Simon Doubleday


Burgos, in the heart of Old Castile, had long been one of the favored cities of the Castilian crown; despite Alfonso’s preference for Seville, it remained an important point in the king’s itineraries, and he invested heavily in its new cathedral, ensuring that its iconography served a political as well as a spiritual agenda.

The foundation stone of the cathedral had been laid in 1221-22, but Alfonso oversaw a second stage of building in early years of his reign, and the new Gothic church—soaring, elaborate, breathtaking against the Castilian skies—was consecrated in 1260. The building, which took inspiration from French Gothic models, expressed his internationalism, and visually underscored the figure of the monarch and his family.

It was here, in 1269, that Alfonso’s court gathered for a supremely important wedding: the bride was Blanche, daughter of Louis IX of France, and the groom Fernando de la Cerda, the Wise King’s heir. But instead of ushering a moment of triumph, the wedding provided the occasion for conspiracy against the king; and within six years, Fernando was dead.