Land and Society in Golden Age Castile

David E. Vassberg

Chapter 5

Private Property Ownership: The Non-privilged


[120] Historians who investigate the question of the distribution of landownership almost invariably demonstrate a bias in favor of the peasant being the owner of the land he farms. They consider the owner-operator to be vastly preferable to the mere tenant farmer, in both social and economic terms. But as Slicher van Bath has rightly observed (1963: 310-24), this bias is not logical. It can be demonstrated that many peasant owner-operators work lands of inferior quality, which reduces them to a low standard of living. Many peasant tenant farmers, by contrast, work more fertile soils, and are considerably more prosperous. Therefore, landownership is not necessarily tantamount to wealth. In fact, the landowner's annual payment on his debt might be much higher than the tenant's rent to his landlord. As mentioned in chapter 4, the sixteenth century Castilian peasant who held lands under a censo enfitéutico contract was often fortunate indeed, because of the low rates he paid. The question of landownership, then, is not in itself a very useful gauge of peasant well being. If a peasant owned all of his land, but farmed only a small amount, he would be poor; on the other hand, if he rented a large amount of land, he could be quite wealthy, even if he was a non-landowner. If we wish to measure peasant prosperity, then we should be more concerned with the size of the peasant's operation than with the question of how much land he owns. Nevertheless, with that caveat in mind, let us proceed to examine the subject of peasant landownership.

There are two origins of peasant landownership in early modern Castile: the property owned by small farmers (both Christian and Moslem) in the pre-Reconquest Iberian Moslem kingdoms; and the private property granted to settlers during the Reconquest through the fueros (law codes) and cartas pueblos (municipal charters) of the newly reconquered areas. The fueros protected the traditions of [121] Mozarabic property ownership, and encouraged the development of small, peasant-owned property holdings. This was particularly true of New Castile, where the fueros of Toledo (1101 and 1118), Madrid (late 1100s?), Cuenca (1177), and others established conditions in which the peasantry could develop free from the encumbrances of servitude that were typical of most of Europe at that time. Peasant property, of course, coexisted with the property of the nobility, the church, the military orders, and the municipalities - they were all part of the same socioeconomic system. And they all profited from the Reconquest. In an earlier chapter we saw that the right of presura gave peasants (and others) effective ownership over deserted lands that they occupied and brought into production. The presura was sometimes supervised by the monarch himself or by some noble or bishop in the name of the crown, but there was also spontaneous presura, both by the powerful and by the weak. The system of presura favored the development of small property owners, and from the ninth and tenth centuries there existed in Castile-León a class of free peasants who cultivated small fields (Salomon 1964: 176-80; Nieto 1964: 103-13; Huetz 1967: 171).

During the first centuries of the Reconquest the lands won from the Moslems by the Castilian-Leonese were largely empty, having been depopulated as a result of generations of continual warfare. It was because these territories were practically deserted that the presura mode of occupation could be adopted. But beginning with the conquest of Toledo (1085) the Castilian monarchs gained control of lands that contained a sizeable population. According to the principle of Germanic law, and according to the Siete partidas, all of the property won from the enemy was at the mercy of the monarch, who could dispose of it at his will. The Castilian monarchs initially followed a policy of allowing the Moslem inhabitants of newly conquered areas to keep their property, whether urban or rural. Later in the Reconquest, the general rule was that the Moslem population of cities that resisted the Christians would lose their property - all they could hope for was to have their lives spared. But the residents of cities that came to terms with the Christians could keep their property, and the new Christian rulers were usually content to receive from them the tribute that had previously gone to Moslem potentates. The most important of the conquered cities were organized as royal towns dependent on the crown, and Christian colonists were allotted lands through repartimientos supervised by royally appointed [122] officials. In both Old and New Castile the repartimientos established a class of small peasant landowners, often superimposed on the existing Moslem and Mudéjar landowning system. Thus, from the very beginning, a peasant minifundism came to coexist with the latifundism of the privileged estates (Glick 1979: 99-103; Higueras 1961:112-13; Pérez Díaz 1969: 47).

The repartimientos were carried out on the principle that colonists from the same social class should receive allotments of approximately equal value, and toward that end, differences in topography, soil type, vegetation, and improvements were taken into consideration, as well as mere land area. As a result, in the initial distribution of lands, the individual peasant was likely to be allotted several small parcels of land scattered around the territory of the settlement. As time went on, subdivisions due to sale and inheritance would further complicate the picture, as would new allotments made as a response to demographic growth. For example, in Lorca (Murcia) the Reconquest land distributions between 1257 and 1340 left the irrigated plain of the area largely in peasant hands, and in an extremely subdivided state - a situation which prevailed until the seventeenth century, when the Habsburg depression caused a concentration of landownership (Gil 1971: 157).

