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Posted on May 25, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

The Battle of Aljubarotta – Part Two – Combat!

By Luis Reis

It was the Portuguese who attempted to choose the terrain where they would lure the invading army. The area was appropriate for a defensive strategy, as it had valleys and creeks as natural obstacles, and ultimately the Portuguese chose to camp right in the middle of two creeks and with another creek on their front. This position seemed so strong that the Castilian King determined not to battle D. João I on these terms. The Portuguese knew the only way to save the cause was to battle the invading army while it was still on the move, if it besieged Lisbon then everything would be lost for good. With this in mind, the Constable ordered the Portuguese army to turn around and to face the Castilian army on an “open” field. The creek that had been in front of the Portuguese would now make a great protection for the rear of their army. D. Nuno Álvares Pereira also knew how important it was to maintain morale amongst the troops; he tried by all means available to him to keep his men from learning just how big the Castilian force was. He spent the greater part of the day walking in the middle of the men cheering them up and talking about how important this victory would be. The effects of this were so great that when the Castilian army maneuvered around their first chosen position, his men exclaimed "Damn, they’re going away and aren’t fighting us.”


Still under discussion by Portuguese historians is the issue of man-made obstacles in the battlefield – were there any such structures? In the 1950’s an archaeological team discovered an impressive defensive system in front of the Portuguese position. However later in the 20th century another archaeologist proved that it would take 1,600 men working over two hours non-stop to build a defensive structure of that kind and he concluded that either these man-made constructions were already there (before the Portuguese changed their initial position) or they were made after the battle as a security for an eventual return of Castilian forces. João Gouveia Monteiro, by far the biggest scholar on Aljubarrota, as part of his PhD thesis, went to the site with a couple of workers and tried to reproduce the digging experience. The two men took around 27 minutes to dig a hole as big as the biggest one found in the 50’s survey. He also noted they found a lot of rock in the process. With this in mind and with the fact that the records do mention defensive man-made obstacles in the Castilian Chronicles we tend now to agree that they were there. The controversy is however also “fuelled up” due to the lack of any reference to them in the well-known Chronicle of Fernão Lopes, but let’s not “jump the gun” on the tail of the battle.

D. João I, the Portuguese King
In 1979, Frederico Alcídes Oliveira made a brave attempt to pin down events as accurately as possible with an impressive timeframe. Around 2:45 p.m. the Portuguese army was settled on their second and final position. By 4:30 p.m. the Castilians sent a diplomatic committee, the real intent of which was to spy on the Portuguese position. The Castile King then held counsel with his men for about 45 minutes, during which some of his most experienced men counseled him not to battle the Portuguese, referring to the strong Portuguese position and that it would be impossible to gather the entire army before night-time. On the other side there were the less experienced noblemen who were eager to prove their value. In this group there were the Portuguese nobles that decided to side with the Castile King. There is a document written by the Castile King were he mentions he ordered his side not to fight. However Juan Alfonso Telo, the brother of D. Leonor Teles (who was still claiming her right to the Portuguese crown), decided to attack. So, around 6:45 p.m. the Castile troops were finally ready to battle the Portuguese. This may seem late in the day, but one should remember that in August, the sunset would occur after 8:00 p.m.

Nuno Álvares Pereira statue at Batalha
The Portuguese had waited long enough for this confrontation and they were positioned in a square shape formation. The frontline was composed of three lines totalling 600 lances (cavalry on foot) plus 50 peons who were the personal guard of the Constable who commanded this vanguard. The vanguard was closed on both sides by wings in a “V” shape formation with the point of the “V” facing the enemy forces. This permitted the crossbowmen and the archers to do a cross fire on the Castile army as they charged the Portuguese front line, whose front wasn’t longer than 440 yards.

The right wing on the west side was composed of 200 lances (100 weren’t Portuguese), 100 English longbow men, 100 crossbowmen, and 750 peons. The left wing, famously known as the “Boyfriends Wing” (a reference to their young age, some authors refer to them as the "Lovers Wing") on the east side was formed by 200 lances, 200 crossbowmen, and 650 peons.

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  1. Nice article, but did you know that some discoveries made on the late 20 century on the batle site, implied that the stones you refer where sling amunition used by the so called peasants and those inflicted great damage on the Spanish invanding army ? This was also proved by studies made to the corpses (remains) also found in the location.
    By the way, again on the 17century, Portugal fough back it’s Independence from Spain and again defeated several Spanish Invasions almost until the 18century and the odds were similar to those from the late 14century.
    Best regards,
    Abel Borja Araújo

    • Hi, I read your comment and I am interested in what you wrote about slingers and damage on bones. Do you have some articles on that? I write diploma thesis on sling so it woudl be useful