Unwisely, King Ferdinand lays siege to Loja—death of the youthful Don Roderigo Tellez Giron, Grand Master of Calatrava

August 11, 2011

City of Loja. Photo by kikecalpe

It was about the end of June that King Ferdinand departed from Cordoba, to sit down before the walls of Loja. So confident was he of success, that he left a great part of the army at Ecija, and advanced with but five thousand cavalry and eight thousand infantry. The Marques of Cadiz, a warrior as wise as he was valiant, remonstrated against employing so small a force, and, indeed, was opposed to the measure altogether, as being undertaken precipitately, and without sufficient preparation. King Ferdinand, however, was influenced by the counsel of Don Diego de Merlo, and was eager to strike a brilliant and decided blow. A vainglorious confidence prevailed, about this time, among the Spanish cavaliers; they overrated their own prowess, or rather, they undervalued and despised their enemy. Many of them believed that the Moors would scarcely remain in their city when they saw the Christian troops advancing to assail it. The Spanish chivalry, therefore, marched gallantly and fearlessly, and almost carelessly, over the border, scantily supplied with the things needful for a besieging army, in the heart of an enemy’s country. In the same negligent and confident spirit, they took up their station before Loja.

The country around was broken and hilly, so that it was extremely difficult to form a combined camp. The river Xenil, which runs by the town, was compressed between high banks, and so deep as to be fordable with extreme difficulty, and the Moors had possession of the bridge….

Plaque of Alonso de Aguilar (brother of the Great Captain) in the Pavillion of San Martín de la Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, Spain

King Ferdinand felt, too late, the insecurity of his position, and endeavored to provide a temporary remedy. There was a height near the city, called by the Moors Santo Albohacen, which was in front of the bridge. He ordered several of his most valiant cavaliers to take possession of this height, and to hold it as a check upon the enemy and a protection to the camp. The cavaliers chosen for this distinguished and perilous post were the Marques of Cadiz, the Marques of Villena, Don Roderigo Tellez Giron, Master of Calatrava, his brother the Count of Ureña, and Don Alonzo de Aguilar. These valiant warriors and tried companions-in-arms led their troops with alacrity to the height, which soon glittered with the array of arms, and was graced by several of the most redoubtable pennons of warlike Spain.

Statue of Ferdinand II of Aragon, the Catholic (1452–1516), at the Sabatini Gardens in Madrid, Spain. Sculpture by Juan de León. Photo by Luis Garcia

Loja was commanded at this time by an old Moorish alcayde, whose daughter was the favorite wife of Boabdil. The name of this Moor was Ibrahim Ali Atar, but he was generally known among the Spaniards as Alatar. He had grown gray in border warfare, and was an implacable enemy of the Christians, and his name had long been the terror of the frontier. Lord of Zagra, and in the receipt of rich revenues, he expended them all in paying scouts and spies, and maintaining a small but chosen force with which to foray into the Christian territories; and so straightened was he at times by these warlike expenses, that when his daughter married Boabdil, her bridal dress and jewels had to be borrowed. He was now in the ninetieth year of his age, yet indomitable in spirit, fiery in his passions, sinewy and powerful in frame, deeply versed in warlike stratagem, and accounted the best lance in all Mauritania. He had three thousand horsemen under his command, veteran troops, with whom he had often scoured the borders; and he daily expected the old Moorish king with reinforcements.

Old Ali Atar had watched from his fortress every movement of the Christian army, and had exulted in all the errors of its commander; when he beheld the flower of the Spanish chivalry glittering about the height of Albohacen, his eyes flashed with exultation. “By the aid of Allah,” said he, “I will give those pranking cavaliers a rouse.”

Ali Atar, privately and by night, sent forth a large body of his chosen troops, to lie in ambush near one of the skirts of Albohacen. On the fourth day of the siege he sallied across the bridge, and made a feint attack upon the height. The cavaliers rushed impetuously forth to meet him, leaving their encampment almost unprotected. Ali Atar wheeled and fled, and was hotly pursued. When the Christian cavaliers had been drawn a considerable distance from their encampment, they heard a vast shout behind them, and, looking round, beheld their encampment assailed by the Moorish force which had been placed in ambush, and which had ascended a different side of the hill. The cavaliers desisted from the pursuit, and hastened to prevent the plunder of their tents. Ali Atar, in his turn, wheeled and pursued them; and they were attacked in front and rear on the summit of the hill. The contest lasted for an hour; the height of Albohacen was red with blood; many brave cavaliers fell, expiring among heaps of the enemy.

Roderigo Tellez Giron

The fierce Ali fought with the fury of a demon, until the arrival of more Christian forces compelled him to retreat into the city. The severest loss to the Christians in this skirmish was that of Roderigo Tellez Giron, Grand Master of Calatrava, whose burnished armor, emblazoned with the red cross of his order, made him a mark for the missiles of the enemy. As he was raising his arm to make a blow, an arrow pierced him just beneath the shoulder, at the open part of the corselet. The lance and bridle fell from his hands, he faltered in his saddle, and would have fallen to the ground, but was caught by Pedro Gasca, a cavalier of Avila, who conveyed him to his tent, where he died. The King and Queen, and the whole kingdom, mourned his death, for he was in the freshness of his youth, being but twenty-four years of age, and had proved himself a gallant and high-minded cavalier. A melancholy group collected about his corpse, on the bloody height of Albohacen; the knights of Calatrava mourned him as a commander; the cavaliers who were encamped on the height lamented him as their companion-in-arms in a service of peril; while the Count de Ureña grieved over him with the tender affection of a brother.


Washington Irving, Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1893), pp. 79-84.


Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 99



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