A History of Spain and Portugal

Castile and Aragón in the Late Middle Ages

Preeminence of the Aristocracy in Castile

During the late Middle Ages, the affairs of Castile were dominated largely by the aristocracy, and especially by its upper stratum who by the fifteenth century were being recognized as grandes. This fact, together with many references in Spanish historical writing to the "feudal power" of the Castilian aristocracy, may seem to contradict the observation that Castile lacked a genuinely feudal political structure. As has been explained, however, the preeminence of the Castihan aristocracy was the result of social and economic power more than of formal and juridical status. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, this power had been enhanced by changes in Castilian-Leonese society. Many local rights, small-property guarantees. and opportunities for self-government of an earlier period were being lost.

The formal powers of the Castilian crown were greater than those of the medieval French monarchy, but Castile lacked a well-articulated constitution or a balanced third estate able to maintain significant enclaves of autonomy. Thus it was without the institutions which could reinforce legal authority during the reigns of ineffective kings, leaving the field free for the aristocracy, as during the last part of the troubled reign of Alfonso X. The philosopher king was succeeded by his son, Sancho IV (1282/1284-1295), nicknamed the Fierce because he was wont to fall into great rages. He renounced his father's efforts to reform Castilan government and extend royal law, becoming instead the champion of an aristocracy which desired to transform its seigneurial powers into political domination. If matters were confused during Sancho's weak reign, they became even more so during the reign of his son Fernando IV (1295-1312), who was only nine years old when he inherited the crown. Under a system of regency, the powerful regional aristocracy usurped political authority in many parts of the kingdom. When Fernando died young the situation deteriorated even further, since he left a son only two years old, Alfonso XI (1312-1350). The throne was disputed at one and the same time by an uncle, a grand-uncle, and a third cousin of the infant heir. The regency virtually broke down and for several years the kingdom was split asunder. At one point there were mutually hostile pretenders established in León, Toledo, and Seville

Restoration of Royal Authority under Alfonso XI (1325-1350)

After Alfonso XI came of age (1325), royal power was swiftly reasserted, and in many ways the young ruler proved to be one of Castile's most capable kings. It was all the easier to restore royal authority because the Castilian aristocracy at no time developed a political program. They had no corporate goals other than to wield individual authority and gain personal wealth and prestige. During periods of royal weakness, the aristocracy never tried to supplant the crown but merely to usurp its regional authority. There was little effort to emulate the constitutional powers of the Aragonese aristocracy, who at times held their ruler legally checkmated. In Castile, neither the aristocracy nor any other class thought in terms of major political changes. The nobility was moved by a kind of normless self-assertion which did nothing to lessen the theoretically almost unbounded prerogatives of the crown. Thus when a strong ruler reappeared, all the legal structure remained with which to reimpose royal authority.

While moving against the anarchy of the nobility, Alfonso XI at the same time reduced the rights of the towns. Middle-class entrepreneurial elements were much weaker than in Catalonia, and as seigneurial jurisdiction increased after the twelfth century, powers of self-government had been progressively diminished in many municipal districts of northern and central Castile. By the fourteenth century, most towns were dominated by an urban aristocracy mainly of landowners and socially on a par with, sometimes actually drawn from, the lesser aristocracy. Fernando III had made efforts to counter the increasing influence of the aristocracy and the crusading orders by establishing municipal councils in some of the territories of the thirteenth-century reconquest, but this probably affected no more than 10 percent of the reconquered land. Even so, the autonomy of the towns, though limited, had been the only force capable of checking to any degree the exactions of the aristocracy during the disastrous reigns of Sancho IV and Fernando IV; in another situation, the same modest influence could be used to limit the demands of the crown. Consequently Alfonso XI initiated a policy of royal intervention in municipal government, sometimes appointing royal officials to supervise affairs and help select Cortes representatives. This interventionist policy was eventually carried to a climax in the late-fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Nevertheless, Alfonso XI generally enjoyed the support of the northern towns, the strongest, who realized that the ambitions of the aristocracy were more dangerous than royal authority.

Alfonso was not oblivious of economic problems; he reinforced wage and price legislation and tried to encourage easier cultivation terms for landless peasants. Castilian society as a whole suffered less from the Black Death than Catalan, since a greater proportion of its wealth was mobile and agrarian and less dependent on urban society. Nonetheless, shortages of farm labor developed in Castile as in other parts of western Europe, and in the later years of his reign Alfonso XI felt constrained to promulgate decrees controlling wages.

As a result of the inflation of the fourteenth century, the ambitions of royal administration, and continued military expenditures, the demands of the crown for funds increased steadily. Yet the economy of Castile remained unbalanced because of low agricultural production, limited manufacture, and the power and demands of the aristocracy. A fundamental change in Castilian fiscal policy occurred during the reign of Alfonso XI, when the crown began to find it easier and more profitable to raise money by its own taxes than to rely on periodic grants from the Cortes. An organized treasury, tentatively introduced in the thirteenth century, had its real beginning at this time. The alcabala, or sales tax, was established in its classic form; new levies on the wool trade were instituted in 1343, together with other new export taxes; new monopolies were set up; and the royal quinta (fifth) from the proceeds of Castilian piracy and cabalgadas (border raids) was regularized. Jews were widely employed in tax collecting and fiscal administration, inciting further hostility against them.

Alfonso XI's ultimate goal was to establish "pure" (and hence autocratic) royal sovereignty in Castile. He reduced some of the privileges of the Fuero Viejo of the Castilian aristocracy, and his jurists reorganized and codified Castilian law under four headings: 1) the new royal law that was to supersede much of previous practice in dealing with major questions; 2) the traditional Fuero Juzgo of the Leonese regions; 3) municipal statute law for the towns and much of commercial activity; and 4) the theoretical standards of the Siete Partidas, normally without practical effect.

The Southern Frontier

The territorial advance of Castile had been arrested after the reign of Fernando III. The rise of the Moroccan Merinid empire in the 1260s had given the Muslims a renewed foothold on the very southern tip of the peninsula around Gibraltar and reopened the possibility of invasion from Africa. Fighting and raiding raged intermittently in the far south for eighty years. During part of this period the emirate of Granada, which remained independent, continued to pay tribute to Castile, diminishing interest in the conquest of this last taifa. Inflation, economic depression, and commercial slumps weakened royal initiative in the late thirteenth century and again during the Black Death in the 1330s, while the internal division that preceded Alfonso XI sapped the strength of royal policy and diverted energy from external affairs. This dissension was a major factor in permitting the Aragonese to incorporate the Alicante district south of Valencia in 1304.

During the troubled regency of Fernando IV, the Merinids grew more belligerent. In a battle of 1319, they slew both regents of Castile and subsequently began to levy tribute on the southern frontier districts. In two major campaigns of 1340 and 1343, Alfonso XI succeeded in breaking Merinid power on the Spanish side of the straits and occupied nearly all the southern tip of the peninsula save Gibraltar itself. These victories ended the age of African invasions. Changes and strife within Morocco discouraged any later offensive actions across the straits; henceforth, it would be the Hispanic powers who carried their own raids into Africa.

