ALFONSO X (also occasionally ALPHONSO, ALPHONSE, or ALFONS, 23
November 1221 – 4 April 1284), called THE WISE (Spanish : el Sabio),
King of Castile , León and Galicia from 30 May 1252 until his
death. During the
Alfonso X fostered the development of a cosmopolitan court that
encouraged learning. Jews, Muslims, and Christians had prominent roles
in his court. As a result of his encouraging the translation of works
* 1 Life
* 1.1 Early life
* 1.2 Reign
* 2 Court culture
* 2.1 Translations
* 3 Family * 4 Ancestors
* 5 Notes
* 5.1 References
* 6 Further reading * 7 External links
Alfonso X as a judge, from his Libro de los Dados, completed ca. 1280.
Born in Toledo, Kingdom of Castile, Alfonso was the eldest son of
Ferdinand III of Castile and Elizabeth (Beatrice) of Swabia . His
mother was the paternal cousin of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II , to
whom Alfonso is often compared. His maternal grandparents were Philip
of Swabia and
After the election of Theobald I as king of Navarre , his father
tried to arrange a marriage for Alfonso with Theobald's daughter,
Blanche of Navarre, but the move was unsuccessful. At the same time,
he had a romantic relationship with
Mayor Guillén de Guzmán
Alfonso succeeded his father as
King of Castile and León in 1252.
The following year he invaded Portugal, capturing the region of the
In 1254 Alfonso X signed a treaty of alliance with the King of
Duke of Aquitaine
In 1256, at the death of
William II of Holland , Alfonso's descent
from the Hohenstaufen through his mother, a daughter of the emperor
Philip of Swabia, gave him a claim through the Swabian line. Alfonso's
King of the Romans
To obtain money, Alfonso debased the coinage and then endeavored to prevent a rise in prices by an arbitrary tariff . The little trade of his dominions was ruined, and the burghers and peasants were deeply offended. His nobles, whom he tried to cow by sporadic acts of violence, rebelled against him in 1272. Reconciliation was bought by Alfonso's son Ferdinand in 1273.
In the end, after Richard's death, the German princes elected Rudolph
I of Habsburg (1273), Alfonso being declared deposed by Pope Gregory X
. In 1275 Alfonso tried to meet with his imperial vicar in Italy,
William VII of Montferrat (who had succeeded Ezzelino) and his
Ghibelline allies in
Throughout his reign, Alfonso contended with the nobles, particularly the families of Nuño González de Lara , Diego López de Haro and Esteban Fernández de Castro , all of whom were formidable soldiers and instrumental in maintaining Castile's military strength in frontier territories. According to some scholars, Alfonso lacked the singleness of purpose required by a ruler who would devote himself to organization, and also the combination of firmness with temper needed for dealing with his nobles. Others have argued that his efforts were too singularly focused on the diplomatic and financial arrangements surrounding his bid to become Holy Roman Emperor.
Alfonso's eldest son, Ferdinand , died in 1275 at the Battle of
Écija against the Moroccan and Granadan invasion armies, leaving two
infant sons. Alfonso's second son, Sancho , claimed to be the new
heir, in preference to the children of Ferdinand de la Cerda, basing
his claim on an old Castilian custom, that of proximity of blood and
agnatic seniority . Alfonso preferred to leave the throne to his
grandsons, but Sancho had the support of the nobility. A bitter civil
war broke out resulting in Alfonso's being forced in 1282 to accept
Sancho as his heir instead of his young grandsons; only the cities of
In 1273, he created the Mesta , an association of some 3,000 petty and great sheep holders in Castile, in reaction to less wool being exported from the traditional sites in England. This organization later became exceedingly powerful in the country (as wool became Castile's first major exportable commodity and reported a trade surplus, called "white gold", as the wool amount was critical to the health of the population during the winter), and eventually its privileges were to prove a deadly wound in the Castilian economy. One side effect of the quickly expanding sheep herds was the decimation to the Castilian farmland through which the sheep grazed.
The original function of the Mesta was to separate the fields from the sheep-ways linking grazing areas.
As a ruler, Alfonso showed legislative capacity, and a wish to
provide the kingdoms expanded under his father with a code of laws and
a consistent judicial system. The Fuero Real was undoubtedly his work.
