Alfonso VI, known as the Brave or the Valiant, was King of León from 1065, king of King of Castile and de facto King of Galicia from 1072, and the self-proclaimed ‘Emperor of all Spain’. This was a bit of an exaggeration because he only effectively had power over about a third of the peninsular which meant that he had a lot of work to do to turn this aspiration into reality and under the leadership of Alfonso an earnest program of crusading reconquest began.
During his reign, Alfonso adopted a policy of an alliance with the great French Benedictine monastery of Cluny and by cooperating with the church and instituting Cluniac reform, Alfonso played a pre-eminent role in the Christianisation of the reconquest. His determination to create a unified Christian kingdom of Spain in the eleventh century created the need for religious and national figures under which Christians could unite to defeat the infidel.
The King’s objective was to unite all of Spain under one crown and one religion because tolerance and coexistence with the Muslims were no longer options if Alfonso sought to create a truly unified Spanish Christian State. The determined King of León called upon people of the northern Kingdoms to fight against the Muslims and establish the supremacy of the Catholic Church.
To assist him in this ambitious quest Alfonso recruited two important allies; he fostered the legend of St James to provide spiritual support and justification and in the practical area of secular supremacy and military muscle El Cid represented the lay element of the Christian reconquista. As Alfonso’s military chief El Cid united the Spaniards in their struggle to oust the Muslims and reclaim the peninsula for the Spanish Christian monarch.
In 1072, El Cid became the vassal of Alfonso VI and to further secure his loyalty the King arranged for El Cid to marry his niece Ximena Díaz. These were calculated moves by the King to secure El Cid’s support for the national-religious warfare against the Moors. El Cid was a mercenary and not entirely reliable as an ally and this was a well thought out strategy to achieve a significant measure of control over the military commander that restricted his opportunity to take military action without the king’s knowledge. Alfonso had a well defined political-religious agenda, in which El Cid played an integral role.
In support of Alfonso’s expansionist plans El Cid participated in the unification of the religious and political spheres during the latter part of the eleventh century. One of the most important roles he played as a Christian war hero and patriot of the reconquest was the victory of his siege in Valencia and the Muslims defeat in 1094.
“Great is the rejoicing in that place when My Cid took Valencia . . . My Cid rejoiced, and all who were with him, when his flag flew from the top of the Moorish palace.”
In his role as a loyal Christian ruler in 1098 El Cid converted Valencia’s Great Mosque into a Christian church, St. Mary’s Cathedral. Furthermore, he proclaimed the Cluniac cleric Jerome of Périgord the bishop of Valencia and these acts indicated his solidarity with Alfonso and Cluniac reform, and his participation in the crusading mentality of the century.
After El Cid’s premature death in 1099 and without his inspirational leadership Valencia fell again to Muslim forces in 1102. Alfonso died in 1109 leaving behind his legacy to the Reconquista of the two principle nationalist heroes of modern Spain, the Patron Saint James and the Warrior Knight El Cid.
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