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Ancient Leon

1st Union



Castile & Leon

Back to España



After the collapse of the Visigoth empire León was captured by the muslim forces. Some rulers in the northern part of the peninsula, beyond the mountain ridges of Cantabria and in the Pyrenees succeeded in maintaining their independence from the muslim invaders. The main nucleus of these independent rulers were the kings of Asturias (with the capital Oviedo) of which the first, Pelayo, was the leader of a revolt against the muslims and was elected king in 718. His successors slowly reconquered adjacent parts of the kingdom in the south and by 910 the kingdom of León could be established (with its capital Leon).  

In 1072 León was united with even a larger part of Spain, the kingdom of Castile. This union lasted for about a hundred years but was split up into the Kingdoms of Castile and Leon in 1158. In 1230 both kingdoms were united again to remain so for the next centuries. In 1715 the kingdom ceased to exist as a political unit.




In the kingdoms which sprang up after the muslim conquest of the Iberian peninsula the christian symbols of state, as earlier adopted by the Visigotic Kingdom, were also used. These were the sun and the moon, the latin cross of religious authority, the square cross of administrative authority and the christogram of armed authority. Badges of military rank,  as common in countries north of the Pyrenees only came to be used at the end of the 11th century or the beginning of the 12th century and were probably introduced by king Alfonso VI (1073-1109). At the same time the square cross and the christogram were combined to indicate combined royal administrative and armed authority. Shortly afterwards a combination of the shield and the square cross is noticed which has the same meaning. Still later a badge of military rank, a lion, and the symbol of administrative authority, the square cross, were distributed among the parts of the Kingdom of Leon after the death of Alfonso VII (†1157), the square cross allotted to Castile and the lion to Leon. 

A symbol of a castle was created for the kingdom of Castile at the end of the 12th century. This symbol, not being a badge of military rank, was the emblem of a realm and a pun on its name.

In the beginning of the 13th century both symbols were also used on shields, the castle of Castile in gold on a red field and the lion of Leon purpure on a white field.

After the union of Castile and Leon in 1230 both symbols were combined on one shield in one of the first quarterings known.

After 1230 the square cross of Castile and the emblems of Castile and Leon, were combined for administrative purposes on the so-called signos-rodados or circular emblems, symbolizing royal administrative authority within the united kingdoms, the shield quarterly symbolizing armed authority at the same time.





After the muslim invasion it took sometime for the remaining christian parts of the Iberian peninsula to recover. At the end of the century the Asturian rulers began to issue privileges like the Charter of king Silo from 775 granting the establishment of a a monastery between the rivers Eo and Masma. This charter was still signed with the signature of the king, without any other emblem repreneting his authority accompanying it.

One year later the most prominent Christian scholar in the Kingdom of Asturias Beatus of Liébana, wrote his Commentary on the Apocalypse, which was revised in 784 and again in 786. On the frontispieces of all later 9th-11th century copies is the square cross, symbolizing administrative authority, lacking on the royal charter. Several of these crosses are definitely rectangular crosses which can be associated with Arianism, the christian doctrine which had already been abolished in the Suevic kingdom in the sixth century. The rectangular cross on the Commentiaries is to be explained by the discussion about adoptionist theology in which Beatus de Liebana was involved. This had its roots in Gothic Arianism, which denied the divinity of Jesus, and in Greco-Roman paganism. In the arian Visigothic kingdom such a rectangular cross, symbolizing the union of religious and administrative authority, frequently occurs.  

Adoptionism was more to the liking of the Muslim Caliphate of Cordoba, because Islamic beliefs acknowledged Jesus as a Prophet, but not as the Son of God. As such the arian cross could be interpreted as a concession to the powerful Caliphate.


Cross, about 970

Beato de Valcavado, Valladolid, Biblioteca de la Universidad, Ms. 433


Rectangular or Arian cross with an A and an w pending and between the motto HOC SIGNO TVETVR PIVS / IN HOC SIGNO VINCIRVR INIMICVS. In base two cocks respecting.


At the beginning of the 9th century the discussion about the adoption of a rectangular cross or a square cros to represent royal authority, if there has ever been such a discussion, was ended by the donation of a golden square cross by king Alfonso II, the Chaste, to Oviedo Cathedral in 808.




808 Socalled Cross of the Angels. Oviedo Cathedral.

Golden square cross set with precious stones.