A like situation emerged in the kingdom of Granada, where peasant minifundios have been important ever since. The proportion of lands allotted to peasants varied from place to place. In Baza (Granada province), for example, 77 percent of the Christian settlers of the 1490s were peasants, but these received only about one-third of the cultivated lands of the area. The other two-thirds went to the privileged estates. In Santa Fe (also in Granada province) the repartimiento of the 1490s involved 182 original settlers who were chosen to receive lands in this altogether new town. These settlers, all from the victorious army, were 56 percent non-noble and 44 percent caballeros. Each caballero was supposed to get twice as much land as an ordinary non-noble colonist. The lots were not all equal, for various reasons, but it seems that the non-nobles, or peasants, were apportioned about 40 percent of the grainlands of the area. The proportion of peasant ownership in other repartimientos was higher or lower, depending upon local conditions, and upon the status of the colonists who were involved. And the amount of property received by peasants in the repartimientos varied greatly from place to place. In Santa Fe the non-noble colonist received 9.31 marjales of huerta (land [123] for olives and garden), 45 marjales of grain land, and about 5 marjales of vineyard. In Almería, by contrast, the commoner peasants of a repartimiento of the same period received only 2.13 marjales of vineyard, less than half a marjal of huerta, and 17 marjales of irrigated land. They were also allotted thirty olive trees each, but this did not include the ownership of the land upon which the trees were growing (Bosque 1973: 489-90; Garzón 1978: 41-9; Lapresa 1955: 198-234).

In those places where the capitulations with the defeated Moorish rulers permitted the Moslem inhabitants to retain their lands, the repartimientos to Christian settlers had to be of baldíos or other unowned lands. The Christians could also acquire property through purchase from Islamic owners, of course. But it was usually not long before they found a pretext to confiscate the property of the Moslems, normally because they had revolted -- in response to broken peace agreements or bad treatment. In Lorca (Murcia), for example, the Moslem surrender was in 1243, and in 1257 there was an allotment of unowned lands to Christians. By 1264 there had been a Moslem uprising, which provided the excuse for pushing the Moors into ghettos and giving their best lands to Christians. There was another repartimiento in 1272, and new ones in the 1330s, of lots that had been abandoned and of newly conquered lands. Through all of these changes in ownership, the Moorish minifundism was preserved, but gradually was transformed into a Christian minifundism (Gil 197 1-71-5).

In the kingdom of Granada, the transfer from Moslem to Christian ownership followed different rhythms, depending on the region and the time. During the early years of the Reconquest of the area (1481-6), from the taking of Alhama until the capture of Loja, the Christian occupation implied the expulsion of the Islamic population and the confiscation of all their property. This was a continuation of the policy that had been followed during the Reconquest of the Guadalquivir valley (in the mid-1200s), and in the taking of Antequera (Málaga province) in 1410. The depopulation of the Moslems affected the entire northeastern part of the present province of Granada, and much of the present province of Málaga. During the second stage of the Reconquest of the kingdom of Granada, beginning in 1487, the Moslems were expelled from coastal areas (where they might have maintained contacts with their coreligionists in northern Africa), but they were allowed to retire to the interior regions that had fallen to the Christians, where they could remain as [124] Mudéjares. The Moslem population of Baza (Granada), which had stubbornly withstood a long siege, were punished by being forced to leave the city and to retire to surrounding villages. But in the remainder of the kingdom, the peace treaties permitted the Islamic inhabitants to stay, maintaining the ownership of their urban and rural property. The treaties gave them the right to continue their customs, language, and religion. Those who preferred not to live under Christian rule could emigrate to northern Africa. The terms of the treaties were soon broken by the Christians, and most of the urban Moslems emigrated, but in rural areas, despite a forced conversion to Christianity, the Moriscos were able to preserve most of their sociocultural-economic traditions. In regions abandoned by the Moslem inhabitants, there was a repartimiento of property as soon as possible. The new settlers were allotted lands in accordance with the longstanding rule that hidalgos would get at least twice as much as non-nobles. Certain important nobles, of course, received large grants, thus introducing a Christian latifundism into the area. There had been latifundios in the kingdom of Granada even before the Reconquest. The Moslem kings and nobility had been large property owners, as were the mosques, but it seems that most of these large estates had been organized as small units of exploitation held by individual peasants through long-term lease or share-cropping agreements. At the exodus to Africa of the Moslem ruling classes, the property of the Christian crown and upper nobility grew, through purchase or confiscation. But the old customs of landholding tended to survive, and the traditional Islamic system of small, extremely subdivided plots continued (Bosque 1973: 484-91).

After the Reconquest there was a long period of tension between the Christian and Moslem inhabitants of the kingdom of Granada, during which the crown invariably supported the Christians. The Moriscos finally vented their frustrations in a desperate but futile uprising - the Rebellion of the Alpujarras (1568-70), after which they were expelled from the kingdom of Granada and dispersed throughout Castile. Perhaps 100,000 people were thus displaced, leaving large depopulated zones. The Christian population of these areas had been scant, and most of them had been killed during the rebellion. Early in 1571 the crown decreed the confiscation of all the real property of the Moriscos who had participated in the uprising. Those who had not rebelled were also deported, but they were to be recompensed for the loss of their property. Special surveys (apeos) of [125] Morisco property were made, which were the basis for a new repartimiento to Christian settlers from the north. The crown dispatched commissioners to recruit families from Galicia, Asturias, Burgos, León, and Andalucía to come to the kingdom of Granada to farm the lands of the Moriscos. People from mountainous areas were especially sought out, on the grounds that they would adjust more easily to life in the Alpujarra region of Granada. At royal expense 12,524 families were brought in to populate 270 villages, out of some 400 that had existed in Morisco times (Bosque 1973: 493-4)

