Alfonso VII of León

Alfonso VII of León

name = Alfonso VII of Castile
title = Emperor of all the Spains

reign = 1135 - 21 August 1157

coronation = 1135 in the Cathedral of León
predecessor = Vacant - title last held by Alfonso I
successor = None
royal house = Burgundy
father = Raymond of Burgundy
mother = Urraca of Castile
date of birth = 1 March 1105
date of death = 21 August 1157
place of death = Sierra Morena

Alfonso VII (1 March 1105 – 21 August 1157), called the Emperor, became the King of Galicia in 1111 and King of León and Castile in 1126. He was crowned "Emperor of All the Spains" in 1135. He was the son of Urraca of Castile and Raymond of Burgundy, the first of the House of Burgundy to rule in Hispania.

Alfonso was a dignified and somewhat enigmatic figure. His rule was characterised by the renewed supremacy of the western kingdoms of Christian Hispania over the eastern (Navarre and Aragón) after the reign of Alfonso the Battler. He also sought to make the imperial title meaningful in practice, though his attempts to rule over both Christian and Muslim populations was even less successful. His hegemonic intentions never saw fruition, however. During his tenure, Portugal became "de facto" independent, in 1128, and was recognized as "de jure" independent, in 1143. He was a patron of poets, including, probably, the troubadour Marcabru.

uccession to three kingdoms

In 1111, Diego Gelmírez, Bishop of Compostela, and the count of Traba crowned Alfonso King of Galicia in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. He was but a child at the time, but his mother had already (1109) succeeded to the united throne of León-Castile-Galicia and desired to assure her son's prospects and groom him for his eventual succession. By 1125 he had inherited the formerly Muslim Kingdom of Toledo. On 10 March 1126, after the death of his mother, he was crowned in León and immediately began the recovery of the Kingdom of Castile, which was then under the domination of Alfonso the Battler. By the Peace of Támara of 1127, the Battler recognised Alfonso VII of Castile. The territory in the far east of his dominion, however, had gained much independence during the rule of his mother and experienced many rebellions. After his recognition in Castile, Alfonso fought to curb the autonomy of the local barons.

When Alfonso the Battler, King of Navarre and Aragón, died without descendants in 1134, he willed his kingdom to the military orders. The aristocracy of both kingdoms did not accept this and García Ramírez, Count of Monzón was elected in Navarre while Alfonso pretended to the throne of Aragón. The nobles chose another candidate in the dead king's brother, Ramiro II. Alfonso responded by occupying La Rioja, conquering Zaragoza, and governing both realms in unison. From this point, the arms of Zaragoza began to appear in those of León.

In several skirmishes, he defeated the joint Navarro-Aragonese army and put the kingdoms to vassalage. He had the strong support of the lords north of the Pyrenees, who held lands as far as the River Rhône. In the end, however, the combined forces of the Navarre and Aragón were too much for his control. At this time, he helped Ramon Berenguer III, Count of Barcelona, in his wars with the other Catalan counties to unite the old "Marca Hispanica".

Imperial rule

A vague tradition had always assigned the title of emperor to the sovereign who held León. Sancho the Great considered the city the "imperiale culmen" and minted coins with the inscription "Imperator totius Hispaniae" after being crowned in it. Such a sovereign was considered the most direct representative of the Visigothic kings, who had been themselves the representatives of the Roman Empire. But though appearing in charters, and claimed by Alfonso VI of Castile and Alfonso the Battler, the title had been little more than a flourish of rhetoric.

In 1135, Alfonso was crowned "Emperor of All the Spains" in the Cathedral of León. By this, he probably wished to assert his authority over the entire peninsula and his absolute leadership of the Reconquista. He appears to have striven for the formation of a national unity which Hispania had never possessed since the fall of the Visigothic kingdom. The elements he had to deal with could not be welded together. The weakness of Aragon enabled him to make his superiority effective, although Afonso I of Portugal never recognised him as liege, thereby affirming Portugal's independence. In 1143, he himself recognised this "status quo" and consented to the marriage of Petronila of Aragon with Ramon Berenguer IV, a union which combined Aragon and Catalonia into the Crown of Aragon.


Alfonso was a pious prince. He introduced the Cistercians to Hispania by founding a monastery at Fitero. He adopted a militant attitude towards the Moors of Al-Andalus, especially the Almoravids. From 1139, Alfonso led a series of crusades subjugating the Almoravids. He took the fortress of Oreja near Toledo and, as the "Chronica Adefonsis Imperatoris" tells it:

In 1144, Alfonso advanced as far as Córdoba. Two years later, the Almohads invaded and he was forced to refortify his southern frontier and come to an agreement with the Almoravid Ibn Ganiya for their mutual defence. When Pope Eugene III preached the Second Crusade, Alfonso VII, with García Ramírez of Navarre and Ramon Berenguer IV, led a mixed army of Catalans and Franks, with a Genoese-Pisans navy, in a crusade against the rich port city of Almería, which was occupied in October 1147. It was Castile's first Mediterranean seaport. [Riley-Smith (1990) p.48.] In 1151, Alfonso signed the Treaty of Tudilén with Ramon Berenguer. The treaty defined the zones of conquest in Andalusia in order to prevent the two rulers from coming into conflict. Six years later, Almería entered into Almohad possession. Alfonso was returining from an expedition against them when he died in pass of Muradel in the Sierra Morena, possibly at Viso del Marqués (Ciudad Real).


Alfonso was at once a patron of the church and a protector, though not a supporter of, the Muslims, who were a minority of his subjects. His reign ended in an unsuccessful campaign against the rising power of the Almohads. Though he was not actually defeated, his death in the pass, while on his way back to Toledo, occurred in circumstances which showed that no man could be what he claimed to be — "king of the men of the two religions." Furthermore, by dividing his realm between his sons, he ensured that Christendom would not present the new Almohad threat with a united front.


In November 1128, he married Berenguela, daughter of Ramon Berenguer III. She died in 1149. Their children were:
#Sancho III of Castile (1134-1158)
#Ramon, living 1136, died in infancy
#Ferdinand II of León (1137-1188)
#Constance (c.1138-1160), married Louis VII of France
#Sancha (c.1139-1179), married Sancho VI of Navarre
#García (c.1142-1145/6)
#Alfonso (c.1144-by 1149)

In 1152, Alfonso married Richeza of Poland, the daughter of Ladislaus II the Exile. They had:
#Ferdinand, (1153-1157)
#Sancha (1155-1208), the wife of Alfonso II of Aragón.

Alfonso also had two mistresses, having children by both. By an Asturian noblewoman named Guntroda Pérez, he had an illegitimate daughter, Urraca (1132-1164), who married García Ramírez of Navarre, the mother retiring to a convent in 1133. Later in his reign, he formed a liaison with Urraca Fernández, widow of count Rodrigo Martínez and daughter of Fernando García of Hita, an apparent grandson of García Sánchez III of Navarre, having a daughter Stephanie 'the Unfortunate' (1148-1180), who was killed by her jealous husband, Fernan Ruiz de Castro.



Riley-Smith, Jonathan (1990). "Atlas of the Crusades". New York: Facts on File.

External links

*Arnaldo, Bishop of Astorga, wrote an account of Alfonso VII's life and reign known as the " [ Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris] ".


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