Andrew II of Hungary, Emperor Isaac II Angelos of the Byzantine Empire, Holy Roman Empire, James of Aragon, King Alfonso X of Castile, King of the Romans, Kingdom of Germany, Violant of Aragon, Violant of Hungary
From the Emperor’s Desk: Although Alfonso X succeeded to the thrones of Castile, León and Galicia on May 30, 1252, he was proclaimed as such on June 1, 1252.
Alfonso X (November 23, 1221 – April 4, 1284) was King of Castile, León and Galicia from May 30, 1252 until his death in 1284.
Born in Toledo, Kingdom of Castile, Infante Alfonso was the eldest son of King Fernando III of Castile, Leon and Galicia and Princess Elisabeth (Beatrice) of Swabia, the fourth daughter of Philipp of Swabia, King of Germany/King of the Romans, and Irene Angelina, daughter of Emperor Isaac II Angelos of the Byzantine Empire. Elisabeth’s father was murdered on June 12, 1208, and her mother died from childbirth complications on August 27th. Elisabeth and her sisters were placed under the guardianship of their cousin, King Frederick Roger of Sicily, who arranged the marriage of Elisabeth and King Fernando III of Castile.
Alfonso’s mother was the paternal cousin of Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich II, to whom Alfonso is often compared. His maternal grandparents were Philipp of Swabia and Irene Angelina. Little is known about his upbringing, but he was most likely raised in Toledo. For the first nine years of his life Alfonso was only heir to Castile until his paternal grandfather king Alfonso IX of León died and his father united the kingdoms of Castile and León. He began his career as a soldier, under the command of his father, when he was only sixteen years old.
After the accession of King Theobald I of Navarre, Fernando III tried to arrange a marriage for Alfonso with Theobald’s daughter, Blanche, but the move was unsuccessful. At the same time, he had a romantic relationship with Mayor Guillén de Guzmán, who bore him a daughter, Beatrice.
In 1240, he married Mayor Guillén de Guzmán, but the marriage was later annulled and their issue declared illegitimate. In the same period (1240–1250) he conquered several Muslim strongholds in Al-Andalus alongside his father, such as Murcia, Alicante and Cadiz.
In 1249, Alfonso married Infanta Violant of Aragon, the daughter of King Jaime I of Aragon and Princess Yolande of Hungary, although betrothed already in 1246.
King Jaime I of Aragon was the only son of King Pedro II of Aragon and Marie of Montpellier. Princess Violant of Hungary was the only child of King Andrew II of Hungary and his second wife, Yolanda (Violant) of Courtenay.
Princess Violant of Hungary married King Jaime I of Aragon in 1235. King Jaime had already been married to Infanta Eleanor of Castile, but he had this marriage annulled on the basis of consanguinity in 1229. He and Eleanor had a son, Infante Alfonso, who was considered legitimate, but who died before Jaime.
Alfonso succeeded his father as King Alfonso X of Castile and León on May 30, 1252. The following year he invaded Portugal, capturing the region of the Algarve. King Afonso III of Portugal had to surrender, but he gained an agreement by which, after he consented to marry Alfonso X’s daughter Infanta Beatrice of Castile, the land would be returned to their heirs. In 1261 he captured Jerez. In 1263 he returned Algarve to the King of Portugal and signed the Treaty of Badajoz (1267).
In 1254 Alfonso X signed a treaty of alliance with King Henry III of England, supporting him in the war against King Louis IX of France. In the same year Alfonso’s half-sister, Infanta Eleanor, married Henry’s son Edward: with this act Alfonso renounced forever all claim to the Duchy of Gascony, to which Castile had been a pretender since the marriage of Alfonso VIII of Castile with Eleanor of England (second daughter of Henry II, King of England, and Eleanor of Aquitaine).
In 1256, at the death of Willem II of Holland, Alfonso’s descent from the Hohenstaufen through his mother, a daughter of Philipp of Swabia, gave him a claim to the Holy Roman Empire through the Hohenstaufen line. Alfonso’s election as German king (King of the Romans) by the prince-electors misled him into complicated schemes that involved excessive expense but never succeeded.
King Alfonso X never even traveled to the Holy Roman Empire, and his alliance with the Italian Ghibelline Lord Ezzelino IV da Romano deprived him of the initial support of Pope Alexander IV. His rival, Richard of Cornwall, went to the Holy Roman Empire and was Crowned King of the Romans in 1257 at Aachen. Richard of Cornwall was the second son of King John of England, and Isabella, Countess of Angoulême.
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 Infante Fernando 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 Piedmont and Lombardy to celebrate the victory against the Guelph Charles I of Anjou and be crowned in Lombardy; he was however halted in his imperial ambitions in Provence by the Pope who, after a long negotiation, obtained Alfonso’s oral renunciation of any claims to the Holy Roman Empire.
King Alfonso X fostered the development of a cosmopolitan court that encouraged learning. Jews, Muslims, and Christians were encouraged to have prominent roles in his court. As a result of his encouraging the translation of works from Arabic and Latin into the vernacular of Castile, many intellectual changes took place, including the encouragement of the use of Castilian as a primary language of higher learning, science, and law.
Alfonso was a prolific author of Galician poetry, such as the Cantigas de Santa Maria, which are equally notable for their musical content as for their literary merit. Alfonso’s scientific interests—he is sometimes nicknamed the Astrologer (el Astrólogo)—led him to sponsor the creation of the Alfonsine tables, and the Alphonsus crater on the moon is named after him. He also sponsored the work of historians, who for the first time placed Spain—he would have called it that—in the context of world history.
As a lawmaker he introduced the first vernacular law code in Castile, the Siete Partidas. He created the Mesta, an association of sheep farmers in the central plain, but debased the coinage to finance his claim to the German crown. The end of his reign was marred by a civil war with his eldest surviving son, the future King Sancho IV, which continued after his death.