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The Discovery of the Past
Alfonso the Wise & the Estoria de España

Alfonso the Wise and His World

When and where was Alfonso born? What difficulties did he face during his reign? What role did the women in his life play? How is he remembered today? Explore some biographical aspects as well as his majestic personality in relation to the most significant events of his reign.

The King’s Birth Chart

Alfonso el Sabio was born in Toledo, 23 November 1221. Nicknamed the “astrologer”, the date and place of his birth provide the vital information to establish his birth chart (a complex, yet symbolic map that reveals insight into a person’s temperament and their destiny). Proof that people in the Middle Ages believed in this method of forecasting, from a tiny detail such as a date of birth (especially in the case of an heir to the throne), is that Alfonso’s father, Fernando III, actually chose the day of his first-born’s 27th birthday (23 November 1248) before signing the capitulation of Seville: the captial of the Muslim kingdom where the Almoravids and Almohads had been ruling.

Aside from this, the date also celebrated the feast of St. Clement Pope, the saint of the 1st century, who Alfonso el Sabio was devoted to, so much so, that any examples of him were under special royal protection, which could only be enjoyed in the convent of St. Clement in Toledo, or in the personal testimony of the King himself (in which it is stated to plead his soul to St. Clement, “in whose day we were born”).

Another astrological design is the actual birthplace of Alfonso in Toledo, the former Visigoth capital and central Spain, as it represents a geographical projection of the King’s political stance. In this sense, Estoria de España stated that “the nature of the Earth and its substance, the air and the stars in the sky, remind man of his lineage” reinstating the fact that man is unable to forget the origins of his birthplace.

Sun in Sagittarius

Representation of the Sagittarius zodiac sign in the Lapidary. Real Biblioteca del Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, ms. h.I.15, fol. 75v.

Alfonso’s star sign was a Sagittarius, and according to the wise Ptolemy (a prominent Greek astrologer) it was also Spain’s. In the Book of the Crosses there is a chapter that is dedicated to what scholars believe the star sign of Spain to be; between them, they concluded that “Ptolemy said that in his book, named Quadripartito, when the Earth was separated according to the signs, Spain was identified as Sagittarius, and so according to this opinion Sagittarius is the sign of Spain”. Would Alfonso have interpreted this as an indication that the role of Castile-Leon had already been destined?

The King’s stone

The Lapidary is a model that describes the characteristics and therapeutic properties of stones in association with the astrological correspondence with each of the zodiac signs. Transcribed below is the corresponding entry to the “zequet” stone, from the first degree of Sagittarius, which is, in fact, associated with Alfonso’s date of birth, 23 November.

THE STONE CALLED ZEQUET. The stone, named Zequet, is from the first degree of Sagittarius. It is found in the land of Luquia, more specifically at the end of the river that runs near a town called Mitaz. The stone is black in colour and light in weight. And when burned, smoke rises out of it with a pungent smell of fish. The material is hot and dry. And the scent of the stone will cure whoever is possessed. And its aroma will heel a woman in distress because it is a powerful stone. And reptiles flee when the smell the smoke of the burning stone. And when put into medicines, this stone is able to heel the disease called arthritis, due to the saltiness of the water. And he who kneels before it will have power over the stone, and from it they will receive virtue. And when it is in mid-sky, this stone shows more of its work.

Alfonso X el Sabio, Lapidario. Libro de las formas e imágenes que son en los cielos, ed. P. Sánchez-Prieto Borja, Madrid: Fundación José Antonio Castro, 2014, p. 179.

Blue Blood

King Alfonso el Sabio was related to the cream of the royal dynasties of medieval Christendom. On his father’s side, Fernando III, Alfonso was related to the English, Plantagenet house and the French, Capetian house. Both of this relations date back to the times of his great-grandfather Alfonso VIII of Navas (1155-1214), who was married to Leonor of England (daughter of Enrique II and the famous Leonor of Aquitania) and who married one of his daughters, Blanca of Castille, to Luis VIII of France, father of san Luis.
Alfonso’s Family Tree.
His ancestors on his mother’s side were not any less illustrous. Beatriz of Swabia was the respective granddaughter of the Roman-Germanic emperor Federico I Barbarroja, and of the Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelo, and therefore, this caused a union of the two Christian emperors from the East and the West. This alliance between two different empires, through the figure of Alfonso, was conceived at the time. This can be demonstrated by a passage, by Bandino Lancia (ambassador of Pisa), which praises Alfonso as King of the Romans, stating: “divinely we can be unified with you through the succession of empires, divided by conflict, because you descend from Manuel, who was the emperor of Rome, and we unite with you, as they did in the time of Ceasar and the most Christian Constantine.”

In any case, the Alfonsine claim to the imperial throne was always based on what he described as materna successio, i.e. he inherited the rights, which support his claim as the heir to the Duke of Swabia, from his mother. Either way, the fact that Alfonso had such a rich parental, genealogical convergence, meant that his relations were more or less connected to such important figures of the Western Middle Ages such as: Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, King St. Louis and Emperor Frederick II.

Meanwhile, Alfonso himself attempted to make marriage alliances to hold onto the ties he already had established, through kinship and friendship, with the most powerful European lineages. For example, in 1254 he married his sister Leonor with the future Edward I, the crown prince of England. The wedding was held at the monastery of Las Huelgas de Burgos, and during the course of the ceremony, the young English prince was knighted by Alfonso himself. This was deemed to be rather significant as it accounts for the fact that, for an entire year, the formal documentation issued by the Alfonsine Foreign Ministry was dated “In the year that Don Odoart [Edward], first-born and heir of Don Heinrich of England, received knighthood from the aforementioned King Don Alfonso.”

Furthermore, in 1269 the relationship between the infant heir to the throne of Castile and Leon, Fernando de la Cerda, with the French princess Blanca, daughter of san Luis, caused greater political impact. From this marriage, the famous ‘Infantes de la Cerda’ were born, who, at the premature death of their father in 1275, became the centre of a conflict for the throne that lead to an open civil war between Alfonso and his second son, the future Sancho IV, during the last two years of his reign (1282-1284). This same ‘French connection’ is at the source of the astonishing order in Alfonso X’s will, in which it states the possibility of and annex between the kingdom of Castile and Leon the French crown.

Moreover, apart from kings and emperors, there is a curious addition to the Alfonsine family tree that includes the presence of various saints on some of its branches; from the famous santa Isabel of Hungary (Aunt of his wife, Violante of Aragon, and canonized in 1236), to his second cousin san Luis or his own father, san Fernando, who was raised to the altars, respectively, in 1297 and 1671 (although the reputation of the holiness and worship of the remains of Fernando III in Seville date back to medieval times).

The Leonor Crosses

Victorian replica of the old Charing Cross.
The mutually professed love between Edward I of England and his wife Leonor of Castille, step-sister of Alfonso X, was well-known, and they also bore fifteen children together. Among the news that circulated, Leonor was portrayed as a selfless woman as she had sucked a viper’s venom out of her husband, which had bitten him the ninth crusade. After her death in 1290, her husband had built a series of twelve crosses in her honour, in the places where the funeral cortege was stopping; from the place of death, most likely Harby, Nottinghamshire, to Westminster Abbey where she was buried. The most famous of these crosses is found in Charing Cross, central London, although it is a replica from the Victorian era, it is inspired from the original.

