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Alfonso VIII, King of Castile, and Leonora of Acquitane

ALFONSO VIII. [Familytree].
Born on 11 November 1155 in Soria, Spain; son of Sancho III King of Castile and Blanche of Navarre.

Alfonso VIII was also called the Noble or el de las Navas. He was the King of Castile from 1158 to his death in 1214. He is most remembered for his part in the Reconquista and the downfall of the Almohad Caliphate. After having suffered a defeat at Alarcos, he won a decisive victory at Las Navas de Tolosa near Santa Elena on 16 July, 1212.

Alfonso was the founder of the first Spanish university, a studium generale at Palencia, which, however, did not survive him. His court also served as an important instrument for Spanish cultural achievement. His marriage (Burgos, September 1180) with Eleanor (Leonora), daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, brought him under the influence of the greatest governing intellect of his time. Troubadours and sages were always present, largely due to the influence of Eleanor.

Alfonso was the subject for Lion Feuchtwanger's novel Die Jüdin von Toledo (The Jewess of Toledo), in which is narrated an affair with a Jewish subject in medieval Toledo in a time when Spain was known to be the land of tolerance and learning for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The titular Jewish woman of the novel is based on Alfonso's historical paramour, Rahel la Fermosa.

His early life resembled that of other medieval kings. His father died in 1158. Though proclaimed king when only two years of age,[6] Alfonso was regarded as merely nominal by the unruly nobles to whom a minority was convenient. Immediately, Castile was plunged into conflicts between the various noble houses vying for ascendancy in the inevitable regency. The devotion of a squire of his household, who carried him on the pommel of his saddle to the stronghold of San Esteban de Gormaz, saved him from falling into the hands of the contending factions. The noble houses of Lara and Castro both claimed the regency, as did the boy's uncle, Ferdinand II of León. In 1159 the young Alfonso was put briefly in the custody of García Garcés de Aza, who was not wealthy enough to support him. In March 1160 the Castro and Lara met at the Battle of Lobregal and the Castro were victorious, but the guardianship of Alfonso and the regency fell to Manrique Pérez de Lara. Alfonso was put in the custody of the loyal village Ávila. At barely fifteen, he began restoring his kingdom to order. It was only by surprise that he recovered his capital Toledo from the hands of the Laras. (S1).

During the regency, his uncle Sancho VI of Navarre took advantage of the chaos and the king's minority to seize lands along the border, including much of La Rioja. In 1170, Alfonso sent an embassy to Bordeaux to Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine to seek the hand of their daughter Eleanor. The marriage treaty helped provide Alfonso with a powerful ally against his uncle. In 1176, Alfonso asked his father-in-law to arbitrate the disputed border territories. While Alfonso received back much which had been taken from him, he did have to pay significant monetary compensation. (S1).

In 1186, he recovered part of La Rioja from the Kingdom of Navarre. (S1).

In 1187, Alfonso negotiated with Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor who was seeking to marry his son Conrad to Alfonso's eldest child and heir, Berengaria. In April 1188 they agreed on a treaty in Seligenstadt which made clear that she was the heir of Castile after any sons of Alfonso, and that Conrad would only co-rule as her spouse. This became relevant in her ultimate succession to the throne, even though the marriage to Conrad was never consummated and later annulled. The treaty also documented traditional rights and obligations between the sovereign and the nobles in Castile. In July 1188, Alfonso convened his court in Carrión de los Condes to allow the nobles to review and ratify the treaty. At that court, Alfonso knighted both Conrad and Alfonso IX of León, who would ultimately marry Berengaria. The younger Alfonso had come to seek the support and acknowledgement of his ascent to the throne of León from his older cousin. The elder Alfonso granted this in exchange for acknowledgement that the king of Castile was overlord of the king of León. (S1).

The relationship between the cousins Alfonso continued to be filled with conflict. In 1194, the papal legate negotiated a treaty between them to temporarily end the conflict. However, after Castile was defeated at the Battle of Alarcos, the younger Alfonso seized the opportunity to again attack his cousin. Castille defended itself with papal support. A more lasting peace was achieved finally by the older Alfonso's daughter Berengaria getting married to the younger Alfonso in 1197. The annulment of this marriage by the pope drove the younger Alfonso to again attack his cousin in 1204, but treaties made in 1205, 1207, and 1209 each forced him to concede further territories and rights. The treaty in 1207 is the first existing public document in the Castilian dialect. (S1).

Around 1200 when his brother in law John was on the English throne, Alfonso began to claim that Gascony was part of Eleanor's dowry, though there was nothing in the marriage treaty to indicate this. In 1205, he invaded, hoping to make good on his claim. By 1208, he gave up on the venture, though his heirs would come back to this claim generations later. (S1).

In 1174, he ceded Uclés to the Order of Santiago and afterwards this became the order's principal seat. From Uclés, he began a campaign which culminated in the reconquest of Cuenca in 1177.[17] The city surrendered on 21 September, the feast of Saint Matthew, ever afterwards celebrated by the citizens of the town. (S1).

Alfonso took the initiative to ally all Christian kingdoms of the peninsula — Navarre, León, Portugal, and Aragon — against the Almohads. By the Treaty of Cazola of 1179, the zones of expansion of each kingdom were defined. (S1).

