15.12.08, Devaney, Enemies in the Plaza

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Teofilo Ruiz

The Medieval Review 15.12.08

Devaney, Thomas. Enemies in the Plaza: Urban Spectacle and Spanish Frontier Culture, 1460-1492. The Middle Ages Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. pp. ix, 247. ISBN: 978-0-8122-4713-8 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Teofilo Ruiz
University of California, Los Angeles

Thomas Devaney's Enemies in the Plaza explores, through the use of three richly illustrated case studies, the intersection of spectacle, violence, the forging of communal identity, and the growing hardening of attitudes towards religious minorities or recent converts in late-fifteenth-century Spain. His setting is the Castilian frontier with Granada: borderlands that underwent a radical transformation from the anarchy of Henry IV's rule to the efforts of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, to conquer the kingdom of Granada. Focusing on the little bit over thirty years between 1460 and the late fifteenth century, Devaney seeks to describe the often contradictory nature of Christian-Muslim relations or, as was the case in Córdoba, Christian-Jewish/converso relations, as well as the peaceful coexistence in the context of spectacles or antagonistic encounters between different religious groups in the larger context of frontier spectacles and society.

Throughout most of his book, Devaney deploys the phrase "amiable enmity" to describe these relations. The joining of these contradictory terms--one meaning friendly or "amiable" relations and the other profound antagonism--seeks to illustrate the ambivalent attitude towards non-Christian (an especially towards Muslims) in late fifteenth century Castilian society. Muslims in Christian Spain were often trading partners, cultural interlocutors, and, in Ron Barkay's felicitous title, "the enemy in the mirror," that is, a recognizable reflection of oneself. Yet, Muslims were also erstwhile enemies who, even though the Christians had had the upper hand in the Iberian peninsula since the early thirteenth century, still represented (most evident in the economic and military successes of the kingdom of Granada) an enduring threat because of Iberian Muslims' ties to North Africa.

Deploying a close reading of spectacles in three specific frontier towns (Jaén, Córdoba, and Murcia), Devaney places these urban spectacles in the context of frontier society and warfare. In this manner, he seeks to show how these spectacles exemplified (and promoted) relations between different religious groups, relations that Devaney describes, once again, as "amiable enmity." But the story, as he shows convincingly, is also that of a shift from "amiable enmity" to harsh antagonism, violence, forced conversion, and exile by the reign of the Catholic Monarchs.

His first two chapters present both a lively description of what living, trading, and fighting along the frontier between Granada and Castile may have been like between the 1460s and the surrender of Granada in 1492. It also sketches a methodological context for his inquiry. While arguing that the making of "amiable enmity" through public spectacle reflected both elite and popular developments in their respective attitudes towards Muslim, Jews, and Conversos, that is, that "amiable enmity" was not a top down creation of a specific discourse of either co-existence or strife, Devaney insightfully emphasizes the enduring violence of frontier life, even when such acts had no specific aims of either converting or conquering the enemy. Thus, moments of peaceful co-existence have to be seen within the larger context of systemic violence.

Discussions of the role of the audience or the latter's response to the ideological formulations advanced in public spectacle, that is, the conflating together of contradictory positions of co-existence and enmity, helped create a consensus among the urban population. Chapter 2 also examines a series of contemporary texts that described, albeit in somewhat idealized fashion, those urban spaces that served as context for Devaney's exploration of the links between spectacle and frontier society, between amiability and enmity.

The second part of the book, consisting of three chapters, carefully focuses on three separate cities and the festive events (or in case, violent outcome) held in each of these locations. Chapter 3, the most extensive in its detail and closest thematically to Devaney's formulation, describes the city of Jaén under the rule of Miguel Lucas de Iranzo, constable of Castile in the 1460s and early 1470s, as a case study. The city was Castile's main urban center directly on the frontier with Granada and served as the vanguard for Castilian incursions into the Nasrid kingdom. The chapter offers a thorough description of Miguel Lucas de Iranzo's rise to power from humble origins, his brief moment of glory as a favorite of Henry IV (a fickle king at best), and his swift downfall and exile in Jaén. Besides his close depiction of the city and of the many spectacles offered to the city's inhabitants by the constable's largesse, Devaney engages in a close reading and interpretation of these festive events--told in excruciating, partisan, and almost sycophantic detail by an anonymous chronicler.

These spectacles, Devaney argues, reveal Miguel Lucas's own ambivalent attitude towards Muslims. After all, the Muslims of Granada were partners in commercial activities, sharers of the frontier ethos of honor and military prowess; yet, at the same time, Miguel Lucas and Castilian urban elites on the frontier (and elsewhere) were deeply committed to crusade ideology and to the reconquest of Granada.