To Find Out More

The victorian web

The Cloud Over Spain

It is very likely that Alfonso felt that his position among European royalty was preordained, and he did not take responsibility for his messianic nature because it was his heritage that imposed political and intellectual enterprises of a huge scale. This is indicated in a passage in Estoria de España in which it describes the wonders that occurred at Christ’s birth. One of them was the appearance of a bright cloud that covered Spain, and Alfonsine historians interpret this as the key to destiny.

Furthermore, we discover in these stories, on the hour that Jesus Christ was born, at midnight, a cloud appeared above Spain that emitted a clear, vast light with the same heat that one expects to feel from the midday sun, when the intensity is the strongest upon the Earth. And the wise discussed this and they said that it is understood that, after Jesus Christ, his messenger will come to Spain to preach to the court of the Gentiles, which will be illuminated with the light of God, and it will be St. Paul. Others disputed that there was to be a Christian prince born in Spain that would be the Lord of the whole world and would exhaust more lineages than any other man, and all of the Earth would be lit up by the brightness of that cloud as long as it lasted.

The Women in His Life

There were five important female figures in Alfonso’s life: his grandmother, his mother, his mistress, his wife and his daughter.

Berenguela (1180-1246 c.). Queen Berenguela the Great was one of the most prominent figures of the Hispanic thirteenth century. Daughter of King Alfonso VIII, sister of King Henry I, wife of King Alfonso XI of Leon, mother of King Fernando III and grandmother of King Alfonso X. She, herself, reigned in Castille during the younger years of her brother (1214-1217), and after his death, he handed the crown to his son Fernando, who became a faithful counsellor. Berenguela had a huge influence over the personal and political temperament of San Fernando, but she also played a crucial role in the formation of the young Alfonso.

Beatriz, mother (1198-1235). Queen Beatriz belonged to the illustrious German Staufen family - lords of the duchy of Swabia. She remained under the protection of her, Emperor Fredrick II (scourge of the papacy and stupor mundi ‘wonder of the world’) until the death of her father, Phillip of Swabia. She was as virtuous a spouse as she was a mother, although she died relatively young, after leaving Fernando with ten descendants to the throne. From her, it seems that Alfonso inherited some, both physical and mental, Germanic features: from a beautiful complexion to an intellectual curiosity and a passion for arts. Of course, the wise King was always very aware of his rights to the imperial throne as the successor of his mother, and the Septenary did not forget to thank his father for having him made “in noble place and in a woman of great lineage, who God did many favours for as he wanted her to excel in all the kindness that a noblewoman should”.

Mayor (1205-1262). Mrs. Mayor Guillen of Guzman was the young King Alfonso’s mistress. We can see the affection he had through the privileges that he provided her with (especially in the Alquería), as well as naming their daughter after his own mother, Beatriz (who was also ordered a high marriage [see below]). The most well-known toils of Dona Mayor consisted of the foundation of the convent of the Poor Clares of Alcocer in 1260, in which she would later be buried. On the tomb a beautiful recumbent sculpture was placed, made from polychrome wood, however this disappeared during the civil war (see A Beautiful Mummy).

Violante (1236-1301). Queen Violante of Aragon was the daughter of James I the Conqueror and Violante of Hungary. The marriage agreement between Alfonso and the Arogonese child was agreed in 1240 when she was still very young (Alfonso was twenty years old at the time, while Violante was only seven) and as a result, the marriage was put off until 1249. It seems that Alfonso and Violante did not enjoy a happy marriage. This is suggested by the positions that Violante took in the conflict for the throne that darkened the final years of Alfonso’s reign: firstly, she supported the cause of their grandchildren –the "Infantes de la Cerda"– with whom she fled to Aragon unbeknown to the King. Later she followed the cause of her son, Sancho, against her own husband who she abandoned during his imprisonment in Seville. Apart from that, a legend circulated years later by Don Juan Manuel in his Book of Weapons, which concerned Violante murdering her own sister, Constance (the first wife of the child Manuel, the little brother of Alfonso) by gifting her poisoned cherries.

Beatriz, daughter (1243-1303 c.): Beatriz of Castille was the beloved daughter of the King, despite having been conceived outside of his marriage to Violante as she was the daughter of Mrs. Mayor Guillen of Guzman (see above). From birth she was thought very highly of by her father (perhaps as a projection of his declared love to his mistress, Dona Mayor), which is shown by the fact that he named her after his own mother, and would also negotiate her future marriage to the King of Portugal, Alfonso III, 1253. Therefore, Beatriz became Queen Consort of Portugal, and eventually, the mother of one of the greatest Portuguese monarchs of the Middle Ages, Dionisio I (1261-1325). In any case, the affection between mother and father must be mutual, and so during Alfonso’s personal and public desolation in the last two years of his life (due to the rebellion of his son, Sancho), where he was abandoned by almost all of the forces of the kingdom (nobles, clergy, cities) and even his own family (younger siblings, children and his own wife Violante), the only person that stood by him until the end, when he was old, sick king imprisoned in Seville, was his daughter, Beatriz.

A Beautiful Mummy

The tomb of Mrs. Mayor Guillén de Guzmán as preserved in the convent of the Poor Clares of Alcocer until the Civil War, when she disappeared.
The mummified body of Mrs. Mayor of Guzman remained in very good condition well into the twentieth century, as the assessors of her body were able to maintain her beauty even centuries after her death. Effectively, according to the testimony of the Franciscan friar, Pablo Manuel Ortega, who was permitted to see the body in 1720 “she was known to have a beautiful body, with thick blonde hair, small hands and feet.” Also, Ricardo de Orueta, already in the second decade of the twentieth century, could still see the body of Dona Mayor and declared that it was “so beautiful it must have been a woman, who strangely enough still retains her beauty through her mummy remains […] it is not black or toasted as mummies often are, but pale white with an ivory gloss, and the skin still appears soft and tender as flesh.”

The Heroines of Estoria de España

There are a collection of sources with diverse roots where these women feature; many of which are from traditional and oral origins (legends, or the epic) presenting a great variety of characters among them, and often bringing a more elevated literary dimension to the chronicled story than those of from pre-Alfonsine Hispanic histography. Within these sources, the female characters are often provided with a predominant role; they either trigger the action or even become true protagonists of the story. Below we have transcribed four passages from Estoria de España, in which different types of women are illustrated: the cunning princess, the cannibal mother, the brave wife and the saviour step-mother.

The princess Liberia and the foundation of Cadiz

How the Island of Cadiz was colonised and the formation of its bridge and pathways.

The King of Spain had a beautiful daughter called Liberia, and she was very learned and knowledgeable about astronomy, because she had been taught by the wisest person in Spain at the time, as he had been taught by Hercules and Allas, his astrologer. Consequently, he supported her decision to colonise Cadiz. However, it was a very dangerous place for three reasons: firstly, it did not have sufficient water, secondly the bay could only be crossed by boat and thirdly because it was so muddy that men could not go there in winter without a huge risk. And so the King asked his daughter’s advice about how to colonise the place. She said that she will only advise him on the condition that she does not have to marry anybody that she does not like; and trusting her, as he was required to tell her in order to gain her assistance, he accepted. She was Spain’s only heir, and kings and noblemen from other lands came to ask her hand in marriage, either because she was very beautiful or because she was the heir to her father’s kingdom and many came to ask who she did not want to marry.

