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This Week In History

Queen Urraca. March 8, 1126.

Her great-grand parents were a king of Navarre, a king of Aragon, a Castile countess and a king of France, and she grew up in the shadow of her father, king Alfonso VI, nicknamed “The Brave”.

Having these origins, it is not strange that Urraca was nicknamed “The Reckless”. In the Middle Ages the image of a woman was always linked to weakness and helplessness. Therefore Urraca´s talent, skill and determination always attracted attention. For sure her personality and the historical circumstances that surrounded her made her the center of political and dynastic intrigues, with stories filled with passion, love, treason and treachery.

She was the firstborn daughter of king Alfonso VI and Constance of Burgundy, born probably in Leon around 1081. She was married when she was only 12 to Raymond of Burgundy, and their son, the king to be Alfonso VII, was born in 1105.

Urraca came to be the only heir to the throne of Leon and Castile after the death of her half-brother Sancho. Short before dying, her father summoned the Curia to the Court of Toledo to proclaim her as successor. Urraca swore her rights and duties in the Alcazar as future Queen of Castille and Leon.

By 1108, Urraca had been a widower for over a year, and so, her father wanted her to marry the King of Aragon, Alfonso “The Battler”, this way trying to avoid quarrels between Castilians and people from Leon, as well as seeking to ensure the defense of his reigns from the Almoravid threat. The wedding took place 1109 with the firm objection of the Castilian nobility and Urraca herself, that even said:

I was forced to follow the disposition and discretion of the grandees, marrying the grueling, fantastic and tyrant king of Aragon. He did not only disgrace me with gauche words but also many times my face was stained by the dirt of his hands and beaten by his foot.

From the moment Urraca acceded to the throne, she fought thoroughly to preserve the kingdoms inherited from the father for her and her dynasty. Shortly after, the contention over territories “tore” her marriage, which originated continuous hostilities between Castile, Leon and Aragon. The capitulations foresaw that all the kingdoms of the couple would be inherited by their future heir, which left out of the succession line of Castile and Leon Alfonso Raimúndez (count of Galicia and son of Urraca and the deceased Alfonso VII).

On the other hand, the Aragonese king couldn´t understand that the queen, having two children from a previous marriage, hadn´t yet given him a heir, that would join Castile and Aragon and would be the most powerful king of the Iberian Peninsula. These thoughts consumed his soul. Then Urraca liberated in Huesca a number of Arab noblemen that had been made prisoners by Alfonso without his consent. This event outraged the king. He thrashed her and imprisoned her in the castle of El Castellar, from where she managed to escape, taking shelter in Burgos.

By this time the civil war was open, with the low nobles from Castile and Leon supported the king, and the high nobles and prelates supported the queen. “The Battler” entered with a very powerful army in Castile and took important cities such as Toledo and Sahagún, where the queen was hiding in a convent which was sacked by the king himself. Urraca once again managed to flee, but her army was once and again defeated.

After a short truce, Urraca decided to support a secessionist movement in Galicia to favor her son, that was crowned king of Galicia at the age of 7. The Battler resumed military campaigns against his wife that would last until 1114. Finally, Alfonso gave up his territorial aims and asked for his marriage annulment to the pope. Although it looked as if things would remain peaceful from then on, Urraca, now liberated from her hated marriage, decided to reign all alone. Politically, she confronted Navarre, Portugal (ruled at the time by her sister Teresa) and Aragon; also Muslims to the south of Tagus River and groups of the low nobility that still supported Alfonso.

She died at the age of 45, on March 8, 1126, in childbirth of the third son with the Count Pedro González de Lara, who had been her lover since her marriage annulment.

During her whole life she tried fiercely to be respected by her subjects, and when she felt she was disobeyed she shouted “I am the king!”. She took Totius Hispaniae Regina as title (Queen of all Spain), and the truth is that if her marriage had been prosperous, it would have meant the unification of all the Christian territories in Spain, including Portugal.

Urraca was the first queen to issue coinage of the kingdoms of Toledo and Leon.

 

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