From Peter the Cruel, The Life Of The Notorious Don Pedro of Castile Together With An Account Of His Relations With The Famous Maria de Padilla, by Edward Storer; London: John Lane, The Bodley Head; New York: John Land Company, 1911; pp. 39-58.
THE city of Burgos had opened its gates to receive its young king, not, indeed, without some trepidation and misgiving, and almost at the point of the sword. Only, indeed, had that point been lowered by counsels of polity, and the usual hatred of the mediæval bourgeoisie to that intolerable affliction of its time — useless war.
Burgos had declared, it appears, with some show of enthusiasm, for Don Juan Nuñez in the days when the crown of Castile lay by the sick bedside of the gravely-ailing monarch for the disposition of too-previous courtiers. And so it came to pass that tutor and scholar, minister and monarch, sat in the royal dining-room together at Burgos, while three unfortunate burghers, lamenting their lives and their gold, plodded mournfully to the scaffold.
Imagine the scene.
It was in the house of Fernan Garcia de Arcilza, where Alburquerque was lodging, that the dinner took place.
On the table there would be silver, pewter, and glass ware; the silver of the elaborately chased and ornamental style typical of the Spanish goldsmiths’ art. The table would be covered with a linen cloth, 40 not the fine, white linen of the best factories of our day, but a coarse, stronger stuff, for the use of this fabric became common in this century, which has been called “the century of linen.”
Perhaps among the dishes which the Moorish servants brought to the royal table, there would be some birds, witnesses to the skill and passion of the royal sportsmen.
The furniture of the apartment would be crude and roughly cut, though not without evidence of some desire on the part of its makers for elaboration and effect.
Probably there would be seen some of the carving, some of that arabesque work with which the Moorish occupation has so impregnated the entire art of Spain.
I do not think that we may expect these apartments actually to have contained pictures, though it is just possible. Perhaps something brought from France or Italy by an envoy or travelled courtier; perhaps a relic of some Court trovador’s wanderings. Almost certainly nothing Castilian, for it is not until much later that we find any record of art there.1
The hour of the meal would be about ten o’clock, for dinner at that time and supper at sundown was the order of things in Europe at the time.
And over the repast, when the shouts of the crowd came through the windows — the narrow, open slits that served for windows in those times — the Minister 41 would catch the eye of his young king and meet his concern with the calm cynicism of age and experience.
Outside the three bowed heads amid the raging rabble, and the executioner walking in front.
If the King could not actually see them, he was well aware of their presence.
This was the completion of his first murder.
Yesterday he began with one man — Garci Laso; to-day three burghers must complete his vengeance.
For when, but a week before, it had been discovered in the recesses of Alburquerque’s mind, that Burgos must be punished, the King and Court with something of an army had started out almost immediately on their mission. When the royal party drew near the walls of the city, Don Garci Laso de la Vega, one of the chief adherents of the late Don Juan Nuñez, moved out to meet the King.
He took with him in his feudal pride a considerable body of men-at-arms, and a great multitude of knights and squires. These set forth all bristling with swords and the best intentions not to be warlike, intentions capable, unfortunately for Garci, of a rather different construction.
As a number of these gentlemen, says the old chronicler, were poor relations of Garci Laso, it is probable that in their anxiety to stand well in his eyes, they overdid their attitude a little, and seemed to Alburquerque and the King more warlike than complimentarily picturesque. Fattened, no doubt, with the flesh of his flocks, and brave-hearted by the merit of his corn, they must have held their weapons 42 in a manner more suggestive of defiance than salutation.
It was not long before a quarrel arose from this meeting of the two forces.
Manrique, a creature of Alburquerque, in speaking with Laso, commenced brawling with him in the King’s very presence, and the latent hostility of two large hosts of professional fighters soon turned into something imminent and actual.
Don Pedro, who had no mind to watch a useless battle just then, ordered their separation and the general observance of peace, which was preserved by those present with bad grace. Meanwhile the unfortunate burghers of the city saw in this aggregation of what they doubtless, in their hearts, considered professional ruffians, no good omen for their lives and property. They sent to the King a deputation pointing out the difficulties and trouble of their position, and begged him that he would not allow the presence of the two hostile armies together within the walls of Burgos.
They even went so far as to suggest that he himself should enter with only a small retinue — an idea that struck Pedro as impertinent.
The deputation — notoriously an unfortunate and tactless unit, which, generally speaking, either offends or is snubbed — seems on this occasion to have maintained the worst traditions of its type.
