Biography of Alfonso VII. King of Castilla y León (1105-1157)

King of Castile and León born in Galicia in March 1105 and died in Fresneda (near the crossing of the Muradal or Despeñaperros) 29 August 1157.

Biographical synthesis

Grandson of the powerful Castilian-Leonese King Alfonso VI, became also the monarch due to fortuitous inheritance circumstances: first, which of the sons of the one only survive magpie, his mother; the second, the second marriage with Alfonso I of Aragon do quickly. Thus, it happened to his mother on the throne in 1126. After a few heavy clashes with her stepfather over possession of Castile, to the death of the Aragonese in 1134, and driven by his desire to unify the Christian peninsular kingdoms ("imperial idea"), extended its influence to all them getting their vassalage. In 1135, in fact, was crowned Emperor in Leon. The same principle prompted his expeditions and conquests in the Muslim lands of the South, usually towards Cordoba and Jaen. It came to dominate Cordoba temporarily and to conquer Almería in 1147, although it would lose this city ten years later, shortly before his death. Despite its unifying efforts, he divided his Kingdom between his sons Fernando II of León and Sancho III of Castile. He is known as the emperor for his coronation in 1135.

Alfonso Raimundez, an uncertain heir

He was son of Urraca, Queen of Castile and Leon, and Raymond of Burgundy, son of the Burgundian count Guillermo I. He was educated by the count of Traba, Pedro Froilaz, in Galicia, where he would remain approximately the first ten years of his life. Just had three when in 1107 died his father and his grandfather, King Alfonso VI, bestowed jointly with his mother the Government of Galicia who had possessed Raimundo, which should only be for it in case of re-marriage of his mother. Given its low age, magpie would be Governor time on behalf of the two. In 1108, is named heiress to the Castilian throne (just die in combat the previous holder, his brother Sancho), Alfonso Raimúndez became the next in the line of succession.

This condition lasted a very short time, then the following year, in which Alfonso VI, died also and precisely by indication, magpie contracting new nuptials with Alfonso I the Battler, King of Aragon and Navarre: their possible offspring would be now the heiress, moving him. Although his grandfather worked as well to strengthen the weak position that was Urraca, does not seem moreover to have too much sympathy for a too small grandson, who hardly could continue its policy of peninsular unit. Yes it was, on the other hand, confirmed as Lord of Galicia. He was in his homeland where a party favourable to it, was formed headed by the count of Traba counted with the support of the Cluniac and, after some initial ambiguity, with the of the Compostela Bishop, Diego Gelmírez. This party was to appoint him King of Galicia in 1111, but by attempting to do the same in Leon was defeated by the Aragonese armies in Viadongos (near Astorga).

However, that could not get others by him when he was a child obtained it in his youth due to the course of events: in 1114 Alfonso the Battler and his mother separated definitively without having had children, which again placed him in the first place. It already had the support of count Pedro Ansúrez and Archbishop of Toledo and Pontifical legacy, Bernardo, accompanying him when he was recognized in 1118, in Toledo, as successor to his mother. You could also count on the sympathy of own Pope Callixtus II, who was her uncle (brother of Raimundo of Burgundy). Very soon began to exercise Royal authority on behalf of her mother in Toledo and the Castilian Extremadura (Ávila, Segovia, Guadalajara), granting or confirming fueros, and little by little in the rest of the Castilian-Leonese monarchy territories. Armed Knight in 1124, at the Cathedral of Santiago, was crowned King on the death of Queen Urraca, the 9 March 1126; found in Sahún since some days before, quickly he moved to the relatively nearby Leon to be enthroned in his cathedral the next day. It had twenty-one years of age.

Alfonso VII and the "Spanish Empire"

Alfonso VII, before the crowning it enjoyed, in general, of the sympathy of the Kingdom, but he was still in a relatively weak position. He immediately imposed their authority over all of its domains, especially the nobles who had acted too independently, although not without resistance, even rebellions which had to stifle from 1130 to 1133, including the powerful Lara and Gonzalo Peláez in Asturias in the previous reign. In 1128, he on the other hand, contracted marriage with Berenguela, daughter of the count of Barcelona Ramón Berenguer III, attended by his aunt, the Countess Teresa of Portugal. Likewise, if on the one hand he established a Covenant with it, that already used the title of Queen, and avoided the inevitable friction until 1137, by other relations with Aragon had more difficulties because of the wars in the previous reign.

