III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > F. Europe, 461–1500 > 6. Western Europe, 1300–1500 > d. The Iberian Peninsula
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1213–76)
d. The Iberian Peninsula
Parliamentary institutions. As elsewhere in Western Europe (See 1360), parliamentary assemblies developed in the Iberian Peninsula during the 13th to 15th centuries. In addition to the nobles and higher ecclesiastics of their courts, Spanish kings summoned representatives of those towns that were centers of trade, industry, and administration. The cortes (Sp. vernacular for king's court, the plural implying size and importance) emerged in Leon (1188), Aragon (1214), Catalonia (1225?), Castile-Leon (1250), and Portugal (1254). Because ordinary (feudal) revenues failed to meet the rising needs of the crown, kings had to secure consent for extraordinary levies. The initiative for summoning assemblies belonged to the king alone. As the clergy and nobles were usually exempt from taxation, the burden fell chiefly on the townspeople; the townspeople, however, often attached conditions to their grants: a royal promise of redress of grievances; a restriction to a fixed number of years; a promise that the levy would not prejudice town liberties (special privileges previously granted). Although approval of taxation was the cortes' most important function, they also played a role in matters of the succession (e.g., Isabella of Castile in 1474) and foreign policy. Neither Navarre nor the lands in southern Spain under Muslim control developed the cortes, nor did the Iberian Peninsula again experiment with one “national” assembly—because it was a collection of separate kingdoms. The disorders of the late 15th century and the trend toward absolutism in the 16th century weakened the influence of the cortes.  1
1. Castile
The successors of Alfonso X were not conspicuous for capacity. Frequent minorities and constant dynastic contests weakened the authority of the crown still further.  2
Most outstanding of the Castilian rulers in this period was ALFONSO XI, who decisively defeated the joint attack of the Spanish and Moroccan Muslims. His victory at Rio Salado (Oct. 30, 1340) ended the African menace forever and was the chief battle in the whole history of the Reconquest.  3
Throughout the Hundred Years' War, Castile supported France but attempted to avoid hostility with England as much as possible.  4
PETER (Pedro, the Cruel). His reign was in fact little more than a 19-year dynastic conflict with his half-brother, the bastard Henry of Trastamara. Ultimately Henry defeated and killed Peter (1369).  5
Henry (Enrique) II (Trastamara), who renewed the alliance with France. The Castilian fleet, through its victory over the English in the Battle of La Rochelle (1372), restored command of the Channel to the French. Peace between Castile on the one side and Portugal and Aragon on the other concluded at Almazan (1374).  6
Rapprochement of Castile and Aragon, through the marriage of Henry's son, John, to Eleanor, daughter of Peter IV of Aragon.  7
Castilian leadership in the reconquest of Muslim Spain led to a degree of local and municipal self-government between the middle of the 12th and the middle of the 14th centuries. The cortes apparently originated from councils of nobles dating from Visigothic days. The Castilian rulers freely granted fueros (charters of self-government) to towns in the early stages of the Reconquest, and elements of local liberty appeared in municipal government in this period.  8
Urban groups, the hermandades (brotherhoods), sworn to defend the laws of the realm and the lives and property of their members, were clearly developed in the 13th century (e.g., Sancho's, 1282, directed against his father, Alfonso X) and usually supported the kings in periods of crisis (minorities, succession struggles, baronial assaults). The decline of the hermandades is associated with the municipal decline and the appearance of the royal corregidores (mayors) in the towns (14th century), but it is not clear whether the crown hastened the decay of the towns and the brotherhoods or sought to stave it off.  9
Despite all this support, the battle of the kings with the aristocracy, firmly entrenched during the early stages of the Reconquest, was a losing one. The nobles were exempt from taxes and from many laws; in general the same was true of the clergy, and some of the great bishops were virtual sovereigns.  10
The Jewish population of medieval Spain (See 1137) had generally prospered under first Muslim and then Christian rule. Christian kings welcomed Jews, because they represented capital investment, banking, and commercial expertise.  11
The nobility's attempt to reimpose serfdom, oppressive taxation, and general working-class frustration over poor socioeconomic conditions led to widespread Christian attacks on the Jews (e.g., in Barcelona and Sevilla), some spontaneous, others incited by churchmen, such as the Dominican St. Vincent Ferrer. Many wealthy Jews—courtiers, businessmen, scholars, rabbis—lost interest in traditional (Talmudic) Judaism, and perhaps 100,000 Jews converted to Christianity (c. 1425–50). The vast majority of these conversos were, within a generation or so, little different in religious practice and commitment from the rest of the population.  12
Marriage of Isabella, half-sister and heiress of Henry IV, to Ferdinand, heir of the king of Aragon.  13
ISABELLA succeeded to the Castilian throne. Isabella's succession was challenged by the daughter of Henry IV, supported by Afonso V of Portugal. But the cortes of Segovia (1475) recognized Isabella and Ferdinand and the latter defeated the Portuguese in 1476 (Battle of Toro).  14
FERDINAND (FERNANDO) succeeded to the rule of Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia. A form of dyarchical government was set up for the united Castilian and Aragonese crowns. Rule of the Catholic kings (Ferdinand and Isabella). Restoration of the royal power in Castile: by revising the town charters, the towns were made centers of resistance to feudal aggression; formation of the Santa Hermandad, a union of Castilian towns in the interest of royal authority and order. The great feudal magnates were deprived of many of their possessions and rights, and a royal administration was gradually established. The Libro de Montalvo (1485), an early codification of Spanish law.  15
Christian resentment of the important economic and ecclesiastical positions attained by former Jews (See 1479–1516) led to the spread of two ideas: that leadership in Iberian society required “purity of blood,” and that many new Christians were crypto-Jews (Marranos), secretly practicing their old religion. On Nov. 1, 1478, at the request of King Ferdinand (who himself had a Jewish grandmother), Pope Sixtus approved the establishment of the Inquisition in Spain. It became an instrument for centralizing royal power against the nobility, of whom the converted Jewish elite was a sizable minority (perhaps one third). Converted (from Judaism) bishops played a prominent role in the early work of the Inquisition.  16
1492, Jan
Granada fell to a Christian army, marking the end of the reconquest of Spain from the Muslims. On March 31, 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella issued an edict from Granada giving the Jews until July 31 to choose between accepting baptism or leaving the country. About 40,000, perhaps half the practicing Jews, left the country for Portugal, Venice, Rome, or Ottoman Turkey.  17
Art and literature. Castilian painting showed the influence of the school of Giotto (after c. 1380), and in the 15th century painting came under Flemish inspiration (visit of Jan van Eyck, 1428–29). In general, literature and learning followed the same foreign tendencies as architecture and painting: French influence came in early, followed later by Italian and English (notably Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Gower). Introduction of printing at Valencia (c. 1474) and in Castile (c. 1475).  18
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.