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Berenguela la Grande y su época (1180–1246) by H. Salvador Martínez (review)
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Reviewed by
Martínez, H. Salvador. Berenguela la Grande y su época (1180–1246) Colección crónicas y memorias. Madrid: Ediciones Polifemo, 2012. 892 pp. ISBN 978–84–96813–64–9.

Berenguela la Grande y su época is a biography of Berenguela of Castile (b. 1180–d. 1246), who ruled first as queen consort of León, and then as Regent of Castile on behalf of her minor brother, Enrique I, and finally as co-regent along with her son, Fernando III, King of Castile and León. In fact, Berenguela belonged to such a prestigious family line that, until very recently, a gaggle of her relatives, for example, her grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England, her sister, Blanche of Castile, Queen of France (Saint Louis’s mother), her son, Fernando III of Castile and Leon, a hero of the “Reconquest” and saint, and her grandson, Alfonso X, the most learned, if not most wise among Castilian Kings, seem at times to have all but monopolized the imagination of historians. Recently, however, Berenguela has found her deserved portion of fame. The book under review represents the fourth monograph in six years to have been devoted to the queen and regent; the predecessors include: Valentín de la Cruz’s Berenguela la Grande (Trea, 2006); Miriam Shadis’s Berenguela of Castile (1180– 1246) and Political Women in the High Middle Ages (Palgrave, 2009), and Janna Bianchini’s, The Queen’s Hand: Power and Authority in the Reign of Berenguela of Castile (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012) –testimony to the vitality that the studies of medieval queenship (reginalidad medieval) have exhibited in the last decade or so.

Martínez has written in this historical genre before, with a biography of Berenguela’s illustrious grandson, Alfonso X The Learned (Polifemo, 2003) exactly a decade ago. He defines biography as “artefacto literario que el biográfo pone en manos del lector para que pueda imaginarse de la forma más aproximada [End Page 270] posible la realidad del personaje biografiado; no es ni un balcón abierto ni un espejo para contemplarlo…” (10). And this is precisely what he delivers: a literary artifact that explains and investigates Berenguela’s life, and that at times even recreates what she was probably thinking or feeling. As the saying goes “the devil is in the details”, and Martínez delivers the details, which is to say, he has written a very substantial biography that also analyzes Berenguela’s historical and cultural context, and reviews the sources at our disposal – sources that are quoted generously throughout the book.

For a Castilian queen who lived during the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries the historical sources that relate to Berenguela and her reign are by no means abundant – certainly not equal, should we compare them, for instance, to those available for the study of the queens of the Crown of Aragon in the late Middle Ages. However, Martínez’s research has been both rigorous and exhaustive, and he has used everything at his disposal. These include a set of fifty documents that are direct contemporary sources for her reign, together with the Diplomatarios of Alfonso VIII, Alfonso IX, Enrique I, and Fernando III. Apart from these administrative sources, his study is based primarily on historical literature– chronicles, which in Martínez’s view can be critically read as historical evidence. These include contemporary works by Lucas de Tuy (d. 1249), Rodrígo Jiménez de Rada (d. 1247), and Juan de Osma (d. 1246), along with Alfonso X’s later Estoria de España or Primera crónica general and the Crónica de los veinte reyes. Of these, Martínez depends on the Crónica latina de los reyes de Castilla (1223–1239) attributed to Juan de Osma as his principal source for constructing Berenguela’s biography.

The book is divided into twenty chapters, framed by an introduction and a conclusion, plus a chronology of events, a bibliography, and an index of names. There are also quite a few, most welcome color illustrations, including miniatures, burial tombs, maps, and even a picture of her modern sculpture in Madrid’s Parque del...