Berengaria of Castile

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Doña Berenguela 01.jpg
1753 statue in Madrid
Queen regnant of Castile and Toledo
Reign 6 June – 31 August 1217
Predecessor Henry I
Successor Ferdinand III
Queen consort of León
Tenure 1197–1204
Spouse Alfonso IX of León
Ferdinand III of Castile
Infante Alfonso, 4th Lord of Molina
Berengaria, Latin Empress
House House of Ivrea
Father Alfonso VIII of Castile
Mother Eleanor of England
Born 1179 or 1180
Died 8 November 1246 (aged 66)
Las Huelgas near Burgos
Burial Las Huelgas near Burgos
Religion Roman Catholicism

Berengaria (Castilian: Berenguela) (1179 [1][2] or 1180 [2][3] – 8 November 1246) was Queen of Castile[4] in 1217 and Queen consort of León from 1197 to 1204.

Early family life[edit]

The eldest daughter of King Alfonso VIII of Castile and Eleanor of England, she was the great-granddaughter of another Berengaria and Alfonso VII of León and Castile, and sister of Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona. In the maternal line she was the granddaughter of King Henry II of England and another important woman of the age, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Those who cared for the young infanta were generously rewarded. Her nurse, Estefanía received land from the royal parents on her retirement in May of 1181. Her nanny, Doña Elvira, received a similar retirement gift in 1189 at Berengaria's request.[5]

Marriage and children[edit]


As the eldest child of the king and queen, she was the heiress presumptive of the throne of Castile for several years, because the siblings born after her died in early infancy or shortly after birth. Therefore she became in a greatly desired party in all of Europe.

Berengaria's first engagement was agreed in 1187 when her hand was sought by Conrad, Duke of Rothenburg and fifth child of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. The next year, in Seligenstadt, Germany, the marriage contract was signed, including a dowry of 42000 Maravedí. Conrad then marched to Castile, where in Carrión the engagement was celebrated and the young count was knighted.[6] Berengaria's status as heir of Castile when she inherited the throne was based in part on documentation in the treaty and marriage contract,[7][8] which specified that she would inherit the kingdom after her father and any childless brothers who may come along. Conrad would only be allowed to co-rule as her spouse, and Castile would not become part of the Empire. The treaty also documented traditional rights and obligations between the future sovereign and the nobility.[9]

The marriage was not consummated, at first due to Berengaria's young age[10] and later because the king and queen, in 1189, had a son, Ferdinand, who was then designated heir to the throne. At this, Emperor Frederick, seeing his aspirations in Castile frustrated, lost all interest in continuing with his son's wedding.[citation needed] Conrad and Berengaria never saw each other again. By 1191, Berengaria requested an annulment of the engagement from the Pope, influenced, no doubt, by third parties such as her grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was not interested in having a Hohenstaufen as a neighbor to her French fiefdoms. But those fears would later be neutralized when the duke was assassinated in 1196.[11]

Alfonso IX[edit]

In order to help secure peace between Castile and León, Berengaria married Alfonso IX of León, her first cousin once removed, in Valladolid in 1197. As part of the marriage, and in accordance with Spanish customs of the time, she received direct control over a number of castles and lands within León. Most of these were along the border with Castile, and the nobles who ran them in her name were allowed to seek justice from either king in the event of being wronged by the other.[12] In turn, these knights were charged with maintaining the peace along the border in the queen's name.[13]

Berengaria and Alfonso had five children:

Starting in 1198, Pope Innocent III objected the marriage on the grounds of consanguinity, though the couple stayed together until 1204.[14] This was the second annulment for Berengaria as well as for Alfonso, and they vehemently sought a dispensation in order to stay together, including offering large sums of money.[15] But this pope was one of the harshest on matrimonial issues and denied their request, although they succeeded in having their children considered legitimate. Her marriage dissolved, Berengaria returned to Castile and to her parents, where she dedicated herself to the care of her children.

