Alphonso VI of Spain

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ALPHONSO VI (1065-1109), king of Castile. Much romance has gathered round his name. In the cantar de gesta of the Cid he plays the part attributed by medieval poets to the greatest kings, 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, like the cantar of Bernardo del Carpio and the Infantes of Lara, exists now only in the fragments incorporated in the chronicle of Alphonso the Wise or in ballad form. His flight from the monastery of Sahagnn, where his brother Sancho endeavoured to imprison him. his chivalrous friendship for his host Almamun of Toledo, caballero aunique mori, "a gentleman although a Moor", the passionate loyalty of his vassal Peranzules and his brotherly love for his sister Urraca of Zamora, may owe something to the poet who took him for hero. They are the answer to the poet of the nobles who represented the king as having submitted to take a degrading oath at the hands of Ruy Diaz of Bivar (the Cid), in the church of Santa Gadea at Burgos, and as having then persecuted the brave man who defied him.

When every allowance is made, Alphonso VI stands out as a strong man fighting for his own hand, which in his case was the hand of the king whose interest was law and order and who was the leader of the nation in the reconquest On the Arabs he impressed himself as an enemy very fierce and astute, but as a keeper of his word. A story of Muslim origin, which is probably no more historical than the oath of Santa Gadea, tells of how he allowed himself to be tricked by Ibn Ammar, the favourite of Al Motamid, the king of Seville. They played chess for an extremely beautiful table and set of men, belonging to Ibn Ammar. Table and men were to go to the king if he won. If Ibn Ammar gained he was to name the stake. The latter did win and demanded that the Christian king should spare Seville. Alphonso kept his word. Whatever truth may lie behind the romantic tales of Christian and Muslim, we know that Alphonso represented in a remarkable way the two great influences then shaping the character and civilization of Spain.

At the instigation, it is said, of his second wife, Constance of Burgundy, he brought the Cistercian Order into Spain, established them in Sahagun, chose a French Cistercian, Bernard, as the first archbishop of Toledo after the reconquest in 1085, married his daughters, legitimate and illegitimate, to French princes, and in every way forwarded the spread of French influence--then the greatest civilizing force in Europe. He also drew Spain nearer to the Papacy, and it was his decision which established the Roman ritual in place of the old missal of Saint Isidore--the Mozarabic rite.

On the other hand he was very open to Arabic influence. He protected the Muslims among his subjects and struck coins with inscriptions in Arabic letters. After the death of Constance he perhaps married and he certainly lived with Zaida, said to have been a daughter of "Benabet" (Al Alotamid), Mahommedan king of Seville. Zaida, who became a Christian under the name of Maria or Isabel, bore him the only son among his many children, Sancho, whom Alphonso designed to be his successor, but who was slain at the battle of Ucles in 1108. Women play a great part in Alphonso's life.


Initial text from 1911 encyclopedia -- Please update as needed