The Mechanics of Monarchy: Knighting Castile's King, 1332
Linehan, Peter, History Today
Kings knight knights, but who knights kings? Peter Linehan looks at how Alfonso XI got round the problem and in the process strengthened his hold on his kingdom.
At the Cortes of Valladolid in August 1325, the fifteen-year-old Alfonso XI of Castile dismissed his tutors and assumed control of his kingdom's affairs. The act of self-assertion of one of medieval Spain's arguably more remarkable and certainly least well-known monarchs iniated a twenty-five-year period within which scholars have recently been intent on locating the beginnings of the Modern State. The first seven years of Alfonso XI's personal rule culminated in a ceremonial event which was without precedent in peninsular history and without parallel in contemporary Europe.
Fifty years earlier the kingdom of Castile had stood poised to assume a commanding role in the Christian West. In 1275 el rey Sabio Alfonso X, the founding father of Spanish historiography and the real wonder of the thirteenth-century world, had travelled to meet Pope Gregory X at Beaucaire in the expectation of returning in triumph as Western emperor. Instead, having been rebuffed there, he came back to Castile crestfallen, and at that point his control of his own kingdom's affairs began to disintegrate and his reign to unravel: a process hastened by the death of his son and heir, Fernando de la Cerda in that same year, the dynastic crisis that followed, and the Infante Sancho's rebellion in 1282. Two years later the learned (rather than the wise) king himself died, a pathetic abandoned figure, but not before disinheriting and cursing the rebel Infante.
The reign of Sancho IV was overshadowed by the circumstances of its beginning. During his last days in 1295 the thirty-seven year-old king told his cousin D. Juan Manuel that he could not bless him because he had no blessing to give. All he had to convey was the curse that he had from his father, the curse that between then and 1325 seemed to have doomed Castile to a succession of royal minorities. Sancho's son, Fernando IV, was just nine when he succeeded; Alfonso XI in 1312, barely one. Anarchy prevailed. In the graphic phrase of a contemporary writer, |hares rule the roads'.
It was from this low point that between 1325 and 1350, when he succumbed to the Black Death, Alfonso XI restored his kingdom to the heights from which it had plunged in the previous half-century. How was this achieved? Remarkable thogh it was, the course of the teenage Alfonso's re-appropriation of the political initiative still awaits investigation. No modern history of the reign of the victor of the Battle of the Salado in 1340, Christian Spain's last significant victory over its Muslim enemy before the fall of Granada in 1492, has been written; which is extraordinary, the more so because the contemporary chronicle of the reign is fuller and more circumstantial than any other account since the 670s.
The Cronica de Alfonso XI was written in the 1340s, almost certainly by the king's confidant and keeper of the privy seal (canciller del sello de la Poridat). Fernan Sanchez de Valladoid. In particular, it was written in the aftermath of his master's victory at El Salado, on account of which Alfonso XI was lionised at the papal court of Avignon. These circumstances need to be considered as we follow the chronicle's account of the events of the late 1320s. For in these years - the period immortalised in the Archpriest of Hita's Libro de buen amor - the adulterous young king of Castile was not held in such high regard, least of all at the papal court at Avignon.
According to the contemporary Libro del consejo e de los consejeros, a ruler's |nobility' was to be measured in terms of his achievements in three spheres of activity: legislation, conquest, and colonisation. These constituted the acid test that the rulers of Castile had singularly failed in the half-century prior to- 1325, and more or less represented the agenda which the young king declared at the Cortes of Valladolid in that year. The land had been |robbed, destroyed and depopulated', the record of that meeting stated, and the chronicle confirmed this estimate. The young king's destiny, the task for which God had spared him, was to liberate his kingdom from |evil-doers' and to disuade its inhabitants from emigrating to Portugal and Aragon - for which they had been departing in droves, the chronicler added.
