Land and Society in Golden Age Castile

David E. Vassberg

Chapter 4

Private Property Ownership: The Privileged Estates

[90] The communitarian system -- itself highly complex, as we have seen -- was juxtaposed with various types of private property ownership to form a sort of hybrid property structure. The system of sixteenth century Castile contained many medieval elements alongside modern property holding forms -- the seigneurial system superimposed upon relatively free villages, the traditional communitarianism side by side with modern private property ownership, and a vigorous expansionist ethic coexisting with the old subsistence mentality. The overlapping of private and community property ownership formed a complementary, and relatively harmonious relationship in the typical Castilian village, and constituted the economic basis for rural society. Historians have made much of the inequitable distribution of landownership between the nobility, the clergy, urban investors, and the peasantry. But as Slicher van Bath has noted (1963: 310), the question of ownership is complex, because several different parties can have rights to the same piece of land. And sometimes the rights of the nominal owner are eclipsed by the rights of tenants or others with claims to the produce from his land. When we begin to study the reality of sixteenth-century Castile, we discover that many of the old generalizations and stereotypes break down. The situation was far more complicated than most historians have thought.

Virtually every writer dealing with the subject has concluded that landownership in early modern Castile was overwhelmingly dominated by the privileged estates: the nobility and the clergy. It is possible that this view corresponds to the reality of the situation. But it should be recognized that it is based on extremely fragmentary evidence. It is supported primarily by extrapolations of data from the mid-eighteenth-century catastro, and by polemical contemporary sources that are quite obviously distorted. It is undoubtedly true that the church and the nobility owned a disproportionate amount of [91] land in Golden Age Castile. But they did not own as much of Castile as is commonly believed.

In this chapter, I separate the property of the privileged estates into three categories, pertaining to the nobility, to the church, and to the military orders. The division is not altogether satisfactory, for there is considerable overlapping, and the first two categories are quite heterogeneous. Furthermore, it omits the king, who was the single most important landowner in the land, because I have already dealt with crown lands in chapter 1. And it veils the fact that the crown, since the days of Ferdinand and Isabella, controlled the military orders. Nevertheless, if we keep in mind the limitations of the categories, we can find them useful to help us understand the landholding situation of the day.


The Spanish nobility were supposed to be the descendants of the Visigoths and other Germanic knights who took part in the Reconquest. It was believed that this group possessed certain special qualities which entitled them to be set apart as a privileged caste. Those special qualities might not be visible, so the theory went, but they ran in the blood, and eventually they would emerge, if not in the present generation, then in their descendants. Noble status could also be conferred by the crown, theoretically in recognition of those 'special qualities' in the recipient. However, in practice ennoblement by act of royal power normally followed some sort of service to the crown. And by the reign of Charles V privileges of nobility were openly sold to whoever could pay for them, as a means of increasing royal revenues. Hidalguía (noble status) was desirable because it conferred not only social prestige, but also immunity from direct royal taxation, and certain legal privileges as well.

The Castilian nobility of the Golden Age was by no means a homogeneous grouping. Antonio Domínguez Ortiz (1971: 108-19) has divided them into no fewer than five categories, ranking from the powerful grandees and other fabulously wealthy titled aristocrats, down to impoverished hidalgos who had to work by the sweat of their brow to keep from starving. This reflected enormous differences in property ownership. Consequently, it is misleading to treat 'noble property ownership' as if the nobility represented a unified group of economic equals. Because the Reconquest started in the north, and [92] only gradually moved south, there was an unequal geographical distribution of the Castilian nobility. In the far north nearly the entire population claimed hidalgo status, and was accepted as such. In Asturias, for example, 75.4 percent of the vecinos were hidalgos in the sixteenth century, and in the Trasmiera district of the old province of Burgos it was 84.8 percent. Few of these were titled nobility, and most of the population -- though noble -- was made up of ordinary working people. Naturally, these included peasants, most of whom had little or no property. At the other end of Spain, in Andalucía the proportion of nobles was very small. In the province of Córdoba it was barely over 1 percent, but the Andalucían nobles enjoyed outstanding social and economic advantages, often owning large estates. Between these two extremes, in the Castilian heartland, the percentage of hidalgos varied from place to place. It was only about 2.5 percent in the city of Ciudad Real and its territory. And in the rural villages of New Castile, it ranged from 0.6 percent in Guadalajara province, and 1.2 percent in the province of Madrid, to 2.2 percent in the province of Toledo (Ruiz Martín 1967: 189-202). Of course, all sections of the country had both rich and poor hidalgos, and the rich ones tended to reside in cities, rather than in rural villages (Phillips 1979: 100-8; Gerbet 1972: 301-3).

The nobility is always linked with the seigneurial system, although only a tiny minority of nobles were actually seigneurs. It is well known that feudalism did not take deep root in Castile, because the crown never surrendered its control of the national territory as had happened in France and in other European countries. The political and legal power of the Castilian nobility was considerably reduced by Ferdinand and Isabella, but these monarchs left intact the nobles' great socioeconomic power. When the Habsburg period began, about half of all towns in Castile were under the seigneurial jurisdiction of some lord. The proportion of total population under seigneurial jurisdiction, however, was considerably less, because most of the larger towns were realengo (under the direct authority of the crown) or were under the royally-controlled military orders. The most powerful type of noble control was solariego, a medieval system where both the land and the seigneurial jurisdiction were owned by the lord. But by the sixteenth century, there remained few places in Castile that were solariegos. Most were merely under the jurisdiction of the seigneur. And in the typical seigneurial village, the lord owned only a part of the land -- sometimes only a fraction of the area under [93] his jurisdiction. That does not mean that the lords were weak, however, for they tended to be large property owners. And although it was not necessarily financially profitable to have seigneurial jurisdiction per se, the crown had no trouble finding buyers of jurisdictional rights, because lordship conferred considerable social prestige. The perennially bankrupt Charles V and Philip II raised money for the royal treasury by selling towns to prestige-hungry nobles, and even to non-noble social climbers. Seigneurial jurisdiction conferred upon them the right to appoint or confirm the officials of the town council, to issue decrees and ordinances, and to hold a court of first instance. But the sale of jurisdictions did not in itself affect the landholding system (Domínguez 1971: 155-6; Salomon 1964: 160-5, 189-2 12; Actas: y, 19-20; Guarnido 1969: 63-5).


There is evidence that in some places the existence of large blocks of land in the hands of the nobility retarded the post-Reconquest resettlement of the country. The seigneurs sometimes placed restrictions on hunting, wood cutting, pasturing, cultivation, and other activities. Furthermore, they exacted tribute from colonists moving into their domain, which tended to make seigneurial lands less attractive than lands directly under the jurisdiction of the crown. But many lords realized that they needed settlers to develop their lands, and to pay them tribute. Consequently, they extended liberal benefits as an inducement to colonization. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, for example, the Valley of the Pusa (a tributary of the Tajo, in Toledo province) was in the domain of lords who allowed settlers full ownership of the lands they cleared and plowed (rozas from the monte). In exchange, they had to pay the lord a tribute, called the terratgo del pan, of one-twelfth of the grain harvest, in recognition of his authority. Colonists were also given ownership of lots for houses, and of land for orchards, vineyards, and gardens, with no terrazgo. The result of this liberality was a population explosion, and the seigneurs granted more and more lands to the increasing numbers of peasants who cleared and cultivated them. Thus the settlement of lands under seigneurial jurisdiction involved the alteration of the landowning structure, to the benefit of the peasants. There was a restriction to their rights of ownership, however: they were not to sell their property to outsiders, hidalgos, clergy, [94] or anyone else who might claim exemption from the terrazgo (Jiménez 1951: 568-9, 1971: 86-98; Palomeque 1947). A similar process developed in the village of Benamejí (Córdoba) in the first half of the sixteenth century. The settlement did not prosper so long as the inhabitants were obliged to rent lands from the lord of the place. But it grew nicely after the seigneur granted each vecino 60 fanegas of land. This amount had to be cleared from the monte, and had to be plowed within two years. And thereafter, each landholder was required to plant at least half of his property each year, otherwise it would revert back to the lord. Each vecino was also allowed land for vines and olives. Many new settlers came to Benamejí from Burgos to take advantage of this 'homesteading' opportunity. Again, the land holdings of the noble seigneur were reduced, but that turned out to his ultimate advantage because of the increased tribute (Ortega Alba 1973: 608-9).

