King of Castile (1158-1214).
Alfonso was born at Soria on 11 November 1155, the son of King Sancho III of Castile and Blanca of Navarre. He inherited from his father the kingdom of Castile, which had been separated from that of Leôn as a consequence of the testament of Alfonso VII. As he was underage, there was a troubled regency until 1169, during which the mightiest noble families (such as the Castros and the Laras) contended for power and thus allowed the intervention of the kingdoms of Leôn and Navarre.
Once he came of age, Alfonso VIII started to pursue three main political objectives: the strengthening of the kingdom, the consolidation of its frontiers, and the struggle against Islam. In regard to the first, the king showed a keen interest in urban development, as well as in standardizing the various law codes coexisting in his kingdom. He also helped strengthen representative institutions such as the curia regia (the court council), in which some members of the city councils probably took part. The frontiers of the kingdom were consolidated by means of treaties withLeôn, Aragon, and Navarre, by which Alfonso VIII annexed Alava and Guipùz- coa (1200). He also had expectations with regard to Gascony, as a consequence of his marriage to Eleanor, daughter of King Henry II of England.
Alfonso fought the Almohad Empire, which had grown stronger since 1172 after it had controlled the disunity and internal strife of Muslim Spain. To this end, Alfonso asked the military orders for help and favored them in return: he granted goods and privileges to the Order of Calatrava and introduced the Order of Santiago into Castile, granting it the town of Uclés (1174). In 1177 he conquered Cuenca, supported by the military orders and the king of Aragon. Later, however, he was seriously defeated at Alarcos (1195), as a result of the lack of unity among the Iberian Christian principalities. Due to the pope’s preaching of the crusade, Alfonso
VIII obtained not only the aid of his former Christian enemies, but also that of numerous French knights, as well as the prelates of Narbonne, Bordeaux, and Nantes. He led them all to the crucial victory over the Almohads at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212). Thereafter, Alfonso VIII successfully secured the Castilian frontier at the Sierra Morena.