Alternate History

Santiago (Ethelred the Pious)

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Ethelred the Pious

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Santiago Bandera

Banner of Santiago after Hrut's conversion

The Reino de Santiago, or the Kingdom of St. John, is a country in northern Spain. It was founded by Viking attackers from England in the late Tenth Century. Its second king after the conquest, Hrut, converted to Christianity and brought his kingdom into the cultural world of Christian Spain. After the fall of Castile in 1036, Santiago was the only remaining Christian kingdom on the peninsula.


Norse raiders based in England raided the Spanish coast throughout the Tenth Century. The Christian states of the north were severely weakened by an expanding Umayyad Caliphate and proved to be easy targets. A raiding party captured Pamplona in 924, founding a state that later became the Emirate of Nawar. Caught between the Moors and Vikings, the Christian kingdoms fell one by one.

In 949 Olaf the Hairy, a cousin of King Thorvald of Jórvik, sailed with the greatest Viking force ever to attack Spain. He landed on the peninsula's northwest corner. The land belonged to the Kingdom of Galicia, which had been a vassal of the Kingdom of León before that city had fallen seven years earlier. It was not difficult for Olaf to conquer the kingdom and establish his capital at Santiago de Compostela. Santiago had been an important religious center for about a century and by this time was one of Galicia's principal cities.

Viking kingdom

During this first generation, Galicia was ruled as a Viking kingdom. King Olaf actively encouraged Englanders to immigrate. He was generous in granting fiefdoms to loyal underlings. The newcomers largely replaced the local nobility, but they had to depend on church officials for much of the kingdom's administration. The basic units of territory remained the diocese and the parish, which themselves derived from the time just after the end of Roman rule.

The Viking rulers were still connected to England and its turbulent politics. King Olaf ruled as a vassal of his cousin the king of Jórvik. When his cousin died in 954, Olaf sailed to England trying to claim the throne for himself. He failed, losing to his nephew Thorkell and the powerful chieftain Erik Bloodaxe. Olaf survived and returned to Spain. His remaining years were spent fighting in Spain against Moorish attacks and new Viking raids from England and Ireland. He died in 958 and passed the kingdom to his son Hrut.

The Norse of England made one final intervention into Galicia five years later. Thorkell of Jórvik came with an army in an attempt to bring the kingdom back under his control. Thorkell was very successful at first. He and his men reached Santiago and drove Hrut back. They sacked the cathedral, killed the bishop, and made off with most of its treasures. But Hrut rallied his his men and counterattacked, eventually forcing Thorkell to return to England with some loot but no territorial gains.

After that, Thorkell and all the English became preoccupied with the Bloodaxe War, while Galicia had to contend with the Umayyads, who launched a major attack in 966. England and Galicia became disconnected, and Galicia would develop as a Spanish kingdom rather than an outpost of the Viking world.

Conversion to Christianity

Like many less other Anglo-Norse leaders in Spain, Hrut eventually converted to the religion of his neighbors. While the Vikings in Pamplona and elsewhere adopted the dominant religion of Islam, Hrut became a devout Christian, apparently after experiencing a vision in 978. From this point, the kingdom became known as Santiago in the local language, or Sant Jakob in the Englesk language of the nobility.

Hrut restored a bishop to Compostela and began rebuilding the damaged cathedral. Hoping to draw pilgrims to the holy city, he improved the port at Ferrol and the road connecting it to the capital. The old connection to the rulers' homeland lingered: many of the pilgrims came from the British Isles. King Olaf II, the first Christian king of Norway, visited Santiago from Ireland and was baptized there, shortly before returning to Norway to claim the throne.

When Santiago emerged as a Christian power, it was inevitable that it would form ties with Castile, the only other major Christian kingdom in Spain. The alliance actually pre-dated the king's formal conversion: King Garcia of Castile had helped expel the Yorkish raiders under Thorkell. A common religion meant a common purpose and even closer cooperation. The alliance was sealed with a marriage between Garcia's heir, Sancho, and King Hrut's daughter Astrid. This alliance faltered when Sancho rebelled against his father with the Caliph's support, but Sancho restored it after his father died and he reunited Castile. At the urging of Santiago's bishops, Hrut's son Njall passed over his own sons and acknowledged his nephew, the Castilian prince Alfonso, as heir to the kingdom.

Alfonso finally united Santiago and Castile in 1020, bringing all that was left of Christian Spain under one ruler. A decade later, the Caliphate broke up into small taifas, and Alfonso took advantage of its disunity. He vigorously expanded to the southwest along the Atlantic coast, where Moorish control was weak. But he was checked in the east along the Castilian frontier. The Emirate of Nawar was fighting its own wars of expansion against most of its neighbors, both Christian and Muslim. In 1035 Nawari forces overran the entire territory of Castile and tore down the walls of Burgos. Soon after they conquered the taifa of Leon and threatened Santiago itself. King Alfonso died in captivity a year later.

Sole Survivor

The next king, Calisto I, was crowned "King of Santiago and Castile," but in reality only controlled the lands of Galicia and Asturias, and not even all of them. He perceived the necessity of a counterattack, and he skillfully took advantage of Nawar's overextended resources and captured the city of Leon, a city of great symbolic significance to the Christians. Its fall allowed the kingdom of Santiago to create a stable military frontier against its Moorish neighbors and enjoy a measure of peace.

Peace allowed Santiago to continue its internal development. Trade continued to grow, assisted by the steady movement of pilgrims. Landowners turned their focus from war to agriculture with the help of the boost to the labor force provided by Christian immigrants from Castile and other Muslim regions. A sizable Jewish presence appeared in the chief towns and contributed to their economic development.

Santiago's role as the sole surviving state of Christian Spain made an impact on its culture. The capital was self-consciously developed as a center of religious arts and learning, which flourished in the later Eleventh Century. Memories of past wars and the threat of future ones encouraged a strict Catholic mentality. On the other hand, frequent contact with Muslim and Jewish neighbors, and the many visitors from the British Isles and western Gaul, introduced a cosmopolitan side as well, especially in the towns.

The Almoravid dynasty, based in Marrakesh in Africa, unified most of al-Andalus in the early Twelfth Century. The new empire was a definite threat to Santiago. The kingdom lost most of the small territorial gains it had made in the south in the years since the breakup of the Umayyad caliphate; but the Almoravids were largely concerned with conquering and holding the Muslim lands and did not mount any serious campaign against Santiago.

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