- King Alfonso VIII of Castile: Government, Family and War ed. by Miguel Gómez, Kyle C. Lincoln, and Damian Smith
Alfonso VIII of Castile is one of the best-known kings of the so-called “Spanish Reconquest,” or, rather, the Iberian Middle Ages. However, as Teófilo Ruiz points out in his introduction to this volume, the seminal work of Julio González—El Reino de Castilla en la época de Alfonso VIII (Madrid, 1960)—on his reign has overshadowed any other research on this crucial period in the past half century. Not until the 2010s did Spanish scholars awaken to new interpretations. In Spanish historiography, the publication of a monumental work (including archival documents) often results in the subject being dropped for a long time instead of being activated with more partial studies. Even a re-assessment of Alfonso VIII’s battles of Alarcos and Las Navas de Tolosa and his expansion in the Ebro Valley arrived only after 1990 (2, 8).
A previous collection of essays in Spanish focused on an update of political history, taxation, and frontier management (including monastic expansion in border areas).1 The present volume highlights matters of government (including representations of power), family (including aspects of queenship and dynastic policies), and war (far beyond military history), as well as international affairs. The book shows a high level of interaction between the English-speaking historiography and that in other European languages. However, the absence of recent titles that would have greatly contributed to the arguments testifies to the need for further exchanges among the medievalists worldwide.2
The contributors to the volume provide an array of approaches to the Iberian Middle Ages that target an interdisciplinary audience. The chapters by Ruiz, Joseph F. O’Callaghan, and Martín Alvira set the broader context of government and kingship against which all the other contributions should be read. For scholars who are not currently studying the Iberian Peninsula, these articles glance at the relevance of Castile and the other Iberian kingdoms to a broader European and Mediterranean political history. Sam Zeno Conedera’s article about coinage, propaganda, and trade masterfully combines numismatics with political and economic history to show how Castile became one of the leading [End Page 146] economies of the twelfth century, acknowledged even by the Italian republics.
The chapters by Janna Bianchini and Miriam Shadis enhance our understanding of queenship and female-empowering strategies, but they should also contribute to more general subjects, such as the dynastic management of territories and influences across Europe. Damian Smith, Kyle Lincoln, Martin Alvira, and Carlos de Ayala address exchanges between the Iberian Peninsula and the papacy and the involvement of Alfonso VIII in problems regarding the freedom of the Church, the appointment of ecclesiastical dignitaries, and the definition of the model Christian ruler by canonists. These issues, combined with the dynamics between the king, bishops, and military orders, and the ongoing fight against enemies of the faith (heretics and infidels) provide a background for an understanding of royal crusading ideals in the Iberian Peninsula, England, and France, which was sometimes at odds with the Roman versions. The debate between “reconquest and crusade,” highly animated in the Iberian field, hardly appears in this book, which favors more general approaches. Thomas Burman’s chapter focuses on the spiritual and polemical dimensions of Christian theology as another tool used by the bishops to strengthen their position vis à vis both Muslims and the Latin Church.
This book reads well, is a good introduction for those approaching the subject for the first time, and affords new perspectives on a period of Iberian medieval history that may be well researched in some respects but still deserves more attention.
1. Carlos Estepa, Ignacio Álvarez, and José María Santamaría (eds.), Poder real y sociedad: estudios sobre el reinado de Alfonso VIII (1158–1214) (León, 2011).
2. Hélène Sirantoine, Imperator Hispaniae: les idéologies imp...