Its rigmarole of co-operative humility, its attitude of corporate respect, its “Most Honoured and Royal Sir,” and its “unworthy and humble servants” seem, as has often been the case, to have been taken 43 by the ardent young king for humbug and rhetorical hypocrisy.
When to the monarch’s displeasure is added the sudden ire of the crafty Portuguese, it becomes easy to see that things will go badly for the burghers.
“We must give,” said Alburquerque, “these arrogant burghers a lesson, and make an example of them in order to intimidate those who may be inclined to imitate their presumption.”2
Then the King’s host was gathered together, and preparations were made to enter the city, if necessary at the point of the sword. No blood, however, was shed in making its way into Burgos by the army of Don Pedro; a show of colours and arms sufficing to reduce the possibility of resistance to nothing.
Manrique was sent on ahead and quartered his soldiers in the Ghetto “which, according to the custom of the age, was separated from the rest of the town by a strong wall and consequently formed an interior citadel.” The “arrogant burghers” now felt that they had indeed invited a terrible misfortune, and prepared to deliver up their houses and sustenance for the billeting and feeding of Don Pedro’s truculent warriors.
Burgos became like a military camp or a city in a state of siege. The residences of the clergy became hostels for the reception of various knights and men-at-arms. Garci Laso remained in the town to meet his fate, though he had then no suspicion of it. The fellow seems to have been a knight more in accordance 44 with ideal chivalry than many of the cut-throat opportunists of his day. With him was the adventurous and romantic Pero Carillo, whom we have already seen engaged in a perilous flight to the Asturias with Enrique and his young bride. The next time we meet him, we shall find him, true to his character, rescuing a noble lady in distress. And then, later still, Ayala will tell us his love story in a brief word or so. Probably this Pero was one of the few folk in Burgos at this time who were quite happy. We cannot think that Don Pedro was — assassination was then too new a trade to him; nor was Alburquerque, in whose bosom there could only have burned bitter thoughts; nor poor Garci Laso; nor even the Queen-mother, and by no means the burghers. But an adventurous chivalrous man like Pero would simply glory in being in so vexed and desperate a situation.
Poor Garci Laso, who would seem to have been a gentle, unsuspecting soul, went quietly about without showing recognition of the deadly peril in which his conduct and partnership with the late Lord of Biscay had placed him.
Even when there stole to him secretly by night a messenger, bearing a mysterious and cryptic warning, the communication was construed by him into something entirely different.
From the Queen-mother, who, disgusted with her one excursion into melodrama, or jealous perhaps of her son’s possible usurpation of her ghastly rôle, or simply moved, perhaps, by simple human pity, Garci learnt that he must “let nothing on earth bring him 45 to the palace on the morrow, Sunday.” Those are the actual words of the old chronicler, Ayala, who lived at the time and saw many of these things with his own eyes.
How like a sentence from Grimm’s or Andersen’s Fairy tales they sound! The visit that must never be made, the apple that must never be eaten, the dress never by any chance to be worn. And yet, as we read we know well enough, that the dreadful thing is going to happen — that the visit will be made, the apple eaten, and the fatal habit donned.
So it was with Garci Laso.
To the presence of Don Pedro on the next day he came, fearless and proud, with a clean conscience and an honest heart. Ah, Garci, had you had the blackest heart in all Castile, it would have gone no better with you on that day.
With him there came his two brothers-in-law, Ruy Gonzalez de Castañeda and Pero Ruiz Carillo.
Something violent and out of the ordinary was about to happen. Messengers went to and fro a trifle more eagerly than usual. The guard upon his beat suspected murder.
In the great hall, we learn, sat the King upon his throne, and round him were his esquires and the grave Alburquerque, who had a strange exercise that morning for his royal pupil. And just as Garci and his little suite came into the hall, there was a fluttering of silk and a rustling of women’s gowns, as the Queen-mother, followed by her Chancellor — both in agitation — ran hurriedly from the apartment with averted eyes.46
This departure of the Queen-mother became a signal for action. Rough hands were laid upon the three burghers, Alfonso Garcia, Pero Fernandez, and Alfonso his notary brother, who found themselves arrested and dragged out of the hall.
Alburquerque, who stood by watching the ripening of his plot, whispered to an alcade of the Court, by name Domingo Juan, who was near —
“Alcade, you know your duty,” he said, meaningly. But the alcade, who was no man of blood, turned to the King, and said to him in a low voice, although it was loud enough for Alburquerque to hear: “My lord, give this order yourself, for I will not.”
And Don Pedro, in a hesitating voice, like one repeating a lesson that had been conned beforehand said: —
“Ballesteros, arrest Garci Laso.”
