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Biography of Alfonso VIII. King of Castilla (1155-1214)

King of Castile from 31 July 1158 until the date of his death. Probably born 11 November 1155 in Soria and died in Gutiérrez Muñoz (Ávila) at dawn on 5 to 6 October 1214.

Biographical synthesis

Son of Sancho III of Castile, Alfonso VIII came to power at the age of 3 years. During the greater part of its minority of age it was under the supervision of the Lara family. After personally assume control of his Kingdom in 1169, Alfonso was confronted on the Kings of Navarre and León, in order to recover the territories that had been snatched during the minority of age. In addition to these campaigns the King of Castile clashed repeatedly with the Almohad armies, who defeated at the battle of the Navas de Tolosa.

Alfonso VIII, King of Castile. Real Palacio. Madrid.

First years

Only son of the Castilian monarch Sancho III and wife, Blanca Garcés, his birth was reason for great celebrations at the Court of his parents, who decided to baptize you with the name of Alfonso in honor of his paternal grandfather, King of Castile and León Alfonso VII.

Very soon went out the joy of the Court of the King of Castile, since August 12, 1156 Queen, circumstance that prevented the young infant to have any memory of his mother, since he had just 9 months when Doña Blanca was buried in the Church of Santa María de Nájera died. But this would not be the only event sad childhood, since 31 July, 1158, when he was just 3 years old, died Sancho III, which took time to appoint as Regent of the Kingdom to its former ayo, Gutierre Fernández de Castro, which in addition to take care of managing the Affairs of the Government, should monitor the formation of Alfonso was as complete as possible. But while the new King must be surrounded by attention, there is no doubt among researchers when it comes to affirm that the premature death of his parents deeply affected their personal development, since it was forced to mature very quickly in the heat of successive clashes that took place in Castilla for safekeeping.

So while don Gutierre took charge of Alfonso VIII after the death of Sancho III, due to the strong pressure exerted upon him the Lara family, was forced to resign from his post and to deliver the child King García García of the Aza, which after about a year and a half, handed over to the King to Manrique Pérez de Lara. This new situation Castro protests were growing, circumstance that caused the outbreak of successive violent episodes, in which participated actively from the year 1162, in support of the latter, Fernando II of León. The Lara, except for brief intervals, kept control over Alfonso VIII for 9 years, despite the violent death of don Manrique in 1164, since Nuño Pérez de Lara took over all responsibilities to his older brother, had held until the monarch personally took control of his Kingdom in the year 1169.

Relations with the Kingdom of León

While during the minority of age of Alfonso VIII, Fernando II had taken over the appanage of land fields, relations of both monarchs were cordial during the first years of personal Government of the King of Castile. But relations between uncle and nephew were thinning with the passage of time, especially after the year 1176, when Alfonso VIII gave concluded their campaigns in Navarre. So in the fall of 1178 the Castilian monarch under the command of a powerful army, departed from Simancas intended to attack Medina de Rioseco. Fernando II tried to cut off the passage in the vicinity of Castrodeza, where according to some Chronicles of the Castilian Alfonso VIII was an important victory, which enabled him to grab all the squares and villas that were part of the aforementioned appanage. However the King of Leon not resigned to losing these territories, reason by which followed clashes between the Castilian and Leonese troops at the border of both kingdoms between 1179 and 1180. Very soon the lack of results encouraged both monarchs to bring their positions closer and finally reached a tentative agreement of February 27, 1181, which was officially ratified by the peace of Medina de Rioseco on 21 March of that year. Peace was not long-lasting, since in 1182 they returned to resume hostilities, by which made necessary the intervention of the master of Santiago and the prior of the order of San Juan, which mediated to get Fernando II and Alfonso VIII again negotiating, signing and the Treaty of Fresno-Lavandera of June 1, 1183.