The inscription on the reverse reads:


On the upper arm:

D. Offert adefonsus humilis servus christi

S.: Susceptum placide maneat hoc in honore dei


On the dexter arm:

C. Quisquis auferre presumserit mihi

B.: Fulmine divino intereat= ipse


On the sinister arm:

C. nisi libens ubi voluntas dederit mea

B. Hoc opus perfectum est in era DCCCXLVI.


On the lower arm:

D.: Hoc signo vinatvr inimicvs

S.: Hoc signo tvetvr pivs


This was received benigningly to Honor God

It was donated by Alfonso, humble servant of Christ

By this sign the pious are protected

By this sign the enemy is defeated

Who dares to take up arms

Except when  my grace prevents it

Will die by a divine stroke of lightning

This work was accomplished in the year 846


Somewhat later a counterpart of the Cross of the Angels was donated by King Alfonso III (866-910). It is a latin cross representing religious authority, probably of the newly appointed bishop Gomelo II (905-909).




Cross of Victory

San Salvador Cathedral, Oviedo


This cross was made by frankish goldsmiths by order of Alfonso III. Mentioning this fact is an inscription on the reverse of the cross reads:

Svsceptvm Placide Maneat Hoc In Honore Di Qvod Offervnt Famvli Xpi Adefonsvs Princes Et Scemena Regina Qvisqvis Avferre Hoc Donaria Nostra Presvmserit Fvlmine Divino Intereat Ipse Hoc Opvs Perfectvm Et Concessvm Est Santo Salvatori Ovetense Sedis Hoc Signo Tvetvr Pivs Hos Signo Vincitvr Inimicvs Et Operatvm Es In Castello Gavzon Anno Regni Nsi XLII Discvrrente Era DCCCCXLVI A (= 908 A.D.)





After the establishment of the Kingdom of Leon by king Garcia in 910 a new square cross to represent royal authority was donated to the church of Santiago de Peñalba by king Ramiro II (931-951) as a reward for the help of the Apostle St. James at the Battle of Simancas in 936 against Abdurrahman.


Cruz de Peñalba

Donated by king Ramiro II to the church of Santiago de Peñalba, constructed in the first half of the 10th c.


The cross is almost a replica of the cross of Oviedo. On the reverse is the inscription: IN NOMINE DOMINI NSI / IHU XPI OBONOREM / SANCT IACOBI / APLOSTOLI RANEMIRUS REX OFRT (In the name of  Our Lord Jesus Christ in honor of Saint James the Apostle donated by King Ramiro).

Castile & Leon, 1st union



Ferdinand I, called the Great (in his time, El Magno) (1017León, 1065), son of Sancho III of Navarre and Mayor of Castile, was count of Castile from his uncle Garcias death in 1029.  After defeating his brother-in-law Vermudo III of León at the battle of Tamaron in 1037, he also became king of León by right of his wife in 1138. He was crowned Emperor of All Hispania in 1056 and died in 1065.


After the death of Ferdinand his possessions were divided between his sons Sancho II the Strong (*1036/1065-’72) who received Castile, Alfonso VI (*1039/1065-1109) who received Leon, and Garcia (1065-‘71/†1095) who received Galicia.


Sancho II the Strong 


Castile 1065-1072

Galicia 1065-1071


A copy of the Commentary on the Apocalypse made in 1066, shows what could have been the hierarchy of the army of the kingdom.


“The Triumph of Lamb over the Kings”

Beato de St. Severin. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale ms. Latin 8878.


On this leaf the captains of the army are depicted with their lieutenants. Below are the warrant officers and the non-commissioned officers.

All soldiers are dressed in a short tunica and trousers and are armed with a norman-shaped shield and a spear. Officers and warrant officers are wearing a helmet and a cloak. The captains have red almond shaped shields decorated with large rosettes and their lieutenants have white shields with smaller rosettes. Warrant officers and non commissioned officers have shields with merely a buckle.


On this picture no animals are depicted even when it is contempory with the Bayeux tapestry showing dragons on the shields of the main commanders. Nor the christogram representing (christian) armed authority is seen in connection with these armed men.


Alfonso VI



The division of the empire of Ferdinand I only lasted seven years because after the assassination of Sancho II his brother in 1072, Alfonso VI took Castile and Galicia.


In May 1085, after skilfully managing to pit the several Muslim kings against each other and defeating a coalition of the taifas of Seville, Badajoz and Zaragoza, Alfonso VI was able to enter the city of Toledo; the latter's taifa was incorporated with Castile and the city was made the capital of León and Castile. The former taifa lands remained subject to a long struggle with its Muslim neighbours, at least until the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212).


