Rise of A Champion: The History Behind the Story by Stuart Rudge

Today I welcome author Stuart Rudge with a research post on the history of  Eleventh Century Spain. Stuart, who has recently released his first book in this series, discusses the background to his story.

Stuart Rudge book cover

“A Castilian prince defeats and kills his Aragonese uncle in order to preserve the territorial integrity of a Muslim ally” 

So says Richard Fletcher in one of his best works, The Quest for El Cid. The event he is referring to is the Battle of Graus, generally accepted to have been contested in the summer of 1063. The context behind the battle highlights the complexity of Spanish politics at the time. It is also the first battle in which Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, known later as El Cid Campeador, is mentioned by name.

To begin with, it is important to understand the setup of the monarchs at the time. Sancho III el Mayor of Navarre ruled over what is now Navarre, Aragon and Castile. Before his death he divided his kingdom between his sons; Garcia would receive Navarre, Ramiro would claim Aragon, whilst Fernando would be gifted Castile. Fernando wrestled control of the kingdom of Leon from his brother in law, Bermundo, to create a large domain, then was successful in defeating and killing Garcia at the battle of Atapuerta in 1054. Navarre was reduced to a vassal state, and Fernando claimed some of its lands as his own. In the following decade he launched a series of raids against the Muslim taifas of al-Andalus; by 1062 Zaragoza, Toledo, Badajoz and Seville all paid parias to Fernando. The parias tribute was a sum of money and luxury goods gifted to the Christians to defer warfare, for the taifas could not match the strength of Christian knights on the battlefield.

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Fernando I of Leon-Castille

So when Ramiro of Aragon besieged Graus, then under the control of al-Muqtadir of Zaragoza, the Muslim amir appealed for aid to reclaim it. Fernando did not hesitate to strike at his final remaining dynastic rival. He sent his eldest son Sancho with a force of knights to Zaragoza, and from there the combined Christian and Muslim forces met the Aragonese. Ramiro was killed and Sancho carried the day. Thus, a Christian king aided a Muslim king to defeat another Christian. The conflicts at Atapuerta and Graus show us that political gain took precedence over religious motives in most conflicts in the Iberians peninsula at the time.

In the retinue of Sancho was a young knight by the name of Rodrigo Diaz. Little is known of his upbringing, and some of what we know is shrouded in obscurity, but we know he was born around 1043 in the village of Vivar, some six miles north of Burgos. His father was Diefgo Lainez, who allegedly fought with Fernando in the Atapuerta campaign, but is rumoured to have fell afoul of the king and punished. Rodrigo was sent to the court of Sancho, and could have served as a squire for the young prince, certainly one of his knights, at least. By the time of Graus he would have been twenty years of age, and had won his knightly belt. A young knight in the service of an infante, a royal prince, was well placed to advance his name in the world.


Rodrigo and Sancho may have been present when Fernando marched in to modern day Portugal and captured the city of Coimbra from the taifa of Badajoz in 1064, after a long siege. Yet in the east of the peninsula, another siege has taken place. A force of Christians, comprising of Franks, Burgundians, Aquitanians, Catalans and Aragonese, under orders from the Pope, laid siege to the Muslim town of Barbastro. When the inhabitants surrendered, they were butchered, and the Christians seized the town for themselves. In the aftermath, it appears the Muslims of Zaragoza were outraged by the act, and in turn Christian Mozarabs were attacked and even killed in retaliation for the barbarous acts. At some point al-Muqtadir refused to continue with his parias payments.

In retribution Fernando led a campaign of punishment against Zaragoza. Al-Muqtadir relented and bowed to the Christian king once more. It is also likely that Sancho and Rodrigo accompanied the king in his final campaign; Fernando attempted to force the taifa of Valencia to recognise his rule with parias payments. The Christians besieged the city and were victorious at the battle of Paterna, but Fernando soon became ill and died in Leon a few days after Christmas, 1065.

The Fortress at Castille
Castille Fortress

The death of Fernando saw the coronation of his three sons; Sancho inherited Castile, Alfonso became king of Leon, and Garcia had the crown of Galicia. But the brothers were not content with the domains they had. Soon the Christian kingdoms north of the Duero would be embroiled in a series of conflicts, where Rodrigo Diaz would be central in the story.


Fletcher, Richard (1989) The Quest for El Cid, London

Stuart R


Stuart Rudge was born and raised in Middlesbrough, where he still lives. His love of history came from his father and uncle, both avid readers of history, and his love of table top war gaming and strategy video games. He studied Ancient History and Archaeology at Newcastle University, and has spent his fair share of time in muddy trenches, digging up treasure at Bamburgh Castle.

He has worked in the retail sector and volunteered in museums, before working in York Minster, which he considered the perfect office. His love of writing blossomed within the historic walls, and he knew there were stories within which had to be told. Despite a move in to the shipping and logistics sector (a far cry to what he hoped to ever do), his love of writing has only grown stronger.

Rise of a Champion is the first piece of work he has dared to share with the world. Before that came a novel about the Roman Republic and a Viking-themed fantasy series (which will likely never see the light of day, but served as good practise). He hopes to establish himself as a household name in the mound of Bernard Cornwell, Giles Kristian, Ben Kane and Matthew Harffy, amongst a host of his favourite writers


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