Written by Josh Kressel

The Cid of history and of the fable accepted of him do not meld together, thus historians are left with the question, which one was the true Cid? Similarly, the role of Alfonso VI is debated for his impact on the region. For hundreds of years, Spaniards have debated this difference and the role of the leaders in the history of Iberia (modern day Spain and Portugal.) During the mid to late 1000s CE, the Cid made a name for himself as a great military leader, fighting against Christians and Muslims alike. His achievements produced such clamor that he became a legend in the eyes of citizens of the Iberian Peninsula. Both, The Epic of the Cid: and The Quest for El Cid, by historian Richard Fletcher, try to create a more complex version of this legendary figure.

The focus of this article research is on the causes of conquest and battles for of two important historical figures: El Cid, otherwise known as Rodrigo de Vivar and Alfonso VI of Castile-León (r. 1065–1109) and how their lives intersected with one another. The Iberian Peninsula in the 1000s C.E (modern day Spain) and the death of these two leaders is explained in relation to the effect their death had on their respective subsequent political landscape. Alfonso VI was the King of Lean and later a united Leon-Castile, while El Cd was his vassal at times and a conqueror in his own right, culminating in his conquest of Valencia in the early 1090s.

Alfonso VI and El Cid were well known military leaders of their age. Conquest was one of the main ways that people gained renown. As such, these two men had a variety of reasons why they pursued battle. The primary causes for their push for conquest and battles may have been opportunity, a deliberate policy of expansion, acquiring wealth, a religious motivation, or a combination of any of these factors. The Christian society of the Iberian Peninsula at the time, the practices of inheritance by Christians in the Dark Ages, and the political and socio-economic circumstances were factors that shaped Rodrigo de Vivar and King Alfonso VI lives. By examining the relationship between the Cid who was a vassal, and his lord Alfonso VI, this article highlights the contemporary meanings of, and the motivating to fight in the frontier society if medieval Iberia. Thu a more accurate depiction of these two figures will be established.

Both Alfonso VI and El Cid were important military leaders during the period 1065-1110. They were both conquerors in a period of expansion of the Christian kingdoms of Iberia over the Muslim kingdoms of Al-Andalus. However, it is the Cid who receives all of the credit in history due to his sustained influence in Iberian culture. It is through his eyes that the period is seen. The celebratory focus on El Cid as the “champion of the modern Spanish” draws away from the importance and contribution of Alfonso VI despite the fact that, he rather than the Cid conquered Toledo. This article restores the historical significance of Alfonso VI alone among medieval European monarchs.

The Cid of Myth and Legend 

The Cid of Spanish legend comes out as the stronger figure in how he is depicted as an independent character. His strength in battle was mythical, as was the strength of his  character overall. As will be demonstrated below, the legend has framed the Cid as the epitome of contemporary Iberian masculinity. 

Michael Harney’s Epic of the Cid describes the warrior’s attitude which marked him apart from others. In many battles, the Cid acted as though fighting was beneath him and acted as though he did not need to apply much effort. At the Battle of Castejon, believed to have occurred soon after El Cid’s second exile in 1081, the Epic of the Cid text simply states that Rodrigo personally killed fifteen Moors. Near Calatayud, the strength of the Cid was also described, as “the Cid struck him such a blow with his right arm that he cut him right through at the waist, hurling half the body on the field.”

The epic poem also describes how, many places would willingly submit themselves to El Cid by offering tribute, rather than fighting against him and his army. It seems that his battlefield skills and acumen spread fast and far during his first exile. As he began his second exile, he only had a few hundred men accompanying him, but some towns such as Alcocer and Terrer sent him tribute. However, the Cid wanted more to help sustain himself and his men. Devising a strategy of rushing off due to a “lack of food” the citizens of Alcocer came out to attack Diaz. They were defeated though, and their riches were added to the treasury of El Cid. 

This system of attacking Muslim towns and villages was repetitive and frequent. In the Epic, El Cid was constantly on the offense, forcing towns to pay him tribute or taking their riches by force. He made sure that his men, his family, and himself were well supplied from the battles. After the battle of Castejon, he granted 100 marks to each knight and 50 marks to each man at arms. The rest of the one-fifth was taken by Rodrigo. The repeated use of this tactic to attack people and take their goods in quick succession, led some medieval chroniclers to portray Rodrigo as El Campeador, meaning a military leader or in greater context, warlord. The epic poem says, “Now we will see who’s ready to earn his keep,” proving his focus was on acquiring wealth using through conquest. 

On further inspection, the Epic presents a secondary reasoning for El Cid’s conquest. It explains that the Cid was forced to confront the reality of his exile. Growing pressure to supply his family and others with wealth, was the overall reason beyond the Cid’s rapid push to obtain money by any means.

