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The Queen's Hand

The Queen's Hand: Power and Authority in the Reign of Berenguela of Castile

Janna Bianchini
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Queen's Hand
    Book Description:

    Her name is undoubtedly less familiar than that of her grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, or that of her famous conqueror son, Fernando III, yet during her lifetime, Berenguela of Castile (1180-1246) was one of the most powerful women in Europe. As queen-consort of Alfonso IX of León, she acquired the troubled boundary lands between the kingdoms of Castile and León and forged alliances with powerful nobles on both sides. Even after her marriage was dissolved, she continued to strengthen these connections as a member of her father's court. On her brother's death, she inherited the Castilian throne outright-and then, remarkably, elevated her son to kingship at the same time. Using her assiduously cultivated alliances, Berenguela ruled alongside Fernando and set into motion the strategy that in 1230 would result in his acquisition of the crown of León-and the permanent union of Castile and León. In The Queen's Hand, Janna Bianchini explores Berenguela's extraordinary lifelong partnership with her son and examines the means through which she was able to build and exercise power. Bianchini contends that recognition of Berenguela as a powerful reigning queen by nobles, bishops, ambassadors, and popes shows the key participation of royal women in the western Iberian monarchy. Demonstrating how royal women could wield enormous authority both within and outside their kingdoms, Bianchini reclaims Berenguela's place as one of the most important figures of the Iberian Middle Ages.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0626-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. A Notes on Names
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Berenguela of Castile is not a household name. Even in her native Spain, and even among historians, mention of her is often greeted with a puzzled smile. Compared to her grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine or her sister Blanche of Castile, she is at best an obscure figure in the already shadowy ranks of medieval queens.

    During her lifetime, though, Berenguela was one of the most powerful women in Europe. Contemporary sources, both narrative and documentary, praise her accomplishments and authority in terms rarely accorded to women. They leave no doubt that Berenguela was responsible for major events in thirteenth-century Spanish...

  6. Chapter 1 Infanta and Heir, 1180–1197
    (pp. 17-36)

    On April 5, 1181, King Alfonso VIII of Castile and his queen, Leonor, rejoiced in the birth of their first son.¹ Apart from their own delight as young parents—the king was about twenty-six years old, the queen about twenty-one—the couple could take pride in having fulfilled their dynastic obligation to provide an heir for the Castilian throne. Alfonso VIII even commemorated the event in his diplomas: “This charter was made . . . on the third day after King Sancho, son of the aforementioned Alfonso, illustrious king of Castile, was born in Burgos.”²

    Yet although Sancho was the...

  7. Chapter 2 Queen of León, 1197–1204
    (pp. 37-68)

    In some sense, Berenguela’s marriage to the king of León was the fulfillment of her destiny. A royal woman’s primary function—her only function, in the view of some contemporaries—was to be married off, thus securing an alliance for her father and offering her new husband a chance to generate legitimate heirs. For a long time, modern historians followed their medieval counterparts in viewing queens and princesses chiefly as marital pawns, whose natal families took little interest in them once an advantageous marriage had been concluded. After marriage, a woman’s interests were expected to align with those of her...

  8. Chapter 3 The Unwed Queen,1204–1214
    (pp. 69-103)

    On April 16, 1198, about six months after Berenguela’s wedding and just four months after his own election as pope, Innocent III issued a blistering denunciation of the Castilian-Leonese marriage in a letter to Rainerius, his legate in Iberia:

    Reliable information has reached us that our most dear son in Christ, the king of Castile, dared to—let us not say marry—to incestuously submit his daughter to the illustrious king of León, whose relative she is, and to whom he is related in the second degree of consanguinity. . . . Wherefore we command both of them, setting aside...

  9. Chapter 4 A failed Regency, 1214–1217
    (pp. 104-139)

    Alfonso VIII’s death left Castile in the hands of his only surviving son, Enrique, who was just ten years old. The power that came with custody of an underage monarch ensured that most such regencies were turbulent, scarred by conflicts among noble factions and members of the royal house. The increasing tendency of European royalty to delegate the regency to the boy king’s mother was meant to forestall such conflicts; the queen-mother’s natural affection was thought to ensure that she would govern in her son’s best interest.¹ This trend toward female regency meant that royal women had access, at least...

  10. Chapter 5 Queen of Castile, 1217–1230
    (pp. 140-179)

    By the end of 1217, Fernando III’s authority in Castile was relatively secure. Although he would face some perturbations during the following year, Fernando had the support of enough towns, bishops, and magnates to legitimize his rule and to defend it militarily. Castile had its king.

    Castile had its queen too, however. Berenguela had been a vital force not only in raising her son to power, but in repelling invasions and quashing rebellions so as to keep him there in his unsteady early months. She did not abandon this role once its initial goals had been accomplished. If Fernando was...

  11. Chapter 6 The Leonese Succession, 1230
    (pp. 180-207)

    Fernando III’s accession to the Leonese throne in 1230, which brought about the permanent union of the kingdoms of Castile and León, was in no sense a foregone conclusion. Indeed, his father had labored for over a decade to ensure that Fernando’s bid for León would fail. From the resolution of the Castilian succession crisis in 1217 on, Alfonso IX set about trying to disinherit his son within his own kingdom, in order to keep the crowns of Castile and León separate. The only way to do this was to set up an heir or heirs in opposition to Fernando...

  12. Chapter 7 Queen of Castile and León, 1230–1246
    (pp. 208-252)

    The crown’s chroniclers agreed that Berenguela, as much as or more than her son, had brought about Fernando III’s elevation to the throne of León and the union of the long-sundered western kingdoms. To see Fernando crowned in León had been perhaps Berenguela’s most cherished ambition; it had certainly been the one for which she fought the longest. While their accession in Castile had been a dynastic accident, Berenguela had sought to establish Fernando as León’s heir ever since he was born. Finally she had succeeded, even despite the wishes of Alfonso IX.

    Yet her very success called her role...

  13. Conclusions
    (pp. 253-262)

    The necrology of Las Huelgas gives November 8, 1246, as the date of Berenguela’s death.² By that time the queen had not seen her son for over a year. Since 1244 he had spent nearly all his time in Andalucía, prosecuting his wars and consolidating his gains, while Berenguela attended to matters in the north. In 1245, though, Berenguela had sent a message to the king at Córdoba, telling him that she was traveling south from Toledo and asking him to meet with her. “And the king was greatly pleased when he heard this, and he then left that place...

  14. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 263-264)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 265-328)
  16. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 329-342)
  17. Index
    (pp. 343-348)
  18. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 349-350)