A Saintly King Pardons a Rebellious Noble

October 25, 2012

A short time later, while the court was in Burgos, the Royal Ensign Diego López de Haro began to succumb to temptations of ambition with a face full of resentment and dissatisfaction. One day, the unhappy Don Diego, who had inherited his position and title from his father three years before, disappeared from the court. [King] Ferdinand heard that he had gone to his mountains of Vizcaya where he believed he would be safe to carry out a foolhardy plan. The intentions of the ambitious youth were nothing less than to establish Vizcaya as an independent county. [King] Ferdinand immediately fell on him with his army, seized several of his castles, conquered the town of Briones and demolished its walls, thus depriving the rebel of his possessions. When the spirit imposes itself and commands without regard for the body, the flesh becomes exhausted and pained. Thus it was that the energetic King had to retire to his bed and place his son Alfonso in charge of the army, appointing him his ensign.

Diego López III de Haro

The young Prince continued the campaign until de Haro realized that he was getting by far the worst of it. He decided to present himself before the Prince and beg forgiveness for his rebellion. Alfonso granted his pardon, knowing his father’s policies quite well and aware of his own responsibilities. He then took Don Diego to the King, who received him mercifully and benignly.

This accomplished, Ferdinand returned to Burgos. However, the proud Count Diego did not intend to carry humility to the point where it caused him discomfort. Perhaps his change of heart was not caused by repentance, but by a desire to extricate himself from a difficult position. Taking advantage of an absence of the King, without asking permission or giving any explanation, he fled again to the shelter of his mountains.

Statue of King Ferdinand III of Castile.

This perfidy was very painful to the noble King, for these disloyalties always hurt his generous heart. But his sorrow was even more profound in this case, for the memory he had of Don Diego’s father, who had given tremendous support to both the Queen Mother and himself in the stormy beginnings of their reign and because gratefulness was one of the characteristic features of his psychology. However, son of a devoted friend or not, Ferdinand was determined that this time the weight of justice should fall. So he again sent his earthly weapons against Diego López while he personally fought him with those of heaven. The Infante again pursued the stubborn count with a sizeable army in order to inspire respect and—would it please God that it should not be necessary—to proceed strongly if the rebel should despise mercy. As God acts, so must kings act.

His plan did not fail. Young de Haro, counseled by his mother Doña Urraca, who was King Ferdinand’s sister, saw that there was no escape from this sorry situation. Pushed by the Infante’s army as far as the sea, for the second time Don Diego surrendered into the hands of Alfonso, who again took him before his father.

Doña Urraca of Zamora

However, this time he did not receive the pleasant reception he had received the first time. The Infante had him arrested and taken before the King, who spoke to him severely. Then, under armed guard he was conducted to Burgos, where he was imprisoned alone in a tower to contemplate the seriousness of his crime and its possible consequences.

Many feared for Don Diego. The queens interceded, and the kind Don Gonzalo Ruiz Girón supported them. Doña Urraca pleaded in tears to her brother for her son’s life. [King] Ferdinand deliberately delayed the proceedings to give sufficient time for the rebellious knight to reflect on his faults and to anticipate a severe punishment. He said to Don Alfonso, whom he was quietly instructing and preparing for the day when he would be king, “Son, do not forget that this was caused by our original leniency; quick punishment sometimes corrects later delinquency.”

Rarely did the King wake up in a sweeter disposition than that day where, in the presence of the court, he had determined to receive Don Diego back into his grace. The love for Jesus Christ burned in his heart in such a way that forgiving offenses against himself had become for him sweeter than honey.

Diego López III de Haro and his wife Costanza de Montcada

Profoundly consoled, he attended in his chapel the recitation of Prime followed by Mass. With this accomplished, he went accompanied by the queens and surrounded by the whole Court to the throne room, to which he had summoned the Count de Haro, Don Diego López. No one dared to say one word out of respect for the seriousness of the situation, a seriousness which was reflected on the faces of all the noblemen and infanzones. The intense expectation varied in sentiment, including all the nuances from the kind certainty of the chamberlain to some fierce malignant gazes from several nobles. The queens entered smiling. But above all, the King Don Ferdinand was bringing that morning a recollected seriousness on his face, an intimate joy, both sweet and with some emotion. Those who only knew him from his military campaigns became somewhat astonished when they saw him. Could that warrior be like this?

After a few minutes Don Diego entered the court with his head lowered, ashamed and fearful. He knew his life had been spared, but he was quite uncertain about his fate. Then, a friendly voice called him by his name, saying: “Diego López, Count de Haro, approach.”

Without daring to look at his face, the vanquished rebel knelt before his lord, kissing his hand. The King took his, and holding it, asked him: “Do you, Diego López de Haro, render homage to me for your towns and lands of Vizcaya and recognize me as lord?”

“Yes, I do so, and I recognize you as my lord.”

“And do you swear to keep for me my castles of…,” and, one by one, he named his father’s possessions.

To each new castle the King named, the vassal answered: “Yes, I swear!” with a voice each time increasing in emotion. Ferdinand felt shaking in his hands the iron hands that never shook. But when, at the end of seventeen possessions of Don López, the good King added the eighteenth of Alcaraz, Don Diego instinctively exclaimed: “Lord, my father never had Alcaraz!”

The King replied: “No, but you will have it; I have complete trust in your word as a knight that you are about to give!”

The repentant rebel could only answer amidst tears.

The sincerity and solemnity of the final act of homage between the vassal and his lord could only be compared with the grand reunion between Alfonso VI and his famous vassal Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known as the Cid, which had occurred two hundred years before.


Sr. Maria del Carmen Fernández de Castro Cabeza, The Life of the Very Noble King of Castile and León, Saint Ferdinand III (Mount Kisco, NY: The Foundation for a Christian Civilization, 1987), pp. 189-192.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 224



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