The Battle of Valdevez

The Arcos de Valdevez Tourney, or Battle of Valdevez, is a remarkable moment in the process of independence and the foundation of Portugal. It is also a unique event in the history of Portugal as the battle was decided even before it happened.

This extraordinary episode in Portugal’s history takes place in 1140, in the Vale do Rio Vez, in Arcos de Valdevez.

What is a Tourney?

First of all, it is important to clarify that a tourney is a kind of medieval tournament where knights from both parties involved show their dexterity fighting each other. The result of the dispute was usually accepted by both parties, avoiding a battle pitched with losses for both sides.

Arcos de Valdevez Tournament

After the victory in the legendary battle de Ourique (against the Moors), Afonso Henriques decides to invade Galicia, thus breaking the so-called “Tui Peace” (peace treaty between Afonso Henriques of Portugal and his Cousin Afonso VII of Castile and Leon, signed in Tui).

The Portucalenses quickly conquered some castles in Galicia that were under the jurisdiction of Castile. Afonso VII was furious and decided to gather a large portion of his army and invade Portugal, conquering all the castles on his way, descending Soajo Mountains towards Valdevez.

Afonso Henriques decides to face his cousin, and the two armies meet in the Vez valley. There isn’t much reliable information about the armies, but it is credible that the Leonese army was much larger than the Portuguese.

At this stage, there is contradictory information in the sources we have consulted. In some places, it is understood that the encounter would have developed almost naturally, with some soldiers taking each other and starting to fight. While in others sources, it seems to have been an organized tourney, a hastilude, in order to avoid unnecessary killings.

Battle of Valdevez
Arcos de Valdevez Tournament

At the Valvedez tourney, the best Portuguese knights had a clear advantage over the Leoneans. Thus, according to the medieval knights code, several Leonese were detained, leaving Afonso VII in a vulnerable position. On the other hand, the Portuguese themselves had no interest in prolonging the battle and therefore tried to reach a compromise.

We need to remember that both Afonso VII and Afonso Henriques had a common enemy to the south, the moors. In practice, it seems that their disagreements weren’t that great either. More than avoiding Portugal’s independence, Afonso VII wanted above all to avoid any chance of growth from Portugal to the north, as he considered Galicia an indispensable part of his empire. Maybe he also believed that he could solve the Portuguese independence issue later.

And so it happened, the cousins ​​Afonso Henriques of Portugal and Afonso VII of Leon reached an agreement, each returning the castles conquered to the other.

Arcos de Valdevez Tournament
Paço da Giela in Arcos de Valdevez, where you can find the history of the tournament described

Consequences of the Recontro de Valdevez

After the victory of the Portuguese knights, Afonso Henriques takes advantage of the church’s good graces. Through Dom João Peculiar, the Archbishop of Braga, he asks Pope Innocent to accept vassalage and the payment of a census of four ounces of gold per year. The Archbishop of Braga also asked Cardinal Guido de Vico to witness and mediate the meeting and conciliation between Afonso VII and Afonso Henriques to negotiate the Zamora treaty in 1143.

In this treaty, Afonso VII recognizes Portuguese sovereignty, accepting that the Portucalense County would become Kingdom and that Afonso Henriques would be its King.

Most authors and historians consider the Battle of Valdevez as one of the decisive steps towards independence from Portugal, which was to be consummated in 1143 through the Zamora treaty and later with the papal bull in 1179.

Everything about the tourney of Arcos de Valdevez
Statue of Afonso Henriques (first king of Portugal), in Guimarães

Chronicle of the Goths

One of the few documents that report this episode and that survived until today is the Chronicle of the Goths. We have pasted below the interesting transcript of the part where the Valdevez battle (the bufurdio) is mentioned.

. . . the Emperor Don Alfonso, son of Count Raymond and Queen Doña Urraca, daughter of the Emperor Don Alfonso, having assembled his entire army of Castile and Galicia, wished to enter the kingdom of Portugal and arrived at a place called Valdevez. But the king of Portugal, Afonso, joined with his army and coming in the manner he wished, drew up his tents, some in that place and others elsewhere. Certain people came from the Emperor for a game [ex parte Imperatoris ad ludendum], which is popularly called a “bufurdio” [Bufurdium], and immediately the men of the king of Portugal came down and fought them. They took many captives, including Fernando Pérez Furtado, the Emperor’s brother, the consul Ponce de Cabrera, Vermudo Pérez, and Varella, son of Fernando Yáñez, brother of Pelayo Curvo, and Rodrigo Fernández, father of Fernando Rodríguez, and Martín Cabra, cousin of the consul Don Ponce, and many others who had come with them.

Chronicle of the Goths or Chronicon Lusitanum, 1178 Era
Battle of Valdevez depicted in Porto
Battle of Valdevez depicted in S. Bento train station inPorto

Legend of the Holy Wood (Santo Lenho)

Plus, as we usually enjoy a nice legend, we also have to share the legend of Santo Lenho, which is closely related to the Valdevez tourney. According to this myth, in this battle, a sacred relic was found, the Holy Wood, which according to Catholic tradition, was a piece of the cross where Jesus Christ was crucified.

This sacred relic is kept in the main church of Grade, in a closed tabernacle with two doors and seven different keys. This is venerated on Ascension Thursday, 40 days after Easter.

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