And as this went on her father was aging, and the men of the land feared that he would soon die, so they asked her Grace if she could marry and she accepted, despite saying that she would only marry the man she wanted, if the time came when someone should ask her she would agree to marry him, and this pleased the people. Then, three children from rich kings came to ask her for her hand in marriage; the first was from Greece, the second from Scantia and the third was from Africa. Upon meeting them, the father was overjoyed as they were handsome, bold and intelligent, and so he welcomed them and presented them with honour. Afterwards, he spoke to each of them, all of which asked for his daughter’s hand, so he told them to go to her and whoever makes her happy will please him and he will accept.

They proceeded to complete this task, and after they had explained to her their cause, she told them to return another day and she will give them hr answer. The three men were confused as to why she sent them away only for all of them to return again, they thought she was cruel, but despite this they did as she said. When they returned, she asked them which one loved her the most, everyone unanimously replied that it was he. And so, she said it was very well that everyone loved her as she understood one thing: that they would do whatever she ask them to do. Whoever finished their task the quickest will be the man she will marry; they agreed they would complete the task in an amicable manner. So she showed them the place that her father loved the most, and that he wanted this place to be the head of the Kingdom.

However, there were at least three things that needed to be completed: the first is to surround the city with walls and towers with rich houses that would belong her father and the man she marries, the second is to have a bridge so that the people of the city are able to cross the water to enter it, and thirdly, due to the abundance of mud in the winter, the people are unable to enter, therefore they need some kind of footwear to allow them in. Each man received one of these tasks, and the first to complete it would be able to marry her and be respected by the whole kingdom. When they heard this, because they all so desired to marry her, they accepted. Many teachers sent them impressive things to help with their efforts so they would finish quicker. It was the Greek man, Pirus, who was the first to finish; he had built the bridge and made a pipe to carry the water.

He went to the daughter and told her that he had finished, for this she was very pleased and she said she would marry him, but she asked him not to tell the other men until they had nearly finished their work, and afterwards she would him as the others would finish soon. Pirus did as she said and waited until the others had almost finished, and then the King came and he showed him that he had completed his task; he opened the pipe and the water stopped coming into the city. This pleased the King and he gave him his daughter’s hand in marriage, as well as paying the other men as well as he would and he gave them presents. Finally, Cadiz was colonised and the island, and it was now one of the noblest places in Spain. The King loved it so much that he placed his throne and crown there and made it the head of the kingdom, which it remained throughout his life.

Human Misery in the Siege of Jerusalem

You should know that Maria, a very weak woman from the place where the river Jordan flows, had reason to be in the city. She came to Jerusalem at the start of the war to ensure her safety and she brought everything with her; and she needed to buy food, but the leaders stole it all her things from her hands and so she had no food and could not eat. So the woman shouted that there had been a great sin; she could not eat the wheat canes nor the rawhide, and so her hunger grew, so much so that she lost all of her senses. She had a nursing child, and as she had not eaten, she had no milk to give to him and so he cried for food. When Maria heard his cries, she felt so much pain in her heart, but she felt so helpless.

As she thought about the cruel injustice shown by the thieves, and complained about how much she suffered from her hunger. She lost all maternal love that a mother should have for her child and said: “What will you do little one, what will you do? Everything around us is so cruel, we are surrounded by war, hunger, fire, criminals and many other dangers, and so I will die. Who will care for you and how will you, something so small, survive? I wanted to wait for you to grow older and you would have looked after me as a mother would, and you would have buried me when I died. What will a miserable woman like me do now? There is no help for you nor me to be able to survive. Who will care for you, and what grave will I find you where the dogs, nor the birds, nor the wild beats will not eat your remains? Oh sweet child with a gentle heart and happy limbs, before hunger kills us all, return to me everything you received from me, return to that secret place where you received the spirit of life, your tomb is already prepared for you there. My son, I cannot nourish you wish kisses, I cannot maintain you with love, nor can I restore you with my hands, nor feed you with imaginary food. Until now, everything we have done has been pious, now we have to do what hunger tells us to do. Although you have been more virtuous than I, and for this I should nurture you like a mother, not kill you and eat you like a wild beast, and then you would be able to care for your mother who cared for you alike.”

After she said this, Maria turned his head from one side to other and beheaded him, and as he was decapitated, she put him on the fire to roast. She ate part of him and hid the rest so that no one would discover the remains if they arrived. The smell of her roasting child was sensed by the masters that guarded the city, and so they followed this smell until they reached the house and entered inside. They threatened to kill Maria because they knew that she was roasting food, and they were starving, but they did not know what it was that Maria had cooked. She told them “I ate part, but the rest is hidden; I shall place you at the table but do not despise my conscience for what you are going to eat.” After she said that she retrieved the remains of the body and put it in front of them to eat, and she told them: “This is my food, and here is your share, and if you believe your minds deceive you, think again; I have here the hand of a child, and here is the foot and half of the whole body. And if you do not believe me, you can be certain that it is true as it is my child. Do not be angry, sweet, sweet child. To you I have to be grateful because I am still alive, I will always keep your sweetness in my heart, you have prolonged the day of your miserable mother’s death. People have come to murder me, I have welcomed them into my home, and so they must be grateful too as they will eat their share”.

She saw the fear on the Jewish men’s faces as they heard this unbelievable account, and so she said to them: “What are you waiting for, or why are you so repulsed by such tasty food? Why do you not eat what I eat? I am the mother! You do not want to be more pious than the mother, yet even thinner than the woman. You will eat it, because I prepared it, because you made me prepare it, and I ate in regardless. I have cut it up, and the pain destroyed me.” After she said this, they left immediately. Suddenly the city was full of fresh sin, and that large, terrible enemy detested to hear them speak of such disturbing food. And not much later the Romans found out as many of the Jews went to them with this harrowing tale.

The Countess Dona Sancha frees Fernan Gonzalez

How Fernando Gonzalez escaped from prison.

When the Spaniards discovered that the Count was in prison they grieved and they mourned as if he had died. When Countess Sancha found out she lost consciousness and fainted for a long time. When she came to her senses they said to her “My Lady, try not to complain so much, as it does not help yourself nor the Count. But we must find a cunning way to free him, by any means possible.” Then they met and discussed a great deal about how they could free the Count; each said what they thought was best, however it did not help to achieve their aim. The human heart is always simmering and scheming until it finds a way to get what it desires, because the strength of love makes light that which is heavy, as great love can overcome all difficulties. And as the Spaniards so desired to free their lord, the Count, from prison, it was their hearts that told them how.

Five hundred knights gathered, they were well-armed on horseback and they swore an oath, along with the Countess, that on the holy gospels, they would attempt to free him. When they made this oath, they left Castile, riding in the night and avoiding the paths by crossing mountains and hidden valleys so that they would not see anyone nor be discovered. When they reached Mansilla they turned right and ascended to Somoza; there they found a large bush where they all rested. Countess Sancha left them there, and she, accompanied by two gentlemen, went to Leon with a basket round her neck and a staff in her hand like a pilgrim. And she told the King that she was on a pilgrimage to Santiago and begged him to allow her to see the Count. The King sent a messenger to tell her it would be his pleasure, and he came to welcome her outside of the city with so many knights that he could be seen from miles away. When they entered the city, he returned to his palace and the Countess went to see the Count. And when she saw him they embraced and cried a great deal.

The Count offered her words of encouragement and advised her not to complain as the suffering was all that God wanted to give to men, especially to the kings and honourable men. The Countess then begged the King, as a good and noble man, to unchain the Count, telling him that a locked up knight can never produce children. So the King replied “God help me, I believe it to be true!” And he sent someone to unchain the Count, then together they rejoiced all night and talked about many things about the plot of his release, that it was God who would help them. The Countess arose very early the next morning and dressed the Count with her own clothes. And the Count, dressed in this way, walked towards the door as if he were a lady with the Countess hiding as best as she could. When they reached the door, the Countess told the porter to open it. The porter responded “My Lady, we must tell the King before you leave, if you please.” She replied “By God porter, you do not achieve anything by keeping me here any longer, and I am unable to proceed with my day.”