After founding Plasencia (Cáceres) in 1186, he embarked on a major initiative to unite the Castilian nobility around the Reconquista. In 1195, after the treaty with the Almohads was broken, he came to the defence of Alarcos on the river Guadiana, then the principal Castilian town in the region. At the subsequent Battle of Alarcos, he was roundly defeated by the caliph Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur. The reoccupation of the surrounding territory by the Almohads was quickly commenced with Calatrava falling first. For the next seventeen years, the frontier between Moor and Castilian was fixed in the hill country just outside Toledo. (S1).

Finally, in 1212, through the mediation of Pope Innocent III, a crusade was called against the Almohads. Castilians under Alfonso, Aragonese and Catalans under Peter II, Navarrese under Sancho VII, and Franks under the archbishop of Narbonne, Arnaud Amalric, all flocked to the effort. The military orders also lent their support. Calatrava first, then Alarcos, and finally Benavente were captured before a final battle was fought at Las Navas de Tolosa near Santa Elena on 16 July. The caliph Muhammad al-Nasir was routed and Almohad power broken. (S1).

Alfonso was the founder of the first Spanish university, a studium generale at Palencia, which, however, did not survive him. His court also served as an important instrument for Spanish cultural achievement. Alfonso and his wife Eleanor of England were the first to make the Alcázar of Segovia as their resident when this fortress was still at its early stages. (S1).

Alfonso died on 6 October 1214 at Gutierre-Muñoz, Spain; and was succeeded by his eldest surviving son, Henry I, named after his maternal grandfather. (S1).

LEONORA of Acquitane. (Alainor)(Eleanor of England). [Familytree].
Born on 13 October (about 1161-S2)(1162) in the castle at Domfront, Normandy, France; daughter of Henry II, King of England, and Eleanor of Acquitaine.

In 1170 Eleanor married Alfonso VIII, King of Castile, in Burgos. Her parents' purpose in arranging the marriage was to secure Aquitaine's Pyrenean border, while Alfonso was seeking an ally in his struggles with Sancho VI of Navarre. In 1177, this led to Henry overseeing arbitration of the border dispute. (S2).

Around the year 1200, Alfonso began to claim that the duchy of Gascony was part of Eleanor's dowry, but there is no documented foundation for that claim. It is highly unlikely that Henry II would have parted with so significant a portion of his domains. At most, Gascony may have been pledged as security for the full payment of his daughter's dowry. Her husband went so far on this claim as to invade Gascony in her name in 1205. In 1206, her brother John granted her safe passage to visit him, perhaps to try opening peace negotiations. In 1208, Alfonso yielded on the claim. Decades later, their great-grandson Alfonso X of Castile would claim the duchy on the grounds that her dowry had never been fully paid. (S2).

Of all Eleanor of Aquitaine's daughters, her namesake was the only one who was enabled, by political circumstances, to wield the kind of influence her mother had exercised. In her own marriage treaty, and in the first marriage treaty for her daughter Berengaria, Eleanor was given direct control of many lands, towns, and castles throughout the kingdom. She was almost as powerful as Alfonso, who specified in his will in 1204 that she was to rule alongside their son in the event of his death, including taking responsibility for paying his debts and executing his will. It was she who persuaded him to marry their daughter Berengaria to Alfonso IX of León. Troubadours and sages were regularly present in Alfonso VIII's court due to Eleanor's patronage. (S2).

Eleanor took particular interest in supporting religious institutions. In 1179, she took responsibility to support and maintain a shrine to St. Thomas Becket in the cathedral of Toledo. She also created and supported the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas, which served as a refuge and tomb for her family for generations, and its affiliated hospital. (S2).

When Alfonso died, Eleanor was reportedly so devastated with grief that she was unable to preside over the burial. Their eldest daughter Berengaria instead performed these honours. Eleanor then went sick and died only twenty-six days after her husband, on 31 October 1214 at Burgos, Castile, Spain; and was buried at Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas. (S2).

Eleanor died in (1214)(1215).

CHILDREN of Alfonso VIII and Leonora of Acquitane:
  1. Berenguela of Castile. (Berengaria). Born in August 1180. She married Alfonso IX, King of Leon. She died on 8 November 1246.
  2. Sancho (1181)
  3. Sancha (1182 – 3 February 1184)
  4. Urraca (1186 – 1220), married Alfonso II of Portugal
  5. Blanche of Castile. Born on 4 March 1188. She married Louis VIII, King of France. She died on 26 November 1252.
  6. Ferdinand (29 September 1189 – 1211), on whose behalf Diego of Acebo and the future Saint Dominic travelled to Denmark in 1203 to secure a bride.
  7. Mafalda (1191 – 1204).
  8. Constance (1195 – 1243), abbess of Santa María la Real of Las Huelgas.
  9. Eleanor (1200 – 1244), married James I of Aragon.
  10. Henry I (14 April 1204 – 1217), successor


Alfonso VIII, King of Castile, and Leonora of Acquitane
Alfonso IX, King of Leon, and Berenguela of Castile
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