Because no Spanish king could afford to lose people, one of the principal objectives of the legislation of these years was to reverse this process, and in 1326 a first step was taken in the cause of conquest and colonisation. At Avignon sometime that summer nineteen prelates, headed by the partriarch of Jerusalem, issued an indulgence in favour of a church on the site of a shrine recently established in the badlands of Extremadura. Rocky, arid territory, the extreme south-west of the kingdom had been bypassed by the settlers who had flocked from the north to the lush pastures of Andalusia in the previous century, and since then it had proved to be Castile's major strategic liability, offering easy access to marauders from across the Straits of Gibraltar.
The 1326 indulgence for the church of Santa Maria de Guadalupe marked the beginning of a process designed to correct the neglect of previous generations. Men and animals were redirected westwards. By 1340, when the king made the place his first stop after his victory over the old enemy, visiting it in order to give thanks to the Virgin for his success, Guadalupe was well on its way to filling the role that Santiago had performed in earlier centuries, that of serving as a religious magnet in the cause of human endeavour.
The king's own part in this initiative cannot be calculated - he was still only sixteen in 1326, and in the judgement of some observers wholly the creature of his counsellors. However, the year 1327 found him exerting himself both abroad and at home. In March, he sent ambassadors to the papal court with a list of what the King of Aragon's man there reported home as "many indecent supplications', for church revenues, the appointment of three Castilian cardinals, and the grant of former Templar properties in his kingdom previously transferred to the Order of the Hospital. Then, sometime between April and June, he became to Seville, and was received there in style.
Overlooked by historians of the subject, his chronicler's account of Alfonso XI's reception in Seville in 1327 is the earliest detailed description we have of a royal entry anywhere in the medieval West. Seville was in carnival mood. For its expectant citizens the king's coming signified the return of good government. The chronicle describes the dancing, the trumphets and drums, the pretend animals, the knightly games and mock battles on the Guadalquivir, the sweet-smelling streets decked out in gold and silk.
Display tempered by calculation: here was an early Renaissance prince wholly in his element. And the proceedings of the Madrid Cortes in August 1329 were all of a part with this. Here Alfonso XI completed the process begun four years before, resuming full control of his kingdom's affairs. Foreign clerics and imperial notaries alike were banished. Castile for the Castilians! was the cry. Alfonso XI was not nineteen.
There was another side to the events of these years, however, which has to be allowed for. On Easter Sunday, 1328, Alfonso's brother-in-law, Alfonso III, count-king of Catalonia-Aragon, was anointed and crowned himself in Zaragoza cathedral. It was a great occasion, a political spectacle of the first order. The chronicler, Ramon Muntaner, reported that Spain had never seen its like. He was right. This was a new departure. Spanish kings were not accustomed to indulging in ritual anointing. The land which had introduced the practice to the West in the seventh century had long since abandoned it.
Yet the King of Castile was not there to witness it. In 1328 he was otherwise engaged with preparations for his uncanonical marriage with his close relative. Dona Maria, the daughter of yet another Afonso, Alfonso IV of Portugal. Attended by declarations by both the groom and the bride's father that whatever the pope might say the couple would remain together, their wedding at Ciudad Rodrigo that September was a hole-in-the-corner affair conducted by a mere priest of the disclose of Lisbon: a very far cry from the gala occasion at Zaragoza. Five months later, however, in view of the benefits that the war against Islam might derive from their union, Pope John XXII though it right to grant the couple a dispensation.
No sooner had the pope regularised his marriage with Dona Maria, however, than Alfonso's eye was caught by Leonor de Guzman and by 1330 the King was more interested in laying siege to the ravishing young widow of Seville than in investing Moorish stronghlds or pursuing the reconquest of the peninsula. In the winter of 1331 la favorita bore him their first child.