Nasrid Granada

The last of the Hispano-Muslim taifas, the emirate of Granada, managed to preserve its independence for more than two centuries after the main phase of the great reconquest ended. It was a sizable state in the mid-thirteenth century, more than four hundred kilometers long from east to west and extending well over one hundred kilometers inland. During the reigns of Fernando III and Alfonso X, the Nasrid emirs were faithful vassals of Castile; subsequently, their closeness to Africa provided them with ready assistance from the Merinids and from Berber mercenaries. Though the western tip of the emirate was lost to Castile after the victories of Alfonso XI, the emir Yusuf I (1333-1354) once more came to terms with Castile and resumed tribute payments.

The most prosperous period of the emirate was the second half of the fourteenth century, when it underwent a cultural and economic renascence. Handicraft and agriculture flourished. There was active commerce with North Africa and with the Genoese; Granada's chief exports were silk, sugar, and fruit. Trade with the Sudan provided the gold which was so useful in tribute to Castile. The Alhambra was built and a major Muslim school of higher learning established.

As a remnant and a border culture, Granadan society was militantly Muslim. Much of the population were Muslim refugees from other parts of the peninsula, though there was also a significant Jewish community. The religious jurists exerted considerable influence and urged warfare against Castile. The Nasrid dynasty, however, was inclined toward prudence, and war was unpopular among the hardworking common people of Granada. The cultural vitality of the society remained high, but the fifteenth century was a troubled time, wracked with dynastic disputes and instability. There was intermittent border warfare with Castile, but during much of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Castilian crown's traditional goal of reconquest was replaced by a policy of tributary overlordship vis-a-vis Granada. Crown and aristocracy in Castile tended to remain absorbed in internal affairs. The mountainous terrain of Granada, shielded by fortified hill towns to the north and west, discouraged reconquest until the Castilian crown finally reached its plenitude of power after the union with Aragón.

Pedro the Cruel (1350-1369) and the Great Castilian Civil War

Alfonso XI died prematurely at the age of forty and was succeeded by his sixteen-year-old son Pedro. The young ruler fell immediately under the influence of a favorite companion, Juan Alfonso de Albuquerque, bastard of the king of Portugal and the first of a formidable line of validos who in later reigns dominated Castilian kings. He encouraged young Pedro to do away with the late Alfonso XI's beloved mistress, Leonor de Guzmán, a possible source of rivalry. The eldest son of Alfonso and Leonor, Enrique, was already a grown man and before his father's death had been made count of Trastámara (a district in Galicia). After his mother's murder, he came out in revolt against the crown, and later became the champion of a fractious aristocracy.

Pedro tried in large measure to follow the policies of his father, extending royal administration, restricting the privileges of secular señoríos and church abadengos, and employing middle-class jurists in place of aristocrats as administrators. He drew the hostility of most of the aristocracy, but the majority of the towns supported royal power as the alternative to aristocratic oppression. Pedro tended, however, to be somewhat unstable and vindictive, qualities that were exaggerated by the propaganda of his ultimately victorious enemies, who fixed upon him the nickname by which he is known to history--Pedro the Cruel.

The hostility of the aristocracy to Pedro turned the revolt of Enrique de Trastámara into large-scale civil war. Propaganda of the Trastámara faction presented Enrique as the "true heir" of the traditional monarchy, representing the real interests (the landholding aristocracy) of the realm. Trastámara propaganda strove to play on a narrow spirit of Castilian chauvinism, whipping up hatred of Jews and Muslims, whom it identified with the rule of Pedro. Jewish communities had been evicted from France and England nearly a hundred years earlier and were increasingly restricted in Catalonia from the mid-thirteenth century. Their elite status in Castile, where they were the major moneylenders to the crown and heavily involved in tax collection, made them an easy target for enmity. Enrique was also not above involving the French crown in the affairs of Castile, though French support of his struggle to overthrow the legitimate monarchy proved costly to the kingdom.

The great Castilian civil war swept across the peninsula, became involved in the Hundred Years' War between England and France, and prompted heavy foreign intervention. In the early years, Pedro had little difficulty driving the Trastámara forces from the kingdom. When both France and Aragón agreed to support Enrique's pretensions, Pedro carried the war into Aragón and briefly occupied Valencia. But royal financing for continuous campaigns was difficult, and the intervention of the French "free companies" under Bertrand du Guesclin tipped the balance in favor of the rebels. This was righted by English support for the Castilian crown: Edward, the Black Prince, with his English archers, severely defeated the Franco-Castilian rebel forces in 1367. Yet the English prince and Castilian king soon fell out over money matters, leading to an English withdrawal and a revival of Trastámara power. After the English ceased to support Pedro, the Trastámara forces moved in for the kill. Enrique showed great cruelty himself in his execution of royalist leaders in the northeastern towns during the decisive campaign of 1368. Pedro was captured and personally slain by his half-brother, who succeeded him to the throne as Enrique II (1369-1379).

Structure of the Trastámara Monarchy

The new Trastámara ruler was by no means a mere creature of the aristocracy. He was a politically intelligent sovereign who faced the task of constructing an effective monarchy on the basis of usurpation by a bastard branch of the royal family. His primary goals were to strengthen the power of the crown, to establish a loyal oligarchy of nobles as underpinning to the throne, and to strengthen the Franco-Castilian anti-English alliance that had won the war.

Enrique fully accepted the idea that a strong nobility was a necessary complement to a strong crown. Since much of the old Castilian aristocracy had been ruined by the civil war, he created a new one, chosen from his closest relatives, his military leaders, his chief supporters, and from backers of Pedro who had switched sides. This was the beginning of the classic Castilian high aristocracy of late medieval and early modern times, subsequently called grandes. Only six Castilian titles of later importance antedated the year 1369.

In addition to receiving major land grants and privileges, the new aristocracy paid increasing attention to establishing itself within the crown's state service. Contrary to the tendency of the preceding century to name middle-class appointees, the offices of the crown were filled with nobles. By the next reign, many of these offices were becoming hereditary, leading to further wealth and emoluments for the high aristocracy.

Yet Enrique II was not merely a "feudalizing" as contrasted with a "modernizing" monarch, for he claimed that he wanted to enforce the royalist laws of his father, Alfonso XI, and in some ways the crown did grow stronger. He organized a chancery for foreign affairs and set up a supreme royal audiencia of four jurists and three bishops to coordinate, apply, and interpret the legal norms codified by his father's jurists. He also made some effort to extend the royal administrative system, but was largely foiled by local aristocratic influence.

Enrique gained the support of nearly all the Castilian church hierarchy, standing as champion of law and order and reconfirming all privileges of the church. The monarchy was strengthened further by the decided support of the reform element temporarily dominant in the hierarchy, for church leaders tended to believe that stronger royal power was necessary to provide impetus and authority for effective reform within the church.