 In the Epic, the Cid left Castile for his exile, and left his wife and daughters at the San Pedro de Cardena monastery. He also left money to the Abbot to pay for his family’s upkeep and promised to pay back what the abbot spent at a four (4) marks to one rate, perhaps as a gesture of gratitude.5 This depicts his commitment to his family’s welfare and his wish to ensure that they received the proper care that they deserved, despite the care coming from people outside of his family.

After battles where loot was taken or when loot was plundered from abandoned cities, Rodrigo sent his lieutenant and nephew, Minaya, to Alfonso VI to try to ameliorate his relationship with the king, ruined by increasing tension between the Cid and Alfonso in the hope to eventually reunite his family together and end his exile. After taking Valencia, he again sent his family member with horses (loot) to the king, to demonstrate that he was still loyal to him and begs forgiveness. Delivering this great city for Christendom and in theory to Alfonso IV and thus securing one of Alfonso’s flanks, convinced the king to allow Rodrigo’s family to join him and end his exile. 

  It is unknown why the legend became popular, as we only have a single copy of the work which was made over a century after the Cid’s death. There is theorization by the translator/editor that the popularity of the Epic resulted due to his military success as well as his ability to operate under a lawful medieval society who were developing law as this book was written. What is obvious is that his valorization as the exemplary symbol of Spanish identity distracts from broader historical reconstruction of Spanish history and of the reign of Alfonso VI. The myth dramatizes important historical events and celebrates the Cid as a perfect being rather than in a complete scope.

The Cid of Historical Record 

Historian Richard Fletcher wanted to avoid the pandering of the Cid as a figure who could do no wrong. He rather focuses on the political circumstances of the time era and tries to provide a historical context to the activities of the Cid. Fletcher connects the importance of the Holy Land to Rodrigo de Vivar, and also develops a reconstruction of the environment of the battles fought near Valencia. 

Fletcher demonstrates that wars in the Holy Land after its initial conquest in the First Crusade helps place the Cid’s conquests in a more realistic perspective. The conquering of cities in the Holy Land after the conquest of Jerusalem was targeted to create secure zone where Crusaders and Christendom could exist in the region. Due to the similar circumstances that existed after the capture of Valencia, the Cid’s motives were the same. The Cid was situated in an island then surrounded by enemies, much like Edessa, Antioch, and Jerusalem were after they were conquered by the Crusaders.Thus, the victories after Valencia research suggests were driven mostly by a need to consolidate holdings. Rodrigo knew that he would have to expand his territory or risk being surrounded, besieged, or forced to evacuate. 

The Cid also had followers who needed to be rewarded for their service. The conquest of the castle of Olocau enabled him to grant them rewards, as the city contained much of the war-chest of Al-Qadir, a former king of Toledo/Valencia and ally of Alfonso VI. This wealth helped prove to his men that the Cid could fulfill his promises. Rodrigo’s capture of Olocau enabled him to have more control over the villages in the area through intimidation. Economic resources obtained from the stronghold helped him provide for the more physical sustenance of his followers: chiefly this included grain, meat, and draught animals for transport.

Between 1096-1097, the Cid moved to consolidate his holding in the area surrounding Valencia. Together with his ally, King Pedro I of Aragon (r. 1094–1104), the Cid decided to reinforce the castle Benicadell located between Jativa and Denia. As they were moving to reinforce the city, they encountered another Murabit (Muslim) army which they defeated. According to the Historia Roderici, the Cid led his army from the front, demonstrating his masculinity and valor. The Cid is reputed to have fought like Vivian, a knight of French epics, instead of like Thibault, who retreated, in fear when he saw a corpse. 

 In the same year, the Cid was forced by circumstances to confront the reality that a supply base existed within the surrounding area at Murvdiedro (modern day Sagunto). To limit the raids that were occurring into his territory, the Cid was forced to take the city. The siege of Murviedro was a great example of military strategy, instead of money, dictating the action of El Cid. This was due to the geography, since the city was situated on a huge rock which had ample access to water and was impracticable for armies to assault. It would have been much easier to simply receive tribute from another smaller town; however, this would not have made Rodrigo’s realm/territory safer. Therefore, the Cid laid siege to Murviedro and it fell to him in late June of 1098.

Fletcher drew on other evidences from the siege of Valencia and its aftermath that proves that the Cid was still focused on obtaining money at any cost. In Valencia, the Cid burned alive a magistrate called Ibn Jahhaf, because he thought the man was hiding money from him. In the aftermath of the Battle of Cuarte. Rodrigo de Vivar rounded up the wealthiest families of Valencia and forced them to ransom themselves for two hundred thousand gold coins. 

In all, scholarly discussions of Cid appear to validate his military and administrative genius. It is not clear however how much the pervasive myth has influenced the evidence upon which authors rely. To properly understand the Cid, he also must also be examined from a more modern lens, as the narrations of the Cid during medieval times was heavily dramatized and exaggerated. 

