Kingdom of León

Kingdom of León

Infobox Former Country
native_name = Reino de León/Reinu de Llión
conventional_long_name = Kingdom of León
common_name = León
continent = Europe
region = Iberian Peninsula
country = Spain
government_type = Monarchy
year_start = 910
year_end = 1230
event_end = Disestablished
p1 = Kingdom of Asturias
image_p1 =
s1 = Crown of Castile
flag_s1 = Estandarte de la Corona de Castilla.pngs2 = Portugal
flag_s2 = PortugueseFlag1143.svg

image_map_caption = A map of the Kingdom of León in 1030.
The orange border indicates the territory of León.
common_languages = Latin, Leonese [Menéndez Pidal, Ramón. "El Dialecto Leonés" pages 33-37.1906] Spanish, Galician and maybe Mozarabic.
capital = León
religion = Christianity (Roman Catholic), Islam, and Judaism.

Kingdom of León was an independent kingdom situated in the northwest region of the Iberian Peninsula. It was founded in 910 A.D. when the Christian princes of Asturias along the northern coast of the peninsula shifted their main seat from Oviedo to the city of León. The Atlantic provinces became the Kingdom of Portugal in 1139, and the eastern, inland part of the kingdom was joined to the Kingdom of Castile by 1230. From 1296 to 1301 The Kingdom of León was again independent and after the union with Castile kept as a Kingdom until 1833.


The city of León was founded by the Roman Seventh Legion (usually written as Legio Septima Gemina ("twin seventh legion"). It was the headquarters of that legion in the late empire and was a center for trade in gold which was mined at Las Médulas nearby. In 540, the city was conquered by the Arian Visigothic king Liuvigild, who did not harass the already well-established Catholic Christian population. In 717 A.D., León fell again, this time to the Moors. However, León was one of the first cities retaken during the Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula, and became part of the Kingdom of Asturias in 742 A.D..

León was a small town during this time, but one of the few former Roman cities in the Kingdom of Asturias which still held significance (the surviving Roman walls bear the medieval walling upon them). During Visigothic times the city had served as a bishopric, and incorporating the city into Asturias brought legitimacy to the Asturian monarchs who sought to lead a unified Iberian church, during a time when most of the Iberian Peninsula was governed by Muslim powers.



León was created as a separate kingdom when the Asturian king, Alfonso the Great, divided his realm among his three sons. León was inherited by García I (911 - 914). His successor was Ordoño II of León (914-924) who moved the capital of the kingdom of Astures to León.

Ordoño II of León was also a military leader who brought military expeditions from León south to Seville, Córdoba and Guadalajara, in the heart of the Muslim territory.

After a few years of civil wars during the reign of Fruela II, Alfonso Froilaz and Alfonso IV, Ramiro II (931-951) assumed the throne and brought stability to the kingdom. A brave military chief who defeated the Muslim armies in their own territory, Ramiro's expeditions turned the Valley of the Douro into a no-man's land that separated the Christian kingdoms of the north from the Muslim territories of Iberia. Ramiro II, nicknamed "The devil" by the Muslims because of his military skill, led Leonese troops in the conquest of Madrid, and the province of Toledo, in the middle of the Caliphate of Córdoba.

Parallel to the advance of the Leonese troops there took place the process called Repoblación, which consisted of repopulating the "Meseta" with people coming from Galicia and especially, from Asturias and León. This migration of Leonese peoples greatly influenced the Astur-Leonese language. During the Repoblación period there arose a distinct form of art known as Mozarabic art. Mozarabic art is a mixing of Visigoth, Celtic, Muslim and Byzantine elements. Notable examples of the Mozarabic style are the Leonese churches of San Miguel of Escalada and Santiago de Peñalba.

During the early 10th Century, León expanded to the south and east, securing territory that would be known as the County of Burgos. Fortified with numerous castles Burgos remained within Leon until the 930s, at which time count Ferdinand II of Castile began a campaign to expand Burgos and make it independent and hereditary. He took for himself the title Earl of Castile, in reference to the many castles of the territory (around Burgos), and continued expanding his area at the expense of León by allying with the Caliphate of Córdoba, until 966 A.D., when he was defeated by Sancho I of León.


The Kingdom of León continued to be the most important of all those of the Iberian Peninsula. However, Sancho III of Navarre (1004–1035) absorbed Castile in the 1020s, and added León in the last year of his life, leaving Galicia to temporary independence. In the division of lands which followed his death, his son Fernando succeeded to the county of Castile. Two years later, in 1037, he conquered León and Galicia. For nearly thirty years, until his death in 1065, he ruled over a combined kingdom of León-Castile as Ferdinand I of León. In these clashes in an impoverished and isolated culture, where salt-making and a blacksmith's forge counted as industries, the armies that decided the fate of the kingdoms numbered in the hundreds of fighting men.

