Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Pellote of Leonor, Queen of Castile
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This pellote or surcoat was found in Leonor of Castile’s tomb in the Monasterio de las Huelgas. Beneath the pellote she wore a saya encordada, a tunic laced with many strings on the upper left side and an adjustable stretched waist which fitted to the contours of her body. The garment is typical of the period. In fact, Alfonso X in a cantiga complains that the saya encordada was intended to show off a woman’s abdomen, De grado queríe ora saber destes que traien sayas encordadas en que se apertan muy pontas vegadas se o facen por los ventres mostrar. (Menéndez Pidal, p. 77)

    Leonor’s outfit is similar to men’s dress at the time, but the saya’s hemline is longer for women. There was less variety in women’s clothing than in men’s during the 13th century. Its length suggests the saya trailed behind her or would have to be picked up as she walked. This is a feature only of the upper classes as is the expensive textile in this case. A saya made with gold was called a brial to distinguish its remarkable fabric. The pellote is also made with decorative fabric and the outfit does not have sleeves, leaving the shoulders and chest uncovered. This open style allowed women to display their fine undershirts beneath the saya’s lacings. Leonor’s undershirt had a double hem and a round neck.

    The silk fabric of the pellote is colored with vegetable dyes and patterned with geometric, diamond, and floral shaped decorations in green, cream, white and gold. These designs were inspired by Arabic styles influenced by Andalusian work that can be traced to Granada. The clothing’s silhouette is reflective of the first period of Gothic art which is defined by elegance and a respect for the body’s form. There are inscriptions on the lower portion of the pellote that say Bendición or “Blessing.” Feliciano argues that Christian consumers of Andalusi fabrics saw them as signifiers of luxury and did not focus on their constituent parts.

    Leonor of Castile (died 1244) became Queen of Aragon by her marriage to Jaume I. He obtained a divorce after eight years of marriage on the grounds of consanguinity. Leonor and her son returned to Castile. She was the daughter of the founders of the Monasterio de las Huelgas, Alfonso VIII de las Navas and Leonor de Plantagenet, who were King and Queen of Castile. Alfonso VIII (1155-1214) fought against Muslim forces throughout his reign. He was defeated at the battle of Alarcos in 1195 but was victorious in 1212 at the famous battle of Las Navas de Tolosa while leading the Christian army. Alfonso VIII married Eleanor Plantagenet, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, in 1170 and they built the Cathedral of Cuenca, the King’s Hospital in Burgos, and Santa Maria la Real de Las Huelgas Abbey during their reign.

    El Monasterio de Las Huelgas was constructed in 1187. One of the intentions Alfonso VIII and his wife Leonor had in building the monastery was to create a memorial space for their family members. The king and queen both died in 1214 and were buried at las Huelgas. During the 13th and 14th century many descendants were buried there, including their daughter Leonor. The tombs are located in three of the aisles in the church. The right aisle of St. John contains the remains of some of the abbesses of Las Huelgas from the royal family. In the left aisle of St. Catherine can be found the tombs of kings and queens including Leonor of Castile, some of Leonor’s siblings who died in childhood, Fernando de la Cerda, the heir to Alfonso X, and Enrique I (d. 1217). Fernando de la Cerda’s tomb was the only one that remained undisturbed until the twentieth century. In the central nave are the tombs of Queen Berenguela (d. 1246), Berenguela, daughter of Ferdinand III (d. 1279), and Blanca of Portugal, daughter of Alfonso III (d. 1321). The founding couple, Leonor’s parents, are entombed in the center of the main aisle before the altar.

    Most of the tombs had been raided over the years, making Leonor’s clothing an especially intriguing find. In the initial report of the gravesite in 1947 by Manuel Gómez Moreno, he described the royal corpses as appearing mummified. Recent scholars believe the bodies were washed, disemboweled and embalmed. When the tomb was opened in the 16th century, witnesses described the bodies as having a sweet smell and that King Alfonso VIII appeared to merely be asleep; these accounts were used as evidence in the 17th century when an attempt was made to canonize him. Leonor had a Romanesque style coffin, made of pine. The bodies were positioned with their arms crossed, sometimes laying on a bed of hay, and were wrapped in rich cloths with decorative pillows beneath their heads and feet. The founder’s cloths were made of precious blue and green fabrics. They were all buried in their own clothing which was reserved for the wealthy. Alfonso X wrote in the Siete Partidas, his book of law, “neither rich clothes nor valuable ornaments such as gold or silver, could be put aside for the dead, except for a very few people like the King or the Queen or their children.” This royal family met Alfonso X’s later expectations.

    The tombs were opened for scientific purposes between 1943 and 1944 when Gómez Moreno began his work. Part of the collection was displayed in the Museo de Ricas Telas located in the Monastery of Las Huelgas in 1949. The museum underwent renovations in 1987 and 2008. The museum, independent of las Huelgas, is a protected Cultural Heritage site since 1962. The collection was computer-inventoried in GOYA, the Patrimonio Nacional database which manages the cultural heritage of the Spanish crown. There has been some confusion in identifying the ownership and purpose of the grave goods. The Patrimonio Nacional is undertaking a research project to remedy misclassified grave objects through technical analysis and interpretation with more attention to the cultural context.

  • Source: Patrimonio Nacional, Dirección de las Colecciones Reales.
  • Rights: Reproduced here with the permission of the Patrimonio Nacional, Dirección de las Colecciones Reales. COPYRIGHT @ PATRIMONIO NACIONAL
  • Subject (See Also): Burials Clothing Cross Cultural Approach Queens Textiles
  • Geographic Area: Iberia
  • Century: 13
  • Date: Circa 1244
  • Related Work: Leonor of Castile’s saya encordada.
    Close up of the lacing on Leonor of Castile's saya encordada.
    Manuscript illumination of a woman wearing a laced saya with a pellote. Source: Libro de los juegos de Alfonso X (1283).
  • Current Location: Burgos, Spain, Museo de Telas Medievales de Burgos in the Monastery of Las Huelgas, 00650514
  • Original Location: Burgos, Spain, Monastery of Santa María la Real de las Huelgas, Tomb of Leonor of Castile
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Textiles
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Silk; Woven fabric; Gold threads; Siver threads; Clothing
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 167/86/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Barrigón, María. “An Exceptional Outfit for an Exceptional King: The Blue Funerary Garments of Alfonso VIII of Castile at Las Huelgas.” Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies 46, 3 (2015): 157-172;
    Descalzo Lorenzo, Amalia. “Les vêtements royaux du monastère Santa Maria la Real de Huelgas.” Fashion and Clothing in Late Medieval Europe. Schwabe Verlag, 2010. Pages 97-106;
    Gómez Moreno, Manuel. “Historia y arte en el panteón de las Huelgas de Burgos.” Arbor 7, 21 (1947): 397-434;
    Monasterio de Las Huelgas de Burgos. Vestiduras ricas: el monasterio de las huelgas y su época 1170-1340. Patrimonio Nacional, 2005;
    “Traje de Leonor de Castilla.” Patrimonio Nacional. Webpage: