Monday, November 13, 2017
At first glance, Urraca (oo-RAH-kuh) may not seem like a good name for a newborn. I'll admit it has a clunky oddness about it, and a weight to it. However, like Roxelana, Tomyris, Zenobia and Melisende, a couple of the namesakes for Urraca qualify as some of the most powerful female rulers of all time - at least in Spain. Like many historical names, Urraca has no U.S. name data. This name may ultimately be of Basque origin, but is likely from Latin furax, meaning "thieving," in reference to the magpie's behavior. The Spanish meaning is "magpie," the beautiful black and white bird.
There are a handful of historical women named Urraca. In historical records the name has also been spelled Hurraca, Urracha and Orraca. Most of these women were princesses or queens coming from the original Kingdom of Asturias, which was divided into Galicia, Asturias (which became Castile), and León. A couple others were from Pamplona (Navarre), and Portugal.
Little is remembered about the earliest namesakes, but once we get past 1000 A.D. there is more information. There was Urraca Fernandez, who was a queen consort of two Kings of León and one of Navarre, and she acted as regent for her son, and co-regent for her daughter-in-law. Her niece Urraca of Covarrubias became a nun and was in charge of a great deal of property that would be assigned to other unmarried daughters of Castile. Urraca of Zamora was a daughter of King Ferdinand I the Great. She literally owned the city of Zamora as her inheritance. When her brother Sancho, who thought he should rule all of his father's lands, beat out three of his other siblings for their cities, Urraca was able to stop him, and then he was mysteriously killed. Her story was written about in Cantar de Mio Cid. In this romantic work, it is said that Urraca's brother Alfonso, who became king after Sancho's death, followed every single piece of advice that Urraca gave him.
Urraca the Reckless has a bit more backstory. Queen of León, Castile and Galicia from 1109 to 1126, she got pregnant with her first child at only 14, and ended her reign with death by childbirth. Her father married her off at eight years old, which was not so uncommon then, after he decided to recognize his illegitimate son, Sancho. Her presumably much older husband waited until she was 13 to try for heirs, which resulted in stillbirth at first. They went on to have two other children, and her husband died in 1107. The next year her half-brother Sancho died, and her father married her off again. This new marriage sparked rebellion and civil war until they divorced. There was much hostility even afterward, but Urraca managed to pull everything together so that by her death the kingdom was at peace.
Urraca the Asturian was Queen of Navarre although she was an illegitimate child. Her claim to fame was fighting for the independence of Asturia against the king of León.
Urraca of Portugal married Ferdinand II, produced an heir, and then their marriage was annulled by Pope Alexander III. She became a nun, and her son Alfonso became king.