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Siege of Brezonde

The Siege of Brezonde (1244)

Conquest of Brunant
First Siege of Brezonde - Battle of Mazir - Battle of the Red River - Battle of Niesburg - Battle of Amphisium - Second Siege of Brezonde - Battle of Jabaladar

The Conquest of Brunant is the name given to several expedition underaken between 1217 and 1244 by Catalan and Aragonese to remove the Arabs from Brunant. These early expeditions, including the successful conquest in 1244 are considered to form a part of the Spanish Reconquista, even though the islands had a very small Christian population.

Barbona's expeditionEdit

In 1217, Catalan nobleman Pellet de Barbona organized an expedition of some 400 soldiers and knights to invade Brunant (at the time the Taifa of Burzand). His soldiers landed near Bur Taif (now Cape Cross Parish). Pellet de Barbona was quickly attacked by the local forces in Bur Taif. While the Arabs were the smaller force, they were able to mount a fast attack while the invaders were still on the beach unloading their horses and equipment. What resulted was a catastrophic mess, with some 150 men dying on the beach. Pellet de Barbona died on that beach, some 50 prisoners were captured and the 200 men still on the ships returned to Spain.

Expedition of 1231Edit

The Conquest of Mallorca in 1228-29 presented an opportunity for expansion of Aragonese lands into Brunant. This was seen as a likely next move, for very similar reasons. Arab Brunanter merchants were serious competitors to the ones in Catalonia and Provence, and they often employed corsairs and other pirates to assert their dominance in the seas. Furthermore, the pious King of Aragon, Jaime, was also motivated by religious reasons, namely to liberate what few Christians remained in the islands.

Jaime was then persuaded to launch an invasion and free the islands from the Muslims, which he agreed to do in 1231. The king, occupied by other affairs sent 150 knights along with 1000 foot soldiers, together with the help of nobleman Guillermo Aycard and some 300 more men. They landed just south of Brezonde in May 1231 and prepared to lay siege to Brezonde. The use of siege weapons made the situation precarious for the defenders inside the castle.

Before the siege was fully set, the defenders were able to send out a message to the countryside and on to Cordoba asking for support in Brezonde. A force of some 450 Arabs was assembled in Jabaladar, which marched on to Brezonde and were able to engage the defenders and temporarily relieved the siege, but this releif force was defeated in three days. Two months of fighting had left the defenders and citizens in Brezonde weakened but still held on. In mid-July, a relief force of 1000 soldiers and 70 knights from Cordoba arrived to assist the Arabs still fighting. Word of this reached Aycard, who was prepared to stand and fight. But given the weariness of his troops and the likelyhood of a defeat, he decided to instead lift the siege and return to Aragon. In total, Aycard suffered some 300 casualties, and there was an estimated 900-1100 Arab casualties, including civilians. 

Expedition of 1244Edit

PreparationsEdit

Jaume el Conqueridor

Jaime meeting with his commanders

Red River battlefield

Site of the Battle of Red River

Brezonde walls

Brezonde's 13th century walls

After engaging in the capture of Menorca in 1232 and Ibiza in 1235, King Jaime felt confident he could soon launch another invasion of Brunant. But, military activity in mainland Spain delayed this, as he was focused on capturing Valencia and warding off the moors from the region.

Finally by 1244 he is able to launch and invasion and begins to rally support for it. He acquires the assistance of noblemen Guillermo II de Cervelló, Pedro Cornel, Galceran de Pinós el Vell, Antonio Miguel de Larria and the Bishop of Pamplona, Pedro Ximénez de Gazólaz. Altogether these man are able to raise a formidable force of around 13,000 soldiers and knights to be used for the invasion. 

Battle of MazirEdit

At the time this was the largest army ever to set foot in Brunant. Sailing from Tarragona, the fleet of ships landed near Mazir (Nieuw Helmond) on July 16th, where the first battle of the conquest begun. The Battle of Mazir saw 600 defenders taking on a force of over 10,000 Christians. News of the fleet and an initial landing did reach the leadership in Brezonde, but scouts highly underestimated the invaders' size and strength.

Within the day Mazir falls to King Jaime's troops. His superiority in numbers overwhelms the defenders who begin surrender as the women and children flee the town. Much of Mazir is set on fire and destroyed and would be abandoned.