Noble lords with unpopulated lands also attracted settlers by offering them lands through the censo enfitéutico. This was a contract derived from the ancient Roman emphyteusis, now modified to serve new historical conditions. In this system, families of tenants were given a certain area of land and were encharged with clearing and cultivating it. All they had to pay the lord and landowners was an annual rent (censo), which was originally payable in produce, but by the early modern period had usually been commuted partly or wholly to coin. The amount of the yearly payment was specified in the contract, and was originally considered to be a substitute for the medieval work-rent (corvée) due to the seigneur. It was not at all related to the possible profits resulting from the exploitation of the land. Its significance was that it marked the peasants' recognition of the lord's ownership of the land. Lands held through the censo enfitéutico could be passed from father to son. They tended to remain in the family, because rates had been low to begin with, and shrank dramatically in real terms with the price inflation of the sixteenth century (Salomon 1964: 159).

The censo leaseholders who most gained from this were those whose contracts had been drawn up in the fifteenth century or earlier. The landowner could not adjust the annual payments to compensate for the price rise; he was bound by the archaic rate specified in the contract. This type of contract was also called the censo enfitéutico perpetuo or the pensión perpetuo, because of the perpetual rights it conferred. Lands held by peasants through these contracts could not [95] only be willed to their descendants, but could even be sold, traded, or mortgaged. The landowner, however, might reserve the right to collect a tax each time the property was sold. This tax, the laudemio, could be as much as one-third of the purchase price, or as little as one-tenth. And, of course, the owner had the right to repossess the land if the annual payments were not made. But the terms of the contract normally did not permit repossession until after several years of non-payment. A grace period of from two to four years seems to have been common. Peasants who held lands under censo enfitéutico contracts were fortunate indeed. They had secure tenure and low payments, placing them in a relatively much better position than ordinary tenants with short-term rental agreements. The censo enfitéutico leaseholder was, in fact, the owner of the right to use the land -- a right which he and his successors could enjoy in perpetuity so long as they continued to make the annual payments. The person who received the payments was the theoretical, and ultimate, owner of the land, but he had relinquished his right to use the property in exchange for the annual fee. Through the censos perpetuos, the noble landowners had given up part of their property rights, in effect creating a class of quasi-proprietor peasant leaseholders. In the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, landowners had liked the censo enfitéutico, because they found it more convenient and reliable as a source of income than working the land themselves (Guarnido 1969: 87; Nader 1977). After the mid-1500s, however, it lost favor, and more agile contracts such as medium-term leases took its place. García Sanz (1977: 286-96) found that most censos enfitéuticos in the Tierra of Segovia were finalized in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. In fact, he did not find a single one dated after 1550. But although no new censos of this type were drawn up, those already established endured -- with few exceptions -- far beyond the Habsburg period. Many survived down to the twentieth century, long after the abolition of the seigneurial system.

It would be splendid to be able to establish a statistical inventory of noble property, giving the percentage that was alienated through the censo enfitéutico. But alas, we do not have the data to do so, nor could the data ever be collected for the whole of Castile, because of gaps in archival materials. Some local statistics have been gathered, but there is no way to know how representative they are. Victoriano Guarnido Olmedo (1969: 87) has made a detailed study of the town of Huétor-Tájar (Granada), which was under the seigneurial jurisdiction [96] of the Luna family. The Lunas eventually alienated all of their property in the area -- both urban and rural -- through censos enfitéuticos. They did not contract them all at once, but rather in a piecemeal fashion, according to their economic needs. Like most Castilian nobles, they were deeply in debt, and constantly were looking for new sources of income. Helen Nader (1977) found a similar situation on the Mondéjúar estates in the provinces of Granada and Guadalajara, as did Abelardo Merino Alvarez (1915: 249-51) in the kingdom of Murcia, where the old solariego estates were gradually converted into farms let out through censos enfitéuticos, thus reducing the lords to mere rentiers.


There was often no clear cut differentiation between feudal dues and land rents, because the landlord was often also the seigneur. This ambivalence caused interminable litigation, particularly after the nineteenth-century abolition of seigneurial jurisdiction. There were certain dues that were unquestionably feudal in nature: tolls on passage by boat, road, or bridge; and monopoly rights on ovens, mills, and wine or olive presses. In some parts of Andalucía, for example, the lord required that all olives be brought to his mill for pressing. This led to frequent protests and lawsuits (Domínguez 1971: 157-61). But the various tolls on commerce were more annoying to merchants than they were to peasants, because most peasants lived out their lives in a semi-closed economy. One of the most irritating obligations of the feudal era was personal service. But this had never been onerous in Castile, and was practically extinct by the mid-sixteenth century. In most places the peasants had been able to arrange with their lord to substitute cash or grain payments in place of personal service. The villagers of Torremormojón (Palencia), for example, had contracted in 1374 to pay their lord 200 cargas of grain every year instead of working without pay with their animals in his fields. Noel Salomon (1964: 193-8) found no proof in the Relaciones of the continued existence of personal service in New Castile. But it certainly had existed there earlier, for in the second quarter of the sixteenth century the peasants of the señorío of Valdepusa (Toledo) were still obliged to transport grain for their lord (Jiménez 1971: 100-1). And personal service of various kinds was still being demanded by lords in the province of Valladolid in 1537 and in Burgos [97] in 1551, but their vassals had taken them to court to demand their freedom from such archaic requirements, and it is clear that they were on their way out. (1)

The Castilian vassal was theoretically obligated to find lodgings for his lord and the lord's retinue. But that feudal requirement, like the one of personal service, had practically disappeared by the late 1500s. And where the obligation still existed, it was normally commuted for a small cash payment. Nor were Castilian peasants burdened by seigneurial hunting preserves, or by the excesses of aristocratic hunters. There were few hunting preserves: the hunt was normally free and open to all, and was frequently under the control of the local councils. The Castilian peasant under seigneurial jurisdiction did have certain feudal dues to pay, to underscore the traditional loyalty owed by the vassal to his lord. There was the humaje (or fumadga, or fogaje) -- a tax on every family head (literally, on every hearth); and there was the martiniega -- a tax due to the lord on St Martin's Day (Weisser 1976: 25, 131 n. 13; Jiménez 1971: 100-1). But these amounted to only a few maravedís per vecino per year. The fuero, or pecho forero, an annual tax which every vecino in a solariego village had to pay to his lord, was also nominal. Salomon calculated (1964: 190-4, 214-16) that it amounted to between 14 and 33 mrs per family in the provinces of Madrid and Toledo. There was sometimes also the infurción -- an annual tax in some places limited to one chicken for the lot where a vecino had built his house. And the peasants of La Puebla de Montalbán and Menasalbas (Toledo) were required to pay their lord, the count of Montalbán, a treintena (one-thirtieth) of their harvest. All of these duties were linked to the occupation by the peasant of lands over which the lord had jurisdiction. There were exceptions, of course, but for the average Castilian peasant living under seigneurial jurisdiction (in both Old and New Castile), the sum of feudal dues that he had to pay to his lord was rather trifling. (2)


