Alfonso X Biography


(History of the World: The Middle Ages)

0111205908-Alfonso_X.jpg Alfonso X (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Alfonso’s wide-ranging interests earned for him the title “el Sabio,” or “the Wise.” In literature, law, historiography, and science, this King of Castile and León sponsored numerous advances of lasting consequence for Spanish culture.

Early Life

Alfonso X was born the eldest of fourteen children. His father was the revered Ferdinand III, who took advantage of rapidly moving events and expanded his double kingdom of Castile and León into the rich and densely populated regions of southern Spain. Alfonso’s grandfather Alfonso VIII had won a most decisive battle in the centuries-long war between Christians and Moors for control of the Iberian Peninsula. This victory by Christians at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 made it possible for Ferdinand III to capture the major cities of Córdoba (1236), Jaén (1246), and Seville (1248). Thus, the heart of Islamic al-Andalus (Andalusia) was incorporated into the kingdom of Castile and León.

Prince Alfonso spent his early childhood in Galicia, under the care of surrogate parents. His education was of a high order, and his military training was not neglected. While his first thirty years were spent in the shadow of his father, Alfonso did demonstrate military prowess in the field as well as political initiative. When barely twenty years of age, Alfonso negotiated and applied military pressure to force the Muslim kingdom of Murcia to pay tribute to Castile, thus giving the central power a window on the Mediterranean. In 1248, Alfonso was involved in the successful siege of Seville.

Alfonso was betrothed to Violante of Aragon in 1242; their family eventually numbered five sons and five daughters. Unfaithful after the fashion of powerful men of his era, Alfonso sired at least one illegitimate child, Beatriz, who eventually became Queen of Portugal.

Life’s Work

From the moment Alfonso crowned himself in 1252, he entertained grandiose ambitions of becoming emperor of all Spain. His father had died while planning to invade Africa to ensure the safety of his conquests on the peninsula. These schemes to take the war to the infidels’ homeland, however, were not successful. On another international front, Alfonso sought to become Holy Roman Emperor through claims that he had inherited through his German mother. After paying enormous bribes, he was indeed elected in 1257. The next fifteen years, however, were marked by obsessive but fruitless efforts to validate his title from afar. His competitor, Richard of Cornwall, was able to go to Germany and press his claim in person. After Richard died in 1272, Alfonso was finally able to travel over the Pyrenees Mountains to appeal to Pope Gregory X, who persuaded him to renounce his claim.

Throughout his reign, Alfonso was beset by revolts; in 1252, there was a Muslim uprising, and a group of Christian nobles followed suit in 1254. In 1264, Moroccan forces crossed the Mediterranean to support Granada and Murcia in a revolt against Christian Andalusia. Alfonso was able to put down this threat and annex Murcia to his kingdom. Granada was thus left as the only Muslim state on the peninsula; it paid tribute to Alfonso from 1266 onward.

In 1275, North African armies again invaded Christian Spain. Alfonso’s eldest son, Ferdinand (Fernando de la Cerda), was killed in the fighting, and his second son, Sancho, became a hero by defeating the invaders. This seeming success laid the foundation for Alfonso’s final and greatest political debacle.

Son Sancho, the hero, proceeded to claim the position of heir apparent. According to Alfonso’s recently proclaimed laws, however, the slain Ferdinand’s son was next in line. The issue of succession was complicated by the fact that Ferdinand’s male children were also nephews of the King of France. Alfonso vacillated; in 1281, he seemed to bend to French demands. Taking advantage of accumulated grievances against his father, Sancho then declared himself regent and led a rebellion of nobles against Alfonso. Sancho gained the backing of the Valladolid Cortes (the parliament of Castile) as well as that of Aragon, Portugal, and Islamic Granada. Alfonso was forced to flee to his beloved Seville, where he died.

It is clear, then, that Alfonso did not earn the title “El Sabio” on the strength of his political...

(The entire section is 1796 words.)