Castille War

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Castille War
Perang Kastila
ڤراڠ كستيلا
Date March–June 1578
Location Borneo, Mindanao and Sulu
Result Status quo ante bellum
Old Flag of Brunei.svg Brunei Flag of the Tercios Morados Viejos.svg Spanish Empire
Old Flag of Brunei.svg pro-Spanish Bruneians
Commanders and leaders
Old Flag of Brunei.svg Sultan Saiful Rijal Flag of the Tercios Morados Viejos.svg Francisco de Sande
Old Flag of Brunei.svg Pengiran Seri Lela †
Unknown 400 Spaniards
1500 Filipinos
300 Borneans

The Castille War (My.: Perang Kastila; Jawi: ڤراڠ كستيلا, Sp.:Expedición de Brunei) was a military conflict between Brunei and Spain in 1578.


Since the middle of the 16th century, Europeans were eager to gain a foothold in South East Asia because of the spice trade. During that period, all the land routes from the Middle East to South East Asia were controlled by the Arabs and Turks. The Europeans attempted to control the maritime route to South East Asia so they could trade with the Malays. At the time, Brunei Darussalam was an established empire ranging from the Philippines to Borneo Island.

It was during the reign of Sultan Saiful Rijal when the Castille War broke out. He faced two main problems which was that the Spanish wanted to spread Christianity and invade the Philippines.

From their base in Mexico, in 1565, the Spanish captured Cebu in the Philippines. They turned it into a trading post and a center for spreading Christianity and Hispanicization. Because of this, Spain's goals came to clash with those of their main rival, Brunei. Between 1485 and 1521, the Sultanate of Brunei had established the state of Kota Serudong (in modern-day Manila) as a Bruneian satellite state.[1] Islam was further strengthened by the arrival to the Philippines of traders and proselytizers from present-day Malaysia and Indonesia.[2] The multiple states that existed in the Philippines simplified Spanish colonization. In 1571 Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi founded Manila, which was made the capital of the Philippine Islands, also becoming a hub for spreading Christianity. The Visayans allied with the Spaniards had also worked hand-in-hand with them in assaulting Brunei.

In 1576, the Spanish Governor in Manila was Francisco de Sande. He sent an official mission to neighbouring Brunei to meet Sultan Saiful Rijal. He explained to the Sultan that they wanted to have good relations with Brunei and also asked for permission to spread Christianity in Brunei. At the same time, he demanded an end to Brunei proselytisim of Islam in the Philippines. Sultan Saiful Rijal would not agree to these terms and also expressed his opposition to the evangelization of the Philippines, which he deemed part of Dar al-Islam. In reality, De Sande regarded Brunei as a threat to the Spanish presence in the region, claiming that "the Moros from Borneo preach the doctrine of Mahoma, converting all the Moros of the islands".[3]

Spain declared war in 1578, attacking and capturing Brunei’s capital at the time, Kota Batu. This was achieved as a result in part of the assistance rendered to them by two noblemen, Pengiran Seri Lela and Pengiran Seri Ratna. The former had travelled to Manila to offer Brunei as a tributary of Spain for help to recover the throne usurped by his brother, Saiful Rijal.[4] The Spanish agreed that if they succeeded in conquering Brunei, Pengiran Seri Lela would indeed become the Sultan, while Pengiran Seri Ratna would be the new Bendahara. In March 1578, the Spanish fleet, led by De Sande himself, acting as Capitán General, started their journey towards Brunei. The expedition consisted of 400 Spaniards, 1,500 Filipino natives and 300 Borneans.[5] The campaign was one of many, which also included action in Mindanao and Sulu.[6][7]

The Spanish succeeded in invading the capital on 16 April 1578, with the help of Pengiran Seri Lela and Pengiran Seri Ratna. The Sultan Saiful Rijal and Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Abdul Kahar were forced to flee to Meragang then to Jerudong. In Jerudong, they made plans to chase the conquering army away from Brunei. The Spanish suffered heavy losses due to a cholera or dysentery outbreak.[8][9] They were so weakened by the illness that they decided to abandon Brunei to return to Manila on 26 June 1578, after just 72 days. Before doing so, they burned the mosque, a high structure with a five-tier roof.[10]

Pengiran Seri Lela died in August–September 1578, probably from the same illness that had afflicted his Spanish allies, although there was suspicion he could have been poisoned by the ruling Sultan. Seri Lela's daughter left with the Spanish and went on to marry a Christian Tagalog, named Agustín de Legazpi de Tondo.[11]

The local Brunei accounts differ greatly from the generally accepted view of events. The Castilian War entering the national conscience as a heroic episode, with the Spaniards being driven out by Bendahara Sakam, supposedly a brother of the ruling Sultan, and a thousand native warriors. This version, nevertheless, is disputed by most historians and considered a folk-hero recollection, probably created decades or centuries after.[12]

Notwithstanding their retreat from Brunei, Spain managed to keep Brunei from gaining a foothold in Luzon.[13] Aside this, a few years later, they were ready to trade again with the Sultanate, as evidenced by a letter from Don Francisco de Tello de Guzmán, Governor General of Manila, dated 1599 asking for a return of normal relationship.[14]


  1. ^ "Pusat Sejarah Brunei" (in Malay). Government of Brunei Darussalam. Retrieved 04-03-2010. 
  2. ^ Agoncillo 1990, p. 22
  3. ^ Nicholl 1975, p. 35
  4. ^ Melo Alip 1964, p. 201,317
  5. ^ United States War Dept 1903, p. 379
  6. ^ McAmis 2002, p. 33
  7. ^ "Letter from Francisco de Sande to Felipe II, 1578". Retrieved 2009-10-17. 
  8. ^ Frankham 2008, p. 278
  9. ^ Atiyah 2002, p. 71
  10. ^ Saunders 2002, pp. 54–60
  11. ^ Saunders 2002, p. 57
  12. ^ Saunders 2002, pp. 57–58
  13. ^ Oxford Business Group 2009, p. 9
  14. ^ "The era of Sultan Muhammad Hassan", The Brunei Times, March 1, 2009