The history of Portugal, in most of the 12th and 13th centuries, is chiefly that of its origin as a separate state, in the process of the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula.
Towards the close of the 11th century crusading knights came from every part of Europe to aid the kings of León, Castile and Aragon in combatting the Moors. Among these adventurers was Henry of Burgundy, who, in 1095, married Theresa of León, natural daughter of Alfonso VI of León. The County of Portugal was included in Theresa's dowry. Count Henry ruled as a vassal of Alfonso VI, whose Galician marches were thus secured against any sudden Moorish raid. But in 1109 Alfonso VI died, bequeathing all his territories to his legitimate daughter, Urraca of Castile, and Count Henry at once invaded León, hoping to add to his own dominions at the expense of his suzerain.
After three years of war against Urraca and other rival claimants to the throne of León, Count Henry himself died in 1112, leaving his widow Theresa to govern Portugal north of the Mondego during the minority of her infant son Afonso: south of the Mondego the Moors were still supreme.
Theresa renewed the struggle against her half-sister and suzerain Urraca in 1116-1117, and again in 1120; in 1121 she was besieged in Lanhoso and captured. But a peace was negotiated by the archbishops Diogo Gelmires of Santiago de Compostela and Burdino of Braga, rival churchmen whose wealth and military resources enabled them to dictate terms. Bitter jealousy existed between the two prelates, each claiming to be primate "of all Hispania", and their antagonism had some historical importance insofar as it fostered the growth of separatist tendencies among the Portuguese. But the quarrel was temporarily suspended because both Gelmires and Burdino, virtually princes within their territories, had reason to dread the extension of Urraca's authority. It was arranged that Theresa should be liberated and should continue to hold the county of Portugal as a fief of León.
During the next five years she lavished wealth and titles upon her lover Fernando Peres, count of Trava, thus estranging her son, the archbishop of Braga and the nobles, most of whom were foreign knight adventurers. In 1128, after her power had been crushed in another unsuccessful conflict with León, she was deposed by her own rebellious subjects and exiled in company with Peres. She died in 1130.
Meanwhile, her son Afonso Henriques (meaning "Afonso son of Henry") thrived. The boy, probably born around 1109, followed his father as Count of Portugal in 1112, under the tutelage of his mother. The relations between Teresa and her son Afonso proved difficult. Only eleven years old, Afonso already had his own political ideas, greatly different from his mother's. In 1120, the young prince took the side of the archbishop of Braga, a political foe of Teresa, and both were exiled by her orders. Afonso spent the next years away from his own county, under the watch of the bishop. In 1122 Afonso became fourteen, the adult age in the 12th century. He made himself a knight on his own account in the Cathedral of Zamora, raised an army, and proceeded to take control of his lands. Near Guimarães, at the Battle of São Mamede (1128) he overcame the troops under his mother's lover and ally Count Fernando Peres de Trava of Galicia, making her his prisoner and exiling her forever to a monastery in León. Thus the possibility of incorporating Portugal into a Kingdom of Galicia was eliminated and Afonso become sole ruler (Duke of Portugal) after demands for independence from the county's people, church and nobles. He also vanquished Alfonso VII of León and Castile, another of his mother's allies, and thus freed the county from political dependence on the crown of León. On April 6, 1129, Afonso Henriques dictated the writ in which he proclaimed himself Prince of Portugal.
Full article ▸