The "Kingdom of Toledo" was not actually independent of the Castillan kingdom, being just an official denomination for the so-called New Castile, differentiating the recent conquest from the Muslims from the previously held lands of "Old Castile". It did represent a distinct administrative unit, having its own court officers.


In the reign of Alfonso VI the christogram seems to have been introduced as a symbol of armed authority. It is on coins issued in Leon and Toledo.


Coin of Alfonso VI issued in Leon,

On the obverse a square cross and on the reverse a christogram. The legend reads: REX ANFVS / LEO CIVITAS


Coin of Alfonso VI, after 1085

On the obverse a square cross and on the reverse a christogram. The legend reads: A(l)FO(l)S(o) REX TOLETUM X


It is also on the Porch of the Goldsmiths of Santiago de Compostela cathedral, then emblem supported by two lions.

Porch of the Goldsmiths (Puerta Meridional) of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, (1103 -‘19)

Square cross and Christogram with pending A and w, supported by two lions guardant addorsed.







 1 ¥ Raymond of Burgundy †1107

2 ¥ 1109 Alfonso I of Aragon †1134 


Christogram on a timpanon in the Royal Basilica of S. Isidoro in Leon.

About 1115, original paint preserved.


However, still no figure was depicted on the shields of his time. This can be seen on two sources which have to be scrutinized to get some uncommon interpretations from them.


The Libro de Los Testamentos


The first is the so-called Libro de los Testamentos, an illuminated codex created between 1109 and 1112 at the Cathedral of Oviedo, Spain, under the patronage of bishop Don Pelayo. The codex, which collected the texts of documents from Asturian kings that granted certain privileges to the See of Oviedo, was illustrated with miniatures that are considered to be among the finest examples of Spanish Romanesque manuscript illumination. The book provides much insight into medieval life and early Spain and contains 17 large format illuminations by the ‘Master of the Book of Testaments’. The codex is currently kept at the Catedral Metropolitana of Oviedo.


On the miniatures are the portraits of several Asturian kings which have supposedly granted privileges to the See of Oviedo. Their supposed names accompany these portraits. However, nevertheless their identifications, the portraits apparently are all of the same man, with a quite long-face and a red pointed beard, all dressed in late 11th or early 12th century clothes. On their heads are:

1. A pointed crown

2. A cilindrical crown with three points

3. A cilindrical triple crown with seven points.


As the book has been written right after the death of King Alfonso VI, it seems not to be far-fetched to conclude that the bearded man actually is him. The three or four versions of the crown on his head correspond with his career of king of León, of León and Castile and of León, Castile and Toledo


Ordered by the shape of the crowns king Alfonso VI is depicted  in the Libro de los Testamentos as follows:


King Ordoño I

King Alfonso III

King Vermudo

King Alfonso

King Alfonso II the Chaste


The Armigeri

The kings are accompanied by armed men called Armiger Regis, known in this time by the arab designation alférez.


í In medieval Iberia, an alférez was a high-ranking official in the household of a king or magnate. The term is derived from the Arabic الفارس (al-fāris), meaning "horseman" or "cavalier", and it was commonly Latinised as alferiz or alferis, although it was also translated into Latin as armiger or armentarius, meaning "armour-bearer". The connexion with arms and armour is visible in several Latin synonyms: fertorarius, inferartis, and offertor. The office was sometimes the same as that of the standard-bearer or signifer. The alférez was generally the next highest-ranking official after the majordomo. He was generally in charge of the king or magnate's mesnada (private army), his personal retinue of knights, and perhaps also of his armoury and his guard. He generally followed his lord on campaign and into battle. [1]


In the manuscript some eight armigeri regis are represented, five of them with a blue shield of norman shape, in one case charged with a square cross on a pole, in another case decorated with a carbuncle or thunderbolt and in the third case with another (hardly visible) thunderbolt.

These armigeri may have actually have been armour-bearers.


Three of them have a small round red roman shield or parma. A parma was used by the roman standard-bearers for not being completely defenseless in battle. The armigeri bearing parmae probably were standard-bearers as in the army of Alfonso VI.


On the first picture the Royal Commander is armed with a blue shield showing a square cross on a pole.

