Simon Doubleday

Queen Berenguela

When ten-year-old Enrique I had inherited the throne in 1214, his older and politically masterful sister Berenguela had briefly acted as regent.

After the young king’s sudden death in 1217, Berenguela—aged thirty-seven—inherited the throne, assuming the title of ‘Queen of Castile and Toledo’. From this point onwards, she co-ruled with her son, Fernando III, often as the dominant royal partner. As queen, Berenguela was highly successful, binding the realm together and enabling it to move beyond the state of fractious civil war. It was the “pact of the mothers” (1230) between Berenguela and Teresa of Portugal that ensured that Fernando III of Castile would also inherit the kingdom of León, thus bringing about the final fusion of the two kingdoms.

In Alfonso’s words, his grandmother Berenguela was “a very wise lady and a great expert, sharp in political affairs.” Throughout the 1230s, she exerted a decisive influence: a reminder that we need to question the presumption that medieval women in general were disempowered and that queens in particular were valued only as child-bearers.