The towns of Castile were much less enthusiastic and more divided. In general, they suffered from the extension of aristocratic authority, although in some cases Enrique made minor concessions to the concejos. The most threatened element in the kingdom were the Jews. Pedro had leaned heavily on Jewish financiers, and Enrique came in on an anti-Jewish wave which he tried subsequently to check.

The second Trastámara king, Juan I (1379-1390), made some effort to limit the trend toward exalting the prerogatives of the high aristocracy. He continued his father's support of the church by agreeing, at the Cortes of Soria in 1380, to have most of the church land recently usurped by the aristocracy returned. He employed many petty nobles in royal administration and tried to avoid honors and appointments for the upper stratum. (The first years of the reign of his son Enrique III "the Ailing" [1390-1406] were to be marked by civil war between the upper and lower aristocracy, resulting in an almost complete, if temporary, victory for the latter.)

In his checkered reign, Juan I managed to give clearer form and function to the royal council, clarify and solidify the work of the several regional audiencias for royal law that had been established under Alfonso X, and establish central direction for a sort of rural constabulary, the Hermandad Nueva. For the first time in Castilian history, Cortes support was obtained for a royal standing army to be composed of 4,000 lances (backed by 3 to 5 men each) and 1,500 Andalusian light cavalry. No part of the royal forces or administration achieved the size, scope, or efficiency that was planned, but the structure, if not the practice, of royal government was advanced slightly under the Trastámaras in the late fourteenth century.

Apogee and Decline of the Castilian Cortes

The Castilian Cortes reached the height of its influence in the fourteenth century, culminating in the troubled years 1385-1390. During this time it strove to arrest the trends of unilateral royal authority and aristocratic domination, but ended during the fifteenth century largely succumbing to them. Originally, in the late thirteenth century all towns, concejos, or comunidades living under realengo (royal domain, as distinct from señorio or abadengo) had the nominal right to send representatives when Cortes were summoned. At the Cortes of Burgos in 1315, 101 Leonese and Castilian communities were represented. The Cortes' power of the purse was explicitly recognized by the Castilian crown for the first time in 1307, though it was honored somewhat unevenly in the course of the century. The other major function of the Cortes was to exert a degree of influence in ratifying the succession to the throne and the establishment of regencies during the minorities of young rulers.

The capacity of the Castilian third estate to organize was revealed in 1295 when sixty-six municipalities and concejos formed a hermandad (brotherhood) that organized district rural constabularies to maintain law and order and protect economic interests. This was the first important example of several hermandades formed by the Leonese-Castilian towns at various times in the late Middle Ages.

Representation of the third estate suffered from the administration of Alfonso XI, who intervened in the election of municipal council members and Cortes representatives. He employed bribery, sometimes appointed lifetime royal regidores (magistrates) to oversee town affairs in the event of difficulty or disorder, and named a series of royal corregidores to exercise authority, when necessary, over the town councils. Alfonso XI was a popular king and used his appeal to bolster arbitrary extension of authority. He succeeded in breaking up the Castilian hermandad, which he deemed too independent of royal sovereignty.

By the middle of the fourteenth century, the town meeting (cabildo abierto) was being used much less than in the past, and more and more the representatives to Cortes were chosen by municipal councils, often only from among council members. The inflation of the second half of the century made it increasingly expensive for small towns to send representatives to Cortes assemblies. The crown ceased to invite the less important towns, whose spokesmen often did not complain too much about their exclusion. This trend was reinforced by the rivalry of the larger towns, eager to exclude smaller communities.

The extension of señorio domain during the fourteenth century reduced the number of smaller autonomous towns and concejos, and the aristocracy exerted growing pressure on municipal government. There was a tendency for lesser aristocrats to take up residence in towns and seek to control municipal governments. Many towns fought back by refusing to let nobles hold office. These quarrels gave the monarchy an excuse to intervene in municipal government through appointment of corregidores.

Yet the autonomy that still existed in the northern half of the kingdom of Castile (exclusive of Galicia) was extensive. In addition to the self-government of most of the larger towns in royal domain, a census under Pedro the Cruel in 1359 indicated that approximately half the peasant villages in Old Castile still enjoyed partial autonomy under local terms of behetría.

Though the autonomous communities had been cool toward the Trastámara cause, the dynasty made no overt move to contest the somewhat cloudy prerogatives of the Cortes in which they were represented. The power of the Cortes rose dramatically during the last five years of the reign of Juan I. Disastrous campaigns in 1384-1385 to enforce his claim to the crown of Portugal, culminating in the historic Castilian defeat at Aljubarrota, left the king's treasury absolutely exhausted. A new Cortes assembly provided funds, but the crown was forced to acquiesce in a number of demands. Annual Cortes meetings were held between 1385 and 1390. During these years, Cortes representatives checked royal accounts and tax collections, tried to protect local rights, and made ultimately unsuccessful efforts to establish a delegation on the royal council.

Yet the meaning and consequence of these limited achievements were mixed, for they were gained by the active participation of the lower nobility. The goal of the latter was not to form a permanent political alliance with the upper stratum of the third estate but simply to check the power of the high aristocracy in favor of their own. During the reign of Enrique III, the petty nobility won a clear-cut victory over the high aristocracy, using the victory to advance its own power, especially in municipal government, and to create an artificial monopoly over part of the third estate's Cortes representation. It had little interest in developing the Cortes as an institution but instead exploited it for class interests.

Thus there did not develop in Castile the union of the lower nobility and upper middle class that later formed the backbone of the English parliament. By the beginning of the fifteenth century, all levels of the nobility and the church had effectively established their immunity to most taxation, and even the hidalgos lost interest in the function of the Cortes.

Since the Castilian Cortes relied almost exclusively on the towns, its possibilities were obviously limited at the outset by the small size and social and economic weakness of the urban population of Castile. Moreover, there was never a major effort to codify the rights of the Cortes as an institution. And finally, those of the third estate represented in the Cortes were almost completely unable to unite in their social, economic, and regional interests; towns, regions, and representatives of economic interests usually failed to develop broader goals. By the fourteenth century, artisans were almost completely excluded from municipal government. (Yet, unlike Catalan and Valencian towns, there were few class revolts in the towns of Castile after the early fourteenth century. Social struggle usually took the form of general revolts of local districts against their aristocratic or clerical overlords.)


Table 1.

Periodicity of the Castilian Cortes, 1252-1520


Years reigned

Cortes summoned

Alfonso X (1252-1284)



Sancho IV (1284-1295)



Fernando IV (1295-1312)



Alfonso XI (1312-1350)



Pedro I (1350-1369)



Enrique II (1369--1379)



Juan I (1379-1390)



Enrique III (1390-1406)



Juan II (1406-1454)



Enrique IV (1454-1474)



Isabel I (1474-1504)



Post-Isabeline, 1504-1520



Source: Piskorsky, Las Cortes de Castilla.