The feudal system certainly contained abuses and injustices, but in all fairness, we must admit that it also could provide a safeguard for the community, especially if the lord was powerful and influential. Many lords established fairs and freemarkets to invigorate the economy of their towns. Others founded churches or universities. [98] More importantly, the lords, in their own interest, tried to preserve their vassals from the worst effects of billeting or tax collecting. Nevertheless, there was perpetual strife between some towns and their lords, which often led to lengthy lawsuits. The lords usually blamed these suits on certain 'troublesome' citizens who had their own interests in mind, rather than those of the community. And it is true that the 'trouble makers' were often hidalgos and prosperous townspeople who disliked being vassals of a lord. But as Antonio Domínguez Ortiz has observed (1971: 158-61) the common people do not seem to have been much bothered by their seigneurial status. The ordinary working man usually seems to have preferred a powerful lord to one of lesser stature, and a resident lord to one who governed through a mayordomo. Señorío status could confer other advantages: regardless of whether the lord was the owner of the land (solariego) or merely had jurisdiction over it, the weight of custom prevented him from evicting the peasant from the land he worked. This security -- the right to remain on his land -- was of the greatest benefit to the peasant; but the other side of the coin was that it acted as a restraint upon the lord, limiting his options.

Nevertheless, the great majority of towns seem to have preferred to be realengos -- directly under the authority of the crown. Thus, there were tens of thousands of discontented Castilians when Charles V and Philip II sold seigneurial jurisdictions to raise money. Even though they were certainly not 'always reduced to economic slavery by the domanial and manorial system', as Defourneaux would have it (1970: 98), the peasants usually seem to have favored realengo status. This preference is reflected in several Castilian proverbs. Hernán Núñez, in his Refranes o proverbios (1555), cited: En lugar de señorío no hagas tu nido (Don't build your nest in a seigneurial town); and En la tierra del rey, la vaca corre al buey (In the king's territory, the cow chases the ox), meaning that in royal towns justice was meted out equally to both rich and poor (cited in Salomon 1964: 205, fl. 2). There exists also an old proverb (of unknown vintage): En tierra de señorío, almendro o guindo; en tierra real, noguera o moral (In seigneurial lands, almond or cherry; in royal lands, walnut or mulberry), which the editor of the collection of proverbs (Bergua 1968: 202) takes to mean that it was better to settle in royal, rather than seigneurial lands. However, it could also be interpreted to mean that there was little real difference between the two. Some towns, however, were so distressed at being sold into señorío status that they went into debt to [99] purchase their return to royal jurisdiction (a good business for the crown, since it could get money not only from the sale of señoríos, but also from allowing towns to return to realengo status). Other towns that were sold into seigneurial jurisdiction acquiesced in their new status, but lost much of their population through emigration to freer areas. This was true of El Acebrón (Cuenca), which the crown sold into the seigneurial System in 1575. By 1597 it had lost over half of its population to nearby realengo and military order towns. But we should not conclude that realengo status was always preferable to señorío, because there are also examples of the opposite tendency. Late in the reign of Philip II the corregidor of Carmona (Seville) reported that many peasants had left the crown towns of the area to go live in seigneurial villages, because of the oppressiveness of royal judges and high taxes in the former. Thus, in the final analysis, it seems that the quality of life under the seigneurial system depended upon the character of the lord: if he was benevolent, señorío status might actually be an improvement over realengo; but if he was oppressive, it was unquestionably worse. (3)


We have already seen that it is often difficult to separate seigneurial jurisdiction from mere landownership. The reason is that the monarchs of the Reconquest often granted the two simultaneously, and even when they did not, in many cases the language in the grants of jurisdiction was vague enough to be construed to include landownership as well (Valdeavellano 1968: 518-22). The royal grants of land recognized the hierarchical nature of Castilian society: not only the division between nobles and non-nobles, but also the differentiation between the upper and the lesser nobility. When Almería was reconquered, for example, in 1489, the comendador of León, Don Gutiérrez de Cárdenas, received 109.5 tahullas of land in addition to 1,163 fruit trees and 3,058 olive trees. By contrast, the 140 knights of the lesser nobility (escuderos hijosdalgo) who also participated in the Reconquest of the area received an average of only 14.7 tahullas of land, an unspecified number of fruit trees, and only 45 olive trees. Non-nobles received even smaller allotments, of course. The same thing was true in the post-Reconquest division of lands in the present provinces of Málaga and Granada. The higher nobles received large estates, the ordinary hidalgos got medium-sized [100] to small farms, and the commoners were given small plots. In Baza (Granada), for instance, 77 percent of the vecinos of the post-Reconquest resettlement were allotted only one-third of the cultivated area, whereas a single individual (from one of the great Castilian noble families) got nearly 10 percent of the total. Thus, from the outset of Castilian rule, these areas were characterized by latifundios owned by the nobility and by minifundios owned by commoners. And it had been so since the early days of the Reconquest (Bosque 1973: 489-90).

After the grants of the Reconquest, from time to time the crown made additional grants of lands to the nobility, and to other parties, in recognition of services rendered. Almost inevitably, these lands were granted from the tierras baldías. In 1530, for example, the crown ordered the corregidor of Guadix (Granada) to give Alonso de Mérida, the warden of the fortress at nearby Lapesa, title to 400 fanegas of land taken from the local baldíos. And in early 1531, Mérida, who had solicited the grant, selected the land in six different blocks in the environs. (4) According to Joaquín Rodríguez Arzua (1963: 391-2) the crown made so many such grants in the sixteenth century around Ciudad Rodrigo (Salamanca) that noble-owned latifundios came to dominate the local landowning picture. Now, noble-owned estates must certainly have been prominent in Ciudad Rodrigo long before the I500s, but it is possible that new royal grants in that century made their share of the local landownership flagrantly disproportionate for the first time.


It should be remembered that there had been latifundios in Spain long before the Reconquest. Some had existed since Roman times, and others were formed during the Visigothic and Moslem periods. Many were created in a piecemeal fashion, through the gradual amalgamation of smaller holdings. Since Roman times the question of latifundios has aroused strong emotions (Delano 1979: 96, 98, 104). Many observers have accepted as an article of faith the postulate that the latifundio is a malignant institution. Individuals with this anti-latifundio bias have tended to ignore the fact that many estates have been painstakingly built up over several generations. In fact, in any relatively free economic system, there is a tendency for the individual to try to increase the size of his estate. That is surely a [101] healthy goal. Of course, there are also large estates that come into existence suddenly, as the result of political favors, and it is these that really deserve the opprobrium of critics. One should also bear in mind that the size of what could be called a latifundio varied depending on land use. Ranching, for example, requires far more space than viticulture. And it should be noted that a large estate was not necessarily held as a single bloc of land. In fact, it was more common to find it made up of a number of parcels of land, some quite widely spaced.

Recent research (Yun 1980: 34-5, 298-304) has demonstrated that in the province of Córdoba, there was a continuous growth of latifundios during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Alongside the large estates formed as a result of the Reconquest grants, new ones were created, through purchase, through additional royal grants, and through the usurpation of tierras baldías and other public lands. There were good economic reasons to explain the expansion of large estates at the expense of small productive units. Some Cordovan soils required deep plowing of the sort best performed by large teams of oxen or mules that could only be financed by large operators. More importantly, only the large producers with substantial resources could afford to store their grain in silos to wait for prices to rise above the inevitably low harvest-time levels. And the owners of large estates were often also the owners of mills, which gave them another competitive advantage over their smaller neighbors. When the smaller peasant operators were forced to flee the area because of famine or indebtedness, their property was left to the mercy of the owners of the large estates, who had been better able to weather cyclical difficulties in agriculture. If the indebted smaller operators did not sell their property to their more prosperous neighbors, which they often did, their lands were nevertheless absorbed into the adjacent latifundios.

