Alfonso VIII (Castile)

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Statue of Alfonso VIII in Madrid ( Juan de Villanueva Barbales , 1753)

Alfonso VIII el Noble , the noble (born November 11, 1155 in Soria , † October 5 or 6, 1214 in Gutierre-Muñoz , province of Avila ) was King of Castile from 1158 to 1214 .


Alfonso VIII was a son of King Sancho III. of Castile (reigned 1157–1158) and the Blanca Garces of Pamplona , a daughter of King García IV of Navarre . After his mother Blanka had died on August 12, 1156, Sancho followed her to the grave after only one year of reign.

Guardianship and power struggles

King Ferdinand II of León (reigned 1157–1188) claimed guardianship for the orphaned nephew in August 1158 and moved into Castile with troops. Both the noble houses of Lara and Castro , as well as the boy's uncle, Ferdinand II of León, applied for regency over Castile. The two heads of the warring nobility, Gutierre Fernández de Castro and Nuño Pérez de Lara , tried to bring the boy into their power. The rivalry led to war, the young Alfonso came briefly into the care of Count García Garcés de Aza. But this was not wealthy enough to be able to support him adequately. Eventually the Counts of Lara managed to get the young king into their sphere of influence in 1159. At the same time, King Sancho VI. of Navarre the turmoil and occupied Logroño and large areas of La Rioja , while Ferdinand of León attacked the city of Burgos . In March 1160 the troops under Nuño Pérez de Lara beat the soldiers of the Castro at Lobregal, the guardianship of the king remained with Count Manrique Pérez de Lara. The continuing danger from the King of León, the ally of the Castro, made it necessary to transfer the prince to safe Soria, where he remained until 1162. Alfons then came into the care of the loyal city of Ávila . In 1166 the Castilian nobility was able to regain the Toledo residence from Ferdinand's hands.

Takeover of government

After reaching the age of majority on November 11, 1169, Alfonso VIII gradually broke away from the tutelage of Lara and was able to considerably improve his position as King of Castile. His first goal as a monarch was to regain all the territories of Castile that he had lost during his minority. In 1170 he concluded an assistance pact with King Alfonso II (r. 1162–1196) of Aragon in Saragossa . His marriage to Eleonore Plantagenet , a daughter of Henry II of England from his marriage to Eleonore of Aquitaine , decided by the throne council , brought Castile the county of Gascony as a dowry. Attacks by the Almohads , which began in 1174, forced the Christian opponents to other military priorities, the city of Uclés became the starting point of an offensive against the Muslims, which culminated on September 21, 1177 with the reconquest of Cuenca .

After the death of Count Nuño Pérez de Lara (1177), Alfonso regained full power of his kingship. On March 20, 1179 he signed another alliance treaty with Aragon in Cazola, in which Alfonso II was granted all recaptures in Valencia and Denia , as well as Jativa . Castile, on the other hand, was granted the territories in Murcia and other possessions up to the port of Biar.

After the death of Ferdinand II in January 1188, Alfons immediately entered León ; supported by the rebellious Haro, his troops captured Coyanza Castle . Alfons met in May 1188 with his cousin, the newly crowned King Alfons IX. in Carrión de los Condes together and reached a balance for the time being. According to this agreement, the eldest daughter Berenguela later (1198) Alfons IX. marry; Pope Innocent III but annulled the marriage in 1203 because of the close relationship between the two, whereupon Berenguela and her children had to return to the Castilian court of her father.

On September 7, 1190, the kingdoms of Navarre and Aragón came closer together in the Treaty of Borja , and on May 12, 1191, León, Portugal and Aragón joined forces in Huesca to form an alliance that Alfonso saw as clearly directed against Castile. Between 1194 and 1196, after the deaths of the kings of Navarre and Aragón and the threat from the south, new constellations emerged that dissolved the old power blocs.

Internal measures

Alfonso remained unconditionally loyal to the papacy and restored the perished bishoprics in Albarracín and Cuenca . He supported new religious orders, such as the Dominican Order of Preachers and the Barefooters , who had gained importance alongside the Cistercians and Premonstratensians . Equally important as a legislator, the king bestowed extensive city rights on many communities, of which the law of Cuenca gained particular importance. His measures to raise the level of education were characterized by the expansion of cathedral schools and, in a later phase, by the establishment of universities. The University of Palencia was founded by the King in 1208.

