|Spanish Expedition to Borneo / "Castilian" War
Expedición española a Borneo
|Bruneian Empire|| Spanish Empire
|Commanders and leaders|
|Sultan Saiful Rijal|| Francisco de Sande
Pengiran Seri Lela †
Pengiran Seri Ratna †
|1,000 Royal Guards||400 Spaniards
Part of a series on the
|History of Brunei|
House of Bolkiah
(15th century – present)
Part of a series on the
|History of the Philippines|
The Spanish Expedition to Borneo, also known locally as the Castilian War (Malay: Perang Kastila; Jawi: ڤراڠ كستيلا; Spanish: Expedición española a Borneo; Filipino: Digmaang Kastila), 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 Southeast Asia, the source of supply to spices. Spain also wanted to spread Christianity, the largest faith in Europe. Since the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the land routes from the Eastern Mediterranean to Southeast Asia through Central Asia and the Middle East, were controlled by the Ottomans, Persians, Arabs, Indians and the Malays.
The Portuguese and later the Spaniards, tried to find an alternative route by sea to Southeast Asia, so they could trade in spices and other products with the Malays. The Portuguese in particular did this by conquering Malacca in 1511, two years after its arrival in the region.
The Spaniards arrived later in the mid-16th century. Their arrival to the archipelago now part of the modern day Philippines as well as the Spain's intention to spread Christianity caused a conflict with Brunei, then ruled by Sultan Saiful Rijal, which eventually led to the Castilian War. At the time, Brunei Darussalam was a loose empire extending from Borneo Island, also claiming but not rarely controlling parts of the Philippines.
Spanish arrival in the Philippines
From their ports in Mexico, Spain sent several expeditions to the Philippines and in 1565 under Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, settled in Cebu. For a time Cebu became the capital of the archipelago and the main trading post. It was also the first city for spreading Christianity in the islands.
Because of this, the Spanish aspirations came to clash with those of Brunei. Between 1485 and 1521, the Sultanate of Brunei led by Sultan Bolkiah had established the state of Kota Serudong (otherwise known as the Kingdom of Maynila) as a Bruneian puppet state opposed to the local Kingdom of Tondo. Islam was further strengthened by the arrival to the Philippines of traders and proselytisers from present-day Malaysia and Indonesia.
Despite the influence of Brunei, the multiple states that existed in the Philippines simplified Spanish colonisation. In 1571, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi of Spain attacked and Christianised Islamic Manila, which was made the capital of the Philippine Islands, also becoming a hub for trade and evangelisation. The Visayans, (people from the Kedatuan of Madja-as and Rajahnate of Cebu) which before the Spaniards came, had waged war against the Sultanate of Sulu and the Kingdom of Maynila, now became allies of the Spaniards against the Sultanate of Brunei.
The time the Castilian War broke out was a time of religious fervor in Europe and many parts of the world, when a single state religion was followed. In Spain, the state religion was Roman Catholicism obliging followers of other faiths such as Jews and Muslims to convert to this religion. Spain had recently finished a 700-year-old war to reconquer and re-Christianise Spain, which had been invaded by the Muslims under the Umayyad Caliphate since the 8th century AD. The long process of reconquest, sometimes through treaties, mostly through war, is known as the Reconquista. The hatred of Spaniards against the Muslims that once invaded Spain fuelled the Castilian War. This war also started the Spanish–Moro Wars in the Philippines against the Sultanate of Sulu and Sultanate of Maguindanao.
In 1576, the Spanish Governor in Manila Francisco de Sande had arrived from Mexico. 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 (Roman Catholicism in Brunei was a legacy brought by Spaniards). At the same time, he demanded an end to Brunei proselytism of Islam in the Philippines. Sultan Saiful Rijal would not agree to these terms and also expressed his opposition to the evangelisation 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".
Spain declared war in 1578. In March that year, 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. The campaign was one of many, which also included action in Mindanao and Sulu.
Spain succeeded in invading the capital of Brunei at that time, Kota Batu, on 16 April 1578, with the help of two disgruntled Brunei 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. Spain 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.
Sultan Saiful Rijal and Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Abdul Kahar were forced to flee to Meragang then to Jerudong, where they made plans to chase the conquering army away from Brunei. In the meantime, Spain suffered heavy losses due to a cholera or dysentery outbreak. 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.
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, a princess of Brunei, left with the Spanish group and went on to marry a Christian Tagalog, named Agustín de Legazpi of Tondo and they had children in the Philippines.
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.
Notwithstanding their retreat from Brunei, Spain managed to keep Brunei from regaining a foothold in Luzon. A few years later, relations improved and Spain begun trading 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. The end of the Castilian War also allowed Spain to focus their attention on the Spanish-Moro war.
The Sultanate of Brunei would cease to be an empire at sea, eventually turning into a city-state, letting aside any previous territorial expansion policies, even selling part of their own territory until becoming one of the smallest nations in the world today. This new policy of sustained caution in their dealings with European powers allowed it to survive and become the oldest continuous Islamic political state.
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