Though Cortes assemblies were still called annually through the first half of the fifteenth century, their influence declined steadily. By the middle of the century, the crown had begun to indicate directly whom it wanted chosen as procuradores (representatives) in certain towns. From that time, only seventeen (later eighteen) towns were normally represented: Burgos, León, Seville, Toledo, Córdoba, Murcia, Jaén, Zamora, Toro, Salamanca, Segovia, Avila, Valladolid, Soria, Cuenca, Madrid, and Guadalajara. Large regions of the kingdom were entirely unrepresented, for the towns of Galicia (almost exclusively under señorío and abadengo), Asturias, Santander, Extremadura, La Mancha, and the Basque country were completely excluded.

Extension and Consolidation of Aristocratic Domain

The golden age of the Castilian high aristocracy may be dated from the start of the Trastámara dynasty, and the Catalan historian Vicens Vives has suggested six major factors for its rise to overweening wealth and power:

1. The repartimiento, or division, of vast territories in the thirteenth-century reconquest

2. The key importance of the wool trade in Castilian commerce, which offered great profit for grazing on aristocratic domain

3. The establishment of mayorazgos (entail), prohibited by Old Castilian law but legalized by Alfonso X

4. The tendency toward monopoly of royal and clerical offices by younger sons of grande families

5. Victory of the Trastámara aristocratic faction in the fourteenth-century Castilian civil war--the reverse of what happened in contemporary Aragón

6. Weakness of successive rulers of the Trastámara dynasty

Despite the concern of the first Trastámara kings to maintain the legal authority of the crown, their social and economic policy was regressive. Its feudal emphasis completed the reversal of the original trend of Leonese-Castilian history and exactly complemented that of Trastámara Castile's great ally, the feudal monarchy of France, in contrast to the trend in Catalonia and even Portugal. Though Trastámara policy did not devolve political jurisdiction, it increased the splintering of local social, economic, and even judicial power under an ever more powerful aristocratic caste.

The classic señorío jurisdiction of mero y mixto imperio carried with it general social and economic dominion, and usually meant juridical authority as well, and often the right of local religious patronage. New señorío grants of the fourteenth century frequently included special taxing privileges such as the right to collect local alcabalas, and in some cases, to keep all the proceeds. The ecclesiastical abadengo grants sometimes included similar rights. Rights to tax were especially common in the larger domains of the grandes, and at times they were usurped even when not specifically granted.

Seigneurial domain became more deeply rooted during the fourteenth century by the spread of mayorazgo--the entailing of family domains as inalienable inherited property. This principle of individual entail (vinculaciones), proclaimed under Alfonso X, was first invoked to an important extent under Sancho IV. Enrique II granted establishment of numerous large mayorazgos to his most favored nobles, and the principle of vínculos cortos for smaller domains was also established. Though the mercedes enriqueffas (grants of Enrique) were not as lavish as has sometimes been written, important concessions were made, and legal jurisdiction and entailment by nobles greatly increased. There was a parallel tendency to diminish the rights of communities and concejo land, awarding the administration and usufruct of portions thereof to aristocrats. In some cases, seigneurial domain was extended to hold peasants on the land in regions where population had been thinned by the plague.

Perhaps half the land in Castile was the domain of the aristocracy by the beginning of the fifteenth century, and a few grandes enjoyed incomes greater than that of the king of Aragón. During the course of that century the señoríos continued to grow, especially during the civil wars of the middle decades, and a shift of population occurred. The most powerful aristocrats could afford easier terms for peasant renters and sharecroppers than were customarily offered on royal lands, and there was a fairly steady transfer of population onto señorío land.

Save for the most powerful of the aristocracy, however, genuine fortunes were won not so much from the land and its rents as from honors and appointments in the royal administration. During the reign of the weak Enrique the Ailing, a new state oligarchy of petty nobles, entrenched in royal administration and enriching itself from the royal treasury, was consolidated. Grants of annuities from the crown had become common and were an important source of income for the aristocracy. Thus the rule of Enrique the Ailing became the golden age of a prosperous stratum of oligarchic-bureaucratic nobility.

During the minority of Enrique's son Juan II (1406-1454), Fernando de Antequera, younger brother of the late king, governed as regent and created a new cluster of titles and mayorazgos for his supporters. During his regency, the late medieval mystique of chivalry took hold in Castilian aristocratic society, influenced by French and Burgundian norms of pomp and ceremony. Here was the beginning of the vogue of novelas de caballería among the upper and middle classes, and a spur to further development of the crusading mentality, which had been largely in abeyance for the past seventy-five years. In this spirit, a border campaign captured the town of Antequera from Granada and earned Fernando his sobriquet.

After D. Fernando secured for himself the vacant throne of Aragón in 1412, the boy-king, Juan II, had to face a stormy reign. The Castilian monarchy began to founder, as the next two-thirds of a century were wracked by aristocratic civil wars. Juan II became the most literate and cultured ruler that Castile had had since Alfonso X, but political affairs were dominated by his valido, Alvaro de Luna, scion of one of the greatest Aragonese families, who was made constable of Castile (grandmarshal of the kingdom).

For four decades aristocratic intrigues and revolts flared intermittently, and the Infantes of Aragón were the major source of factionalism. Younger sons of the new king, Fernando of Aragón, excluded from the Aragonese succession, they hoped to carve out dominions of their own in Castile, where their father retained much wealth and influence. Over the years, the domination of Luna at court roused the opposition of much of the native Castilian aristocracy, who several times forced his expulsion from the kingdom. Though the royal army defeated aristocratic rebels in a major battle in 1445, the anti-Luna forces and a new queen finally had their way. In 1453, Luna was executed by royal order on a charge of having bewitched the king, who himself died--partly from remorse--within a year.

These internecine struggles were not actually civil wars between the aristocracy and the crown as much as conflicts between factions of the nobility for domination of the perquisites and power pertaining to the crown. The principles of royal sovereignty and a royal treasury were well established. The Castilian aristocracy accepted the fact that the path to influence and wealth lay not so much in combatting the sovereignty and income of the crown as in dominating the royal system.

The main thing needed to establish royal dominion was simply a capable ruler, and the first decade of the reign of the next king, Enrique IV (1454-1474), was moderately successful. Most of the aristocracy feared domination by fellow aristocrats more than rule by the crown, and even the Catalans looked to the Castilian crown for assistance and arbitration. Yet though Enrique IV was a humane and tolerant ruler, he tended to be weak, lazy, and indecisive. As the years passed, his shambling, uncouth appearance and exotic behavior increased his unpopularity with influential elements in the aristocracy, and by the middle of his reign the royal polity had broken down once more. In 1464 an uprising forced him to sign a pact that in effect guaranteed the dominance of the high nobility over the affairs of the crown. The next ten years were full of turmoil; portions of the aristocracy were in nearly continuous uproar; the towns had once more to form hermandades to protect themselves and keep the roads open; Castilian aristocrats intervened in Aragonese affairs and vice versa, and all the while smoldering border warfare with Granada continued.

The Castilian Economy of the Late Middle Ages

By the fourteenth century, Castile had become a major factor in west European commerce, but the economic structure that gave rise to this was quite different from that of the most prosperous parts of western Europe. Castile's economy remained a rural one stressing the export of raw materials: above all, wool, but also leather, wax, honey, wine, and olive oil. Transshipping of sugar and silk from Granada and northwest Africa was also of some significance after the Byzantine trade had been strangled.

