“Our father has won a great victory”: the authorship of Berenguela’s account of the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, 1212
By Theresa M. Vann
Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, Volume 3, Issue 1 (2011)
Abstract: Scholars studying the letter of Berenguela to Blanche of Castile describing Alfonso VIII’s victory at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa initially interpreted it within a familial context. The letter is a source for the battle of Las Navas, one that is not quite an eyewitness account, but one penned by the daughter of Alfonso VIII who, by her own testimony, had access to the king’s letters reporting the victory. More recently, it has gained attention as an authentic female voice from the thirteenth century. Historians have used the letter not only for information about a notable battle, but also for insight into the women of the Castilian royal family, even though they noted anomalies in its format, its account of the battle, and in its choice of language. Close comparison of Berenguela’s letter with the eyewitness accounts written by Alfonso VIII, Arnauld Amaury, and Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada highlight the verbal idiosyncrasies previous historians have noted. The letter’s failure to conform to known medieval letter-writing practices, combined with its significant differences in narrative structure, vocabulary, and content from other products of the Castilian chancery, questions the modern assumption that it is a surviving piece of personal correspondence between two royal sisters. The discovery of the location of a thirteenth-century copy eliminates the possibility that it was a later forgery. This article proposes that the text, as it has come down to us, was composed in the French chancery to establish the crusader lineage of the female descendants of Alfonso VIII of Castile.