Berenguela of Castile

Miniature of Berenguela in the thirteenth century cartulary of the Toxos Outos Monastery. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Louise Gay

Eldest daughter of Alfonso VIII of Castile and Leonor of Plantagenet, Berenguela spent a part of her childhood as the presumptive heir of her father’s throne before the birth of her younger brother Enrique.

In 1197, she married Alfonso IX of León as a mean to restore peace between the neighbouring kingdoms. During the seven following years, Berenguela bore him five children, including two sons. As queen-consort, she acted as an intermediary between her marital and natal families.

She was also the domina of important lands located on the leonese-castilian border, which have been a source of great contention for both kingdoms; they were in fact the cause and foundation of the matrimonial alliance.  

Seven years after their marriage, around late 1203 or early 1204, Berenguela and Alfonso IX separated. Indeed, as they were second cousins the Church did not acknowledge the royal union under the motif of consanguinity – and no special licence from the pope had been granted.

Going back to Castile, Berenguela spent the next ten years taking care of her children and personal demesne while war returned episodically between her father and her former husband about the disputed lands.

In 1214, her father’s and mother’s deaths brought Berenguela to assume the regency of Castile in the name of her younger brother Enrique I. Yet the armed opposition to her rule of part of the nobility forced her to cede regency to the nobleman Álvaro Nuñez de Lara.

The accidental death of Enrique I three years later elevated Berenguela to the position of queen-regnant of Castile – just about a hundred years after her famous ancestor Urraca, first queen of Castile, León and Galicia.

To prevent internal strife again however, Berenguela officially abdicated in favour of her first-born son Fernando III a few months only in her reign. Her abdication did not mark the end of her political career, for as queen mother she became her son’s closest advisor.

Among her most notable actions, she successfully fought several noble’s rebellions, negotiated the union of the realms of Castile and León in 1230 and supported Fernando’s almost annual military expeditions against the Almohads until her death in 1246.

Much like her younger sister Blanche in France, Berenguela presents an interesting case of co-rulership with her son. Furthermore, both have ties with warfare and played determinant roles in the success of military campaigns as well as access to – and maintenance of – the throne.

Recommended Reading

Janna Bianchini, The Queen’s Hand: Power and Authority in the Reign of Berenguela of Castile (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012)

Miriam Shadis, “Berenguela of Castile’s Political Motherhood”, in Medieval Mothering, eds. John Carmi Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler, 335-358 (Abingdon: Routledge, 1996)

Miriam Shadis, Berenguela of Castile (1180–1246) and Political Women in the High Middle Ages (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

Georges Martin, “Négociation et diplomatie dans la vie de Bérengère de Castille (1214-1246. La part du facteur genérique,” e-Spania 4 (2007)

Georges Martin, “Negociación y diplomacia en la vida de Berenguela de Castilla (1214-1246). Cuestionamiento genérico,” e-Spania 4 (2007).

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