It has been calculated that by the fifteenth century two-thirds of the productive land in Castile was devoted to grazing. Development of the curly-stapled merino sheep in the fourteenth century greatly increased high-quality wool production, and a huge trade was funneled by the Mesta through Burgos and on to the Cantabrian ports. By 1477 the flocks of Castile numbered 2,700,000 head of sheep. Most stockmen in the Mesta could be defined as middle class or at least nonaristocratic, and the size of individual flocks was usually not great. Profits from the export economy by no means went entirely into middle class or protocapitalist hands, however. Grazing land and other perquisites were dominated to some degree by the aristocracy, which indirectly reaped a not insignificant share of the profits of Castilian commerce. In contrast to the increase in grazing, the proportionate value and productivity of Castilian agriculture may actually have declined in the later Middle Ages. The only significant irrigation to be found in Castile was in the Guadalquivir district around Seville and in La Rioja in the extreme northeast.

Castilian commerce was extensive enough to develop a significant urban mercantile class, though one living amost exclusively off the rural export trade. By the late fourteenth century, Castile's merchant marine was as large as that of any power in Europe, and was involved not merely in export cargos but in the carrying trade for other areas of western Europe and the western Mediterranean. The maritime foci were the Cantabrian and Vizcayan port towns, the Andalusian ports around Seville, and Cartagena to the southeast. Castile carried on something of a naval war with the Hansa ports from 1419 until 1443, when a treaty resulted in one-sided terms advantageous to Castilian commerce in the north. Throughout the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Castilian merchants dominated trade along the French coast and were the leading element at Bruges. The development of new forms of credit and banking put Castilian merchants among the leaders in international commercial techniques, and Pirenne has shown their influence in the early sixteenth century in stimulating new kinds of production in Flanders. There new varieties of cloth were introduced, the breakdown in the guild system speeded, and production in larger, more efficient units encouraged. The crown assisted commerce with premercantilist navigation acts that helped weight Castilian trade toward raw material exports and cheap imports of manufactured goods and grains.

The economic base for the nascent Castilian bourgeoisie remained overwhelmingly the land. The only notable manufactures in most Castilian towns were textiles, and these were usually of low quality. The main exception, and the only significant finished producers, were Basque iron works in Vizcaya and Guipuzcoa, at the forefront of European metallurgy of their day.

The increasing influence of the local aristocracy in municipal government during the late Middle Ages reduced attention to economic problems and probably represented a significant hindrance to economic development. The Castilian bourgeoisie thus was able to amass wealth on the coast and in a few key trading centers, but had difficulty making headway in most parts of the kingdom. The development of commercial and financial resources opened the possibility for a new social and economic balance, but the Castilian bourgeois were even less interested than most in challenging the dominant aristocratic values. A major portion of whatever capital was accumulated went back into the land in the form of censos consignativos--pastoral and agrarian loans, much used, especially by the church. Wealthy merchants also began to establish their own petty mayorazgos with the spread of vínculos cortos, small entailments, during the fifteenth century.

The artisan classes of Castilian towns were always smaller and weaker than those of Catalonia and Valencia. The classic medieval guild system never developed fully in Castile, where it was restricted by royal law. The cofradías of artisans and laborers were essentially no more than charitable associations, though they functioned with relative efficiency. But if there were few guilds, there were also few restrictions in Castile. Because of the reconquest, land was more readily available than in some other realms, and the economic restrictions on town laborers and peasants were, with the exception of the region of Galicia, less severe and direct than in Aragón.

Though the income of the Castilian crown was much greater than that of the Aragonese, a large portion of it was drained away by inefficiency and the interposition of the aristocracy. In Castile, as elsewhere, the inflation of the late Middle Ages left the crown increasingly hard pressed to meet military and other expenses. One result was steady currency devaluation, beginning in the thirteenth century. Throughout the Middle Ages, Castile had retained the Muslim monetary system, using an orientally derived coinage and employing the Koranic gold-silver ratio of 10 to I. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, however, the actual gold value of the Castilian maravedí fell from a comparative ratio of 4.22 in 1252 to 2.87 in 1258 and to 2.47 by 1390.

The income of the royal domain was never sufficient in the late Middle Ages to permit the crown to "live of its own," and there was a persistent tendency to levy new taxes. The basic sales tax, the alcabala, was set at 5 percent in 1269 but had been raised to 10 percent by 1377. In addition, a sisa was levied, to be paid by the seller from the original sales price. It was set at 1 percent in the late thirteenth century but raised to 3 percent by about 1350. There were also a great variety of municipal, seigneurial, and transport taxes. From 1430 on, the emirate of Granada was obligated by treaty to pay annual tribute of 20,000 gold doblas (about 225 pounds of gold) a year.

The crown inevitably resorted to heavy borrowing, mainly from Jewish financiers but also from the church. By the fourteenth century, Italian bankers, especially Genoese, had made their appearance at Seville and even some of the urban patriciate and merchants had begun, at least by the fifteenth century, to invest in the royal juros (bonds), which were reaching a significant volume. The tendency for capital-possessing elements to try to live off investment in the government rather than by economic development had already begun in Castile before the close of the Middle Ages.

Foreign Involvement: Castile in the Hundred Years' War; the Southern Frontier

During most of the Middle Ages, Castile had been turned away from involvement in the diplomatic and military affairs of western Europe, but completion of the major part of the reconquest broadened its horizon. Alfonso X's candidacy for the throne of the Holy Roman Empire was a remote and romantic ambition, however, entirely unrelated to Castile's primary interests. When order was restored to the internal affairs of Castile in the second quarter of the fourteenth century, Alfonso XI endeavored to pursue a logical policy of equilibrium between England and France while applying further pressure on the Muslims.

The return of internal disorder during the reign of Pedro I and the spread of the long Anglo-French conflict of the Hundred Years' War into the peninsula thrust Castile to the forefront of military-diplomatic affairs, and it remained deeply involved for the remainder of the century. For the two decades 1366-1386 the peninsula was actually the main theater of operations. During this period Castile was, for the first time, raised to the level of a major west European power. The alliance with France was solidified under the Trastámara dynasty, not merely because of similar political and social interests in France and Castile, but also because of the commercial rivalry between Castile and England in the Flanders wool market. The potential of Castile's Cantabrian ports had increased steadily through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and by the beginning of the Trastámara period, Castile had emerged as a first-rank naval power. Castilian sea power started with the victory over the English at La Rochelle in 1372, followed by other victories off the English coast in 1377 and 1380. Castilian maritime strength thus assured development of the export trade through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and it remained the major single force in the west Atlantic until defeated by Holland at the Battle of the Downs in 1609.

After the death of Enrique III in 1406, the Castilian crown withdrew almost entirely from the Anglo-French military rivalry, directing its energies toward expansion once more. For a short time in 1400, a Castilian force occupied Tetuán in northern Morocco. Three years later, the crown proclaimed its sovereignty over the Canary Islands; the Antequera district was seized from the Muslims in 1410, and two years later, a Castilian infante (D. Fernando) was placed on the throne of Aragón.

