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Simon Doubleday

Fernando III

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. Fernando ruled Castile from 1217 until his death in 1252, initially sharing regal responsibilities with his mother, Berenguela; in 1230, he also became king of León. His capture of Córdoba (1236) and Seville (1248) left only Granada in Muslim control, although the specter of a reversal of fortunes would long hang terrify the Christian rulers of Spain.

Alfonso’s mother was the German princess Beatrix (or “Beatriz”) of Swabia. Beautiful and refined, Beatrix brought new finesse to the Castilian court after her arrival in 1219. A member of the powerful Hohenstaufen dynasty, her maternal uncle had been the Byzantine emperor, Alexios IV Angelos, and her mother was the princess Irene Angelina. These imperial roots would stoke her eldest son’s ambition to become Holy Roman Emperor.

In the upper cloister of the new Gothic cathedral in Burgos, which Alfonso constructed in the 1260s, a pair of statues depicts the royal couple. Recently, the original polychrome design has been partially restored. A lightly bearded King Fernando stands to the left, gently offering Beatrix a ring. Beatrix stands to the right, his equal in height and dignity, gracefully holding her fur-lined cloak.