Between queenships[edit]

Though she had left her role as queen of León, she retained authority over and taxing rights in many of the lands she had received there, including Salamanca and Castroverde, which she gave to her son Ferdinand in 1206. Some of the nobles who had served her as queen followed her back to the court in Castille. The peace which had prevailed since her marriage was lost, and there was war again between León and Castille, in part over her control of these lands. In 1205, 1207, and 1209, treaties were made again between the two countries, each expanding her control.[16] In the treaties of 1207 and 1209, Berengaria and her son were given again significant properties along the border, including many key castles, including Villalpando.[17] The treaty in 1207 is the first existing public document in the Castilian dialect.[18]


On the death of Alfonso VIII in 1214, the crown passed to his only surviving son, the 10-year-old Henry I. Henry's mother assumed regency, but died 24 days after her husband. Berengaria, now heir presumptive again, replaced her.[19] At this point internal strife began, instigated by the nobility, primarily the House of Lara. They forced Berengaria to cede regency and guardianship of her brother to Count Álvaro Núñez de Lara.[20]

In February, 1216, an extraordinary parliamentary session was held in Valladolid, attended by such Castilian magnates as Lope Díaz II de Haro, Gonzalo Rodríguez Girón, Álvaro Díaz de Cameros, Alfonso Téllez de Meneses and others, who agreed, with the support of Berengaria, to make common cause against Álvaro Núñez de Lara. At the end of May the situation in Castile had grown perilous for Berengaria, so she decided to take refuge in the castle of Autillo de Campos, which was held by Gonzalo Rodríguez Girón (one of her allies) and sent her son Ferdinand to the court of his father. On 15 August 1216 an assembly of all the magnates of Castile was held to attempt to reach an accord that would prevent civil war, but disagreements led the families of Girón, Téllez de Meneses, and Haro to break definitively with Álvaro de Lara.

Queen of Castile[edit]

Circumstances changed suddenly when Henry died on 6 June 1217 after receiving a head wound from a tile which came loose accidentally while he was playing with some other children at the palace of the Bishop of Palencia. His guardian, Count Álvaro Núñez de Lara, tried to hide the fact, taking the king's body to the castle of Tariego, although it was inevitable that the news should reach Berengaria.

The new sovereign was well aware of the danger her former husband posed to her reign; being her brother's closest agnate, it was feared that he would claim the crown for himself. Therefore, she kept her brother's death and her own accession secret from Alfonso before finally abdicating in their son's favour on 31 August.

Royal adviser[edit]

Although she did not hold title long as the ruling queen, Berengaria was always at her son's side as an advisor, intervening in state policy, albeit in an indirect manner. Even well into her son's reign, contemporary authors wrote that she still wielded authority over him.[21]

In this way she arranged the marriage of her son with princess Elisabeth of Hohenstaufen (known as Beatriz in Castile), daughter of Duke Philip of Swabia and granddaughter of two emperors: Frederick Barbarossa and Isaac II Angelos of Byzantium. This union with such an important family improved the lineage of the Castilian monarchy and opened the way for Ferdinand to participate actively in European affairs. The wedding took place on 30 November 1219.

Another instance in which Berengaria's mediation stood out developed in 1218 when the scheming Lara family, still headed by former regent Álvaro Núñez de Lara, conspired to have Alfonso IX, King of León and King Ferdinand's father, invade Castile to seize his son's throne. However, the death of Count Lara facilitated the intervention of Berengaria, who got father and son to sign the Pact of Toro on 26 August 1218, putting an end to confrontations between Castile and León.

In 1222, Berengaria intervened anew in favor of her son, achieving the ratification of the Convention of Zafra, thereby making peace with the Laras by arranging the marriage of Mafalda, daughter and heiress of the Lord of Molina, Gonzalo Pérez de Lara, to her own son and King Ferdinand's brother, Alfonso.

In 1224 she arranged the marriage of her daughter Berengaria to John of Brienne, a maneuver which brought Ferdinand III closer to the throne of León, since John was the candidate Alfonso IX had in mind to marry his eldest daughter Sancha. By proceeding more quickly, Berengaria prevented the daughters of her former husband from marrying a man who could claim the throne of León.