He began medieval Europe's most comprehensive code of law, the Siete
Partidas , which, however, thwarted by the nobility of Castile, was
only promulgated by his great-grandson. Because of this, and because
the Partidas remain fundamental law in the American Southwest, he is
one of the 23 lawmakers depicted in the House of Representatives
chamber of the
United States Capitol
From a young age Alfonso X showed an interest in military life and chivalry. In 1231 Alfonso traveled with Pérez de Castron on a military campaign in lower Andalusia. Writing in Estoria de España, Alfonso describes having seen St. James on a white horse with a white banner and a legion of knights fighting a war above the soldiers of Spain. This vision of a heavenly army fighting in Jerez and participation in military campaigns likely left Alfonso X with a high degree of knowledge and respect for military operations and chivalric knights. Alfonso's respect for chivalry can also be seen in his writing of Spanish law. Spanish Chivalric conduct was codified in the Siete Partidas (2,21) where he wrote that knights should be, "of good linage and distinguished by gentility, wisdom, understanding, loyalty, courage, moderation, justice, prowess, and the practical knowledge necessary to assess the quality of horse and arms ( Siete Partidas , 21,1-10)." These efforts to make a codified standard of chivalric conduct were likely meant to both encourage strength of arms (prowess) and to restrain the use of violence for only just (state-sponsored) usage.
Main article: Literature of Alfonso X
King Alfonso X developed a court culture that encouraged cosmopolitan
learning. Alfonso had many works previously written in
From the beginning of his reign, Alfonso employed Jewish, Christian
and Muslim scholars at his court, primarily for the purpose of
translating books from
The very first translation, commissioned by his brother, Fernando de la Cerda— who had extensive experience, both diplomatic and military, among the Muslims of southern Iberia and north Africa— was a Castilian version of the animal fable Kalila wa-Dimna , a book that belongs to the genre of wisdom literature labeled Mirrors for Princes : stories and sayings meant to instruct the monarch in proper and effective governance.
The primary intellectual work of these scholars centered on astronomy
and astrology. The early period of Alfonso's reign saw the translation
of selected works of magic (Lapidario,
Picatrix , Libro de las formas
et las ymagenes) all translated by a Jewish scholar named Yehuda ben
Moshe (Yhuda Mosca, in the Old Spanish source texts). These were all
highly ornate manuscripts (only the Lapidario survives in its
entirety) containing what was believed to be secret knowledge on the
magical properties of stones and talismans . In addition to these
books of astral magic, Alfonso ordered the translation of well-known
As an intellectual he gained considerable scientific fame based on
his encouragement of astronomy , which included astrology at the time
and the Ptolemaic cosmology as known to him through the Arabs . He
surrounded himself with mostly Jewish translators who rendered Arabic
scientific texts into Castilian at Toledo. His fame extends to the
preparation of the
Alfonsine tables , based on calculations of
al-Zarqali, "Arzachel" .
Alexander Bogdanov maintained that these
tables formed the basis for
Alfonso also commissioned a compilation of chronicles , the Crónica general , completed in 1264. This chronicle sought to establish a general history and drew from older chronicles, folklore and Arabic sources. This work enjoyed renewed popularity starting in the sixteenth century, when there was a revival of interest in history; Florián de Ocampo published a new edition and Lorenzo de Sepúlveda used it as the chief source of his popular romances . Sepúlveda wrote a number of romances having Alfonso X as their hero.
Alfonso's court compiled in Castilian a work titled General Estoria . This work was an attempt at a world history that drew from many sources and included translations from the Vulgate Old Testament mixed with myths and histories from the classical world, mostly Egypt, Greece, and Rome. This world history was left incomplete, however, and so it stops at the birth of Christ. The main significance of this work lies in the translations from Latin into Castilian. Much like his chronicles, the ability of Alfonso's court to compile writings from a variety of cultures and translate them into Castilian left a historic impact on Spain.
The game of astronomical tables, from Libro de los juegos
Alfonso also had the Libro de ajedrez, dados, y tablas ("Libro de los Juegos" (The Book of Games) ) translated into Castilian from Arabic and added illustrations with the goal of perfecting the work. It was completed in 1283.
