Alfonso VIII of Castile

Alfonso VIII of Castile

Alfonso VIII (11 November 1155 – 5 October 1214), called the Noble or "Él de las Navas", was the King of Castile from 1158 to his death and King of Toledo [ [ Titles of the European kings] ] . He is most remembered for his part in the Reconquista and the downfall of the Almohad Caliphate. After having suffered a great defeat with his own army at Alarcos against the Almohads, he led the coalition of Christian princes and foreign crusaders who broke the power of the Almohads in the Battle of the Navas de Tolosa in 1212, an event which marked the arrival of an irreversible tide of Christian supremacy on the Iberian peninsula.

His reign saw the domination of Castile over León and, by his alliance with Aragon, he drew those two spheres of Christian Iberia into close connection.

Regency and civil war

Alfonso was born to Sancho III of Castile and Blanca, daughter of García Ramírez of Navarre, in Soria on 11 November 1155. He was named after his grandfather Alfonso VII. His early life resembled that of other medieval kings. His father died in 1158 when his mother was also dead. Though proclaimed king when only three years of age, he was regarded as a mere name by the unruly nobles to whom a minority was convenient. Immediately, Castile was plunged into conflicts between the various noble houses vying for ascendancy in the inevitable regency. The devotion of a squire of his household, who carried him on the pommel of his saddle to the stronghold of San Esteban de Gormaz, saved him from falling into the hands of the contending factions. The Lara and Castro both claimed the regency, as did the boy's uncle, Ferdinand II of León. In March 1160 the former two families met at the Battle of Lobregal and the Castro were victorious.

Alfonso was put in the custody of the loyal village Ávila. At barely fifteen, he came forth to do a man's work by restoring his kingdom to order. It was only by a surprise that he recovered his capital Toledo from the hands of the Laras.


In 1174, he ceded Uclés to the Order of Santiago and afterwards this became the order's principal seat. From Uclés, he began a campaign which culminated in the reconquest of Cuenca in 1177. The city surrendered on 21 September, the feast of Saint Matthew, ever afterwards celebrated by the citizens of the town.

Alfonso took the initiative to ally all the major Christian kingdoms of the peninsula — Navarre, León, Portugal, and Aragon — against the Almohads. By the Treaty of Cazola of 1179, the zones of expansion of each kingdom were defined.

After founding Plasencia (Cáceres) in 1186, he embarked on a major initiative to unite the Castilian nobility around the Reconquista. In that year, he recuperated part of La Rioja from the Kingdom of Navarre.

In 1195, after the treaty with the Almohads was broken, he came to the defence of Alarcos on the river Guadiana, then the principal Castilian town in the region. At the subsequent Battle of Alarcos, he was roundly defeated by the caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf al-Mansur. The reoccupation of the surrounding territory by the Almohads was quickly commenced with Calatrava falling first. For the next seventeen years, the frontier between Moor and Castilian was fixed in the hill country just outside Toledo.

Finally, in 1212, through the mediation of Pope Innocent III, a crusade was called against the Almohads. Castilians under Alfonso, Aragonese and Catalans under Peter II, Navarrese under Sancho VII, and Franks under the archbishop Arnold of Narbonne all flocked to the effort. The military orders also lent their support. Calatrava first, then Alarcos, and finally Benavente were captured before a final battle was fought at Las Navas de Tolosa near Santa Elena on 16 July. The caliph Muhammad an-Nasir was routed and Almohad power broken.

Cultural legacy

Alfonso was the founder of the first Spanish university, a "studium generale" at Palencia, which, however, did not survive him. His court also served as an important instrument for Spanish cultural achievement. His marriage (Burgos, September 1180) with Eleanor (Leonora), daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, brought him under the influence of the greatest governing intellect of his time. Troubadours and sages were always present, largely due to the influence of Eleanor.

Alfonso died at Gutierre-Muñoz and was succeeded by his eldest surviving son, Henry I, named after his maternal grandfather.

Alfonso was the subject for Lion Feuchtwanger's novel "Die Jüdin von Toledo" ("The Jewess of Toledo"), in which is narrated an affair with a Jewish subject in medieval Toledo in a time when Spain was known to be the land of tolerance and learning for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The titular Jewish woman of the novel is based on Alfonso's historical paramour, Rahel la Fermosa.