After fifty troublesome years and with the De la Cerda claim to the throne still active, absolutely the last thing the kingdom of Castile wanted was the establishment of a bastard line. The problem was a serve as its cause was notorious. In the chronicler's words: |in all this time the king and queen had no child because the two of them were rarely together'. The king would not sleep with the queen. And then he did. Or at any event, in the spring of 1332 the Queen Dona Maria sensed that she was pregnant:
And when the king's household and his
court learned of this there was great
delight, for everyone was anxious that
the king should have an heir by the
queen. And the king, because he was
very noble of body, resolved to be
crowned, and also knighted, because
he wanted his kingdom's worth to be
properly appreciated ('ca avia
voluntat de facer mucho por honrar la
corona de sus regnos'). And it was also the
case that since the time of King Alfonso
[X] the ricosomes, infanzones,
ftjosdalgo and towsmen had all avoided
having themselves made knights. So, being
in Burgos, the king ordered all the
necessary gold and silken hangings to be
prepared, together with work of scarlet
and wool worked in gold... The scene was set for the knighting of the king and his anointing and coronation.
The chronicler had set the scene. He had not quite fully described it however. And it is his failure to describe quite fully, and his reasons for failing to do so, that are chiefly of interest to us here. According to the chronicler, it was knowledge of the queen's pregnancy that prompted the king to have himself crowned and knighted (crowned and knighted, in that order). But this cannot be right. In fact, the king had decided to have himself knighted before he could have known of poor, dreary Maria's interesting condition. The (unhappily short-lived) Infante Fernando was born on November 23rd, 1332. Yet as early as February 16th, his father was informing the municipalities of the archdiocese of Toledo that he had |undertaken to go to Santiago in order to be knighted', and before the end of that same month a member of his household had been dispatched to Avignon to acquire various items of equipment for his master's new militia'. So it appears that, contrary to the chronicler's implications, it was not the queen's pregnancy but rather the king's desire for chivalry that was principally responsible for all the ceremonia activity that the kingdom of Castile was to witness in the summer of 1332.
Alfonso XI's understandable anxiety on this latter score is partly to be explained by the international dimension of his domestic circumstances. In the summer of 1332 Alfonso was in a state of truce with the Nasrid ruler of Granada. His stock with the outside world was low therefore, and very low in comparison with that of Philip VI of France, for example, who as well as restating his intention of going on crusade to the east -- this on July 25th coincidentally -- was also reported to be contemplating an assault on Granada. True, nothing came of this particular French scheme -- as Spaniards had known since the days of Charlemagne, nothing ever did. Even so, in 1332 the questions remained: how was the Reconquest to be resumed, and how was the rest of Europe (as well as the King of France to be made to be interested in it?
The priority was the revival of Castilian chivalry which, as the chronicler recorded, had been in the doldrums ever since the reign of Alfonso X. The king had already addressed the problem in 1331 when, with a view to promoting Castilian horsemanship, he had banned the use of mules. But, as the chronicler also recorded, the ban proved counter-productive: the kingdom's mules were exported wholesale while its horses expired doing mules' work. The ineffectiveness of the mule rule was soon recognized -- though it survived until the 1880s.
This led on to the question of the wider world. In 1332 Castilian chivalry had to be able to bid on the international market on that market's own terms. And here was the nub of the problem: the King of Castile was not a knight himself. Alfonso XI had a knightly retinue in readiness, an elite body, |La Banda' established in the spring of that year. The earliest of the European orders of chivalry, |La Banda' bore no resemblance to the peninsula's earlier orders of mounted monks. Indeed, it was not a clerical order at all. It possessed no religious function. Its statutes defined its objectives as the |promotion of chivalry' and |loyalty' to the king. Except for attendance at mass, the knights of |La Banda' had no spiritual duties to perform whatsoever; they had no permanent chapel, no confraternal routines of prayer for members living and dead. Discipline was not penitential but chivalric, failure to attend the joust being punishable by having to make three jousting runs without a lance, or one without armour. Its ethos was not Christian; it was Arthurian -- or Cidian: the contemporary Poema de alfonso XI informs us of the king's affection for the Castillian hero, and the moralistic Franciscan, Alvarus Pelagius, railed against his addiction to romancas with their |fables, vanities, lies and pleasures of the flesh'. It was not the Christian calendar that provided its framework but the fixture-list of tournaments. La cavalleria was |the most exalted and prized order in God's creation', its statutes declared, thereby inverting the social hierarchy itself and confirming the worst fears of the likes of Alvarus Pelagius and D. Juan Manuel -- the king's relative and the deepest thorn in his side - for whom it was the clerical order that was the greatest (|mas alto') of all the estados, with |oradores' (those who pray) enjoying precedence over |defensores' (those who fight) and |labradores' (those who work).
