Sancho I of Portugal: Moors, Money and Problems with the Pope

Sancho I had big shoes to fill. He also liked to, um, fill holes, perhaps giving him the nickname “the Populator”?

Coins with effigy of Sancho I
As was seen in Part II, Afonso quickly consolidated his rule and the independence of the Kingdom of Portugal. In 1139, he and his forces were victorious at the game-changing battle of Ourique. This was arguably one of the turning points in Portugal’s war against the Moors. By 1147, Afonso’s forces had taken the strategic city of Santarém and the city which would eventually serve as Portugal’s capital up to this day, Lisbon.
Battle of Ourique
Afonso’s relative and arch rival, Alfonso VII of León, reluctantly recognized his kingship and Portugal’s independence in the 1143 Treaty of Zamora. With this treaty and Papal recognition, the Kingdom of Portugal and the ruling House of Burgundy gained official recognition within Christendom. All that was left was for Afonso to push the borders of his kingdom deeper south into the Moorish enclaves of the Alentejo and the Algarve.
Battle of Ourique azulejo

After Afonso

The Burgundy Dynasty that Afonso I established ruled for 244 years. While Afonso was a strong and highly capable leader, many of his descendants seem to have lacked his charisma and popularity, both with the papacy and the people. Each Burgundian king ruled with their own personalities and had their own peculiarities.

The Kings of the Royal House of Burgundy

Sancho I (1185-1211)

From the Compendio de crónicas de reyes del Antiguo Testamento, gentiles, cónsules y emperadores romanos, reyes godos y de los reinos de Castilla, Aragón, Navarra y Portugal (c. 1312-1325)
At age 31, Sancho I became King of Portugal at an interesting time for the new country. His father, Afonso I, was to the Portuguese a figure larger than life. To his people, he was like Cyrus the Great, Alexander of Macedonia, George Washington, Saladin or any noble ruler whose conquests bestowed honor and glory onto his people. You see, Afonso I was not only an esteemed warrior known for his valor, but also the founder of the Portuguese state. Though groomed for the throne by his father, Sancho had enormously big shoes to fill. It also didn’t help that the Moors under the Almohad Dynasty were regrouping and mounting successful counterattacks against the new Portuguese kingdom.

Sancho’s Wars

Sancho and his army were definitely busy on the battlefield. Unfortunately in this arena, he didn’t seem to have the same amount of success as his father.

Wars with the Moors

In 1189, Sancho with an army aided by Crusaders managed to penetrate deep into Almohad territory and capture the extremely important city of Silves. Due to what he considered a great victory, he named himself “King of Silves.” Unfortunately for Sancho, this last for about all of two years. The Almohad leader, Abu Yusuf Ya‘qub al-Mansur, retaliated the following year. He not only surrounded Silves, but overran Torres Novas, Évora and besieged the fortress of the Knights Templar in the city of Tomar. The following year in 1191, Yusuf captured Silves, Alcácer do Sal, Palmela, Sesimbra, Almada and more areas around Lisbon. Knowing that he couldn’t recapture or hold out for long, Sancho signed a five-year truce with Yusuf.

Wars with Neighboring Christian States

Wars with the Moors were not the only conflicts that Sancho I was embroiled in. He also had to defend his borders against incursions from (literally) his Christian cousins to the North and the East. From 1185 to 1189, Sancho was at odds with Ferdinand II of León, a monarch who was also his brother-in-law. It’s strange though how flippant these alliances and hostilities can be. In the 1190s, Sancho had actually allied with Ferdinand and the Kingdom of Aragon against Castile. Then yet again from 1196 and 1199, Sancho found himself again at odds with León, this time with King Alfonso IX. A final peace was made with Papal intervention in 1200.

Problems with the Pope

A great problem that Sancho had during his reign was with the Catholic Church. It in effect started with Sancho not honoring his father’s annual tribute of a certain sum in gold to the Papacy. Apparently, Afonso I had promised the Pope that his descendants would continue this practice even after his death. Sancho though needed the money to defend the ever-changing borders of Christendom from the Moors to his south. Pope Innocent III however wasn’t buying it and sent one of his legates to Portugal to sort out the matter. After much debate and conflict, Sancho probably decided that it was not in his best interest to antagonize God’s representative on Earth. He finally agreed to pay 20 years of back-payments to the Church.

Money though wasn’t the only bone of contention between Portugal and the Papacy. Other conflicts involved those with the bishops of Coimbra and Porto. The issue boiled down to how much immunity the Church could expect to receive. Again, Pope Innocent III wasn’t willing yield his position on the matter and when Sancho refused to comply, his holiness had him excommunicated. Sancho was only absolved for his offenses just before his death after submitting a formal request to Rome. I guess it was a good idea. After all, why risk eternal damnation over such a thing?

Despite his wars and turbulent relationship with the clergy, Sancho I was generally liked by his countrymen and known as good ruler. He was known for policies that promoted settlement of the newly conquered areas of his kingdom, giving him the nickname “the Populator.” With no less than 50 charters, Sancho awarded these settlers with special privileges such as not having to pay taxes and additional military protection via the Portuguese Crown. He was also known for his curiosity and love of literature and actually wrote several books of poems, He even used state funds to send Portuguese students on scholarships to study at the great European universities of that time.

Tomb of Sancho I at the Monastery of Santa Cruz

Sancho’s Marriage, Mistresses named Maria and their Children

Sancho had a few mistresses who all happened to be named Maria. Before his marriage, he was involved with a certain Maria Aires de Fornelos. They had two children.

Of course when it became time to officially marry, Sanch was expected to marry a woman of noble birth. This honor went to Ms. Dulce of Aragon, the daughter of Count Raymond Berenguer IV of Barcelona and Petronilla, the Queen of Aragon. They had eleven kids, nine of whom survived into adulthood.

After Dulce’s death, Sancho became involved with María Pais de Ribeira. They are reported to have had six children. Finally, there was another mistress that we know of, Ms. Maria Moniz de Ribeira. They had a son named Pedro.

Sancho Passes on

Sancho died of natural causes at the age of 56 in his capital city of Coimbra. This made way for his the next Portuguese king from the House of Burgundy who like his predecessor, was also not without controversy.

Next up, Afonso II!

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