Chapter 4 turns to Córdoba and, specifically, to a violent incident in 1473. That year, a procession carrying an image of the Virgin was allegedly drenched in urine or water by a young conversa. The pious procession turned quickly into a riot, unleashing long held resentments into violent attacks against conversos in Córdoba. As he does in previous chapter, Devaney guides the reader through a careful reconstruction of the city's urban topography, the political fragmentation of Córdoba's political life, divided as it was by the struggles between two contending noble factions. Enemies in the Plaza also surveys the complex history of Jews and conversos in both the realm and the city itself. Here again, Córdoba's role, according to Devaney, as the headquarters for military operations against Granada played a significant role in the violence unleashed in 1473.

His final chapter shifts to Murcia during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs and to the festivities associated with the great spectacle of the Corpus Christi processions. Following the example of the two previous chapters, Devaney presents a detailed portrait of Murcia's urban development, the nature of the Corpus Christi celebration, frontier society in Murcia, and, most pertinent to his overall argument, the participation (or banishment) of Muslim and Jews (conversos after 1492) in what had become by then the premiere religious spectacle in Christian Spain.

A short conclusion draws a very interesting and promising comparison between the Spanish frontier and Cyprus. It is a welcome gesture to a Mediterranean perspective, and one worth exploring in greater detail elsewhere. What was different? What was alike? Why? May one posit unique Mediterranean characteristics to festive representations?

Devaney must be commended by his thorough efforts to contextualize his three case studies--Jaén, Córdoba, and Murcia--in what are expansive circles of information and explication. His bibliography is extensive indeed. He artfully mines an abundant secondary literature that is not always available or easy to access in this country. Whenever chronicles are available--for Jaén in this period, for example, there is only one chronicle extant, the Hechos del condestable don Miguel Lucas de Iranzo, quite a partisan source--he brings these primary accounts to the forefront of his descriptions and explications. There is little or nothing that he misses in term of chronicles and other published primary sources.

His remarkable grasp of a large variety of articles, books, and urban descriptions allows him to draw vivid portraits of these three locations. Moreover, the manner in which he presents the evidence is quite novel, propelled by his ability to bring together the different aspects of urban life in three distinct localities, as well, as the ever present frontier demands.

While praising his obvious efforts to present as faithful a vision of these southern Spanish communities as possible, I have some comments about and reservations as to the overall thrust of the project. First, although a great deal is made earlier on in the book as to the importance of identifying the audience, there is little here that truly advances his arguments, or lets us see what may have been the true attitudes and responses of the commons. We all, more or less, recognize the importance of the audience in frontier spectacles or in other performances elsewhere. Their presence legitimated the event. Without a popular audience, many of these spectacles became meaningless. Yet what the audience really felt and thought remains elusive. One major problem is that access to the audience's attitudes in this period is always mediated by the extant erudite accounts that sought to advance specific ideological and political claims and that were not overly concerned with the "audience's" responses.

Furthermore, his three case studies, all of them placed within the methodological framework of "amiable enmity," do not always fit his overarching interpretative aims. While his descriptions of spectacles in Jaén, a true frontier town, perfectly fits into his description of Miguel Lucas de Iranzo's tireless efforts (through an elaborate program of urban spectacles) to establish his rule in the city and maintain the war against Granada while seeking some kind of accommodation with Muslims, this approach does not work as well for Córdoba or Murcia. In these two cases, especially in Córdoba, there seems to have been a lot of enmity against Muslims, Jews, and Conversos and a paucity of amiability. After all, what happened in Córdoba happened elsewhere throughout the Castilian realm, above all in regions that were quite far away from the frontier. Riots and violent actions against conversos, like the one that took place in Córdoba in 1473, were a dime a dozen in northern Castile. Maurophilia (a topic invoked in the conclusion) was not paralleled by similar attitudes towards Jews and conversos (unless it was by the conversos themselves), or, at least, not to the same extent.

Being forced to participate (or being banned from participating) in the Corpus Christi processions or being fined for failing to attend, as was the case in Madrid, had little to do with frontier society and, far more, with a triumphant Christianity and enduring pejorative representations of non-Christians that dated back to the Visigoths and came to the fore in the wake of the Fourth Lateran Council and the harsh measures of the Castilian Cortes in the 1250s. This does not seem very amiable to me.

Nonetheless, these small quibbles do not detract from Devaney's meticulous presentation of the evidence and his commendable efforts to see spectacles as part of the always-fraught relations between different religious groups on the Castilian frontier with Granada. Enemies in the Plaza, beautifully produced as always by the University of Pennsylvania Press and its very important medieval series, allows us to see these relations--if not always under the guise of "amiable enmity," then certainly under a new light. For that we must all be grateful.

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