Urraca of León and Castile


Urraca of León and Castile (April 1079 – March 8, 1126) was Queen regnant of León, Castile, and Galicia, and claimed the imperial title as suo jure Empress of All the Spains from 1109 until her death in childbirth, as well as Empress of All Galicia[2]. Urraca was the eldest surviving child of Alfonso VI of León with his second wife Constance of Burgundy, and was heiress presumptive from her birth until 1107, when her father recognized his illegitimate son Sancho as his heir. Urraca became heiress presumptive again after Sancho’s death the following year in 1108 when he was killed at the Battle of Uclés (1108).

Urraca’s placement in the line of succession made her the focus of dynastic politics, and Urraca was made a
child bride at age eight to Raymond of Burgundy, a mercenary adventurer and grand-nephew of Urraca’s mother. Urraca's marriage to the Burgundian was part of Alfonso VI's diplomatic strategy to attract cross-Pyrenees alliances. However, after Raymond died in 1107, Urraca’s father contracted with Alfonso I of Aragon, known as the Batallador, for a dynastic marriage between him and Urraca, opening the opportunity for uniting León-Castile with Aragón. Marriage negotiations where still underway when Alfonso VI died and Urraca became queen. Urraca protested against the marriage though honored her late father’s wishes (and the Royal Council's earnest advice) and continued with the marriage negotiations, though she and her father’s closest advisers were growing weary of Aragón’s demands.

Urraca married Alfonso I of Aragon but almost immediately their marriage sparked oppositional rebellions in Galicia, scheming by her illegitimate half-sister
Theresa and her husband Henry, Count of Portugal, and rumblings elsewhere. As their relationship soured, Urraca accused Alfonso of physical abuse and by May 1110 Urraca separated from Alfonso. Estrangement between husband and wife escalated from discrete and simmering hostilities into open armed warfare between the Leonese-Castilians and Aragonese, however by the fall of 1112 a truce was brokered between Urraca and Alfonso I of Aragon with their marriage annulled. Though Urraca recovered Asturias, Leon, and Galicia, Alfonso VI occupied a significant portion of Castile (where Urraca enjoyed large support), while her half-sister Theresa and her husband Count Henry of Portugal occupied Zamora and Extremadura. Recovering these regions and expanding into Muslim lands would occupy much of Urraca's foreign policy.

According to author Bernard F. Reilly, the measure of success for Urraca’s rule was her ability to restore and protect the integrity of her inheritance, that is the kingdom of her father, and transmit that inheritance in full to her own heir. Policies and events pursued by Alfonso VI contributed in large part to the challenges Urraca faced upon her succession, namely legitimizing her brother and thereby providing an opportunity for her illegitimate half sister to claim a portion of the patrimony, and also the forced marriage with Alfonso I of Aragon. Additionally, the circumstance of Urraca’s gender added a distinctive role-reversal dimension to diplomacy and politics which Urraca used to her advantage.

Urraca is characterized in the
Historia Compostelana as prudent, modest, and with good sense. According to Reilly, the Historia Compostelana also attributes her "failings" to her gender, "the weakness and changeability of women, feminine perversity, and calls her a Jezebel" for her liaisons with her leading magnates, with at least one relationship producing an illegitimate son. These observations were hardly neutral or dispassionate, according to Reilly, who wrote "[T]here is no question that the queen is in control, perhaps all too much in control, of events". Urraca's use of sex in politics should be viewed more as a strategy that provided the queen with allies but without any masters.

As queen, Urraca rose to the challenges presented to her and her solutions were pragmatic ones, according to Reilly, and laid the foundation for the brilliant reign of her son Alfonso VIII who succeeded to the throne of a kingdom whole and at peace at Urraca’s death in 1126. Urraca would be the last of the
House of Jiménez to reign, her son being of the House of Burgundy (Casa de Borgoña).