Alfonso VI of León and Castile

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Alfonso VI
AlfonsoVI of Castile.jpg
A 12th-century painting of Alfonso VI at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Emperor of All Spain
Reign 1077–1109
Coronation 1077
Predecessor Ferdinand I
Successor Urraca & Alfonso
King of León
Reign 1065–1072
Predecessor Ferdinand I
Sancho II
Successor Sancho II
King of Castile
Reign 1072–1109
Predecessor Sancho II
Successor Urraca
King of Galicia and Portugal
Reign 1071–1072 (jointly with Sancho)
Predecessor García II
Sancho II
Successor Sancho II
Born Before June 1040
Died 29 June/1 July 1109 (aged 69)
Burial Sahagún, León, San Mancio chapel in the royal monastery of Santos Facundo y Primitivo
Spouses Agnes of Aquitaine
Constance of Burgundy
3 more...
Issue Urraca
Sancho Alfónsez
Infanta Sancha
Elvira, Queen of Sicily
Elvira, Countess of Toulouse
Theresa, Countess of Portugal
House Jiménez
Father Ferdinand I of León and Castile
Mother Sancha of León

Alfonso VI (before June 1040 – 29 June/1 July 1109), nicknamed the Brave (El Bravo) or the Valiant, was King of León from 1065, King of Castile and de facto King of Galicia from 1072.[1] After the conquest of Toledo in 1085 he was also the self-proclaimed victoriosissimo rege in Toleto, et in Hispania et Gallecia (most victorious king of Toledo, and of Spain and Galicia).[2]


Alfonso was the second son of Ferdinand the Great and Sancha of León, the daughter of Alfonso the Noble and sister to Bermudo III of León. Following his defeat and killing of Bermudo in battle, Ferdinand was crowned King of León and Castile and called himself Emperor of Spain. When the kingdom was divided following his father's death, Alfonso was allotted León. Castile was given to his older brother Sancho and Galicia to his younger brother García.


Political situation in the Northern Iberian Peninsula around 1065:
  Garcia II´s domains (Galicia)
  Badajoz, owing tribute to Garcia
  Seville, owing tribute to Garcia
  Alfonso VI's domains (León)
  Toledo, owing tribute to Alfonso
  Sancho II´s domains (Castile)
  Zaragoza, owing tribute to Sancho

As the middle of three sons of King Ferdinand I of León and Sancha of León, Alfonso was allotted León when the kingdom was divided following his father's death, while Castile was given to his elder brother Sancho, Galicia to younger brother García, and sisters Urraca and Elvira given the cities of Zamora and Toro respectively. Each of the brothers was also assigned a sphere of influence among the Taifa states. Alfonso appears to have taken the first step in violating this division. In 1068 he invaded the Galician client Taifa of Badajoz and extorted tribute. In response, Sancho attacked and defeated Alfonso at Llantada but three years later, in 1071, they joined forces against García. Sancho marched across Alfonso's León to conquer García's northern lands at the time that Alfonso was in the southern part of the Galician realm issuing charters. García fled to the taifa of Seville, and the remaining brothers then turned on each other. This conflict culminated in the Battle of Golpejera in early January 1072. Sancho proved victorious and Alfonso was forced to flee to his client Taifa of Toledo. Later that year as Sancho was mopping up the last of the resistance, besieging his sister Urraca at Zamora in October, he was assassinated. This opened the way for Alfonso to return to claim Sancho's crown. García, induced to return from exile, was imprisoned by Alfonso for life, leaving Alfonso in uncontested control of the reunited territories of their father. In recognition of this and his role as the preeminent Christian monarch on the peninsula, in 1077 Alfonso proclaimed himself "Emperor of all Spain".

In the cantar de gesta The Lay of the Cid, he plays the part attributed by medieval poets to the greatest kings, and to Charlemagne himself. He is alternately the oppressor and the victim of heroic and self-willed nobles—the idealized types of the patrons for whom the jongleurs and troubadours sang. He is the hero of a cantar de gesta which, like all but a very few of the early Spanish songs, such as the cantar of Bernardo del Carpio and the Infantes of Lara, exists now only in the fragments incorporated in the chronicle of Alfonso the Wise or in ballad form.

His flight from the monastery of Sahagún (Safagún in Leonese language), where his brother Sancho endeavoured to imprison him, his chivalrous friendship with his host Almamun of Toledo, caballero aunque moro, "a knight although a Moor", the passionate loyalty of his vassal, Pero (Pedro) Ansúrez, and his brotherly love for his sister Urraca of Zamora, may owe something to the poet who regarded him as a hero.

