Sancho VII Sanches (or Sánchez, 1157 – 7 April 1234), called the Strong (el Fuerte in Spanish, Santxo Azkarra in Basque) or the Prudent, was the King of Navarre from 1194 to his death. His retirement at the end of his life has given rise to the alternate nickname el Encerrado or "the Retired."
He was probably the eldest child of Sancho VI and Sancha, daughter of Alfonso VII of León, born soon after their marriage, probably in Tudela, their usual residence. He was the last legitimate male-line descendant of the first two dynasties of kings of Navarre, the Houses of Íñiguez and Jiménez. He was the elder brother of Berengaria, who was married to Richard I of England in 1191 on the island of Cyprus on the way to the Holy Land for the Third Crusade. Sancho and Richard were reputed to have been good friends and close allies, even before the marriage brought them together. The French took advantage of Richard's captivity in Germany and captured certain key fortresses of the Angevin dominions including Loches. When Richard returned to his continental lands in 1194, the knights of Sancho were besieging the castle for him. As soon as Richard arrived though, Sancho was forced to return to Navarre at the news of the death of his father. He was crowned in Pamplona on 15 August.
He arrived late at the Battle of Alarcos in 1195 and thus ruined good relations with the Castilian sovereign Alfonso VIII. The ensuing confrontation resulted in Sancho devastating Soria and Almazán and Alfonso accepted the Peace of Tarazona.
Sancho made expeditions against Murcia and Andalusia, and, between 1198 and 1200, he campaigned in Africa, probably in the service of the Almohads, whose help he wanted against Castile. Taking advantage of his absence, Alfonso VIII of Castile and Peter II of Aragon invaded Navarre, which lost the provinces of Álava, Guipúzcoa, and Biscay to Castile. These conquests were subsequently confirmed by the Treaty of Guadalajara (1207).
His leadership was decisive in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in the year 1212. In that engagement, the Christian forces of Sancho, Alfonso, Afonso II of Portugal, and Peter II of Aragón allied to defeat the forces of the Almohad Caliph Muhammad an-Nasir. Sancho's troops cut the chains guarding the tent of Miramamolín. For this, it is believed the chains became the symbol of Navarre and replaced the sable eagle on a golden field with a golden chain on a gules field in the Navarrese coat-of-arms. But others suspect they represented the Basques' star-like Sun of Death seen on their Hilarri (Basques' Stelae) or houses traditionally for protection, and perhaps painted on their shields too with the same religious purpose, meaning of Life or Death, or the new Imagery used for Jesus or Christianity as for others were the Christi Anagram or plain Cross on the shield.
His relations with the countries north of the Pyrenees were notably better than his Castilian ones. Several Pyreneean counties declared themselves his vassals and he concluded treaties with John of England, and the various Aragonese kings of his time, the aforementioned Peter II and James I. With the latter he signed at Tudela, in 1231, which was never finished, a treaty stating that whoever survived the other would inherit unopposed the other's kingdom.
Sancho continued the construction of a new cathedral in Pamplona, as begun by his father and to be finished by his successor. The construction of a certain Gothic bridge over the Ebro has also been attributed to him.
As the result of prolonged and painful illness, starting with a varicose ulcer on his right leg and ashamed of it and his consequent obesity, Sancho went into retirement at Tudela at some point, when his youngest sister Blanca took administration of the kingdom (see note in Kings of Navarre family tree) and died in 1229. His eldest sister, Berengaria, queen of England, died in 1232, thus leaving Sancho alone among the children of Sancho VI. When he died in his castle at Tudela, probably of complications related to the varicose ulcer in his leg, Blanca's son Theobald was recognized as the next monarch of Navarre on 7 April. According to Alberic de Trois-Fontaines, Sancho left a library of 1.7 million books. The cultural contacts with the Muslim Kingdoms that he visited and battled with, his friendship with his brother in Law Richard the Lionheart and his sister Blanca's Court of Troyes, at the time the most refined in Europe, must have left an important influence on the King's personal intellect, bringing to him an advantageous outlook from the one well set already by their father at his youth, full however with peccadilloes and other impetuous extravaganza. The kingdom he left with a wealthy treasury and improved communications was in his day one of the most advanced in human rights, and its Jewish Community enjoyed the best standing in Christian Europe, which after all had been the work and result of the Jimenez Royal House for centuries. He was originally interred in the church of San Nicolás, but was later moved to Roncesvalles after much resistance from the local Clergy. His remains have since been exhumed for study and examined by the physician Luis del Campo, also the king's biographer, who measured him at 2.23 metres tall(7'3" feet), probably the basis for his "strength."
Sancho was married twice. The identity of his second wife is disputed. His first wife was Constance, daughter of Raymond VI of Toulouse, whom he married about 1195. He later repudiated her and was divorced (1200). His second wife was, according to some sources, Clemence, daughter of Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor. Other sources, however, name a daughter of Abu Yaqub al-Mustansir Yusuf II, Emir of Morocco. Some modern writers have alleged that his unsuccessful marriages were the result of homosexuality, but the chronicle of Charles of Viana acknowledges a son who predeceased his father at fifteen years of age in an accident and he had several known bastards: Ferdinand, William, and Roderick, all of unknown maternity.