But perhaps her most decisive intervention on Ferdinand's behalf took place in 1230, when Alfonso IX died and designated as heirs to the throne his daughters Sancha and Dulce from his first marriage to Theresa of Portugal, superseding the rights of Ferdinand III. Berengaria met with the princesses’ mother and succeeded in the ratification of the Treaty of las Tercerías, by which they renounced the throne in favor of their half-brother in exchange for a substantial sum of money and other benefits.[22][23] Thus were the thrones of León and Castile re-united in the person of Ferdinand III.

She intervened again in the second marriage of Ferdinand after the death of Elisabeth of Hohenstaufen, although they had had plenty of children, but with the aim that the king's virtue not be diminished with illicit relations. This time, she chose a French noblewoman, Joan of Dammartin, a candidate put forth by the king's aunt and Berengaria's sister Blanche, widow of King Louis VIII of France.

Berengaria behaved like an actual queen while her son Ferdinand was in the south, on his long campaigns of the Reconquista. She governed Castile and León with the skill that always characterized her, assuring him that she had his back well covered. She met with her son a final time in Pozuelo de Calatrava in 1245, afterwards returning to Castile, where she died the next year.

Patronage and legacy[edit]

Much like her mother, she was a strong patron of religious institutions. She worked with her mother to support the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas. As queen of León, she supported the Order of Santiago and supported the Basilica of San Isidoro, not only donating to it, but also exempting it from any taxes. She re-established the tradition of Leónese royal women supporting the Monastery of San Pedro de Eslonza, last performed by her great-grand aunt, Sancha Raimúndez.[24] She personally supervised the work on both Burgos and Toledo Cathedrals.

She is portrayed as a wise and virtuous woman by the chroniclers of the time. She was also concerned with literature and history, charging Lucas de Tuy to compose a chronicle[25] on the Kings of Castile and León to aid and instruct future rulers of the joint kingdom. She herself was discussed in the works of Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, whose work was sponsored by her son Ferdinand, and Juan of Osma,[26] who was chancellor of Castile under Ferdinand.[27]



  1. ^ de la Cruz 2006, p. 9.
  2. ^ a b Martínez Diez 2007, p. 46.
  3. ^ González 1969, pp. 196–200.
  4. ^ The full title was Regina Castelle et Toleti (Queen of Castille and Toledo).
  5. ^ Shadis 2010, p. 33-34.
  6. ^ Flórez 1761, p. 340.
  7. ^ Shadis 2010, p. 2.
  8. ^ Osma 1997, p. 76.
  9. ^ Shadis 2010, p. 55-56.
  10. ^ Shadis 2010, p. 54.
  11. ^ Shadis 2010, p. 58-59.
  12. ^ Shadis 2010, p. 61-66.
  13. ^ González 1969, vol. 2, no. 681.
  14. ^ Reilly 1993, p. 133.
  15. ^ Howden 1964, p. 79, vol. 4.
  16. ^ Shadis 2010, p. 78-84.
  17. ^ Túy 2003, p. 324, 4.84.
  18. ^ Wright 2000.
  19. ^ de la Cruz 2006, p. 112.
  20. ^ Shadis 2010, p. 86-91.
  21. ^ Shadis 2010, p. 15-19.
  22. ^ Burke 1895, p. 238.
  23. ^ Shadis 1999, p. 348.
  24. ^ Shadis 2010, p. 63,74-76.
  25. ^ Túy 2003.
  26. ^ Osma 1997.
  27. ^ Shadis 2010, p. 7-16.


Further reading[edit]

  • Shadis, Miriam (2010). Berenguela of Castile (1180–1246) and Political Women in the High Middle Ages. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-312-23473-7.  Explores Berenguela's use of authority as both queen and regent, at varied times, for the Spanish thrones of Castile and León.
  • Martin, Georges (2005), "Berenguela de Castilla (1214–1246): en el espejo de la historiografía de su época", in Morant Deusa, Isabel, Historia de las mujeres en España y América Latina 1, Grupo Anaya Comercial, ISBN 978-84-376-2259-0 
Berengaria of Castile
Born: 1 January/June 1180 Died: 8 November 1246
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Henry I
Queen regnant of Castile
Succeeded by
Ferdinand III
Spanish royalty
Title last held by
Theresa of Portugal
Queen consort of León
Title next held by
Beatrice of Swabia