To prevent new hostilities gave in to Alfonso the Battler and resigned, for the peace of Tamara of 1127, the high Ebro territories occupied by the Aragonese (most of Soria, in addition to almost all the Basque country and La Rioja). To change while others in Burgos and Soria, and the right to use the title of 'Emperor' (Imperator Hispaniae, 'Emperor of Spain') which had already employed Alfonso VI of Castile and Leon (super Imperator Hispanias omnes nationes: 'Emperor of all the Spains'), which meant, not effective sovereignty over the other Christian kingdoms, but the primacy in the reconquista and peninsular unification process. However, the peace between the two was not total, with several skirmishes in Castile, border region divided between the two (for example, Castrojeriz was conquered in 1131 by Spanish). After the death of Alfonso I in 1134, Alfonso VII took advantage of the vacuum of power in Aragon (according to the will of the monarch, the Kingdom was bequeathed to various military orders) to reconquer Najera and other places of La Rioja. It also occupied Calatayud and Zaragoza, which ceded to the new King navarro, García Ramírez, in Exchange for his vassalage, thus, consolidating on the other hand, the secession of Navarre with respect to Aragon.

Thus, consolidated on the throne and having extended its influence over the neighbouring peninsular kingdoms, proclaimed himself emperor in Leon (May 26, 1135, feast of Pentecost). The coronation was attended by the own García Ramírez; the count of Barcelona, Ramón Berenguer IV (his brother-in-law); Raymond VToulouse, and many other nobles who had recognized him as Lord, including Muslim chieftain of Rueda (Zaragoza), crush Abu Ahmad ben Hud, known as Sayf al - Dawla or Zafadola ('sword of the State'), and some from Gascony and Provence. They were not, however, Teresa of Portugal or his son Afonso Henriques, nor the new Aragonese King, Ramiro II the monk (brother of Alfonso I). In any case, would thereafter in his court characters from all the places of his Kingdom and also outside of it, as Navarre and Catalonia, serving of Royal officers. In the following years he approached to Ramiro II, with whom he made the link between his eldest son Sancho and the unique descendant of Ramiro, Petronilla; the assignment of Zaragoza Aragon provided under this agreement. But finally the husband of Petronila in 1137 was the count of Barcelona; While it accepted the superiority of the Emperor declaring himself his vassal and thus received the city in 1140, the Catalan-Aragonese unit away possible incorporation of Aragon to Castile and created a strong State to rival its western neighbor.

The subsequent navarro, disgruntled King from this friendship Aragonesa removal, was solved in 1140, after some fighting, and at least for the moment, with the promise of other two marriages, Prince Sancho with Blanca de Navarra (that would become effective in 1151), and the own García Ramírez with Urraca, daughter of the Castilian-Leonese King (1144). The tension would be reborn to sign Alfonso VII and Ramón Berenguer IV the Treaty of Tudillen or Tudejen (near Fitero, 1151), by which divided not only the Muslim lands (the Mediterranean coast to Murcia for Aragon, the rest for Castilla y León), but also the own Navarra. By this time, in 1140, it also established Valdevez peace with his cousin the Portuguese Alfonso Enríquez, after three years of war after the breakdown of the peace of 1138 Tuy; the title of King this employed since then was not recognized by Alfonso VII until 1143, to change (according to the employed policy with the other peninsular Kings) in his vassalage by the Manor of Astorga. In practice this dependence to the Castilian-Leonese King Alfonso I of Portugal would not be never effective, as he was soon declared vassal of the Holy see to escape the orbit of its neighbor.

Alfonso VII and new conquests in al - Andalus: the taking of Almería (1147)

With respect to the other great territory of the peninsula, al - Andalus, Alfonso VII took advantage of the disintegration of the Almoravid empire, with the Spanish Muslims in open rebellion, to extend the borders of his Kingdom to the South. After a first foray into 1133 for several months, along the Valley of the Guadalquivir to Jerez, in 1139 was really reconquistadora: took that year the strategic Castle of Oreja (Madrid), Albalate, and Coria (Cáceres) in 1142. In the following years frequently organize expeditions of plunder to Muslim lands. In 1144, one of them particularly important, in the company of Zafadola toured devastated whole Al - Andalus, and in 1446 came even in the ancient capital of the Caliphate, Cordoba. Upon landing the Almohads in the peninsula shortly after withdrew, leaving a vassal Muslim Governor in this square. Then he said of Sierra Morena steps between the plateau of La Mancha and Andalusia, occupying some important places to one and another side of the mountains: Calatrava (Ciudad Real, 1147) and Uclés (Cuenca), to the North, and Baeza (Jaén, 1147), Andujar (Jaén, 1155), Pedroche (Córdoba, 1155) and Santa Eufemia (Córdoba, 1155), to the South.

