Imperator Totius Hispaniae? Military Leadership, the “Reconquista” and Imperial Authority during the Reign of Alfonso VII (r. 1126-1157)

This is the third and final installment of my short series on the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris (for part I: https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/the-coronation-of-1135-and-the-question-of-empire-in-kingdom-of-castile-leon-in-the-12th-century/ and part II: https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/the-chronica-adefonsi-imperatoris-ca-1148-cluniac-historiography-and-imperial-sovereignty-in-12th-century-iberia/) which has sought to explore some of the implications of Alfonso VII’s imperial coronation in 1135 in both contemporary chronicles as well as modern scholarship. In this piece, I want to look a bit more concretely at how the Chronica seeks to represent the authority of Alfonso VII by looking particularly at two elements: the role of military leadership and the role of Alfonso VII as a “holy warrior” against Islam in the Iberian peninsula.

Royal Authority and Rebellious Nobles: Alfonso VII as Virtuous Christian Prince and Pacifier of the Realm

From the outset, it is important to note that the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris is not the only source in which Alfonso VII is designated as imperator, since this title appears to have been utilized quite regularly from 1126 onwards in royal charters issued in the kingdom of León. [1] However, the Chronica is perhaps the most important twelfth-century text which clarifies in concrete terms what this title was intended to convey with regard to royal sovereignty. The chronicler declares that God worked His will through Alfonso VII “so that the salvation of the people of Christ in the midst of the earth might be achieved” in order to underscore the relationship between his sovereign’s reign and the divinely-ordained destiny of the Christian peoples in the Iberian peninsula.[2] Alfonso is also depicted as succeeding his mother, Queen Urraca (r. 1109–1126), and acceding to the throne of León with divine endorsement.[3] He is represented throughout the text as a just sovereign who is concerned with peace and security throughout the realm since it was conducive to Christian unity in the face of an increasingly-powerful Muslim threat.[4]

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The Tomb of Ferdinand III (d. 1252) in Seville: Emblem of Convivencia or Symbol of Reconquista?

Perhaps one of the most interesting surviving monuments from late medieval Iberia is the tomb of Ferdinand III (r. 1217–1252). This sovereign had a monumental career and is best remembered as the unifier of Castile and León and as the conqueror of most of al-Andalus, greatly expanding the Castilian kingdom by annexing the vast majority of the lands of southern Iberia, including the major Muslim cities of Badajoz (1228), Cordoba (1236), Murcia (1243), Jaén (1246) and Seville (1248) among others. He was also responsible for establishing the treaty of vassalage with the Nasrid kingdom of Granada, a political reality that would be sustained for the next 250 years.

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