Afonso Henriques King of Portugal | Portugal Visitor

Afonso Henriques King of Portugal | Portugal Visitor


Afonso Henriques – First King of Portugal

Statue of Afonso Henriques, Guimarães Castle

Afonso Henriques – O Fundador

Afonso Henriques (1106?-1185) was the first king of Portugal and one of the country’s greatest monarchs.

He ruled the new kingdom from 1139 to 1185, also one of the longest reigns in Portuguese history, tied at 46 years with King Dinis (1261-1325), the sixth king.

Afonso Henriques created the kingdom of Portugal from the condado Portucalense (County of Portugal), a Medieval earldom in the north. The area included the towns of Porto, Coimbra, Viseu, Guimarães and Braga. It was here that Portugal’s national identity was forged.

Afonso I established Portuguese independence from neighboring Galicia and Leon in Spain and extended his territory south to include Lisbon after conflict with the Moors. For this he is known to the Portuguese as The Conqueror (O Conquistador), The Great (O Grande) or The Founder (O Fundador).

The country where every man worships his mother, was founded by a son fighting with his own. The mother, Teresa of León, wanted to remain Leónese, Afonso knew he could enter history by creating his own kingdom.

Afonso Henriques statue, Santarém.
Statue of Afonso Henriques, Santarém
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Goods From Japan delivered to your home or business
Lisbon Castle, Alfama, Portugal.
Afonso Henriques statue, Castelo de Sao Jorge (Lisbon Castle)

Early Life

When and where Afonso was born is not entirely certain. It was in 1106, 1109 or 1111. His place of birth is also not confirmed by historians. Guimarães was once considered the most likely but Coimbra, Viseu or even Tierra de Campos and Sahagún in present-day Spain are possible.

Portugal’s first king was the son of Henri of Burgundy, a French knight who had come to Iberia to fight against the Moors and Teresa of León, an illegitimate daughter of King Alfonso VI of León.

Afonso was brought up largely by the Mendes family, the lords of Riba de Ave. It is thought at age 13, he was taken to the cathedral in Zamora, by the Archbishop of Braga, Dom Paio Mendes, to be initiated as a knight.

Thus due to his upbringing with a Portuguese family, Afonso’s sympathies lay with the local Portuguese nobility, the infanções, rather than with the nobles of Galicia or León.

Henri, Afonso’s father, died in 1112, and his mother came under pressure from both the Portuguese infanções and the nobles of Galicia and León to remarry. The prize was the condado Portucalense (the County or Earldom of Portugal).

Teresa at first resisted either proposal but then began a relationship with, and may even have secretly married, Fernando Peres de Trava, a Galician. In response the Portuguese noble families withdrew from Teresa’s court and rallied around the young Afonso, now in his late teens.

A decisive battle between mother and son took place at São Mamede outside Guimarães in 1128. Afonso won and his mother withdrew to Galicia where she was shortly to die in 1130.

This was not a battle to establish a nation but a conflict to secure the self-interests of the Portuguese noble families. Afonso did not proclaim himself rex or king after the battle, either, but as infante or principe.

Later, he moved his court from Guimarães to Coimbra to be nearer the frontier with the Almoravids in the south.

It was another decisive battle, this time at Ourique against the Moors, commanded by the governor of Córdoba, that was the catalyst for Afonso to proclaim himself king of Portugal.

He was not crowned but raised on his shield by his men, like a German warrior chief. The battle itself is shrouded in mystery as historians are not sure where it took place.

Next Afonso needed to persuade both the King of León, Afonso VII and the Pope in Rome to recognize him as a sovereign.

Afonso Henriques.
Afonso Henriques as king


A deal was struck with his cousin Afonso VII in 1143. Though no details of the Treaty of Zamora have survived, it seems Afonso Henriques was recognized as a king (rex) and in return agreed not to encroach on the territories of Afonso VII to the east but rather concentrate on the Reconquista in the south.

After Afonso VII’s death one of his sons, Fernando, tried to reclaim suzerainty over Portugal. He was defeated and agreed to marry a daughter of Afonso Henriques. This guaranteed the viability of the new kingdom.

In 1179 the papal bull Manifestis Probatum, recognized Afonso as a vassal to the pope and a king.

The siege of Lisbon.
Tile panel depicting the Siege of Lisbon

Southern Expansion

Afonso now needed to expand his territory between the Minho and Mondego rivers to make his little kingdom more viable.

Aided by two capable generals in Geraldo the Fearless (Geraldo Sem Pavor) and the Templar and Crusader Gualdim Pais, Afonso moved south against the Moors.

As he advanced castles were constructed often over existing Moorish fortresses. Santarém fell in 1147, Lisbon, too, in the same year, with the help of English and German crusaders on their way to the Second Crusade.

The construction of castles helped consolidate Afonso’s control of his growing kingdom. The Convento de Cristo, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tomar was founded in 1160. The Castelo de Pombal was built in Pombal, along with Almourol Castle, Idanha Castle, Ceres Castle, and the now ruined Monsanto Castle in Monsanto.

In 1158 Alcácer do Sal, further south, fell to Afonso followed by Beja, Evora, Cáceres, Monsaraz, Moura, Serpa, and Juromenha.

A setback occurred outside the walls of Badajoz, however, when Afonso, now an old man, fell from his horse and severely injured his leg. Fernando II of León had come to the rescue of the defending Moors as he could not allow the strategic town to fall into the hands of Afonso. Afonso was taken prisoner for a while and had to be ransomed. From now until his death Afonso began to delegate more and more to his son Sancho.

Interestingly, in 1169 when Afonso was besieged in Santarém by the Muslims, Fernando, his son-in-law, this time came to his aid.

Afonso Henriques.
Statue of Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal
Martim Moniz art work.
Art work of the hero of the Siege of Lisbon, Martim Moniz

Death & Legacy

Afonso died in 1185 and is buried in the Santa Cruz Monastery in Coimbra.

He had married Mafalda, daughter of the Count of Savoy in 1146. Together they had 7 children, 4 of whom survived infancy including his warrior son Sancho I.

Like most medieval nobles of the time, Afonso also fathered a number of children out of wedlock.

Afonso’s legacy is enormous. Even though it would not be until the time of his great grandson Afonso III that the whole of the Algarve would become part of the kingdom of Portugal, Afonso truly deserves the title of O Grande. The man had character. He defied Castile, the Moors and the Pope almost simultaneously. And we can say he beat them all.

The tomb of Afonso Henriques in the Mosteiro de Santa Cruz.
The tomb of Afonso Henriques in the Mosteiro de Santa Cruz
Statue of Afonso Henriques in Lisbon.
Statue of Afonso Henriques in Lisbon


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