03.04.02, Collins, and Goodman, Medieval Spain

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Brian A. Catlos

The Medieval Review baj9928.0304.002


Collins, Roger, and Anthony Goodman, eds.. Medieval Spain: Culture, Conflict, and Coexistence. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. Pp. xxvi, 265. ISBN: 0-333-79387-0.

Reviewed by:
Brian A. Catlos
UC Santa Cruz

Medieval Spain. Culture, Conflict and Coexistence brings together thirteen diverse studies on the history and literature of pre-modern Iberia, assembled as a homage to the distinguished British Hispanist Angus MacKay, best known for his widely disseminated Spain in the Later Middle Ages: From Frontier to Empire, 1000-1500 (first published in 1977). As a whole this volume embodies all of the advantages and difficulties typical of festschriften: its richness and range make it a book which many students of Spanish history and literature will find engaging and useful in sections, but its chronological sweep and methodological variety leave it somewhat lacking uniformity and overall focus. This presents challenges for the reader, but most of all for the reviewer, who is faced with the daunting prospect of evaluating and criticizing essays ranging from minute manuscript studies, to broad social and economic historical syntheses, to comparative literary essays, which together span the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries.

In his introduction, "Angus MacKay and the History of Medieval Spain," editor Roger Collins acknowledges the book's limits and effectively disarms potential criticism by emphasising the strong literary bent of British Hispanic historiography and admitting the heavy Castilian bias which has also characterized the insular school, not to mention the work of Professor MacKay himself (xiii). Appended to this introduction is a bibliography compiled by Anthony Goodman which reviews the publications of MacKay's rich career, including three monographs, more than fifty articles, as well as assorted edited works and collected essays.

In the first essay of the collection, Collins begins with the valid observation that the concept of convivencia should be applied not only to relations of accommodation which existed between the peninsula's ethno-religious communities, but also to relations between rival groups within these communities. This is the point of departure of "Continuity and Loss in Medieval Spanish Culture: the Evidence of MS Silos, Archivo Monástico 4," a detailed study of an eleventh-century copy of the Mozarabic liturgy (liber ordinum). Here Collins painstakingly establishes the origins and provenance of the work, which was copied at the Monastery of Silos in 1052, as a text strongly rooted in the remotest of Visigothic precedents but which specifically reflects northern Spanish or Navarrese observation. Studying the marginalia, he determines the book to have remained in actual use perhaps into the mid-thirteenth century, surviving the decree of the Council of Burgos (1080) which effectively prohibited the old rite in favour of the Latin liturgy, despite papal recognition that the Spanish observation was orthodox. Further, he links it to the indigenous Church's unsuccessful efforts to maintain their tradition in the face of the chauvinistic attitudes of the predatory French clergy which came to dominate Castile under the rule of Alfonso VI.

Simon Barton's "Traitors to the Faith? Christian Mercenaries in al-Andalus and the Maghrib, c. 1100-1300" is an engaging reappraisal of the place of the Christian-Islamic frontier in the view of the Christian military classes in the age of the Reconquista. Using contemporary Christian and Islamic chronicles, he constructs a history of Christian military service to Muslim princes both before and after the great victory of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), so widely held by historians and contemporaries to mark the turning point in a grand political-ecumenical conflict between Islam and Christendom in the peninsula. Barton finds that ideological posturings and Church prohibitions notwithstanding, Christian mercenaries and adventurers regularly sought employment with Islamic patrons both in al-Andalus and North Africa. As he notes, this was a tradition which began in the earliest period of Muslim rule (25) and was most dramatically represented by the hero "El Cid," a figure as legendary as he was politically ambivalent. But it is the lesser-known successors of Rodrigo Díaz which interest Barton: figures like Tello Fernández and Reverter, who served the Almoravids in the mid-twelfth century, and Fernando and Gonzalo Núñez de Lara or Pedro Fernández, who fought in African armies in the thirteenth. These infidel knights-errant were welcomed by their hosts, who used them with great efficacy not only against their Muslim rivals but occasionally against Christian enemies as well, and were undoubtedly bound to their Islamic employers and comrades by ties of vocation and class which crossed confessional boundaries. Such relationships do not represent historical anomalies; indeed, it is well-established that contemporary Muslim mercenaries played a complementary role for Christian regimes. As Barton justly observes, "the search for wealth, status and power, the chief motors of aristocratic behaviour down the ages, was always likely to take precedence over religious or ideological considerations..." (38).