The arrival to power of Alfonso IX, after the death of Fernando II, initially was not an obstacle to the maintenance of peace between the two kingdoms, since otherwise the new monarch of Leon tried to strengthen relations of friendship with his cousin, in anticipation that this work with supporters of his half-brother, the infante don Sancho. So the 19 March 1188 a meeting between both monarchs held in Carrión de los Condes, in which Alfonso IX pledged to marry a Spanish infanta and was armed Knight by Alfonso VIII, which meant that the Lion King recognized the supremacy of the King of Castile. Soon after Alfonso VIII presided over the marriage of his eldest daughter, Doña Berenguela, with the German Prince Conrad, after which both were sworn as heirs of Castile, since at that time still had not occurred the birth of any child. These events were not to the liking of Alfonso IX, who cherished the idea of becoming the heir to the throne Spanish, where Alfonso VIII did not have any son, reason by which signed an alliance with the King of Portugal, who joined soon after the Aragonese King Alfonso II and Sancho VI of NavarreHe isolated practically to Castile. Thus the situation was becoming increasingly tense between both monarchs and the intervention of the Pope was necessary to avoid war, which got its purpose after the signing of the arbitral award of Tordehumos 20 April 1194.

Newly signed peace with the King of León, Alfonso VIII devoted their efforts to fight the Almohads, although this had disappeared the problems between both monarchs Christians, as evidenced by the fact that Alfonso IX signed an important partnership with the Almohad Caliph after the battle of Alarcos. So after receiving the news that they were prepared to attack his Kingdom Leon, Alfonso VIII signed an alliance with Pedro II of Aragon and did everything that was in your hand to be sure that Sancho VII of Navarre remain neutral. These diplomatic achievements allowed the King of Castile to successfully confront Alfonso IX, since after recovering Plasencia, it managed to take an important fortress in the Somozas and known at the time as Castro's Jewish population. After Alfonso VIII campaign complained strongly to the Pope, which severely admonished Alfonso IX for working with Muslims, although the Pontiff no threats served since Lion King maintained its contacts with these. But the situation would soon change, because in the year 1197 Alfonso VIII signed a truce for 5 years with the Almohad Caliph, a circumstance that left completely isolated Lion King.

Everything seemed to indicate that Alfonso VIII would not attack, but the Castilian monarch, apparently on the advice of his wife, decided to sign peace with his cousin, which pledged in marriage with the infanta Berenguela. The union sought to make peace between the two kingdoms, since on the one hand Alfonso VIII gave his daughter as a dowry the border squares that had snatched the monarch lions and this as proof of its good intentions, gave to the Spanish infanta squares that had snatched his father. Thus the peace between the two was secured while the marriage was effective, although they were very soon to arise problems since both Pope Celestine III, and his successor Pope Innocent III, refused to recognize the union, given the degree of relationship that existed between the two. Thus despite the attempts to legalize the marriage by both courts, both Doña Berenguela as Alfonso IX were excommunicated, excommunication which was extensible to children who were born from this marriage.

The decision of the Pontiff made a deep impression on Alfonso VIII, after receiving the news, abandoned the siege was carried out in Vitoria, to Plasencia, where he met his son-in-law, December 8, 1199. There was signed an agreement by which Doña Berenguela was recognized as owner of all the squares border until his death, although finally dissolve the union. Peace with Leon was solidly grounded and unimportant confrontations just were recorded during the following years.

Relations with the Kingdom of Navarre

During the minority of age of Alfonso VIII, Sancho VI of Navarre in addition to link their possessions the territories of Alava, Guipúzcoa and Vizcaya, joined his Kingdom much of la Rioja, Logroño, some important as Santo Domingo de la Calzada and after entering the Bureba, Briviesca took; after which he signed a truce with Nuño Fernández of Lara. The truce that was to have a duration of 10 years, was broken by Alfonso VIII in the year 1172, since this could not tolerate these significant territorial losses. Thus approximately in the month of may the King of Castile recovered the squares of Briviesca and Stallion, among others; and in the month of September had come to Logroño. But despite these triumphs war not had only just begun. So the campaigns against the Kingdom of Navarre were kept permanently until the year 1176. But undoubtedly the major milestone of this contest was the siege square Leguin, who after his fall the Navarrese King decided to appeased his enemy.

