Ferdinand III of Castile

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Ferdinand III
Ferdinand III in a 13th-century miniature
King of Castile and Toledo
Reign31 August 1217 – 30 May 1252
SuccessorAlfonso X
King of León and Galicia
Reign24 September 1230 (de facto) or 11 December 1230 (de jure) – 30 May 1252
PredecessorSancha and Dulce
SuccessorAlfonso X
Monastery of Valparaíso, Peleas de Arriba, Kingdom of León
Died30 May 1252 (aged 50–53)
Seville, Crown of Castile
Seville Cathedral, Seville, Spain
(m. 1219; died 1235)
(m. 1237)
among others...
HouseCastilian House of Ivrea
FatherAlfonso IX of León
MotherBerengaria of Castile

Ferdinand III (Spanish: Fernando; 1199/1201 – 30 May 1252), called the Saint (el Santo), was King of Castile from 1217 and King of León from 1230 as well as King of Galicia from 1231.[1] He was the son of Alfonso IX of León and Berenguela of Castile. Through his second marriage he was also Count of Aumale. Ferdinand III was one of the most successful kings of Castile, securing not only the permanent union of the crowns of Castile and León, but also masterminding the most expansive southward territorial expansion campaign yet in the Guadalquivir Valley, in which Islamic rule was in disarray in the wake of the decline of the Almohad presence in the Iberian Peninsula. He was made a saint in 1671.

By military and diplomatic efforts, Ferdinand greatly expanded the dominions of Castile by annexing the crown of Guadalquivir river valley in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, establishing the boundaries of the Castilian state for the next two centuries. New territories included important cities such as Baeza, Úbeda, Jaén, Córdoba and Seville, that were subject of Repartimiento, given a new general charter and repopulated in the following years.

Ferdinand was canonized in 1671 by Pope Clement X. Places such as the cities of San Fernando, Pampanga and San Fernando, La Union; the Diocese of Ilagan and the San Fernando de Dilao Church in Paco, Manila in the Philippines; and in the United States, in California the City of San Fernando, the San Fernando Valley, and in Texas the Cathedral of San Fernando in San Antonio were named in his honor.

Early life[edit]

The exact date of Ferdinand's birth is unclear. It has been proposed to have been as early as 1199 or even 1198, although more recent researchers commonly date Ferdinand's birth in the summer of 1201.[2][3][4] Ferdinand was born at the Monastery of Valparaíso (Peleas de Arriba, in what is now the Province of Zamora).

As the son of Alfonso IX of León and his second wife Berengaria of Castile,[5] Ferdinand descended from Alfonso VII of León and Castile on both sides; his paternal grandfather Ferdinand II of León and maternal great grandfather Sancho III of Castile were the sons of Alfonso VII between whom his kingdom was divided. Ferdinand had other royal ancestors from his paternal grandmother Urraca of Portugal and his maternal grandmother Eleanor of England a daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.[6]

The marriage of Ferdinand's parents was annulled by order of Pope Innocent III in 1204, due to consanguinity, but the legitimacy of the children was recognized.[7] Berengaria then took their children, including Ferdinand, to the court of her father, King Alfonso VIII of Castile.[8] In 1217, her younger brother, Henry I, died and she succeeded him on the Castilian throne with Ferdinand as her heir, but she quickly surrendered it to her son.

Alfonso of León considered himself tricked, and the young king had to begin his reign by a war against his father and a faction of the Castilian nobles. His and his mother's abilities proved too much for the king of Leon and his Castilian allies. Berengaria continued to be a key influence on Ferdinand, following her advice in prosecuting wars and even in the choice of a wife, Elisabeth of Swabia.[7]

Unification of Castile and León[edit]

When Ferdinand's father died in 1230, his will delivered the kingdom to his older daughters Sancha and Dulce, from his first marriage to Teresa of Portugal. But Ferdinand contested the will, and claimed the inheritance for himself. At length, an agreement was reached, negotiated primarily between their mothers, Berengaria and Teresa. The resulting treaty of Benavente was signed on 11 December 1230, by which Ferdinand received the Kingdom of León, in return for a substantial compensation in cash and lands for his half-sisters, Sancha and Dulce. Ferdinand thus became the first sovereign of both kingdoms since the death of Alfonso VII in 1157.[9]

Early in his reign, Ferdinand had to deal with a rebellion of the House of Lara.