Laso, gripped by three esquires, and reading in the cold and nervous expressions of those present his own death sentence, stifled his excitement, and turned to meet his fate like a man. “Sire,” he said coolly to the king, “be pleased to give me a priest to whom I may confess. And Fernandez, my friend,” he added to one of the men whose hands were upon him, “will you go to Doña Leonor, my wife, and ask for that indulgence for a good death from the Pope which is in her keeping.”
Because a confessor happened to be near, Garci Laso was given time to shrive himself, but the indulgence for a good death remained with his wife.
While Laso was confessing, Alburquerque’s fingers 47 were twitching nervously from his anxiety to draw this unpleasant tension to a close. Into the King’s ears he whispered a word or two, and Pedro, seeking to be done with the business as easily and as pleasantly as possible, delegated a delegate to dispatch Laso. But the blunt mace-bearer would have this death-sentence only from the royal lips, and to the King he went.
“What are we to do with this man, Sire,” he asked, pointing with his club at the kneeling penitent in the corner.
Pedro felt Alburquerque’s eyes on him.
“Kill him!” he said.
And then flew mace, and with a whirl in the air, and a crash, came death to Laso. Lest there should be any doubt, the other ballesteros dipped their daggers into the prostrate form.
And to complete this wretched scene, poor Garci’s body was thrown into the arena of the bull-fight which was then in progress to celebrate Don Pedro’s arrival.
The bulls treated it as might be expected, and then the mangled remains were laid on a bier on the ramparts, that all men in Castile might know how dangerous it was to be in the wrong.
1 Diccionario historico de las bellas artes. L’art espagnol: Lucien Solvay.
2 Ayala, 1351, VI.
MANY matters had now arisen in Castile which demanded inquiry and settlement. The practical conditions of things, financial and political, needed a practical treatment and resolution. There were arrears of routine work to be wiped off; petitions to be heard; the necessary appointment to numerous small offices to be made. A Cortes was summoned to be held at Valladolid. This national assembly had no fixed place of convocation. The site of its session was a matter of convenience and the royal pleasure, a custom arising from the frequent presence of Mahomedan States in the peninsula. This seeming lack of dignity and instability in the Cortes of Spain was inevitable, even in the uncertain intervals of peace in those days, and naturally even more so in times of war.
But as to popular or constitutional government, Castile was quite as well off at this time as we were in England, although the Cores did not put very much power into the hands of the people.
A notable statute which was passed into law by this Cortes and the King was a re-enactment of the Mortmain Laws of Alfonso X., the clergy had managed to evade.49
England, in 1279, had already thus legislated against the clergy and monastics, whose greed and craft was opposing itself to the power of the barons and feudal lords. Both in Spain and England these laws were merely the expression of the ambitions of one class against those of another, without any regard to the welfare of the people generally. Hallam, in his History of the Middle Ages, gives in a few lines an interesting sketch of the origin and development of Mortmain Laws, finding an example of them in the times of the Roman Emperors.
We are able to judge the relative positions of King and Cortes from the nature and manner of presentment of the petitions and resolutions which were laid before Don Pedro in this Assembly of 1351. There does not appear to be an instance in which any of the suggested reforms made even a pretence of basing their claims to acceptation on anything but purely private, personal, and individualistic motives.
So far, not the slightest suggestion that the people could have any claims or rights seems to have occurred to these old law-makers. The more fraternal and socialistic condition of life in Spain which, according to Mérimée and some other historians, was a feature of the Feudalism beyond the Pyrenees, plainly partook more of a social than of a political character.
No comments were made at the session of this Cortes by the representatives of Burgos at the strange doings so lately enacted within their city’s walls. 50 Garci Laso found no defender of his memory. The rights of dead men stirred no consciences in that assembly. The Lara faction was under a cloud, but its members, if silent and unseen, were meditating a bitter vengeance. We have a rather full account of the happenings of this Cortes of Valladolid, and some of it makes interesting reading. The ecclesiastics produced a voluminous chapter of their wrongs with suitable prayers for their redress. They “insisted” upon the restitution of certain feudal rights, which they had had to forgo to provide the means for continuing the late war against the Moors.
Don Pedro, who was never a lover of priests, treated their mingled demands and requests very coldly, replying at times with the diplomatic evasiveness of a politician, at other times offering a blunt refusal.
In the matter of some salt-pits, for instance, the King was firm, and announced his intention of keeping them.
