Alfonso VIII of Castile

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Alfonso VIII
King of Castile and Toledo
Reign 31 August 1158 – 5 October 1214
Predecessor Sancho III
Successor Henry I
Consort Eleanor of England
among others...
Berengaria, Queen of Castile
Urraca, Queen of Portugal
Blanche, Queen of France
Eleanor, Queen of Aragon
Henry I, King of Castile
House House of Burgundy
Father Sancho III of Castile
Mother Blanche of Navarre
Born (1155-11-11)11 November 1155
Died 5 October 1214(1214-10-05) (aged 58)
Burial Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas
Religion Roman Catholicism

Alfonso VIII (11 November 1155[1] – 5 October 1214), called the Noble or el de las Navas, was the King of Castile from 1158 to his death and King of Toledo.[2][3] 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,[4] he led the coalition of Christian princes and foreign crusaders who broke the power of the Almohads in the Battle of the Navas de Tolosa in 1212, an event which marked the arrival of a tide of Christian supremacy on the Iberian peninsula.

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.

Regency and civil war[edit]

Alfonso was born to Sancho III of Castile and Blanche, in Soria on 11 November 1155.[5] He was named after his grandfather Alfonso VII of Castile. His early life resembled that of other medieval kings. His father died in 1158. Though proclaimed king when only three 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 came forth to do a man's work by restoring his kingdom to order. It was only by a surprise that he recovered his capital Toledo from the hands of the Laras.


In 1174, he ceded Uclés to the 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.

After founding Plasencia (Cáceres) in 1186, he embarked on a major initiative to unite the Castilian nobility around the Reconquista. In that year, he recuperated part of La Rioja from the Kingdom of Navarre.

In 1195, after the treaty with the Almohads was broken, he came to the defence of 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 Yaqub Yusuf 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 near Santa Elena on 16 July. The caliph Muhammad an-Nasir was routed and Almohad power broken.

Cultural legacy[edit]

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. His marriage (Burgos, before 17 September 1177)[6] with Eleanor, daughter of Henry II of England, brought him under the influence of the greatest governing intellect of his time.

Alfonso died at Gutierre-Muñoz[7] and was succeeded by his eldest 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 historical paramour, Rahel la Fermosa.

Alfonso is portrayed in the 1919 film The Jewess of Toledo by Franz Höbling.


With Eleanor[8] Alfonso had 11 children:[9]

Name Birth Death Notes
Berengaria Burgos,
1 January/
June 1180
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 King Alfonso IX of León as his second wife.[10] 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, immediately abdicated in favor of her son Ferdinand III of Castile who would united the kingdoms of Castile and León.
Sancho Burgos,
5 April 1181
26 July 1181 Heir of the throne since his birth, died aged three months.
Sancha 20/28 March 1182 3 February 1184/
16 October 1185
Died in infancy.
Henry 1184 1184? Heir of the throne since his birth, died either shortly after being born or in infancy. His existence is disputed among sources.
Urraca 1186/
28 May 1187
3 November 1220
Queen of Alfonso II of Portugal
Blanche Palencia,
4 March 1188
27 November 1252
Married to Louis VIII of France
Ferdinand Cuenca,
29 September 1189
14 October 1211
Heir of the throne since his birth. On whose behalf Diego of Acebo and the future Saint Dominic travelled to Denmark in 1203 to secure a bride.[11] He died soon after returning from campaigning against the Moors.
Mafalda Plasencia,
Betrothed in 1204 to Infante Ferdinand of Leon, eldest son of Alfonso IX and stepson of her oldest sister.
Constance 1195 Las Huelgas,
A nun at the Cistercian monastery of Santa María la Real at Las Huelgas in 1217, she later became Abbess of her community.
Eleanor 1202 Las Huelgas,
Married in Ágreda on 6 February 1221 with James I of Aragon.
Henry Valladolid,
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.



  1. ^ Anales Toledanos
  2. ^ Norman Roth, Muslims in Medieval Spain: Cooperation and Conflict, (BRILL, 1994), 128.
  3. ^ Titles of the European kings
  4. ^ Alfonso VIII, King of Castile, Theresa M. Vann, Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia, Ed. E. Michael Gerli, (Routledge, 2003), 62.
  5. ^ Alfonso VIII, King of Castile, Theresa M. Vann, Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia, 61.
  6. ^ Cawley, Charles, Medieval Lands Project on Alfonso VIII of Castile, marriage and issues, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, retrieved August 2012 ,[better source needed]
  7. ^ Ricardo del Arco y Garay, Sepulcros de la Casa Real de Castilla
  8. ^ Crónica Latina
  9. ^ Alfonso VIII, King of Castile, Theresa M. Vann, Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia, 63.
  10. ^ New International Encyclopedia, Vol.13, (Dodd, Mead and Company, 1915), 782.
  11. ^ Vicaire, pp. 89–98.


Alfonso VIII of Castile
Born: 11 November 1155 Died: 5 October 1214
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Sancho III
King of Castile and Toledo
Succeeded by
Henry I