around Pamplona also became known as Navarre.

Under the reign of Sancho Ramirez, who become king of Aragon and king of Pamplona continued his territorial expansion which included the conquest of Arguedas, which was then under Moorish control. The enlargement of the kingdoms of Aragon was continued by his son and successor Pedro I who took the cities of Sádaba and Milagro.

Transition of the Kingdom of Pamplona to the Kingdom of Navarre

The reign of the Aragonese nobility over the Kingdom of Pamplona and its peripheral lands ended in 1134. Candidates to the crown became open as the last king of Aragon and Pamplona, Alfonso the Battler had no children and no direct heirs.

Garcia Ramirez took over kingship of Pamplona through election among nobles in order to restore their own ancient line. Garcia Ramirez was the son of Ramiro Sánchez of Monzón, who in turn was an illegitimate son of Garcia Sánchez III, original successor of the kingdom of Pamplona in 1034.

The election of Garcia Ramirez restored the independence of the Basque kingdom of Pamplona from its political alliance with the Kingdom of Aragon. Garcia Ramirez halted the union with Aragon by declaring his subordination and allegiance to Alfonso VII of Castile. The consequent independence of Pamplona from Aragon earned him the moniker “Garcia, the Restorer. Garcia Ramirez is sometimes also referred in history as Garcia IV, V, VI or VII.

As a gifted statesman, Ramirez also secured the territory of Navarre by approving and granting charters to adjacent towns in order to define its domain. Moreover, he was also the first to use the title “King of Navarre” in his proclamations. At this point, he was also called King of Pamplona. In line with this, he issued royal documents that clearly designated the political jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Navarre including labelling inhabitants in the region as Navarri or Navarrese citizens.

On 1150, Sancho VI Garcia, son of Garcia Ramirez and Margaret of L’Aigle succeeded the throne of his father. He was first to use the title “King of Navarre” as his exclusive designation, shelving the title “King of Pamplona” all together. By this time, Pamplona had been considered the capital city of the Kingdom of Navarre. The old Kingdom of Pamplona was superseded and became just part of the more wide-ranging kingdom of Navarre.

Also Known as Garcia “the Wise” to distinguish him from his father, Garcia, the “Restorer”, Sancho VI Garcia’s reign is marked by architectural progress of the Kingdom of Navarre. He also restored the kingdom’s boundaries through peaceful treaties with Castile and Aragón and foundation of several towns in the kingdom’s margins.

French Interim Rule

The Kingdom of Navarre continued a period of prosperity in the coming years however without the persistent outside threats of other monarchies. In 1234, after the death of Sancho VII el Fuertes, the Kingdom of Navarra had become once more vulnerable to invasion. Between 1234-1274, the House of Champagne took over the Kingdom of Navarre in a peaceful transition with the appropriation of Theobald IV, who was Count of Champagne from birth and was elected King of Navarra. He governed the kingdom until 1328 until the Capetians ruled both France and Navarra.

Among the most notable French rulers of the Kingdom of Navarre was Charles II “the Bad”. During his term, Navarre was placed in the world map for his propagation of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France specifically to the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. He also set expeditions to recover the kingdom’s territories in Spain that originally were under Sancho the Great. He transformed and broadened the Kingdom’s foreign policy to address the fast shifting foreign forces. While he successfully maintained the independence of Navarre, he squandered his entire French possessions to the English except Allién Puertos.

Navarre’s Annexation to Spain

After a time of relative peace, chaos once more ensued in the Kingdom of Navarre after the death of Carlos III in 1425. Juan II, the King of Aragon during that time, succeeded the throne by virtue of his marriage to Blanche, the heiress to Navarre. Juan II had disagreement with factions within his ranks including his son and heir, Charles, prince of Viana, who wanted a coalition with two major and equally intimidating states, France and Castile (Spain).

Finally in 1512, Ferdinand the Catholic, the king of Castile and Aragón, attacked and conquered the Spanish portion of Navarre and annexed it to the Crown of Castile. Under Castille, Navarre was recognized as an independent Kingdom with its own laws and institutions. In 1841 however, the kingdom was formally made into a province of Spain under the Act for the Modification of Fueros after negotiation between the Spanish government with and Provincial Council of Navarre.

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