Friday, October 10, 2014

The Farmer King

Afonso III looked like the savior for Portugal after his brother's kingship, but Afonso fell afoul of the pope himself and was removed prematurely in 1279, leaving the throne to his son Denis, who was 18 years old.

Denis of Portugal was the son of Afonso and his second wife, Beatrice of Castile. Examination of his remains in 1938 reveals that he was 5'5", had auburn-colored hair, and died with a full set of teeth. The teeth are unusual, but so is the hair color, since this was far from typical in his family line. He did, however, have Henry II of England as an ancestor in both parents' lines, so that may have been the ultimate source of the reddish-brown hair.

With minor diversions into necessary military engagements—his father had already done a lot to drive the Moorish occupation out of the Iberian PeninsulaDenis concentrated on administrative details. He extended his father's reforms on law and civil rights, starting a consistent criminal law code. He built new castles and towns and new social institutions to aid administration, and confirmed Portuguese as the official national language.

His nickname "The Farmer" (in Portuguese, Rei Lavrador) came from his attention to land use. He helped farmers to organize and improve agricultural practices, and redistributed land for fairer use. He saw the danger of encroaching sand dunes near the town of Leiria, and halted it by having a pine forest planted which still stands today.

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