(before June 1040 – June 29
), nicknamed the Brave
, was King of León
from 1065 to 1109 and King of Castile
from 1072 following his brother
's death. As he was the first Alfonso to be King of Castile
, he is sometimes referred to as Alfonso I of Castile
. In 1077, he proclaimed himself "Emperor of All Hispania
". Much romance has gathered around his name.
As the second and favorite son of King Ferdinand I of Castile
and Princess Sancha of León
, Alfonso was allotted León, while Castile was given to his eldest brother Sancho
, and Galicia to his youngest brother García
. Sancho was assassinated in 1072. García was dethroned and imprisoned for life the following year.
In the cantar de gesta The Lay of the Cid, he plays the part attributed by medieval poets to the greatest kings, and to Charlemagne himself. He is alternately the oppressor and the victim of heroic and self-willed nobles — the idealized types of the patrons for whom the jongleurs and troubadours sang. He is the hero of a cantar de gesta which, like all but a very few of the early Spanish songs, like the cantar of Bernardo del Carpio and the Infantes of Lara, exists now only in the fragments incorporated in the chronicle of Alfonso the Wise or in ballad form.
His flight from the monastery of Sahagún, where his brother Sancho endeavoured to imprison him, his chivalrous friendship for his host Almamun of Toledo, caballero aunque moro, "a knight although a Moor", the passionate loyalty of his vassal, Pero (Pedro) Ansúrez, and his brotherly love for his sister Urraca of Zamora, may owe something to the poet who took him as a hero.
They are the answer to the poet of the nobles who represented the king as having submitted to taking a degrading oath at the hands of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (El Cid) to deny intervention in his brother's death in the church of Santa Gadea at Burgos, and as having then persecuted the brave man who defied him.
When every allowance is made, Alfonso VI stands out as a strong man fighting as a king whose interest was law and order, and who was the leader of the nation in the reconquest. He impressed himself on the Arabs as a very fierce and astute enemy, but as a keeper of his word. A story of Muslim origin, which is probably no more historical than the oath of Santa Gadea, tells of how he allowed himself to be tricked by Ibn Ammar
, the favourite
of Al Mutamid
, the King of Seville
. They played chess for an extremely beautiful table and set of men, belonging to Ibn Ammar. Table and men were to go to the king if he won. If Ibn Ammar gained he was to name the stake. The latter did win and demanded that the Christian king should spare Seville. Alfonso kept his word.
Whatever truth may lie behind the romantic tales of Christian and Muslim, we know that Alfonso represented, in a remarkable way, the two great influences then shaping the character and civilization of Hispania.
At the instigation, it is said, of his wife Constance, he brought the Cistercian Order into Hispania, established them in Sahagun, chose a French Cistercian, Bernard, as the first Archbishop of Toledo, after the reconquest on May 25, 1085. He married his daughters, Urraca, Teresa and Elvira to French princes, and in every way forwarded the spread of French influence — then the greatest civilizing force in Europe. He also drew Hispania nearer to the Papacy. It was Alfonso's decision which established the Roman ritual in place of the old missal of Saint Isidore — the Mozarabic rite.
On the other hand he was very open to Arabic influence. He protected the Muslims among his subjects and struck coins with inscriptions in Arabic letters. He also admitted to his court and to his bed the refugee Muslim princess Zaida of Seville.
Alfonso was defeated on October 23, 1086, at the battle of Sagrajas, at the hands of Yusuf ibn Tashfin, and Abbad III al-Mu'tamid, and was severely wounded in the leg.
Marriages and children
Alfonso married at least five times and had two mistresses and a fiancée:
- His first wife was Agnes of Aquitaine, daughter of William VIII of Aquitaine and his second wife Mateoda. They married in 1069 and scholarly opinion is divided whether she died or they divorced due to consanguinity, in the late 1070s. Orderic Vitalis reported that in 1109 she remarried Elias I of Maine, but this is dismissed by some scholars as the result of confusion. By her, Alfonso had no children.
- His second wife, who he married in 1081, was Constance of Burgundy, the mother of Alfonso's eldest legitimate daughter Urraca.
- In 1093, he married Bertha. There are alternative theories as to her origin. Based on political considerations, she has been suggested to have been daughter of William I, Count of Burgundy, but an alternative reconstruction derives her from Italy, making her daughter of Amadeus II of Savoy. She had no children and died in 1097.
- Following her death, Alfonso married an Isabel, by whom he had two daughters, Elvira, (who married Roger II of Sicily) and, Sancha, (wife of Rodrigo González de Lara). Later sources say she was daughter of a "king Luis" of France, but this is chronologically impossible. It has been speculated that she was of Burgundian origin, but others make her identical to mistress Zaida. Reilly suggested that there were two successive Queens named Isabel. First, the French (Burgundian) Isabel, following whose death or divorce Alfonso married his mistress Zaida, baptized as Isabel.
- His final wife was Beatrice. She, as widow of Alfonso, is said to have returned home to France. It has been suggested that she was niece of first wife Agnes, daughter of William IX of Aquitaine, and that she, and not Agnes, was the later wife of Elias I of Maine. She had no children by Alfonso.
- Either prior to his first or second marriage (the date is not specified) Alfonso is said to have been betrothed to Agatha, one of the daughters of William I of England and Matilda of Flanders, and formerly fiancee of Harold Godwinson. Agatha died before the marriage could take place, reportedly out of mortification at the prospect of marriage to Alfonso.
- He also had two known mistresses.
- By Jimena Muñoz, of a "most noble family", he had two illegitimate daughters, another Elvira (actually his eldest child) and Teresa.
- A second mistress was Zaida of Seville, said by Hispania Muslim sources to be daughter-in-law of Al Mutamid, the Muslim King of Seville. She was mother of Alfonso's only son, Sancho, who, though illegitimate, would be named his father's heir. Several modern sources have suggested that Zaida, baptised under the name of Isabel, is identical with Alfonso's wife, queen Isabel (or that she was a second queen Isabel who he married in succession to the first). Zaida/Isabel died in childbirth, but the date is unknown, and it is unclear whether the child being delivered was Sancho, Sancha (if Zaida was identical to Queen Isabel), or an additional child, otherwise unknown.
Alfonso's designated successor, his son Sancho, was slain after being routed at the Battle of Uclés in 1108, making Alfonso's widowed daughter Urraca his heir. In order to strengthen her position as his successor, Alfonso began negotiations for her to marry her second cousin, Alfonso I of Aragon and Navarre, but died before the marriage could take place, Urraca succeeding.
- This entry incorporates public domain text originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
- The Kingdom of León-Castilla under King Alfonso VI, 1065-1109, by Bernard F. Reilly (Princeton University Press, 1988): full text online at LIBRO
- Portugal, A Country Study, by Louis R. Mortimer, ed. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1993.