Reconquest of al-Andalus[edit]

Since the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 halted the advance of the Almohads in Spain, a series of truces had kept Castile and the Almohad dominions of al-Andalus more-or-less at peace. However, a crisis of succession in the Almohad Caliphate after the death of Yusuf II in 1224 opened to Ferdinand III an opportunity for intervention. The Andalusian-based claimant, Abdallah al-Adil, began to ship the bulk of Almohad arms and men across the straits to Morocco to contest the succession with his rival there, leaving al-Andalus relatively undefended. Al-Adil's rebellious cousin, Abdullah al-Bayyasi (the Baezan), appealed to Ferdinand III for military assistance against the usurper. In 1225, a Castilian army accompanied al-Bayyari in a campaign, ravaging the regions of Jaén, vega de Granada and, before the end of the year, had successfully installed al-Bayyasi in Córdoba. In payment, al-Bayyasi gave Ferdinand the strategic frontier strongholds of Baños de la Encina, Salvatierra (the old Order of Calatrava fortress near Ciudad Real) and Capilla (the last of which had to be taken by siege). When al-Bayyari was rejected and killed by a popular uprising in Córdoba shortly after, the Castilians remained in occupation of al-Bayyasi's holdings in Andújar, Baeza and Martos.

Equestrian seal (1237) of Ferdinand III, Quartering the arms of Castile and León

The crisis in the Almohad Caliphate, however, remained unresolved. In 1228, a new Almohad pretender, Idris al-Ma'mun, decided to abandon Spain, and left with the last remnant of the Almohad forces for Morocco. Al-Andalus was left fragmented in the hands of local strongmen, only loosely led by Muhammad ibn Yusuf ibn Hud al-Judhami. Seeing the opportunity, the Christian kings of the north – Ferdinand III of Castile, Alfonso IX of León, James I of Aragon and Sancho II of Portugal – immediately launched a series of raids on al-Andalus, renewed almost every year. There were no great battle encounters – Ibn Hud's makeshift Andalusian army was destroyed early on, while attempting to stop the Leonese at Alange in 1230. The Christian armies romped through the south virtually unopposed in the field. Individual Andalusian cities were left to resist or negotiate their capitulation by themselves, with little or no prospect of rescue from Morocco or anywhere else.

The twenty years from 1228 to 1248 saw the most massive advance in the reconquista yet. In this great sweep, most of the great old citadels of al-Andalus fell one by one. Ferdinand III took the lion's share of the spoils – Badajoz and Mérida (which had fallen to the Leonese), were promptly inherited by Ferdinand in 1230; then by his own effort, Cazorla in 1231, Úbeda in 1233, the old Umayyad capital of Córdoba in 1236, Niebla and Huelva in 1238, Écija and Lucena in 1240, Orihuela and Murcia in 1243 (by the famous 'pact of Alcaraz'), Arjona, Mula and Lorca in 1244, Cartagena in 1245, Jaén in 1246, Alicante in 1248 and finally, on 22 December 1248, Ferdinand III entered as a conqueror in Seville, the greatest of Andalusian cities. At the end of this twenty-year onslaught, only a rump Andalusian state, the Emirate of Granada, remained unconquered (and even so, Ferdinand III managed to extract a tributary arrangement from Granada in 1238).

Ferdinand annexed some of his conquests directly into the Crown of Castile, and others were initially received and organized as vassal states under Muslim governors (e.g. Alicante, Niebla, Murcia), although they too were eventually permanently occupied and absorbed into Castile before the end of the century (Niebla in 1262, Murcia in 1264, Alicante in 1266). Outside of these vassal states, Christian rule could be heavy-handed on the new Muslim subjects. The range of Castilian conquests also sometimes transgressed into the spheres of interest of other conquerors. Thus, along the way, Ferdinand III took care to carefully negotiate with the other Christian kings to avoid conflict, e.g. the treaty of Almizra (26 March 1244) which delineated the Murcian boundary with James I of Aragon.

