Alfonso’s half-sister Leonor—daughter of Fernando III and his second wife, Jeanne de Dammartin—was raised with her mother in the sophisticated courtly circles of Córdoba and Seville.
In this image from the Códice de los músicos [Musicians’ codex] of the Cantigas de Santa María, the Wise King—who is dictating the text to a scribe—radiates a spirit of happiness that pervades the court.
The Wise King’s father, Fernando III, was a devastatingly effective military leader whose reign was a critical phase in the centuries-long campaign to colonize central and southern Spain, wresting the Iberian Peninsula from Islamic rule.
In 1260, the Italian humanist and former Chancellor of Florence Brunetto Latini (circa 1220-1294) had arrived in Castile, with an urgent message for Alfonso the Wise. Brunetto’s mission in Castile was to persuade the king to campaign for the position of Holy Roman Emperor.
Before Fernando III’s conquest of Seville in 1248, the city had enjoyed a period of remarkable growth and literary vitality, encapsulated by the early thirteenth-century tale Hadīth Bayād wa Riyād.
When ten-year-old Enrique I had inherited the throne in 1214, his older and politically masterful sister Berenguela had briefly acted as regent.