Martial Festivals and the Chivalrous Imaginary
ON 1 January 1434, Suero de Quiñones, a member of Alvaro de Luna’s retinue, came to the court of John II of Castile wearing full armor and an iron collar on his neck, and accompanied by nine knightly friends. Once in the presence of the king and all the great men and prelates gathered at Medina del Campo, the faraute (herald) Avanguarda read Suero’s long petition to the king. Since, as Suero argued, he was a prisoner of love (hence his iron collar), he requested of the king the privilege of holding a pas d’armes near the bridge on the Órbigo River. Located near the city of León, the bridge stood strategically (and bothersomely) at a key point on the pilgrimage road to Compostela. Suero was to hold the pas d’armes until he and his companions had broken three hundred lances. Once he had done this, he would be finally “liberated” from the prison of love (cárcel de amor), where he had been bound by the charms of an unnamed lady.1 After some deliberation the king and his council granted Suero and his companions the right to hold this pas d’armes, which Suero, to the chagrin of most travelers, did between July 20 and August 9,1434, at the very height of the pilgrimage season to the tomb of St. James, July 25th being his feast day.
Although he never broke the promised three hundred lances, this famous event, known as the Passo Honroso (the “honorable pass”) long resonated in an Iberian peninsula swept by a vogue for chivalrous deeds and knight-errantry that began in the late fourteenth century, endured throughout the fifteenth century, and then lived on in the knightly deeds of the sixteenth century and in the imaginary of early modern literary works. Philip II, as we have already seen, was devoted to the Amadis of Gaul and reenacted portions of it during the lavish feasts at Binche and Benavente. Bernal Díaz del Castillo invoked books of chivalry on first gazing upon the great city of Tenochtitlan, and then, of course, there was
1 Pedro Rodriguez de Lena, Libro del passo honroso đefenđiđo por el excelente caballero Suero de Quiñones (Valencia: Textos medievales 38, 1970; facsimile reproduction of 2nd edition, Madrid: Imprenta de D. Antonio de Sancha, 1783), 2–4; Martín de Riquer, Caballeros andantes españoles (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1967), 52–69; on Alvaro de Luna, see the recent and excellent study by Nicholas G. Round, The Greatest Man Uncrowned: A Study of the Fall of Don Alvaro de Luna (London: Tamesis Books,1986). On the theme of the “prison of love,” one should think of the great impact of Diego de San Pedro, Cárcel de amor. Arnalte y Lucenda. Sermón, J. F. Ruiz Casanova, ed. (Madrid: Cátedra, 1995), originally published in 1492 but written much earlier.