Overall, Fletcher seems to reject the mythical Cid by not portraying the Cid as a figure who can do no wrong as was portrayed by The Epic of the Cid. Fletcher sees the Cid as a contemporary mercenary willing to help Muslim and Christians if it suited his interests at any time. For instance, he fought the Count of Barcelona when he was in exile serving the taifa of Zaragoza in the early 1080s. In 1086, he was welcomed back to Castile-Leon and joined Alfonso again. The Cid can be understood as a mercenary who joined with people of the opposite religion (Muslims in this case) to weaken his rivals when he deemed it necessary. In other words, contrary to the popular myth, the Cid was not always a Spanish nationalist. 

Fletcher convincingly agrees that the Cid pursued conquest to gain wealth, however, he seems to reject that family was the main cause of this wealth, particularly after the fall of Valencia. He also tried to portray the Cid’s drive for conquest as changing political-economic circumstances. An example of this was in the Cid’s push to take Murviedro, as it was a recovery base for Muslim raids into his territory. Taking the castle helped increase the safety of the Cid’s lands, by creating less weaknesses in the area under his control. 

In terms of Fletcher’s approach to analyzing the Epic of the Cid itself, certain decisions stand out. First, he elects not to focus on the character traits of the Cid, as described in the epic poem. Second, the book was not written for an “academic readership.” Instead he leaves out exact timing of certain events, particularly if they are under dispute. Fletcher chooses not to include important topics from the Epic of the Cid because evidence suggests that the events narrated in the Epic did not occur historically. For instance, he ignores major characters of the poem such as the Carrion brothers who in the myth, married the Cid’s daughters because there was no evidence that they did. He deems that much of the Epic was extraneous as it presented the figure of the Cid, in a fabricated light, meant to portray him heroically.

At the same time, other that mention the Cid’s elevation of a Bishop Geronimo and the roll the Cid played in getting Valencia separate from the see of Toledo, Fletcher underplayed the role of religion as a motivation for Cid’s conquests. Other virtues such as loyalty and honesty which come across in the Epic were ignored, as Fletcher presents the Cid as a mercenary, someone who has almost no loyalty to those above him in society, and instead only presents the Cid as having loyalty for those closest to him. reasoning for conquest. However, he does briefly discuss the elevation of a Bishop Geronimo and the roll the Cid played in getting Valencia separate from the see of Toledo, Fletchers underplayed the role of religion as a motivation for Cid’s conquests. 

The historical Cid comes across as a more realistic figure. Instead of dramatizing the actions of the Cid as was done in the Epic of the Cid, Richard Fletcher plants the Cid as a human. The Cid was not omnipotent, which we must remember, as without it there is no room for criticism or reinterpretation of his life. 

Alfonso VI and his Vassal 

Transitioning away from the Cid, we move to the other major figure, Alfonso VI of León-Castile (r. 1072-1109) and his fight to gain control of his father kingdom. Starting from the fall of the Cordoban Caliphate around 1030, the various major cities in the caliphate lands consolidated power in surrounding lands. The smaller territories that were created were called “taifa kingdoms”. A small list of the more prominent taifas include Badajoz, Granada, Sevilla, Toledo, Valencia, and Zaragoza. These six taifas, along with a few smaller ones, will be discussed in the context to their relations with each other, the Christian kingdoms to the North, and with the Almoravids, who originated in Morocco and the Western Sahara. 

The Iberian taifas themselves were politically independent and controlled their city and the surrounding area. At times they warred with each other, creating more consolidated realms, when weaker taifas were conquered and absorbed into larger ones. They would also ally with the Christian kingdoms of the north to achieve common ends. Some of the old Muslim marches or borderlands paid parias to the Christian kings for both protection from other taifas, and as a guarantee that the Christian realm would not raid, siege or attack them. These tributes had a large effect on both the politics of the various realms and on the economics of the Christian realms. 


One of the earliest reasons for Alfonso fighting was his need to ensure his own succession, thus we must explain his father’s will. Throughout much of Europe at the time, the succession custom was division of lands between the various sons of a king. This created a great deal of conflict between siblings as they wanted to reunite their father’s lands. 

The circumstances were quite different at the death of Alfonso VI’s own father Fernando (r.1037–1065), to which we must return. Before his death, Fernando created provisions for his sons and daughters since that was the practice of the time. Alfonso VI received León, Castile went to Sancho II and Garcia was given Galicia. The daughters were granted the right to rule over all the monasteries within León-Castile and one of them was given Zamora. The division of the realm of their father (comprising much of the Northern Iberian Peninsula) was unequal between the brothers and the central lands were part of Alfonso VI territory, despite him not being the eldest son. As the realm was divided and the brothers adjusted to ruling their own section of their father’s land, peace was held primarily because of their mother. 


