Time Loves a Hero: Alarcos, Alfonso IX, and A Lost Crusade (from 1197)

Time Loves a Hero: Alarcos, Alfonso IX, and A Lost Crusade (from 1197)

By Kyle C. Lincoln

Conference Paper, International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, MI, 2013

Alfonso IX of León
Alfonso IX of León in the Tumbo A manuscript of the 12th century, preserved in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia (Spain).

Introduction: There are few kings that get such a consistently bad rap in medieval Iberian studies as Alfonso IX of Leon. From the crusade called against his kingdom in 1196/7 to the unfortunate nickname that Ibn Khaldun ascribes to the Leonese king, Alfonso IX of Leon is consistently remembered—I would argue misremembered—as being the unfortunate rival of his Castilian cousin of the same name.

While, in a formal study, I intend to undertake a more rigorous rehabilitation of Alfonso IX’s reputation, today I wish to examine the importance of the years 1194-1197 as part of that which determined Alfonso IX’s unfortunate destiny as the lesser of the two Alfonsine cousins. To do so, we will need to examine the story in three acts.

In the first act, we find Alfonso IX of Leon unwilling to help his cousin Alfonso VIII of Castile in his crusade, which culminated in the defeat (and near-death) of the Castilian King in 1195. In the second act, Alfonso VIII, still licking his wounds, is attacked by his Leonese cousin and his Almohad allies. In the third act, an angry Pope Celestine III roused Afonso I of Portugal to take the cross against his Leonese first-cousin twice-removed , but to no avail. It is a messy dramedy, but one which merits a little attention in order to better understand what happens when Crusades fail and when kings are forced to deal with the consequences.

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