Although D. Juan Manuel was prepared to acknowledge that |la cavalleria' was |the loftiest and most esteemed' of the secular orders of society, the terms in which he did so can only have heightened Alfonso's sense of unease. For according to the Infante, there were two reasons for holding the knightly order in such high esteem. One was the distinction of its membership. And the other was its ritual of admission, a ritual which he likened to a sacrament because, as in the case of the sacraments, no man could minister to himself. |He could not received it unless he received it from another.' As with the sacraments of marriage, baptism and penance, there were three requisites necessary for the completion of the rite: the two parties to the act and, in this case, in lieu of a sacramental formula, |the sword with which it is performed'.
|He could not received it unless he received it from another.' These chilling words written in the late 1320s, taunted Alfonso as he planned the creation of his |new military order'. He had bid for, and when the pope had refused him, had appropriated the property of the Castillan Templars for his new order. But since not being a knight himself he was not qualified to activate Castillian chivalry, he could not persuade foreign warriors to join his banner - as the chronicler tells us he was intent on doing, setting road-blocks along the road to Santiago in the hope of catching the passing trade. Because Alfonso XI's father, in addition to lacking his father's benediction, had not survived long enough to dub his son to knighthood, in the year 1332 that son's prospects of refurbishing Castillian chivalry were nil.
There was of course a simple solution to the king's difficulty, just as there was to the problem of his heirlessness. He had only to be knighted himself. But, as his learned great-grandfather had demonstrated, in fact that ready remedy was hazardous in the extreme. In the work which came to be known as Las Siete Partidas Alfonso X had considered the question at length and formulated the chivalric Catch 22: only a king who had been knighted could be anointed and crowned, but only a knight could dub a knight. It took one to make one. And then there was the further complication of the special relationship that the act of knighting created between the newly girded knight and the minister of the quasi-sacramental ungirding ceremony. The very title which the |ungirder' bore (padrino: godfather) expressed the solemnity of the bond thereby created. The Second Partida spelled it out: just as the godfather's role of baptism was to initiate the infant into the Christian community, so that of the chivalric padrino. was to introduce the |caballero novel' into the knightly community. Like a god-child, the |caballero novel' incurred a whole complex of obligations which endured for three years, some said for seven, others even longer.
The hierarchical ramifications were far-reaching. Thus, although in 1254 Alfonso X hadd knighted the future Edward I of England, when later he proposed that his son, the future Sancho IV, be dubbed by his elder brother, Sancho had fled the court. Choose your padrino with care therefore, Alfonso X had advised: advice which Alfonso XI, a king whose sense of his own royal dignity was second to none, no more needed than he did the Secondd Partida's reminder that only a knight could create knights himself, |since a man cannot give what he does not have'. There appeared to be nno escape.