Two years after her husband’s death, the Queen Mother, Sancha, died on November 7, 1067. This spelled the end of cooperation, and hence, the prelude to fighting between the descendants of Fernando I. The resources of the kings were as diverse as the lands they received as inheritance. The tribute, (parias) paid by the taifa states, would help the Christian north grow and maintain an army. With the demise of Fernando, parias was cut off to the new kings. Successful negotiations would need to be arranged by each king to receive tribute from their neighboring Muslim kingdom.

Sancho II received tribute from Zaragoza in the Ebro Frontier, Garcia received tribute from Badajoz, south of Galicia (modern day Portugal) and Alfonso received tribute from Toledo, south of León. Alfonso VI violated his fathers will by attacking Badajoz and demanding its tribute in 1068. The siege of Badajoz, presents itself as Alfonso VI taking advantage of the political circumstances of his inheritance and trying to consolidate his control, as he prepared for anticipated conflict with his brothers. 

 Within Garcia’s kingdom of Galicia, great problems existed, which prompted the other brothers to intervene in his domain. Garcia had seen the bishop of Santiago de Compostela murdered and was fighting a revolt in the northern area of Portugal. This made Garcia look weak to his other brothers, Sancho II and Alfonso VI. By June 1071, Garcia lost his land and was forced into exile. The war doubled the land area that Alfonso controlled, despite the original plan stating that Garcia’s realm would be evenly split. Sancho (who ruled more to the east, in Castile) could not establish contiguous borders with the new land due to the instructions in his father’s will. This new territorial imbalance set the way for a temporary resolution of the struggle between the brothers the following year. 

At the start of 1072, Sancho II made his move to defeat his brother Alfonso and create a unified realm at the heart of Christian Iberia under Castilian hegemony. In January 1072, Sancho and Alfonso fought an internecine battle at Golpejara, resulting in a Castilian victory over the Leonese. Alfonso VI lost the battle and was exiled to Toledo, which was still under the control of Al-Qadir, a Muslim and Alfonso’s ally. His brother Garcia was in turn exiled to Seville. 

In Castile-León, aristocratic opinion would quickly turn against Sancho II, as he failed to unify his new lands. His sister Urraca and her paramour, Count Pedro Ansurez, raised a rebellion in Zamora, and during the siege of that city, Sancho II was assassinated, in early October 1072. Alfonso was then invited back to León and given the crown of a united Castile-León kingdom comprising all his father lands. Alfonso returned in 1085 and captured Toledo. He was clearly the favorite brother of his sisters, and this benefitted him greatly. Garcia was later recalled from exile and imprisoned for the rest of his life. The consolidation of Fernando’s realm under one of the brothers was almost a foregone conclusion. The one thing that was needed was for any of the brothers to take advantage of changed political conditions and their sibling’s weaknesses. 

Following this consolidation, the resumption of parias by the southern Muslim states was among Alfonso’s highest priorities. He spent much of 1074 forcing parias on various realms, including Granada. From Granada he received thirty thousand gold dinars (currency) and a guarantee of ten thousand every year. Alfonso VI also created a closer relation with his ally, Al-Mamun of Toledo, who had sheltered him during his exile. 

In 1076, opportunity for further expansion became possible again, as the king of Navarre, Sancho Garcia IV (r. 1054–1076) was pushed off a cliff by his siblings. Alfonso quickly moved to increase and obtain new lands for the farmers of Castile by expanding eastwards towards the Pyrenees. This was important, as at that time, agriculture was the most important form of income. Suffice to say that the murder of Navarre’s king presented an irresistible opening for Alfonso, too tempting to resist. He had dynastic claims on the area, as well as personal designs as well. Navarre ended up split between Aragon and Castile as follows: Alfonso received the Rioja, lands to the east of the Ebro River, Alava, Vizcaya, and a few other areas. Aragon, under Sancho Ramirez (r. 1042–1094) received Pamplona, and lands around Estella. 


With the further consolidation and territorial expansion of the realm, religion resurged in Castile-León. New conquests meant new bishops had to be reinstated, churches reorganized, and new monastic foundations formed. This can be seen in Cluny’s importance in the realm of Alfonso VI and in the papacy’s influence in Castile-León. 

The easiest area where one can see the influence of religious authority was Alfonso VI’s relationship with the monastery of Cluny. For years, the order, based in Burgundy, had close ties to the family of León-Castile, going back at least to Fernando I. During Fernando’s reign, the monastery offered prayer for the king, and in return, the monarch paid a census to the monastery. The reemergence of this practice occurred after Alfonso consolidated his authority and prestige in several areas, including marriage and religious power in the newly acquired regions. Within Alfonso’s lands, Cluny was favored to receive important monasteries such as San Isidro de Dueña, Santiago de Astudillo, and San Juan de Hérmedes de Cerrato between 1073 and 1077. Additionally, the annual gift that Fernando gave to Cluny was doubled to two-thousand dinars in the 1070s. Thus, in this period, one can see a great increase in the reach and the impact of Burgundian monks in the kingdom of León-Castile.