Because of the difficulties that had to reach an agreement, it was necessary to resort to Henry II of England that he mediate in the conflict. So thanks to intervention was signed August 25, 1176, an arbitral commitment, whereby both monarchs were committed to establish its borders at the same point in which were at the beginning of the reign of Alfonso VIII, although this decision did not fulfill the aspirations of none of the disputants, reason by which were reluctant to abide by the judgment, especially Sancho of Navarre, who was finally forced to accept the new situation, the strong pressures that Alfonso VIII exerted upon him. So the 15 April 1179 was signed a new peace treaty.

Claims it was the tonic general the following years, although after the death of Sancho VI, of June 27, 1194, the clashes resumed since the successor of this, Sancho VII, taking advantage of the defeat suffered by the troops of Alfonso at Alarcos, decided to ally themselves with the King of León, to negotiate even with the Almohads. Although it should be noted that Sancho the strong did not intervene in support of Alfonso IX, since in March 1197, at the behest of the King of Aragon, he met in Tarazona the King of Castile, reviving again concord between the two kingdoms. But the peace once more wasn't going to be long-lasting, since the navarro broke the truce in the same year, action which was not forgiven by Alfonso VIII, that after signing peace with Leon and the Almohads, carried out a series of campaigns between 1198 and 1200, which had as a main result that Alava and Guipúzcoa be incorporated definitively to Castile.

Relations with the Almohads

The Alliance signed by Alfonso VII with ibn Mardanis (1124-1172), better known as the Wolf King; It was not altered during the minority of his grandson, Alfonso VIII age. This Alliance was hugely beneficial to the Castilians, thanks to the intervention of this, they had to do against Almohad attacks, at a time when the domestic situation was marked by clashes between the Lara and Castro. This calm situation changed when Alfonso VIII reached the age of majority, since educated in the ideals of the reconquest, was soon interested in deal with Muslims, why he came into contact with the Portuguese leader Geraldo Sempavor and strengthened its relations with the Wolf King. So while the African obtained a major booty in the campaigns carried out in the year 1170, they decided to inform the emir of Morocco, Yacub (1160-1199), the change that had occurred in the Kingdom of Castile, reason why he decided to cross the Strait to lead a punitive expedition personally. Thus in the year 1171 after passing through Badajoz, Yacub attacked Toledo although its true purpose was to make a definitive break with the independence of the Kingdom of Murcia, Kingdom that came under its control the following year, while Alfonso VIII could do nothing to avoid it.

Since the death of the Wolf King, the main weight of the war against the Muslims fell to the Kingdom of Castile, since after the disappearance of the Kingdom of Murcia, its borders were exposed to Almohad attacks. Soon be feeling this new threat, since that same year (1172) Toledo and Talavera were harshly punished and is laid siege, July 8, to the fortress of Huete. These developments Alfonso VIII did not hesitate to react and after reorganizing their forces split to release the square. But it was not necessary to arrive at Huete to confront the armies of the emir, since Yacub had been forced to lift the siege, after their camp being devastated by a strong Gale. So as you can see in the Chronicles armies castellanos and almohades met July 25 and a day later clashes, began although this time not any pitched battle took place, since the armies of Alfonso VIII abandoned their positions and went to Hita, where the monarch was August 29. 1173 began with expeditions of punishment from both sides, although finally Alfonso VIII, because the problems that had in its borders both leoneses, navarros decided to negotiate a truce with the Almohads, which was signed the same year.

