Beatriz of Swabia, a quick look at Alfonso’s mother, for Mother’s Day

It’s Mother’s Day here in the UK on Sunday, so I thought I’d have a little look at Queen Beatriz of Swabia, mother to everybody’s favourite mummy’s boy, Alfonso X.

The fourth daughter of King Philip of Swabia and Queen Irene Angelina, Beatriz (or Elizabeth) was born in 1205 and was baptised Isabel. She was just three when both of her parents died within a short period of time (her father by assassination and her mother following the birth of Beatriz’s younger sister), so she and her sisters grew up in the guardianship of her cousin Frederick, King of Sicily (who would later become the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, a status that, despite his best efforts, Alfonso never managed). Beatriz’s royal heritage was rich: her father was the King of Germany and was the son of Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I, and through her mother she was descended from the Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos. Alfonso X would later use these royal connections in his unsuccessful attempt to become Holy Roman Emperor.

Beatriz was married young to Alfonso’s father Fernando III in 1219, with Fernando’s mother Berenguela having been a strong influence in choosing Beatriz as his wife. At a time when lineage was extremely important in royal marriages, Beatriz’s would have been a major draw. Rodrigo Jimenez de Rada, the bishop and historian, described Beatriz as being beautiful and blonde, small, refined and well brought-up. When her body was exhumed and examined in 1948 scholars were able to see that she was around 1.54m tall and that her fingernails were neatly trimmed. The couple’s first child, Alfonso, was born in 1221, and she went on to give birth a further nine times before she died in 1235.

Like her son Alfonso, Beatriz has been described as tenacious (or, as H. Salvador Martínez points out, one might also say stubborn), intellectually curious and passionate about music and the arts. It is certainly some of these qualities that shaped Alfonso’s rule – his long bid to become Emperor, his many works of music, history, science, and games, his re-writing of the laws and his relationships with the nobility.

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