In fact, there was, along lines indicated in that same Partrida. Although unlawful, |in certain places' and |in certain lands' both this practice and that of self-knighting were admitted to be customary. It was asserted by some that |for reason of state' and |because they were head of the chivalry' and its incarnation, kings and the sons of kings, though undubbed themselves, could nevertheless dub others to knighthood. Moreover -- and though again |more by custom than by law' -- certain kings actually did knight themselves. In manuscripts of the Second Partida which may date from the reign of Alfonso XI these parthenogenetic practices were described as |typical Spanish'.
|Typical Spanish' they certainly were. |So that it be understood that no one else on earth has power over him', in the 120s the Fuero General de Navarra had positively insisted on the king arming himself. To typical non-Spaniards in the 1339s, however, such do-it-yourself practices must have appeared bizarre. As Spain entered Europe, plainly some modification was necessary. But equally plainly there could be no question of any earthly hand other than the king's touching the king's sword. The Aragonese ceremonial at Zaragoza in 1328 had established that. And the chronicler's description of what occurred four years later confirmed it: in Compostela cathedral on July 25th, 1332, the feast day of Santiago, the king took his arms from the altar himself |so that he should have them from no other'.
Thus far |typical Spanish' procedures had been strictly observed. The question was whether without compromising the sacrosanctity of those procedures some sort of reassurance could be offered to the chivalric constituency which Alfonso was intent on wooing, some gesture be made to trans-Pyrenean public opinion. For example, if no human intermediary could be tolerated, might not some super-human agent be permitted to participate, thereby actually enhancing the knighted monarch?
Which was precisely what did ensue in Compostela cathedral that day. While the knighted King of France was announcing his intention of attacking Granada, the King of Castile (in the words of his chronicler):
approached the statue of Santiago
which was above the altar and made it
strike him on the cheek. And in this
manner King Alfonso received
knighthood from the Apostle Santiago. Just like that: the most natural thing in the world, the reader is left to conclude. In fact it was the most super-natural spectacle that the world of medieval chivalry had yet witnessed.
The automated Santiago was a remarkable artefact. But it was not the intricacy of its mechanism that made it remarkable. Its mechanism may have been simple in the extreme, an affair of string rather than clock-work. What made it remarkable was what had previously made the invention of the wheel remarkable, namely the sophistication of the conceptual brea with the past that the artefact expressed. The automated Santiago surmounted the whole complex of hierarchical problems that had haunted kings and emperors for a millennium. It recruited the approbation of the hereafter without involving the physical mediation of either priest or layman.
Often photographed but never studied or inspected in order to establish how the thing actually worked, the less than life-sized statue with its Christ-like features survives to this day inaccessibly high-up in the cloister of the church of Las Huelgas at Burgos. Despite its fourteent-century appearance, generations of historians have hitherto been content to repeat the traditional belief that it dates from the twelfth, if not earlier. Their reason for doing has been that the chronicler, Julian Perez, stated that he had seen it crowning Alfonso VII in 1135. But this is no reason. As has long been known, Julian Perez and his chronicle were both inventions of the early 1600s.
In fact the automated Santiago must date from the reign of Alfonso XI, whose chronicler provides the only contemporary report we have of its existence and operation. We can but guess at the circumstances of its invention. (Was the germ of the idea perhaps provided by the statue of Christ crucified in Burgos cathedral, the statue with the moving arms which had allegedly doggy-paddled its way there across the Bay of Biscay?) We do not know where it was constructed. Like the rest of the paraphernalia of chivalry for which the king's agent was sent to Avignon at the beginning of 1332, and concerning whose foreign origin the chronicleer maintained a discreet silence, perhaps it had been designed beyond the Pyrenees. But wherever, it had been designed to Castilian specifications, in order to provide the King of Castile with an escape from the ceremonial impasse in which he found himself in that year. Of course, there were other solutions available to him. One such was proposed in the ceremonial rite which the king himself had commissioned from the Frenchman Ramon, bishop of the Portuguese see of Coimbra. In the bishop's rite, which was prepared in the papal library (though without the pope's knowledge or permission), the Archbishop of Compostela was to anoint and crown Alfonso in his cathedral, and to perform the chivalric honours too. But the king rejected that proposal.