Next, in "Jews and Moors in the Siete Partidas of Alfonso X the Learned: a Background Perspective," the venerable Robert I. Burns brings together two of his favourite themes: the religious minorities of medieval Iberia and the great legal compilation of Alfonso X of Castile, contextualizing its treatment of minorities both on terms of modern historiography and contemporary significance -- examining both "circles of context" (48) and strains of content. Reminding us that the "tolerance" which contemporary historians have praised in Alfonso X can easily and alarmingly lead to anachronistic value-judgements, Burns anchors it rather in a structure of parallel juridical societies which permitted the coexistence of heterogeneous groups within Christian-dominated society. This set-up entailed an essentially ambiguous view towards minorities (especially Jews), which historical circumstance could push either towards lenience or repression. The legal status of Jews, he reminds us, did not derive only from their situation in Spain, but from the precedents that had been set a millennium earlier by Roman law, which was being re-established under the impetus of kings like Alfonso. The position of Muslims was more complex, as they were perceived as both a political and theological thereat not only in Iberia, but also in the eyes of the Papacy and various theological elites. They too comprised a parallel society in Alfonso's legal construction, one whose survival depended not only on the statutes but on Muslim communities' abilities to negotiate and navigate the shifting waters of economic and institutional utility, currents which ultimately overwhelmed their society, as it had earlier that of the Jews. Burns concludes that although the minorities figure in only a small portion of the Partidas, the nature of their representation had far-reaching implications regarding their status in Christian Castile.

Muslims and Jews are also the focus of the contribution of Teofilo Ruiz, who turns his hand to minority history in "Trading with the 'Other': Economic Exchanges between Muslims, Jews and Christians in Late Medieval Northern Castile." Hampered by an acute scarcity of archival documentation (approximately 40 records of transactions involving Muslims and Jews over more than a century), he discerns a pattern of social and economic interaction which crosses sectarian lines. Referring to legal texts, Ruiz deduces that the statutes passed prohibiting or discouraging economic exchange among members of different religious communities were often linked to efforts by Christian groups to eliminate competition. But the relationship between legal statutes and social reality cannot be assumed to be direct as the article sometimes suggests. For example, the laws forbidding Jewish women to act as nursemaids for Christians reflect a widely-disseminated Latin Christian legal topos rather than one of the "routine and intimate ways in which the three religions came together" (67).[[1]] Nevertheless, despite the rather mossy, functionalist characterization of non-Christians as "Other," the general conclusions he draws: that Jews, Muslims and Christians traded amongst each other, that royal interest was crucial in sustaining minority communities and that the condition of these was related to economic trends, are all undoubtedly valid, although the paucity of archival evidence undermines any elaboration of these broad observations.

In her "Catalina of Lancaster, the Castilian Monarchy and Coexistence," Ana Echevarría returns to the subject of her recent monograph, Catalina de Lancaster (Nerea: 2002), focusing first on the succession of this English princess to the Castilian throne through her marriage to the future Enrique III in 1388. This was a portentous moment, as the marriage marked the end of twenty years of war between the two kingdoms, during which time the Hundred Years' War and the Iberian War of the Two Peters had spilled over into each other. Echevarría reconstructs the series of misfortunes and intrigues which seemed to imperil Catalina's accession to the monarchy, reflecting on the early education which prepared her for the influential political role which she would eventually enjoy as royal wife and consort, and, ultimately, as regent for her son, Juan II. In these roles the queen promoted both the entrenchment of the dynasty of which she had come to form a part and the integration of English and Castilian diplomacy and politics. Echevarría ties in the theme of coexistence or "convivencia" (97) in an analysis of legislation regarding Muslims and Jews passed during Catalina's phase as regent. It was in 1412 that community markers came to be formally legislated: Muslims were to wear distinctive garb, were prohibited from practicing many trades and industries and they and Jews were to be restricted to living within ghettos. Freedom of movement and immigration was also curtailed to prevent revenue loss, while royal control over the aljamas was to be tightened. Echevarría cites the origins of the chauvinistic impulse behind this legislation as being fear of mudéjar collaboration with the Muslim Kingdom of Granada, and the early influence on Catalina of the rigorous piety of St. Vincent Ferrer, but observes that this legislation was probably not actually implemented. The article concludes with an account of the death of the queen, and has an appendix of fifteen contemporary documents in Latin and old Castilian, two of which are edited for the first time here.