One of the grievances of the clergy was the desecration of the Sabbath by the Moors and Jews. They asked that these folk should be compelled to cease working in the streets.
Another matter under discussion was the difficulty of procuring labourers and the rate of wages demanded by them. The plague and the late war had so decimated the countryside, that the remaining peasants were asking wages of so exorbitant a nature as to terrify the purse-holders among the Squires and land-owners.
Where we now talk of a minimum wage, the Cortes spoke of a maximum.51
Among the petitions, which came before the sovereign to be passed into law or set on one side, may be noticed the suggestions that Christian debtors should be empowered to make their Jewish creditors bankrupt, and that Jews should be prohibited from holding lands.
Among the laws to which Don Pedro, in the first flush of that authority which has earned for him the title of el Justiciero as well as his more famous one, assented, we find abolitions of freedoms, the establishment of complete liberty to carry on any and every trade, the guarantee of individual liberty, and a law that the immunity from taxation of certain privileged folk should be abolished.
A census was also ordered for the collection of taxes, an undertaking rendered necessary by the devastations of the plague. A kind of final court of appeal was also established by this Cortes, whereby the right of every Castilian to carry his case before the Sovereign as a last resource was established.
Further, it was held that in criminal matters a man should receive the judgment of his own province, a fact which throws a curious light on the petty internal jealousy which must have existed between states and provinces, that could not trust each other to deal fairly with delinquents of other states than their own.
Extensive measures and precautions were taken against the brigandage which infested the land at the period, and a species of martial law over all Castile was temporarily proclaimed.52
A civic guard was formed, and most active orders were made to bring about the cessation of this intolerable nuisance and disorder. This militia was restrained, however, at the same time by certain ordinances, devised to curb the anger and warlikeness of a people, always capable of being thrown at slight notice and for small cause into a state of civil war. Thus, these guards were not to pursue the brigands beyond a certain distance, and the extermination of the robbers was to be effected by “relays” of this rough and ready militia. By these means it was doubtless hoped to give it the constitution and character of a kind of police, rather than that of an avenging and ill-disciplined volunteer force.
The Crown and Alburquerque also saw to it that this newly-organized force should be available for royal and political purposes if need should be; for they were “charged to fight against all rebels.” Another matter which came before this assembly was a demand on the part of the inhabitants of Biscay and the maritime cities for the official recognition by the Cortes of a treaty of peace concluded by them with Edward III. of England.
These same Biscayans, although their loyalty and adherence to the King of Castile was a thing of no great stability, must have taken this step to obtain, through the adoption of the treaty by the Cortes, an additional sense of security from the roving ships of England. Commercial towns and especially those on the seaboard had, in nearly all countries, even when they formally made allegiance to the sovereign 53 of the land, a remarkable importance and independence of their own.
Another act of this Cortes was an intimation of its disfavour with the rate of the royal expenditure.
Even the bill of fare for the royal table was called into question, and fixed according to a definite standard of expenditure, a suggestion that subsequent Cortes followed in the cases of several later kings of Castile.1
Among a variety of other ordinances and suggestions that never became law, we find requests to the king to hold in check the abuse of the power of excommunication possessed by the clergy, and to limit the penalties liable to fall on those who had incurred the displeasure of the church.
Simple matters, such as the rights of way, pasturage, customs dues, the conditions of export trade, mining and forestry were not beneath the discussion of this house of commons and peers.
One arrives at the end of all the debates and legislation of this body of representatives with a feeling of esteem for their good sense and diligence.
The enactments, taking them all round, seem just, sensible, and fair.
An account of the methods of procedure of this Cortes may be found in the History of Sir John Dillon, to which work I am indebted for most of the following particulars: —
The Cortes consisted of prelates and Ricos Hombres, together with the masters of the three military orders then existing in Castile. Seventeen cities also sent 54 representatives of the people, usually two in number called regidores. Those from the cities of Burgos, Leon, Seville, Cordova, Murcia, and Toledo, which were large and important centres at the time, had a precedence over the representatives of the remaining cities, which consisted of Cuenca, Zamora, Galicia, Guadalaxara, Valladolid, Salamanca, Avila, Soria, Segovia, Toro, and Estremadura. At one end of the assembly was a seat for the king under a canopy, and near by, the honoured city of Toledo received for its representatives the privilege of a small bench richly carved.
The members for Toledo, who were, in a way, the leaders of the house, usually opened proceedings by making their profound obeisances to the king, and, in a set speech, craving of him their ancient privileges.
These were granted as a matter of form by the Sovereign, who included the customs and privileges of Burgos in his bequest. After certificates of the fact had been given, Toledo resumed its seat.