Such a cross on a pole was on coins of Sancho Ramirez (1069-’94) and Alfonso I, te Battler (1104-’34) of Aragon the last the husband and alférez of Queen Urraca.

As the tree on these coins symbolizes the territory (of  Aragon) and the square cross the administrative authority the symbol symbolizes the administration of Aragon.[2]


A denarius of Alfonso's, minted at Jaca,

bearing his effigy and the inscription ANFUS-REX ARA-GON (Anfusus rex Aragonensium, King Alfonso I of Aragon (1104-’34)


This corresponds about with the much later arms of Valencia as given by the Heraut de Gueldre at the end of the 14th century, which is: Azure, a square cross fitchee Argent. This suggests that the commander/alférez on the first picture is actually Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, (ca. 1040-1099), the alfaréz of Sancho II and Alfonso VI whose arms in that case  were reinvented for the purpose after 1238, when Valencia had been reconquered.



On the second picture a man armed with a spear and shield is represented, which in caroligian times were the parafernalia of a marshal. The two small round red shields of his companions are probably meant to be the modern versions of the ancient roman parmae of about the same size and shape.


On the third picture the warrior with shield and sword has also a horn which may be the badge of a hornblower, the former roman cornicen.


On the fourth picture on the left the royal ensign-bearer is represented. He bears the usual blue norman shield (and no parma)  but also keeps the royal ensign consisting of a spear with a red cloth.





The Seal of Alfonso VIII


The second is a seal showing a king on horseback with a shield charged with a carbuncle or thunderbolt, within the legend SIGILLVM REGIS ALDEFONS X, ascribed to Alfonso VIII and dated 1163 when he was eight years old. [3] For different reasons a dating at the beginning of the 12th century is more likely.

In the first place the knight has a conical nasal helmet on his head which is typical for the 11th-12th century but absolutely out of fashion in 1163. In the second place the knight is armed with a spear which also became outmoded in the beginning of the 12th century. In the third place the shield has the large measures of the 11th century norman shields.

Last but not least the knight on the seal is certainly a grown up man and not a boy of eight.

A candidate owner of this seal is Alfonso I el Batallador of Aragon, the second husband of Queen Urraca who ruled Castile and Leon between 1109 and 1114. Only in 1127 Alfonso VII succeeded in defeating him and took power in Castile.

His shield is most likely represented in the picture of king Alfonso II the Chaste.


Of this shield the carbuncle was copied on the shield of Raymond Berengar IV, Count of Barcelona who was a kind of alférez for his wife Petronilla, queen of Aragon (1137-´64)


Alfonso VII El Emperador


King of Galicia 1111

King of Toledo 1125

King of Leon 1126

King of Castile 1127

Emperor of Spain 1135


In 1111, at the age of six, Alfonso was crowned and anointed King of Galicia in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. His mother had already (1109) succeeded to the united throne of León-Castile-Galicia then and desired to assure her son's prospects and groom him for his eventual succession. By 1125 he had inherited the formerly Muslim Kingdom of Toledo. On 10 March 1126, after the death of his mother, he was crowned in León and immediately began the recovery of the Kingdom of Castile, which was then under the domination of Alfonso the Battler. By the Peace of Támara of 1127, the Battler recognised Alfonso VII as a king of Castile. The territory in the far east of his dominion, however, had gained much independence during the rule of his mother and experienced many rebellions. After his recognition in Castile, Alfonso fought to curb the autonomy of the local barons.

When Alfonso the Battler, King of Navarre and Aragón, died without descendants in 1134, he willed his kingdom to the military orders. The aristocracy of both kingdoms did not accept this and García Ramírez, Count of Monzón was elected in Navarre while Alfonso pretended to the throne of Aragón. The nobles chose another candidate in the dead king's brother, Ramiro II. Alfonso responded by occupying La Rioja, conquering Zaragoza, and governing both realms in unison. In several skirmishes, he defeated the joint Navarro-Aragonese army and put the kingdoms to vassalage. He had the strong support of the lords north of the Pyrenees, who held lands as far as the River Rhône. In the end, however, the combined forces of Navarre and Aragón were too much for his control. At this time, he helped Ramon Berenguer III, Count of Barcelona, in his wars with the other Catalan counties to unite the old Marca Hispanica.