Alfonso capitalized on his close relationship with Cluny to find political solutions within his kingdom and to expand his realm. One example was in his search for an heir and hence for a wife of noble birth. Consequently, Alfonso’s second wife, Constance, was a relative of Abbot Hugh, the head of the main Cluny monastery. Reciprocation of the marriage alliance followed as another monastery was granted at Santa Mária de Nájera in 1079, the year the two were married. When his wives passed from illness or other reasons, the abbot of Cluny oftentimes facilitated the search for a new wife for Alfonso VI. 

The popes also played a role in the society of León-Castile. Ecclesiastical debate over how prayer was read, whether that be in the Roman writ or the native tongue, was something that Alfonso, his bishops and the papacy fought over. The church wanted to impose Latin as the official language, whereas the king desired to allow individual circumstances to dictate what customs the people followed. In newly conquered areas, the Visigothic rite, practiced by the Christian communities living within Al-Andalus (the so-called Mozarebs) was kept, to appease the local population. Pope Gregory VII, (p. 1073–1085) as well as Urban II (p.1088–1099) did not agree with this policy. A compromise was worked out however, Bishop Bernard was elevated to Archbishop of Toledo, and in return for Alfonso VI support, Roman prayer would be instituted in many areas of the country, unifying the Iberian church to Roman Orthodoxy. 

Repopulation and Politics 

In the mid-1070s, Alfonso decided to expand into the Duero River Valley. He recognized the weakness of the new king of Toledo, Al Qadir, after the poisoning of his father Al-Mamun in Cordoba in 1075.25 Al-Qadir was a weaker presence than his father, and thus, had limited control over the city. In any case, Alfonso expanded slowly from Castile’s population centers to help him get closer to the Muslim taifa, for easier warfare and to protect his ally more effectively. In 1079, this repopulation proved fruitful, as Alfonso helped to reinstate Al-Qadir in Toledo, when the Toledan populace favored the more competent king of Badajoz as their ruler. 

The Entrance of the Cid and the Road to Conquering Toledo 

In 1080 and 1081, the Cid has his first major appearance in historical record. He was exiled by Alfonso around 1081, for attacking Toledan lands, when Alfonso was at peace with them. Ruy Diaz and his followers left the land, entering into the service of the ruler of Zaragoza in 1081–1082. El Cid won battles against an alliance of both Christians and Muslims, in the service of Zaragoza, eventually being invited back to León-Castile, when the Almoravids enter the Iberian peninsula in 1086. 

Moving forward to 1084, Alfonso decided that the city of Toledo could no longer be independent. In the past, the city had failed to pay tribute and Alfonso’s repeated intervention in the city to save his ally/tributary ruler, forced him to begin a siege in 1084. Alfonso knew the weaknesses of the city well, as he spent time there during his exile and discovered the weak points in the city. When calls went out to other Muslim rulers from Toledo for assistance, none manifested. The new dynastic alliance between the taifas of Valencia and Zaragoza did not bear fruit due to the quick passing of their former rulers in 1085, ending the alliance.

The actual cause for the Christian conquest was split in three equal parts, confronting the reality of repeated intervention in Toledo, a policy of expansion which was seen in the trans-Duero, and political opportunity. Although it is certainly true that religion did play a role in the capture of Toledo, due to the belief that Toledo would have an Archbishop, it was not the main force that drove this conquest. As was discussed above, Alfonso VI only decided to conquer the city, when he realized his ally was a drain on his country’s resources. 

The conquest of Toledo had an outside effect throughout the Iberian Peninsula, in both Christian and Muslim societies alike. Toledo was the symbolic center of Iberia, the old capital of the Visigothic rulers, before the Muslim conquest of 711 CE. This was important, as the Christian rulers of the peninsula saw themselves as descendants of the Visigoths. In term of its effect on Muslim Iberia, Toledo’s loss was mourned by the taifa kings, due to its wealth and importance to Muslim administration. It was considered the second most important city for many years, only being overshadowed by Cordoba, the capital of the Cordoban Caliphate (929–1031). The conquest increased the prestige of Alfonso VI and he consequently adopted new titles, specifically the title of Emperor. The conquest of Toledo also brought major change to the peninsula with the military conflict with the Almoravids. A background on the Almoravids is essential in understanding the fighting between the Murabit and Alfonso VI. 