The number of Christian settlers brought in was less than half of the Morisco population who had previously lived there. Nevertheless, the repartimiento resulted in a continuation of the old Morisco minifundio system. The lots apportioned to Christian settlers did not normally exceed 2 hectares of irrigated land, or 10 hectares of dryland. Moreover, these lots were not of single blocks of land, but rather consisted of a number of small, scattered parcels, according to the Morisco pattern. The new Christian colonists were given their property in censo perpetuo. The royal treasury was to get the token sum of 1 real per house each year, and one-tenth of the annual harvest -- except for that from olives and mulberry trees, from which the treasury was to get one-fifth of the first ten years' harvest, and one-third from then and on, in perpetuity. Thus the colonists acquired the effective ownership of former Morisco property, which was eventually transformed into full ownership. Only cultivated lands seem to have been included in the 1571 and 1572 allotments. The hillside and forest lands, which were not assigned to settlers, remained baldíos for a time, but eventually became propios or commons, in which form they have come down to the second half of the twentieth century. The colonists moving into former Morisco lands had to invest almost no capital to begin exploiting their new farms. They were even provided draft animals, tools, and a quantity of grain to help them get started. Nevertheless, they found life in the Alpujarras to be extremely difficult, and within a few years many of the new colonists had (illegally) transferred their lots to other parties in exchange for an annual payment (Bosque 1971: 81-6; Núñez 1969: 241-71; Sáenz 1974: 336-49, 732-45; Villegas 1972: 249-50). Yet, despite the problems of adaptation, the post-1570 repartimientos constituted a remarkably long-lived source of Christian minifundio. (1)

We should not forget that in addition to these various royally supervised repartimientos there were similar allotments of lands to [126] colonists sponsored by the nobility, the church, and the military orders. And these other small land grants also created an important class of peasant landowners. The municipalities also granted lands to their vecinos, using their own authority, quite apart from the royally approved repartimientos. Sometimes they did so in collaboration with the local lord. For example, around 1530 the council of Espera (Cádiz) and the duke of Alcalá made grants of tierras baldías to the vecinos of Espera, who thereafter treated the lands received as their private property. Such grants represented a reduction in the amount of available baldíos, which the municipalities usually tried to protect. But under certain circumstances, the granting of tierras baldías by a municipality was to the distinct advantage of the local community.

The councils making such grants often acted out of a desire to ensure that the possession of those lands would remain with their own vecinos. A lively competition often existed between neighboring municipalities over the use of the tierras baldías available for their mutual benefit. There were many suits arising from situations where two places claimed the same lands, or where one municipality had usurped the baldíos in the sphere of influence of another municipality. Granting the disputed baldíos as private property was a way to resolve the difficulties caused by the shared utilization of these public lands, by placing the lands under individual ownership. (2)

The fueros of Andújar (Jaén) and Castro del Río (Córdoba) conferred property ownership upon anyone who cultivated a plot in the baldíos with plow or hoe, which meant that even poor peasants who owned no draft animals could become landowners. And in the northeastern part of the province of Jaén, several towns in the jurisdiction of Segura de la Sierra followed the practice of holding repartimientos of tierras baldías to assign them in property to their vecinos, as needed. The same thing was true in Estepa (Seville). (3)

But it was not only the tierras baldías that the municipalities granted to their vecinos. Common property also sometimes entered the private domain in this way. Occasionally this was precipitated by insoluble difficulties in the joint use of inter-municipal commons. For instance, the village of Rus and the city of Baeza (Jaén) had suffered so many costly lawsuits over the use of a certain cortijo that in 1538 they reached an agreement whereby the cortijo would be assigned to the residents of Rus in a repartimiento giving each vecino an equal share. The shares (of undisclosed size) would then be the private property of the individual vecinos of Rus, with the proviso that they never be [127] sold to a non-vecino of the place. In exchange for the exclusive right to the cortzjo, the council of Rus agreed to pay Baeza a censo perpetuo of 8,000 mrs per year, which would come from assessing each shareholder a proportionate amount. But the council of Rus found it impossible to enforce the restriction on subsequent sales of this property, and by the mid-1560s virtually all the shares had been transferred to non-vecinos, most of whom were residents of Baeza! We even have one example - highly unusual - of a municipality that abandoned the common system entirely, at least insofar as cultivation was concerned, by granting its common lands in property to the vecinos who were using them. This was the town of Cabeza Arados (Ciudad Real), which adopted the system of private ownership in the mid 1550s. The documentary account of this gives no explanation for the change. It might have been to avoid the complications of having to supervise the lottery system to distribute the common arable. In any case, the council of Cabeza Arados continued to exercise control over the rotation schedule of those lands, even after they had become private property. (4)