Imperial rule



Alfonso as Emperor, from the Privilegium Imperatoris issued by him.[4]


A vague tradition had always assigned the title of emperor to the sovereign who held León. Sancho the Great considered the city the imperiale culmen and minted coins with the inscription Imperator totius Hispaniae after being crowned in it. Such a sovereign was considered the most direct representative of the Visigothic kings, who had been themselves the representatives of the Roman Empire. (i.e. Vicarius Hispaniæ) But though appearing in charters, and claimed by Alfonso VI of León and Alfonso the Battler, the title had been little more than a flourish of rhetoric.

In 1135, Alfonso was crowned "Emperor of Spain" in the Cathedral of León. He appears to have striven for the formation of a national unity which Spain had never possessed since the fall of the Visigothic kingdom. The elements he had to deal with could not be welded together. The weakness of Aragon enabled him to make his superiority effective. After Afonso I of Portugal recognised him as liege in 1137, Alfonso VII lost the tournament at Arcos de Valdevez in 1141 thereby affirming Portugal's independence. In 1143, he himself recognised this status quo and consented to the marriage of Petronila of Aragon with Ramon Berenguer IV, a union which combined Aragon and Catalonia into the Crown of Aragon.


The Two-headed Eagle


After the union of Galicia, Leon, Castile and Toledo a new badge of rank seems to have been introduced for the ruler of this empire. Probably this has been a two-headed eagle which was of oriental origin and known before in the Bulgarian as well as in the Ummayad empires. A two-headed eagle is on the tunica which was found in the tomb of the infante Garcia, son of Alfonso VII who died at a young age in 1146.

This tunica, having been of a full-grown man, has probably belonged to his father and was used after his coronation as an emperor of all Spain in 1135. The two-headed eagles on this tunica are the badges of a caesar or military leader, and the peacocks are the badges of a prefect. [5]

Peacocks are also known from visigothic symbolism when serving as supporters of a christogram and a cup, the first, as we have seen, the symbol of armed authority, the second the pagan symbol of administrative authority


Visigothic ceramic tile

(coll. Museo Arqueológico, Sevilla)


As such the Tunica of Oña is a translation of the visigothic symbols of (christian) armed authority, (pagan-) administrative authority and prefectoral rank in roman catholic symbolism.


Detail of the Tunica of Infante Don Garcia (†1145/46), son of Alfonso VII  El Emperador

From his tomb in the Parochial Church of  Oña in Burgos. [6]


Two-headed eagles, emblems of rank of a caesar (military), and peacocks, emblems of rank of a prefect (civil). This is the first proof that the two-headed eagle emblem was adopted by a christian commander.


The Ibex


At the end of the rule of Alfonso VII another peculiar symbol of military rank occurs. This can be seen on the shield of Count Poncius who was the majordomus and an important military leader of many of the later campaigns of Alfonso VII.

Between 1146 and the emperor's death in 1157, Ponce participated in almost every military expedition waged by Alfonso. In April–May 1146 he was with the army that conquered Córdoba and raided its Great Mosque. In January 1147 Ponce was present at the conquest of Calatrava, where he is attested on the ninth of the month. He was present with the imperial army at Baeza both on the journey to (18 August) and from (25 November) the successful Siege of Almería on the Mediterranean coast, and so his participation is certain

In 1150 Ponce took part in the imperial siege of Córdoba, and in 1151 in that of Jaén. In 1152 he was probably with the army that attacked Guadix and Lorca, because when on 5 September at Uclés the emperor "returned from Lorca ... in the year in which he had Guadix surrounded", Ponce was with him.

On 18 November 1152 Alfonso VII rewarded Ponce "my faithful vassal, for the good and faithful [military] service which [he] rendered me at Almería and in many other places, naturally in the provinces of the Christians and also in those of the Saracens". In 1155 Ponce fought at the conquest of Andújar, where he can be traced on 15 June.

On his shield is an ibex. And he himself is called cabrera which literally means goat-keeper. For that reason it is thought that his arms are canting arms


Count Poncius [7]


Pair of (winged) Ibexes

On the Pamplona casket,. Muslim art, 1004 AD


In military symbolism an ibex is of very ancient origin. In fact it symbolizes the leader and defender of the herd and the great inseminator. The male ibex as such symbolizes supreme masculinity. In the far east he is known from the military hierarchies in the ancient Persian world. Derived from this persian ibex is the unicorn which is a fierce beast only to be tamed by a virgin. Such a unicorn often figures in muslim symbolism.[8] An early example is known from Pamplona where a pair of ibexes occur on the so-called Pamplona Casket, together with a pair of griffins and other heraldic beasts. [9] In China where he is called qilin, he was the symbol of the military commander of the first rank from the time of the Han (207 BC-220 AD) until the fall of the Chinese empire in 1910.  An example from mediaeval Armenia is known from the clothes of Gagik I Abbas (1029-‘64) with large medallions enclosing ibexes. [10] So, probably it was just the other way round when Poncius has been called (the/a) cabrera because of his military performances and rank.