The Decline of Aragón-Catalonia

In contrast to Castile, the lands of the crown of Aragón, after their extraordinary history of imperial and commercial expansion during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, fell into decline. This was felt most directly in the great loss of population suffered by Catalonia after the 1330s, the result of war, emigration, natural disasters, including even a few earthquakes, but above all the plague, which recurred throughout the century. Though Catalonia was relatively free of the plague from 1400 to 1450, it returned in 1457 and periodically wracked the principality until the end of the century.

The epidemic deaths were important in breaking down the social cohesion that had been achieved in Catalonia during the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Some land had to be left uncultivated, and not even all the land on the larger farms and those zones still under cultivation could be sown. Landlords were alarmed by the decline in the countryside, by the rise of rural wages and the improved terms that were being demanded and won by peasants, and they reacted with fairly systematic efforts to establish legal domination over much of the peasantry and tie them to the land. During the thirteenth century the remnants of serfdom had been disappearing, but by the late fourteenth century bondage to the land was increasing in some areas. Peasants increasingly resisted the tightening of feudal malos usos or special exactions. Many were eager for the opportunity to take over the strips of land left abandoned after the plague (masos rónecs) although in some cases they were denied the right to do so. Others occupied new land, increased their production, and sometimes were even able to hire poor Gascon laborers migrating from the other side of the Pyrenees. But still others remained in misery under the harsh neofeudal requirements. In 1370, the seigneurial right to prendre e maltractar that was being established in Aragón was also written into Catalan law. The church, which had been the most democratic of major institutions, adopted an equally exclusive polity; a Catalan church council of 1370 declared that children of serfs (remences) could not enter holy orders.

These pressures produced a wave of mysticism among portions of the peasantry. There was a burst of symbolic cross-building and the digging of public graves as the Catalan variant of the dance-of-death neurosis attending the social problems of the waning of the Middle Ages. The most popular sermon of Vicente Ferrer, the major Catalan-Valencian religious reformer of the early fifteenth century, was on the apocalypse. Interest in sorcery and magic increased during the reign of Joan I, in court circles as well as among others.

The depression in the countryside did not affect commerce for half a century or more; medieval Catalan commerce reached its apogee between 1350 and 1420. By 1350 Barcelona's financial institutions may actually have been more efficient than those of Venice or Genoa. Apparently capital was attracted to the most important commercial enterprises during the first decades after the Black Death, and Barcelona continued to improve its financial techniques, though by the early fifteenth century its earlier advantages were being lost to more rapidly developing rivals. All in all, the living standards of the urban workers in Catalonia and Valencia advanced during the later Middle Ages, for Hamilton's statistics show a net rise in real wages between 1350 and 1500.

The financial decline of Barcelona, however, began with the financial crash of 1381-1383, the result of exaggerated credits granted the royal treasury. This was part of an international economic slump that began about 1380 and was felt in Flanders, England, France, and Italy as well. The commercial crisis was overcome, but neither Barcelonan financiers nor those in Gerona and Perpinyá ever regained their former power. Social tensions were momentarily exacerbated, and among other channels found an outlet in the anti-Jewish riots of 1391. These began in Seville, spread through Andalusia and La Mancha, and then to the northeast. Jewish merchants and financiers were by no means as important in the Catalan-speaking towns as they had once been, for Catalan Jewry had declined from the height of its influence in the l280s and the Jewish merchants and financiers were less numerous and wealthy than a century earlier. The riots in the Catalan towns were more than anti-Jewish; they were riots of the poor against the rich, bringing several attacks on wealthy quarters and the burning of some tax lists and debt records. Nevertheless they marked the beginning of the end for Catalan Jewry. The Jewish community of Barcelona was officially suppressed in 1401, and many Catalan Jews converted to Christianity.

During the second half of the fourteenth century, there was a growing tendency to invest in land and in state and municipal debts rather than in commerce and production. By the fifteenth century, the investment patterns of censalistes (mortgage- and bondholders) in a contracting Catalonia foreshadowed those of late-sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Castile. A second financial crash in Barcelona (1427) proved even more difficult to overcome than the first.

By the early fifteenth century, Genoese and Venetian fleets had begun to specialize in more rapid express traffic in spices and luxury goods for the central and west European market. Catalan commerce still relied on a great deal of slow, routine bulk traffic in cheaper commodities, and lacked the large commercial hinterland which central Europe afforded the Italians or the one provided Marseilles by the populous and productive kingdom of France after 1425.

Between 1427 and 1431, tax receipts on commerce in Barcelona dropped by half, and payments were 30 percent in arrears. A substantial recovery began in 1432 as a result of textile exports to southwestern France, expansion of the near eastern and Flemish trade, and renewal of the slave trade (which reached its height in Barcelona between 1440 and 1442). The final decline commenced about 1450. Average commerce for the years 1452-1456 was only 20 to 25 percent of that for 1432-1434. Barcelonan commerce lay prostrate for nearly four decades, until about 1490.

During those years, Valencia surpassed Barcelona as the peninsula's leading eastern financial and commercial center. Until about the middle of the century, Valencian commerce had dealt mainly in fruits, almonds, wine, raw materials, raw silk, and ceramics. As Catalan competition declined, the merchants and bankers of Valencia, living under an autonomous regime, were able to take advantage of the decline, concentrating their capital to expand production and the range of overseas commerce.
Catalonia's fifteenth-century economic decline can be traced to a number of factors:

1. Loss of financial control, accompanying the tendency to tie up capital in land and reject new enterprise and risks. Italian, especially Genoese, financiers played an increasing role in Catalan affairs

2. Counterproductive effects of the policy of maritime terrorism adopted by Catalan fleets after 1390

3. Loss of North African markets, in part as a consequence of the terrorism

4. Cost of the wars of the crown of Aragon, in both men and money, and the weight of taxation at home and abroad

5. Increased efficiency of foreign competition

6. Stagnation in Catalan society, which found itself overextended and tending to turn inward, much like Castilian society during the seventeenth century. Decline in population was accompanied by increased emphasis on status and rent

7. Economic debility of the principality of Aragon, which offered a minimal market for Catalan commerce

8. Growth of internal dissension eventually degenerating into civil war

The population of the city of Barcelona declined from a near 50,000 in the fourteenth century to only 20,000 by 1477. By contrast, the fifteenth century was a time when the population of most of the Hispanic peninsula and western Europe was growing. The principality of Aragón expanded from 200,000 to 250,000 people and the city of Valencia from about 40,000 to 60,000, surpassing Barcelona in both size and wealth as the leading city and commercial center of the eastern coast of the peninsula. In the thirteenth century, Catalonia had contained at least 10 percent of the population of the lands of Aragón and Castile. By 1500, that percentage was no more than 4; with its shrinkage came the decline of Catalan power and influence, bringing with it the decline of the crown of Aragón.

