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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

The wings were formed by four lines. On the first line were the archers, and the foot soldiers (peons) occupied the 2nd and 3rd lines with the cavalry on foot on the 4th line.

About 100 yards on the back of the Vanguard and of the two Wings (this group is also known as the 1st Battle and was commanded by the Constable) was the Rearguard, who closed the Portuguese formation. The square formation was completed with two groups of Flank Guards on each side behind the wings. The Flank Guards and the Rearguard formed the 2nd Battle and were commanded by the future Portuguese King D. João I.

The 2nd Battle was formed with 700 lances (on foot), 300 crossbowmen (of this, 100 were part of the future King’s personal guard) and 1,050 peons. The Rearguard was formed by three lines, the first line had 250 peons, the second and third had 500 lances in total. The rest of the 2nd Battle, the Flank Guards, was evenly distributed with 100 lances, 100 crossbowmen, and 400 peons on each side.


The Flank Guard had a double mission; they had to prevent the enemy forces from breaking into the formation with from the flanks and also to repulse any forces that might manage to break through the vanguard.

The Portuguese side was completed with the reserves forces that stood about 150 yards on the back of the rearguard and was composed by 200 crossbowmen and 1,400 peons; this force was also in charge of protecting the horses’ stables and the food storage.

Considering everything mentioned before, it’s easy to understand that the Portuguese were planning to fight this battle with a defensive strategy; on the other hand the Castilians had nothing else in mind than a straightforward powerful attack.

The Castilians had the strength of numbers on their side as mentioned before, but they also had a “secret” weapon; the “Trons.” The trons were a rudimental form of canon. The Portuguese had never seen anything like it before and were shocked with the sound it made. However the trons didn’t make any difference in the outcome. The chronicles mention that three Portuguese died as a direct result of the new weapon but also say there were more Castilians injured as the trons blew up after being shot.

As the Portuguese vanguard started to march toward the Castilian army, they decided to break their long lances to be more effective against the enemy who were on foot. This act alone generated much unrest in the Castilians’ position and the formation, without proper leadership, became chaotic.

The Battle of Aljubarrota
After this short opening, the Castilians began to charge the Portuguese. The vanguard, when on defensive stance or when on foot, preferred to slowly walk towards the attacking forces than to hold the position. The charging cavalry arrived at the defensive ground works and slowed down considerably, but then found themselves in range of the archers, who opened fire upon them. The attacking lines were without any order and began to funnel to the centre. This violent clash soon became a "mano a mano" (man to man) struggle. Meanwhile, the Castilian second line pressed forward, desperately trying to avoid the deadly effects of the archers on the wings. This extra push broke through the Portuguese vanguard on the left side, were the Constable stood, perhaps in an attempt to capture the enemy commander.

The Castilians which managed to break through the Portuguese vanguard found themselves in the middle of an uncomfortable position, surrounded by Portuguese troops, so they decided to attack the rearguard position. The Master of Avis (D. João I) moved forward to face the confused Castilians, at the same time as the wings and the flank guards turned inside and closed the position. What happened next was described as a massacre. About 500 Castilian troops managed to flee from this death-trap and try to join the second line where they were attempting to organise the next charging wave.

The Portuguese frontline managed to regain their position and, seizing the initiative, D. Nuno Álvares counter-attacked the Castilian position with the remaining 2,300 men that were still by his side. The Castilian Ginetes tried one last attack on the Portuguese rearguard but were repelled. By this time the Castilian side was a scene of mass confusion, troops were still arriving to join battle and at the same time the Ginetes were fleeing along with the survivors of the first attack. The mayhem became absolute and by now it was every man for himself. Everyone on the Castilian side began to flee, some on horse, others on foot with the Portuguese troops right on their backs, slaying anyone that fell behind. Juan I who had arrived sick riding a mule, galloped all the way to Santarém. The Ginetes decided to wait for nightfall to escape from this surreal Dante’s hell scenario.

The Castilians retreat at Aljubarrota
It is generally considered that over 2,500 noblemen who fought on the Castilian side perished that day. Among those who fell many were very important men of the King’s close circle. The Castilian fleet, which was laying siege to the city of Lisbon, was waiting for the land army to join them but instead served as the getaway transport. Along with the Castilian King, many pro-Castilian Portuguese noblemen decided to flee the country to escape the revenge of the victors. As a consequence victory at Aljubarrota, almost all the strongholds and territories which had been on the side of the Castile King decided to back the Portuguese King.

Before we come to the final conclusions about this particular battle, it’s time to elaborate a little on one of the myths of Portuguese History, the baker-woman of Aljubarrota, Brites de Almeida. She’s described as being very tall, strong, ugly, and to possess six fingers in each hand. Said to be a native from Faro, a city in the Algarve, she was uncommonly trained in handling a sword or a staff and decided to move to Aljubarrota where she married a Baker. When the Portuguese gathered in Aljubarrota, she picked up a weapon and joined them. After the battle was over, and while the Portuguese sacked the Castilian goods that were left behind, she went back home. When she arrived, she heard a strange noise and as she went to see what it was, she found seven Castilians hiding and she grabbed a long baker’s wood spade and pounded the frightened men as hard as she could. Although this story isn’t considered to be anything more than a myth by the majority of scholars, Brites de Almeida has a statue in the town and there are a couple of streets in the country named after her.

Brites de Almeida statue
In this battle the strong character of the bourgeoisie, common people, and some loyal noblemen was very clear. Although this battle didn’t put an immediate end to the war, it tipped the scale in favor of the Portuguese for good. In addition, once again the English longbow men beat the French heavy cavalry and on this particular occasion the common people were victorious against the noble “warlords.”

This battle is also considered as a good example of how passion and personal vendettas aren’t a good motto in a battleground. This battle was also part of a much greater religious war, as most medieval fights were. The Portuguese king made a promise to the Virgin Mary that if he came out victorious he would build a great monastery in her honour, which he did…

The Batalha Monastery, a tribute to the victory in Aljubarrota


MATTOSO, José, dir. de – Nova História Militar de Portugal, Lisboa, Círculo de Leitores, 2003, vol. 1.

MONTEIRO, João Gouveia – Aljubarrota, 1385: a Batalha Real, Lisboa, Tribuna, 2003.

MONTEIRO, João Gouveia – A Guerra em Portugal nos finais da Idade Média, Lisboa, Ed. Notícias, 1998.

RUSSELL, Peter E. – A Intervenção Inglesa na Península Ibérica durante a Guerra dos Cem Anos, Lisboa, Imprensa Nacional – Casa da Moeda, 2000

Crónica de D. João I, Ferrão Lopes.

História do Exército Português, Ferreira Martins.

Portugal Militar, Carlos Selvagem.

Dicionário de História de Portugal, dirigido por Joel Serrão.

A Revolução de 1383, António Borges Coelho.

As lutas de classes em Portugal nos fins da Idade Média, Álvaro Cunhal.

De Estremoz a Aljubarrota, Augusto Botelho da Costa Veiga.

Aljubarrota, A. B. Costa Veiga, G. Mello de Matos e Afonso do Paço.

A Evolução Económica de Portugal, Séculos – XII a XV, vol. XI, Armando de Castro.

História Económica de Portugal, II vol., Armando de Castro.

Aljubarrota Dissecada, Frederico Alcide de Oliveira.

A Revolução de 1383-85 por Gen. Vasco Gonçalves in

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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