See studies by E. E. S. Procter (1951), J. E. Keller (1967), and J. Ribera y Tarragó (1970).
(born Nov. 23, 1221, Burgos, Castile—died April, 2, 1284, Sevilla) King of Castile and León (1252–84). He crushed revolts by Muslims (1252) and nobles (1254), and he annexed Murcia after repelling an invasion by Morocco, Granada, and Murcia (1264). He claimed the h1 of Holy Roman emperor (1256), but Gregory X persuaded him to renounce the claim. His second son became his successor as Sancho IV. Alfonso's court was a center of culture, producing an influential law code, the Siete Partidas, and establishing the form of modern Castilian Spanish.
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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.
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.
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.