Ferdinand divided the conquered territories between the Knights, the Church, and the nobility, whom he endowed with great latifundia. When he took Córdoba, he ordered the Liber Iudiciorum to be adopted and observed by its citizens, and caused it to be rendered, albeit inaccurately, into Castilian.

The capture of Córdoba was the result of a well-planned and executed process whereby parts of the city (the Ajarquía) first fell to the independent almogavars of the Sierra Morena to the north, which Ferdinand had not at the time subjugated.[10] Only in 1236 did Ferdinand arrive with a royal army to take the Medina, the religious and administrative centre of the city.[10] Ferdinand set up a council of partidores to divide the conquests and between 1237 and 1244 a great deal of land was parcelled out to private individuals and members of the royal family as well as to the Church.[11] On 10 March 1241, Ferdinand established seven outposts to define the boundary of the province of Córdoba.

Domestic policy[edit]

On the domestic front, Ferdinand strengthened the University of Salamanca and erected the current Cathedral of Burgos. He was a patron of the newest movement in the Church, that of the mendicant Orders. Whereas the Benedictine monks, and then the Cistercians and Cluniacs, had taken a major part in the Reconquista up until then, Ferdinand founded houses for friars of the Dominican, Franciscan, Trinitarian, and Mercedarian Orders throughout Andalusia, thus determining the future religious character of that region. Ferdinand has also been credited with sustaining the convivencia in Andalusia.[12] He himself joined the Third Order of St. Francis, and is honored in that Order.

He took care not to overburden his subjects with taxation, fearing, as he said, the curse of one poor woman more than a whole army of Saracens.[13]


Statue of Ferdinand III (Patio of Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando in the Philippines)

Ferdinand III had started out as a contested king of Castile. By the time of his death he had delivered to his son and heir, Alfonso X, a massively expanded kingdom. The boundaries of the new Castilian state established by Ferdinand III remained nearly unchanged until the late 15th century. His biographer, Sister María del Carmen Fernández de Castro Cabeza, A.C.J., asserts that, on his deathbed, Ferdinand said to his son "you will be rich in land and in many good vassals, more than any other king in Christendom."[14]

Ferdinand's death was attributed to a dropsy he contracted in the winter of 1251. His death took place on 30 May 1252, and he was buried in the Cathedral of Seville by his son, Alfonso X. The funeral took place on 1 June 1252 and was officiated by Remondo, Bishop of Segovia, in the cathedral. In the city there were royal vassals, bishops, abbots and wealthy men of the kingdom, who had come to show their lament. His tomb was inscribed in four languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, and an early version of Castilian.[15]

He was canonized as Saint Ferdinand by Pope Clement X in 1671.[16] Today, the incorrupt body of Saint Ferdinand can still be seen in the Cathedral of Seville, for he rests enclosed in a gold and crystal casket worthy of the king.[17] His golden crown still encircles his head as he reclines beneath the statue of the Virgin of the Kings.[18] Several places named San Fernando were founded across the Spanish Empire in his honor. His supposed likeliness, enthronement, sword and orb are depicted on the crest of Sevilla Fútbol Club.

The symbol of his power as a king was his sword Lobera.


Saint Ferdinand III
Painting of St. Ferdinand III by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (17th century)
Honored inCatholic Church
Canonized4 February 1671 by Pope Clement X
FeastMay 30
PatronageCities: Seville, Aranjuez, San Fernando de Henares, Maspalomas, Pivijay
Military: Spanish Army's Corps of Engineers

Saint Ferdinand is the patron saint of Seville, Aranjuez, San Fernando de Henares, Maspalomas, Pivijay, and of several other localities. He is also the patron of the Spanish Army's Corps of Engineers,[19] and engineers generally.[20]

Since the establishment in 1819 of the Diocese of San Cristóbal de La Laguna, also called "Diocese of Tenerife" (Canary Islands), Saint Ferdinand is the co-patron of the diocese and of its Cathedral pursuant to the papal bull issued by Pope Pius VII.[21] This is because La Laguna is a suffragan diocese of the Archdiocese of Seville whose capital city has Saint Ferdinand as one of its co-patrons, together with the Virgen de los Reyes. Saint Ferdinand is also the patron of the University of La Laguna, since this institution was founded under the name of Universidad Literaria de San Fernando (Literary University of Saint Ferdinand).[22]


