In the end of the 11th century, the Iberian Peninsula political agenda was mostly concerned with the Reconquista, the expulsion of Moors communities from the South. This was also the time of the Crusades, when the European nobility was united against the "infidel" enemies. Alfonso VI of Castile found a suitable solution for all his problems: he 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, like Peterson is the son of Peter) 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 were to prove 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 archbishop 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 archbishop. In 1123 Afonso turned fourteen, the adult age in the 12th century. He made himself a knight on his own account, levied an army, and proceeded to take control of his lands. He defeated his mother's troops near Guimaraes, making her at the same time his prisoner and exiling her forever to a Monastery in León. He also vanquished Alphonso Raymond of Castile, his mother's ally, and thus freed the county from political dependence on the crown of León and Castile. He had already a dangerously independent mind.
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 from 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 archbishop 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 the Amadeo III count 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 declared himself and the kingdom as servants of the Church and promised to pursue the expulsion of the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula. Thus, Afonso continued to distinguish himself by his exploits against the Moors, from whom he wrested Santarem 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 direct cousin) was not pleased with the independence of Portugal that, in his view, was nothing more than a rebellion. Conflicts between the two countries were constant and bitter in the following years. Afonso became involved in a war that had broken out among the kings of what was later to become Spain, 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. 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 to the Moors. With this religious blessing, Portugal was finally secured as a country and safe from any Castilian attempts of annexation.
The Portuguese reveres him as a hero, both on account of his personal character and as the founder of their kingdom.
See also: Kings of Portugal family tree
|List of Portuguese monarchs||Succeeded by:
Initial text from 1911 encyclopedia -- Please update as needed