Alfonso VIII (11 November 1155 – 5 October 1214), called the
Noble (El Noble) or the one of the Navas (el de las Navas), was the
King of Castile
King of Castile from 1158 to his death and King of Toledo. 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 in 1195, he led the
coalition of Christian princes and foreign crusaders who broke the
power of the
Almohads in the
Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa
Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, an
event which marked the arrival of a tide of Christian supremacy on the
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.
1 Regency and civil war
2 Marriage and Foreign Relations
4 Cultural legacy
Regency and civil war
Alfonso was born to
Sancho III of Castile
Sancho III of Castile and Blanche, in
Soria on 11
November 1155. He was named after his grandfather Alfonso VII of
León and Castile, who divided his kingdoms between his sons. This
division set the stage for conflict in the family until the kingdoms
were re-united by Alfonso VIII's grandson, Ferdinand III of
His early life resembled that of other medieval kings. His father died
in 1158. Though proclaimed king when only two years of age, Alfonso
was regarded as merely nominal 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 noble houses of Lara and Castro both
claimed the regency, as did the boy's uncle, Ferdinand II of León. In
1159 the young Alfonso was put briefly in the custody of García
Garcés de Aza, who was not wealthy enough to support him. In March
1160 the Castro and Lara met at the
Battle of Lobregal and the Castro
were victorious, but the guardianship of Alfonso and the regency fell
to Manrique Pérez de Lara.
Alfonso was put in the custody of the loyal village Ávila. At barely
fifteen, he began restoring his kingdom to order. It was only by
surprise that he recovered his capital Toledo from the hands of the
Marriage and Foreign Relations
During the regency, his uncle
Sancho VI of Navarre
Sancho VI of Navarre took advantage of
the chaos and the king's minority to seize lands along the border,
including much of La Rioja. In 1170, Alfonso sent an embassy to
Henry II of England
Henry II of England and
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Eleanor of Aquitaine to seek the
hand of their daughter Eleanor. Due to the bride's young age of 9,
the marriage was finalized at Burgos, before 17 September 1177.
The marriage treaty helped provide Alfonso with a powerful ally
against his uncle. In 1176, Alfonso asked his father-in-law to
arbitrate the disputed border territories. While Alfonso received back
much which had been taken from him, he did have to pay significant
In 1186, he recuperated part of La Rioja from the Kingdom of
In 1187, Alfonso negotiated with
Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor who
was seeking to marry his son Conrad to Alfonso's eldest child and
heir, Berengaria. In April 1188 they agreed on a treaty in
Seligenstadt which made clear that she was the heir of Castile after
any sons of Alfonso, and that Conrad would only co-rule as her spouse.
This became relevant in her ultimate succession to the throne, even
though the marriage to Conrad was never consummated and later
annulled. The treaty also documented traditional rights and
obligations between the sovereign and the nobles in Castile. In July
1188, Alfonso convened his court in
Carrión de los Condes to allow
the nobles to review and ratify the treaty. At that court, Alfonso
knighted both Conrad and Alfonso IX of León, who would ultimately
marry Berengaria. The younger Alfonso had come to seek the support and
acknowledgement of his ascent to the throne of León from his older
cousin. The elder Alfonso granted this in exchange for acknowledgement
that the king of Castile was overlord of the king of León.
The relationship between the cousins Alfonso continued to be filled
with conflict. In 1194, the papal legate negotiated a treaty between
them to temporarily end the conflict. However, after Castile was
defeated at the Battle of Alarcos, the younger Alfonso seized the
opportunity to again attack his cousin. Castille defended itself with
papal support. A more lasting peace was achieved finally by the older
Alfonso's daughter Berengaria getting married to the younger Alfonso
in 1197. The annulment of this marriage by the pope drove the
younger Alfonso to again attack his cousin in 1204, but treaties made
in 1205, 1207, and 1209 each forced him to concede further territories
and rights. The treaty in 1207 is the first existing public
document in the Castilian dialect.
Around 1200 when his brother in law John was on the English throne,
Alfonso began to claim that
Gascony was part of Eleanor's dowry,
though there was nothing in the marriage treaty to indicate this. In
1205, he invaded, hoping to make good on his claim. By 1208, he gave
up on the venture, though his heirs would come back to this claim
In 1174, he ceded
Uclés to the
Order of Santiago
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 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.
Plasencia (Cáceres) in 1186, he embarked on a major
initiative to unite the Castilian nobility around the Reconquista.
In 1195, after the treaty with the
Almohads was broken, he came to the
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 Yusuf Yaqub 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 of Narbonne, Arnaud Amalric, 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
Las Navas de Tolosa near Santa Elena on 16
July. The caliph
Muhammad al-Nasir was routed and Almohad power
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. Alfonso and his wife
Eleanor of England
Eleanor of England were the first to
Alcázar of Segovia
Alcázar of Segovia as their resident when this fortress was
still at its early stages.
Alfonso died at Gutierre-Muñoz and was succeeded by his surviving
son, Henry I.
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 paramour,
Rahel la Fermosa. Scholars continue to debate the historical truth
of this relationship. The 1919 film The Jewess of Toledo by Franz
Höbling is also based on this relationship.
