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María de Molina, the courage mother who survived as queen in a world of men

Irene Mira

MadridUpdated:

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History also belongs to women. It may be that his scant account in the chronicles and writers of the time have contributed to a lack of knowledge about female protagonism today. However, we can mention many figures of great relevance that contradict everything that is taken for granted in the Middle Ages, among them, without a doubt, María de Molina, an extraordinary character in the Hispanic world and in the course of historical events, both, even, as it would be later Isabel the Catholic.

María de Molina was Queen consorte of Castile during the reign of her husband Sancho IV «The Bravo» (son of Alfonso X), as well as regent twice with his son Fernando IV and his grandson Alfonso XI. That is to say, a woman who contributed in three different reigns throughout her life, and whose political performance was decisive for the continuation of the Castilian Crown. It is unknown when and exactly where he was born, although the historiography places it around 1260. His real name is María Alfonso de Meneses, daughter of Don Alfonso de Molina (brother of Fernando III), and his third wife Doña Mayor Alfonso de Meneses. Therefore, cousin of King Alfonso X, and aunt second of Sancho IV, with whom he married.

The controversy of a marriage

The marital union between María de Molina and Sancho IV was full of controversy from the first moment. The kinship by consanguinity He made the Church not accept marriage, so they were denied papal dispensation. The Pope Martin IV He described the betrothal as "incestuous nuptials, great deviation and public infamy." On the other hand, it also meant a challenge from the still Infante Sancho to his father King Alfonso X, since he had committed his son to Guillerma de Montcada, daughter of the Viscount of Bearne. A whole series of problems that would later fall on the Queen, who would have to fight for her children to be recognized as legitimate. But not everything ended here, because she would have to suffer, in addition, the infidelities of her husband with other women, including a cousin of Doña María, with whom she had other children.

In the middle of what was an authentic diplomatic battle to get the papal dispensation, Sancho IV died on April 25, 1295, before it was granted. Therefore, María de Molina, alone and without papal legitimacy, had to challenge the different obstacles that prevented her son from being recognized as the heir of Castile.

Recorded with the effigy of María de Molina scanned from a copy of El panorama
Recorded with the effigy of María de Molina scanned from a copy of El panorama

Alone in a world of men

With the death of Sancho IV Dona María began a period in which she fought against everyone and everyone as long as her son retained the Crown, which the rest of Sancho's sons so desperately wanted. She was alone and was in charge of governing a kingdom in the name of a child, whose rights were questioned and measured by a civil war. This was taken advantage of by the nobles, who believed that it was the right time to get a good position in a court governed by a woman and a child. But what they still did not know is that Doña María was strong and intelligent enough to be able to ban the inconveniences that were presented to her.

The day after Sancho IV's funeral, Prince Fernando was proclaimed King (Fernando IV). The Chronicle of Jofré de Loysa recounts in detail the first days of María de Molina as regent, proving to be a woman «Very prudent and circumspect» Y "firm". The queen regent soon joined her new obligations and sought the necessary support between the nobility and the people, to join their cause, and achieve the stability of the kingdom. He worked ad nauseam, not only approved the general affairs of the kingdom, but was dedicated to resolve particular issues of some representatives in extensive days from early morning to three, without resting, demonstrating their ability to work and their political ability. Angela Vallvey, in his new job «Brief history of the Spanish. From prehistoric apicultures to 8-M », defines Maria de Molina as «The stubborn queen», for her incredible tenacity to govern.

However, it was one of the hardest moments in the life of the regent, where she had to face in a few years more challenges than many people face in her life: the loss of her husband Sancho IV, his appointment as guardian and governor of the kingdom, the pretensions and uprisings of the nobility, the difficult proclamation of his son, the threat of Portugal, or his enmity with Jaime II of Aragon. However, his performance against all these problems showed his huge political size, since he was able to fight with everyone.

The widowed Queen was besieged by several aspirants to her bed, while trying to defend the rights of her son

There were several attempts on the part of the councilors of the kingdom so that Doña Maria contracted marriage again, since she was a relatively young widow and with political obligations nothing current for a woman of the time. Both Infante Pedro and Infante Enrique tried, but she did not even consider the proposal, and rejected them outright. Once again, the Queen showed that she surpassed everyone in cunning. He maintained his determination to avoid a marriage, knowing that this could bring him enough problems.

Reliefs of the sepulcher of Queen María de Molina, in the monastery of Las Huelgas Reales de Valladolid.
Reliefs of the sepulcher of Queen María de Molina, in the monastery of Las Huelgas Reales de Valladolid.

The diplomatic influence of the Queen

In her long political career, María de Molina always kept in mind the defense of "the assets of the Crown" and of the "common good", as described by the historian Enrique Florez, in the XVIII century. Even when Ferdinand IV came of age, Doña María continued to have great influence, although he tried to separate her from the affairs of the kingdom. The young King turned out to be not at all astute to face the nobility tricks, reason why Maria de Molina, already very delicate of health, returned to appear in scene to solve the different conflicts with the noble rebels. One of the qualities that most impressed historians was their negotiating capacity, and the permanent search for harmony to contain the excessive ambitions of the nobility, which so many times endangered the kingdom.

María de Molina became a Popular queen, loved and admired in his time. Moreover, the Councils showed great loyalty and supported their government initiatives through the Cortes, both in the period of regency and in the government of his son. His ability and experience to manage political conflicts were again very useful when his son Fernando IV died in 1312, and again had to resolve the dispute over the custody of his grandson Alfonso XI, who was only one year old.

After a while, July 1, 1321, María de Molina died in Valladolid. His testament, dictated two days before, proves his moral greatness by exposing his commands and pardons in him. Thanks to her work as Queen, grandmother and mother got the dynastic stability of the Crown. Without its value and sacrifice, possibly, Castilla would have taken a very different course in history.

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