Afonso II of Portugal was born on April 23, 1185, to King Sancho I and Queen Dulce of Aragon. The first legitimate son, Afonso, became his father’s heir at birth. In 1139, the prince’s grandfather, Afonso I, established Portugal as an independent kingdom. Although he made strides in securing the new kingdom’s standing, Afonso left behind many unresolved issues. Upon Sancho I’s accession, the new king ended a costly and pointless war for Galicia. Although he spent his reign focused on military campaigns against neighboring kingdoms (Castile, Leon, and the Moors), Sancho worked on improving his government, supported Portuguese industry, and created new towns.
King of Portugal
In March 1211, Sancho I died, leaving the throne to his 25-year-old son. Crowned Afonso II of Portugal, the new king decided to focus on increasing the monarchy’s power rather than on warfare. His differing policy compared to his father and grandfather could be due to his inability to lead his troops. As a result of a childhood illness, Afonso had gained a lot of weight. By the time he became king, Afonso was morbidly obese, and his mobility suffered. In turn, the king’s girth prevented him from leading his army into battle.
To increase the monarchy’s power, Afonso II introduced a series of reforms. His laws focused on the justice system, private property, and decreasing the church’s power. The latter two laws brought Afonso into conflict with the nobility and the church. The nobility felt threatened by the king’s private property laws and viewed them as a way for the monarchy to take their lands. The church believed that Afonso violated their rights under his grandfather’s agreement.
Afonso II struggled against the Portuguese clergy over taxation and royal authority. The king believed that he had the right to tax the clergy’s vast wealth and that they should submit to him. Unsurprisingly, the Portuguese church refused Afonso’s demands, angering the king. To add to the king’s frustration, Afonso’s former close friend, Archbishop Estevao Soares da Silva, began openly championing the church’s cause in 1219. As a result, the king’s situation became much worse.
As Afonso II contended with an angry nobility, he faced a more significant problem from the papacy. Outraged at Afonso’s defiance, Pope Honorius III ordered him to back down or be excommunicated. Since Afonso believed Portugal’s independence to be secured, the king refused. In turn, Honorius excommunicated him. Afonso later sought reconciliation with the papacy but died on March 25, 1223, before he made any serious attempts.
Afonso II spent his reign minimizing warfare and focusing on centralizing his government. Despite seeking to avoid fighting, the king came into conflict regardless. His reforms threatened the power of the Portuguese nobility and church. As a consequence, Afonso faced internal and external threats to his authority. By refusing to bow to the papacy, the defiant king was excommunicated. Upon his death, Afonso left behind a kingdom at odds with the papacy to his son, Sancho II.
Disney, A. R. (2009). A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire: From Beginnings to 1807 (Vol. 1). New York City, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Afonso II. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved February 5, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Afonso-II