Menendo González

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Menendo González (Portuguese and Galician: Mendo Gonçalves;[a] died 6 October 1008)[2] was a semi-autonomous Duke of Galicia[b] and Count of Portugal (997–1008) and a dominant figure in the Kingdom of León around the turn of the second millennium. He was the armiger regis, or royal alférez, the king's armour-bearer and commander of the royal armies, under Vermudo II, and he continued to hold the position until his death. He became the tutor (1003) and ultimately father-in-law of Vermudo's successor, King Alfonso V. He maintained peaceful diplomatic relations with the Caliphate of Córdoba until 1004, after which there was a state of war.

Regency of Alfonso V[edit]

Before 999 King Vermudo II placed his heir, Alfonso V, under the tutorship of his alférez Menendo.[3][2] Alfonso was only five at his father's death (September 999) and he spent the early years of his reign in the care of Menendo and his wife. The earliest act of Alfonso as king dates to 13 October 999, and it lists as confirmants first Count Menendo González ("Menendus Gundisaluiz, comes") and then "Duke" (count) Sancho García of Castile ("Santius, dux, Garsea prolis").[4] Menendo also appears in contemporary documents with the ducal title, as in dux domnus Menendus proles Gundisalvi.[5][6]

Alfonso V in the twelfth-century Libro de los Testamentos (fol. 53v).

The young Alfonso always appears in his early charters beside his mother, Elvira García, a sister of the count of Castile and possibly exercising the regency under his influence. After 1003 Elvira no longer appears in royal charters; perhaps she was removed in a palace coup by Menendo. In subscribing one royal act Menendo went so far as to call himself "he who under the authority of the aforementioned king ordains and guides all things" ("qui sub imperio iam dicti regis hec omnia ordinavit et docuit").[7] In 1004 Sancho challenged the regency of Menendo. Both counts petitioned the Córdoban hajib al-Muzaffar to arbitrate the dispute.[4] According to Ibn Khaldun, a hearing took place and al-Muzaffar's deputy, the qadi of the Mozarabic community of Córdoba, Asbag bin Abd Allah bin Nabil, found in favour of Menendo. According to some sources this took place in Córdoba with the two disputant counts in attendance,[7] but according to others it took place in León.[3]

In 1000, as regent, Menendo confirmed the testament of Hilal, called Salvatus, the Mozarabic abbot of San Cipriano de Valdesalce, after the queen-regent Elvira and the young king and before five bishops of the realm.[8] A charter dated 23 December 1001 records the settlement of a dispute concerning the Monastery of Celanova by Alfonso V and "his elder, the lord Menendo, son of Gonzalo" ("senatus sui domni Ermenagildi Gundisaluiz prolis"). Another charter dated 11 January 1002 records the donation of San Andrés de Congostro to the monastery of Celanova and was confirmed by "duke Menendo, son of Gonzalo" ("Menendus dux prolis Gundisaluiz"). A royal charter of 1007 recognises Menendo as "the great count who holds all the land of Galicia" (comes magnus ... omnem terram Gallecie ... obtinebat).[9]

Relations with Córdoba[edit]

Menendo did not initially collaborate with the Córdobans, but after contingents were sent from Córdoba to reinforce Coimbra and the frontier with Portugal, Menendo entered into a pact with al-Muzaffar, which included a clause calling for military collaboration in 1003.[10] That year Leonese and Castilian troops assisted the Córdobans in their attack on Catalonia.[3] This pact seems to have been broken when, in 1005, a Córdoban army marched with the intent of taking Zamora. The city was not captured, but much territory was seized.[10] For the remainder of Menendo's regency there was no peace with the Córdobans.

In the treasury of the Cathedral of Braga, now in the cathedral museum, there is an early 11th-century ivory pyxis containing a contemporary chalice and silver paten (see illustration at top).[11] The pyxis has an inscription on the rim of its lid which allows it to be dated rather precisely to between 1004, when the hajib Abd al-Malik received the title he bears in the inscription, Sayf al-Dawla, and 1007, when he received the higher title of al-Muzaffar.[c] The pyxis had found its way into the hands of Menendo González sometime before his death, since an added inscription on the bottom of it relates its donation to the church by him and his wife, Toda. It reads: IN N[omi]NE D[omi]NI MENENDUS GUNDISALVI ET TUDAD[o]MNA SUM.[13] It has been suggested that the chalice and paten,[14] which appear to be made to fit the pyxis, were possibly commissioned by Menendo for the pyxis he obtained during a campaign against Córdoba. On the other hand, it has been suggested[3] that the pyxis was originally a gift from the court of Córdoba to the Leonese regent during diplomatic negotiations. Historian Serafín Moralejo sees it presented to Menendo by Asbagh the qadi as "a good-will gift ... a bitter one indeed and a warning oo, since the title of Sayf al-Dawla carved on its lid commemorated the raid the hajib had launched on León one year earlier."[d] The iconography of the pyxis is peaceful, and its original function could have been at a "marriage, or an occasion of a calendrical observance such as a summer of fall harvest festival".[15] The carvings of birds eating fruit may imitate a well-used Christian eucharistic motif dating back to Visigothic times.[16] If so, the piece may have been designed to serve as a diplomatic gift to a Christian ruler, perhaps Menendo.[3]