The porter, believing the Count to be the Countess, opened the door and the Count left. Meanwhile the Countess was behind the door, hiding from the porter. And so the Count left without a goodbye, nor did he speak to anyone so that he was not discovered by his voice, and thereby spoil the plot that himself and the Countess had designed. And he went right towards the entrance, as advised by the Countess, where two of his knights were waiting for him with a horse. When he arrived he mounted the horse and began to ride. They left the city and secretly galloped towards the other knights. Upon their arrival in Somoza, they turned to the mountain where they expected to find the other knights, and when he saw them, the Count felt such joy as a man who had escaped such a miserable place.

What the King did with the Countess when he discovered that the Count had escaped.

When King Sancho realised that the Count had escaped, as the Countess had deceived him, it brought him so much sorrow as if he had lost his kingdom; but he would not avenge her. When it was time, he went to the room where she had been with Count and sat down with her to discuss her reasoning, and asked about how the Count had escaped and also how she could have been so bold. The Countess replied “My Lord, I dared to free the Count because he was so distressed, and everyone advised me to do it. I deceived your courtesy, and I think I did it very well; and you, Sir, will treat me kindly as you are a good man and a kind King, for I am a King’s daughter and the wife of a noble man. You refuse to avenge me because your children are my subjects, and by dishonouring me you will be guilty. And as you have an admirable reputation, and as you are very intelligent, you must choose to do the right thing so that your men cannot blame you; and, by this I mean you must not disgrace me.” After the Countess finished her reasoning with the King, he replied: “Countess, you acted righteously as a good wife, and your kindness will be celebrated forever. I order all of my subjects to accompany you to reunite with the Count and you will not pass the night without him.” The Knights of Leon did as the King had ordered, and they led the Countess honourably as a lady of such high class. When the Count saw her he was overjoyed and believed that it was God who had done him this favour. Then she was left with the Count and the people of her county.
Queen Dona Mayor adopts the infant Ramiro

How the children of Don Sancho de Navarra, el Mayor, inflicted suffering on their mother, Queen Eluira.

As the King, Don Sancho, had defeated the Moors in many battles, peace was maintained across his land without any acts of wrongdoings. This King had formed such a strong attachment to his horse and so he admired it dearly. It was beautiful and huge in stature, and it ran faster than any other horse in the kingdom; it was strong, yet docile, with all the marvellous qualities that one would desire in a horse. And as the stories go, when the King rode it, he rode it with all the vitality that his life could provide him with. He loved the horse so much that one day, when a man from Naiara came, he had to leave his horse and so he sent of the Queen to watch over it.

And because at that time a huge war broke out with the Moors; the knights, counts and the kings themselves left their horses inside their palaces, and as the story goes, inside their bedrooms or sleeping with their wives so that they were not injured, and when the call to war was heard they could be prepared for arms without delaying the men. The King entrusted Queen Eluira to take the horse and keep it in the palace, and to make it a very good bed and to value it more than the other things in the palace. And so the Queen placed the horse where she would be able to see it at all times.

Meanwhile, Prince Garcia, the King’s eldest child, saw that his father had gone, and he asked his mother to give him the horse, and he pleaded with her so much that she said she would give it to him. However, a knight who served in the Queen’s castle told her not to give the horse to the Prince because it would infuriate the King and upset him tremendously. The Queen considered what the knight had said and she agreed that she would not give the horse to the Prince. When Prince Garcia found out, he was enraged with her and he told his brother, Don Fernando, that they would tell the King that the Queen had been adulterous with this knight, and that is the reason why she would not give the horse to him. Prince Fernando was not happy with being a part of this dispute against his mother, but he would remain silent on the matter.

Don Garcia, without the aid of his brother, and with the strong rage that he harboured, slandered his own mother before the King as he falsely accused her of having improper relations with the knight. When the King heard this, he believed the allegations and kept the Queen prisoner in the castle of Nagera. And he left it to the court to decide if she should be rightfully saved. However, there was no one who would stand against the King’s sons and defend the Queen, until Don Ramiro came, another son of the King; he was so brave and very handsome, with a strong talent in arms, and he said that he wanted to defend the Queen. Whilst the court was so divided, an orderly and saintly man, who was a monk from the monastery of Nagera, entered and asked the King: “My lord, if the Queen is falsely accused, would you forgive both her and those who accused her?” The King responded “Yes, the Queen will be rightfully saved, there is nothing in the world that would please me more.” The pious man questioned the King because his sons had already confessed that they sinfully, and dishonestly made claims against their mother. The monk then took the King aside and told him all that he knew; and the King believed him by the Holy Spirit of God that made him have faith in it, and so he freed the Queen.

And so the Queen was freed and she escaped her death that day due to the saintly man. The King, being very happy because the Queen was rescued from her death, pleaded with her to forgive their sons who were at fault. Because the King begged her, the Queen forgave them with one condition for the King. She said that Don Garcia, who had been so deceitful towards her, would not reign in the Kingdom of Castile, of which he was the rightful heir. And so the King agreed, and to prevent any disagreements, and to prepare them for a power struggle against the Moors, he gave the kingdom of Navarra and the county of Cantabria to Don Garcia, the eldest; and to Don Fernando, he gave the kingdom of Castile; whilst Don Ramiro, who showed so much bravery, was give the remote place of Aragon, as he did not share any love towards his brothers. And this was the advice of the Queen because he wanted to fight his brothers for her; furthermore Aragon was the Queen’s kingdom as the King had given it to her as a symbol of their marriage. And so the Queen returned the first honour that she had, along with more, so the story goes.

The Imperial Dream

Alfonso aspired to take the throne of the Holy Roman Empire - a dream which he persisted with for twenty years during his reign. Through his maternal inheritance (as his mother was a Staufen, cousin of Frederick II and heir to the Duchy of Swabia) he was considered a candidate for the throne. However, the Alfonsine efforts to establish him as ‘Imperator Romanorum’ (Roman Emperor) exhausted the kingdom’s coffers, and wasted the resources and patience of the authority: noblemen, clergy and the councils.

The history of the imperial dream dated back to 1256 when the embassy of the Italian city, Pisa, offered Alfonso the position, until 1275 in an interview with Beaucaire, between the King and Gregory X, in which the Pope dismissed the Alfonsine candidacy as he was in favour of the then proclaimed Emperor Rudolph of Hapsburg. However, during these twenty years, there were two decades of prestigious campaigns, huge expenditures and high international diplomacy that kept the King of Castille and Leon in the spotlight throughout the Western world (and part of the East). On the other hand, he was also targeted with tough criticism from the most influential sectors of his own kingdom.

In any case, without refining Alfonso’s imperial purpose exclusively to his own personal motivations (specifically sheer and excessive ambition) it must also be understood in the context of his particular view of the world. And if, in the end, we were to say the imperial dream was doomed for failure, it would be largely due to the fact that Alfonso (a Ghibelline in both blood and conviction) never had strong support from the person who always had the last word, the Pope.

Regalia insignia

The front of Alfonso X’ seal as King of the Romans, with the inscription: ALFONSUS DEI GRACIA ROMANORVM REX SEMPER AVGVSTVS (The British Library).