N. G. Round's contribution marks a shift away from social and political history to the intellectual and literary history of fifteenth-century Castile. "Alonso de Cartagena's Libros de Seneca: Disentangling the Manuscript Tradition" examines the translations of works by Seneca produced under the auspices of Alonso de Cartagena, Bishop of Burgos in the 1430s. Establishing the original texts is complicated by the fact that multiple copies exist not only in Latin, but in vernacular translation, and thus traditional methodologies, such as tracing back textual errors and variations, are not effective. Round, therefore, chooses to analyze the variation of sub-titles and titles within the various exemplars, which reflect the evolution of the understanding of the text irregardless of the language in which a particular copy is written. The proposed model for the distribution and interrelation of the texts supports the author's contention that the intellectual impulse underlying the study of Seneca at this time was to consolidate traditional knowledge, but he notes that the medieval model of scholarship was increasingly influenced by the interest of the vernacular-reading laity, and that aristocratic patronage was the driving force behind both impulses. Round's is an exacting and technical codicological study which represents a "preliminary clearing of the ground" for subsequent research (143); it is an article which will serve this purpose well and consequently will be of less interest to non-specialist historians and students as, according to its stated purpose, it addresses internal characteristics of the translations rather than their importance as sources of cultural history (see 123).

Fifteenth-century literature is also the theme addressed by Brian Tate in "Laus Urbium: Praise of Two Andalusian Cities in the Mid-Fifteenth Century." The laus urbium, laudatory or eulogistic works referring to cities, comprised a popular genre in medieval Italy, but is rare in Iberia. This is surprising, given that its function: the cultural reinforcement of the ideals and position of urban oligarchies, which would have appealed to the patriciate of many a city in the peninsula. After a review of the genre, Tate turns to a comparison of two works concerning Córdoba and Seville, by Jerónimo de Córdoba and Alfonso de Palencia, respectively. In the imagery each conjures in relation to the city which is the object of his admiration the relationship between natural environment and human character is evoked, although Palencia stresses that this relationship is reciprocal, with the inhabitants of a locale also shaping the environment. Jerónimo's view is less complex. Moreover, each draws on a distinct metaphorical tradition. Jerónimo's imagery is essentially Biblical in basis, conjuring a connection between his home city and the Holy Land. Palencia, on the other hand, expresses himself in rather more humanistic terms, drawing on the history and culture of the Classical world, undoubtedly influenced by his travels in Italy. In spite of these differences of tone and expression Tate places both writers in a cultural milieu which mixed both medieval and Humanist themes, "too tightly interconnected to be easily entangled" (158); both accounts appear, as it were, as intermediary forms in the evolution of Renaissance Spanish culture.

In "Peace and War on the Frontier of Granada. Jaén and the Truce of 1476," Manuel González Jiménez examines the impact of one of the last truces between the Kingdom of Castile and the Muslim Kingdom of Granada on the Castilian city of Jaén, a town whose proximity to the border was a principle determinant in shaping its social and economic history in this period. This particular agreement had been negotiated for an unusually long period -- four years -- at the impulse of the Catholic Monarchs, who had other political-military fish to fry (namely war with Alfonso V of Portugal), and who needed to secure their southern frontier until that situation could be brought under control. But regulating peace along the porous border between the kingdoms, which included inhibiting raiding and facilitating the exchange of prisoners, was no easy task. Towns and aristocrats on either side tended to carry out their own policies, which frequently contravened the agreements signed by their sovereigns, who were then implicated in their subordinates' actions by virtue of their superior authority. Jaén itself was determined to observe the truce, and in order to defend itself against possible attack was faced with the twin challenges of maintaining a ready defensive force against the Muslims and preventing its own rulers from sapping its capabilities by demanding levies for the war on Portugal. González Jiménez breaks off his account at the end of 1476, when no resolution to the problems facing Jaén has been reached, and as the city endeavoured to address these two related challenges by aggressively attempting to raise an effective, mounted civil militia. The article closes with an appendix of two documents in Old Castilian: the truce signed on 11 January 1476 between the two kingdoms, and a treaty signed three months later between a municipal official of Jaén and a chief minister of Granada relating to incursions mounted by local leaders of Huelma and Guadix.