The Murabit Threat 

To understand the intervention of the Almoravids in Iberia, a quick discussion of their history will explain their purpose, as well as their goals in attacking Alfonso VI. The Almoravids began in the region known as Mauretania, in modern day Morocco. They were originally Berber herders who consolidated various tribes in the mid-1000s CE. From the ninth century onward, the tribe, then known as the Lamtuna conducted Jihad against neighboring groups in the Upper Niger & Upper Senegal areas of Africa, trying to conquer them and “convert them to the one true faith”. Under Abdallah Yasin tutelage, the religion began to become more fundamentalist, banning drinking or womanizing, and creating a stricter commitment to the word of the Koran.

In some cases, the entire enemy population was slain as untrue believers, such as their rivals, the Zanata Berbers. In other cases, simple conversion was enough. In 1070, Yusuf Ibn Tashufin (r.1061–1106) was made the Almoravid’s leader, but only in 1086 would the Almoravids begin to send armies into the Iberian Peninsula. Reilly states that “the Murabit leader would prove, over the years, to be quite reluctant to become permanently involved in the Spain.” Nevertheless, only three years after the capture of Ceuta, a city near to the Straights of Gibraltar, we see the first intervention of Yusuf and the Almoravids in the peninsula. 

In 1086, the Murabit threat had finally arrived in Iberia to take Toledo from Alfonso VI. Despite the impending threat to the city, Alfonso demonstrated his resolve by pushing south. Al-Maqqari, a Muslim writer that Bernard Reilly used, stated the likely reasoning of Alfonso’s actions, putting these words in his mouth: 

 “If we wait and engage not only the enemy here… we lose not only the battle, but this land… but if we fight in his territory and lose, it may be that he will fear to press his advantage. He may fear to advance and leave the territories at his back. At the very least he will have to take time for fresh preparations. If we win, on the other hand, we can take advantage of our victory there.” 

 This quote summarizes how much of the fighting between the two realms would play out, at least until the passing of Alfonso VI in 1109. On a Murabit victory, there was hesitation in many cases or the capture of a single or a few fortresses, before leaving for the year due to the lateness in the campaign season. Until at least 1092, the Almoravids had to contend with fighting in a pseudo-friendly land, as the capital of the Almoravids, was located in Morocco and they could not count on their Iberian taifa allies to support them militarily or financially. On a rare victory in battle by Alfonso VI and the kingdom of León-Castile, a couple fortresses might be captured as well. 

Throughout the rest of the life of Yusuf and his successor Ali (r.1106–1143), the Leonese king preferred to attack the enemy, instead of waiting to be attacked. In 1086, Alfonso attacked the numerically superior Murabit force, because a loss within Alfonso’s territory would likely have encouraged Yusuf to pursue extended conquest. Despite Alfonso losing the battle of Zalaca in October of 1086, Yusuf decided to retire to the south of Iberia. The León-Castilian army was still intact, the campaigning season was closing, and Yusuf’s army was not unified. In this battle, the masculinity of Alfonso himself could be observed. At the age of forty-nine, it is known from the historical record that he led his armies from the front. He suffered a major wound on his tibia in 1086 in battle, which never fully healed.

Following the battle of Zalaca, changes began to occur which would help with the defense of new Christian holdings. The Cid was recalled from Zaragoza, pardoned, and sent to Valencia to help reinforce that flank for Alfonso. From here, we see the beginning of his autonomy, as he was able to utilize some of the tribute to support himself and his followers. Settlement of the Duero was also encouraged to help defend Toledo and increase the communication networks of the area as Alfonso feared future Almoravid offensives. Tribute was also re-imposed on the remaining taifas to increase the preparedness of Alfonso VI, by keeping his army well supplied. In the next few years, the policy of Alfonso would change, because he was no longer the only regional power in the area. He started more conciliatory negotiations towards requesting parias from the various taifa emirs, as he began limiting attacks on them. At the same time the annual cens to Cluny was eliminated, demonstrating a changing set of priorities. 

The political scene in the south of Iberia would also begin to change starting in 1090. Disillusioned with his Muslim allies Yusuf eliminated the emirs of the various taifas, a task which would take several years. Granada fell in 1090, followed by Córdoba and other emirates, leaving only Badajoz and Valencia free by 1092.This change enabled Yusuf to have more success in conducting campaigns, as he would no longer have to worry about the taifas betraying him. 

Changes in Succession 

Discouraging further involvement with the Almoravids was the continued importance of dynastic concerns in the realm. At the age of fifty, Alfonso VI still lacked an heir, only having one legitimate daughter Urraca, and two illegitimate ones. As such the need for an heir was still on his mind. Utilizing his contacts with Abbot Hugh of Cluny, he arranged the marriage of Urraca to a French aristocrat, Raymond of Burgundy. This essentially made Raymond his de facto heir, as Alfonso prayed for a male child. He also decided to grant land to Raymond and his brother Henry. Henry was then married to an illegitimate daughter, and a power balance was achieved.