While Alfonso VIII was the main promoter of the aforementioned truce with the Muslims, soon break it after signing, along with the King of Navarre the arbitral commitment that had dictated Enrique II. So in January 1177, we find the Castilian monarch personally directing the siege to Cuenca, city that was rendered by hunger in September of that same year. In this sense, it is necessary to point out that from the conquest of Cuenca to the year 1181, while punishment campaigns, occurred the King of Castile did not participate personally in any expedition, perhaps because of the many clashes that remained with the King of León, to the signing of the Treaty of Medina de Rioseco.

Signed peace with Fernando II, soon, Alfonso VIII to resume hostilities against the Muslims, reason for which at the end of April 1181 we find the monarch in city of Toledo preparing an expedition far more ambitious than those carried out in previous years. So in the month of June 1182 led his men to the city of Cordoba, to the astonishment of the Almohads who retreated en masse in the cities, while the Governor of Seville was the first attempts to reorganize the army. This situation encouraged Alfonso to continue the campaign and took the plaza de Setifilla, which was put under the custody of a powerful garrison, since the monarch was intended to preserve this fortress as a Christian outpost, but finally had to renounce the possession of it by the reaction of the quoted Governor of Seville, who tried to take Talavera, but with no success. The following years (1183-1184) Castilian armies continued their campaigns in enemy territory, but it seems unlikely that Alfonso VIII directed any expedition, however the unexpected death of Yacub put an end to the offensive launched by the Almohads in the year 1184, which encouraged the Castilians to penetrate Muslim territory between 1185 and 1189. After these years the situation of the Almohad Empire became more stable, since the new emir, Muhammad al-Nasir, decided to cross the Strait to start the holy war against the Castilians, circumstance which prompted Alfonso VIII to ask for a truce, which was accepted by it in the year 1190.

Between 1190 and 1193 the truce was renewed promptly by emissaries sent by Alfonso VIII to Morocco, but after the signing of the Treaty of Tordehumos (April 20, 1194), the King of Castile decided to organize a new expedition by land of the Guadalquivir, which obtained brilliant results. The reaction of the Almohad emir did not wait and in the spring of the following year (1195) this came to the Peninsula, after which it returned to summon all Muslims to wage holy war. Soon, Alfonso VIII in knowing the intentions of Muhammad al - Nasir, reason by which summoned the most important Castilian magnates and members of orders military, so next to the plant face to the enemy. However, while he managed to assemble a mighty army in Toledo, Alfonso suffered one of the biggest defeats of his reign at the battle of Alarcos, held June 18, 1195, defeat that had wide implications, since Alfonso weakness was exploited by the Kings of Leon and Navarre to sign an alliance with the Muslims which emboldened by his victory refused to sign peace with Castile. The Almohads began an expedition against Toledo, which was able to resist the attack although not without difficulty in the year 1196. Finally in the year 1197, the emir agreed to sign a truce with Alfonso VIII, who succeeded in leaving graceful complicated situation while he had been in game the integrity of his Kingdom.

The truce with the Almohads remained from the year 1197 until 1210, unless you record any confrontation between Muslims and the Castilians during this long period, largely because of the interest that showed feel Alfonso VIII in Gascony. Nevertheless it is possible to perceive relationships between almohades and castellanos were thinning with the passage of the years, especially in the border territories, so it is not surprising that restocking by the monarch of Castile in plaza de Moya, back light the wick of war. Thus the Almohad emir arrived at al - Andalus at the beginning of the year 1211, after ordering is to preach holy war, although according to the Chronicles, the first attacks departed from the Christian side, since a group of Knights of the order of Calatrava, attacked Andújar, Baeza and Jaén. So definitely broken the peace the Almohads began a RAID by Spanish territory and laid siege in June of that same year to the fortress of Salvatierra. After hearing the news Alfonso VIII put in foot of war all his men, although it failed to release the aforementioned fortress that fell to the Muslims. But the fall of Salvatierra would cause large number of men of all the Christian kingdoms of the Peninsula, and even many European gentlemen, come to fight in defense of their religion and joined the troops of Alfonso VIII in Toledo the day may 20, 1212. June 20, 1212, so a powerful army left the city with the intention of defeating the North African armies, which were to meet in called pass of Muradal, place where took place on 16 July, the famous battle of the Navas de Tolosa. But despite the defeat of the Almohads, the aforementioned battle not marked the end of the clashes, since two years continued to open hostilities, still hunger who lived in lands of Castile the trigger that prompted Alfonso to sign a truce with his enemies in the year 1214.

