His reign was fleeting, troubled and contentious, but Sancho I of Leon It well deserves to go down in the books of the country’s history. And it deserves it for two compelling reasons, never better said. The first is that if he was removed from the throne in 958, it was not because of a game of palace conspiracies and disputes between nobles. Or those weren’t the only reasons, at least. The trigger was his bulging belly, a belly so prominent that it earned him the nickname of ‘el Gordo’ and made his subjects doubt whether he was the most suitable person for the throne. The second is that it can boast of having completed perhaps the most successful (and early) “miracle diet” in Spain.
We explain ourselves.
When he was a boy, in the 1940s, there was little reason to think that Sancho could one day become a prominent figure in the kingdom of León. His status as the third son of Ramiro II relegated him to a secondary position, behind his brothers Vermudo (died 944) and ordoño. And if the cradle had not favored him, his health was not buoyant either: he was not a young man given to long rides or exercises. His thing was rather the comforts of the palace, especially those that were dispatched in fountains, well watered with oil.
From Ramiro ‘el Grande’ to Sancho ‘el Gordo’
At the table, the infante Sancho did not hold back. They say that he was given to anthological feasts, with seven meals a day, sometimes consisting of 17 dishes, including stews with game meat. History may exaggerate and have deformed his figure, but it has left us at least one piece of information to give us an idea of how plump Sancho was and to what extent he developed morbid obesity: it is said that, already in his adult stage, he came to weigh 240 kilos.
If his father had been nicknamed Ramiro ‘the Great’ —or ‘the Devil’, as his enemies referred to him—and his predecessor Alfonso “the Monk”Sancho was given a much less epic and much more descriptive nickname: ‘el Crasso’.
Or directly ‘el Gordo’.
However, it was one thing to be a fan of lavish banquets and quite another to renounce the throne and settle for the delegated government of the county of Castile, a responsibility that had been assigned to him in 944. Once his father died and with his older brother become Ordono III, Sancho organized a rebellion between 954 and 955 to expel him from power. The ruse worked out for him.
His attempt to overthrow him by force was a resounding failure, but in a surprisingly timely turn for Sancho’s interests, Ordoño III died not long after, thus clearing his ascent in 956 to the crown of a kingdom that was facing delicate moments due to tensions. internal and Muslim incursions.
His belly wasn’t helping either. It was bad to weigh 240 kilos, but it was worse to combine such a weight with that of a crown that required being willing to stuff yourself into armor. As Professor Margarita Torres recalls in an article of the Royal Academy of History (RAH), in the 10th century it was expected of a king who will combine certain qualities: good judgment, balance, firmness… and the skills of a warlord. It would have been very difficult for Sancho I to appear on the back of a horse on the battlefield, just like fighting brandishing a sword or even something as crucial for the crown as providing offspring.
Such a condition undermined his image among the kingdom’s aristocracy, who ended up losing respect for him. Add to this the memory of Sancho’s failed coup against his brother Ordoño III and the decisions he made once sitting on the throne, which led him, for example, to distance himself from his uncle, the influential Count Fernan Gonzalezand there will be a perfect cocktail for the fall from grace of a novice monarch.
Barely two years after being crowned in Compostela, ‘el Crasso’ lost his precious scepter, which passed in 958 —by siege— to the infante Ordoño Alfonso. Sancho managed to save his skin and took refuge where he knew he would be safe: in Navarra, with his grandmother, the queen allan old woman over 70 years.
The story of Sancho I could have ended then. Fortunately, his maternal grandmother was a woman of resources and he decided to ask for help from someone who would have the least qualms about conspiring against a Christian monarch: Abderhraman III, the Caliph of Córdoba, an interesting ally both for his position and for his resources. At his service was a renowned doctor, the Jewish sage Hasday ibn Shaprutskilled man, polyglot, educated and who could help the king to overcome his overweight.
in exchange for the alliance with Abderrahman, to which the Navarrese are added, the supporters of Sancho I agreed to hand over fortresses on the border. Not bad pay for a move that not long after, in April 959, will allow her to return to the capital of his kingdom in triumph while Ordono IV, alias ‘el Malo’, was forced to flee to end up in Córdoba. The second and definitive stage of the reign of Sancho I began, which would last until his death, in 966.
What is surprising is that —if we believe tradition— the Sancho who returned exultant to León had little to do with the one who had fled long ago to take refuge in his maternal grandmother’s castle. In fact, the nickname ‘Crasus’ was too big for him. The reason? The strict “biquini operation” to which Shaprut had submitted him before his return to the throne, in Cordoba.
The remedy was so effective that it is said that Sancho lost more than 100kg in a matter of a few weeks. Before embarking on following the diet of the Jewish sage, it is better that you take note of what you will need, according to historical popularizers. interviewed by ABC: infusions, exercise, ropes… and needle and thread.
It is difficult to know how much is real and how much is exaggerated in that chapter of the story of Sancho I, but according to what they say, Shaprut ordered that they sewed up his mouthleaving just an opening so that he could use a straw. Some say that during a good part of that ordeal the king remained tied hand and foot to prevent him from getting food. To complete it, he underwent steam baths and exercise sessions. All in order to stop gulping down and burn fat.
It probably wasn’t the kind of weight-loss therapy Sancho was thinking of, but at least it produced results. According to the chronicles, he lost 120 kilos in a matter of 40 days. The situation in León did not allow him to indulge in long treatments for being overweight. Even so, the balance is more than striking: three kilos per day. Today there are experts who question that the king could lose such a load in a month, no matter how strict the prohibition of eating and intense sweating to which his doctor subjected him.
However, its history remains.
And the chronicle of a king who saw how his throne be reeling because of his overweight.
Cover image: Wikipedia
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