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Afonso I of Portugal
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Afonso I of Portugal


Afonso I Henriques of Portugal (Guimarães, 1109 , traditionally July 25, – 1185), known as the Conqueror, was the first king of Portugal, declaring his independence from Leon-Castile, an act often identifying the Condado Portucalense as the first nation-based state of Europe. Afonso was the son of Henry, Count of Portugal and Teresa of Leon, the illegitimate daughter of Alfonso VI of Castile. He was proclaimed king in July 26 1139 and died on December 6 1185 in Coimbra.

At the end of the 11th century, the Iberian Peninsula political agenda was mostly concerned with the Reconquista, the expulsion of the Muslim successor-states to the Caliphate of Córdoba after its collapse. With European military aristocracies focussed on the Crusades, Alfonso VI of Castile called for the help of the French nobility to deal with the Moors. In exchange, he was to give the hands of his daughters in marriage to the leaders of the expedition and grant royal privileges to the others. Thus, the heiress Urraca of Castile married Raimond, second son of the Duke of Burgundy, and her half-sister, princess Teresa of Leon, married his uncle, Henry of Burgundy. Henry was made Count of Portugal, a difficult fiefdom in the south of Castile, where Moorish incursions and attacks were to be expected. With his wife Teresa as co-ruler of Portugal, Henry stood the challenge and held the lands for his father-in-law.

From this marriage several sons were born, but only one, Afonso Henriques (meaning "Afonso son of Henry") thrived. The boy succeeded his father as Count of Portugal in 1112, under the tutelage of his mother. The relations between Teresa and her son Afonso proved difficult. Only eleven years old, Afonso had already his own political ideas, very different from his mother's. In 1120, the young prince took the side of the bishop of Braga, a political opponent of Teresa, and both were exiled by her orders. Afonso spent the next years away from his own county, under the supervision of the bishop. In 1123 Afonso turned fourteen, the adult age in the 12th century. He made himself a knight on his own account in the cathedral of Zamora, levied an army, and proceeded to take control of his lands. Near Guimarães he defeated the troops under his mother's ally Count Fernão Peres de Trava of Galicia, making her his prisoner and exiling her forever to a monastery in León. Thus the possibility of incorporating Portugal into a kingdom of Galicia was eliminated. He also vanquished Alfonso VII of Castile, another of his mother's allies, and thus freed the county from political dependence on the crown of León; and Castile. He had already a dangerously independent mind. On April 6, 1129, Afonso Henriques dictated the document in which he proclaims himself King of Portugal.

Afonso then turned his arms against the everlasting problem of the Moors in the south. His campaigns were successful and, on July 26 1139, he obtained an overwhelming victory in the Battle of Ourique, and immediately after was proclaimed king by his soldiers. This meant that Portugal was no longer a fiefdom of Castile, but an independent country in its own right. Next, he assembled the assembly of the kingdom at Lamego, where he received the crown from the bishop of Bragança, to confirm the independence.

Independence, however, was not a thing a country could decide on their own. Portugal had still to be recognized by the neighbouring countries and, most important, by the Catholic church and the pope. Afonso married Mafalda, daughter of Count Amadeo III of Savoy, and sent ambassadors to Rome to negotiate with the pope. In Portugal, he founded several monasteries and convents and granted important privileges to religious orders. In 1143, he wrote to Pope Innocent II to declare himself and the kingdom servants of the Church, promising to pursue the expulsion of the Moors from the Iberian peninsula. Bypassing any king of Castile, Afonso declared himself the direct liegeman of the Papacy. Thus, Afonso continued to distinguish himself by his exploits against the Moors, from whom he wrested Santarém in 1146 and Lisbon in 1147. He also conquered an important part of the land south of the Tagus River, although this was lost again to the Moors in the following years.

Meanwhile, King Alfonso VII of Castile (Afonso's cousin) considered an independent Count of Portugal simply a rebel. Conflicts between the two countries were constant and bitter in the following years. Afonso became involved in a war, taking the sides of the Aragonese king, an enemy of Castile. To insure the alliance, his son Sancho was promised to Dulce Berenguer, daughter of the Count of Barcelona, and princess of Aragon. Finally (probably in 1143) the Treaty of Zamora established peace between the cousins.

In 1167, Afonso was disabled during an engagement near Badajoz by a fall from his horse, and made prisoner by the soldiers of the king of Leon. Portugal was obliged to surrender as his ransom almost all the conquests Afonso had made in Galicia in the previous years.

In 1179 the privileges and favours given to the Catholic Church were compensated. In a papal bull, Pope Alexander III recognized Afonso as king and Portugal as an independent country with the right to conquer lands of the Moors. With this papal blessing, Portugal was finally secured as a country and safe from any Castilian attempts of annexation.

In 1184, in spite of his great age, he had still sufficient energy to relieve his son Sancho, who was besieged in Santarém by the Moors. He died shortly after, in 1185.

The Portuguese reveres him as a hero, both on account of his personal character and as the founder of their kingdom.

Afonso's descendants

See also: Kings of Portugal family tree

Preceded by:
King of Portugal Succeeded by:
Sancho I

This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.