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Expansion and decline

Navarrese domination

Arqueta de Leyre

Detail of the hispanic-arabic coffer placed in the Museum of Navarre. It dates back to 1004.

Sancho Garcés III el Mayor – the Elder (1004-1035) rules over the greater part of the Peninsula’s Christian domains: Pamplona, Nájera, Aragon, Sobrarbe, Ribagorza, Castile and Leon, at the same time as he lays claim to Gascony and the County of Barcelona. His reign leads to the social, political and economic expansion of the kingdom of Pamplona, with major territorial gains. This monarch organises the Way of Santiago, introduces the Romanesque and spreads the Cluniac culture throughout his kingdoms.

At the end of the 9th century, the kingdom of Pamplona is forced to bring its territorial expansion to a halt, held in check by the advance of its powerful neighbours, Castile and Aragon. Thus its southward expansion is halted at the same time as it lives under the constant threat of political annexation.

Hovering between independence and incorporation within the political sphere of the French, Castilian and Aragonese monarchs is the awkward status that prevails in Navarre during the Early Middle Ages.

Under the Aragonese Crown

From 1076 to 1134 it will remain part of the Aragonese crown, from which it will secede during the reign of Garcia Ramirez (1134-1150), thus restoring its political independence; in the ensuing reign of Sancho el Sabio – the Wise (1150 – 1194), the kingdom of Pamplona will become known as the Kingdom of Navarre, which is interpreted as a gesture of political affirmation and territorial sovereignty in the face of annexationist threats from other Peninsular kingdoms, and especially from Castile.

Nevertheless, the process involving the loss of territory continues, and in 1200, under the reign of Sancho el Fuerte – the Strong (1194 – 1234) the kingdom is deprived of the territories of Alava, Guipuzcoa and the Duranguesado, in Vizcaya, which are conquered by the Castilian monarch. Thereafter, Navarre, blocked to the west by the frontier with Castile, will be forced to focus its policy of territorial expansion largely towards the north, the French lands of Ultrapuertos, and to the east, the border tract with Aragon.

Under French influence

The death of Sancho VII el Fuerte in 1234 brings the Navarrese dynasty to an end and the kingdom falls under French influence, in search of an ally that will ensure its survival in the face of constant pressure from Castilians and Aragonese alike. The first to be installed on the throne is the House of Champagne (1234 – 1274), which is succeeded by the Capetian dynasty, which between 1274 and 1326 simultaneously occupies the thrones of France and Navarre.

The House of Evreux (1328-1425) initiates a time of intense relations in the political life of the Peninsula and Europe overall, especially during the reign of Charles II, obsessed by occupying the French throne; the reign of Charles III the Noble (1387 – 1425) strikes a balance between cultural and material prosperity; testifying to this is the splendour of the Navarrese Gothic, evident in artistic works such as the Royal Palace in Olite and this same monarch’s sepulchre in Pamplona Cathedral.

Conflict of succession and invasion

The death of Charles III gives rise to a serious conflict regarding his succession. This is no more than the first signs of a far-reaching institutional and social crisis that will lead to civil war. John II, who heads the camp of the Agramonteses, is married to Blanca, the heir to the Navarrese throne, and has been King of Navarre and of Aragon since 1458; opposed to him is his step-son, the legendary Charles, Prince of Viana, who heads the camp of the Beaumontes in their quest, which was never to be fulfilled, to occupy the throne of Navarre.

This state of internal weakness will last for half a century and will finally be exploited by Ferdinand the Catholic who, in support of the Beaumonteses, invades Navarre in 1512, thus making it part of the Crown of Castile. Soundly defeated, Don Juan and Doña Catalina de Albret, the last monarchs of Navarre, seek refuge on the other side of the Pyrenees, which they will never cross again, and will uphold the dynasty that, as of 1555, will give rise to the House of Bourbon, which will reign in France until the 1789 revolution, and in Spain from 1700 onwards.

Following its conquest by Castile, Navarre is governed by a Viceroy, who exercises the powers of a monarch in Pamplona. This situation will last for four centuries. Meanwhile, the kingdom’s institutions are maintained, especially the Cortes, which is convened throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries to legislate and approve the kingdom’s financial contributions to the ventures of the Spanish monarch. The Kingdom’s Council (Diputación) is founded in 1576 as a standing governing body in representation of the Cortés when the latter is not sitting: for five centuries this institution has been the exponent of Navarre’s own administration and since the 19th century it has persisted under the name of Diputación Provincial (Provincial Council), Diputación Foral de Navarre (Regional Council of Navarre), and since 1982, Gobierno de Navarre (Government of Navarre).

Government of Navarre

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