History of Europe

The reunification of the kingdoms of Castile and León

In the blog entry dedicated to the succession of Alfonso VII I explained how after his death in 1157 the kingdom of Castile passed into the hands of his son Sancho III, while León and Galicia were for Fernando II. He also discussed in that entry how Sancho III died in 1158 and the problems that his son Alfonso VIII had to face during his minority.

When he reached the majority and took possession of the throne, Alfonso VIII dedicated a good part of the first years of his reign to recovering the possessions that Castile had lost in previous years due to its political instability . This resulted in frequent clashes and skirmishes between the Castilians of Alfonso VIII and the Leonese of his uncle Fernando II. The Treaty of Medina de Rioseco, in 1181, put an end to the conflict, with the agreement between both monarchs to recover the borders between the two kingdoms established by Alfonso VII. In 1183, through the Treaty of Fresno-Lavandera, the towns and places that belonged to one and the other were fixed in more detail, agreeing that after ten years claims could be studied in this regard, but that neither of the two kingdoms would disturb the peace between they. It might seem that Castilla y León would go their separate ways from then on.

When Ferdinand II of León died in 1188, his son Alfonso IX saw his throne threatened by his half-brother Sancho, son of Ferdinand II's second marriage, supported by the powerful family of his mother, Doña Urraca López de Haro, gentlemen of Vizcaya. Alfonso IX had to ask for the support of the King of Castile, who promised to do so in a ceremony that took place in Carrión de los Condes, where the Leonese ended up kissing the hand of the Castilian, so it seemed that the vassalage of the King was recognized. kingdom of León over that of Castile.

According to Chao Prieto,

The act was not per se a declaration of vassalage or any contempt, but the arrogant and devious attitude of Alfonso VIII makes it a humiliation. It is so much to the taste of the Castilian that he will order the royal scribes to reference it –for a few years– in all the documents he signs:«in that year in which the serene Alfonso, King of Castile, gave the military belt to Alfonso, King of León , in his curia in Carrión». Or sometimes:"and the King of León himself kissed the hand of the said Alfonso, King of Castile and Toledo."

This description of what happened in Soto Hermoso does not coincide with the one made by Martínez Diez.

The Leonese king, wishing to ingratiate himself with his cousin, promised to marry a daughter of the Castilian king and receive the chivalry from his hands and on that occasion kiss the hand of Alfonso VIII, which was the sign by which Alfonso IX would recognize himself as a vassal of the King of Castile for himself and for his kingdom» .

Puente, after recalling that "the Leonese defensive system was already in the hands of the Castilians in May", he continues:

A rapprochement by León towards Castile in the form of a diplomatic settlement, hinted at by the King's advisers (Alfonso IX), was therefore necessary. The two monarchs who, let us not forget, were blood cousins, met on May 19, 1188 in Soto Hermoso, a place north of Plasencia. Castile recognized the legitimacy of Alfonso IX and, after signing a non-aggression pact between León and Castile and agreeing to return the occupied positions, it was agreed to hold, on Saint John's Day, a curia of both kingdoms in Carrión, where Alfonso he would be knighted by his cousin Alfonso VIII.
The fundamental rite of chivalry took place in the monastery of San Zoilo […] during an act of great solemnity. Amid great anticipation, Alfonso was knighted during a ceremony whose brilliance resembled that of a royal coronation. The King of Castile, who was about to turn thirty, took the military belt with the sword and, girding only the King of León, armed him as a knight. Later, before the curia, he kissed the hand of the Castilian king, a transcendental act according to the rules of chivalry. Although it was not an act of vassalage, the fact that a king of León kissed the hand of a king of Castile was considered an explicit recognition of the Castilian as head of the lineage and celebrated triumphantly throughout the kingdom; in fact, the royal chancellery of Castile began to date its documents in relation to that day and continued to do so for a year.

And Rodríguez-Picavea highlights another derivative of what happened in Carrión:«The King of Castile knighted his cousin from León and received his homage, which for many meant the confirmation of Castilian supremacy over León. However, Alfonso IX came out stronger within his kingdom, as he managed to assert himself on the throne and avert the danger posed by the powerful Haro family.

Shortly afterwards, Alfonso IX would disregard this agreement and ally himself with Portugal (he even married the daughter of the Portuguese king, Teresa) and Aragon against Castile, forcing the mediation of the pontifical legate.

