Honor above all, even at the cost of freedom and life

September 30, 2013

Egas MonizEgas Moniz de Ribadouro, the Tutor, (1080 – 1146) was a rich man in the County of Portucale (from which Portugal would later be born).

He hailed from the noble lineage of the Ribadouro, one of the five great families of the county of Entre-Douro-e-Minho in the 12th century. Henry of Burgundy, Count of Portucale, had entrusted the education of his son, Dom Afonso Henriques, to him and this charge earned him the sobriquet with which he is known in History.

SubscriptionAt this time, the county of Portucale was nominally a fief of the kingdom of Leon and Castile, where Doña Urraca was Queen-Regent. At her death in 1127, she was succeeded by Afonso VII, who assumed the title of Emperor of all Spain, and sought the vassalage of all the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. He did this also with the County of Portucale, which for a long time had been showing autonomous proclivities. In 1128, Dom Afonso Henriques was made the leader of the barons who feared Galician influence over Portucale, and, when he was forced to fight the troops of his mother, Teresa of Leon, he vanquished them on the battlefield of São Mamede. After this battle, Dom Afonso Henriques became the political leader of the county, pushed ahead its independence, and the extending of its borders, mainly southwards, into the lands still ruled by the Moors.

Alfonso VII of Castile, called the Emperor.

Alfonso VII of Castile, called the Emperor.

Shortly thereafter, Afonso VII besieged Guimarães, the native city of Dom Afonso Henriques and the capital of the county of Portucale. He demanded an oath of vassalage from Dom Afonso Henriques, who was his cousin. The count’s tutor, Egas Moniz, represented him before the Emperor, telling Afonso VII that the count accepted him as suzerain and lord.

However, when he moved his capital south to Coimbra in 1131, Dom Afonso Henriques felt that he was now sufficiently strong to cut the bonds linking him to Afonso VII. He declared independence and waged war to establish his claims. He invaded Galicia and was victorious at the battle of Cerneia, in 1137.

Egas Moniz de Ribadouro & his family before the King with ropes around their necks. These tiles are in São Bento Railway Station, Porto, Portugal.

Egas Moniz de Ribadouro & his family before the King with ropes around their necks. These tiles are in São Bento Railway Station, Porto, Portugal.

When Egas Moniz saw that Dom Afonso Henriques had not fulfilled his pledge of vassalage to Afonso VII, he went to Toledo, the Emperor’s capital, with his wife and children. There, clothed as a penitent, barefoot, and having put a rope around his neck, he presented himself and his family before Afonso VII as forfeited bail for the dishonored pledge. The emperor was so moved by this great display of honor, that he relinquished all feudal rights and sent Egas Moniz back to Portucale in peace.

Luis de Camões, Portugal’s greatest poet, tells the story in his epic poem, the Lusíades, at verses 35-40.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 321



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