There is evidence that the town of Sabiote (Jaén) even sold its vecinos portions of a dehesa boyal. This was in the mid-1500s. (5) The sale or transfer of municipal property into the private sphere must not have been an uncommon occurrence in Castile, because a series of laws were instituted to deal with the phenomenon. In 1329 and 1351 the monarchs Alfonso XI and Pedro I forbade municipal governments to sell or otherwise alienate their property. A law of 1515 reiterated the same principle. And the emperor Charles V repeatedly found it necessary to issue new versions of the law, showing that some municipalities continued to grant public lands to their vecinos (Novísima recopilación, libro VII, título XXI, Leyes II, VIII, IX). It would be interesting to know what motivated the municipal councils to contribute towards the individualization of landownership in that way. Was it the greed of individual councilmen who coveted public lands? To be sure, much of the land involved went to members of the local elite. But we have many documented examples to prove that peasant landownership also benefitted from the process. Maybe the councils acted in response to expressions of land hunger by the peasantry, for we know that such certainly existed.

Some small property holders received ownership of their lands directly from the crown, in individual grants. This sort of thing must have been rare, but it occurred from time to time, as the crown [128] responded to private petitions. For example, a certain Pedro Ramírez appealed to the crown in 1590, requesting royal recognition of his ownership of 16 fanegas of tierras baldías in Villarrote (Burgos). Ramírez had been farming the land for several years to support his family, and now he asked for title to the property in recognition of his service to the crown as a soldier in the royal army. He alleged that his most recent service was of eight months spent in finding, collecting, and turning in muskets, arquebuses, and other arms abandoned by soldiers deserting from the Armada stationed at Santander. The crown ordered an investigation, which revealed that Ramírez had indeed served as a soldier, and that the royal treasury owed him 101,750 mrs in back pay. In the end, the veteran was given title to his 16 fanegas of land, in lieu of the salary. (6)


Much peasant landownership was in the form of small parcels, of gardens (huertas) and vineyards. Most of these plots were probably limited to a few trees or vines, perhaps with the space for growing vegetables between the trees. But these tiny garden plots, cultivated with a hoe in most instances, could be highly productive, for they were often irrigated and regularly manured by their owners. In the early Reconquest, when land was plentiful, the arable and pasture lands of many areas were common, and the only inalienable property of the Castilian peasant was his house and garden (Costa 1944: 332-46). The peasant of medieval Castile seems to have come to think that ownership of a garden was essential to his well being. Even noble lords felt obliged to grant their peasants land for orchards and vines. For example, the lords of Valdepusa (Toledo) conferred upon the colonists who settled on their estates not only the ownership of the grain lands they cleared and planted, but also of their gardens, orchards, and vineyards. And the colonists were not required to pay tribute (terrazgo) on these small plots of non-grain land. This was an exemption that would certainly have encouraged greater productivity. The garden plots were nearly all situated near the villages (sometimes even within the village itself), typically on the banks of some river or stream, where irrigation was possible. But there were also huertas irrigated from wells. In either case, the tiny gardens were frequently irrigated by hand, and were aimed primarily for household or local market needs (Palomeque 1947 90-127).

[129] But in some cases, especially in villages on the periphery of large cities, garden agriculture was geared for the production of fruits and vegetables for the urban market. And this could be a profitable business: according to Ambrosio de Morales (1577: fols. 108v-109V) the small fruit orchards around Córdoba provided their owners with a respectable income. Peasant ownership of huertas seems to have been very widespread, but it should not be thought that every Castilian peasant owned his own garden plot, or even that every Castilian village had such plots. The Relaciones (Salomon 1964: 87-92) seem to indicate that garden and fruit agriculture represented but a minor element in the rural economy of New Castile. Only 16 out of 81 villages in the province of Toledo mentioned huertas; in the province of Madrid it was only 13 of 90; and in Guadalajara it was only 24 of 145. But it seems to me that there should have been a higher proportion than that. It is possible that the Relaciones included only market oriented huerta plots, and omitted those geared solely for domestic consumption. Unfortunately, I do not have enough detailed local property lists to make a judgement concerning the proportion of the Castilian peasants who might have owned garden plots, but I do have a few examples. A census of 1586 from Castilblanco (Badajoz) showed that 103 of the 270 vecinos of the place were owners of huertas or cercas (walled plots, usually containing fruit trees). The vecinos of Castilblanco included not only peasants, but also individuals with nonagricultural occupations, such as shoemakers, fishermen, and blacksmiths. (7) But even if we make allowances for this, we can not know how representative the sample is. And we can not even be sure that all the plots were included, for some of the smaller ones might have been accidentally or intentionally omitted from the list.