From April 1256, Alfonso took the title ‘Rex Romanorum’ (King of the Romans) in the documentation issued by his Foreign Ministry. This includes some royal images which represented the figure of the emperor, which can be seen on the royal seal that we have included here, or on the stained glass window in the cathedral of Leon. Note the imperial characteristics of the King; enthroned and crowned, in his right hand he holds a scepter with an eagle on the top, and in the right he holds a globe crowned with the cross.

To Find Out More

Isidro G. Bango Torviso, «La imagen pública de la realeza bajo el reinado de Alfonso X. Breves apostillas sobre regalia insignia y actuaciones protocolarias», Alcanate VII (2010-2011), 13-42.

The Imperial Acclaim

In spring 1256, an unheard of embassy, from the Italian city of Pisa, made their way to Soria, where the King was temporarily located, to send support for his candidacy as Holy Roman Emperor and to illegitimately name him ‘King of the Romans’ without the approval of the German princes, nor the Pope. And with this words filled with exaltation and euphoria, a painful process began that would last twenty years and eventually lead to the humiliation of the King in his own kingdom.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen. The ordinary citizens of Pisa, Italy, and the rest of the world recognise you, the excellent, invincible, and triumphant mighty Alfonso, by the grace of God, King of Castille, Toledo, Leon, Galicia, Seville, Murcia and Jae, as by far the most outstanding of all kings, from both past and present, especially by the grace of the Holy Spirit that divinely inspired you. We shower you with many gifts, and we know that, more than anything, you love peace, truth, mercy and justice, and that you are the most Christian and faithful being of them all. And we know that you wholeheartedly wish to expand the honour of Holy Mother Church and her peaceful state. As well as the Roman Empire, which has been unoccupied for a lot of time and destroyed by its enemies.

And you, as a descendant of the Duchy of Swabia, whose house is privileged with princes and funded by the priests of the Roman Church, and is a notoriously worthy house belonging to the Empire, we divinely come to you, as successor to our Empire that has been divided by conflict, because you descend from Manuel who was emperor of the Romans, and we join in you, as it was in the time of Cesar and the most Christian Constantine. And because of this, the attention of saints and the discretion of men, princes, barons, lords and communities, and the whole of this Italian town, and also from the Germans and the rest of the Empire, support you as a worthy, future king of the Roman Empire.

For this reason, I, Bandino Lanza, son of Casales of Pisa, man, messenger, ambassador, trustee and attorny of the ordinary citizens of Pisa, on behalf of these people, the baillis and the legal authority, under the powers granted to me by the public instruments, the glory of God and the honour of the glorious Virgin Mary, mother of Christ, the living God, and of all the saints of God and the honour of the Holy Mother Roman Church, and of their priests and all their faithful Christians, and the honour and value of the state of the princes, barons, earls, marquises, all the lords, cities, lands, communities and entire Christian people and of the Roman Empire, invoked the grace of God and the Undivided Trinity, we choose, receive, promote and call you, mighty Alfonso, who is known throughout the Roman Empire, and on behalf of this name and all the depending villages of this same Empire, knowing your value, King of the Romans and Emperor of the Roman Empire, which is currently unoccupied […].

The acclaim of Alfonso X as Emperor of the Romans, by Bandino Lancia, ambassador of Pisa (Soria, 15 April 1256) [Translated from Latin; fragment. Taken from H. Salvador Martínez, Alfonso X, el Sabio. Una biografía, Madrid: Polifemo, 2003, págs. 596-597].

No Man Is A Prophet in His Own Land

If the imperial adventure damaged the economy of the kingdom, it also largely conditioned Alfonso’s “internal politics” as he had to give in to the demands of the noblemen who challenged him from the beginning of his reign, on account of the royal interventions of the regional law and the introduction of a certain tax measure.

The unrelenting conflict with the nobility (behind which, one can see the emphatic importance of the royal purpose in Alfonsine thinking) experienced its most critical incident in 1272, when almost all of the Castilian-Leonese nobility rebelled against the King, breaking their trust and exiling in the kingdom of Granada. As a result, this forced the King to back down to their royal positions by giving the nobles a series of concessions. Despite the subsequent return of the barons, the shadow of the conflict continued to hover over the kingdom, with extremely unlucky events such as the execution of the infant Don Fadrique (brother of the King) and Simon Ruiz of Cameros in 1277, and it finished a few years later with the treachery led by the King’s second son, the future Sancho IV, who challenged his father due to the succession of kingdom. This was because in 1275 the direct heir, Don Fernando of la Cerda, died prematurely, leaving two young sons, the famous “Infantes de la Cerda”, whose priority in the line of successors was defended by France in virtue of the marriage between Don Fernando and Blanca, daughter of san Luis.

The conflict eventually led to a civil war that divided the kingdom between 1282 and 1284, and compelled Alfonso to stay in Seville abandoned by the majority of his family (including his wife Violante) and many of the political forces in the kingdom. Only in this context of extraordinary stress can one understand some of the controversial decisions that Alfonso was driven to take towards the end of his reign, such as the disinheritance of his son, Sancho, his military cooperation with the Benimerins during the civil war and the testimony orders that considered annexing the Kingdom of Castille and Leon to France.

Who Is Who: Fernando or Sancho?

The miniature at the head of codex E1 of the Estoria de España, from the royal scripture. Real Biblioteca del Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, ms. Y-I-2, fol. 1v.

The sudden death of Fernando of la Cerda (1275), in the royal city of Santiago, as he was about to lead an army to deal with the Benimerin invasion, caused a huge shock throughout the kingdom. The confusion over who was to be his successor caused a long and painful conflict between the candidates; his two young children (Alfonso and Fernando, known as the ‘los Infantes de la Cerda’, who were associated with the French princess, Blanca), and the second son of Alfonso X, the future Sancho IV. The crisis, which would lead to the civil war of 1282-1284 gained an international dimension due to the interests on France in the succession; and its effects would still be felt a century later when in 1386 Juan I justified his rights to the throne citing his descent from the infantes de la Cerda. But this struggle also had consequences in the artistic field. For example, codex Y-I-2 of ‘La Biblioteca de El Escorial’ has a copy of the original versión of Estoria de España, and it is headed with a miniature in which the King presents the codex of Estoria to his infant heir. The identity of the infant has always been doubted as to whether it is Fernando (in which case it would have been before 1275) or Sancho (after 1275). A recent study by art-historian Rosa Rodriguez Porto seems to be in favour of the ‘Infante de la Cerda’, with the idea that the figure to the left of the King, which had been damaged in bitterness, is none other than the infant Manuel (father of don Juan Manuel), Alfonso’s younger brother who he vowed to love like his own son until he participated in the conflict against Alfonso, spring 1282.

To Find Out More

Rosa Rodríguez Porto, «Inscribed/Effaced. The Estoria de Espanna after 1275», Hispanic Research Journal, vol. 13, núm. 5 (oct., 2012), 385-404.

Song of Discomfort

Among the secular "Cantigas", thanks to King Alfonso el Sabio, there is one in particular (number 26) in which Alfonso admirably addresses the issue of ‘contemptus mundi’ or the depreciation of the world. Through a series of flashbacks, the poet confesses that he prefers the life of a sailor to a soldier on land, he is plagued with curiosity and betrayal, and figuratively poisoned by the sting of scorpions in his heart. The poetic nature of this poem is continuously highlighted by critics, considered by its editor, Rodrigues Lapa, as one of the most beautiful and stunning Galician-Portuguese lyrical pieces that has been obtained. Below is an English translation of the poem (by Richard Zenith):

Original version

Non me posso pagar tanto
do canto
das aves nen de seu son,
nen d’amor nen de mixon
nen d’armas –ca ei espanto,
por quanto
mui perigo[o]sas son–,
come dun bon galeon,
que m'alongue muit’ aginha
deste demo da campinha,
u os alacrães son;
ca dentro no coraçon
senti deles a espinha!