Violent death[edit]

The last recorded act of Menendo was to confirm a charter of the monstery of San Pedro de Rocas in 1007. He was mentioned in a lawsuit settled in favour of Count Munio Fernández in early 1008, but as he did not confirm the result it is probable that he was in Galicia.[17] Eight months later, on 6 October 1008, he died a violent death in unclear circumstances.[18] The Islamic historian Ibn Khaldun, dating his death by the anno Hegirae, places it between 17 September 1007 and 4 September 1008, but the date provided by the Chronicon Lusitanum is more reliable. It records that "in the year 1046 of the Spanish era, on the day preceding the nones of October, Count Menendo was killed."[19]

The wording of both Ibn Khaldun and the Chronicon suggests that Menendo died violently, probably assassinated.[7][20] Count Munio has been suspected of arranging his assassination in order to usurp the regency.[17] He was foiled by the queen-mother, Elvira García, who proclaimed the fourteen-year-old Alfonso to be of age.[21] Around 1013 Alfonso married Elvira Menéndez, Gonzalo's daughter. She gave him a son, Vermudo III, who succeeded him on the throne, and a daughter, Sancha, who married Count Ferdinand of Castile and passed the Leonese throne on to him. Elvira died on 2 December 1022.[22] In 1014 Alfonso V confirmed all the possessions of the monastery of Guimarães, which had been founded by Menendo's grandmother, Mumadona Díaz.

A medieval representation of Olaf Haraldsson.

It has been suggested that Menendo was perhaps killed defending Portugal from a Viking raid.[23] According to the later Icelandic saga Heimskringla, the Vikings under Olaf Haraldsson attacked Gunnvaldsborg, possibly to be identified as a descriptive toponym meaning "city of González" (in Latin *Gundisalvus-burgus) and indicating Tui, which was within Menendo's dukedom and is independently known to have been destroyed by Vikings about this time.[24] There is a Latin document of 1024 that bears the rubric Tudensis sedes post Normannorum vastationem Ecclesiae Divi Jacobi attributa: the see of Tui was assigned to the church of Santiago after being laid waste by the Northmen. In the words of the Heimskringla:

He [Olaf] conquered the castle called Gunnvaldsborg—it was large and old—and there he captured the earl who was in command there, called Geirfith. Then he had a meeting with the townspeople and imposed a ransom on them for freeing the earl—twelve thousand gold shillings; and that sum was paid by the townspeople as he had demanded. As says Sigvat:

A thirteenth time the Thronders'
thane did win a battle
south in Seljupollarin
sithen, with great carnage,
when to ancient stronghold
early at morn he marched, and
gallant Earl Geirfith of
Gunnvaldsborg made captive.[25]

All the details of this theory—Menendo's death in battle, the identity of Gunnvaldsborg and the timing and place of Olaf's raid—have been recently dismissed as unfounded.[26]

Family relations[edit]

Menendo González was probably the eldest son and successor of Gonzalo Menéndez and his wife Ilduara Peláez. Menendo's wife is variously known in contemporary sources as Toda, Tota, Todadomna, Tutadomna, Tutadonna, etc. One twelfth-century source calls her Mayor.[e]

Menendo had at least six sons and three daughters:[28]

  • Rodrigo Menéndez, a direct ancestor in the maternal line of Urraca Fróilaz, wife of Pedro Fróilaz de Traba[29]
  • Gonzalo Menéndez (attested 983–1008), is cited with the title of count during his father's lifetime[30]
  • Pelayo Menéndez, served as armiger regis in 1012–14[31][32]
  • Ramiro Menéndez (attested 1005–15),[33] served as armiger regis in 1015[34]
  • Egas Menéndez (attested 1007–14)[33]
  • Munio Menéndez (attested 1007–14)[33]
  • Elvira Menéndez, queen of Alfonso V[33][35]
  • Ilduara Menéndez (attested 1025–58), married Nuño Alóitiz, a count in Portugal[33][35]
  • Ildoncia (Eldonza) Menéndez (attested 1014)[33][35]


