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Alfonso II of Asturias

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Title: Alfonso II of Asturias  
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Subject: Asturian architecture, Sudarium of Oviedo, Nuño Rasura, Mauregatus of Asturias, Pelagius of Asturias
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Alfonso II of Asturias

Alfonso II in the twelfth-century Libro de los Testamentos.

Alfonso II (759 – 20 March 842), called the Chaste, was the king of Asturias from 791 to his death, the son of Fruela I and the Basque Munia.

Early life

He was born in Oviedo in 759 or 760. He was put under the guardianship of his aunt Adosinda after his father's death, but one tradition relates his being put in the monastery of Samos. He was the governor of the palace during the reign of Adosinda's husband Silo. On Silo's death, he was elected king by Adosinda's allies, but the magnates raised his uncle Mauregatus to the throne instead. Alfonso fled to Álava where he found shelter with his maternal relatives. Mauregatus was succeeded by Bermudo, Alfonso's cousin, who abdicated after his defeat at the Battle of the Burbia River.

Alfonso proclaimed king

Alfonso was subsequently elected king on September 14, 791. The events of his reign are in reality almost unknown. Poets of a later generation invented the story of the secret marriage of his sister Ximena to Sancho, count of Saldana, and the feats of their son Bernardo del Carpio. Bernardo is the hero of a cantar de gesta (chanson de geste) written to please the anarchical spirit of the nobles.

Andalusian raids into Asturias

On accession to the throne, son of Abd ar-Rahman I Hisham I commenced a string of military campaigns to the eastern Pyrenees and to the north-west. In 794 a raid spearheaded by Abd al-Karim dealt a major military blow to Alfonso II on the eastern fringes of the Kingdom of Asturias (Cantabria and Castile). The Asturian king asked then for the assistance of the Basque Frankish vassal Belasco, master of Álava and bordering regions at the time. Abd al-Karim campaigned deeper west into Asturias, and pillaged the region, while his brother Abd al-Malik ventured into the western Asturian lands.

Relations with Charlemagne and the Papacy

Confronted with heavy fire, Alfonso II reached out to Charlemagne's Franks. He sent delegations to Toulouse and Aix-la-Chapelle in 796, 797, and 798. These diplomacy efforts may have aimed to strengthen his legitimacy and the government structures of Asturias against ongoing internal unrest——troubles in Galicia——and external attacks of the Ibn Mugait brothers, i.e. generals Abd al-Karim and Abd al-Malik.

Alfonso was acknowledged as a king by Charlemagne and the Pope, and Asturias as a kingdom for the first time. The king showed an interest in the Frankish cult of Saint Martin of Tours, and most notably he encouraged Carolingian Church influence into Asturias. Not surprisingly, during Alfonso's reign the alleged resting-place of St. James was revealed. Alfonso's envoys to Charlemagne's courts may have also dealt with the adoptionist controversy, which had brought Bermudo's kingdom into Charlemagne's view. It seems that Carolingian support did much to spur his military raid into Andalusian territory up to Lisbon. The Andalusian city in turn was captured and sacked by his troops in 798.

Later events

In 825 he defeated Cordovan forces at Narón and Anceo (825) and, thanks to these victories, the "repopulation" of parts of Galicia, León, and Castile was started—charter granting that confirmed the possession of the territories.

Alfonso also moved the capital from Pravia, where Silo had located it, to Oviedo, the city of his father's founding and his birth. There he constructed churches and a palace. He built San Tirso, where he is buried, and Santullano, on the outskirts. The Crónica Sebastianense records his death in 842, saying:

tras haber llevado por 52 años casta, sobria, inmaculada, piadosa y gloriosamente el gobierno del reino
[after having held for 52 years chastely, soberly, immaculately, piously, and gloriously the government of the realm]

Tradition relates that in 814, the body of Saint James the Greater was discovered in Compostela and that Alfonso was the first pilgrim to that famous medieval (and modern) shrine.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain
Preceded by
Bermudo I
King of Asturias
Succeeded by
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