Fight against the Almohads

In 1190 caliph Yaʿqūb al-Mansūr was able to force the Christian kings of Castile and Leon to an armistice after he had repulsed their attacks in Andalus . After settling the feuds with Aragon and Navarre, Alfons reunited with the kings of León and Navarre against the Moors (1193). After the armistice, he invaded al-Andalus again (1194). On July 19, 1195 he succumbed to the counterattack of the Almohads under Yaqub in the Alarcos in the Sierra Morena . Alfonso and the remnants of his army fled to Toledo, while Yaqub returned to Seville .

Castile and Leon came to an agreement as a result of new threats in Cabreros (1206), Archbishop Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada of Toledo brokered the peace of Guadalajara on October 29, 1207 between Castile and Navarre . In the summer of 1211 the Almohads crossed the Strait of Gibraltar with a large army , raided the Christian territories and in September 1211 conquered the Salvatierra castle of the Order of Calatrava near Toledo . Pope Innocent III called for a crusade, Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada organized a new alliance of the kingdoms of Portugal , León, Castile, Navarre and Aragón against the Almohads.

After Queen Eleanor had given birth to several daughters, the longed-for Infante Ferdinand of Castile was given to the king on September 29, 1189. He took the cross, but died unexpectedly in the middle of the preparations for war in October 1211. The crusader army gathered at the end of May 1212 in Toledo. The Christian army consisted of the Castilian contingent of Aragonians under the leadership of Peter II, a contingent of the King of León and a contingent of "Francos" (French crusaders) with the prelate Arnold Amalrich of Narbonne at the head. At the beginning of June the army started its first campaign south. The town of Calatrava la Vieja , which protected access to Al-Andalus, was soon captured. The withdrawal was initiated, the followers of Amalrich were fanatical fighters and did not understand why Alfonso VIII spared the Muslim population of the city. Alfonso VIII simply saw the Muslims as new subjects who had to be formed into good taxpayers. On June 24, 1212, the Christian army left Toledo again for another attack. The crusaders crossed the Sierra Morena on paths that were not monitored by the Moors and managed to cross the Despeñaperros pass unnoticed. At the beginning of July 1212 the army was considerably strengthened with Provencal help, on July 16 a great victory over the Almohads under Mohammed an-Nasir was won in Las Navas de Tolosa . Alfonso VIII immediately started the pursuit and forced the enemy to cross over to Morocco . Apart from the conquest of Baeza and the occupation of the Guadalquivir Valley by the Christians, the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa had no immediate consequences, but the victory opened the way to the Reconquista , the further conquest of the south of the Iberian Peninsula.

The king's attempts to permanently unite the county of Gascony with Castile were no longer successful at the end of his life. Alfonso VIII died on October 5, 1214, his only living son Henry I was only 10 years old, the reign was transferred to Álvaro Núñez de Lara. The king was buried in a sarcophagus in the Las Huelgas monastery near Burgos, which he founded .


Double sarcophagus of Alfonso VIII and Eleanor of Castile

Since 1176 he was married to Eleanor Plantagenet (* 1162, † 1214), daughter of the English King Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine . With her he had the following children:

  • Berenguela (* 1180; † 1246), Queen of Castile in 1217
  1. Konrad II , Duke of Swabia
  2. Alfonso IX by Léon
  • Sancho (* 1181), Prince of Castile
  • Sancha (* 1182; † 1184), princess of Castile
  • Urraca (* 1186; † 1220) ∞ Alfonso II , King of Portugal .
  • Blanka (* 1188; † 1252) ∞ Louis VIII , King of France
  • Ferdinand (* 1189; † 1211), Prince of Castile
  • Mafalda (* 1191; † 1204), Princess of Castile
  • Heinrich (* 1192), Prince of Castile
  • Constanze (* 1196)
  • Eleonore († 1244) ∞ James I , King of Aragón
  • Henry I (* 1204; † 1217), King of Castile


The character of Alfonsos in Lion Feuchtwanger's novel The Jewess of Toledo and in Grillparzer's tragedy The Jewess of Toledo refers to Alfons VIII.


  • Emilio Sáez: Alfons VIII . In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages (LexMA). Volume 1, Artemis & Winkler, Munich / Zurich 1980, ISBN 3-7608-8901-8 , column 395 f.
  • Miguel Gómez, Kyle C. Lincoln, Damian Smith: King Alfonso VIII of Castile. Government, Family, and War . Fordham University Press, 2018, ISBN 978-0823284146 .

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predecessor Office successor
Sancho III. King of Castile 1158–1214
Blason Castille.svg
Heinrich I.