Then followed a speech by the Crown nicely packed with the careful platitudes so necessary and customary on these occasions.
Burgos and Toledo, who evidently did not enjoy their precedence for nothing, after the conclusion of the royal speech, had then to rise and present themselves before the king, who said, “Let Burgos speak; I know Toledo will follow my orders.”
Whether the faithfulness of Toledo was a superstition with the royal house of Castile, or what was the meaning of this phrased, does not appear.
DON BERNUDO DE ANGLESOLA (First half of fourteenth century)
Certificates of the royal answer were, however, handed to these representatives, who then returned to their seats.
The ceremony of swearing-in the members of the Cortes took place in the following fashion: —
On the occasion of the second meeting of the Cortes, a space was left between the seats of Burgos and Leon for a table covered with a crimson damask, whereon were placed a crucifix and a New Testament.
Then after “a florid and complimentary speech” from the president, the names of the commons were read out aloud, and two by two, city by city, they came up to the table and placed their hands on the crucifix and Testament to bear witness to this oath: —
“Your Lordship swears to God on this book and on this cross on which you lay your hands, that you will keep secret all that you hear or say in this assembly relating to the service of God and the King, and that you will not divulge the same to the cities or towns having votes in the Cortes till the business of the session is finished, unless by express orders of the King or the president, and you also swear to defend the immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin, the patroness and guardian of these kingdoms.”
Days were then fixed for the dispatch of business. Members were balloted for to attend the various committees and to be treasurers for the receipt of public monies.
Other points of etiquette were that no member could leave the Cortes during a session without the special permission of the president to whom he had to give a 56 satisfactory reason for his withdrawal. When any business was in hand, it had to carried through, either in the affirmative or negative, unless it was advisable or advantageous to the king’s service that it should be postponed. The collection of votes was done by secretaries, after which a resolution embodying the purport of the vote was signed by four members chosen by ballot, when it was presented to the king, who, “having accepted the grant, thanked his faithful commons.” It was then engrossed, and on a future day the president repeated the royal thanks; to which Burgos, who, as we have seen, shared with Toledo the John Doe and Richard Roe rôles of the assembly, suitably replied.
The president then rang a small bell that was on the table. At this signal, there entered the door-keepers, who listened with due gravity and respect to the secretary’s reading of the grant, and then carried it for signature to Burgos and Leon, who signed it. After them, all the members of the commons did likewise. The grant was then returned to the president, who closed the proceedings with a short speech in the king’s name.
If the grant was of a considerable nature, the members signified their happiness at receiving it by kissing the sovereign’s hand.
When the grant was a matter of grace, votes were privately collected, and if there were only three dissentients, it could not pass. But in a matter of right, the voting was open and a majority carried the day.57
When all these formalities had been carried out, the resolutions in hand became law — then and there, it would seem, — without any such period of promulgation as is usual with us nowadays.
The officers of the Cortes, who were nominated by themselves, were fairly numerous and included two treasurers, an attorney-general, an accountant-general, a historiographer, four advocates, two physicians, and two surgeons.
On public festivals and state occasions the Cortes had a balcony near the king, and in time of dissolution they were represented by a deputation consisting of eight members appointed by themselves, of whom four were supernumeraries, who were only required to attend in case of the illness of the others.
In dealing with the constitution of Castile, one must notice the institution of the Behetria, which aroused the displeasure of Alburquerque, and was for a while in danger of being destroyed by him.
Ayala says that if the lord of a Behetria did not defend it, or behaved unjustly, the inhabitants could depose him and take another. “Therefore they were called Behetrias which signifies quien bien les ficiere que los tenga. Let him hold them who does them good.”2
The institution probably has a further origin in the beneficii of the Romans. These consisted in certain land set apart for those whose services protected the frontiers from the inroads of barbarians.
These Behetrias were a kind of free town or confederation, and “implied a sort of popular govern 58 ment which maintained equality between inhabitants.” Their origin dates back to the very earliest days of Spanish history, to the times indeed of the invasions of the Saracens.
Their power was defined by Alfonso X. in his laws of the Partidas, and Don Pedro I. in part codified their position in his Libro del Bezerro.
Electing their own governors, and ruling themselves, they became, often enough, a source of annoyance and trouble to the supreme authority, and it was their independence and power that inspired the ambitious Alburquerque with the vain hope of abolishing them entirely.
2 Ayala, 1351, Cap. XIV.
For online additions, corrections, notes & design:
Copyright © 2005-2018