E juro par Deus lo santo
que manto
non tragerei nen granhon,
nen terrei d’amor razon
nen d’armas, porque quebranto
e chanto
ven delas toda sazon;
mais tragerei un dormon,
e irei pela marinha
vendend’azeit’ e farinha;
e fugirei do poçon
do alacran, ca eu non
lhi sei outra meezinha.

Nen de lançar a tavlado
non sõo, se Deus m’ampar,
aqui, nen de bafordar;
e andar de noute armado,
sen grado
o faço, e a roldar;
ca mais me pago do mar
que de seer cavaleiro;
ca eu foi já marinheiro
e quero-m’oi mais guardar
do alacran, e tornar
ao que me foi primeiro.

E direi-vos un recado;
nunca me pod’enganar
que me faça já falar
en armas, ca non m’é dado
m’é de as eu razõar,
pois-las non ei a provar);
ante quer’andar sinlheiro
e ir come mercadeiro
algua terra buscar,
u me non possan culpar
alacran negro nem veiro.

Alfonso X, Cantigas profanas. Juan Paredes Núñez (ed.), Madrid: Castalia, 2010, núm. XXVI (págs. 97-100).

English translation

I’ll never again be cheered
by the chirping
and delicate songs of birds
nor by love or great riches
nor by weapons (whose perils,
I confess,
have come to make me tremble),
but only by a seaworthy vessel
to carry me with all good speed
away from this land’s demon
heart, full of scorpions,
as my heart knows, being sore
from all their stinging poison.

I solemnly swear by God
I’ll go
without a beard or a cloak,
I’ll keep my heart closed
to love, and take no weapons
(which always
result in grief and disaster):
a boat is all I ask for.
And with it I will sail
along the coast, selling
oil and flour, fleeing
until my heart is free
from every venomous sting.

The gaming tables used to
amuse me
and I always loved to joust,
but those things bore me now,
and spending nights as an armed
has also lost its appeal:
I would rather be a seaman
than keep on as a knight.
When I was young I plied
the waters, and it’s my dream
to sail once more on the deep,
out of the scorpions’ reach.

I still have this to tell:
the devil
will never be able to fool me
with vain thoughts of using
the weapons I’ve laid to rest
not even to mention them,
as I won’t use them again).
Alone, as a merchantman,
I’ll sail in search of a land
where I know I can’t be stung
by black and vicious scorpions
or by brightly colored ones

Alfonso’s Last Wishes

During the last months of his life, Alfonso wrote two texts expressing his last wishes: ‘The First Testament’ dated 8 November 1282, and then the codicil (often misnamed ‘The Second Testament’) is dated 10 January 1284 - just three months before his own death. In the first, the King addresses the delicate political and legal issues, which overshadowed his last years, in relation to the conflict over his successor. In a distinctly personal tone, Alfonso justifies his position after the unexpected death of the infant, Fernando of la Cerda, and his behaviour towards his own son, Sancho, who in the end he declared a traitor and disinherited him. Furthermore, he also believed it was necessary to argue the reasons for allying with his former enemies, the Benimerins, at the time of his son’s uprising. Finally, he appoints the heirs to his kingdom as his grandchildren, the infants ‘de la Cerda’, and in the case of their death, he actually leaves it for the King of France to decide, as their families are united through their ancestors Alfonso VII and Alfonso VIII. In the second text, the King reiterates everything he said before, and adds a number of demands in relation to his debts, burial and most prized properties, not to mention various gifts to his relatives and royal subjects.

Murcia In His Heart

Renaissance tomb in the Cathedral of Murcia where Alfonso’s heart and entrails lie.
The provisions laid out in the codicil of 1284 specified the fate of Alfonso’s body. He expressed that he wanted to be buried in the cathedral of Murcia – “The first place that God wanted me to acquire in His service.” If this was not possible, then he ordered his executors to bury his body in Seville under the conditions that they show the humility and respect that they would show to their own son: “that the grave is not too high, and if it is possible to be where Don Fernando and Queen Beatriz are buried, in such a way that the head is at the base of their feet, and that the tomb is flat so that when the Chaplin comes to pray over us his feet are on top of the tomb.” Then the King asked for his heart to be removed and sent to be buried at Mount Cavalry in Jerusalem. Currently, Alfonso’s body is buried in the royal chapel in the Cathedral of Seville, a few metres away from his parents, Fernando and Beatriz, while his heart and entrails are in a Renaissance tomb in the Cathedral of Murcia.

To Find Out More

Juan Torres Fontes, «El corazón de Alfonso X el Sabio en Murcia», Murgetana, 106 (2002), 9-15.

The Testament Text

Alfonso X’s modern biographer, Manuel González Jiménez, has considered his testament to be “a primary piece of literature, worthy of being included in all medieval Castilian prose anthologies, with a beautiful and controlled expression, which is very convincing in its arguments, and full of drama.” In it, we are warned about the King’s unvented anger as he was overthrown by his subjects, and especially the bewilderment of a father betrayed by his own son. With a clean pen, the King pinpoints the reasons as to why he took such controversial decisions such as disinheriting and opposing his son Sancho, the alliance with the Benimerins and the consideration of annexing with the French crown. We provide here the beginning of the text.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Let it be known by all men who see, hear and read this document that I, don Alfonso, by the grace of God king of Castile and Leon, Toledo, Galicia, Seville, Cordoba, Murcia, Jaen, Badajoz and the Algarve, being sound of body and mind, and believing firmly in the Holy Trinity -the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who are three persons in one true God- and believing in the Holy Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom He was made flesh in order to save us, and believing in all the other things that the Holy Church of Rome believes and holds to be true, and knowing that there is no way other than our Holy Catholic faith through which man can be saved [...].

Alfonso Today

Today, our perception of Alfonso X is tainted by the unfortunate events of his last reigning years (failing to take over the Roman Empire, the struggle for a new successor, the execution of the barons, the civil war etc.) This dark legend around his figure only seemed to worsen over time as people seem to disregard his earlier reigning years and focus on the information that damages his reputation. This can been seen in the famous story of the King’s blasphemy, where he declared that if he had been present with God at the time of the world’s creation, he would have improved God’s design, or from the judgmental critics who condemned the famous words of Eduardo Marquina that were based on Father Mariana’s expression “from too much time looking up at the sky, the crown fell.” However, in light of his own concept that “God’s vicars are the Kings”, it is possible that Alfonso clung to his crown whenever he looked up at the sky, with elevated observations that not all his contemporaries (or his future scholars) were able to appreciate. People tend to explain, whilst imitating imitating the Cid’s minstrel, “What a worthy vassal if only he had a worthy lord!”

