Ssegunt natura de los cielos e de las otras cosas spirituales: Alfonso X, Astrology, and Kingship
Undergraduate Thesis, Haverford College (2011)
Abstrac: As king, Alfonso oversaw an intellectual court that translated and composed historical, poetic, and scientific texts. The scientific texts have inspired scholarly study, investigation, and celebration since their production in the thirteenth century. As a patron of the sciences, Alfonso centered his project on astral science, from judicial astrology to the design of technical instruments. Through translations and original compositions on astrology, Alfonso deployed the science’s specific and unique set of resources. This thesis uses Alfonso’s scientific texts to analyze how and why astrology was particularly useful to a thirteenth century king. Confronted with a religious, ethnically, and politically diverse kingdom, Alfonso invoked astrology as the core element of his intellectual program. Astrology, more so than other sciences, addressed the specific political needs of Alfonso in the context of medieval Castile. In the medieval period, natural philosophy was the study of God’s creation. Astrology, the highest form of natural philosophy, was intimately linked to God and could reveal His will to mankind. Alfonso drew on this connection between nature and the divine and employed astrology to assert his religious, political, and intellectual authority over his diverse subjects. By demonstrating his mastery of the celestial bodies, Alfonso drew on the unassailable authority of the natural world and God as a mechanism to legitimize his authority over all three faiths. In this way, he employed the relationship between the celestial spheres and the divine enlist the support of his subjects and, ultimately, to convert them to a uniform Christian faith that recognized him as the arbiter of God’s will.
In the late sixteenth century JerOnimo de Zurita, the official chronicler of the kingdom of Aragon, penned his Anales de la corona de Aragon. Often considered the founder of modern historical scholarship in Spain, JerOnimo composed the Anales as the royal history of Aragon and its interactions with the other Iberian kingdoms. In it he described the rule of Alfonso X, king of Castile from 1252 through 1284, and recounted a curious anecdote of the death of Fernando de la Cerda, the king’s heir:
An ancient Portuguese author writes something that is worth considering: that the cause of the death of the Infante [Fadrique], was that the king wanted to know, of the most learned in Astrology– to whom he gave more credit than was deserved — what would be his [Alfonso’s] end, and they told him that he would die disinherited from his reign by a man of his blood, and for this reason Alfonso ordered the Infante Fernando — and Senor de los Cameros, who was married to the daughter of the Infante — killed, fearing that it was from there that the evil would come.