With Eleanor of England, Alfonso had 11 children:
Las Huelgas near Burgos,
8 November 1246
Married firstly in
Seligenstadt on 23 April 1188 with Duke Conrad II
of Swabia, but the union (only by contract and never solemnized) was
later annulled. Married in
Valladolid between 1/16 December 1197 with
Alfonso IX of León
Alfonso IX of León as his second wife. After their marriage
was dissolved on grounds of consanguinity in 1204, she returned to her
homeland and became regent of her minor brother King Henry I. Queen of
Castile in her own right after the death of Henry I in 1217, quickly
abdicated in favor of her son
Ferdinand III of Castile
Ferdinand III of Castile who would
re-unite the kingdoms of Castile and León.
5 April 1181
26 July 1181
Heir of the throne since his birth, died aged three months.
20/28 March 1182
3 February 1184/
16 October 1185
Died in infancy.
Heir of the throne since his birth, died either shortly after being
born or in infancy. His existence is disputed among sources.
28 May 1187
3 November 1220
Queen of Afonso II of Portugal
4 March 1188
27 November 1252
Married to Louis VIII of France
29 September 1189
14 October 1211
Heir of the throne since his birth. On whose behalf
Diego of Acebo and
Saint Dominic travelled to
Denmark in 1203 to secure a
bride. Ferdinand was returning through the San Vicente mountains
from a campaign against the Muslims when he contracted a fever and
Betrothed in 1204 to Infante Ferdinand of Leon, eldest son of Alfonso
IX and stepson of her oldest sister.
Ágreda on 6 February 1221 with James I of Aragon.
A nun at the Cistercian monastery of Santa María la Real at Las
Huelgas in 1217, she became known as the Lady of Las Huelgas, a title
shared with later royal family members who joined the community.
14 April 1204
6 June 1217
Only surviving son, he succeeded his father in 1214 aged ten under the
regency firstly of his mother and later his oldest sister. He was
killed when he was struck by a tile falling from a roof.
Through his daughters, Berengaria and Blanche, he was the grandfather
of two monarchs who became saints of the Roman Church.
Ancestors of Alfonso VIII of Castile
16. William I, Count of Burgundy
8. Raymond of Burgundy
4. Alfonso VII of León and Castile
18. Alfonso VI of León and Castile
Urraca of León
Urraca of León and Castile
19. Constance of Burgundy
2. Sancho III of Castile
20. Ramon Berenguer II, Count of Barcelona
10. Ramon Berenguer III, Count of Barcelona
21. Maud of Apulia
5. Berengaria of Barcelona
22. Gilbert I, Count of Gévaudan
11. Douce I, Countess of Provence
23. Gerberga, Countess of Provence
1. Alfonso VIII of Castile
24. Sancho Garcés, Lord of Monzón
12. Ramiro Sánchez, Lord of Monzón
6. García Ramírez of Navarre
26. Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar
13. Cristina Rodríguez
27. Jimena Díaz
3. Blanche of Navarre
28. Richer de l'Aigle
14. Gilbert de l'Aigle
29. Judith d'Avranches
7. Marguerite de l'Aigle
30. Geoffrey II du Perche
15. Juliana du Perche
31. Beatrix de Montdidier
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alfonso VIII of Castile.
^ Pérez Monzón 2002, pp. 23-24; 27.
^ Anales Toledanos
^ Roth 1994, p. 128.
^ Titles of the European kings
^ Vann 2003, p. 62.
^ a b c Rogers 2010, p. 28.
^ Vann 2003, p. 61.
^ a b c d e Shadis 2010, p. xix.
^ a b c One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates
text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh,
ed. (1911). "Alphonso s.v.". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.).
Cambridge University Press.
^ a b Shadis 2010, p. 25-31.
^ Cawley, Charles, Medieval Lands Project on Alfonso VIII of Castile,
marriage and issues, Medieval Lands database, Foundation for Medieval
source][better source needed]
^ Shadis 2010, p. 52-56.
^ Shadis 2010, p. 61-62.
^ Shadis 2010, p. 78-84.
^ Túy 2003, p. 324, 4.84.
^ Wright 2000.
^ Shadis 2010, p. 31.
^ Ricardo del Arco y Garay, Sepulcros de la Casa Real de Castilla
^ Marrache 2009.
^ Shadis 2010, p. 48-50.
^ Crónica Latina
^ Vann 2003, p. 63.
^ New International Encyclopedia, Vol.13, (Dodd, Mead and Company,
^ Vicaire, pp. 89–98.
^ Osma 1997, p. 55-56, vol.20.
^ a b c Shadis 2010, p. 4.
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Alfonso VIII of Castile
House of Burgundy
Born: 11 November 1155 Died: 5 October 1214
King of Castile
King of Castile and Toledo
Monarchs of Castile
House of Jiménez
Ferdinand I "the Magno"
Sancho II "the Strong"
Alfonso VI "the Brave"
Urraca "the Reckless"
House of Burgundy
Alfonso VII "the Emperor"
Sancho III "the Desired"
Alfonso VIII "the Noble"
Ferdinand III "the Saint"
Alfonso X "the Wise"
Sancho IV "the Brave"
Ferdinand IV "the Summoned"
Alfonso XI "the Avenger"
Peter "the Cruel"
House of Trastámara
Henry II "the Fracticidal"
Henry III "the Mourner"
Henry IV "the Impotent"
Isabella I "the Catholic"
Ferdinand V "the Catholic"
Joanna "the Mad"
House of Habsburg
Philip I "the Handsome"
Charles I "the Emperor"
Philip II "the Prudent"
Philip III "the Devotional"
Philip IV "the Stunned"
Charles II "the Bewitched"
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