They are the answer to the poet of the nobles who represented the king as having submitted to taking a degrading oath at the hands of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (El Cid) to deny intervention in his brother's death in the church of Santa Gadea at Burgos, and as having then persecuted the brave man who defied him.[clarification needed]


Alfonso VI stands out as a strong king whose interest was in law and order. He was a leader of his state during the Reconquista who was regarded by the Arabs as a very fierce and astute enemy, but also as a man who kept his word. A story of Muslim origin tells of how he responded to a challenge during a game of chess made by Ibn Ammar, the favourite of Al Mutamid, the King of Seville. They played chess on a very beautiful table and with a set of chess pieces belonging to Ibn Ammar. The table and the chess pieces were to go to Alfonso if he won. If Ibn Ammar won, then he could name the stake. The latter did win and demanded that the Christians should spare Seville. Alfonso kept his word.

Whatever truth may lie behind the romantic tales of the relationships and interactions between the Christians and the Muslims during the Reconquista, Alfonso personified the influences that were then shaping the character and civilisation of the Iberian peninsula.

Alfonso showed a greater degree of interest than his predecessors in increasing the links between Iberia and the rest of Christian Europe. The past marital practices of the Iberian royalty had been to limit the choice of partners to the peninsula and Gascony, but Alfonso had French and Italian consorts, and arranged to marry his daughters to French princes and an Italian king. His second marriage was arranged, in part, through the influence of the French Cluniac Order, and Alfonso is said to have introduced them into Iberia, established them in Sahagun and choosing a French Cluniac, Bernard, as the first Archbishop of Toledo after its 1085 conquest. He also drew his kingdom nearer to the Papacy, a move which encouraged French crusaders to aid him in the reconquest of the peninsula from Muslim control, and it was Alfonso's decision which established the Roman ritual in place of the old missal of Saint Isidore—the Mozarabic rite.

Signature of Alfonso VI, from a 1097 charter.

On the other hand he was tolerant towards the Arabs living in Iberia. He protected the Muslims among his subjects and struck coins with inscriptions in Arabic letters. He also admitted to his court and to his bed the refugee Muslim princess Zaida of Seville.[3]

Marriages and children

Alfonso married at least five times and had two mistresses.[4][5][6][7] He is also thought to have been betrothed to a daughter of King William I of England, but her name is uncertain.[8]

Epitaph of Jimena Muñoz, Alfonso's mistress and progenitor of the first Portuguese royal line
  • In 1069, Alfonso married Agnes of Aquitaine, daughter of William VIII of Aquitaine and his second wife Mateoda. They last appear together in May 1077, and then Alfonso appears alone. This suggests that she had died, although Orderic Vitalis reports that in 1109 Alfonso's 'relict' Agnes remarried to Elias I of Maine, leading some to speculate that Alfonso and Agnes had divorced due to consanguinity. It seems more likely that Orderic gave the wrong name to Alfonso's widow, Beatrice. Agnes and Alfonso had no children.
    • Apparently between his first and second marriages he formed a liaison with Jimena Muñoz, a "most noble" (nobilissima) concubine "derived from royalty" (real generacion). She appears to have been put aside, given land in Ulver, at the time of Alfonso's remarriage. By her Alfonso had two illegitimate daughters, Elvira and Teresa.
  • His second wife, who he married by May 1080, was Constance of Burgundy,[9] daughter of Robert I, Duke of Burgundy. This marriage initially faced papal opposition, apparently due to her kinship with Agnes. Her tenure as queen consort brought significant Cluniac influences into the kingdom. She died in September or October, 1093, the mother of Alfonso's eldest legitimate daughter Urraca,[10] and of five other children who died in infancy.
    • Either before or shortly after Constance's death, Alfonso formed a liaison with a second mistress, Zaida of Seville, said by Iberian Muslim sources to be daughter-in-law of Al Mutamid, the Muslim King of Seville. She fled the fall of Seville for Alfonso's kingdom in 1091, and soon became his lover, having by him Alfonso's only son, Sancho, who, though illegitimate, was apparently not born of an adulterous relationship, and hence born after the death of Constance. He would be named his father's heir. Several modern sources have suggested that Zaida, baptised under the name of Isabel, is identical with Alfonso's later wife, Queen Isabel (or that she was a second queen named Isabel whom he married in succession to the first). Zaida/Isabel died in childbirth, but the date is unknown, and it is unclear whether the child being delivered was Sancho, an additional illegitimate child, otherwise unknown, or legitimate daughter Elvira (if Zaida was identical to Queen Isabel).
  • By April 1095, Alfonso married Bertha. Chroniclers report her as being from Tuscany, Lombardy, or alternatively, say she was French. Several theories have been put forward regarding her origin. Based on political considerations, proposals make her daughter of William I, Count of Burgundy or of Amadeus II of Savoy. She had no children and died in late 1099 (Alfonso first appears without her in mid-January 1100).
  • Within months, by May 1100, Alfonso again remarried, to Isabel, having by her two daughters, Sancha, (wife of Rodrigo González de Lara), and Elvira, (who married Roger II of Sicily).[11] A non-contemporary tomb inscription says she was daughter of a "king Louis of France", but this is chronologically impossible. It has been speculated that she was of Burgundian origin, but others conclude that Alfonso married his former mistress, Zaida, who had been baptized as Isabel. (In a novel twist, Reilly suggested that there were two successive queens named Isabel: first the French (Burgundian) Isabel, mother of Sancha and Elvira, with Alfonso only later marrying his mistress Zaida (Isabel), after the death of or divorce from the first Isabel.) Alfonso was again widowed in mid-1107.
  • By May 1108, Alfonso married his last wife, Beatrice. She, as widow of Alfonso, is said to have returned home to France, but nothing else is known of her origin unless she is the woman Orderic named as "Agnes, daughter of William, Duke of Poitou", who as relict of Alfonso, (Agnetem, filiam Guillelmi, Pictavorum ducis, relictam Hildefonsi senioris, Galliciae regis), remarried to Elias of Maine. If this is the case, she is likely daughter of William IX of Aquitaine and niece of Alfonso's first wife. Beatrice had no children by Alfonso.
One other woman was reported by later sources to have been Alfonso's lover. The historian Abu Bakr Ibn al Sayraff, writing before 1161, stated that Alfonso abandoned Christianity for Zoroastrianism and had carnal relations with his sister Urraca, but then repented and was absolved, making pilgrimages to holy sites as penance. This has been followed by some later historians but others dismiss it as propaganda or misunderstanding.

