Alfonso the Battler

Alfonso the Battler

Alfonso I (1073/1074 [According to the fourteenth-century "Crónica di San Juan Peña" he died in his sixty-first year (Lourie 1975:639 note).] – 8 September 1134), called el Batallador, the Battler or the Warrior, was the king of Aragón and Navarre from 1104 until his death in 1134. In 1109, he took up the title of his father-in-law: "Imperator totius Hispaniae". He was the second son of King Sancho Ramírez and successor of his brother Peter I. Alfonso the Battler won his greatest successes in the middle Ebro, where he expelled the Moors from Zaragoza in 1118 and took Egea, Tudela, Calatayud, Borja, Tarazona, Daroca, and Monreal del Campo. He died in September 1134 after an unsuccessful battle with the Moors at the siege of Fraga.

Early life

His earliest years were passed in the monastery of Siresa, learning to read and write and to practise the military arts until the tuition of Lope Garcés the Pilgrim, who was repaid for his services by his former charge with the county of Pedrola when Alphonso came to the throne.

During his brother's reign, he participated in the taking of Huesca (the Battle of Alcoraz, 1096), which became the largest city in the kingdom and the new capital. He also joined El Cid's expeditions in Valencia. His father gave him the lordships of Biel, Luna, Ardenes, y Bailo.

A series of fortunate deaths put Alfonso directly in line for the throne. His brother's children, Isabel and Peter (who married María Rodríguez, daughter of El Cid), died in 1103 and 1104 respectively.

Matrimonial conflicts

A passionate fighting-man (he fought twenty-nine battles against Christian or Moor), he was married (when well over 30 years and a habitual bachelor) in 1109 to the ambitious Urraca of Castile, widow of Raymond of Burgundy, a passionate woman unsuited for a subordinate role. The marriage had been arranged by her father Alfonso VI of Castile in 1106 to unite the two chief Christian states against the Almoravides, and to supply them with a capable military leader. But Urraca was tenacious of her right as proprietary queen and had not learnt chastity in the polygamous household of her father. Husband and wife quarrelled with the brutality of the age and came to open war. Alfonso had the support of one section of the nobles who found their account in the confusion. Being a much better soldier than any of his opponents he gained victories at Sepulveda and Fuente de la Culebra, but his only trustworthy supporters were his Aragonese, who were not numerous enough to keep Castile and León subjugated. The marriage of Alfonso and Urraca was declared null by the pope, as they were second cousins, in 1110, but he ignored the papal nuncio and clung to his liaison with Urraca until 1114. During his marriage, he had called himself "King and Emperor of Castile, Toledo, Aragón, Pamplona, Sobrarbe, and Ribagorza" in recognition of his rights as Urraca's husband; of his inheritance of the lands of his father, including the kingdom of his great-uncle Gonzalo; and his prerogative to conquer Andalusia from the Moor. He inserted the title of "imperator" on the basis that he had three kingdoms under his rule.

Alfonso's late marriage and his failure to remarry and produce the essential legitimate heir that should have been a dynastic linchpin of his aggressive territorial policies have been adduced as a lack of interest in women. Ibn al-Athir (1166-1234) describes Alfonso as a tireless soldier who would sleep in his armor without benefit of cover, who responded when asked why he did not take his pleasure from one of the captives of Muslim chiefs, responded that the man devoted to war needs the companionship of men not women. [Quoted in Lourie 1975:639 note. No bastards are recorded, though they would have cut prominent figures under the circumstances. No inference of homosexuality need be drawn: the chastity that supports fitness for the hunt or for battle is a cultural "topos" as old as the myth of Actaeon.]

Church relations

The king quarrelled with the church, and particularly the Cistercians, almost as violently as with his wife. As he beat her, so he drove Archbishop Bernard into exile and expelled the monks of Sahagún. He was finally compelled to give way in Castile and Leon to his stepson Alfonso Raimúndez, son of Urraca and her first husband. The intervention of Pope Calixtus II brought about an arrangement between the old man and his young namesake.

In 1122 in Belchite, he founded a confraternity of knights to fight against the Almoravids. It was the start of the military orders in Aragón. Years later, he organised a branch of the "Militia Christi" of the Holy Land at Monreal del Campo.


Alfonso spent his first four years in near-constant war with the Moor. In 1105, he conquered Ejea and Tauste and refortified Castellar and Juslibol. In 1106, he defeated Ahmad II al-Musta'in of Zaragoza at Valtierra. In 1107, he took Tamarite de Litera and Esteban de la Litera. Then followed a period dominated by his relations with Castile and León through his wife, Urraca. He resumed his Reconquista in 1117 by conquering Fitero, Corella, Cintruénigo, Murchante, Monteagudo, and Cascante.

