Simon Barton

title.none: Reilly, The Kingdom of Leon-Castilla under King Alfonso VII, 1126-1157 (Barton)

identifier.other: baj9928.9908.009 99.08.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Simon Barton, University of Exeter,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Reilly, Bernard. The Kingdom of Leon-Castilla under King Alfonso VII, 1126-1157. The Middle Ages Series. Pittsburgh: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998. Pp. xv, 431. $65.00. ISBN: 0-812-23452-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.08.09

Reilly, Bernard. The Kingdom of Leon-Castilla under King Alfonso VII, 1126-1157. The Middle Ages Series. Pittsburgh: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998. Pp. xv, 431. $65.00. ISBN: 0-812-23452-9.

Reviewed by:

Simon Barton
University of Exeter

On 26 May 1135, fifty years and a day after the reconquest of Toledo, Alfonso VII of León-Castilla (1126-1157) had himself crowned emperor in León. The lavish ceremony in Leon cathedral marked the culmination of a process of political reconstruction that had followed the turmoil of the reign of his mother, Queen Urraca (1109-1126). Thereafter, with his own house in order and with his borders for the moment secure, Alfonso was able to devote most of his energies to the long neglected question of the reconquest. The high-point came in October 1147 when Alfonso VII's army combined with crusading forces from Navarre, Barcelona, Montpellier and Genoa to conquer Almería. The capture of Almería was the prelude to a frenetic but largely ineffectual bout of campaigning during the last decade of the emperors life: Córdoba and Jaén were both the object of lengthy but unsuccessful sieges, and in 1157, shortly before the emperor's death, Almería was lost to the advancing Berber Almohads. As a later chronicler would tartly observe, Alfonso VII was far more successful at capturing places than at keeping them. It is precisely because his reign ended in such disappointment that the achievements of Alfonso VII have tended to be overshadowed by those of his illustrious grandfather Alfonso VI (1065- 1109), the conqueror of Toledo, and those of his grandson Alfonso VIII of Castile (1158-1214), the victor of Las Navas de Tolosa. A reappraisal of the reign has therefore been long overdue.

With the welcome publication of his latest book, Bernard F. Reilly brings to a close his detailed, three-part history of the Leonese-Castilian monarchy from the mid-eleventh century to the mid-twelfth, which began with his study of Queen Urraca in 1982, and was followed by that of her father Alfonso VI in 1988. It hardly needs saying that Reilly's book represents a considerable advance on the previous treatments of the reign of Alfonso VII by Prudencio de Sandoval (1600), Manuel Risco (1792) and Manuel Recuero (1979). The book begins with a brief overview of the political organization of Christian Iberia between 1035 and 1126 (Chapter 1), before going on to provide a detailed narrative of the reign of Alfonso VII himself (Chapters 2 to 4). In succeeding chapters (5-10) the author surveys the royal household and court, councils, local government, military organization, finance, the church and towns. The final chapter attempts an appraisal of Alfonso VII and his reign. The work concludes with an Annotated Guide to the Documents of Alfonso VII and His Dynasty, 1107-1157 (pp. 323-98).

There is much to admire here. There is not a scholar alive who knows the Leonese-Castilian archival material as well as Professor Reilly and the fruits of this knowledge are everywhere to be seen in this book. Thus, in keeping with the modus operandi he employed in his works on Alfonso VI and Urraca, Reilly's narrative of the political development of León-Castilla under Alfonso VII is built largely around a painstaking reconstruction of the royal itinerary. His illuminating discussion of the diplomacy that preceded the marriage of Alfonso VII and Berengaria of Barcelona in 1127 (pp. 19-20) is based upon an unpublished document from the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón in Barcelona which was was unknown to this writer and, I would guess, to most other historians working on the twelfth- century peninsula. There are also many useful observations dotted throughout the book that will provide food for thought for other scholars: for example, on the institution of countship, on the impact of feudal influences on the Leonese-Castilian kingdom, and on the role of court bishops, Reilly's comments are both sensible and instructive. Perhaps the chief strength of Reilly's book, however, is as a work of reference. His study of the counts and other magnates of the kingdom (Chapters 6-7) is above all an immensely useful guide to the most influential members of the Leonese-Castilian lay elite and their spheres of influence, rather than a discussion of the realities of aristocratic power and privilege; likewise his chapter on the Leonese church is chiefly given over to establishing the chronology of the episcopal succession in the various dioceses of the realm. Most valuable of all, however, is the splendid annotated guide to the charters of Alfonso VII, a catalogue of some 975 documents, which represents a major advance on the previous hand-lists compiled by Peter Rassow and, more recently, Manuel Lucas Alvarez. Reilly's comments on the authenticity or otherwise of each diploma are invariably acute and well-made. With such a major resource now at their fingertips, scholars and students alike will have much to thank Professor Reilly for.

Errors of fact are commendably few and far between: for example, the conquest of Escalona in 1136 is misattributed to Ali b. Tashufin (p. 57); Estefanía Armengol, who married Count Rodrigo González in 1135, was not the daughter, but the sister of Count Armengol VI of Urgel (p. 57); Pelayo Cautivo was the son of Pedro Peláez, not Fernando Yáñez (p. 81); Rodrigo Martínez was the son of Count Martín Flaínez, not Martín Alfonso (p. 167); Vela Gutiérrez was the son of Count Guter Vermúdez, not Guter Rodríguez (p. 191); and the mandate dispatched by Count Armengol VI of Urgel to the citizens of Valladolid was not issued in 1143 (p. 79), but almost certainly ten years after that (vid. S. Barton, "The count, the bishop, the abbot: Count Armengol VI and the abbey of Valladolid," The English Historical Review 110 (1996), 85-103).

There are a few other quibbles, too. It is difficult to accept the author's comment that the second book of the Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris, the principal narrative account of the reign, is little more than a series of popular tales originally composed separately and subsequently tacked together in a literary Latin text (p. 65). On the contrary, the second book of that work, conceived and composed in the style of a historical book of the Old Testament is remarkably homogenous in style, syntax and inspiration. Elsewhere, one might have hoped for rather more discussion of the emergence of the Iberian peninsula as a recognised crusading theatre; and in the light of Jonathan Phillips's recent study of the background to the Lisbon crusade, it is hard to agree with Reilly's assertion that the arrival of northern seaborne crusaders off the coasts of Portugal in 1147 was wholly unexpected (p. 96). The statement that the one irregular union Alfonso VII is known to have enjoyed was with the Asturian noblewoman, Guntroda Pérez (p. 307) does not take into account the emperor's liaison with Countess Urraca Fernández, by whom he had fathered a daughter some time before 1148. To the useful list of royal servants compiled by Reilly one might add Pedro Leonis, Queen Berengaria's ote alfaeto, or couturier, who was rewarded by Alfonso VII for his service on 31 May 1145 (D499). And Reilly's statement that there are no known citations of a royal chaplain after 1146 (p. 162) overlooks the fact that Bishop Bernardo of Sigüenza is styled as such in Alfonso VII's grant to the canons of Sar on 25 December 1147 (D566). Finally, the regesta of Alfonso VII's charters, valuable though it most assuredly is, has allowed at least another forty diplomas to slip through the net. At a more general level, the omission of a map or genealogy from the book is to be regretted.

These reservations notwithstanding, Professor Reilly is to be congratulated. His book on Alfonso VII, like those on Alfonso VI and Urraca, will become essential reading for anyone investigating the twelfth-century peninsula. Thanks to his efforts, Alfonso VII is now able to take his place centre-stage where he belongs.