We find a similar story of the gradual growth of latifundios wherever we turn. For instance, in Guadalajara the Mendoza family bought up nearby farms, pasture lands, olive presses, and fulling mills to add to their estate (Nader 1979: I 15). In Ciudad Real, the nobility were active purchasers of grain land and olive trees (Phillips 1979: 43, 65-7). And in Badajoz, many large estates were formed, or expanded, when the largest property owners of an area would take advantage of some calamity, such as war or plague, to encroach on the common lands of the local village. If the village became depopulated, [102] which sometimes happened, its entire término would be swallowed up into the latifundio (Rodríguez Amaya 1951: 433-7) We also find a progressive accentuation of the concentration of landownership in the province of Segovia, largely because of purchases and of foreclosures on mortgaged peasant property (García Sanz 1977: 269). And in Huétor-Tájar (Granada) the holdings of the Luna family, which were already large as a result of Reconquest grants, were broadened through a series of purchases in the period 1490-1580. Furthermore, in 1586 the crown gave Don Antonio de Luna the right to appropriate for himself the property of the Moriscos, who had rebelled in 1568-70. In some parts of the kingdom of Granada the absorption by the nobility of Morisco property had occurred much earlier. In Darro (Granada), for instance, whereas the landholding system had originally been dominated by the traditional Morisco minifundia, already by 1570 the entire area was the property of Doña Elvira Carrillo. One should remember (chapter 3 above) that unscrupulous nobles were often able to add to their estates through the usurpation of municipal lands and tierras baldías. And in some cases, they were even able to seize with impunity the property of individuals. Don Alvaro de Luna is a good example: around 1490 he brazenly despoiled the property of an hidalgo who had participated in the Reconquest in Huétor-Tájar. The authorities of the area were cowed, and acquiesced in the usurpation. Don Alvaro then managed to get cédulas from Ferdinand and Isabella empowering him to take possession of the lands that had been allotted to three other Reconquest warriors (Guarnido 1969: 30-9, 5 1-4).

The Castilian nobility invested in land, even without seigneurial jurisdiction, for the prestige that accrued to landownership, and also because land was a secure investment. It was not always a profitable investment in all parts of Castile, however. For example, after the Reconquest of the kingdom of Granada (1492), there was general optimism about the area's potential as an agricultural producer. The marquis of Mondéjar, accordingly, bought several estates there, but was soon disillusioned, because during the first decade of the 1500s Andalucía suffered the worst agricultural crisis in its recorded history. The crisis, which began because of unfavorable weather conditions, was aggravated by Moorish attacks on the coast and by a steady flight of the Andalucian Moriscos to Africa. Consequently, the marquis sold or traded off his Granadan estates. But the marquises of Mondéjar continued to be interested in agricultural investments, [103] and purchased a number of estates, both with and without seigneurial jurisdiction, in the Tajo River area (Nader 1977). The social and investment value of landownership caused the conquistadores returning from America, and their descendants, to invest heavily in agricultural estates. The Pizarros, for example, were from a rather modest hidalgo family of Trujillo (Cáceres). But with their loot from Peru they were able to vastly enhance their socioeconomic position by purchasing both jurisdictions and estates around their home town and elsewhere in Extremadura (Vassberg 1978: 51, 56).


From his study of the Relaciones, Salomon (1964: 182) concluded that in New Castile the concentration of noble landownership was most pronounced around large cities such as Madrid and Toledo, and that it was beyond the 'urban tentacles' that peasant landownership was most likely to flourish. The same thing was probably also true of the rest of the Castilian territory, because the noble elite would have preferred to have their estates as near as possible to their urban mansions, to gain the maximum advantage from them. The aristocratic families of Trujillo, for example, liked to spend a good part of the year in the rustic atmosphere of their estates, where they hunted, enjoyed the open air, and even ate out of doors when the weather was good (Vassberg 1978: 50). The cliché that Andalucía was dominated by the large estates of the nobility is undoubtedly true. In 1566, for instance, the town of Castro del Río (Córdoba), a place with 1,350 hearths, reported that all the cortijos (estate farmsteads) of the area were owned by nobles from the city of Córdoba, or by other absentee proprietors. (5)

There is reason to believe that noble landownership may have been less important in northern Castile, despite the fact that the proportion of hidalgos was higher there. In the La Bureba region of Burgos, for example, noble-owned property was not predominant. There were a few important nobles with property in dozens of local villages, but there was no single great noble estate. Noble-owned property in the area was fragmented into small parcels, because it coexisted with the predominant peasant minifundios (Brumont 1977: 36-7). The La Bureba region, however, may not have been very attractive as a focus of noble investment, because it was relatively isolated. In a more accessible location, the village of Casasola (Zamora), whic [104] had 165 vecinos in 1569, reported that virtually all of the local arable and pasture lands were owned by nobles and other wealthy people from the nearby city of Toro - the same condition reported in Castro del Río, and for the same reason: proximity to an important city. (6) But we can find no hard and fast rule for this, for there was wide variation within regions. The La Sagra district, which lies a short distance to the northeast of the city of Toledo, is a good example. Our statistics come from the mid-eighteenth-century catastro survey, but there is good reason to believe that the situation was quite similar in the late I500s. The catastro indicated that the nobility owned no land whatever in Azaña; 18 percent of the total land area in Bargas; and 37.9 percent in Villaseca (Carrillo 1970: 442-59).


Landownership was of paramount importance to the Castilian nobility. Their land furnished them with the products necessary for subsistence, and ideally it also yielded a surplus that could be used as a means to the acquisition of additional wealth. This additional wealth could be converted into more land or animals, or it might be used for non-agricultural purposes. Members of the upper nobility who owned large estates only rarely engaged personally in farm work. They were a class of consumers, rather than producers; consequently, the class could survive only so long as it remained a small minority. The landowning elite had to struggle continuously to maintain a minimum size of estate. This was not easy, because in the normal order of things their holdings tended to become fragmented through inheritance and by sales to raise cash during economic emergencies. To guard against this fragmentation, the nobility attempted to safeguard the integrity of their property by establishing mayorazgos - entailed estates, or perpetual trusts, that were legally inalienable, and had to be passed intact to succeeding generations of heirs (Clavero 1974 211-39). In practice, however, the holder of a mayorazgo could find various ways to sell or transfer this supposedly inalienable property, when it suited his purposes. For instance, Helen Nader has demonstrated (1979: 20, 113) that the Mendoza family was able to move property in and out of its mayorazgos to raise the capital necessary for adding new sections to them, and to provide various sons with an equitable inheritance.

