An enlightened King – Alphonso the Tenth of Castile

Alfonso X – 23 November 1221 – 4 April 1284,(known as ‘The Wise’ was the King of Castile, León and Galicia from 30 May 1252 until his death.

Alphonso the Tenth

Alphonso the Tenth

He created an alliance with England in 1254 and thus renounced his claim to Gascony which was then held by King Henry III.

Alfonso X fostered the development of a cosmopolitan court that encouraged learning. Jews, Muslims, and Christians had prominent roles in his court.

One of the characters in my novel “The King’s Jew” is Yehuda ben Moshe who, though a Jew, was Alphonso’s personal physician and translated many ancient Arabic texts into the local language for Alphonso.  Link to book

As a result of his encouraging the translation of works from Arabic and Latin into the vernacular of Castile, many intellectual changes took place, perhaps the most notable being encouragement of the use of Castilian as a primary language of higher learning, science, and law.

Alfonso was a prolific author of Galician poetry, such as the Cantigas de Santa Maria, which are equally notable for their musical notation as for their literary merit. Alfonso’s scientific interests—he is sometimes nicknamed “the Astrologer” led him to sponsor the creation of the Alfonsine tables, and the Alphonsus crater on the moon is named after him.

As a legislator he introduced the first vernacular law code in Spain, the Siete Partidas. He created the Mesta, an association of sheep farmers in the central plain, but debased the coinage to finance his claim to the German crown. He fought a successful war with Portugal, but a less successful one with Granada. The end of his reign was marred by a civil war with his eldest surviving son, the future Sancho IV, which would continue after his death.

Alphonso the Judge

Alphonso the Judge

King Henry arranged for his son Lord Edward to marry Alphonso’s half-sister Eleanor. Part of this marriage treaty was that Alphonso would officiate at the knighting ceremony of Edward at Burgos in 1254. Edward was fifteen and Eleanor just thirteen.

From my novel here is a snippet of Alphonso’s part in the ceremony (and yes I did research this thoroughly) – From Chapter thirty-seven.

‘King Alfonso now addressed Edward and a flash of annoyance crossed his bearded face as the sounds of song could be heard from without.

“For what purpose, Lord Edward, do you wish to join our company of knights? I command you to speak in all honesty and reflect on your reasons, for if riches, comfort and honour are your desires, then you are unworthy.”

Edward took a deep breath before replying,

“I desire to be a knight that I might serve my God, honour my King and love my Lady wife to the best of my abilities.”

A round of cheering followed this remark which Bishop Boniface silenced with a look as he signalled Edward to rise.

It was then that Edward’s new wife Eleanor walked slowly and regally through the assembly towards the candidate. She came to his side and Cristian saw such a look of love pass between the young couple that his warrior heart all but melted at the sight. Even the hardened knights of four countries could see the show of devotion in the couple. Bishop Boniface harrumphed loudly and King Alfonso smiled at the match he had made for his half-sister who he held in such high regard.’

One famous quote attributed to Alphonso upon hearing an explanation of the extremely complicated mathematics required to demonstrate Ptolemy’s theory of astronomy was “If the Lord Almighty had consulted me before embarking on creation thus, I should have recommended something simpler.”

Alphonso the Warrior King

Alphonso the Warrior King

Alphonso X was a man ahead of his time. Cultured, steeped in the ideals of chivalry and social fairness he thought no less of any man despite their religious differences. Jew or Christian, Muslim or Parsee in Alphonso’s eyes a man was a man and that was sufficient for him.


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