In certain regions it seems to have been the norm for peasants to own a huerta. As indicated in an earlier section of this chapter, the repartimientos of formerly Moslem lands in the kingdom of Granada included huertas, which were assigned to each of the original Christian colonists coming to the area. It might be argued that this represented an abnormal situation, because the huertas were already there, having been developed by the Moors, and were now merely exploited by their new owners. But there are many examples of huertas being created in a distinctly Christian setting, showing that they were not merely a continuation of existing Moorish institutions. In Lora (Seville), for instance, in the 1530s the town council announced publicly that all the poor of the locality, and anyone else who was [130] interested, could attain free ownership of plots of land (heredades) for gardens, orchards, and vineyards. Anyone who had not received a previous grant for that purpose, or anyone who thought that he had been granted too little, could appear before the municipal scrivener to sign up, and each would be given a plot of up to 2 aranzadas of land from the local tierras baldías. The plot would then become the private property of the individual, on condition that he enclose it with a wall (tapia or vallado) within a year, and that he have it completely planted with trees or vines within four years. Failure to live up to the conditions could result in repossession by the council, and even if the recipient sold his plot to a third party, the purchaser would also be obliged to live up to the conditions of the grant. Every vecino of Lora was eligible to receive an heredad in this fashion. To be sure, not everyone would be able to exploit the opportunity, because it would require some capital to do so. But building an adobe or stone wall, and planting trees and vines, probably represented a greater investment of time than of money. Consequently, many must have been able to take advantage of it, by using family members as labor. The plots were very small, seemingly especially designed for peasants with limited means. The council announced, however, that it would grant larger plots to individuals with the resources to properly exploit more land. (8)

Also in the 1530s, the city of Arcos de la Frontera (Cádiz) held a repartimiento of some of its tierras baldías, so its vecinos could plant orchards and vineyards there. The city explained that there was ample grain and pasture land in the area, but a great shortage of vineyards and olive groves. In this case, the recipients of lots were given titles on the condition that they plant them within three years. They were not required to wall their plots, but they were not to plant them with grain, lest the draft animals used to plow grain fields damage adjoining trees and vines. Nevertheless, many recipients of these plots were too poor to clear them of monte and plant vines and olives within the specified time. They tried to do so piecemeal, illegally planting grain until they could manage to make their more permanent plantings. The city sympathized with their plight, and passed an ordinance allowing the planting of vegetables, or any other crop except grain, in the transitionary period before the vines and olive trees were established. (9)

Such grants of huerta plots from the baldíos were quite commonplace, and they resulted in the creation of an important peasant [131] minifundism. The municipal governments liked to encourage the development of huertas and vineyards, particularly the latter, because viticulture represented an important source of wealth for the population. Some towns that held repartimientos of baldíos went so far as to make the planting of vines obligatory. For example, in 1466 the town government of Astorga (León) distributed parcels of land to its vecinos with the stipulation that the plots had to be planted to vines within five years, under penalty of a fine of 1 real per day. This system gave Astorga an important wine production, it avoided the need for costly importations, and it favored the development of small property ownership and the social egalitarianism that went along with it (Huetz 1967: 595-9). But in some places, such as Badajoz in the mid-1500s, the land assigned for huertas and vineyards was not really given in ownership, but merely for use. Here, the vines and trees were the private property of the cultivators, but the land was not, for it reverted back to the municipality as soon as the vineyards or orchards were abandoned. (10)

Huerta and viticulture land had a far more egalitarian distribution than other land. In the early modern period, when the economy was largely geared to local self sufficiency, vineyards and gardens had a far wider importance than they do today. Although there were some parts of Spain that specialized in viticulture, the vine was practically ubiquitous, for local consumption. And almost everywhere vineyards were the property of small peasants. It seems that the reason for this lay in the nature of viticulture: the painstaking work of tending vines did not in most parts of Castile lend itself to large productive units, or to absentee ownership. The small peasant landowner, who could not afford to buy enough land and equipment to keep himself continually occupied with grain farming, was left with a good deal of time on his hands. And he often spent it growing vines - a labor intensive form of agriculture that required a minimum of capital. Consequently, viticulture in both Old and New Castile was the preserve of the small peasant in the sixteenth century. There seems to have been little specialization in viticulture: the owners of vineyards normally also had cereal lands to exploit. Vine ownership could be widespread because viticulture fitted conveniently into the work schedule of the typical Castilian peasant. It provided him with his own wine, and perhaps with some pocket money as well, if he sold part of his crop (Salomon 1964: 83-6; Brumont 1977: 33-4; Phillips 1979: 41-3, 66).

[132] The typical vineyard was quite small: those in Ciudad Real averaged around 4 aranzadas (Phillips I 979: 42-3), but in Morales de Toro (Zamora) they were normally only about 1 aranzada in size, and in Valladolid they were often no larger than a half aranzada. And it should be remembered that the vines often shared the land with olives and other trees. This kind of intercropping, which was also commonplace in the huerta plots, reduced the usefulness of the traditional forms of land measurement. Consequently, in many places sixteenth-century Castilians did not give the surface area of their vineyards. In Monleón (Salamanca) and in Plasenzuela (Cáceres), for example, although the villagers reported the size of their grain fields in fanegas, they merely stated that they owned 'a vineyard', or 'a small vineyard', or 'a very small vineyard'. More sensible still was the custom in Castañar de Ibor (Cáceres), where the size of a vineyard was expressed only in the number of vines it contained. Because of the inconsistent measurement practices of the sixteenth century, we have to rely on extrapolations from the mid-eighteenth-century catastro to judge what proportion of the lands of a given area was in vineyard. But it seems clear that in most places the proportion of viticulture lands was quite small. Even in Ciudad Real, a leading wine-growing area whose products were famous, only about 20 percent of the territory was devoted to the vine in the mid- 1700s, and in the sixteenth century the figure was probably somewhat less. (11)