In any case, the effect of his cultural, scientific and legislative work in the later centuries (both outside and inside Spain’s borders) was immense. Within Spain it acts as the foundation to the Castilian prose, indicated in works such as Estoria de España (found in genres such as historiography, theatre and romace) as well as influencing the configuration of Spain’s own historical memory. The influence outside of Spain is seen in the establishment of the Seven-Part Code in Latin America until the nineteenth century; the validity of the Toledan or Alfonsine Tables to perform astronomical calculations to the publication of the Rudolphine Tables by Kepler in 1627 the likely influence on the figure of Dante as the Florentine poet, with his knowledge of the Book of the Ladder of Mohammed (the Alfonsine translation of the famous Night travel of the Prophet of Islam), used it a source for The Divine Comedy. Currently, there is not a solid recognition of King Alfonso’s contributions to the fields of language, history, astronomy and law. As a result, there have been many tributes to Alfonso throughout the years: from the status that receives the visitors of the Biblioteca Nacional de España, in Madrid, to having his name allocated to a cracter of the moon “Alphonsus”.

To Find Out More

Francisco Bautista, Alfonso X el Sabio. Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes. A very useful collection of bibliographic data surrounding the King’s character and work.

King of the United States

Marble relief dedicated to Alfonso X in the United States Congress.
Among the modern tributes of those who remember the intellectuality of Alfonso X, his image is represented in the United States Capitol at the headquarters of the United States congress - the largest US legislative body. Above the doors of the upper gallery there are twenty marble homages to some important figures in the history of law for their contribution to the development of American legislation. Alfonso X, along with Maimonides (the Jewish philosopher born in Cordoba in the twelfth century) are the only Spanish figures remembered there, and Alfonso’s commemoration is for the design and establishment of the Seven-Part Code, which prevailed in Latin America and some southern states in the US until the early nineteenth century, and whose content gained new a classification in American countries.

The Blasphemy of the King

A few decades after Alfonso’s death, a written rumour began to circulate about the oral origin and anti-Alfonsine design in which the King's proverbial wisdom is seen as a rather arrogant stance against God. Instances of this are seen in the Book of Weapons by Don Juan Manuel, but the majority of the evidence is found in the 1344 Chronicle of Don Pedro Alfonso, Cont of Barcelos. Later, it was also incorporated into the chronicles of Pedro IV and Navarre Bishop Fray Garcia de Eugui, and also gained a special mention from the first historians of modern Spain, such as Jerome Zurita or Father Mariana. Moreover, the reason for the tempest against the King during a stay in Segovia may well be inspired by a real fact. As reported by the Chronicle of Cardena, and the marginalia of the codex B -247 Cathedral of Segovia 26 August 1258, where the palace of Segovia collapsed while Alfonso and other Barons of the kingdom were inside; several of whome were killed, though the King remained uninjured in the incident. It is also important to note that, according to the marginalia of the Segovia codex, the building that would have collapsed would have been the Episcopal palace, and not the quarterdeck that is often thought.

One day, it happened that king Fernando and his wife had got up from their siesta, and the king asked for fruit in their chamber, and prince Alfonso took their cups and served them some wine very elegantly. And the queen set her eyes on him and stared at him and gave a great sigh and began to cry. The king, on seeing the queen sigh, was greatly concerned. And when the prince and all of the others had left the chamber, he asked her why she had sighed when she saw the prince serve the wine.

And the queen replied that it had just happened this way, and that she didn't know. And the king said that this could not be, and he begged her to tell him, and if not he would be suspicious of her and this would not be good. And the queen, when she saw this, said she would tell him, as this was his will. "Lord" she said, "when I was a young girl in the house of my father with my sister, doña Malgarida who is a year younger than me, there came a woman from Greece (where my mother, who was the daughter of Emperor Constantine of Greece was from) and she was a wise woman, and she often asked my mother about the matters of my father and she told her certain things. And my sister and I, when we heard this, took her aside and begged her to tell us some things about this, but that she should not tell our mother we had asked. And she said that she was fearful, because we were so young, that we would give her away. And we promised not to give her away. And she told us to be patient until a certain day, when she would come to us.

And when the day came, she came to our chamber, and said firstly that our father would die before either of us were married. And some time afterwards, honoured bishops would come from the west to ask if I would marry the king of that land, and he would be the most honoured and powerful king of Spain since the time the Goths had lost Spain. And she told me I would have six sons and two daughters with him. And she told me that our firstborn son would be one of the most beautiful beings on earth. And she told me that the king I would marry would live a long life and have an honourable death and that after his death my son would be king and he would be even more honoured and powerful than his father, and that this would last a long time. And because of a word of blasphemy he would say against God, he was destined to be disinherited of his kingdom except for one city where he would die.

And all of these things I had forgotten but they all have come true. For just as she said, they came to take me to you in the West and I had the children she said. And now, my lord, I see that I am pregnant and I believe that I shall die, as she said. And when I saw our son Alfonso serve us so beautifully, it reminded me how he was to be disinherited for one word, and this is why I sighed as I did. The woman also told my sister that she would marry a duke near the Holy Land, and that she would spend her life well with him, and so it was, for she was married to duke Esterlique and she lives well and honourably with him. And so, my lord, I believe I will die".

And the king understood that she spoke the truth and said to her that the will of God should be born out, for it could not be any other way. And the queen died at the time of the birth, just as she had said. And the king kept her secret, and never spoke of it until he had Seville besieged. And one day, he was in the tent of don Rodrigo Alfonso, whose guest he was, and that day a squire of don Nuño came to him and told him that the money that was sent from Castile for him and those who went in his army on the frontier at Jaen had been taken by prince Alfonso, along with other money sent for him. And the squire had not finished speaking when don Nuño came in to complain about this very matter to the king in the presence of don Rodrigo Alfonso. And the king took them to one side and he told them in tears all of the things that the queen had told him, as you have heard, and that for one word which the prince would say against God he was to be disinherited, and that this would cause Our Lord the greatest sadness he had suffered since the death of Jesus Christ, and that all of this seemed true to the king for those things the prince was doing against Our Lord and those that believed in Him.

How king Alfonso spoke words of such pride against the will of God that he was disinherited.

We have told you above how the queen recounted to king Fernando all of the things that the woman from Greece had told her. And so that you should know what king Alfonso said to incur the wrath of God, we will tell you now. Thus you should know that when don Alfonso was king he said many times these words: that if he had been with God or had been his adviser, if God had believed him some things would have been better than how He had done them. And so, when he had reigned for many years, it happened that a knight from Pampliega whose name was Pero Martines and who had raised don Manuel, saw in a vision a beautiful man in white clothing who told him that in the heavens Alfonso had been sentenced to die disinherited and that he would have a very bad end.

And the knight asked why it was that God was so angry with the king. And the man who appeared to him said: "When don Alfonso was in Seville, he said in public that if he had been with God when He made the world, that he would have changed many things so they were better than how they were made", and for this reason God was angry with him. And the knight asked if there was any way that God would pardon the king for this sin. And the man said that the sentence would be revoked if the king repented of what he had said and did penance for it. As soon as it was light, the knight left Pampliega and went to Peñafiel, where he found prince don Manuel and told him all that he had seen and heard. And the prince told him to go to speak to the king, who was in Burgos. And the told the king all that had happened, and the king said that it was true, and that he had said and would say it again: if he had been with God at Creation he would have changed many things so they were done better than they actually were.

And after some day, while don Alfonso was passing through the land, he came to Segovia, and there he found a friar, a very holy man, to whom God had revealed the same vision as to the knight. And he came to the king, and told him that he should do penance for the sins he had committed, and especially for those damned and evil words he had spoken with such pride, presumption and vanity in public so many times - that if he had been at the Creation he would have done this better than Him. And if he did not do penance, he should not doubt that God would demonstrate his power over him. And the king replied in anger "I am telling the truth in what I say, and you are a bad and misguided man". And the friar left the king and went on his way. And that night Our Lord sent a great storm of thunder and lightning, and in the chamber where the king lay with the queen a bolt of lightning hit which singed the clothes of the queen and burned most of the things in the room.

