Simon Doubleday

The Wise King

The story of the thirteenth-century Spanish king Alfonso X, renowned for his sparkling intellect and extraordinary cultural achievements.

The Wise King, one of the Daily Telegraph’s Best Books of 2016, traces the story of the king’s life and times, leading us deep into his emotional world and showing how his intense admiration for Spain’s rich Islamic culture became a vital element in the emergence of the European Renaissance.

Alfonso’s engagement with the Arabic-speaking world and with the Jewish community of Spain shaped his pursuit of astronomy, poetry, and human happiness, which later Italian humanists would share. His political struggles and his efforts to overcome personal tragedy were distilled—in art, music, literature, and architecture—into something sublime that speaks to us powerfully across the centuries.


Flash Point History podcast on Alfonso X.



  • A fascinating journey into an unfamiliar realm

    Sinclair McKay
    Daily Telegraph, 18 January 2016
  • Doubleday has created a measured, persuasive history of a king and his precarious times. An illuminating biography of 'an intelligent and thoughtful man'.

    Kirkus Reviews
    September 15, 2015
  • In this insightful biography, Doubleday illuminates the complexity of society in 13th-century Spain and, through the figure of the king, exorcises the myth that medieval Europe was mired in a dark age.

    Publishers Weekly
    October 5, 2015
  • The Wise King is a vividly engaging biography of Alfonso X, 13th-century king of Castile and León. Particularly bracing is its success in locating Alfonso -- a Renaissance man long before the Renaissance -- within the cultural ferment of his time. Ranging far beyond Spain itself, Simon Doubleday challenges the all-too-common dichotomy of benighted, static Middle Ages and vibrant Renaissance. Without denying the Renaissance is due, he depicts it as a summit on a broad cordillera. Change, he argues, was already in the air".

    Colloquy: The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University (Fall 2015)
  • Until now, the name “King Alfonso of Castile and Léon” would have got no more than a blank look from most English speakers, including many historians, so Doubleday’s book is long overdue, giving deserved prominence to a man whose imagination spanned the worlds of Christian Europe, Islam and Classical Antiquity. Alfonso was a model for the crowned heads of the future: literate, artistic, intellectual and culturally aware. For all his obscurity in the intervening centuries, few monarchs have lived up to the challenge he threw down.

    Alastair Mabbott
    Sunday Herald (Scotland)
  • It is not hard to see The Wise King as a screen epic. It has drama and betrayal. There is love (and sex). It has writers and thinkers - Christians, Muslims and Jews. In the background isthe sun and passion of Spain.

    Andrew Breeze
    The Tablet
  • Lively... Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.

    Choice (May 2016)
  • A readable, compelling, and fully-rounded portrait of Alfonso and his age

    Katie Harris, UC Davis
    The Medieval Review
  • Highly readable... Impeccably researched.

    Janna Bianchini
    The Catholic Review, 103:3 (Summer 2017)
  • We have lost [Alfonso's] wisdom; Doubleday brings him back to life, perhaps to try again.

    Patrick Madigan
    The Heythrop Journal (2017)
  • Aborda con rigor su figura, su entorno familiar y palaciego, el gobierno del reino castellano, su ambición imperial, sus logros intelectuales y culturales, etc. Y, sobre todo, en el conjunto de su obra, resulta admirable cómo el autor es capaz de trasladarnos a lo más íntimo de su personalidad, al mundo de las emociones que rodean su vida personal y familiar, sus decisiones políticas o su trabajo intelectual.... El resultado es, a mi juicio, brillante. Está muy bien escrito y el autor sabe captar de inmediato, ya desde el Prólogo, la atención de sus lectores.

    José Ramón Díaz de Durana
    Alcanate X (2016-2017)

Explore Alfonso's world »