First marriage[edit]

King Ferdinand and his wife, Beatrice, depicted in the Burgos Cathedral

In 1219, Ferdinand married Elisabeth of Swabia (1203–1235).[a][24] She was the fourth daughter of Philip, Duke of Swabia, and Irene Angelina.[23] Their children were:

  1. Alfonso X (1221–1284), his successor[25]
  2. Frederick (1223–1277)
  3. Ferdinand (1225–1243/1248)
  4. Eleanor (born 1227), died young
  5. Berengaria (1228–1288/89), a nun at Las Huelgas
  6. Henry (1230–1303)
  7. Philip (1231–1274). He was promised to the Church, but was so taken by the beauty of Christina of Norway, daughter of Haakon IV of Norway, who had been intended as a bride for one of his brothers, that he abandoned his holy vows and married her. She died in 1262, childless.
  8. Sancho, Archbishop of Toledo and Seville (1233–1261)
  9. Manuel of Castile (1234–1283)
  10. Maria, died an infant in November 1235

Second marriage[edit]

After he was widowed, he married Joan, Countess of Ponthieu, before August 1237.[26] They had four sons and one daughter:

  1. Ferdinand (1238–1264/1269), Count of Aumale
  2. Eleanor (c. 1241–1290), married Edward I of England.[27]
  3. Louis (1243–1269)
  4. Simon (1244), died young and buried in a monastery in Toledo
  5. John (1245), died young and buried at the cathedral in Córdoba

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Elisabeth changed her name to Beatrice after her sister's death in 1212.[23]


  1. ^ Bianchini 2012, p. 1.
  2. ^ Ansón 1998, p. 39.
  3. ^ Emmerson 2013, p. 215.
  4. ^ Ezquerra 2001, p. 284.
  5. ^ Linehan 2008, p. xvii.
  6. ^ Shadis 2010, p. xix.
  7. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ferdinand III. of Castile" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 266.
  8. ^ Shadis 2010, p. 70.
  9. ^ Shadis 1999, p. 348.
  10. ^ a b Edwards 2001, p. 6.
  11. ^ Edwards 2001, p. 7.
  12. ^ Edwards 2001, p. 182.
  13. ^ Heckmann 1909.
  14. ^ Fernández de Castro Cabeza 1988, p. 277.
  15. ^ Menocal 2009, p. 47.
  16. ^ Reilly 1993, p. 133.
  17. ^ Roman Catholic Saints
  18. ^ Fitzhenry 2009, p. 6.
  19. ^ "Ceuta reúne por San Fernando a los Ingenieros con más solera" [Ceuta brings together the Engineers with the most tradition in San Fernando]. Spanish Ministry of Defence (in Spanish). 31 May 2011. Retrieved 5 August 2016.
  20. ^ Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable. Cassell Ltd.
  21. ^ Lorenzo Lima, J. (2013). Patrimonio e historia de la antigua Catedral de La Laguna (in Spanish). Diocesis of San Cristóbal de la Laguna, Government of the Canary Islands, et al. ISBN 978-84-7947-625-0.
  22. ^ "Orígenes de la ULL". ULL. Universidad de La Laguna (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 27 August 2016. Retrieved 5 August 2016.
  23. ^ a b Kinkade 2019, p. 8.
  24. ^ Bianchini 2019, p. 66.
  25. ^ Houben 2023, p. 80-81.
  26. ^ Johnstone 1914, p. 436.
  27. ^ Powicke 1991, p. 235.


External links[edit]

Ferdinand III of Castile
Cadet branch of the House of Ivrea
Born: 5 August 1201 Died: 30 May 1252
Regnal titles
Preceded by King of Castile and Toledo
Succeeded by
Preceded by King of León and Galicia
Preceded by King of Córdoba
Preceded by King of Murcia
Preceded by King of Jaén
Preceded by King of Seville
Preceded by Count of Aumale
with Joan
Succeeded byas sole ruler
Preceded by Count of Ponthieu
with Joan