And when the king and queen saw this they were overtaken with great fear and ran from the room so terrified that all thought they were dead. And the king began to shout loudly and to demand that they go after that friar, but the storm was so great that no-one dared to leave the house. And one of the guards mounted his horse and went after the friar, and because he did not want to return there the guard forced him to do so. And when the friar came to the king they went to one side and spoke of confession, and as the king was repenting of his sins and taking penance, so the sky began to close and the storm to still. And the next day the king confessed publicly to that sin of blasphemy he had committed against God. And so great was his fear of the storm, that to make restitution to God he sent his messengers beyond the seas with great wealth to bring the remains of Saint Barbara, but he could not have them. And in the year when all of this happened, all of the misfortune of the king, which lasted to his death, began (ms. 10815, Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid, fols. 188r-189v).

Sounds From Another Time

How did medieval Castilian sound?

In this audio-clip, you will be able to hear the passage from Estoria de España from the third section of this display case, which tells the story of princess Liberia, model of female cunning. The recording is made to be faithful to medieval pronunciation (as we believe it to be), so that visitors can get a taste of Alfonso’s world.

Alfonso’s Workshop

Personal miracles

The Cantigas of Santa Maria highlight the various miracles of the Virgin that occurred in Alfonso’s life, not only to the close people around him, but also to himself. Cantiga 142 offer an example of this: a King’s servant is rescued by the Virgin. Here are some jumbled-up miniatures that illustrate this miracle from the Códice rico ['Rich Codex'] of El Escorial (ms. T.I.1). Read and listen the text of the song and order the panels chronologically:

Santa Maria rescues the King’s huntsman from drowning

1. King Alfonso threw a falcon, which hit a heron
2. The falcon injured the heron’s wing and it fell into the river
3. The King asked his huntsmen to retrieve the heron from the river
4. One man enters the river to retrieve the heron
5. Santa Maria rescued the huntsman, who emerged from the river carrying the heron
6. The huntsman presented the heron to the King and everyone blessed the Virgin for the miracle

Eduardo Paniagua, «La garza del río Henares. CSM 142». En Virgen de Atocha. Cantigas de Madrid. Pneuma, 2000.

Cantiga 142 (original version)

Como Santa María quis guardar de mórte un óme dun rei que entrara por ũa garça en un río

Ena gran coita sempr’ acorrer ven
a Virgen a quen fía en séu ben.

Com’ ũa vez acorreu ant’ el rei
don Afonsso, com’ óra vos direi,
a un óme que morrera, ben sei,
se non fosse pola que nos mantên.
Ena gran coita sempr’ acorrer ven…

Esto foi eno río que chamar
sóen Fenares, u el Rei caçar
fora, e un séu falcôn foi matar
en el ũa garça muit’ en desdên.
Ena gran coita sempr’ acorrer ven…

Ca pero a garça muito montou,
aquel falcôn tóste a acalçou
e dun gran cólbe a à lle britou,
e caeu na agua, que ja per ren
Ena gran coita sempr’ acorrer ven…

os cães non podían acorrer,
ca o río corría de poder,
por que ouvéran a garç’ a perder.
Mas el rei déu vózes: «¿Quen será, quen
Ena gran coita sempr’ acorrer ven…

que entre pola garça e a mi
a traga lógu’ e aduga aquí?».
E un d’ Aguadalfajara assí
disse: «Sennor, éu adurei aquên
Ena gran coita sempr’ acorrer ven…

do río». E lógu’ en el se meteu
con sas osas, que sól nonas tolleu,
e aa garça foi e a prendeu
pela cabeça, e quiséra-s’ ên
Ena gran coita sempr’ acorrer ven…

tornar, ca avía mui gran sabor
de dá-la garça al rei, séu sennor.
Mai-la agua o troux’ a derredor
de guisa que lle fez perdê-lo sen.
Ena gran coita sempr’ acorrer ven…

Ca a força d’agua assí o pres
que o mergeu dúas vezes ou tres;
mas el chamou a Virgen mui cortês,
que pariu Jesú-Crist’ en Belleên.
Ena gran coita sempr’ acorrer ven…

E todos a chamaron outro tal,
mas el rei disse: «Non averá mal;
ca non querrá a Madr’ esperital
que nos guarda e nos en poder ten».
Ena gran coita sempr’ acorrer ven

E macar todos dizían: «Mórt’ é»,
el rei dizía: «Non ést’, a la fé;
ca non querría aquela que sé
sempre con Déus e de nós non destên».
Ena gran coita sempr’ acorrer ven…

E assí foi; ca lógo sen mentir
o fez a Virgen do río saír
vivo e são e al Rei vĩir
con sa garça que trouxe ben dalên.
Ena gran coita sempr’ acorrer ven…

E foi-a dar lóg’ al Rei manamán,
que bẽeizeu muit’ a do bon talán
por este miragre que fez tan gran,
e todos responderon lóg’: «Amên».
Ena gran coita sempr’ acorrer ven…

Cantiga 142 (English translation)

How Holy Mary saved from death one of the king's men who had entered river to retrive a heron.

In great affliction, the Virgin always comes to aid
those who trust in Her goodness.

As once She rescued, in the presence of King
don Alfonso, as I shall tell you now,
a man who would have died, I am sure,
if it were not for Her who protects us.
In great affliction, the Virgin always comes to aid...

This happened on the river which is called
Henares, where the king had gone to hunt.
A falcon of his had
boldly killed a heron there.
In great affliction, the Virgin always comes to aid...

For although the heron flew very high,
that falcon quickly overtook it
and, with a powerful blow, broke its wing.
It fell into the water, and, in spite of their efforts,
In great affliction, the Virgin always comes to aid...

the dogs could not reach it,
for the river was running swiftly.
Therefore, they gave the heron up for lost.
However, the king shouted: "Who will it be
In great affliction, the Virgin always comes to aid...

who will go in after the heron
and bring it back to me here?".
A man from Guadalajara answered thus:
"My lord, I shall bring it out of the river."
In great affliction, the Virgin always comes to aid...

At once he jumped in,
wearing his boots, for he did not stop to take them off,
and swam to the heron and grasped it
by the head. He tried to swim back
In great affliction, the Virgin always comes to aid...

to shore, for he wanted very much
to give the heron to the king, his lord.
But the water swirled him around
so that he lost his senses.
In great affliction, the Virgin always comes to aid...

The force of the water seized him so powerfully
that it submerged him two or three times,
but he called on the Royal Virgin
who bore Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.
In great affliction, the Virgin always comes to aid...

Everyone else also called on Her,
and the king said: "No harm will be done,
for the Spiritual Mother
who protects us and has us in Her power will not suffer it."
In great affliction, the Virgin always comes to aid...

Although they all said: "He is dead",
the king kept saying: "He is not, by my faith,
for that One who is
always with God and does not abandon us would not so will".
In great affliction, the Virgin always comes to aid...

And so it was, for soon, in all truth,
the Virgin caused the man to come out of the river
alive and well and approach the king
with his heron, which he brought out with him.
In great affliction, the Virgin always comes to aid...

He presented it forthwith to the king,
who greatly blessed the Lady of Good will
for this wondrous miracle She performed,
and all responded promptly: "Amen".
In great affliction, the Virgin always comes to aid...