Peasant ownership of vineyards in Spain was given an early start thanks to a special kind of contract called the complant (from the Latin ad complantandum). The complant was by no means a peculiarly Castilian institution. It also existed in early medieval France, and was used in Cataluña at least as early as 860. It seems to have appeared in Castile at about the same time, and became a commonplace contract in Spain throughout the Middle Ages. The principle of the complant was very simple: the owner of an uncultivated piece of land gave it to a peasant to plant to vines, and when the vineyard came into production, which was normally between four and eight years, the property was divided equally between the original proprietor and the cultivator. The monasteries, which received important land grants after the Reconquest, regularly used the complant to increase the value of their lands. The peasant workers would be left [133] with the ownership of half of the vineyards, but the complant was advantageous to the monasteries nevertheless, because vineyards were far more valuable and profitable than open land. Medieval Castilians used several different expressions to describe their complant contracts: in some places the custom was called plantar a fondos tierra; another widely used phrase was plantar a medias, or ad mediatem; and vinea de postura was also much in use (Valdeavellano 1968: 250, 257; Huetz 1967: 588-603).

The complant contract had various applications, and it could be either written or unwritten. In some places, in fact, the half-and-half division was considered to apply automatically to a peasant who spontaneously took it upon himself to plant vines on someone else's land, if the proprietor allowed him to go ahead, and did not lodge a protest at the time of planting. The complant could be applied to a small plot worked by a single peasant; but it could also be used for a large piece of land, when the landowner came to an agreement with a group of peasants, or even with an entire village. Sometimes the contract specified the date by which the vines had to be planted, but many contracts allowed a delay of as many as six or seven years before planting. There were some complants that required the building of a wall (tapia) to protect the young vines. And the peasant viticulturalist was obliged to tend the vineyard diligently until the time of division. If he failed to do so, he could be fined; and if he did not pay the fine, some contracts specified that he would forfeit his claim to the vineyard. Frequently the peasant who planted the vineyard was allowed to keep for himself whatever fruit the immature vines yielded before the division time. Normally the landowner, or his representative, had the right to make the division, and it was often stipulated that the vineyard was not to be divided into more than two pieces. But sometimes the division never actually took place, because the cultivator continued to work the entire vineyard, giving the proprietor a portion of his half as rent, and keeping the other half wholly for himself (except for the tithe, naturally). As a new landowner, the cultivator could freely sell or do whatever he wished with his half of the vineyard. However, the original proprietor generally retained an option to purchase at a price equal to that offered by a third party (Huetz 1967: 588-99).

The combination of municipal grants, presura acquisitions, complant contracts, and various repartimientos made it possible even for peasants in modest circumstances to become owners of vineyards and huerta[134] plots. In 1569 a resident of Morales de Toro (Zamora) testified that about 100 out of the village's 250 vecinos were day laborers (jornaleros) who had no grain fields, and owned no property except for a small vineyard or a garden for melons or vegetables. Another villager from Morales reported that most of the vecinos of the place owned vineyards, even if they had no other agricultural property. A similar situation prevailed in the village of Castañar de Ibor (Cáceres), where a census of 1586 identified 22 out of 200 vecinos as day laborers or 'poor day laborers' (jornaleros pobres). Yet all of these owned some property, and 17 of the 22 had vines or huertas. One self-identified 'poor laborer' reported that he was the owner of a huerta of fruit trees, a mature vineyard of 800 vines, and a newly-planted vineyard of 1,000 vines. He had obviously been able to make good use of the various opportunities to acquire property. It should be said that some of the laborers of Castañar who owned no gardens or vines were probably young people who had not yet had a chance to become established. One, in fact, was identified as a newly-wed. On the other hand a census of 1558 listed only 22 of the 94 vecinos of Monleón (Salamanca) as the owners of vines, gardens, or orchards. (12) Thus, there was considerable regional variation in the proportion of ownership of this type of property. And if we had sufficient data, we would undoubtedly find considerable intraregional differences as well.


One should remember the caveat of Slicher van Bath (1963: 311) that landownership does not in itself present a true picture of rural society. To truly understand the socioeconomic stratification of the rural population, it is also necessary to consider the size of the population, the demographic development of the area, general economic conditions, and occupational classifications. One should also examine the importance of the size of farms, the amount of capital investment, the number and type of livestock, the size and composition of the family, and the number of employees, if any. In a future work, I plan to examine some of these broader aspects of rural society. But for the moment, let us examine the question of the importance of peasant landownership. As always, generalizations are dangerous, for there was clearly much variation from place to place. The Relaciones certainly attest to the existence of peasant land holdings, but they indicate that in New Castile the property of the nobility, the church, and [135] urban investors was predominant. In fact, in many cases the existence of peasant property is almost hidden in the Relaciones. This is not at all surprising, because the villagers who prepared them were quite suspicious of these government questionnaires. They were very much aware that reports of affluence might be used as a justification for increased taxes. Consequently, the authors of the Relaciones deliberately minimized the extent of their own wealth, whereas they had no corresponding motivation to understate the wealth of outsiders (Salomon 1964: 178-8 I). The same psychological factor entered into the preparation of the reports (averiguaciones) now found in the Expedientes de Hacienda section of the Simancas archive. This section constitutes one of the most important sources for the history of rural society in sixteenth-century Castile, but it should be remembered that it, too, would tend to minimize the extent of peasant landownership.