Alfonso was defeated on 23 October 1086, at the battle of Sagrajas, at the hands of Yusuf ibn Tashfin, and Abbad III al-Mu'tamid, and was severely wounded in the leg. However, he recovered to continue as king of Leon and Castile.[12]

Alfonso's designated successor, his son Sancho, was slain after being routed at the Battle of Uclés in 1108, making Alfonso's eldest legitimate daughter, the widowed Urraca as his heir.[13] In order to strengthen her position as his successor, Alfonso began negotiations for her to marry her second cousin, Alfonso I of Aragon and Navarre, but died before the marriage could take place.



  1. "Rege domno Adefonso, qui regebat Castella et Legione et tota Gallecia", Serrano, Luciano (1910). Becerro gótico de Cardeña (PDF). Valladolid: Cuesta. p. 18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Heráldica general y fuentes de las armas de España. (Spanish)
  3. Bernard F. Reilly (1995), 92.
  4. José Maria Canal Sánchez-Pagín, "Jimena Muñoz, Amiga de Alfonso VI", Anuario de Estudios Medievales, 21:11–40 (1991).
  5. Bernard F. Reilly, The Kingdom of León-Castilla under King Alfonso VI, 1065–1109 (Princeton University Press, 1988)
  6. Jaime de Salazar y Acha, "Contribución al estudio del reinado de Alfonso VI de Castilla: algunas aclaraciones sobre su política matrimonial." Anales de la Real Academia Matritense de Heráldica y Genealogía, 2:299-336 (1992–1993).
  7. Clemente Palencia, "Historia y Legendas de las Mujeres de Alfonso VI", in Estudios Sobre Alfonso VI y la Reconquista de Toledo, 281–90 (1988)
  8. Douglas, David C. (1964) William the Conqueror: The Norman Impact upon England, Eyre & Spottiswood, London, pp. 393-395
  9. Spain in the Eleventh Century, Simon Barton, The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume 4, C.1024-c.1198, Part II, ed. David Luscombe, Jonathan Riley-Smith, (Cambridge University Press, 2015), 187.
  10. Bernard F. Reilly (1995), 92.
  11. Hubert Houben, 35.
  12. Bernard F. Reilly (1995), 89.
  13. Bernard F. Reilly (1995), 97.


  • Hubert Houben, Roger II of Sicily: A Ruler Between East and West, Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • This entry incorporates public domain text originally from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.
  • Bernard F. Reilly, The Kingdom of León-Castilla under King Alfonso VI, 1065-1109, Princeton University Press, 1988: full text online at LIBRO.
  • Bernard F. Reilly, The Contest of Christian and Muslim Spain, 1031–1157, Blackwell, 1995.
  • Portugal, A Country Study, by Louis R. Mortimer, ed. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1993.

External links

Alfonso VI of León and Castile
Born: before June 1040 Died: June 29/1 July 1109
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Ferdinand I
King of León
Succeeded by
Sancho II
Preceded by
García II
King of Galicia
with Sancho II
Preceded by
Sancho II
King of León,
Castile and Galicia

Succeeded by
Preceded by
King of Toledo
Title last held by
Ferdinand I
Emperor of Spain
Succeeded by
Urraca and Alfonso