All  
Urraca I of Leon by Jose Maria Rodrigues de Losada (deriv.)

Urraca the Reckless: How Did a Child Bride Unify a Kingdom?


Feminine, inspiring, and powerful – these three words could be sufficient to describe the queen whose rule transformed the position of women in medieval courts. Her original stamp on society is felt until now. Her fame has continued since the 12th century. Who was this remarkable woman whose story keeps its unique sparkle among the tales of the other female rulers of Leon, Castile, and Galicia?

Urraca remains one of the most famous women of medieval Spain. Her incredible skills and unusual talents, blended with a unique personality, allowed her to become more famous than most of the women of her times. She was born in 1079 AD and lived for only 47 years, however, her short life influenced the history of Iberia in a remarkable way.

Urraca, The Dutiful Young Princess

Her life started in Burgos, where she was born the first child of Alfonso VI of Leon. Her mother was Constance of Burgundy, and although the couple had more children, Urraca was the only one who was able to survive childhood. She received the best available education and due to the possibility that she would have to be the ruler for some time, she was allowed to study more like a man than a woman.

Statue of Alfonso VI of Castile, By Francisco Javier Martín Fernández.

Statue of Alfonso VI of Castile, By Francisco Javier Martín Fernández. ( CC BY 2.0 )

Urraca got married for political purposes in 1087 AD, at the age of only eight years old. She married Raymond of Burgundy, but of course, she was nothing like a real wife. It seems that the marriage was consummated when she was over the age of 13. Although it was a political marriage, she gave birth to two children, a girl, and a boy. Sadly, Raymond died in 1107 AD and she became the most famous widow of her times. Many noblemen wanted to marry her.

However, by reading between the lines of the texts related to the history of Urraca, we can also see a woman who was self-confident and aware of her power and beauty. It seems that Urraca was considered a very attractive woman, not only because of her royal roots.

According to some resources, like historian Compostelana, Urraca was modest and prudent. She had a strong intuition, and she knew how to use her feminine charm to achieve her goals. Does it mean that she was a medieval femme fatale? Not at all. It seems that being aware of her advantages and personal charm as a woman, she created a unique style in diplomacy. During her lifetime, she continued the politics of her father, but she added a sensitive charm, that became the sign of her style in politics.

Urraca as An Independent Monarch

When her first husband died, the noblemen started to compete for her hand. Sadly, before the right candidate could marry Urraca, Alfonso VI died. His demise is believed to have taken place between June 29th and July 1st, 1109 AD. The kingdom couldn't stay without a ruler, so the 30-year-old Urraca became queen. Following this, she reluctantly married Alfonso I of Aragon and Navarre, but she wasn't happy about it. Urraca had protested against the marriage with this man, but knowing that it was a will of her father, she finally accepted it after his death.

Urraca’s husband, Alfonso I of Aragon and Navarre, by Francisco Pradilla Ortiz.

Urraca’s husband, Alfonso I of Aragon and Navarre, by Francisco Pradilla Ortiz. ( Public Domain )

She wasn't the only one who didn't appreciate the marriage with Alfonso I. The news about the wedding ignited rebellions in Galicia. An impressive number of nobles from Leon, Castile, and Galicia were against the marriage. However, the Galician rebellion was so huge that Alfonso I decided to go to Galicia with his army and attack the Monterroso Castle in 1110. Urraca didn't approve of this idea, but it wasn't her only problem with husband. During the same year, she accused him of physical abuse and left him. Her position as a queen and politician was strong enough to not need support from a man, but it is known that she had at least two lovers and she had two children with one of them.

Medieval miniature that represents Queen Urraca I of Leon.

Medieval miniature that represents Queen Urraca I of Leon. ( Public Domain )

The unification of Urraca’s kingdom

During her rule, Urraca was able to restore her lands and provide peaceful solutions and a dynamic diplomacy. Thus, her kingdom thrived. As Bernard F. Reilly wrote in Chapter 12 of his book:

''Among the women of her own age, and for virtually the entire history of the medieval West, Urraca is unique. That is, she was both a woman and the crowned head of a major western kingdom who ruled in her own right. Even given the many redoubtable women of the Middle Ages who functioned within the political arena with appreciable effect, that verdict stands. Blanche of Castilla was, after all, never more than queen mother and regent of France. Eleanor of Aquitaine was never more than the ablest of intriguers. More serious contenders to a rough parity of position are closer to Urraca's own time. Still, Matilda of England never did supplant Stephen I in that realm, although she tried mightily and seemed briefly in 1141 to be about to do so. Not just English history but English historiography records the failure. (1) Though ruling in her own right, Countess Matilda of Tuscany (1076-1115) was nevertheless not of the same rank. Nor was the extent of her territories comparable, for Urraca had inherited a kingdom larger than that of England and with probably a comparable population.''

Urraca died on March 8, 1126 during childbirth. During those times, it was a common cause for women's deaths. The interesting fact that should be noticed is that she was close to her fifties and she was still able to get pregnant. Anyway, the loss of such a remarkable woman due to her late pregnancy was a tragedy for the nation. Urraca was a good queen, and the duration of her rule is still valued as a beneficial period in history.

Memorials to Medieval Queen Urraca

Statue of Queen Urraca in Parque del Buen Retiro (Madrid, Spain).

Statue of Queen Urraca in Parque del Buen Retiro (Madrid, Spain). ( Public Domain )

Urraca fame remains and has been supported by numerous publications, and her inclusion as a character in historical movies and TV shows, monuments, etc. The coins created for Urraca are rare and valuable in the numismatic market. Although her life was relatively short, her personality and achievements became the reason for the eternal love she received from her people.

In the gorgeous Galician town known as Salvatierra de Miño, there still stands a remarkable building from her time. The medieval castle of Queen Urraca has been rebuilt several times, but elements of the original construction are still visible.

Top Image: Urraca I of Leon by Jose Maria Rodrigues de Losada (deriv.) Source: Public Domain

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

María del Carmen Pallares Méndez, Ermelindo Portela, La Reina Urraca, 2006.

The Kingdom of León-Castilla under Queen Urraca, 1109-1126 by Bernard F. Reilly, available at: http://libro.uca.edu/urraca/urraca.htm

Urraca – moneda, available at:

http://ceres.mcu.es/pages/ResultSearch?Museo=MAN&txtSimpleSearch=Urraca%20de%20Castilla&simpleSearch=0&hipertextSearch=1&search=advanced&MuseumsSearch=MAN%7C&MuseumsRolSearch=9&

Urraca. Un nombre egregio en la onomástica altomedieval by Jaime de Salazar y Acha, available at:

http://revistas.ucm.es/index.php/ELEM/article/view/ELEM0606220029A/21565

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Next article