In one place in his study of the Relaciones, Noel Salomon states (1964: 181) that peasant property ownership in New Castile, except for a few unusual cases, was 'minimal', and 'minuscule' when compared to the extensive holdings of the nobility, the clergy, and the bourgeoisie. According to this view, the non-communitarian property of the peasant was usually limited to garden plots of small size and of little value. But three pages later, Salomon reaches quite a different conclusion: he ventures a guess that peasants owned between 25 and 30 percent of the land in New Castile -- an estimate based partly on the few Relaciones accounts that contain such information, and partly on extrapolating from late-eighteenth-century sources. These extrapolations also suggest that New Castile enjoyed the highest proportion of peasant ownership in Spain, outside of Galicia. I am inclined to agree with Salomon's second appraisal of the situation, because there were many places where peasant ownership of grain lands was quite important, even though it did not normally measure up to the percentage of lands held by the privileged estates and the urban elite.

But there was clearly much regional variation. Francis Brumont has calculated (1977: 2 8-9) that in the La Bureba district of the province of Burgos an average of about 50 percent of the landownership was in peasant hands in the late 1500s. But within the district the proportion varied considerably from place to place: the highest peasant ownership was 80 percent, in Solas and Galbarros; and the lowest was between 20 and 25 percent, in Buezo, Solduengo, [136] and Movilla; except for one village, Rubiales, where all the land belonged to the Monastery of Oña. Studies from different parts of Castile show the wildest fluctuation in the proportion of peasant landownership. In the La Armuña area of Salamanca, for example, only a few small plots seem to have been peasant-owned, if we can trust extrapolations from the catastro. Within this area, the vecinos of Palencia de Negrilla owned only about 64 percent of the land they worked. The remainder was the property of nobles and other absentee proprietors (Cabo 1955: 118). By contrast, Jesús García Fernández tells us (1953: 220-2, 227-8) that the lands of Horche (Guadalajara) were owned almost exclusively by the peasant inhabitants of the place. Horche's egalitarian landowning structure can be explained by the way the town developed. It was a royal town, and was thus spared the usurpations of a greedy lord. As Horche's population grew, the town purchased successive blocks of the surrounding monte baldío from the crown. And each time a new block was purchased, the town government held a repartimiento in which each vecino got a share. The result was that Horche became (and remained, down to the mid-twentieth century), a village overwhelmingly dominated by peasant minifundios. According to García Sanz (1977: 268-9, 375) the province of Segovia was dominated by medium and small peasant farmers who rented much of their land, but it appears that the proportion of peasant ownership ranged from one-fifth to one-third, depending upon the district, if we can trust the contemporary estimates in Simancas.

I have mentioned earlier the development of peasant ownership in several places in southern Spain, and the prevalence of peasant minifundios in Murcia and in the kingdom of Granada. The available data about the proportion of peasant landownership in the sixteenth century is too spotty for a definitive statement, but if I had to hazard a guess based on the statistical information at hand, I would venture that perhaps one-fifth of the arable lands of Castile was owned by peasants. However, in view of the differences that existed from one place to another, even within small districts, I do not know how much such an estimate is worth. But if we accept the estimate of one-fifth, that means that the other four-fifths were owned by the municipalities, the crown, the nobility, the church, and other non-peasant entities. That would indeed make peasant ownership small, if not 'minuscule', by comparison. However, we should remember that in addition to working his own lands, the peasant often held rented [137] lands at long-term leases or censos under conditions that in many cases were actually more advantageous than landownership. Furthermore, the peasant in some places had the possibility of the free, or near-free, use of the tierras baldías and common lands. Therefore, one should not necessarily deplore the fact that the Castilian peasant did not own more than he did. In fact, in many cases, an increase in the peasant's share of landownership turned out to be detrimental to his well being, as will be seen in chapter 6.

The comparative data compiled by Brumont (1977: 28-33) for La Bureba indicates that the percentage of peasant landownership was likely to be highest in poor mountain villages that lay far from the beaten path. In these places there was a remarkable degree of egalitarianism in life style: virtually everyone was poor. Yet, in many of these villages almost every vecino was a landowner. In Arconda, for instance, every family head had cultivated lands except one - and that one was the owner of some vines. Brumont found that the proportion of peasant landownership was lowest in the larger towns situated along trade routes. Here industry or commerce could develop, and a class of urban investors had become interested in the acquisition of rural property.