Battle of the Red RiverEdit

After this massive victory Jaime and the Duke of Cervelló were confident they could march on to Brezonde and force the town to surrender via intimidation. They were unaware they would face a long road to victory.

After reorganizing at Mazir, the troops headed north towards Brezonde on the 18th. Just before the Red River, the army came into contact with an arab relief force of 1000 sent to reinforce Mazir (not knowing it had already fallen). At the Martiges Rivernce. That night, the christian army retreated to make camp and the following morning continued the fight. Reports told that the muslims did indeed "fight as brave as any Christian man-at-arms", though by the end of the day most of the soldiers were killed and some 40 were captured. The invaders suffered around 1700 casualties.

At the river the large force was fored to a halt, unable to cross it. Troops were camped for several days as scouts were sent to find an alternate route. Word reached Jaime and the other nobles that the only near route was up a mountain pass between two rivers. Finally on the 24th the army was on the move again and were forced to camp high in the Central Ranges, passing through the 1500-meter Cornel Pass, between the Rood and Martiges Rivers, not far from the Raspenberg. Some 50-100 men died on the perilous crossing.

Battle of NiesburgEdit

Having crossed to the other side, it was a clear path to their goal and no opponents in their path. At Niesburg it was apparent they would have to engage the garrison on the castle or risk the possibility of these troops being used against them later on. On 29th July, the local commander at Niesburg sends his army of 1200 out of the city to meet the Christians. The engagement begins late in the day, a stalemate with little gains or losses.

The next day relentless charges by knights succeed in breaking up the Arabs' tight formation. Guillermo de Cervelló then sends 1000 footmen to give chase, and the Arab commander al-Zayin sees an opportunity and creates a makeshift trap, encircling these soldiers and killing or wounding over 900. Forced to camp for the night, Jaime though out aplan to use mounted knights to his advantage. The next morning, 4000 footmen engaged the remaining 1000 Arabs, and in the melee some 80 knights were sent to the flanks to engage the Arabs on their sides. They were ultimately encircled and were forced to surrender after only 200 men survived. The Christians only lost 200 men this day.

Siege of BrezondeEdit

Now the path to Brezonde was finally clear. On 1 August the Aragonese marched north though were surprisingly held up by some 300 Arabs near Amphisium ruins. The resulting skirmish was the shortest of the war, and in only 20 minutes these Arabs were surrounded and killed.

That day the now 10,000-strong attacking force camped outside Brezonde. The next morning they began to erect siege fortifications around the town as others were sent to find wood for siege weapons.

Digging in, the Aragonese soldiers were often harassed by archers and occasional raids in the night by Arab defenders. Eventually the attackers had fully enclosed the city and left the defenders unable to go out for any provisions. Messages had been sent long before calling for aid, but no such aid had come and the defenders, numbering just 3000, did not expect any at that point.

After a week of the siege the Aragonese had put catapults to use and were hurling rocks and dead animals. With some 20,000 inhabitants in the town, many were killed and disease spread among the people, with some 2,000 alone dying from that.

After about a month the defenders in the town were in miserable situation but still holding out. Meanwhile the Aragonese had sent some men to tunnel under a section of wall and were able to bring down a portion of the wall. Soon enough the Aragonese poured in and attacked the defenders in force, killing every Arab on site, as well as some civilians. On 9 September the castle was captured and resistance in the town was crushed. There was much looting, raping and damage to the town, and even the few Christians in the town were robbed.

Battle of JabaladarEdit

Some 2000 soldiers were sent north to Jabaladar, where a small group of Arab soldiers were forming to provide resistance.

AftermathEdit

Having taken Brezonde and Niesburg, and routed the last organized Arab defense at Jabaladar, the Aragonese were in definite control. A few groups of several hundred Arabs fled south to the Central Ranges and resisted the occupation, but within a year had surrendered, died or left Brunant. The winter of 1244-45 was especially brutal, and saw snow fall for the first time in recorded history.

Meanwhile, that spring the first ships of settlers from Spain came over, including many Catalans that would populate the islands, many of whom are early ancestors to many modern-day Brunanters.

Guillermo II de Cervelló (Marques de Pabella), Pedro Cornel (Conde de Cornel), Antonio Miguel de Larria (Conde de Barzona), and Galceran de Pinós (Marques de Ciudad Barzona) were all given titles and land in Brunant.