The last of the strong medieval Aragonese kings was Pere el Ceremoniós. His son, Joan I (1387-1395), was a learned and literary prince who introduced official jocs fiorals (poetry contests) in Barcelona but was less successful as a statesman. A major revolt in Sardinia in 1391 almost overthrew Aragonese rule, and a serious rebellion in Sicily was not suppressed for three years. When Joan was killed hunting in 1395, he left no direct heir and was succeeded by his uncle Martí (1395-1410), who had to face further trouble in the Mediterranean possessions and who also died without an heir in 1410.

The death of Martí precipitated the first severe succession crisis since the union of Aragón and Catalonia nearly three centuries earlier. The strongest claimant within the Aragonese empire was Jaume, count of Urgel, a close relative of the royal family, but opinion among the upper classes was strongly divided and the issue was further complicated by the intrusion of the religious politics of the papal schism. By far the strongest candidate outside the borders of the empire was the Infante D. Fernando, regent of Castile and a relative of the Aragonese royal family several generations removed. Internal dissension within Catalonia and Aragón, the strength of the Castilian regent, and the influence of large sums of Trastámara money finally told. At the Compromise of Caspe in 1412 a commission of nine Jurists and theologians, representing the three Cortes of Aragón, Catalonia, and Valencia, selected D. Fernando by six votes to three as the new ruler of the Aragonese empire. The Compromise of Caspe was essentially a political decision to choose the only candidate who seemed strong enough to avoid civil war and hold the Aragonese polity together.

The reign of Fernando I, the first ruler of the Trastámara dynasty in Aragón, was limited to four years (1412-1416). The new king brought with him Castilian (and fifteenth-century) ideas of strong monarchy, yet his policy was comparatively diplomatic and conciliatory. The constitutions of the Aragonese principalities were respected, and though Fernando I brought with him many new Castilian appointees, the Aragonese aristocracy was able to regain a position of considerable political influence while the balance of power in Catalan affairs remained unaffected.

Fernando's son, Alfonso V "the Magnanimous" (1416-1458), enjoyed a long reign, the Indian summer of the medieval Aragonese empire in the Mediterranean. Taking advantage of the last generation of Catalan economic prosperity, Alfonso resumed expansion on a grand scale. Much of Corsica was reconquered in 1420 and held for fifteen years, and the Catalan fleet succeeded in smashing that of its nearest rival, Marseilles, in 1423. The great triumph of Alfonso's reign was the complete reconquest, by 1442, of Naples, which became the center and capital of the Aragonese empire until his death, for Alfonso never returned to the peninsula. He was one of the most cultured princes of the day, and his "magnanimity" supported a constellation of Renaissance litterateurs and artists in Naples. His forces were active in North Africa, and extended some assistance to Constantinople and to the Christian peoples of the Balkans in their resistance to Turkish expansion. Alfonso had finally succeeded in laying tight siege to his chief Mediterranean rival, Genoa, at the time of his death in 1458. The kingdom of Naples was then bestowed upon a bastard son, Ferrante, and not reunited with the Aragonese empire until half a century later.

Alfonso's Mediterranean policy relied, as usual, upon the people and resources of Catalonia. It endeavored to foster Catalan interests, and the principal appointments were given to Catalans. But by the 1440s, the Catalan economy was unable to stand the strain of sustained military and maritime expense. It was no longer stimulated, but increasingly overtaxed, by military expansion. Moreover, Alfonso's prolonged absence from the principality deprived it of leadership at a time when severe social and political splits were developing.

Juan II and the Catalan Revolt of 1462-1472

Lacking legitimate heirs, Alfonso was succeeded by his younger brother, Juan II (1458-1479), who had been born in 1398. The Infante D. Juan had had a stormy career as the principal of the "Infantes de Aragón" embroiled in Castilian politics during the turbulent reign of his cousin, Juan II of Castile. The Infante D. Juan had first been married to the heiress of Navarre, and after the death of the Navarrese king in 1425 had held the title King of Navarre. After the death of his Navarrese princess he was married to Juana de Enríquez, daughter of the Admiral of Castile. one of the most powerful figures in Castilian affairs.

As king of Aragón, Juan II was immediately faced with the social and political turmoil that had been developing in Catalonia during the past generation. This had three main facets: the demands of the remença peasants; the revolt of the lower and middle classes in the Catalan towns, demanding reforms and an equal voice in municipal government; and the counterattack of the urban oligarchy and the rural nobility, who wanted to fortify their legal position against the crown above and the lower and middle classes below.

In the early fifteenth century nearly one-third of the Catalan peasantry were still tied to the land or at least held to continuing feudal exactions (malos usos); all peasants in such conditions were known collectively as payeses de remença (redemption peasants). Most remences were badly off, though some had sizable farms and were quite comfortable. All remences demanded an end to malos usos. Poor remences also wanted clear title to their land. Wealthier remences were less concerned about the tenure system per se but wanted opportunity to take over more wasteland. There had been noticeable unrest among the remences since about 1395, but the period 1420--1445 was one of moderate rural prosperity, stilling dissatisfaction and enabling some of the peasants to improve their status. After the return of bad harvests and hard times, grievances burst into the open. By 1448, the crown had granted remences the right to form local peasant syndicates to represent their claims and try to work out a settlement with landlords. Within one year, 25,000 peasant homes, representing most of the rural population of northern Catalonia, had paid the fees required to participate in the syndicates. The 1450s were years of increasing tension in the Catalan countryside.

At the same time, Barcelona and the other larger Catalan towns were the scene of intense socio-political conflict between the upperclass oligarchy on the one hand and the middle and lower classes on the other, represented in Barcelona by two political factions known as the Biga and the Busca. This conflict was the product of the Catalan economic depression of midcentury. The Busca represented especially the craft guilds, which had become fully developed and organized only in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. It demanded equal class representation in city government, money devaluation to reduce the tax load (since ciutadans honrats had invested heavily in municipal bonds in a deflated economy), and tariff protection for manufactured goods, in opposition to the import programs of upperclass wholesale merchants. The urban conflict had become severe by 1435, and finally, in 1455, the Infante D. Juan, as viceroy for his brother, came down on the side of the popular forces. The government structure of Barcelona was reformed to give equal representation to the four main social groups. Similar reforms had already taken place in a number of other cities. Furthermore, the obligations of redemption payments and malos usos in the countryside were suspended.

The urban oligarchy and the nobility then seized the initiative to effect a political counterattack. The nobles forced partial revocation of the suspension of remença obligations, so that the question of peasant obligations was still uncertain when the troubled reign of Juan II began. In meetings of the Catalan Corts between 1454 and 1458, representatives of the urban upper class and the nobility repeatedly pressed for constitutional reforms that would cement their control over the Catalan political and social system. Their goal was a strict system of constitutional laws establishing their prerogatives in relation to both the crown and the lower classes.

