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The Queen's Hand

Power and Authority in the Reign of Berenguela of Castile

By Janna Bianchini

Publication Year: 2012

Her name is undoubtedly less familiar than that of her grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, or that of her famous conqueror son, Fernando III, yet during her lifetime, Berenguela of Castile (1180-1246) was one of the most powerful women in Europe. As queen-consort of Alfonso IX of León, she acquired the troubled boundary lands between the kingdoms of Castile and León and forged alliances with powerful nobles on both sides. Even after her marriage was dissolved, she continued to strengthen these connections as a member of her father's court. On her brother's death, she inherited the Castilian throne outright—and then, remarkably, elevated her son to kingship at the same time. Using her assiduously cultivated alliances, Berenguela ruled alongside Fernando and set into motion the strategy that in 1230 would result in his acquisition of the crown of León—and the permanent union of Castile and León.

In The Queen's Hand, Janna Bianchini explores Berenguela's extraordinary lifelong partnership with her son and examines the means through which she was able to build and exercise power. Bianchini contends that recognition of Berenguela as a powerful reigning queen by nobles, bishops, ambassadors, and popes shows the key participation of royal women in the western Iberian monarchy. Demonstrating how royal women could wield enormous authority both within and outside their kingdoms, Bianchini reclaims Berenguela's place as one of the most important figures of the Iberian Middle Ages.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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Title Page

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p. vii

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A Note on Names

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pp. ix-x

Medieval historians always have to wrestle with the problem of rendering medieval names into modern prose. My method has been to name people and places according to the language presently spoken in their region: French in modern France...

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pp. 1-16

Berenguela of Castile is not a household name. Even in her native Spain, and even among historians, mention of her is often greeted with a puzzled smile. Compared to her grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine or her sister Blanche of Castile, she is at best an obscure...

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Chapter 1: Infanta and Heir, 1180–1197

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pp. 17-36

On April 5, 1181, King Alfonso VIII of Castile and his queen, Leonor, rejoiced in the birth of their first son.1 Apart from their own delight as young parents—the king was about twenty-six years old, the queen about twenty-one— the couple...

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Chapter 2: Queen of León, 1197–1204

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pp. 37-68

In some sense, Berenguela’s marriage to the king of Leon was the fulfillment of her destiny. A royal woman’s primary function—her only function, in the view of some contemporaries—was to be married off, thus securing an alliance for her father and offering...

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Chapter 3: The Unwed Queen, 1204–1214

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pp. 69-103

On April 16, 1198, about six months after Berenguela’s wedding and just four months after his own election as pope, Innocent III issued a blistering denunciation of the Castilian-Leonese marriage in a letter to Rainerius, his legate...

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Chapter 4: A Failed Regency, 1214–1217

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pp. 104-139

Alfonso VIII’s death left Castile in the hands of his only surviving son, Enrique, who was just ten years old. The power that came with custody of an underage monarch ensured that most such regencies were turbulent, scarred by conflicts among noble...

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Chapter 5: Queen of Castile, 1217–1230

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pp. 140-179

By the end of 1217, Fernando III’s authority in Castile was relatively secure. Although he would face some perturbations during the following year, Fernando had the support of enough towns, bishops, and magnates to legitimize his rule and to defend...

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Chapter 6: The Leonese Succession, 1230

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pp. 180-207

Fernando III’s accession to the Leonese throne in 1230, which brought about the permanent union of the kingdoms of Castile and Leo´n, was in no sense a foregone conclusion. Indeed, his father had labored for over a decade to ensure that...

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Chapter 7: Queen of Castile and León, 1230–1246

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pp. 208-252

The crown’s chroniclers agreed that Berenguela, as much as or more than her son, had brought about Fernando III’s elevation to the throne of Leo´n and the union of the long-sundered western kingdoms. To see Fernando crowned in Leon had been perhaps...

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pp. 253-261

The necrology of Las Huelgas gives November 8, 1246, as the date of Berenguela’s death.2 By that time the queen had not seen her son for over a year. Since 1244 he had spent nearly all his time in Andalucı´a, prosecuting his wars and consolidating...

List of Abbreviations

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p. 263


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pp. 265-328

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 329-342


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pp. 343-348


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pp. 349-350

E-ISBN-13: 9780812206265
E-ISBN-10: 0812206266
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812244335
Print-ISBN-10: 0812244338

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 822017937
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Queen's Hand

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Subject Headings

  • Berengaria, Queen of Castile and Leon, 1181?-1246.
  • Queens -- Spain -- Castile -- Biography.
  • Castile (Spain) -- History -- Henry I, 1214-1217.
  • Castile (Spain) -- History -- Ferdinand III, 1217-1252.
  • Spain -- Kings and rulers -- Biography.
  • Women -- History -- Middle Ages, 500-1500
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