In 1118, the Council of Toulouse declared it a crusade to assist in the reconquest of Zaragoza. Many Frenchmen consequently joined Alfonso at Ayerbe. They took Almudévar, Gurrea de Gállego, and Zuera, besieging Zaragoza itself by the end of May. On 18 December, it fell and the forces of Alfonso occupied the Azuda, the government tower. The great palace of the city was given to the monks of Bernard. Promptly, the city was made Alfonso's capital. Two years later, in 1120, he defeated a Muslim army intent on reconquering his new capital at Cutanda. He promulgated the "fuero" of "tortum per tortum", facilitating taking the law into one's own hands, and forced the Muslim population of the city (greater than 20,000) to move to the suburbs.

In 1119, he retook Cervera, Tudejen, Castellón, Tarazona, Ágreda, Magallón, Borja, Alagón, Novillas, Mallén, Rueda, Épila and repopulated the region of Soria. He began the siege of Calatayud, but left to defeat the army at Cutanda trying to retake Zaragoza. When Calatayud fell, he took Bubierca, Alhama de Aragón, Ariza, and Daroca (1120). In 1123, he besieged and took Lérida, which was in the hands of the count of Barcelona. From the winter of 1124 to September 1125, he was on a risky expedition to Peña Cadiella deep in Andalusia.

In the great raid of 1125, he carried away a large part of the subject Christians from Granada, and in the south-west of France, he had claims as usurper-king of Navarre. From 1125 to 1126, he was on campaign against Granada, where he was trying to install a Christian prince, and Córdoba, where got only as far as Motril. In 1127, he reconquered Longares, but simultaneously lost all his Castilian possessions to Alfonso VII. He confirmed a treaty with Castile the next year (1128) at Támara which fixed the boundaries of the two realms.

He conquered Molina de Aragón and repopulated Monzón in 1129, before besieging Valencia, which had fallen again upon the Cid's death.

He went north of the Pyrenees in October 1130 to protect the Val d'Aran. Early in 1131, he besieged Bayonne. It is said he ruled "from Belorado to Pallars and from Bayonne to Monreal."

At the siege of Bayonne in October 1131, three years before his death, he published a will leaving his kingdom to three autonomous religious orders based in Palestine and politically largely independent on the pope, the Knights Templars, the Hospitallers, and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, whose influences might have been expected to cancel one another out. The will has greatly puzzled historians, who have read it as a bizarre gesture of extreme piety uncharacteristic of Alphonso's character, one that effectively undid his life's work. Elena Lourie (1975) suggested instead that it was Alphonso's attempt to neutralize the papacy's interest in a disputed succession— Aragon had been a fief of the Papacy since 1068— and to fend off Urraca's son from her first marriage, Alphonso VII of Castile, for the Papacy would be bound to press the terms of such a pious testament. [Innocent II indeed did write Alfonso VII to just this effect, 10 June 1135 or 36 (Lourie 1995:645).] Generous bequests to important churches and abbeys in Castile had the effect of making the noble churchmen there beneficiaries who would be encouraged by the will to act as a brake on Alphonso VII's ambitions to break it— and yet among the magnates witnessing the will in 1131 there is not a single cleric. In the event it was a will that his nobles refused to carry out— instead bringing his brother Ramiro from the monastery to assume royal powers— an eventuality that Lourie suggests was Alphonso's hidden intent.

His final campaigns were against Mequinenza (1133) and Fraga (1134), where García Ramírez, the future king of Navarre, and a mere 500 other knights fought with him. It fell on 17 July. He was dead by September. Alfonso was a fierce, violent man, a soldier and nothing else, whose piety was wholly militant. He has a great role in the Spanish reconquest.


His testament was not honored: Aragon took his aged brother abbot-bishop Ramiro out of a monastery and made him king, marrying him without papal dispensation to Agnes, sister of the Duke of Aquitaine; the Navarrese lords, perhaps irked at the personal union of Aragon and Navarre signalled their independence by putting García Ramírez Lord of Monzón, descendant of an illegitimate son of García Sánchez III, to the throne in Pamplona. "The result of the crisis produced by the result of Alfonso I's will was a major reorientation of the peninsula's kingdoms: the separation of Aragon and Navarre, the union of Aragon and Catalonia and— a moot point but stressed particularly by some Castilian historians— the affirmation of 'Castilian hegemony' in Spain" [Lourie 1975:636.] by the rendering of homage for Zaragoza by Alfonso's eventual heir, Ramon Berenguer IV of Barcelona.



*Lourie, Elena. " [ The Will of Alfonso I, 'El Batallador,' King of Aragon and Navarre: A Reassessment.] " "Speculum", 50.4 (October 1975), pp. 635-651.


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