The vicissitudes of the kingdom of León and the difficulties of Alfonso IX to maintain his throne exceed the subject of this entry, as well as those of the Castilian kingdom and its decisive battles against the Muslims, the defeat at Alarcos in 1195 and the victory at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. For what interests us here, the reunification of the kingdoms of Castile and León, the fundamental event took place in the year 1197, when it was agreed and celebrated the marriage of the Leonese king with the daughter of the Castilian monarch, Berenguela. The link was opposed by the papacy, both Celestine III and Innocent III, who refused to issue the dispensation for consanguinity and even excommunicated Alfonso IX. Despite this, both Castile and León kept their commitments derived from the marriage, opposing the mandates of Rome.

For their part, Alfonso IX and Berengaria continued their conjugal coexistence, a fact that would be key to the future reunification of both kingdoms. In 1204, Pope Innocent III dissolved the marriage. Berenguela returned to Castile together with her offspring.

In the year 1214 King Alfonso VIII of Castile died, leaving his minor son Enrique I as heir. The old king had appointed his faithful wife as regent of the kingdom and the child's mother, Eleanor Plantagenet. But Leonor died only a few days after her husband, so the regency of Castile fell to the older sister of Enrique I, the former wife of Alfonso IX de León, Berenguela. When the young Enrique I died in an absurd accident in 1217, Berengaria renounced the crown in favor of the first-born of the descendants that she had had with Alfonso IX of León, who ascended the throne with the name of Fernando III. His father, the Leonese king, briefly tried to assert his rights to the throne of Castile, but ended up resigning in the Pact of Toro in 1218.

In 1230 Alfonso IX of León died. Although he had up to nineteen children with six different women, at the time of his death the candidates to succeed him were limited to four:the infantas Dulce and Sancha, daughters of his marriage to Teresa of Portugal, and King Ferdinand III of Castile and his brother Alfonso, sons of his liaison with Berengaria de Castilla.

Alfonso IX's initial decision was to name Sancha and Dulce as heirs to the Leonese throne. Chao points out that "from the very moment that his son Fernando was proclaimed king of Castile, he never again named him in his documents, making explicit his intention that he not succeed him to the Leonese throne."

However, as González Jiménez shows

Analyzed the situation, it was evident that the Leonese monarch had been wrong in considering that the succession was something of his absolute personal competence and, perhaps for that reason , had not bothered to sanction his decision in a special summons to the Cortes in which his daughters were sworn in and recognized as heirs. He surely must have done it. Therefore, at his death, the succession problem was more confused than ever.

For his part, Puente points out:

According to the will of the monarch, and to keep the kingdom united, the rights of succession passed to the daughters Sancha and Dulce, without any mention for his his son Ferdinand. This solution, described by historians as unrealistic, had no signs of coming to fruition given the impossibility, among other things, of establishing the distribution of power for each of the infantas.

González Jiménez expresses himself in similar terms.

The legality expressed by the king could give rise to a triple and confusing perspective:recognizing Doña Sancha, the eldest of the monarch's two daughters, as heir deceased; divide the kingdom between the two sisters, granting Sancha the kingdom of León and Dulce that of Galicia, or establish a kind of diarchy, presided over by the first. It is likely that any of these formulas could be valid for those who, moved by a visceral anti-Castilianism, fostered for years by the deceased monarch, were willing to prevent by all means Ferdinand III from inheriting his father. Be that as it may, none of these formulas was politically viable since, to the internal insecurity that it could cause […] was added the more than certain refusal of Fernando III to renounce some rights that had been recognized by his father and sworn by the kingdom and that had never been expressly revoked.

This problem between the practical unfeasibility of granting the government of the kingdom to the two sisters and the desire to avoid the unwanted dynastic union between León and Castile led to the emergence of a third way that proposed that the crown passed to the head of the second son of Alfonso IX and Berenguela, the brother of Fernando III named Alfonso, who later became known as Alfonso de Molina. But Alfonso nipped it in the bud by not accepting the proposal, according to a chronicle "for doing what his mother ordered."

Negotiations began between both sides and finally, with the mediation of the queen mothers, it was agreed that Sancha and Dulce would renounce the crown of León in favor of Fernando III in exchange for a large compensation. This produced "the definitive unification of the plateau, with the confirmation of the hegemony of the kingdom of Castile" (García de Cortázar).

Ferdinand III began, already as King of Castile and León, a successful reign in which significant events took place such as the conquests of Córdoba (1236) and Seville (1248), He earned the nickname of the Saint and would be canonized in 1671... but that's another story.

Image| Ferdinand III the Saint (Wikimedia commons)


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