Mother hated son – but both loved the Templars!

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Portugal owes a huge debt of gratitude to the Knights Templar for its very existence. But the first king of Portugal had a shockingly bad relationship with his mother. However, despite that, both of them loved the Templars.

Dom Afonso Henriques was the first king of Portugal. But when he was a young man, the future country known as Portugal was part of the much larger Kingdom of Leon. Portugal didn’t exist. And the top female aristocrat in Leon was his mother, Teresa.

She thought that the major task in hand was to defeat the Muslim caliphate that ruled the southern part of the Iberian peninsula. This is what a political map looked like at the time. But her son wanted to carve out the part of Leon north of the city of Porto – which you can see on the western Atlantic coast. The local nobility were very keen that Afonso succeed in this endeavour.

Afonso’s father was the Duke of Burgundy, the part of modern France close to which the first Knights Templar originated. And the impetuous young man was on very good terms with the Templar’s spiritual guide, Bernard of Clairvaux. Afonso regarded himself as a kind of honorary Templar and wanted the knights to help him carve out his new kingdom. Problem was – his mother was in the way!

Just to make matters more complicated, she was also a big fan of the Knights Templar. So they had to be careful about upsetting Teresa, who was not about to back down and give in to her troublesome son. On the contrary, she made it crystal clear to Afonso that he was not going to lead an independent kingdom of Portugal. If Portugal did split off – it would be with her at its head.

Teresa was one of those fiery female rulers that often pop up in the Middle Ages. Unafraid of war and not averse to picking up a sword herself. She pushed the boundaries of Leon ever southwards. Teresa inflicted one defeat after another on the Muslim caliphate and edged slowly towards what would become the city of Lisbon. At that time it was a Muslim citadel called Al-Usbuna.


Teresa granted land to the Templars as her shock troops – particularly in the area between the rivers Mondego and Tagus where neither Christians nor Muslims seemed to have the decisive upper hand.  It was a very dangerous no-mans’ land in what is now central Portugal.

FIND OUT MORE: Ten things you never knew about the Knights Templar

The Muslim “Moors” were not about to lie down and let Teresa push them back and attempted to take back the city of Coimbra, which she successfully defended.  As a result of that victory, Pope Paschal II referred to her as “Queen” of Portugal – thus recognising Portugal as not just a county but a kingdom. However with Teresa and not Afonso as its head.

This infuriated the Christian kingdom of Leon, which regarded Portugal as just a county, an appendage of their realm. To complicate matters, Alfonso VI of Leon had died and his kingdom was now ruled by a legitimate daughter called Urraca – effectively half sister of Teresa.

They now went to war and an additional source of friction was that the Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela (firmly in Urraca’s lands and home of James the apostle’s relics) was trying to assert ecclesiastical supremacy over the Archbishop of Braga (firmly in Teresa’s sphere of influence).

READ MORE: Mogadouro – a Templar stronghold in northern Portugal


Teresa saw off Urraca but her star wanes from this point onwards.

Afonso asserted full independence for Portugal. Teresa found herself at war with her own son defending Leon’s interests. At the battle of Sao Mamede – Afonso Henriques defeated his own mother and became first king of a truly independent Portugal.

But there is a kind of happy ending for Teresa. She is still revered in Portugal as a woman who led a crusade to expand what would become a new nation and had remarkable tenacity in the face of many enemies. You can still see a statue of her, holding a charter, in the northern Portuguese town of Ponte de Lima – which I’ve visited many times. And she founded.

If you go there – try the local delicacy of pig’s blood and rice with a serving of tripe. Or maybe don’t!

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