Indeed the king rejected the bishop's rite entirely. |No one can rise another unless he himself bends', Paschal II had informed St Anselm in 1106 when advising him of the compromise concerning investiture that he had reached with Henry I of England. |Yet, even if he who bends seems to come near to falling over, he does not lose his state of rectitude.' Fourteenth-century kings were not to be fobbed off with such gratutious assuances however. Their sense of symbolism, not to mention their appreciation of the laws of physics, was altogether more acute. Three weeks after Alfonso XI's encounter with the statue, therefore, the ceremonial begun in Santiago cathedral was completed not there but far away to the south-east, in the royal pantheon of Las Huelgas at Burgos, where, having been anointed by the archbishop, the king crowned first himself and then his pregnant wife before proceeding to what for the chronicler was evidently the real object of the exercise.
What the chronicler narrates was hardly a sacral or sacramental occasion at all, it was more of a society event. In a fourteenth-century version of mid-air refuelling, as the mounted king approached the church, D. Alfonson de la Cerda (representing the claim to the Castilian throne dating from 1275 and only recently abandoned) attached a spur to one of the royal ankles. The anointing and coronation of Alfonso XI more resembled the Grand National than la grande messe des morts.
And the chronicler's coverage of what followed next day was no less carefully calculated to commemorate what really mattered: Alfonson's dubbing of the scores of new knights who had kept vigil in the church the previous night. I similar vein, he reports the king's own verdict. He had thoroughly enjoyed the whole occasion. But what had pleased him most had been the sight of his |cavalleros novelles' lining up before him to receive the accolade and their sitting down to dinner with him afterwards.
The pleasure with which Alfonso XI remembered his night out with the boys and the nostalgia he expressed for his evening in the mess are arresting. Indeed, in the case of a husband and father who had just been anointed, and who had just crowned both himself and the quenn who was carrying the heir to his throne, they are very arresting indeed.
Castile in the summer of 1332 stood at the beginning of a long chapter in the history of chivalry. Its first major achievement came eight years later on the occasion of Alfonso XI's victory on the river Salado, assisted by a considerable contingent of those foreigners who would not have enlisted with an unknighted king or a king who had knighted himself. It ended in the yard of the inn in chapter 3 of Cervantes' novel, when after Dona Tolosa had girded Don Quixote with his sword and Dona Molinera had buckled his spurs on him, the innkeeper, reading from the book in which he kept his straw and barley accounts:
...as if he were repeating some pious
oration, lifted up his hand and gave
him a good blow on the neck, and then
a gentle slap on the back with the flat
of his sword, while mumbling some
words between his teeth in the tone of
The only thing that vexed him was
that he was not yet dubbed a knight;
for he fancied he could not lawfully
undertake any Adventure until he had
received the Order of Knighthood. The don's dilemma was not wholly without precedent however. Nor, despite the historians' neglect of it, was the King of Castile's more elegant resolution of his little local difficulty entirely devoid of wider implications.
FOR FURTHER READING:
As stated above, there is no full-scale study in any language of the reign of Alfonso XI. J.N. Hillgarth, The Spanish Kingdoms 1250-1516, Vol. I ( Clarendon Press, 1979), provides a brief summary. Various aspects of it are treated in chapters 16 and 17 of Peter Linehan, History and the Historians of Medieval Spain, (Clarendon Press, 1993) and in the same author's |The beginnings of Santa Maria de Guadalupe and the direction of fourteenth-century Castile', in Past and Present in Medieval Spain, (Aldershot: Variorum, 1992). For the secular orders of chilvalry, see M. Keen, Chivalry, (Yale University Press, 1984) and for |La Banda', D'A. J.D. Boulton, The Knights of the Crown. The monarchical orders of knighthood in later medieval Europe 1325-1520, (Boydell Press, 1987).
Peter Linehan is a Fellow and Tutor of St John's College, Cambridge.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: The Mechanics of Monarchy: Knighting Castile's King, 1332. Contributors: Linehan, Peter - Author. Magazine title: History Today. Volume: 43. Publication date: March 1993. Page number: 26+. © 2009 History Today Ltd. COPYRIGHT 1993 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.