Alfonso XI of Castile

Alfonso XI
Libro de la Coronación de los Reyes de Castilla--2 (cropped).jpg
Detail of a contemporary depiction in the Book of the Coronation of the Kings of Castile (14th century)
King of Castile and León
Reign7 September 1312 – 26 March 1350
PredecessorFerdinand IV
Born13 August 1311
Salamanca, Kingdom of Castile
Died26 March 1350 (aged 38)
Gibraltar, Emirate of Granada
(m. 1325; ann. 1327)
(m. 1328)
among others...
HouseCastilian House of Ivrea
FatherFerdinand IV of Castile
MotherConstance of Portugal
ReligionRoman Catholicism
SignatureAlfonso XI's signature

Alfonso XI (11 August 1311 – 26 March 1350), called the Avenger (el Justiciero), was King of Castile and León. He was the son of Ferdinand IV of Castile and his wife Constance of Portugal. Upon his father's death in 1312, several disputes ensued over who would hold regency, which were resolved in 1313.

Once Alfonso was declared an adult in 1325, he began a reign that would serve to strengthen royal power. His achievements include the victory in the Battle of Río Salado over Granadans and Marinids and the Castilian control over the Strait of Gibraltar.[citation needed]



Alfonso XI of Castile attacks the Muslim Moors led by Muhammed IV, Sultan of the emirate of Granada.
Depiction in an illumination of Froissart's chronicles, c. 1410

Born on 13 August 1311 in Salamanca, he was the son of King Ferdinand IV of Castile and Constance of Portugal. His father died when Alfonso was one year old. His grandmother, María de Molina, his mother Constance, his granduncle Infante John of Castile, son of King Alfonso X of Castile and uncle Infante Peter of Castile, son of King Sancho IV assumed the regency. His mother died first on 18 November 1313, followed by Infantes John and Peter during a military campaign against Granada in 1319 at the Disaster of the Vega, which left Dowager Queen María as the only regent until her death on 1 July 1321.[citation needed]

Alfonso inherited the throne at a time of instability within the region, decline in populations, reductions in the royal treasury and increasingly ambitious regents caused numerous problems during his young reign.

After the death of the Infantes John and Peter in 1319, Philip (son of Sancho IV and María de Molina, thus brother of Infante Peter), Juan Manuel (the king's second-degree uncle by virtue of being Ferdinand III's grandson) and Juan the One-eyed (his second-degree uncle, son of John of Castile who died in 1319) split the kingdom among themselves according to their aspirations for regency, even as it was being looted by Moors and the rebellious nobility.[citation needed]

A 14th century chronicle mentioned his appearance as "...King Alfonso was not very tall but well proportioned, and he was rather strong and had fair skin and hair."


His effective reign began in August 1325 when he was sworn in as king as he was proclaimed to have reached the age of majority in the Cortes of Valladolid. Following a ritual that took him to Santiago de Compostela and to the monastery of Las Huelgas in Burgos, his self-crowning took place in 1332.

As soon as he took the throne, he began working hard to strengthen royal power by dividing his enemies. His early display of ruthless rulership skills included the unhesitant execution of possible opponents. Alfonso XI ordered the assassination of his uncle Juan the One-eyed in Toro in the 1326 eve of the feast of All Saints, along with two of the latter's knights, luring the former with promises of reconciliation.

He managed to extend the limits of his kingdom to the Strait of Gibraltar after the important victory at the Battle of Río Salado against the Marinid dynasty in 1340 and the conquest of the Kingdom of Algeciras in 1344. Once that conflict was resolved, he redirected all his Reconquista efforts to fighting the Moorish king of Granada.[citation needed]

During his reign a political reform in the municipal government took place, with the substitution of the concejos abiertos by the regimientos. He fostered the issuance of cartas pueblas as strategy for the demographic strengthening in the borderland areas.

He is variously known among Castilian kings as the Avenger or the Implacable, and as "He of Río Salado." The first two names he earned by the ferocity with which he repressed the disorders caused by the nobles during his long minority; the third by his victory in the Battle of Río Salado over the last formidable Marinid invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 1340.[citation needed]

Alfonso XI never went to the insane lengths of his son Peter of Castile, but he could be bloody in his methods. He killed for reasons of state without any form of trial. He openly neglected his wife, Maria of Portugal, and indulged a scandalous passion for Eleanor of Guzman, who bore him ten children.[citation needed]

Infected by the Black Death during the 1349–1350 siege of Gibraltar, Alfonso died in the night of 25–26 March 1350 (some sources put the date wrongfully at 27 March). The Castilian forces withdrew from Gibraltar, with some of the defenders coming out to watch. Out of respect, Alfonso's rival Yusuf I of Granada ordered his army and his commanders in the border regions not to attack the Castilian procession as it traveled with the king's body to Seville.

Marriage and issue

Alfonso XI first married Constanza Manuel in 1325, but had the union annulled two years later. His second marriage, in 1328, was to his double first cousin Maria of Portugal, daughter of Alfonso IV of Portugal. They had:

By his mistress, Eleanor of Guzmán, he had ten children:

After Alfonso's death, his widow Maria had Eleanor arrested and later killed.

Popular culture

He was depicted in the 1802 play Alfonso, King of Castile by the British writer Matthew Lewis. It was first staged at London's Covent Garden Theatre with Charles Murray in the title role.


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