The large landowners of Castile did not normally play a personal [105] role in the operation of their estates. Even those who treated their land primarily as an investment rather than a social asset, usually preferred not to directly manage the agricultural production on their lands. They let their grain lands to tenants, often on a permanent basis through censos enfitéuticos, to provide them with a dependable income, and to free them from the day-to-day responsibilities of running a farm. The tenants often paid grain as a portion of their lease rents, and the landowners were able to sell this grain, just as if they had actually grown it. But the landowners typically encharged a steward (mayordomo) with the task of collecting the grain rent, and of selling it in a nearby market, if it was to be converted into cash. In the system just described, the proprietor of an estate was an absentee landowner - even in the unlikely event that he lived on his estate - because he left the managerial decisions affecting the production of crops up to the peasant who actually worked the land (Nader 1979: 113-15). Noble landowners seem to have paid more attention to the administration of their uncultivated lands than they did to their arable - not that they were personally involved in the exploitation of the land, but they sometimes took an active part in the negotiation of leases for grazing rights, which were typically short-term contracts. But even here, the large landowners were likely to have a mayordomo represent them. Similarly, when Castilian aristocrats owned flocks and herds, they tended to turn the administration of their livestock business over to stewards, who supervised the herders actually caring for the animals. There were exceptions, to be sure, to this rule of noble non-involvement in the basics of agropastoral production. For example, Abelardo Merino Alvarez wrote (1926:191-4) that the nobility of sixteenth-century Avila maintained country houses on their estates, the better to supervise their administration. But this was surely not true of all the local nobles, because elsewhere in Castile it seems quite clear that the overwhelming majority of large noble landowners preferred to live in the city. They found village life boring, and thought it unbelievable that anyone would choose to live there. In 1515 this feeling was expressed by a member of the Mendoza family, who wrote a friend that 'the country is a nice place to visit, but not to live in'. (7)

Because many latifundios had been accumulated bit by bit, and because they were usually not directly exploited by the owners, but rented out in small units to peasants, the existence of large estates did not have much of an impact on the appearance of the landscape. [106] It was rare, in fact, to find well-grouped estates: they were nearly always made up of dispersed parcels. For example, in 1572 a certain councilman of Valladolid died, leaving an estate of 188 yugadas of land. This estate was made up of 137 parcels, the largest of which was barely over 8 yugadas, and five of the parcels measured less than one-sixth of ayugada (Bennassar 1967: 3 14-15). But the countryside was dominated by small parcels and small units of exploitation even when the latifundios were made up of contiguous blocks of land.

There is evidence that in some places the concentration of land ownership limited the expansion of agriculture. In the 1500s a widespread complaint of Castilian villagers was that there was a dearth of arable land, and the shortage was frequently blamed on the oppressing proximity of large dehesas owned by absentee nobles who were primarily interested in cattle raising, rather than arable agriculture. But these complaints can not always be taken at face value. In most cases, the land was probably really available for cultivation, but the villagers were reluctant to pay the rents demanded by the landowner. We can scarcely believe that the typical Castilian noble landowner would deliberately withhold land from cultivation when it must have been quite clear that to put it into production would bring him considerable additional income. There must have been some stubborn pastoralists who would indeed do so, despite the fact that it was contrary to their own economic interests, but the evidence suggests that most owners of large estates were anxious to have as many peasant farmers as possible on their lands, to cultivate them (Ortega Valcárcel 1966: 87-96; Nader 1977; Corchón 1963: 133-4; Jiménez 1952: 539-41). When we do find examples of noble obstruction of agricultural expansion, there are nearly always other factors involved. In the 1570s, for example, the duke of Lorca successfully blocked an irrigation project organized by the city of Lorca (Murcia), but the reason was that the duke thought the proposed project would deprive him of the water he needed for a profitable lumbering operation in the Sierra de Segura (Merino 1915: 282).

Noble obstruction of the normal tendencies of agricultural development was far more likely to occur indirectly, through the municipal governments. Landowning aristocrats were often able to dominate the municipal councils (frequently through purchased offices), where they could influence the making and enforcing of local laws. The result was that the large landowners were sometimes able to control the use of community property, for their own benefit. In Córdoba, [107] for example, the local aristocrats in the 1530s were able to get the city to enforce pasture-protecting anti-plowing laws on the local tierras baldías. The reason they wanted this was that they owned large tracts of uncultivated land that they were unable to get peasants to work, because the peasants preferred to farm the baldíos, which could be cultivated without paying rent. But when the city enforced the anti-plowing laws on the baldíos, the peasants were obliged to rent the aristocrats' lands. (8)

The owners of large estates sometimes defended their property by hiring private guards to keep out intruders. Often they did so in defiance of local customs regarding free hunting, pasture, and other common usages. And the guards were frequently guilty of mistreating transgressors and their animals. The use of private guards was challenged time and again through lawsuits - usually initiated by municipal governments in behalf of their citizens. For instance, in 1551 the council and vecinos of the village of Casar de Cáceres brought suit against a group of landowners from the nearby city of Cáceres for illegally hiring private guards to keep animals out of their vineyards. And in 1584 the council and vecinos of the village of Santa Inés (Burgos) initiated a suit against Francisco de Bocanegra, a local noble landowner, for hiring guards to keep them from enjoying their traditional rights to hunt and gather firewood in the area. The high costs of litigation must have discouraged most individuals from defending their rights in court; consequently we can probably assume that only the most flagrantly abusive actions of private guards were challenged. (9)


We should remember that not all members of the Castilian nobility were fabulously wealthy titled aristocrats. Most of them, in fact, lived in relatively modest circumstances, and many hidalgos were ordinary labradores (independent peasant farmers). As such, they usually owned no more land than they could work themselves - a small amount that placed them in exactly the same economic position as that of their commoner fellow -labradores. Some labradores - whether hidalgo or not - however, became quite well-to-do, and hired laborers to work in the fields under their supervision, or even employed mayordomos to oversee their agricultural operations. But the labrador, by definition, took a personal hand in the running of his farm, regardless of its size.

[108] The town of Monleón (Salamanca) provides an example of the landownership of the lesser Castilian nobility. A census of 1558 listed 93 vecinos, of whom five were hidalgos. Two of the hidalgos owned no property whatever in Monleón. A third, who was the assistant warden (teniente de alcaide) of the local fortress, owned 11 fanegas of flax fields, two meadows (prados), two vineyards, and a garden - which could classify him as at least a part-time labrador, but only a minor property owner in the town. A fourth hidalgo, who grandly announced that his profession was 'to serve God and the King', owned only a few olive trees and a vineyard in addition to his house, and ranked economically with the more humble commoners of the town. Only one of the five hidalgos of Monleón called himself a labrador. He owned 60 fanegas of land, one meadow, three cortinas (enclosed arable fields), the house where he lived, and a rental house. This hidalgo labrador farmed with one pair of oxen and owned a dozen cows. He employed two youths to help him in his farm work, and was the only person in the town with hired help. But he was not the wealthiest person in Monleón, for there were several non-hidalgo labradores who owned more land and more livestock. (10)

Compare the situation in Monleón with that of La Zarza (now called Zarza de Montánchez), a village in the jurisdiction of the city of Trujillo (Cáceres province). La Zarza was considerably more aristocratic than Monleón: according to a census of 1561 it had 103 vecinos, of whom ten were hidalgos. Five of these hidalgos were listed as pobres (poor), who owned only a very small amount of land (if they owned any at all, it was usually in vines) or a few animals. Two hidalgos were ranked as having a moderate estate (de mediana hacienda), but they did not own much land. The more prosperous of the two had only 14 peonadas of vineyard and an unknown quantity of pastureland that brought him 3,000 mrs of rent per year. Three of the La Zarza hidalgos were listed as being ricos (rich), but these were actually only moderately well-off. The richest was a Pizarro, whose wealth was concentrated in houses, rather than agricultural land. The largest landowner among the hidalgos was a 'rich' widow who owned 28 peonadas of vineyard, 60 fanegas of grainland, one garden orchard (huerto), and one meadow (alcacer). But none of the 'rich' hidalgos of La Zarza owned as much land, or as many animals, as the wealthy non-noble labradores, of whom there were several in the town. I do not know exactly how representative the preceding examples are, but they are consistent with other property-census reports I have [109] seen for other parts of Castile, and my guess is that they are fairly typical. (11)

From the city of Córdoba we have the example of an exceptionally wealthy hidalgo labrador, Don Luis de las Infantas, a younger son of a prominent Cordovan family. Infantas had two important advantages: a modest inheritance; and connections in the municipal government. He used both to develop an extensive agricultural operation. In addition to exploiting the land he inherited, Infantas leased hundreds of fanegas of grainland at reasonable rents from the city of Córdoba. Besides growing grain, he also had a vineyard and two wine presses, but a financial crisis in 1534 forced him to sell the vineyard. His operation was large and diversified, including a livestock sector with thousands of animals. By the time he died, in 1546, Infantas had accumulated an impressive amount of land, some of which he had purchased, some rented, and some held in perpetual leases (censos). But his estate was no more impressive than those of many non-hidalgo labradores, and it was meager when compared to the huge holdings of some of the Andalucían aristocrats (Torre 1931b: 188-91).


