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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 Battle of Aljubarotta would be remembered forever by the Portuguese Kings and those who were loyal to the cause during that epic victory of August 1385, however the strict military facts are only part of the story.

Leonor Teles

As we’ve mentioned before, the great majority of the Portuguese nobility actually supported the King of Castile. This support was clear when the Castilian army invaded Portugal. There were a couple of noblemen that had already moved to Castile and as the army entered Portugal not only did they find that castle lords were on their side, they also found that they had decided to battle the Portuguese King alongside Juan I of Castile. The counselors of the Castilian King tried to talk him out of the idea to fight the Portuguese, suggesting that it would be a humiliating defeat if he lost the battle due to the lack of nobility in the Portuguese army. Juan I didn’t heed this advice but he would later acknowledge that he had lost the battle to peasants.


Nuno Álvares Pereira 
So on the eve of the battle the Portuguese, badly outnumbered, had decided to cut the way to Lisbon and to fight the Castilian invading force in a more favorable battleground to offset their disadvantages. Conversely, the Castilian army had determined not to fight the Portuguese in a disadvantageous scenario and preferred to try to get to Lisbon as soon as possible in order to start the siege.

Even now, battle was not certain, and one has to wonder how different the history of the world would have been if this battle had not been fought.

Aljubarrota Battle according to Froissart
As previously stated, even on the morning of battle things were still in flux and it wasn’t certain the battle would occur. D. Nuno Álvares Pereira knew that he had very few experienced noblemen in his army; with no greater than one hundred such men. So, who were the men on the Portuguese side in Aljubarrota? The historians of today are certain that the bowmen mentioned in the chronicles were all British, probably experienced from other battles, however there’s still controversy on their numbers; some say 300, others say 200 and a third party claims that there were 400 in total (the importance of the bowmen is well known from the battles of Crecy and Poitiers).

General Vasco Gonçalves has a good estimate on the numbers involved at Aljubarrota. According to his study the Portuguese army could be divided in two, the mounted and the foot troops. In the mounted group Portugal had 1,100 spearmen, 100 English and Gascon knights, 100 crossbow men (who served as the personal guards of the King) and 100 English archers or bowmen. The foot troops were larger in number as one would expect and were composed by the following groups; 500 men-of-arms (lancers that weren’t very experienced, if the chronicles are to be believed), 700 crossbow men and 3,900 peons. The total number of men involved in the battle would be around 6,500 men on the Portuguese side.

But what of the Castilian army? How many men did Juan I have on his side? Once again we divide the army into mounted and foot groups. In the mounted group the Castile King had 5,300 knights (armed with spears), 800 French knights also armed with spears, 500 crossbow men and 1,900 Ginetes (which can best be described as light cavalry). On foot there were 7,500 crossbow men and 15,000 peons. The total of the Castilian and French combined forces totaled 31,000 men (nearly five times more than the Portuguese and British/Gascon forces). Of these 31,000 men, the Castilian army had 500 lancers, 300 crossbowmen, and 1,000 Portugese peons.

Nuno Álvares Pereira at Batalha
Of the numbers above we should also add another 2,500 to the Portuguese army and 11,000 to the Castile side. This numbers represent 1/3 of the total of each army, which wouldn’t fight on normal conditions and that would be armed nonetheless. If we includes these figures then Portugal would have had 9,000 men mobilized for this campaign and the Castilian 42,000. However as we’ll see later, the great majority of the Castilian army didn’t engage in battle.

[continued on next page]

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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