Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Wise King: A Christian Prince, Muslim Spain, and the Birth of the Renaissance

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Wise King: A Christian Prince, Muslim Spain, and the Birth of the Renaissance

Article excerpt

The Wise King: A Christian Prince, Muslim Spain, and the Birth of the Renaissance. By Simon R. Doubleday. (New York: Basic Books. 2016. Pp. xxix, 304. $29.99. ISBN 978-0-46-506699-5.)

In this highly readable new biography of Alfonso X el Sabio of León-Castile, Simon Doubleday takes a fresh look at a ruler who styled himself "king of the three religions"-that is, of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Alfonso X (r. 1252-1284) came to power in a kingdom that was struggling to absorb a vast amount of territory and people recently conquered from Muslim Iberia, and devoted himself to expanding his borders still farther. But he was also keenly aware of, and eager to participate in, the rich intellectual heritage created by generations of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scholars in the lands he now ruled. He and the diverse scholars he patronized produced a dazzling array of books on a whole library of subjects, including his- tory, astrology, chess, the miracles of the Virgin, the properties of stones, and-perhaps most famously-law, in the great compendium known as the Siete partidas.

Doubleday uses this tour de force of cultural production as a lens through which to view the often tumultuous events of Alfonso's life and reign. The result is a gently humanizing portrait of the Wise King, which allows his personal aspirations and failures (he had plenty of both) to illuminate his creative and intellectual interests. Each of the nine chapters explores a theme of Alfonso's work-such as humor, friendship, medicine, or love-and relates it to significant episodes in his life. …

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