The church was a formidable power in early modern Castile, and like the nobility it owed much of its influence to the wealth it commanded through property ownership. Some of the land holdings of the church had their origins in Roman and Visigothic times, owing to donations by monarchs and the faithful to monasteries and bishoprics. But the most important roots of ecclesiastical landownership seem to lie in the Reconquest, from which both church and nobility emerged as major landowners, thanks to liberal royal grants in recognition of their support for the crusade. The church, like the nobility, was given grants of both land and jurisdiction in the newly won territories, and the distinction between the two types of grants was also frequently vague (Valdeavellano 1968: 133-74). The church also played an active role in resettling the reconquests. For example, the archbishops of Toledo, who were given the site of Alcalá de Henares (Madrid) in 1126, did everything that they could to attract colonists and to make the place into a thriving town. As a result, it became an important medieval communication axis, capitalizing on its location on the road to Zaragoza. Alcalá also attained early [110] prominence for its fairs and markets, and as an agricultural center (García Fernández 1952 299-308). Episcopal domains such as this, however, were few in number, and were frequently challenged. Most towns under ecclesiastical jurisdiction were abadengos -- under a church, monastery, or some other churchly institution -- so named because they were generally under the titular leadership of an abbot (abad). Salomon (1964: 203-6) found that 11.9 percent of the New Castilian villages he studied were abadengos in the 1570s. We have no data for the rest of Castile for that period, but extrapolating statistics from the end of the eighteenth century suggests that the percentage of abadengo villages was somewhat higher in Extremadura, and much lower in Andalucía (Malefakis 1970: 59).

Seigneurial tribute collected by monasteries and other ecclesiastical lords was light, as it was in the case of noble lords. For example, the entire town of Monteagudo (Cuenca) gave the bishop of Cuenca only two lambs, four kids, and a few partridges or capons every year. And the town of Lupiana (Guadalajara) owed the Hieronymite Monastery only three pairs of hens at certain holidays in the year (Domínguez 1971: 159). As in the case of noble lordship, some ecclesiastical lords continued to receive personal service from their vassals in the sixteenth century. The town of Calabazanos (Palencia), for instance, still supplied the Convent of Santa Clara a specified number of workdays per vecino per year. But by 1574 the requirement was in the process of being converted to a monetary payment. (12)

After the Reconquest the church continued to amass property through the bequests of devout individuals. As early as the mid-twelfth century many noble lords began to donate lands and even entire villages to the church. As a result, it became a large landowner in virtually every part of Castile. Through the centuries the monasteries, parishes, and bishoprics accumulated more and more property through grants, bequests, and through purchase (García de Cortázar 1969: 49-95). In some parts of the country there seems to have been an accentuation of ecclesiastical landownership in the sixteenth century. That was true of Lorca (Murcia), which in that century witnessed a proliferation of convents that attracted many daughters of the wealthiest families of the area. This occasioned frequent donations, contributing to the growth of church-controlled property (Gil 1971: 157-8). In some places, such as Castro del Río (Córdoba), there were ecclesiastical lands called donarios, or donadios (given in grants), showing that they had been willed to the church [111] by pious individuals. (13) Like noble landownership, ecclesiastical property owning tended to be concentrated near the large cities, and for the same reasons. There were isolated monasteries, of course, that were major local landowners. The Monastery of Guadalupe (Cáceres), for example, held extensive properties in that area, but donations had made it also the owner of property in distant places like Seville (Blanco 1911- 327-8).

Seigneurial jurisdiction in the hands of the church also tended to be concentrated near important cities, but the largest cities did not necessarily provide the nuclei. For instance, Salomon's study (1964: 205-6) of rural villages in New Castile revealed that ecclesiastical lordship tended to be grouped around Talavera de la Reina (Toledo) and Alcalá de Henares (Madrid), rather than the larger cities of Madrid and Toledo. Whereas church property ownership was on the rise during the sixteenth century, the same was not true of ecclesiastical seigneurial jurisdiction. The perennially bankrupt Charles V and Philip II gained papal approval to increase their income by alienating ecclesiastical lordships. This they did, creating new secular jurisdictions out of domains that had formerly been held by bishops, monasteries, and other church-related institutions. The purchasers of these former ecclesiastical lordships were usually foreign merchants or bankers, or members of the higher bureaucracy like the royal secretary Francisco de los Cobos. In return for their lost domains, Philip II gave the various ecclesiastical entities government bonds (juros) (Domínguez 1971: 156; López Martínez 1962).

The proportion of ecclesiastical landownership varied, of course, from place to place. It must have been most unusual for a village to have no church-owned land, but it was quite commonplace for the church to be the major landowner, and not at all rare for it to own all the lands of a village, in the solariego sense. This sort of variation existed even within given regions. For instance, Brumont (1977: 28, 35-7, table 4A) calculated that the combined noble and ecclesiastical holdings (unfortunately, he did not separate them) in the La Bureba district of the province of Burgos averaged about 49 percent. But it varied from one village to another from a low of 18 percent to a high of l00 percent. In the village of Rubiales, all of the land was the property of the Monastery of Oña, a powerful institution which also owned property in more than fifty other villages. A similar intradistrict variation existed in the La Sagra area (Toledo province), where the average church ownership was around 36 percent for the [112] entire district, but where the actual proportion varied from a low of only 15 percent in Villaseca to a high of 84 percent in Azaña (Carrillo 1970: 442-59). The extremes were not that great in the Valdeburón area of the province of León, where the range of church ownership went from 36 percent of the cultivated land of Retuerto, to 11 percent in Burón (Martín Galindo 1961:193). The proportion of ecclesiastical property was also rather low in the Maragatería district of León province, where it was barely over 25 percent of the total (Martín Galindo 1958: 59-62). It should be remembered that most of these statistics are derived from the mid-eighteenth century catastro. However, most scholars believe that the landowning picture had not changed drastically since the late 1500s. Whatever change there was is thought to have been most certainly in the direction of increased church and noble ownership.

The concentration of landownership in the hands of the church was a source of concern to taxpayers, because the privileged estates were exempt from many forms of taxation, and that meant that the tax burden fell all the more heavily on the non-noble lay citizens of Castile. The inhabitants of the village of Quintanaloranzo (Burgos) were aware of this, and complained that their per capita tax burden was much higher than that of neighboring villagers, and far higher than it should have been, for the reason that many of the best lands of the locality were owned by the Monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla, and the Monastery of Las Huelgas in Burgos. (14)

The Cortes of Castile took notice of the problem early in the sixteenth century, and called repeatedly for measures to limit ecclesiastical landownership. In 1523 the Cortes of Valladolid directed a petition to the monarch and to the pope, asking that churches and monasteries be prohibited from adding any additional land to their existing holdings, whether through purchase, gift, or bequest - lest all the land in Castile soon come to belong to the church. At the time, the monarch seemed receptive to the suggestion, for he informed the Cortes that he had written the pope for confirmation of the principle. But nothing seems to have come of it, and in 1563, when the Cortes presented the question to Philip II, he gave a disheartening reply: it was 'better not to make changes'. The Cortes of 1573-5 again raised the issue, reminding the monarch that the concentration of landownership in ecclesiastical hands worked a hardship on those subjects of the crown who paid royal taxes. Again the Cortes called for a halt to the further acquisition of lands by the [113] church. But again the monarch replied that it was 'better not to make changes'. This discouraging reply, however, did not keep the Cortes of 1579-82 from introducing the question anew, with the warning that ecclesiastical institutions were 'taking up most of the best property of the realm'. This time, the monarch replied that his council was looking into the matter, that the question would be taken up with His Holiness the pope, and that the appropriate measures would be taken. But nothing, in fact, was done. And by 1587 lt was so plain that Philip II would take no action on the subject that the Cortes actually voted not to submit the question to him again (Actas: I, 254; IV, 460-1; VI, 824-5; IX, 151).


