Chapel inside Tower of Homage
The duke’s father was Don Enrique Pérez de Guzmán y Castilla, second Count of Niebla and grandson - his mother was the bastard daughter of the king - of Henry II of Castille. Being a descendant of the king this particular Guzmán had competence, under the peculiar medieval rules of warfare and engagement, to conquer cities. And he put this right to effect when chance came his way.
Tired of constant raids on his border lands between Tarifa and Cádiz by Muslims from Gibraltar, Guzmán decided to put a stop to the incursions. And so in 1436, one hundred and twenty seven years after Alonso Pérez de Guzmán - “El Bueno” - had first taken Gibraltar from the Muslims, his great grandson sought to emulate the achievement. In the interim Gibraltar had been retaken by the Muslims in 1333 and was now in the hands of the sultans of Granada. Guzmán’s intelligence was either out-of-date or simply wrong. He seemed unaware that the Muslims had, since the second capture, built a defensive wall around Gibraltar. His attempted amphibious landing was a disaster. Guzmán and forty knights drowned on the narrow beach between the walls and the sea as the tide rose. The Muslim’s beheaded the count and placed the decapitated body in a basket which they hung over the city walls. There it remained for twenty six years as lesson and reminder to others of the fate that awaited those attempting a similar folly.
Taking Gibraltar twenty six years later - in 1462 - was a simpler affair. Treachery made it possible without having to spill a drop of blood but it was not devoid of internal bickering and dispute over who was the rightful owner. It is a lesson of life that, in fighting the palpable enemy without, noble souls often succumb to the cryptic enemy within. The capture of Gibraltar in 1462 happened because a Gibraltar Muslim – known to the Spaniards as Alí El Curro – defected and converted to Christianity, in the process changing his name to Diego del Curro. He informed the Mayor of Tarifa – Alonso de Arcos - that Gibraltar could be taken easily and provided him with intelligence of such detail that convinced Alonso to mobilise and march on the Rock. This was not part of a concerted plan by the internally divided Kingdom of Spain; it was instead, like so many other gains wrongly attributed to a religious and righteous Reconquest, a scrap for booty and glory among warlords hiding under a veil of hereditary nobility. It was thus that flags, lances and cavalry gathered round the walls of Gibraltar – to the surprise of a terrified and unprepared garrison - in the August heat of 1462. Nobody could have predicted the unbelievable story, involving bureaucracy, deceit, disloyalty and betrayal, that would eventually allow Juan Alonso Pérez de Guzmán y Orozco to give rest to his father’s remains inside the Tower of Homage...
This article was first published in the Gibraltar Chronicle