The 17 October 1147 carried out his most important conquest: that of the city of Almería. For the taking of this Mediterranean port, important commercial enclave but also focus of piracy, told with the help of Hispanic vassal monarchs, and also with Pisan and Genoese ships that blocked Almeria by sea. The campaign began with the preaching of the Bishops of Leon and Toledo, acquiring the true condition of the crusade. The Castilian armies gathered in Toledo in may, and in June stopped in Calatrava, where they were joined by, among others, the Navarre forces. In July Alfonso VIII obtained the surrender of Úbeda and Baeza, and received the newcomers Catalans and Genoese, who had already established the maritime siege of Almería. After three months of site the city capitulated, being governed jointly between Castilian and Genoese.

Alfonso VII continued after their Andalusian campaigns with a new site to Córdoba and Jaén and Guadix, in this case with the help of Ibn Mardanis, the "Wolf King", Lord of the Muslim taifas of Valencia and Murcia. These, however, were relatively peaceful years, where his presence in Andalusia was minor, residing in the North and dealing with various internal affairs of the Kingdom. A new Almohad offensive occurred in 1155. Making of Almería and many Andalusian territories proved to be ephemeral: in 1157 Almeria was besieged and surrendered by the Almohads, without that the help of the King were enough to resist. More unfortunately, he died in August on the way back to Castile, in port of the Murada or of Despeñaperros, with only 52 years. With his death he also disappeared the imperial idea, replaced by the Spain of the five kingdoms (Portugal, León, Castile, Navarre and Aragon); He helped two years before his death in deciding to divide his Kingdom between his two sons: Sancho III, the eldest son, handed Castilla and its dependencies (Toledo and Spanish Extremadura) and Fernando II, León and Galicia.

He had had both with his first wife, Berengaria, 1133 to 1137 respectively; He was also with her Constance (Queen of France to marry Luis VII) and Sancha (that was it Navarre as the wife of Sancho VI). Dead the Queen Berengaria in 1149 1151 Alfonso VII married remarried rich, daughter of the exiled Polish count Ladislao II; This link was Sancha (Queen of Aragon to marry Alfonso II of Aragon). Alfonso VII had two natural daughters: Urraca (second wife of García Ramírez of Navarre), the relationship with his lover Guntroda; and Stephanie, taken with Sancha Fernández de Castro.

Links on the Internet ; Page with the genealogy of Alfonso VII (in English).


Latin Chronicle of the Kings of Castile. Edition of Luis Charlo Brea. (Madrid, Akal: 1999).

BALLESTEROS BERETTA, a. Imperial figures: Alfonso VII the Emperor, Colón, el Católico Fernando, Carlos V, Felipe II. (Madrid, Espasa-Calpe: 1961).

The singing of the conquest of Almería by Alfonso VII: a May 12th-century poem. Edition of f. Castro Guisasola. (Almería, Instituto de Estudios Almerienses: 1992).

MENÉNDEZ PIDAL, R. The Hispanic Empire and the five kingdoms. (Madrid, Institute of political studies: 1950).

PÉREZ GONZÁLEZ, M. Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris. (Leon, University: 1997).

RECUERO and ASTRAY, M.J. Alfonso VII, Emperor. The Hispanic Empire in the 12th century. (Center for studies and research, San Isidoro: 1979).

REILLY, B.F. The Kingdom of León-Castilla under King Alfonso VII. 1126-1157 (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press: 1998).

RISCO, M. history of Alfonso VII the emperor. (Leon, Nebrija: 1980).

UBIETO ARTETA, A. Navarra, Aragon and the imperial idea of Alfonso VII of Castile. (Zaragoza, school of medieval studies: 1956).

VINAYO, A. The imperial Coronation of Alfonso VII of León, 1135. (Leon, Everest: 1979).