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Queen Urraca: Medieval Spain’s Trailblazer

Generally, queens in medieval Spain earned their title in one of two ways: by marrying into the royal family or by being the mother of a widowed king. Unlike their male counterparts, female monarchs rarely inherited their kingdoms from their predecessors. One example of such a regnant queen, whose rank equaled that of a king, is Urraca of León-Castile, who reigned for seventeen years from 1109 to 1126 CE. Her father lacked legitimate sons and thus named his daughter as his successor. Although Urraca’s reign began with this stroke of good fortune, the rest of her career was defined by her own actions and decisions.

Many researchers characterize Urraca’s reign as being underwhelming and one of turbulence and trouble. They blame the failures of her reign on her poor leadership and attribute her successes to her father. In some scholarly analyses of Spanish medieval royalty, her reign is skipped over altogether. However, a closer look at her life reveals that despite the opposition that she faced from her subjects and neighboring rulers, she made significant contributions to the state and effectively cemented her legacy in medieval history. This was possible because of the agency that Urraca of León-Castile possessed as queen. But history has rarely looked upon powerful women with kind eyes.

Leading the Armed Forces

During the Middle Ages, it was not customary for women, much less female rulers, to take on military leadership. Urraca, however, was an exception, as she played an active role in the military. In 1109, Urraca married King Alfonso I of Aragon, with whom she had a rocky relationship. Their issues soon became political as they were unable to conceive an heir to take the throne, and romance quickly turned into rivalry. A war broke out between Leon-Castile and Aragon, with the armies of their kingdoms fighting constantly. After about four years, Urraca and her men defeated Alfonso’s forces, causin