Fifth Centenary of the death of the Great Captain

On 2 December 1515 the “Terror of the French” the Great Captain, Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba passed away. There are many events happening in Granada at this time commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Great Captain’s death, and at Cicerone we’d like to pay a bit of homage to the life of this man who was so important in Spanish history.

Everyone knows that Fernández de Córdoba was a great military man who served the Catholic Monarchs. The second son of the Aguilar family, from Córdoba, he trained in the bellicose tradition of the Andalusian frontier and in the royal Castilian court. In the Granada Wars (1480-92) he started to use tactical innovations which were superior to medieval warfare; their ability to take advantage of all available resources, adapting tactics to the conditions at a given moment (for example, using spies or guerilla fighting).  This explains the success he had in his career, which led him to being the most decorated member of the military in the Castilian-Aragonese monarchy from a young age.

Thanks to a good relationship with King Muhammad XII (Boabdil) of Granada he was awarded with the Order of Santiago, in addition to other financial and territorial rewards. After the surrender of Granada in 1492 and the expulsion of the Moors from the peninsula, the Great Captain was sent to Naples, where he led an intense campaign for two years (1494-96) against the French of the House of Anjou, earning the name Great Captain as a result. However, he had to go back to Italy several times to reconquer territory that the Crown of Aragon had split up and partially ceded to France in the Treaty of Granada (1500). He managed to bring Naples under Spanish control, where it would remain until the 18th century, with the Great Captain as its governor.

The death of Queen Isabella in 1504 marked the beginning of the fall from grace for the Great Captain. His conflict with Ferdinand the Catholic reached the point that, as legend tells it, the king ordered the Great Captain to hand over the bookkeeping of his accounts, making the subject of the Great Captain’s Expenses spent on “picks, shovels and hoes, a hundred million”… Fernández de Córdoba was removed as governor of Naples where he would never be able to return in spite of his protests.

Fernández de Córdoba became gravely ill with malaria in the summer of 1515 and on the 2nd of December of the same year he passed away at his home in Realejo, having received the Holy Sacraments, in the presence of his wife and daughter. At 62, the man died and the legend began.

His widow, Lady María, took it upon herself to bear the news. As a result, a number of letters of condolence arrived, among them, one from King Ferdinand, who reestablished the old friendship, and the one from Charles of Hapsburg, who truly felt the loss. Curiously, Ferdinand died only a month after his loyal subject Gonzalo. Almost until the end Ferdinand the Catholic and the great Fernández de Córdoba had practically parallel lives.

He wanted to be buried in the Monasterio de San Jerónimo (Monastery of St. Jerome) in Granada and his wife, despite all the difficulties, did everything possible to make it happen, and you can visit his tombstone there today.

More information about the Great Captain, the Terror of the French.