Álvaro de Luna

For the Spanish actor, see Álvaro de Luna (actor).
Álvaro de Luna y Jarana (right).

Álvaro de Luna y Jarana (between 1388 and 1390 2 June 1453), Duke of Trujillo, 1st Count of San Esteban de Gormaz, was a Spanish politician. He was a favourite of King John II of Castile, a Constable of Castile and Grand Master of the military order of Santiago.

Early years

He was born between 1388 and 1390 at Cañete, in what is now the province of Cuenca, as the natural son of the Castilian noble don Álvaro Martínez de Luna, copero mayor (the page who poured drinks to a nobleman) of king Henry III of Castile, and María Fernández de Jarana, a common woman of great character and beauty.

He was introduced to the court as a page by his uncle Pedro de Luna, archbishop of Toledo, in 1410. Pedro de Luna later became antipope as Benedict XIII, secluded at Peñíscola. Álvaro soon secured a commanding influence over John II, then merely a boy. During the regency of King John's uncle Ferdinand, which ended in 1412, he was not allowed to be more than a servant. When, however, Ferdinand was elected king of Aragon, and the regency was assumed by the king's mother, Catherine of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt,[1] and granddaughter of King Peter of Castile, Álvaro became a very important person, the so-called "contino", or old friend of the King.

The King's favourite

Statue of Álvaro de Luna in Cañete.

The young king regarded him with love and affection which the superstition of later time attributed to witchcraft. As the king was under pressure by greedy and unscrupulous nobles — among whom his cousins, the sons of Ferdinand, commonly known as the Infantes of Aragon, were perhaps the most dangerous — his reliance on a favourite who had every motive to be loyal to him, is quite understandable.[2] Luna was also a master of all the accomplishments the king admired: a fine horseman, skillful with a lance and a writer of court verse. But beyond the purview of his peers, he was a master of intrigue and misrepresentation.

Until he lost the king's protection, Álvaro was the central figure of the Castilian history of the time. It was a period of constant conflict, characterised by shifting coalitions of the nobles, namely the Infantes of Aragon Henry and John of Aragon, brothers of John II's wife Maria, who, under pretence of freeing the king from the undue influence of his favourite, were intent on making a puppet of him for their own ends.

The part which Álvaro de Luna played has been diversely judged. The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition recounts that to Juan de Mariana he appears as a mere self-seeking favourite. To others he has seemed to be a loyal servant of the King, who endeavoured to enforce the authority of the crown, which in Castile was the only alternative to anarchy. He fought for his own ends, but his supremacy was perhaps better than the rule of lawless alliances of plundering nobles. His story is, in the main, one of expulsions from the court by victorious factions, and of his return, when his opponents fell out among themselves. Thus, in 1427, he was solemnly expelled by a coalition of the nobles, only to be recalled in the following year. In 1431, he endeavoured to employ the restless nobles in a war for the conquest of Granada, then still in Muslim hands. Some successes were gained at the Battle of La Higueruela, but in the end he failed. A consistent policy was impossible with a rebellious aristocracy and a king of indolent character.

In 1445, the faction of the nobles allied with Álvaro's main enemies, the Infantes of Aragon, were defeated at the First Battle of Olmedo. One of them, Infante Henry, Duke of Villena, brother of the Queen, died of his wounds. Luna, who had been Constable of Castile and Count of San Esteban de Gormaz since 1423, became Grand Master of the Order of Santiago by election of the Knights.


Sad end of Don Álvaro de Luna. Painting by José María Rodríguez de Losada (1826–1896)

Queen Maria died under suspicious circumstances, pointing to Luna as the mastermind. Nevertheless, his power appeared to be thoroughly established. It was, however, based only on the personal affection of the king. The king's second wife, Isabella of Portugal, although her whole royal marriage was a product of Luna's arrangements, was soon offended by the immense influence of the Constable, and when the murder of the King's accountant Alfonso Pérez de Vivero was suspected to have been done on Luna's orders, she urged her husband to free himself from thralldom to his favourite. In 1453 the King succumbed to his wife's demands; Luna was arrested, tried and condemned to death in a process which was a mere parody of justice, and soon executed by beheading at Valladolid on 2 June 1453.

Marriage and issue

By his marriage with Juana Pimentel, Álvaro de Luna had two children, his legitimate heirs:

By a mistress, Margarida de Villena, Álvaro de Luna had an illegitimate son:


  1. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica (the Eleventh Edition) misnames Catherine by her mother's name, Constance, and describes her as "a foolish and dissolute woman".
  2. Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition.


Spanish nobility
New title Count of San Esteban de Gormaz
Succeeded by
Juan de Luna
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Henry of Aragon
Grand Master of
the Order of Santiago

Succeeded by
John II of Castile
Political offices
Preceded by
Ruy López Dávalos
Constable of Castile
Succeeded by
Miguel Lucas de Iranzo
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