Relations with the Kingdom of Aragon and intervention in Gascony

It is possible to say that the relations between Alfonso VIII and Alfonso II of Aragon were extremely cordial from 1169 until 1179, although naturally there were some differences between them that were resolved without difficulty. Thus both monarchs fought jointly to the King of Navarre between 1174 and 1177, not to mention that Alfonso II collaborated decisively in the conquest of Cuenca. But after the signing of the Treaty of Cazorla, March 20, 1179, relations between them were to cool, since April 15 that same year, Alfonso VIII signed the peace separately with the King of Navarre, Act that didn't like the Aragonese who felt disappointed. Despite these circumstances, the King of Castile and Aragon King sought to resolve a small border conflict in a peaceful manner and agreed that the first would help the second to consolidate his authority over the Albarracín. However Alfonso VIII showed little interest in participating in the projects of Alfonso II, circumstance that induced him to ally with the King of Navarre, September 7, 1190 in Borja. At the same time Alfonso IX of León signed a treaty with the King of Portugal, Alliance that did not hesitate to merge to the already signed by the Aragonese and navarro, in the Treaty of Huesca, signed may 12, 1191. Thus in July of that same year the Kings of Aragon and Navarre began an expedition by land Soria, although soon Alfonso II had to abandon its ally, since Teruel was attacked by the Castilians. This nothing could do to defend their possessions, because that was taken prisoner after falling into an ambush, but thanks to the intervention of the Bishops of Osma and Tarazona, restored harmony between the two kingdoms on a permanent basis, since after the death of Alfonso II in 1196, his successor, Pedro II, became one of the main allies of Alfonso VIII until the year 1213.

With regard to Gascony, territory that was part of the dowry of his wife, Doña Leonor, it should be noted that the Castilian monarch hardly paid attention to this territory until the year 1199, year in which was practically consolidated the Spanish domain of the lands of Alava and Guipúzcoa. Thus it took no action against the Viscount of Bearn, when it swore loyalty to the King of Aragon in the year 1170 and could not or would not do anything to curb the actions of the noble Gascon after the arrival to the throne of his brother-in-law, Ricardo the Lionheart. But the arrival of the Castilian troops to the border of the Bidasoa, marked a before and an after in relationships of Alfonso VIII with Juan Sin Tierra and Felipe Augusto of France, who sought the friendship of Castilian, since both were at war. At the same time some noble Gascon sought the favor of Alfonso, which favored this show an interest growing for this territory, although until the death of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the 4 April 1204, did not feel their authority. However, while he headed an expedition to reinforce its position in 1205, barely a year later abandoned its claims about Gascony.

Family life and last years

By virtue of one of the clauses of the Treaty of Sahagún, signed by Sancho III of Castile and Fernando II of Leon in the year 1157, yes some monarchs died childless, the Crown would reverse directly in those who survive. That clause would maintain its vigor among the descendants of both, reason why it was urgent to give the Crown of Castilla an heir as soon as possible, since Alfonso VIII had no brothers. Thus in the opinion of Gonzalo Martínez Díez the succession question was addressed in the first curia who chaired Burgos Alfonso VIII, after reaching the age of majority, officially since since very early dates began the search for a wife for the young monarch. Doña Leonor, daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, with which Alfonso VIII got married in September 1170 was the chosen. But despite the speed with which held the betrothal, marriage not had consummated until some years later, since Eleanor was 10 years old when the link was held. Although it seems unlikely that both monarchs brought his union around the year 1179, due to the high rate of infant mortality of the time, it is possible that some of their children not overcome the first days of life, so that his presence was not registered in the documentation. Thus the first birth of which we have record is Doña Berenguela (1180-1240), after this date we know the identity of at least nine more children, among which could be noted because of its importance to the infante Fernando (1189-1211), whose death caused deep sadness at her father; and the future Henry I (1204-1217).