  1. ^ Mentioned on 13 September 1005 in the Monastery of Celanova, as dux Menindus Gunsaluis.[1]
  2. ^ The title (dux de Galicia in medieval Latin) comes from posthumous charters. He is also sometimes referred to as Menendo González II or Mendo II Gonçalves to distinguish him from his grandfather, Hermenegildo González, since the name Mendo/Menendo/Menendus is derived from Hermenegild/Hermenegildo/Hermenegildus.
  3. ^ The hajib died anyway in battle in 1008. The inscription on the lid reads:

    In the name of God. Blessings from God, prosperity and happiness to the hajib Sayf al-Dawla, may God increase his glory. From among what was ordered to be made under the supervision of the chief page [Zuhayr ibn Muhammad] al-Amiri.[12]

  4. ^ Quoted in Prado-Vilar, 34. A warning because, as Moralejo notes, "León was to experience a further Muslim attack in the following year".
  5. ^ Although her parents are unknown she is thought to have been granddaughter of count Fruela Gutiérrez, the brother of Menendo's maternal grandmother Hermesenda and of Saint Rudesind. The principal narrative source for this period in Leonese history is the early twelfth-century chronicler Pelayo of Oviedo, whose brief account of Menendo's regency goes like this: "On the death [of Bermudo II] his son Alfonso, aged five, succeeded to the kingdom in the Era 1037 [AD 999]; and he was brought up by Count Menendo González and his wife the Countess Mayor in Galicia. They gave him their daughter Elvira in marriage, from whom he bore two children, Bermudo and Sancha."[27]


  1. ^ Sáez & Sáez 2006, p. 112.
  2. ^ a b Mattoso 1981, p. 146.
  3. ^ a b c d e Prado-Vilar 1997, pp. 33–34.
  4. ^ a b Martínez Díez 2005, pp. 592–93.
  5. ^ Sáez & Sáez 2006, pp. 78–80, doc. 261.
  6. ^ Pallares Méndez & Portela Silva 1987, p. 23, n. 6.
  7. ^ a b c Collins 2005, p. 685.
  8. ^ Hitchcock 1981, p. 585.
  9. ^ Portela 2015, p. 264.
  10. ^ a b Martínez Díez 2005, pp. 595–96.
  11. ^ Cálice de S. Geraldo at the Museum of the Cathedral of Braga.
  12. ^ Prado-Vilar 1997, p. 33.
  13. ^ Prado-Vilar 1997, p. 41 n. 85.
  14. ^ Boehm & Little 1993, pp. 148–49.
  15. ^ Prado-Vilar 1997, p. 34, quoting Holod.
  16. ^ Rosser-Owen 1999, pp. 23–24, accepts the conclusions of Prado-Vilar concerning the pyxis.
  17. ^ a b Durany Castrillo & Rodríguez González 2004, p. 196.
  18. ^ Collins 2014, p. 163.
  19. ^ Flórez 1796, p. 417: Æra 1046. II. Non. Octobris occisus fuit Comes Menendus.
  20. ^ Reilly 1988, p. 22.
  21. ^ Martínez Díez 2007, p. 74.
  22. ^ Martínez Díez 2007, pp. 120–21. See p. 125 for the estimated dates of birth of these two grandsons of Menendo.
  23. ^ Sánchez Pardo 2010, p. 72.
  24. ^ Almazán 1986, p. 115.
  25. ^ Snorri Sturluson 1991, pp. 257–58. The translator identifies Seljupollar with the Guadalquivir River.
  26. ^ Pires 2015, p. 322.
  27. ^ Fletcher 1989, p. 90.
  28. ^ Pallares Méndez & Portela Silva 1987, p. 21, see genealogical schema.
  29. ^ Torres Sevilla-Quiñones de León 1998, p. 302.
  30. ^ Mattoso 1981, p. 147.
  31. ^ Torres Sevilla-Quiñones de León 1999, p. 297 n. 517.
  32. ^ Durany Castrillo & Rodríguez González 2004, p. 198.
  33. ^ a b c d e f Mattoso 1981, p. 148.
  34. ^ Torres Sevilla-Quiñones de León 1999, p. 297.
  35. ^ a b c Pallares Méndez & Portela Silva 1987, p. 21.


Secondary sources[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

Menendo González
Betótez family
Born: 945 Died: 8 October 1008
Titles of nobility
Preceded by
Gonzalo I
Count of Portugal
Duke of Galicia

Succeeded by