The lion


The lion in the context of Castile and Leon occurs for the first time in Galicia at the porch of Santiago de Compostela where two lions support a christogram. In the time of Alfonso VII it is on denarii struck in Toledo and Leon usually with the legend TOLEDO on the reverse encircling a square cross. This implies that the lion is a symbol for the ruler of all the spanish posessions of the burgundian house. The lion may be a pun of the name of the kingdom of Leon but on the other hand it may be the emblem of a comitis in the way it was developed as a classificatory emblem in other parts of Europe but also in the Visigothic and Cordoban empires. This would mean that the former roman provinces of Gallaecia, Tarraconensis and Carthaginesis which were the (roman) origins of Leon, Castile and Toledo each had a lion as its symbol.

Coin of Alfonso VII, the Emperor (1126-1157):

R°: Square coss V°: crowned lion and crescent.. L.: TOLETII LEON. [11]


Denarius of Alfonso VII from Toledo. R°: Square cross. V°: Lion.  L.: TOLETEST, (Æ more)


Denarius of  Alfonso VII. R°: Square cross, V°. Lion. Legend: IMPERATOR LEONIS.

Struck in the strategic Oreja-enclave (Toledo), 1139


Denarius of Alfonso VII: R°: Square cross; V° Lion bi-corporate. L.: INPEPATOI JIL.

Struck in Leon, probably 1150-‘55


After his death his possessions were divided on 21 August 1157  between his elder son Sancho III (* 1135) who received Castile and Toledo and his younger son Ferdinand II (*1137) who received Leon and the title of King of Spain. Thanks to the interventions of their sister Sancha both respected the borders of their kingdoms.


Sancho and Ferdinand on the Privilegium Imperatoris of Alfonso VII  [12]





Ferdinand II




For some reason or another the symbol of administrative authority, the square cross, was alotted to the eldest brother Sancho and the lion, being a symbol of military rank, to Ferdinand II.


An important innovation was made by the brothers to represent their authority on documents. This was the circular emblem or signo rodado which contained in Leon the emblem of the king, a lion purpure, surrounded by his name and titles.


Circular emblem of Ferdinand II

on tumbo B de Santiago de Compostela.


Emblem: Lion. L.: || signvm || fernandi || regis || hispaniarvm.[13]


A lion was also depicted on the shield of Fernando II although the author of this picture seems to hesitate about the authenticity of this charge:




King Ferdinand II on horseback with lion shield.

In base a lion purpure passant

(Tumbo A of Santiago de Compostela)


Alfonso IX



By Alfonso IX this configuration was not changed, and the lion was depicted on signos rodados, as well as on his shield.

Circular emblem of Alfonso IX.


Alfonso VIII on horseback.

Tumbo A of Santiago de Compostela.


On his shield are his arms:  Argent, a lion rampant purpure. On his saddle another lion and in base the emblem of a lion. The legend reads: INCLITVS ALDEFONSVS REX LEGIONENSIVM ET GALLECIE.


Lead seal: R°: The king on horseback with sword and crown. L.: X ADEFONSVS DEI GRACIA : REX :. V°: Lion. L.: X LEGION : ET GALE : D.: 1226. Æ 47 mm. On a document of  Alfonso VII approving a privilege. [14]





Sancho III, the Desired (el Deseado)

*1135- †1158

 King of Castile 1157-1158


Equestrian seal of Sancho III dated 1154


The king on horseback with sword (and shield?) L.: [s]IGILLV[m regis] SANC [ii]. D.: 1154.  [15]

Alfonso VIII

*1155-† 1214

King of Castile 1158 / 1170-1214


Hijo de Sancho III «el Deseado», rey de Castilla, y de Blanca Garcés de Pamplona, a la muerte de su padre sólo contaba tres años de edad, por lo que se designó como tutor a Gutierre Fernández de Castro y como regente a Manrique Pérez de Lara, para equilibrar a las poderosas familias Castro y Lara. Sin embargo, se originó una sangrienta rivalidad entre las dos familias nobiliarias. Los Lara lograron apoderarse del joven rey al que trasladaron a Haza, dentro de su zona de influencia.

