840-year-old charter from a Castilian queen discovered after 200 years lost


Image of the parchment with the list of witnesses and the seal of queen Leonor. The wax seal was not preserved

Amongst the many aspects that distinguish queen Leonor Planategenet is that the wife of Alfonso VIIII of Castile was only foreign consort in Spain in the second half of the twelfth century. She was the only European consort of the time that has her own chancellor in charge of drafting official documents.

Only one of those documents was known to us and it was a grant given by the queen to the Cathedral of Toledo in 1179 to provide for the expenses of a chaplaincy devoted to the English martyr Thomas Becket. There was another document registered towards the end of the 18th century but taken from the archive of the Royal Hospital at Burgos during the French occupation of the city. There was no news of it until now.

Dr. José Manuel Cerda, director of the Centre for Medieval Studies at Gabriela Mistral University in Chile has spent a number of years doing research on the life and work of queen Leonor. He was working at his office when he received an email with news of the existence and a digital copy of the parchment in wonderful condition, part of private collection in France.

The document is a diploma that registers the donation of Villaordoño, a village of the region of Muñó within the province of Burgos, now abandoned and without trace of human habitation. The beneficiary is someone called Fuet who was rewarded by the queen for many unspecified services. The date on the document is 19 November 1179. After this fascinating discovery, a historical, paleographical and archaeological study has been duly conducted.

“There are few events in the work of a researcher as exciting as discovering an original document thought lost forever”, says professor Cerda. And he adds that “this diploma allows us to get better acquainted with a queen so important for Castile and the medieval history of Spain so much for her dynastic family as for her very capable and industrious government as consort.” Leonor was the daughter of the most powerful couple in Europe as they were Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry Plantagenet, and the sister of famous monarchs such as Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland. “But most importantly, she spent that power and authority on a dynastic and identity project that meant for the young Castilian kingdom a prevailing position within the Iberian Peninsula at the begging of the 13th century”.

With Dr. Félix Martinez Llorente, professor at Valladolid University, professor Cerda has prepared an article for volume 42 of the academic journal En la España Medieval, published by Complutense University, with a full transcription and commentary of the document as well as a detailed historical analysis of such a spectacular finding. The news has also been reported in the Chilean and Spanish press by Las Últimas Noticias and Diario de Burgos

Professor Cerda at Domfront Castle in Normandy where Leonor Plantagenet was born