Early in its existence León lay directly to the north of the wealthy, sophisticated, and powerful Caliphate of Córdoba. When internal dissensions divided Andalusian loyalties in the 11th century, leading to an age of smaller Taifa successor states of the Caliphate, the impoverished Christian kingdoms who had been sending tribute to the Caliphate found themselves in a position to demand payments (parias) instead, in return for favours to particular factions or as simple extortion.

Thus, though scarcely influenced by the culture of the successor territories of the former Caliphate, Ferdinand I followed the example of the counts of Barcelona and the kings of Aragon, and he became hugely wealthy from the parias of the Taifas. When he died in 1065, his territories and the parias were split among his three sons, of whom Garcia emerged the victor, in the classic fratricidal strife common to feudal successions.

Few in Europe would have known of this immense new wealth in a kingdom so isolated that its bishops had virtually no contact with Rome, except that Ferdinand and his heirs (the kings of León-Castile) became the greatest benefactors of the Abbey of Cluny, where Abbot Hugh (died 1109) undertook construction of the huge third abbey church, the of every eye. The Way of Saint James called pilgrims from Western Europe to the supposed tomb of Saint James the Great in Santiago de Compostela, and the large hostels and churches along the route encouraged building in the Romanesque style.

Alfonso VI was the most important king of León of the Middle Ages. He assumed control of first León, and later Castile, when his brother died attacking the Leonese city of Zamora. He was crowned Emperor of Spain and received the honoring of all the kings of the Iberian Peninsula.


The taking of Toledo, the old Visigoth capital, in 1085 by Alfonso VI of Castile was a turning point in the development of León-Castile and the first major milestone in the "Reconquista". Christian Mozarabs from Al-Andalus had come north to populate the deserted frontier lands, and the traditional view of Spanish history has been that they brought with them the remains of Visigothic and Classical culture, and a new ideology of "Reconquista", a crusade against the Moors. Modern historians see the fall of Toledo as marking a basic change in relations with the Moorish south, turning from the simple extortion of annual tribute to outright territorial expansion. Alfonso VI was drawn into local politics by strife within Toledo and inherited the political alliances of the city-state. He found himself faced with problems unfamiliar to him, such as appointing and dealing with a Catholic bishop in Toledo and the settling of garrisons in the small Muslim strongholds, the "taifas", which were dependent on Toledo and which often bought the king's favor with gold from their trade with Al-Andalus and the Maghreb. Alfonso VI, thus found his role as a Catholic king, redefined as he governed large cities with sophisticated urban, Muslim subjects and growing Christian populations.

The two kingdoms of León and Castile were split again around 1195, when a major defeat for Alfonso VIII of Castile weakened the authority of Castile.

The last two kings of an independent Kingdom of León (1157 - 1230) were Ferdinand II and Alfonso IX. Fernando II led León's conquest of Merida, a city dating from Roman times. Alfonso IX, besides conquering the whole of Extremadura (including the cities of Cáceres and Badajoz), was the most modern king of his time, founding the University of Salamanca in 1212 and summoning in 1188 the first parliament with representation of the citizenry ever seen in Western Europe, the Cortes of León.

The last king of León, Alfonso IX, did not want his kingdom to disappear upon his death and designated his heirs as Sancha and Dulce, the daughters of his first wife. When Alfonso IX died in 1230, his son by Berenguela of Castile, Ferdinand III of Castile, invaded León and assumed the crown. He thus became the first joint sovereign of both kingdoms since the death of Alfonso VII in 1157. The Atlantic coastal province separated as the independent Kingdom of Portugal.

Though the kings of Castile and León initially continued to take the title King of León as the superior title, and to use a lion as part of their standard, power in fact became centralized in Castile, as exemplified by the Leonese language's replacement by Spanish.

Castile and León at first coexisted as a personal union under the Crown of Castile, with León possessing separate institutions, such as its own "cortes", the "Real Adelantamiento" of the Kingdom of León, the "Merino mayor" of León, among others, many of which lasted until the 19th century. The Castilian monarchs, however, soon began a process of unifying the laws of the two kingdoms, as exemplified by the Siete Partidas. By the 16th century, León became a captaincy-general.

In the XIXth Century the Kingdom of León declared the war, with Galicia and Asturias, against France, and organised the Junta General del Reino de León as its own government.

The modern region of León was stablished in 1833 [Real Decreto de 30 de noviembre de 1833] and was divided in León, Zamora and Salamanca provinces. The former lands of León are now part of the autonomous communities of Castile and León, Galicia, Extremadura, Asturias and of the country of Portugal.

There is a modern Leonese regionalist movement (leonesismo) that support the raising of an autonomous community departed from Castile. Leonesist parties got the 15% of votes in the León province in 2007.

See also

*Al Andalus
*History of Portugal
*History of Spain
*Kingdom of Asturias
*Kingdom of Castile
*Kingdom of Galicia
*List of Leonese monarchs

External links

* [ R.A. Fletcher, "The Episcopate in the Kingdom of León in the Twelfth Century"] : Chapter 1 gives the cultural context of earlier and 12th century León.

* [ "A brief explanation about the modern Leonese Country regionalism"]
* ["Blog of an Leonese Historian"]

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