Al alcanzar la mayoría de edad en 1170, Alfonso VIII fue proclamado rey de Castilla en las Cortes que se convocaron en Burgos, tras lo cual se concertó su matrimonio con Leonor de Plantagenet, hija de Enrique II de Inglaterra y de Leonor de Aquitania, que aportó como dote el condado de Gascuña.


Alfonso VIII se encontró en una peligrosa situación que le llevó a la posibilidad de perder Toledo y todo el valle del Tajo, por lo que el rey solicitó en 1212 al papa Inocencio III la predicación de una Cruzada a la que no sólo respondieron sus súbditos castellanos, sino también los aragoneses con su rey, Pedro II el Católico, los navarros dirigidos por Sancho VII el Fuerte, y las órdenes militares, como las de Calatrava, del Temple, de Santiago y de Malta


An important innovation of Alfonso in the representation of legislature was the introduction of the circular emblem or, in spanish, the signo rodado. This consisted of the square cross surrounded by a formula containing the name and titles of the king and the names of the major-domo and the alférez (supreme commander / connetable) confirming the act.

The texts of the acts were preceded by a christogram.


A collection of these signos rodados (1136-1480) in the Municipal Archives of Toledo: Los signos de los reyes castellanos en los privilegios medievales de la ciudad de Toledo


Circular emblem or drawn seal

on the privileges of Villasila and Villamelendro granted by Alfonso VIII in 1180. [16]




Another circular emblem of Alfonso VIII

 (Vic.Casc. 230, 2)


Some four years after his coming of age and coronation in Burgos in 1170, Alfonso gave the Castle of Ucclès to the Order of Santiago. On the document mentioning this fact the sign of combined administrative and armed authority (XXP) as used by his predecessor is seen.

Three innovations are also seen:


1. A castle, apparently symbolizing Castile

2. A circular seal with this castle surrounded by a legend

3. A red banner showing the king on horseback, crowned, swinging a sword and with a processional cross in his left hand.

4. The cross of the Order of Santiago



King Alfonso VIII gives the castle of Uclès to the new Order of Santiago. 09.01.1174.

Tumbo Menor de Castilla. In the initial a square cross and christogram XRS


Castle and rider were repeated in his equestrian seal:



1198 Equestrian seal. Arms: ?. L.: X SIGILLVM : REGIS ALDEFONSI :

1198 Counterseal: Castle with three towers. L.: X REX: TOLETI: ET: CASTELLE:. [17]


Castle of Castile, 1210 ca

From San Pedro de Arlanza monastery (prov. Burgos).

Museo Nacional de Arte de Catalunya, Barcelona


Fragment of the mantle of Alfonso VIII

From his tomb (Coll. Museo de Telas, Burgos)


Arms: Gules, a triple towered castle Or.

The shields are of a shape common at the end of the 12th,  beginning of the 13th century.


Æ This is the oldest picture of the arms of Castile. It symbolizes the armed power of the king of Castile, the shield itself symbolizing armed authority (of Castile).


At the end of his life, rider and castle were combined on a picture of his son and heir in Chartres Cathedral:

Stained glass depicting Infante Ferdinand (*1189-†1211).

Chartres Cathedral, 1210-1220


On this window Ferdinand is depicted in the service of his father in battle. He is wearing the arms of Castile with the castle and a pennon of the arms. On another stained window in Chartres his brother in law, Louis VIII of France (*1187-†1226) is depicted and on another one Simon de Montfort, commander of the Albigensian Crusade after 1209.


Henry I


*1204- †1217

King of Castile 1214-1217


Circular emblem of Henry I [18]


Equestrian and Counterseal of Henry I, 1217

R°: Rider on horseback with shield and sword; V°: Castle. L.: X SIGILLVM REGIS HENRICI. / REX TOLETI & CASTELLE. [19]


Ferdinand III the Saint


King of Castile 1217

King of Leon 1230


Circular emblem of Ferdinand on a document of 1219


A picture of his arms is in an english manuscript:



1222 [1250] Hist. Anglo­rum B.L. Ms Roy 14.C.VII, Fol. 150. Five Kings take up the cross, [1250] (a) top of the page between columns: Gules, a triple-towered castle argent (Or) (!): Scutum regis castellæ, cruce signati. (b) top right margin: azure, six fleurs de lis or with a banner next to it bearing azure, three fleurs de lis: Scutum regis Francorum, sed vexillum prostratum in bello; c. right margin: gules, three lions passant gardant or: Scutum regis Anglorum, cruce signati; (d) right margin: gules, three galleys or, above the first a cross formy argent: Scutum regis Norwagiæ, cruce signati; (...) (e) right margin: John de Brienne, King of Jerusalem (or crusuly argent, a cross ar­gent): Scutum regis Ierusalem, cognomen­to Bresne. (...)