Dorothy Severin's short article, "Songbooks as Isabelline Propaganda: the Case of Oñate and Egerton," examines the use of courtly songbooks (cancioneros) in Isabel la Católica's efforts to establish the legitimacy of her rule, in the wake of her victory by force of arms over the pretensions of Juana "la Beltraneja" and Alfonso V of Portugal. Two works which circulated widely at this time, the Oñate and Egerton anthologies, were heavily laden with political content, which served to promote the Isabelline agenda. These included: advice to princes, attacks on Henry IV (Isabella's brother and Juana's reputed father), poetry aimed at creating Castilian national heroes, and religious works often with marked political aspect According to Severin, a contemporary emphasis on political and religious poetry in the last quarter of the fifteenth century mirrors the preoccupation of the aristocratic elite, and accounts for the relative scarcity of amatory courtly verse in this period.

The only contribution to this volume which is set in the Crown of Aragon (and in which it must be said, can hardly be qualified as Aragonese history) is Ian Macpherson's "Court Poets at Play: Zaragoza, 1498." In that year the Aragonese capital hosted a meeting of the Spanish and Portuguese courts in great pomp to recognize the Catholic Monarchs' son-in-law Manuel I of Portugal as successor (with the princess, Isabel) to the Castilian-Aragonese monarchy. The meeting lasted three months, dissolving after Isabel died in childbirth, leaving widowed Manuel a son, Miguel, as infant heir to three kingdoms. Analyzing the contemporary Cancionero de la British Library, Macpherson identifies several Spanish and Portuguese courtier-poets who were present at the gathering. Spending three stifling summer months in Zaragoza together, this varied troupe of poets engaged in a game of literary invention in which the object of their amused contempt was a provincial Portuguese aristocrat, Manuel de Noronha, who appeared at the festivities wearing yellow-camel hair hose, considered hilariously gauche by his witty and more fashionable peers, who set upon him with gusto. The resulting word-play, enriched by double-entendres resulting from the linguistic confusion of Castilian and Portuguese vocabulary provides no end of humiliation for Manuel and delight for his tormentors. It is this puzzle of apparently nonsensical associations that Macpherson patiently disentangles, giving the reader a glimpse of a late-medieval Iberian aristocratic culture which shared common values despite the variety of language and culture in the peninsula.

John Edwards' "Conversion in Córdoba and Rome: Francisco Delicado's La Lozana Andaluza" looks at an obscure, anonymous work ascribed to the Cordoban priest, Francisco Delicado, who flourished as an author in Rome during the first quarter of the sixteenth century. The tale concerns "La Lozana," an impoverished daughter of an aristocratic family, who embarks on a series of adventures which leads eventually her to Rome, where she lived for fourteen years, engaging in a variety of dubious occupations associated with the sex industry. The realism and frankness of the account was responsible for its neglect by critics and historians in the succeeding centuries, whereas the difficulty of the text has discouraged its use an historical source today. Picking up on MacKay's location of La Lozana in the ambit of marginalized converso society (205), Edwards embarks on a historical-geographical tour through the protagonist's Córdoba and Rome, contextualizing the character and the story against the back drop of an increasingly millenarian-minded Spanish society, and a Rome under the threat of the Protestant hordes of the Imperial army in 1527. In the succeeding pages he teases out of the text a whole series of associations which seem to point increasingly to a relation between the author of the work and the esoteric mysticism of the Spiritual Franciscans. As he concludes, La Lozana remains an ambiguous figure inhabiting some sort of middle ground between fiction and historical reality, but he establishes that this text provides important insights to the intellectual and social ferment which characterized the age of the Inquisition and the Wars of Religion. As Edwards observes, "the text is still far from surrendering all of its meanings" (217), but he has certainly provided starting points for future scholarship.