Alfonso X commissioned or co-authored numerous works of music during his reign. These works included Cantigas d'escarnio e maldicer and the vast compilation Cantigas de Santa Maria ("Songs to the Virgin Mary"), which was written in Galician-Portuguese and figures among the most important of his works. The Cantigas form one of the largest collections of vernacular monophonic songs to survive from the Middle Ages . They consist of 420 poems with musical notation. The poems are for the most part on miracles attributed to the Virgin Mary . One of the miracles Alfonso relates is his own healing in Puerto de Santa María .
Violante was ten years old at the time of her marriage to Alfonso; she produced no children for several years and it was feared that she was barren. Alfonso almost had their marriage annulled, but they went on to have eleven children:
* Berengaria (1253 – after 1284). She was betrothed to Louis, the son and heir of King Louis IX of France , but her fiance died prematurely in 1260. She entered the convent in Las Huelgas, where she was living in 1284. * Beatrice (1254–1280). She married William VII, Marquess of Montferrat . * Ferdinand de la Cerda , Infante of Castile (23 October 1255 – 25 July 1275). He married Blanche, the daughter of King Louis IX of France, by whom he had two children. Because he predeceased his father, his younger brother Sancho inherited the throne. * Eleanor (1257–1275) * Sancho IV of Castile (13 May 1258 – 1295) * Constance (1258 – 22 August 1280), a nun at Las Huelgas. * Peter, Lord of Ledesma (June 1260 – 10 October 1283) * John, Lord of Valencia de Campos (March or April 1262 – 25 June 1319). * Isabella, died young. * Violant (1265–1296). She married Diego López V de Haro, Lord of Biscay * James, Lord of Cameros (August 1266 – 9 August 1284)
Alfonso X also had several illegitimate children. With Mayor Guillén de Guzmán , daughter of Guillén Pérez de Guzmán and of María González Girón, he fathered:
* Beatrice , married King
Afonso III of Portugal
With Elvira Rodríguez de Villada, daughter of Rodrigo Fernández de Villada , he fathered:
* Alfonso Fernández de Castilla (1242–1281), also known as el Niño, he held the title of "Señor de Molina y Mesa" through his marriage with Blanca Alfonso de Molina .
With María Alfonso de León , his aunt, the illegitimate daughter of the King Alfonso IX of Leon and Teresa Gil de Soverosa he had:
* Berenguela Alfonso of Castile, who married after 1264 with Pedro Núñez de Guzmán but she died young leaving behind no descendants.
ANCESTORS OF ALFONSO X OF CASTILE
21. Blanche of Navarre
1. ALFONSO X OF CASTILE
25. Judith of Bavaria
6. Philip, King of Germany
28. Andronikos Doukas Angelos
14. Isaac II Angelos
29. Euphrosyne Kastamonitissa
30. George Komnenodoukas Palaiologos (1125–1168)
15. Unknown Palaiologina?, afterwards Irene
31. ?Irene Komnene Kantakouzene?
* ^ The Book of Chess, Dice and Board Games. * ^ Márquez (1995) says "Some historians have been only too quick to label him, most unfairly, as a brilliant intellectual who was bungling and inefficient in practical affairs." * ^ A B C Nicholas (1999) * ^ Martinez (2010 :82–83) * ^ O\'Callaghan (1993 :65–66) * ^ Márquez (1995 :54) * ^ Valdeón Baruque (2003) * ^ Wacks (2007 :86–128) * ^ Carroll (2002 :327–328) * ^ Bogdanov, Alexander (1996). Bogdanov's Tektology: Book !. Hull: Centre for Systems Studies. p. 27. * ^ Gingerich (1990 :40 and 44n36) * ^ Soriano Viguera (1926) * ^ Acheson (1969) * ^ A B http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/14725/Alfonso-X * ^ A B Procter (1951) * ^ Burns (1990) * ^ Musser Golladay (2007 :31). Although Musser Golladay is not the first to assert that 1283 is the finish date of the Libro de Juegos, the a quo information compiled in her dissertation consolidates the range of research concerning the initiation and completion dates of the Libro de Juegos.
