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

Front Cover
Basic Books, Dec 1, 2015 - History - 336 pages
An illuminating biography of Alfonso X, the 13th-century philosopher-king whose affinity for Islamic culture left an indelible mark on Western civilization
"If I had been present at the Creation," the thirteenth-century Spanish philosopher-king Alfonso X is said to have stated, "Many faults in the universe would have been avoided." Known as El Sabio, "the Wise," Alfonso was renowned by friends and enemies alike for his sparkling intellect and extraordinary cultural achievements. In The Wise King, celebrated historian Simon R. Doubleday traces the story of the king's life and times, leading us deep into his emotional world and showing how his intense admiration for Spain's rich Islamic culture paved the way for the European Renaissance.

In 1252, when Alfonso replaced his more militaristic father on the throne of Castile and León, the battle to reconquer Muslim territory on the Iberian Peninsula was raging fiercely. But even as he led his Christian soldiers onto the battlefield, Alfonso was seduced by the glories of Muslim Spain. His engagement with the Arabic-speaking culture of the South shaped his pursuit of astronomy, for which he was famed for centuries, and his profoundly humane vision of the world, which Dante, Petrarch, and later Italian humanists would inherit. A composer of lyric verses, and patron of works on board games, hunting, and the properties of stones, Alfonso is best known today for his Cantigas de Santa María (Songs of Holy Mary), which offer a remarkable window onto his world. His ongoing struggles as a king and as a man were distilled-in art, music, literature, and architecture-into something sublime that speaks to us powerfully across the centuries.

An intimate biography of the Spanish ruler in whom two cultures converged, The Wise King introduces readers to a Renaissance man before his time, whose creative energy in the face of personal turmoil and existential threats to his kingdom would transform the course of Western history.

What people are saying - Write a review

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

User Review  - Publishers Weekly

In this insightful biography of Alfonso X of Castile and León (1221–1284), Doubleday, a professor of history at Hofstra University and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies ... Read full review

THE WISE KING: A Christian Prince, Muslim Spain, and the Birth of the Renaissance

User Review  - Kirkus

The life and times of a Spanish monarch who invigorated cultural life. For more than 30 years, Alfonso X (1221-1284) reigned over a country beset by divisiveness, strife, and uncertainty. As Doubleday ... Read full review


1 Players
2 Lovers
3 Stargazers
4 Hunters
5 Laughter
6 Friends
7 Father
8 Healers
9 Anger

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2015)

Simon R. Doubleday is Professor of History at Hofstra University, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, and author of The Lara Family: Crown and Nobility in Medieval Spain. He received his BA from Cambridge University and his PhD in Medieval History from Harvard, and is the recipient of awards for Outstanding Scholarly Achievement from Hofstra and for teaching from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Bibliographic information