Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Queen Urraca
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    Queen Urraca reigned for seventeen years and fought to maintain her royal position as she faced many challenges. Among her opponents were her first, estranged husband and those who advocated for her young son to become ruler. Despite these objections Urraca became the Empress of Spain and the Queen of Castille, Leon, and Galicia after her father’s death in 1109. Her father was Alfonso VI, King of Castille, and her mother was Constanza of Burgundy.

    King Alfonso VI, King of Castille, left no male heir despite having had six wives and a formal concubine. Six of his children survived infancy, but the only male, an illegitimate son, was killed during battle at the age of 15. When Urraca was 9 she married Count Raimundo of Burgundy and they ruled Galicia together until she, as the eldest daughter, ascended to the throne.

    Her position, not as wife of a king, but as the daughter of a king allowed her more agency than queen consorts had, including control of the military. Even so, Urraca struggled to prove her legitimacy, emphasizing her royal descent, as does the representation above.

    This image is from Tumbo A, a cartulary documenting donations to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela between 1129 and 1134. The image invokes Urraca’s father’s name as a political tool to gain support. Written on the scroll is “URAKA REGINA ADEFONSI FILIA CONFIRMAT” [Queen Urraca, daughter of Alfonso, confirmed.] Diego Gelmirez, archbishop of Santiago, commissioned the cartulary. Because the King had been well respected, his name was associated with that of Urraca to make the Queen and her donation to the church more legitimate. There are twenty four donors represented in Tumbo A. Fifteen of these figures, including Urraca, are depicted as monarchs, crowned and enthroned, holding scepters. The portrait of Alfonso VI stands out through an inscription, “ADEFONS REX PATER PATRIE” [King Alfonso, father of the country].

    In an article titled “The Art of a Reigning Queen as Dynastic Propaganda in Twelfth-Century Spain” (and a subsequent book), Therese Martin argues that Queen Urraca established herself politically through architectural patronage. Most notably, the article asserts that Queen Urraca’s patronage is responsible for the construction of the royal monastic church San Isidoro of Leon dated 1095-1124. Previous scholars did not believe it was Queen Urraca who funded the construction of the church because they judged her rule to be too tumultuous.

    Recent research is uncovering evidence of the queen’s activities and strategies for wielding power. She was the first queen to coin money in her name. No other queens would do so for a century and a half. Scholarly work is also taking into account the negative reputation Queen Urraca acquired in the century following her death. She went to war against her estranged second husband, Alfonso el Batallador, and had a lover. With this lover, she had two children and died during childbirth in 1126 when she was 45. Subsequent generations preferred to remember her only as a scandalous woman with illegitimate children.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Patronage, Artistic Politics Portraits Power Queens Rulers
  • Geographic Area: Iberia
  • Century: 12
  • Date: 1129-1134
  • Related Work: Portrait of Alfonso VI from Tumbo A: http://www.turismo-prerromanico.com/modules/es/manuscritos/image.php?file=/files/content/LTUMASAN/LTUMASANG1.jpg;
    Portrait of Infanta Urraca, sister of Alfonso VI from Tumbo A: http://photos.geni.com/p13/4b/47/59/79/53444838c26fb7dd/urraca_zamora_large.jpg;
    Selection of portraits from Tumbo A: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Tumbo_A
  • Current Location: Archivo de la Catedral of Santiago de Compostela, Tumbo A, f. 48
  • Original Location: Santiago de Compostela, Cathedral
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint;
  • Donor: Male religious; Diego Gelmirez, archbishop of Santiago
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 47.5/33.5 (full page)/
  • Inscription: “URAKA REGINA ADEFONSI FILIA CONFIRMAT” [Queen Urraca, daughter of Alfonso, confirmed.]
  • Related Resources: Castiñeiras González, Manuel Antonio. “Poder, memoria y olvido: la galería de retratos regios en el Tumbo A de la catedral de Santiago (1129-1134).” Quintana: revista de estudios do Departamento de Historia da Arte 1 (2002) 187-196;
    Martin, Therese. “The Art of a Reigning Queen as Dynastic Propaganda in Twelfth-Century Spain.” Speculum 80, 4 (2005): 1134-1171;
    Martin, Therese. Queen as King: Politics and Architectural Propaganda in Twelfth-Century Spain. Brill, 2006. Pages 1-30, 95-135, 146-153, 177-200;
    Pascua Echegaray, Esther. “Urraca imaginada: Representaciones de una Reina Medieval.” Arenal: Revista de historia de mujeres 21, 1 (2014): 121-152;
    Reilly, Bernard F. The Kingdom of León-Castilla under Queen Urraca, 1109-1126. Princeton University Press, 1982.