Because of the piecemeal manner in which ecclesiastical institutions normally acquired their property, the estates of the church were typically fragmented into small parcels interspersed among peasant-owned, noble-owned, and municipally-owned lands. But there was a difference, particularly striking in some regions, in the type of land owned. The property of the municipalities was often limited to pasture and woodlands, whereas the church and the peasants tended to own arable land, and the nobility was likely to own both types. In areas where olives were grown, both church and nobility tended to figure highly among grove owners, but vineyards in most places were the property of peasants. As indicated earlier, ecclesiastical property was usually concentrated around large cities, and the monasteries frequently had property in several (or even dozens of) villages. It seems to have been rare, however, for parish churches to own property outside the village territory which they served. There were some monasteries that directly exploited certain of their lands, through work levies from their vassals or leaseholders (Brumont 1977: 35-7; Higueras 1961: 121-2; García de Cortázar 1969: 193-243). But in the sixteenth century, personal service requirements were an anachronism, and were increasingly difficult, or even impossible to enforce. The Monastery of Valbuena de Duero (Valladolid), for example, complained in 1597 that the vecinos of the nearby village of Piñel de Abajo no longer worked as they were supposed to in the monastery's vineyards, thus forcing it to hire laborers to perform tasks that had previously been done free. (15) Consequently, by the sixteenth century, the overwhelming majority of church-owned [114] lands were not managed directly by their owners, but rather were given out in small parcels to peasants, typically through censos enfitéuticos or through long leases. The church, like the nobility, had found it preferable to enjoy the reliable income of rents and censos, rather than to face the uncertainties of direct exploitation (Ortega Valcárcel 1966: 87-96; Fernández y Fernández 1955: 61-3, 92-5). For the same reason, the monasteries and other ecclesiastical establishments preferred the security of a specified rent - whether in kind, or in coin - to a share of the harvest, which would fluctuate from year to year depending on the weather. (16)

Some parish priests owned rural property in addition to that associated with their benefices. It was not at all unusual for a village priest to own a small vineyard or orchard, or some other parcel of land. The amount of property involved was usually modest, even by village standards. For example, the priest of the village of Zarza de Montánchez (Cáceres) in 1561 owned two vineyards -- one of ten peonadas, and the other of two -- and he also kept eight sheep. (17) Some of these rustic clerics rented their property out, to be sure, whereas others worked their plots themselves, or with hired help. But the agricultural activities of these priest-peasants were not always welcomed by their parishioners, particularly in villages with a shortage of land. In the Cortes of 1542 the delegates from Guadalajara complained that many priests who had adequate benefices were competing with their parishioners for shares of public land, which reduced the amount of land available for lay residents of the area, and which was the source of economic hardship for some (Cortes: V, 191).


The medieval Iberian Reconquest brought about the organization of Christian knights into Hispanic military orders, similar to the European Knights Templars and the Knights of Malta. The most important of the strictly Hispanic crusading orders were the Knights of Calatrava, Alcántara, and Santiago, all founded on the Christian- Moslem frontier in the mid-twelfth century. These crusading orders played a major role in expanding and defending the frontier. In return, the kings of León and Castile rewarded them generously with land grants in formerly Moslem territories. It was not long until the three largest orders had become exceedingly powerful, the owners of extensive domains, especially in New Castile. Land meant wealth, [115] and the orders' wealth posed a threat to royal authority. That threat was removed when Ferdinand and Isabella managed to gain for the crown the master ships of all three major Hispanic orders. Thus the orders were deprived of their political independence, but although controlled by the crown, they maintained their traditional structures, and continued to exert a powerful influence over rural Castilian society throughout the sixteenth century.

The property of the orders was assigned to the organizations' various dignitaries, often in encomiendas (territories entrusted to their care). Each encomienda was administered by a comendador appointed by the Grand Master of the order, and included specified lands, revenues, and privileges. The income from the encomienda was to be used for the support of the local churches and clergy, and for military expenses. But the comendadores could pocket the difference between revenues and expenses; consequently, such positions were much coveted, and they were used to reward personal, political, and military favors. Some encomiendas were created at the time of the Reconquest, but others came into existence later, to encourage resettlement of empty spaces, even as late as the sixteenth century (Quirós 1965: 207-9). The military orders played the same kind of role in resettling their lands as the nobility and the church did on theirs. They repopulated most of the pre-Reconquest settlements, and sponsored altogether new ones, apportioning land to individual colonists for grain and for vines, and to newly formed town councils for pasture and for other community purposes. But the orders reserved for themselves the ownership of a large part of the land of their territories, to provide income through rentals and other dispositions for their own benefit. The orders exercised over their territories the same kind of seigneurial jurisdiction enjoyed by the church and the nobility over some of their lands. The territories of the orders were concentrated in New Castile, but Salomon (1964: 203-6) found that only 16.8 percent of the 569 villages he studied were under the seigneurial jurisdiction of military orders, whereas 31.2 percent were realengos, 11.9 percent were abadengos, and 39.8 percent were de señorío. Order villages tended to be more populous than these others, however, and Salomon calculated that they contained 31.9 percent of the total population of the villages he studied.

Map 3 shows the location of the order territories in Castile during the second quarter of the sixteenth century. The concentration of order influence in New Castile is quite clear. However, it should not [116] be thought that the orders owned all the lands in the areas shown on the map, nor did they even exercise seigneurial jurisdiction over all of those areas. The city of Ciudad Real, for example, located in the middle of a huge territory dominated by the Order of Calatrava, was a royal town, and there were many others within the order areas, originally established by the Castilian monarchs to provide a royal presence to counterbalance the power of the orders. There were, similarly, some abadengo and señorío villages situated within the areas indicated on the map as belonging to the orders. As stated earlier, the orders had found it necessary to grant landownership to individuals and to towns to encourage colonization. And even after the initial resettlement grants, the comendadores followed the practice of granting additional lands as population growth made the original allocations inadequate (Ulloa 1963: 354-6; Phillips 1979: 8-9; Salomon 1964 316-17). As was the practice in other seigneurial [117] lands, the orders typically reserved for themselves a specified annual tribute, in recognition of their jurisdiction. (18)

After the crown took over the masterships, the orders were administered by the Council of Orders in Madrid. But under this arrangement, although the medieval structures were maintained, the orders could not be supervised as closely as they had been when they were completely autonomous. And this greater laxity was translated into a loss of lands as a result of peasant and other usurpations, and into a gradual loss of revenues and privileges (Quirós 1965: 209-l0). These reductions in order property, however, were minor when compared to the losses that came as the result of crown sales. The perpetual financial difficulties of the Habsburgs caused them to be constantly on the search for new revenue-making possibilities. And in 1529 Charles V obtained a bull from Pope Clement VII authorizing him to alienate order property and revenues worth up to 40,000 ducados a year. By virtue of that authority, the emperor sold numerous jurisdictions, revenues, and lands, assigning government bonds (juros) to the comendadores as compensation for their lost property. According to the papal authorization, the funds the crown gained through these were to be used exclusively for building convents and forts in the kingdom of Granada and in Africa, for defense against the Moslems. But the forts and convents, in fact, were never founded. When Charles V abdicated the throne in 1556, he transferred to his son Philip his right to dismember order property up to the 40,000 ducados a year. This right, which was confirmed by Pius IV in 1560, was amplified in 1569 by Pius V, who gave Philip another bull authorizing the disposal of an additional 40,000 ducados per year. And the 'prudent king' did not hesitate to take full advantage of the opportunity. But he suffered great scruples about the sales, and in his will he ordered Philip III to buy back the alienated property and to restitute it to the orders. But Philip III did not find it possible to do so, and in turn ordered his successor to make the restitution. And in the end, despite these royal pangs of conscience, the orders never regained their lost property. Furthermore, it seems that Charles V and Philip II sold more order property than the authorized amount, and when it became difficult for the royal treasury to make payments on the bonds given in return, the crown appropriated additional order revenues to pay them. And it appears that the price the crown allowed the orders for the alienated property was far below its real value (Gómez Centurión 1912: 276-7, 303-5, 314).