According to biographers of Alfonso VIII the family life of the monarch was happy, although the death of some of his children sometimes clouded this happiness. Thus the King was satisfied with their marriage and especially with the great qualities of his wife, which respected during the 44 years their marriage. Nevertheless there are some literary references, which speak of a supposed relationship of Alfonso VIII with a Jewish of Toledo, although that relationship not been able to be substantiated.

With regard to the last years of the monarch, it should be noted that after the aforementioned battle of the Navas de Tolosa, Alfonso VIII health was very deteriorated, mainly due to the numerous warlike campaigns addressed this throughout his reign. But his delicate state of health did not prevent him continue to exercise their responsibilities. Thus while between October and November of the year 1213 had been on the verge of dying, because of a serious illness, at the end of this last month undertook a trip to Toledo, city where should meet with his army to March on Baeza. The Seige from Baeza lasted for a few months and Alfonso VIII remained the same until February 2, 1214, date in which began the return to Castile. Thus despite the harsh conditions that had to endure, he did not remain long time resting in the capital of his Kingdom, since a few days after their arrival traveled to Carrión de los Condes. Newly installed in Burgos at the beginning of the month of may, all summer was very aware of the negotiations to sign a truce with the Almohads, after which, at the beginning of September of that same year (1214), began what would be his last trip.

Seriously ill, only he could ride without help, Alfonso VIII is obstinate in traveling to Palencia, where was reunited with his son Alfonso II of Portugal. But the trip was being surrounded by family troubles real and especially for the King, who received with regret the news of the death of one of their more faithful collaborators, Diego López de Haro, character that thought to deliver custody of the infante Enrique, by which its succession plans were once again disrupted. Although we must bear in mind that it continued to have effect the Testament prepared by the monarch in the year 1201, by which the Queen Leonor becoming tutor of the King and Regent in the event that produced his death, since had again confirmed the mentioned document after the death of the infante Fernando.

The death of Alfonso VIII took place in a small village situated between Arevalo and Avila, called Gutierre-Muñoz, where his entourage was stopped, since the troubled monarch in strong fevers was unable to follow. Accompanied by his wife, his daughter Doña Berenguela and his heir Prince Henry, after requesting a last confession, received the last rites from the hands of the Archbishop of Toledo, Jiménez de Rada. Few hours later, at dawn on 5 to 6 October died the King of Castile on the verge of reaching the age of 59. Due to the lack of means of the aforementioned village, as says Jiménez de Rada in his Chronicle, after finding a suitable coffin to transport his remains, Alfonso VIII was driven to Valladolid, where he was embalmed. A few days later he was buried with all solemnity in the Royal pantheon of the monastery of las Huelgas.


CHARLO BREA, L. Latin Chronicle of the Kings of Castile. (Madrid, Akal, 1999).

FERNÁNDEZ VALVERDE, J. history of the facts of Spain's Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada. (Madrid, Alianza, 1989).

FIDEL FITA, R. P. Elogio Queen of Castile and wife of Alfonso VIII, Doña Leonor de Inglaterra. (Madrid, Royal Academy of history, 1908).

JOVER ZAMORA, J. M. history of Spain Ramón Menéndez Pidal. The Reconquista and the process of political differentiation (1035-1217). (Madrid, Espasa-Calpe, 1991).

TEN Martinez, g. Kings of Castile: Alfonso VII (1158-1214). (Burgos, La Olmeda, 1995).

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