Alfonso X

Alfonso X

[al-fon-soh, -zoh; Sp. ahl-fawn-saw]
Alfonso X (Alfonso the Wise), 1221-84, Spanish king of Castile and León (1252-84); son and successor of Ferdinand III, whose conquests of the Moors he continued, notably by taking Cádiz (1262). His mother, Beatriz, was a daughter of the German king Philip of Swabia, and Alfonso's principal ambition was to become Holy Roman Emperor. In 1257 he was elected by a faction of German princes as antiking to Richard, earl of Cornwall, but because of papal opposition and Spanish antagonism, he did not go to Germany, and in 1275 he finally renounced his claim to the imperial throne. In his domestic policy, Alfonso's assertion of royal authority led to a rebellion of the nobles. His Moorish subjects also rose (1264) against him and were subdued only with the help of James I of Aragón. After the death (1275) of his eldest son, Ferdinand, while fighting the Moors, civil war for the succession broke out between Ferdinand's children and Alfonso's second son, who eventually succeeded him as Sancho IV. Sancho's partisans in the Cortes at Valladolid even declared Alfonso deposed (1282). The king died while the dynastic dispute was still unsettled. Alfonso stimulated the cultural life of his time. Under his patronage the schools of Seville, Murcia, and Salamanca were furthered, and Muslim and Jewish culture flowed into Western Europe. He was largely responsible for the Siete Partidas, a compilation of the legal knowledge of his time; for the Alfonsine tables in astronomy; and for other scientific and historical works.

See studies by E. E. S. Procter (1951), J. E. Keller (1967), and J. Ribera y Tarragó (1970).

Alfonso X (November 23, 1221, Toledo, Spain – April 4, 1284, Seville, Spain) was a Spanish monarch who ruled as the King of Castile, León and Galicia from 1252 until his death. He also was elected German King (formally King of the Romans) in 1257. His nicknames were "el Sabio" ("the Wise" or "the Learned") and "el Astrólogo" ("the Astronomer").


Alfonso was the eldest son of Ferdinand III of Castile and Elisabeth of Hohenstaufen. His maternal grandparents were Philip of Swabia and Irene Angelina.


As a ruler, Alfonso showed legislative capacity, and a wish to provide his kingdoms with a code of laws and a consistent judicial system. The Fuero Real was undoubtedly his work. He began the code called the Siete Partidas, which, however, was only promulgated by his great-grandson. Because of this, he is one of the 23 lawmakers depicted in the chamber of the United States House of Representatives.

Alfonso was the first king who initiated the use of the Castilian language extensively, although his father, Fernando III had begun to use it for some documents, instead of Latin, as the language used in courts, churches, and in books and official documents.

Throughout his reign, Alfonso contended with the nobles, particular the families of Nuño González de Lara, Diego López de Haro and Esteban Fernández de Castro, all of whom were formidable soldiers and instrumental in maintaining Castile's military strength in frontier territories. According to some scholars, Alfonso lacked the singleness of purpose required by a ruler who would devote himself to organization, and also the combination of firmness with temper needed for dealing with his nobles. Others have argued that his efforts were too singularly focused on the diplomatic and financial arrangements surrounding his bid for Holy Roman Emperor.

Alfonso's descent from the Hohenstaufen through his mother, a daughter of the emperor Philip of Swabia, gave him a claim to represent the Swabian line. Alfonso's election by the prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire in 1257 misled him into wild schemes that involved excessive expense but never took effect. To obtain money, he debased the coinage and then endeavoured to prevent a rise in prices by an arbitrary tariff. The little trade of his dominions was ruined, and the burghers and peasants were deeply offended. His nobles, whom he tried to cow by sporadic acts of violence, rebelled against him.


As a writer and intellectual he gained considerable scientific fame based on his encouragement of astronomy and the Ptolemaic cosmology as known to him through the Arabs. (Because of this, the Alphonsus crater on the Moon is named after him). His fame extends to the preparation of the Alfonsine tables, based on calculations of al-Zarqali Alzarquel. One famous quote attributed to him was supposedly said upon hearing an explanation of Ptolemy's theory of astronomy and being shown the extremely complicated mathematics required to "prove" it - "If the Lord Almighty had consulted me before embarking on creation thus, I should have recommended something simpler." The validity of this quotation is questioned by some historians.

