Kirstin Kennedy

title.none: Ruiz, From Heaven to Earth (Kirstin Kennedy)

identifier.other: baj9928.0409.010 04.09.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Kirstin Kennedy, Victoria and Albert Museum,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Ruiz, Teofilo F. From Heaven to Earth: The Reordering of Castilian Society, 1150-1350. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. Pp. xii, 221. $40.00 0-691-00121-9. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.09.10

Ruiz, Teofilo F. From Heaven to Earth: The Reordering of Castilian Society, 1150-1350. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. Pp. xii, 221. $40.00 0-691-00121-9. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Kirstin Kennedy
Victoria and Albert Museum

Using a last will and testament as a social and spiritual bargaining counter seems a calculating, materialistic attitude more akin to twentieth-century practices than to thirteenth-century ones. However, as Ruiz shows in his study, thirteenth-century testators manipulated the distribution of their worldly possessions in order to perpetuate family fame and fortune, while simultaneously ensuring personal salvation. Such manipulation represents a break with earlier attitudes towards property, possessions, and salvation and, Ruiz argues, is indicative of a profound and lasting transformation in social thinking and values which took place in northern Castile around 1230. The wills of townsfolk--the "middling sorts," as the book calls them--are the principal source of Ruiz's evidence for this sudden change in perspective. However, these can be used as a basis to touch upon many other elements suggestive of shifting values: the use of the vernacular, their relationship with the legislative and administrative activities of kings, their attitudes to the Church and the poor, their descriptive accounts of land. This new will power (as it were) contributed to the rise of particular Castilian families in the spheres of church and court, reinforced social division between rich and poor, and echoed the Castilian Crown's policy of ongoing exploitation of the Castilian Church. However, this new desire to itemize and delimit worldly goods and property for particular, personal ends was not exclusive to Castile. Similar changes were taking place elsewhere in thirteenth-century Europe: in part, this book is a pendant to earlier research on the medieval French world view undertaken by Jacques Le Goff, whose influence is often graciously acknowledged. Another scholarly authority frequently cited, this time in the wider context of Castilian ecclesiastical and political history is Peter Linehan.

Yet if Ruiz presents himself at times almost as a dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants, his study is an intriguing and necessary contribution to the field of Castilian historical writing. It is also, he observes in his Preface, the product of many years of reflection upon the subject of change in medieval society. It is clear from the way in which the author moves from place to place, from document to document, citing a line here, a name there, that he is at ease with the geography of medieval Castile and with his sources. This reviewer, however, is a less certain traveller in the world of thirteenth-century Castilian lands and bureaucracy. A map showing the reach of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route would have given the modern reader a sense of the geography of these thirteenth-century changes in ideas and perspective--and complemented the photographs of cathedrals and monasteries which reveal the impact of new architectural rationales on their facades. Meanwhile, the significance placed from time to time upon certain words or phrases cited from wills made me wish the text of the document were transcribed in full in the Appendix. How warranted, for example, is the interpretative emphasis placed on the word "cobdiciando" which Martin Ortiz de Agonçiello uses to describe his desire to enter heaven (37)? Is this a common verb in wills? Does it really mean "greedy for, coveting" in this context, or is its sense simply the less tendentious "to want"? In the thirteenth century, "cobdiciar" could carry connotations of greed--but could equally mean simply to want to do something, as for example when Gonzalo de Berceo begins his account of the miracle of St Hildefonsus with the line "En Espana cobdicio de luego empezar" (Gonzalo de Berceo, Milagros de Nuestra Senora, ed. by Michael Gerli (Madrid: Catedra, 1992), p.78, line 47). Had the meaning of the verb become purely negative a hundred years later? The Appendix, which edits and sorts the bequests of three wills into catalogues of goods and recipients, is suited to those of a statistical rather than a textual turn of mind. The date span between the wills it includes, meanwhile, is rather uneven: a 99 year gap between the earliest two cited, but a mere sixteen years between the intermediate and the latest one. It is also a pity that the Appendix could not have been expanded to include an example of a pre-1230s will, for comparative purposes.

As part of his painstaking search for evidence of changes in attitudes and outlook, Ruiz rightly complements his archival findings with vernacular literary parallels. Given the haphazard survival of Castilian texts in the first half of the thirteenth century, he draws heavily on Berceo's Milagros de Nuestra Senora. Sometimes the reference is telling-- as when he cites Berceo's casual description of a church orchard worth "de sueldos muchos pares" (28). Other apparent echoes, though, seem to reflect more Berceo's adherence to his Latin source text, than a significant sign of new attitudes towards property and boundary markers (p. 71, and compare the Latin source for the miracle in Milagros, ed. by Gerli, p. 234). Moreover, it seems to me that Latin and clerical learning are given rather short shrift. It is true that the earliest documents selected to show the changes in values, dating from the 1230s, coincide with the reign of Fernando III who introduced Castilian into the court chancery and whose son, Alfonso X, unremittingly promoted the vernacular in bureaucracy and in literary patronage. Yet Latin did not completely disappear: it clearly retained authority for the scribes of the 1231 document cited on page 31, and one wonders whether the Archbishop of Toledo's rather faint praise of Fernando in the prologue to his De Rebus Hispanie meant his chronicle was intended to convert, rather than preach to the converted as Ruiz argues (35). In short, I found myself wondering whether more could have been made of the issue of language and audience (briefly alluded to in the notes to Table 1.1 (33)) and, indeed, of the whole mechanics of drawing up a will (if indeed the sources reveal any of this). After all, it was not the testator, but his or her beneficiaries who would read the written version. It seems rather drastic to imply that the inhabitants of northern Castile had been unable to articulate their wishes fully and permanently to posterity until their (presumably vernacular?) dictation was also recorded in the vernacular (p. 57; cf. M. T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307, 2nd edn (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), chapter 6). One ponders the extent of unwritten, oral agreement in these earlier contracts and although this, of course, remains by its very nature obscure, it may have been worth at least fleeting consideration.

Although it could be said that all historians read the mores of their own age into the documents of a past one, Ruiz has certainly amassed documentary and socio-political evidence from Castile to show a marked change of attitudes towards the material world in the first half of the thirteenth century, and the impact of these upon the fabric of Castilian society itself.