The Catalan upper classes were hostile to Juan II from the very beginning of his reign, viewing him as a champion of a strong crown as well as of the lower classes. On the other hand, the son of Juan II's first (Navarrese) marriage, Prince Carlos of Viana, acquired great popularity. Carlos of Viana had already been involved in a bitter civil war in Navarre against his father, but this made him appear as a champion of "rights" against the crown. When he was seized and imprisoned by his father in 1460, the Catalan Generalitat forced his release and recognition from Juan II of the overriding legal jurisdiction of the Catalan Corts. Carlos of Viana then died prematurely, but the Catalan upper classes remained in opposition to the crown and refused to accept Juan's second (Castilian) son, Fernando, as heir. Popular hysteria in that troubled age regarded Carlos of Viana as a saint; his bones were said to work miracles. In 1462, the Council of the Generalitat raised an army to put down rebellious remences, and purged their opponents in Barcelona. The struggle quickly expanded into civil war against the crown, lasting ten long and bloody years. The conflict ranged the urban oligarchy and most of the aristocracy and clergy on one side against the crown, most of the peasants, and part of the Catalan aristocracy on the other. The crown sought support from Louis XI of France, but this resulted in the French seizure of Rosselló. The crown's opponents turned for aid to Enrique IV of Castile, whom they proclaimed king of Aragón, but this gesture proved fruitless. The next candidate was Dom Pedro, Constable of Portugal and a descendent of the count of Urgel, but he was defeated in battle in 1465 and died soon after. The crown of the principality was next given to René of Provence, bringing French support for the revolt, but after his heir died in Catalonia, the principality was left without a ruler, and for the next two years Barcelona was the capital of a sort of constitutional republic on the Italian model. Meanwhile, the Burgundians had checked the power of the French crown and Juan II had neutralized Castile by marrying his son Fernando to Princess Isabel, half-sister of the Castilian king. Between 1466 and 1472, Juan II maneuvered an international anti-French coalition (England, Brittany, Burgundy, Naples, and even Castile) and finally captured Barcelona in 1472, but was unable to regain Rosselló from France. The peace settlement of 1472 was extremely generous, for it granted a return to the constitutional status quo of a decade earlier. Thus despite the great rebellion and civil war, the Catalan constitutional system was not altered in any fundamental way in the fifteenth century.

The struggle had become a virtual class war in the countryside, with many remences rising in revolt on the side of the crown. Both the royal forces and the rebel Generalitat made promises to the remences, and in general the poor remences of the hill country sided with the crown, while the more prosperous peasants of the coastal and plain areas supported the revolt. By the time peace was restored, landowners had largely ceased trying to collect regular remença (redemption) payments but still insisted on the old level of rents, dues, and shares for annual cultivation. The political and rural civil war left land arrangements in a state of great confusion. After 1472, many peasants were still armed and with military experience were more belligerent than before. Much of the countryside remained in a state of latent civil war.

The great Catalan revolt consummated the economic decline of the principality without solving any of the political and social problems that had led to it. Between 1450 and 1475, Catalan commerce declined another 20 percent and reached a secular low. The war had nearly exhausted capital resources and had killed thousands more of an already depleted population. By the 1470s the social and economic exhaustion of the principality was almost complete.

The only region of the Aragonese empire to suffer more severely than Catalonia during this period was the island of Mallorca, wracked by bloody, full-scale peasant revolts. During the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the position of the Mallorcan peasantry had deteriorated as a result of bad harvests, price increases, growing taxation, and the increasingly harsh terms of the urban oligarchy of the port of Palma, who controlled most of the property and dominated the General Council of the island. Demands for more representative government increased. The great revolt of 1450 began with a tax strike by church leaders, then quickly spread to the peasantry, which had just suffered a bad harvest. In league with the lower classes from the smaller ports, the foráneos, or peasants, of Mallorca gained control of most of the island and three times laid seige to the capital. A similar movement developed on Menorca. Faced with social revolution, Alfonso V struck back with a decree of perpetual serfdom for all rebellious foráneos. The great revolt was finally put down in 1452-1453 by an expedition of Italian mercenaries, and heavy exactions were placed upon the peasantry in reprisal, further burdening rural society. Terms of genuine serfdom were not imposed, but many peasants emigrated anyway. A second foráneo revolt in 1462-1463 was suppressed with great bloodshed, as was a major rebellion on Menorca that flared between 1462 and 1466. Thus the great Balearic peasant revolts achieved no change, but ended in total failure and deep suffering for the peasantry.

Comparison between Castile and Catalonia in the Fifteenth Century

By the fifteenth century, Castilian society was proving more cohesive than that of Catalonia and less wracked by class struggle. It had suffered a proportionately smaller loss in population in the preceding century. and had enough land for most peasants to work on. The greater availability of the chief means of production, labor, enabled the Castilian upper class to take a more lenient attitude toward the peasantry and grant them comparatively easier terms. The Castilian high aristocracy was proportionately so much wealthier than the landed nobility of Catalonia that it felt less need to squeeze the peasant. The fact that so much of Castile's wealth was invested in livestock meant that its production, involving less labor, gave rise to less social tension. (The principal exception to this generalization is, of course, the situation in Galicia, where overpopulation, relative scarcity of land, and the demands of a more numerous and more powerfully entrenched seigneurial aristocracy produced vicious social struggle as intense as that of the Catalan countryside.)

Another important difference between the two societies lay in the greater unitarian tendency in Castile, in particular in the Castilian economy. Catalan economic enterprise tended to be individualistic, with a resultant rivalry and competition, sometimes of an extremely expensive and almost ruinous nature. In Castile, major corporations were formed for most of the significant areas of economic enterprise: the Mesta for wool production, the intercity Hermandad de las Marismas for north Castilian-west European commerce, municipal consulados for merchants and exporters, and even a widely organized teamsters freight corporation (the Real Cabaña de Carreteros), organized in 1497 on terms similar to those of the Mesta. Castilian commercial towns showed some tendency to cooperate, rather like the Hansa, whereas Catalan-speaking commercial towns competed against each other much like the Italians. Mallorca, which at the beginning of the fourteenth century found itself better situated and in some ways rather better organized for Mediterranean commerce than Barcelona, was nonetheless unable to meet head-on competition by its senior rival and eventually succumbed to it.

Another difference lay in the economic orientation of the oligarchies in Castilian and Catalan towns. By the fifteenth century, the Catalan urban upper classes were trying to live in large measure off the interest from shares of the municipal debt or from commercial operations that they could operate most profitably by underselling local production with cheap imports. The Castilians lived from land rent and the wool trade and thus did not find themselves in the same kind of social and economic conflict with the middle and lower classes.

By the latter part of the fifteenth century Castile was, more than ever before, the major Hispanic power. Castilian merchants in foreign ports were commonly accepting the term Spain to describe their own kingdom. At the same time, a greater degree of economic unity had been achieved in the peninsula than had been known since Roman times. Commercial ties were becoming stronger between Catalan and Andalusian ports, while Navarrese commerce had been made partly exempt from Castilian transit taxes and given an outlet through San Sebastián. The Castilian orbit extended even to Italy, for control of the Straits of Gibraltar after the mid-fifteenth century had developed close union of economic interests between Genoa and Andalusian ports, and relations with Genoa became a major factor in Castilian diplomatic and commercial policy.



A History of Spain and Portugal