The brothers’ rivalry helped prevent Galicia and Portugal from revolting away from León-Castile (at least for the foreseeable future). The power of Raymond was threatened in 1093, when Alfonso’s consort Zaida gave birth to a son Sancho Alfónsez, an illegitimate heir, but a male heir, nonetheless. Later on when Sancho was around thirteen or fourteen, Alfonso married Zaida of Seville, a Muslim princess after having his marriage with Elisabeth annulled, thus making Sancho legitimized. 

Interlude of El Cid 

In 1094, the political landscape of Iberia changed again. The Cid had conquered Valencia after a long siege. Although nominally a vassal of Alfonso VI, he led his own campaigns without direction or oversight from Alfonso. The fall of this great city to Christendom would propel the Almoravids into further invasion of Christian lands. They could now conduct campaigns securely from their lands in southern Iberia, including the newly conquered Badajoz, which fell in 1094. 

Despite the Cid and his family residing in Valencia, not all of his family remained in the area. Diego, the Cid’s only son was with Alfonso’s army, (meaning he was under constant threat of battle with the Almoravids). This threat would become a reality in 1097, with the resurgent Almoravid offensive. They planned an attack on Toledo and arrived catching Alfonso unprepared. His behavior was atypical, as he does not take the offensive as has been his custom in previous battles. Alfonso did have time though to send out messages calling on Aragon and the Cid to send aid to Toledo. Still, the battles at Consuerga were a loss for Alfonso. The king did successfully defend all his fortresses and he was able to keep his army mostly intact. The lateness of the campaign season also encouraged the retreat of Almoravid forces. However, the battle did see an unfortunate loss for the Cid, the death of his only son Diego.The loss of Diego changed the dynastic concerns of Rodrigo, as he had no other direct male heir. Thus, he had to look to the future of his daughters and his wife because he knew that his direct male line would end, as his wife was already well past fertility age. 

Towards the end of the Cid’s life, he married his daughter Christina to the father of the future king of Navarre, Garcia Ramirez (r. 1134–1150) and his other daughter Maria to Ramon Berenguer III, the independent Count of Barcelona (r.1086–1131). These marriages were hypogamic unions, meaning one partner was higher in status or wealth than the other. By arranging these unions for his daughters, El Cid displayed his masculinity, by providing for their future wellbeing through continued wealth. The Cid had experienced this as a younger man, when Alfonso VI granted him Dona Jimena to marry, who was the king’s niece. For Rodrigo, having his daughters marry true independent rulers was a great step for his family’s future. 

The Final Years 

Moving forward into the final years of Alfonso’s life, it is clear from his actions that despite his advancing age, his spirit and enthusiasm remained. The last eight years of his life would play out the same way the last fifteen had, battling Murabit armies. Alfonso VI faced many problems during this era in his life. Some of the hardest choices and events that affected him were the passing of his sister and last remaining sibling, Urraca, and his decision to assist with the evacuation of Valencia, due to the belief of its indefensibility. However, Alfonso also prepared for the future defense of his lands in case certain cities or fortresses were lost. 

According to records of 1101, Urraca, the last of Alfonso VI siblings, seemed to have passed in that year’s winter. For Alfonso, this would have been a difficult time. Urraca helped him regain the throne years earlier, from their brother Sancho II, as Alfonso was powerless in exile. It is well known through documents, the prominent place that Urraca had as an advisor to Castile-León’s king. She featured prominently in a great deal of court documents throughout the reign of Alfonso VI.

The evacuation of Valencia was another issue that likely distressed Alfonso. Since 1094, the Cid, through his personal battlefield acumen and skills, kept the city from the Almoravids. His death in 1099, created huge worry over the ability of the city to defend itself without its legendary leader. In 1101, the city was under renewed threat as the Murabit sensed a weakness in the city and had moved to take it. With great reluctance certainly, Alfonso VI decided the city was not possible to defend and had it burned and evacuated in early 1102. Almost immediately, the city would come under Almoravid control. 

However, we do see some “good news” for the king. Alfonso VI demanded that the cities of Avila, Segovia, and Salamanca be fortified just in case the city of Toledo did in fact fall. Something which he would have been glad to know never happened. However, these reinforcements were necessary as a safeguard and this action, as well as the abandonment of Valencia, I would argue was a reaction of political necessity. 

Changing Succession and Its Effects 

In 1107-08, the decision to who would be the heir to León-Castile was reexamined. In March of that year, Alfonso VI declared his only son Sancho Alfónsez as heir. At this time, he would have been around fourteen, old enough that Alfonso VI did not have to seriously worry about him dying from diseases which claimed many children during the time period. This change in heir choice did not go over well with many notables within the realm. Of particular importance in the mind of Alfonso VI were Raymond and Henry of Portugal. Naturally this would be the case as Raymond was married to the old heir apparent, Alfonso VI daughter, Urraca. Raymond understood that he and eventually his progeny would rule in León-Castile, but at least for the time being, this circumstance was not to be. Complicating this, was the support that we know Raymond had from the venerable Hugh of Cluny being related to him. 