[118] Some order lands were sold as tierras baldías, in a major fund raising project developed in the early years of the reign of Philip II (Vassberg 1975). For example, in 1577-80 the crown dispatched two special commissioners to sell the tierras renteñas (rental lands) of the Order of Calatrava in the area of Martos (Jaén). These lands were sold to individuals and to municipalities through censos al quitar (redeemable mortgages) that yielded payments totaling 7,944,075 mrs per year. But this amount was insufficient for the exigencies of the treasury of Philip II, and in 1580 that monarch sold his rights to the censo payments to the German banker Marcus Fugger for the principal sum of 111,217,053 mrs. After that, it was Fugger, rather than the crown, who collected the annual censo payments. And in Mohernando (Guadalajara), the baldíos sold in the early 1590S were actually lands of the Order of Santiago. (19)

The orders did not directly exploit their lands, but rather gave them out for rental. Arable lands were typically let out to peasants through censos enfitéuticos, which might call for the payment of a specified sum each year, or they might require the payment of a share (often one-fifth) of the harvest (Higueras 1961: 122; Quirós 1965: 221-2; Salomon 1964: 32, 137). But some lands were rented for short periods. For example, the Order of Santiago owned certain lands near Seville that it rented out in 1575 for terms of varying length -- some for only a year, and others for several years. Each rental contract was different: some provided for cash rent; others for a share of the crop; and still others for a combination of cash and goods. One piece of land, for instance, was rented for 70 cahizes of grain, 18 chickens, 1 sheep, 1 hog, 1 calf, 1 fanega of chickpeas, 1 arroba of cheese, and 3 ducados of cash. In some contracts there was a provision that in bad years the renter would be excused from the normal rent, and would pay one-sixth of the harvest, instead. Order lands were rented not only by individuals, but also by town governments, who subcontracted them to their vecinos for arable, for pasture, or for both purposes. (20)

But the orders reserved for themselves the best pastures of their vast territories, and these were rented (often at public auction) for use as winter pastures for migratory northern herds, and for summer pasture (agostadero) for local animals. The Mesta, of course, claimed the right to pasture its flocks on any lands upon which they had ever grazed, but it had to pay for the privilege. The length and terms of these rental contracts varied, but it was usual to charge a certain [119] amount per animal (Quirós 1965: 221-2). As indicated in chapter 2, the use of acorns was supposed to be common, and free. Nevertheless, there were times when the orders tried to charge a fee for the utilization of the acorns on their lands. In 1491 Ferdinand and Isabella ordered the master of the Order of Alcántara to stop the practice. Nevertheless, in the early 1550s, after the crown had assumed the masterships, the Order of Santiago continued to sell the right to pasture pigs on the acorns of its dehesas near Mérida (Badajoz), demonstrating once again that where money was involved, the crown was not consistent in its policies. (21)

Notes for Chapter Four

1. Torremormojón v. Alonso Phelipe (1558), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 16; Villanueva de los Caballeros v. Don Juan Qumxada de Ocampo (1537), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 39; Haza v. Conde de Miranda (1551) ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 31.

2. Averiguación de Menasalbas (1588), AGS, EH, 400; Asiento y transacción tomado entre Don Juan Pacheco (conde de la Puebla de Montalbán) y el Doctor Villagómez, 13 June 1589, AGS, CH, 366.

3. Examples of towns purchasing their release from señorío status are Abelgas (León) in 1586, and Adobezo, Gallineros, Lumbreras, and Cervariza (Soria) in 1569, according to averiguaciones in AGS, EH, 209 and 220. See also Averiguación de El Acebrón (1597) AGS, EH, 209; and Relación de corregidores, BN, MSS 9372 = Cc. 42, p. 35.

4. [Copy of] cédula to Alonso de Mérida, original dated 16 December 1530, in a suit Gaspar de Villalta y. Guadix (1557-62), ACHGR, 5 12-2429-29.

5. Averiguación de Castro del Río (1566), AGS, EH, 252.

6. Averiguación de Casasola (1569), AGS, EH, 329.

7. The Mendoza quote is from Helen Nader, The Mendoza Family in the Spanish Renaissance, 1350 to 1550 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1979), p. 225, note 23.

8. Córdoba v. Almodóbar del Río (1536), ACHGR, 3-716-3. For other examples of self-serving noble influences over municipal government, see the suits Luis de Ricafuente v. Jaén (1534), ACHGR, 3-1451-19; Lucas Alonso Cabrera y consortes v. Arcos de la Frontera (1548), ACHGR, 507-1863-3; and Angel García Sanz, Desarrollo y crisis del antiguo régimen en Castilla la Vieja; economía y sociedad en tierras de Segovia de 1500 a 1814 (Madrid: Akal, 1977), pp. 267, 284-5.

9. Andrés Hernández y consortes v. Casar de Cáceres (1551-68), ACHGR, 3-1189-5 Vecinos de Santa Inés v. Francisco de Bocanegra (1584), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 17. See also Rejas v. Pedro Zapata (1567), ACTVA, PC, FA (F), 58 and AM, Executorias, Trujillo, 16 August 1548.

10. Averiguación de Monleón (1558), AGS, EH, 323.

11. Averiguación de La Zarza (1561), AGS, EH, 189-56.

12. Averiguación de Monteagudo (1575), AGS, EH, 323; Averiguación de Calabazanos (1574), AGS, EH, 240.

13. Averiguación de Castro del Río (1561), AGS, EH, 252.

14. Averiguación de Quintanade Loranca (1566), AGS, EH, 130-l8-1.

15. El Monasterio de Valbuena v.Piñal (1597), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 35.

16. Examples of censos enfitéuticos on ecclesiastical property can be found in the Monasterio de Valbuena suit cited in the previous note; and in Badajoz v. Juan Andrés y consortes (155 1-2), ACHGR, 3-463-5.

17. Averiguación de La Zarza (1561), AGS, EH, 189-56.

18. Alcolea v. Pedro Suárez (1568), ACHGR, 3-1276-11 and 3-559-12 bis.

19. Informe del corregidor de Martos (no date, but from the end of the reign of Philip II), BN, MSS 9,371, folio 31; Venta a Marcos F·car, 14 June 1580, AGS, CH, 3253; Venta a Alfonso Ruiz de la Tendera, 19 September 1576, AGS, EH, 240, pieza 6; Executoria a Gerónimo de Silva, 31 December 1592, AGS, CG, 368.

20. AHN, Ordenes militares, Santiago, Visita de 1575, Libro de manuscritos 1012C, vol. I, pp. 149-50.

21. See an undated document (apparently from the 1550s) about the dehesas of the Campo de Montiel, in AGS, CJH, 24 ant. (14 mod.); El Rey y la Reina al Onrado Maestre, 10 March 1491, BN, MSS 430, folios 418v-419; and various papers from the early 1550s in AGS, CJH, 24 ant. (14 mod.).