In medieval Iberian historiography the motif of sexual honor has been used repeatedly as a justification for political events, whether it was the Byzantine Count Julian unleashing Tariq's forces on the Visigothic kingdom in retribution for the deflowering of his daughter "Florinda," or Pelayo's revolt against his Muslim overlords as a consequence of his own daughter's molestation. Whereas these famous legendary events are almost certainly fabrications, in "The Making of Isabel of Solis" José Enrique López de Coca investigates the legend surrounding a real-life character, the Christian slave girl known as Zoraya, who became the last queen-mother of the Kingdom of Granada. Introduced into the harem of Abu 'l-Hasan, Boabdil's father, the woman soon became an obsession for the Muslim king, who grew to favor her over his own wife. For historians of the period, this inappropriate relationship acted as a catalyst for the decline and eventual conquest of the kingdom, as Zoraya's political influence contributed to unrest within the ruling house and internal political disarray. López de Coca picks up the trail of the historical Zoraya in 1500, by which time she was living in Seville where, having reconverted to Christianity, she bore the name Isabel de Solis. The former Muslim queen appears in a series of acts relating to her efforts to regain properties which had been confiscated by Boabdil previous to his own capitulation. Despite her apostate past, Isabel had managed to make a successful transition back to Christian society: she controlled a considerable and diverse patrimony and had overseen the conversion of her two sons by Abu 'l-Hasan to her old faith and their subsequent marriage into respected Castilian noble houses. With her litigation concluded, Isabel disappears from historical view around 1510, but sixteenth-century chroniclers latched on to her, embroidering her life in order to weave her character into their narratives of the fall of Granada (including a role in the spurious episode of "the Moor's last sigh"). Eventually, in order to endow her with a suitably noble pedigree (to match the status she attained in Christian Seville), she was confounded with the daughter of a Castilian comendador. Her story, based on a nugget of truth, appealed to the imagination of early modern historians, and therefore they embroidered it and endowed it with fictional details, until her story, with that of Florinda, became a sort of historical bookend to mark the conclusion of the "Moorish occupation." The article concludes with three edited documents in old Spanish in which Isabel de Solis is a protagonist.

In concluding, the collection fast-forwards to the nineteenth century with Richard Hitchcock's "The Conquest of Granada in Nineteenth-Century English and American Historiography," a look at the English-speaking world's perception of Spain at a time when Anglophone interest in Iberian history was on the rise. The fall of Granada was a particularly resonant moment, all the more so given the development of popular and learned Orientalism at this time. Non-specialists may be surprised to learn how little is known of the details of Abu 'Abd Allah's capitulation to Ferdinand and Isabella, and it is Hitchcock's intention in part to sift away some of the layers of narrative invention which had become intermingled with the historical facts in the three and a half centuries that had passed from the time of the events to that when these accounts were written. He begins by tracing the account of the city's submission from Juan de Mariana's Historia general de España of 1601 along the various historiographical and fictitious trails that eventually branched off into Stanley Lane-Poole's History of the Moors in Spain and Washington Irving's heavily Romanticized literary postcard, A Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada. Pascual de Gayangos' translation of al-Maqqari's encyclopedic history of al-Andalus, the Nafh al-Tib, acts as the "test" sample. In considering the embellishments and improvements which historians made in the service of narrative, notably Boabdil's legendary breakdown upon being forced into exile and the rebuke he suffers from his mother as a result, Hitchcock reminds us that the writers of English accounts were not concerned with rigorous scientific inquiry. Rather they were responding "to the exotic appeal of the demise of the 'Moorish' empire in Spain," and aimed to convey the feeling of this "mysterious past" to a wider public (252); one might say that they approached medieval history much in the manner that contemporary art historians and restorationists treated medieval monuments. The article concludes with a schematic comparison of several nineteenth-century accounts, alongside de Mariana's English translation (1699), and de Gayangos' al-Maqqari, which allows the reader to compare narrative elements of the surrender and occupation of the city and brings dramatic flourishes, such as the "Moor's last sigh," into relief. An annotated bibliography of the principle works referred to in the article is also included.

Together, the thirteen diverse studies provide a fitting homage to Angus MacKay's long and productive career; most of them bear some direct relevance to Professor MacKay's work and all of them emulate its spirit. This volume will make a valuable addition to university library collections, while specialists in the history and literature of medieval Iberia may also find it a useful obtain a copy for their own shelves.


[[1]] Such statutes can be dated at least to the reforms of Gregory VII (1073-85) and was promulgated at Lateran III (1180). See H. Gilles, "Législation et doctrine canoniques sur les Sarrasins," in Cahiers de Fanjeux. Islam et chrétiens du Midi (XII-XIV s.), ed. E. Privat (Toulouse: Centre d'Études Historiques de Fanjeux, 1983), 195.

Article Details

Author Biography

Brian A. Catlos

UC Santa Cruz