In the last two years of his life, circumstances on the choice of heir would continue to change. Raymond died of a mortal illness leaving Urraca and their young son, the future Alfonso VII (r.1126–1157) in charge of Galicia. In 1108 though, disaster really would strike home for Alfonso VI. The Murabit advanced yet again, to try to take Toledo, as had been their goal many times over. Instead of the aging Alfonso VI, we see his son Sancho Alfónsez leading at least part of the battle. In the battle of Ucles, almost all the Christian cavalry was killed.

Although Sancho escaped the battle, he was killed by Muslims in a nearby town when he went to seek shelter after the battle. This would force Alfonso VI to go back to his original plan to make his daughter Urraca the heir. He would also arrange for her to marry Alfonso I of Aragon. The marriage would be dissolved by Pope Paschal II (p. 1099–1118) on the ground of incest, but it nevertheless presented León-Castile as a strong state with a ruler who had a clear history of military success.

On July 1, of 1109, the king of Castile-León passed away after forty-four years on the throne. He died as he spent most of his life, worrying about his own succession and fighting the Almoravids. His death would make his daughter Urraca, (r.1109–1126) the Queen of León-Castile, where she would be forced to deal with the threat of civil war with her sister Teresa and Count Henry of Portugal and intermittent war with Alfonso I of Aragon. 


Overall, the concept of masculinity was important to knights and leaders during the medieval era, despite it not being explicitly stated in sources of the era. Knights, kings, and any high-ranking male figure had certain expectations for how they would act and where their priorities would lie. This had been reflected in both the actions of the Cid and the actions of Alfonso VI of León-Castile. Connected to this was how the individual leaders pursued their conquest. After examination of the main reasons for conquest for these two men from the list below, a deliberate policy of expansion, acquiring wealth or a religious ideology, I have chosen a guiding principle(s) causing the conquest out of the preceding list. 

In my opinion the Cid was mostly driven to conquest by a desire to acquire wealth before the conquest of Valencia. However, this insatiable drive must be moderately tempered by the fact that he was trying to provide for his daughters/family and his supporters. Towards the end of his life one sees that he has succeeded in dramatically improving the fortunes of his daughters by marrying them to independent rulers, the king of Navarre and the count of Barcelona in hypogamic marriages, where one spouse has a higher status in society than the other.

However, after the conquest of Valencia, I believe that the reasoning for the Cid’s conquest shifted to a deliberate policy of expansion to consolidate his political position. He controlled an area which had trouble receiving support if his enemies attacked and was thus liable to easy conquest. A comparison to the situation surrounding the First Crusade is applicable after the capture of major cities, including Jerusalem and Antioch. The Cid certainly moves toward consolidation of his land through the capture of forts in the surrounding area such as Murviedro, (modern day Saguntum) which was used as a resupply area for Murabit raids. Additionally, he defeated multiple armies sent against him by the Almoravids, as he coalesced his realm together. 

In contrast, Alfonso VI apparently acquired wealth by collecting tributes from Muslim rulers. This can be seen during the first half of his reign, when he laid siege to Toledo, as he was frustrated with having to constantly intervene militarily in the city to keep its leader Al- Qadir in charge. Later, in his reign, he was forced to respond to the emergence of the Murabit, due to the threat they posed to his expanded kingdom. At times, a policy of expansion and luck did play a role, such as in the partition of Navarre with Aragon. However, the circumstances when this occurred are few and thus cannot account for the driving philosophy of Alfonso VI conquests. 

At the end of his reign, his goal was to try and transmit sovereignty successfully to his heir. He wants his heir to preserve his kingdoms independence, as opposed to the fractured realm and fighting he had to win to secure his own succession. This care for succession was not a problem that the Cid had to confront as he was a nominal vassal of Alfonso and not a sovereign king. 

Final Bibliography

Primary Sources

Harney, Michael. The Epic of the Cid: With Related Texts. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2011

Secondary Sources

Bennet, Matthew. “Military Masculinity in England and Northern France, c. 1050-1225,” in Masculinity in Medieval Europe. Harlow, Essex: Addison Wesley Longman, 1998 

Emmerson, Richard, K. Key Figures in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006 key

Fletcher, Richard. The Quest for El Cid. New York: Oxford University, 1989 

O’Callaghan, Joseph, F. Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, 2003 

Reilly, Bernard, F. The Kingdom of Leon Castilla Under King Alfonso VI: 1065-1109. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 1988 

Reilly, Bernard, F. The Contest of Christian and Muslim Spain: 1031-1157. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1992 

CarlosVdeHabsburgo, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Leave a Reply