* Acheson, Dean (1969), Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department, New York: W. W. Norton * Ballesteros-Beretta, Antonio (1963), Alfonso X el Sabio, Barcelona: Salvat * Burns, Robert I. (1990), "Stupor Mundi: Alfonso X of Castile, the Learned", in Burns, Robert I., Emperor of Culture: Alfonso X the Learned of Castile and His Thirteenth-Century Renaissance, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 1–13 * Carroll, James (2002), Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin * Demontis, Luca (2012), Alfonso X e l'Italia: rapporti politici e linguaggi del potere, Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso * Gingerich, Owen (1990), "Alfonso the Tenth as a Patron of Astronomy", in Márquez-Villanueva, Francisco; Vega, Carlos Alberto, Alfonso X of Castile: The Learned King (1221-1284): An International Symposium, Harvard University, 17 November 1984, Cambridge, Mass.: Department of Romance Languages and Literatures of Harvard University, pp. 30–45; reprint in Owen Gingerich, The Eye of Heaven: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler (New York: American Institute of Physics, 1993) * Hamilton, Thomas Wm. (1975), A King for the Stars (planetarium show) * Márquez, Francisco (1995), "Vita: Alfonso X", Harvard Magazine, Jan.-Feb.: 54 * Martinez, H. Salvador (2010), Alfonso X, The Learned: a Biography, Translated by Odille Cisneros, Leiden: Brill * Musser Golladay, Sonja (2007), Los Libros de Acedrex Dados E Tablas: Historical, Artistic and Metaphysical Dimensions of Alfonso X’s Book of Games (PDF), Tucson: PhD diss., University of Arizona * Nicholas, David (1999), The Transformation of Europe 1300–1600, London: Arnold * O'Callaghan, F. (1993), The Learned King: The Reign of Alfonso X of Castile, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press * Procter, Evelyn S. (1951), Alfonso X of Castile: Patron of Literature and Learning, Oxford: Clarendon Press * Soriano Viguera, José (1926), Contribución al conocimiento de los trabajos astronómicos desarrollados en la Escuela de Alfonso X el Sabio, Madrid: Alberto Fontana * Valdeón Baruque, Julio (2003), Alfonso X: La forja de la España moderna, Madrid: Ediciones Temas de Hoy, ISBN 84-8460-277-X * Wacks, David A. (2007), Framing Iberia: Maqamat and Frametales in Medieval Spain, Leiden: Brill
* Alfonso X (1836), Opúsculos Legales del rey Don Alfonso el Sabio: Tomo I, Madrid: Real Academia de la Historia
* Alfonso X (1836), Opúsculos Legales del rey Don Alfonso el Sabio: Tomo II, Madrid: Real Academia de la Historia
* Doubleday, Simon R. (2015), The Wise King: A Christian Prince, Muslim Spain, and the Birth of the Renaissance, New York: Basic Books
* Gordon, Stewart (July–August 2009). "The Game of Kings". Saudi Aramco World . Houston: Aramco Services Company. 60 (4): 18–23. (PDF version) Cf. especially section on "The Alfonso X 'Book of Games'".
* Liuzzo Scorpo, Antonella (2011), "Religious Frontiers and
Overlapping Cultural Borders: The Power of Personal and Political
Exchanges in the Works of
Alfonso X of Castile
* Márquez, Francisco (1994), El concepto cultural alfonsí, Madrid: MAPFRE
* Martínez, H. Salvador (2010), Alfonso X, the Learned: A Biography, Leiden: Brill
* O'Callaghan, Joseph F. (1993), The Learned King: The Reign of Alfonso X of Castile, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press
* Remensnyder, Amy G. (2011), "The Virgin and the King: Alfonso X's
Cantigas de Santa Maria", in Jason Glenn, The
* Thomas, Phillip Drennon (1970). "Alfonso el Sabio". Dictionary of Scientific Biography . 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 122. ISBN 0-684-10114-9 . * Samsó, Julio (2007). "Alfonso X". In Thomas Hockey; et al. The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers. New York: Springer. pp. 29–31. ISBN 978-0-387-31022-0 . (PDF version)
* Weiler, Björn (2007), "Kings and Sons: Princely Rebellions and the Structures of Revolt in Western Europe, c.1170–c.1280", Historical Research, 82 (215): 17–40, doi :10.1111/j.1468-2281.2007.00450.x
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