With Eleanor, (Leonora of England) he had 11 children:
*Berenguela, or Berengaria, (August 1180 – 8 November 1246), married Alfonso IX of Leon
*Sancho (1181)
*Sancha (1182 – 3 February 1184)
*Henry (1184)
*Urraca (1186 – 1220), married Alfonso II of Portugal
*Blanch (4 March 1188 – 26 November 1252), married Louis VIII of France
*Ferdinand (29 September 1189 – 1211), on whose behalf Diego of Acebo and the future Saint Dominic travelled to Denmark in 1203 to secure a bride [Vicaire. pp 89–98.]
*Mafalda (1191 – 1204)
*Constance (1195 – 1243), abbess of Santa María la Real of Las Huelgas
*Eleanor (1200 – 1244), married James I of Aragon
*Henry I (14 April 1204 – 1217), successor



* [ COSTA, Ricardo da. "Love and Crime, Chastisement and Redemption in Glory in the Crusade of Reconquest: Alfonso VIII of Castile in the battles of Alarcos (1195) and Las Navas de Tolosa (1212)". In: OLIVEIRA, Marco A. M. de (org.). Guerras e Imigrações. Campo Grande: Editora da UFMS, 2004, p. 73-94 (ISBN 85-7613-023-8).]
*Vicaire, M.-H. "Une ambassade dans les Marches," in Pierre Mandonnet, "Saint Dominique: l'idée, l'homme et l'oeuvre Vol. 1". Desclée De Brouwer: Paris, 1938.
* [ Foundation for Medieval Genealogy on Alfonso VIII of Castile, marriage and issues]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Alfonso VI of Castile — Alfonso VI (before June 1040 ndash; June 29/July 1, 1109), 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… …   Wikipedia

  • Alfonso VIII de Castilla — Rey de Castilla Miniatura medieval que representa a Alfonso VIII de Castilla. Reinado 1158 1214 Nacimiento 11 de noviembre de 1155 Soria …   Wikipedia Español

  • Alfonso VIII — ▪ king of Castile byname  El de Las Navas (Spanish: He of Las Navas)   born 1155 died Oct. 6, 1214, Burgos, Castile       king of Castile from 1158, son of Sancho III, whom he succeeded when three years old.       Before Alfonso came of age his… …   Universalium

  • Alfonso, Count of Poitou — Alfonso or Alphonse (11 November 1220 ndash; 21 August 1271) was the Count of Poitou from 1225 and Count of Toulouse (as Alfonso II) from 1247.Alphonse was a son of Louis VIII, King of France and Blanche of Castile. He was a younger brother of… …   Wikipedia

  • Alfonso IX of León — Alfonso IX of Leon and Galicia (August 15, 1171 ndash; September 23 or 24, 1230), first cousin of Alfonso VIII of Castile and numbered next to him as being a junior member of the family, was the king of León from the death of his father Ferdinand …   Wikipedia

  • Alfonso — (Italian and Spanish), Alfons (Catalan and German), Afonso (Portuguese), Affonso (Ancient Portuguese), Alphonse (Italian, French and English), Alphons (Dutch), or Alphonso (English and Filipino) is a masculine name, originally from the Gothic… …   Wikipedia

  • Alfonso II of Aragon — Alfonso II (Aragon) or Alfons I (Provence and Barcelona) (Huesca, 1157 [ Alfonso II el Casto, hijo de Petronila y Ramón Berenguer IV, nació en Huesca en 1157; . Cfr . Josefina Mateu Ibars, María Dolores Mateu Ibars,… …   Wikipedia

  • Castile — /ka steel /, n. 1. Spanish, Castilla /kahs tee lyah, yah/. a former kingdom comprising most of Spain. 2. Also called Castile soap. a variety of mild soap, made from olive oil and sodium hydroxide. 3. any hard soap made from fats and oils, often… …   Universalium

  • Alfonso IX — ▪ king of Leon born 1171, Zamora, Leon died September 24, 1230, Villanueva de Sarria, Galicia       king of Leon from 1188 to 1230, son of Ferdinand II of Leon, and cousin of Alfonso VIII of Castile (next to whom he is numbered as a junior member …   Universalium

  • Alfonso II — ▪ king of Aragon born 1152, Barcelona died 1196, Perpignan, Roussillon       count of Barcelona from 1162 and king of Aragon from 1164.       The son of Ramón Berenguer IV, Alfonso succeeded his father as count of Barcelona and his mother as… …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”