The  “taking up the cross” refers to the tour in 1222  of John of Brienne t.E., regent of Jeruzalem, to gain support for a crusade against the Sultan of Egypt.



Bull of Ferdinand III: R°.: The king on horseback with sword and shield. V°.: A castle between two lions rampant. L.: X SIGILLUM : REGIS : FERRANDI X REX : TOLETI : ET : CASTELLE :. D.: 1225. [20]


The castle supporterd is more or less an achivement symbolizing the government of Castile.


Castle on the tomb of Alfonso VIII

An early attempt to create an emblem of the royal administrative power of Castile by uniting the emblem of the realm with a crown, was made by the author of the crown of Castile, found in the tomb of Sancho IV but most certainly designed for Ferdinand III. This crown consists of eight plates set with precious stones and mounted with triple-towered castles of the shape of the triple-towerd castles on the tomb of Alfonso VIII and consequently dating from the reign of Ferdinand III in Castile only (1217-´30).


Later, when Castile was united with Leon, the same result was obtained by dressing the crowned  king of the arms and still later by crowning a shield of the arms. In these cases the crown is a common crown consisting of a golden diadem set with a number of leaves.


Crown of the Cameos. Toledo Cathedral.


A castle-crown was invented by the miniaturist of the Libro de los Testamentos in the time of queen Urraca.


Union of Castile and Leon, 1230


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© Hubert de Vries 2013-09-24



[1] Wikipedia

[2] See for example Lebanon in  Antiquity and Tunisia.

[3] Vicente Cascante, Ignacio: Heraldica General y Fuentes de las Armas de España. Salvat. Eds. S.A.. Barcelona, 1956. Fig. 259-260

[4] Privilegium Imperatoris, Charter Issued by Alfonso VII, king of Castile and León Castile, Spain; 12th century 36.7 x 29.5 cm.  MMA The Hispanic Society of America, New York, B.16

[5] Lazaro Lopez, Agustín: Découverte de duex riches étoffes dans l’Église paroissale d’Oña. In: Bulletin de liaison du Centre International d’Étude des Textiles Anciens. 1970 pp. 21-25. The tunica has a sleeve length of 62 cm.

[6] Dodds, Jerrilynn, D.A.: Andalus. New York, 1992, p. 107-108

[7] On the Privilegium Imperatoris. See also: Ponce de Minerva.

[8] Gierlichs, Joachim: Drache . Phönix . Doppeladler. Fabelwesen in der islamischen Kunst. Berlin, 1993. Pp. 29-32

[9] Dodds, op.cit. . p. 198-201

[10] Portrait of Gagik Abas II of Kars and his familiy. Evangeliarum of Gagik of Kars, 11th cent. Jeruzalem, Armenian Cathedral of St. James, Ms. 2556, fol. 135 v°.

[11] Vicente  Cascante, Ignacio: Heraldica General y Fuentes de las Armas de España. Salvat. Eds. S.A.. Barcelona, 1956. Fig. 215.

[12] See note 2

[13] Also: Drawing of a seal. Figure: Lion. L.: signvm • fernandi • regis • hyspaniar •. Date: 1172.06.07, Æ 110 mm. 110. On a 18th century copy of the documant, the original missing. In: Sella, Pietro: I Sigilli dell'Archivio Vaticano. Citta del Vaticano MDCCCCXXXXVI. N° 1230. AA Arm. I - XVIII, 437 A Atti Varii.

[14] Archivo Histórico Nacional. Vic. Casc. Fig. 223

[15] Vicente Cascante, op. cit. p 344.

[16] Archivo Histórico Nacional. Órdenes Militares. Santiago-Uclés, Carpeta 325, nº 1

[17] Ibid. fig. 224,  from the National historical archives

[18] Ibid. fig. 230, 3 Municpal archives Toledo.

[19] Ibid. fig. 225.

[20] Ibid. fig. 226.

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