From the beginning of his reign, Alfonso began employing Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars at his court, primarily for the purpose of translating books from Arabic into Old Spanish. Most of these books survive in only one manuscript and were almost certainly created for the private use of Alfonso and his inner circle, which included Jewish and Christian courtiers. The first translation, commissioned by his brother, Fernando de la Cerda -- who had extensive experience, both diplomatic and military, among the Muslims of southern Spain and north Africa -- was a Spanish version of the animal fable Kalila wa-Dimna, a book that belongs to the genre of wisdom literature labeled Mirrors for Princes: stories and sayings meant to instruct the monarch in proper and effective governance.

The primary intellectual work of these scholars centered on astronomy and astrology. The early period of Alfonso's reign saw the translation of selected works of magic (Lapidario, Picatrix, Libro de las formas et las ymagenes) all translated by a Jewish scholar named Yehudah ben Moshe (Yhuda Mosca, in the Old Spanish source texts). These were all highly ornate manuscripts (only the Lapidario survives in its entirety) containing what was believed to be secret knowledge on the magical properties of stones and talismans. In addition to these books of astral magic, Alfonso ordered the translation of well-known Arabic astrological compendia including, the Libro de las cruzes and Libro conplido en los iudizios de las estrellas. The first of these was, ironically, translated from Latin (it was used among the Visigoths), into Arabic, and then back into Spanish and Latin.


Alfonso X commissioned or co-authored numerous works of music during his reign. These works included Cantigas d'escarnio e maldicer and the Cantigas de Santa Maria.

Among the most important of the works by Alfonso X was the celebrated Cantigas de Santa Maria ("Songs to the Virgin Mary"), one of the largest collections of vernacular monophonic songs to survive from the Middle Ages. The Cantigas de Santa Maria consists of 420 poems written in Galician-Portuguese with musical notation. The poems are for the most part on miracles attributed to the Virgin Mary. One of the miracles Alfonso relates is his own healing in Puerto de Santa María.


Alfonso's eldest son, Ferdinand de la Cerda, Infante of Castile, died in 1275, leaving two infant sons. Alfonso's second son, Sancho, claimed to be the new heir, in preference to the children of Ferdinand de la Cerda, basing his claim on an old Castilian custom, that of proximity of blood and agnatic seniority. Alfonso preferred to leave the throne to his grandsons, but Sancho had the support of the nobility. A bitter civil war broke out resulting in 1282 Alfonso's being forced to accept Sancho as his heir instead of his young grandsons. Son and nobles alike supported the Moors when he tried to unite the nation in a crusade; and when he allied himself with Abu Yusuf Yakub, the ruling Marinid Sultan of Morocco, they denounced him as an enemy of the faith. A reaction in his favor was beginning in his later days, but he died defeated and deserted at Seville, leaving a will, by which he endeavored to exclude Sancho, and a heritage of civil war.


In 1246, Alfonso X married Violante of Aragon, the daughter of King James I of Aragon and Yolande of Hungary in 1249, although betrothed already in 1246. Because of her young age (Violante was only 13-years-old at the time of the marriage), she produced no children for several years and it was feared that she was barren. Alfonso almost had their marriage annulled, but they went on to have ten children:

  1. Fernando, died in infancy, and buried in Las Huelgas in Burgos.
  2. Berengaria of Castile (1253-after 1284). She was betrothed to Louis, the son and heir of King Louis IX of France, but her fiance died prematurely in 1260. She entered the convent in Las Huelgas, where she was living in 1284.
  3. Beatriz of Castile (1254-1280). She married William VII, Marquess of Montferrat.
  4. Ferdinand de la Cerda, Infante of Castile (October 23, 1255-July 25, 1275). He married Blanche, the daughter of King Louis IX of France, by whom he had two children. Because he predeceased his father, his younger brother Sancho inherited the throne.
  5. Leonor of Castile (1257-1275)
  6. Sancho IV of Castile (May 13, 1258-1295)
  7. Constanza of Castile (1258-August 22, 1280), a nun at Las Huelgas.
  8. Pedro of Castile (June 1260-October 10, 1283)
  9. Juan of Castile, Lord of Valencia (March or April, 1262-June 25, 1319).
  10. Isabella, died young.
  11. Violante of Castile (1265-1296). She married Diego Lopez de Haro
  12. Jaime of Castile (August 1266-August 9, 1284)

Alfonso X also had several illegitimate children. His illegitimate daughter, Beatriz de Castilla, married King Alfonso III of Portugal. An illegitimate son, Martin, was Abbot of Valladolid.

References and notes

  • Ballesteros-Beretta, Antonio. Alfonso X el Sabio, 1963
  • Gingerich, Owen. "Alfonso X as a Patron of Astronomy." The Eye of Heaven: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler. New York: American Institute of Physics, 1993.
  • A King for the Stars, planetarium show, Thomas Wm. Hamilton, 1975

Further reading


External links

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