Although he isn’t well known in the English-speaking world, King Alfonso X, of Castile and Leon, is widely admired in Europe and the Americas. He is known as ‘The Wise’ ( El Sabio ) and he appears as a character in ‘Reconquista‘.
So why is he called ‘The Wise’?
First, because he believed that a King should not just rule over his people, but also try to make their lives better. He wrote his ideas in the ‘Siete Partidos‘ or Seven Divisions of the Law, which set out how people should be governed, by a system of laws which applied to everyone, not just in favour of those who were stronger or more powerful. Very forward-looking for the time, these weren’t introduced during Alfonso’s lifetime – he constantly had problems with his Barons, who wanted more power for themselves. But it was eventually introduced in Spain and became part of the legal systems in the South American territories conquered by the Spanish conquistadors, including the lands, like California and Louisiana, which became part of the southern United States.
Also because he commissioned scientists, historians and other scholars to write works of science and literature. He was particularly interested in astronomy and astrology ( although the two were treated as part of the same discipline in Alfonso’s time ). The learning of the ancient world, of Greece and Rome, had been lost to western Europe with the fall of the Roman Empire. But their ideas and writings had been preserved in the East, translated into Arabic. Alfonso asked Moorish and Jewish scholars to draw this together and translate it into Latin and, where possible, into the language of the ordinary people.
So, much knowledge which had been lost became available again. One example was the work of a number of Islamic astronomers, based upon work of ancient Greek astronomers like Ptolemy. The King commissioned the Alfonsine Tables, tables of data which allowed astronomers to compute the relative positions of the Sun, Moon and planets. They were in general use for over three hundred years. The Tables, along with other works, were circulated widely in Europe.
Alfonso was also considered wise because he believed that culture – music, art, poetry and architecture – was important in life. He wrote poetry himself, as well as commissioning works from others and was particularly fond of poems set to music. The Cantigas de Santa Maria or Canticles of the Holy Mary are four hundred and twenty poems set to music, some of which are ascribed to the King himself. We know that he also enjoyed writing love poetry and he enjoyed satirical verses as well.
If you want to know more about King Alfonso’s life you can read more here. Or there are history books about him and his life.