The amount of land owned by each peasant varied greatly, even within regions, depending upon geographical and historical conditions. Consider, for example, the situation in the La Bureba area of the province of Burgos in the late 1500s. Here the average amount per vecino was smallest in the isolated egalitarian mountain villages, because of their limited supply of arable land (the non-arable land tended to be community-owned). In Rublacedo de Yuso, for instance, it was only 4.8 fanegas, whereas the average in Quintanilla and in Zuñeda - lower-lying villages in the same area - was over 40 fanegas. Even in places dominated by minifundia there were great differences in the amount owned by individual peasants. In Quintanaélez, two individuals were the proprietors of fully half the peasant-owned lands, while the other 32 peasant landowners divided the remainder. And in La Parte, a single labrador owned 45 percent, and the other 25 peasant owners shared the rest. In certain districts of La Bureba, the inequality was much less pronounced, but the [138] normal pattern was for a few peasants to have large holdings, and for a large number to own amounts too small for the support of a family. These last would have found it necessary to supplement their income in some way - perhaps by farming rented land, or by hiring themselves out as day laborers (Brumont 1977: 3 1-3, and table 6; Ortega Valcárcel 1966: 96-9).

A similar disparity in property ownership existed in the Montes de Toledo. Michael Weisser (1976: 39-42) has analyzed the distribution of landownership in Navalmoral de Toledo, according to a census of 1583. He found that only 108 of the 243 vecinos of the village reported owning land. Of these, 11 each claimed ownership of 50 fanegas or more of grain land. Another 11 vecinos each owned 30 or more fanegas. Together, these 22 households owned nearly half of the community's arable lands, although they represented only 9 percent of the population. Just below them in the socioeconomic ladder were 32 families who owned an average of 13.9 fanegas of land. And ranking at the bottom of the list of property owners were 54 families whose average ownership was 10.6 fanegas.

We have another breakdown of property ownership for Monleón (Salamanca) in the year 1558. This village had a population of 94 vecinos, of whom 36 were identified as  labrador es, and 31 others had distinctly non-agricultural professions such as shoemaker, clergyman, weaver, or innkeeper. Only 36 vecinos of Monleón, nearly all of whom were  labrador es, reported that they owned grain land. But there were an additional 20 vecinos who had no grain fields, but who owned vineyards, orchards, flax fields, or gardens. Among the owners of grain land, three had from 6o to ioo fanegas; three from 35 to 45 fanegas; ten from 20 to 30 fanegas; eighteen from 4 to 15 fanegas; and one who reported owning a field of undisclosed (but undoubtedly very small) size. The distribution of property ownership in Monleón thus seems to correspond to the normal pattern for Castile: a few large landholders, and a much larger group of medium-to-small property owners. (13)

Another example is the town of Plasenzuela (Cáceres), for which we have a census from the year 1575. Landownership here was considerably more restricted than it was in Monleón. Only 41 of the 110 vecinos of the place reported that they owned grain land. Another i6 did not own that type of property, but did have some vines, gardens, or other small plots. Here, however, as in all cases of property lists drawn up for the use of the government, one suspects that the extent [139] of property ownership was deliberately understated. According to the census, no one in Plasenzuela owned more than 25 fanegas of land. Six individuals were listed as having between 20 and 25 fanegas; six others between 10 and 15 fanegas; sixteen between 4 and 9 fanegas; and thirteen owned no more than 2 or 3 fanegas. In the case of Plasenzuela there were no substantial landowners at all, and most property owners had pitifully small quantities of land. Most of these, however, also farmed some other fields in addition to those they owned, and there were twenty inhabitants of the town who owned no land, but reported that they planted grain. Some of this additional land was rented, presumably from absentee landowners, but much of it was probably from the baldíos. (14)

Peasant landowners were likely for several reasons to be adversely affected by the presence of noble-owned property in the same locality. For one thing, many nobles aggressively sought to extend their holdings, sometimes by encroaching on the lands of their weaker neighbors. For another, since the hidalgo was able to escape many forms of taxation, the existence of a large proportion of noble-owned land would cause non-noble property owners to suffer a higher tax burden. Because of these unfavorable aspects of hidalgo ownership, some towns tried to limit the extent of non-plebeian property holding. The town of Yebra (Guadalajara) is an extreme example of this attitude. According to a concession granted to Yebra by the Master of the Order of Calatrava in 1396, no hidalgo could purchase real estate within its boundaries. And this rule was strictly enforced: the townÆs Relaciones reply indicated that there were no hidalgos living there (nor had there ever been any), and all the property in the locality was owned by non-noble  labradores. Local ordinances forbade the sale of property to hidalgos, under penalty of the loss of the purchase price plus a fine; and any hidalgo who bought property there ran the risk of seeing it confiscated without compensation by the municipal government. It was hardly surprising, then, that no hidalgo had ever come to live there (Salomon 1964: 178, n. 1).

Of course, one should remember that hidalgos could also be  labradores -- that is, peasants. In fact, as mentioned in a previous chapter, the population of some parts of Spain was almost exclusively hidalgo. This was principally true of the Basque provinces, which lie outside the scope of this work. But there were pockets of hidalgo concentration even in the Castilian heartland. One such place was the village of Ruanes (Cáceres), which had a population of fifty-two [140] vecinos (not counting two priests) in 1561. All the vecinos of Ruanes were identified as hidalgos, except one, who was a plebeian  labrador. It is interesting that the distribution of property ownership in this all-hidalgo village was no different from the pattern one would expect to find in a completely non-noble population. The hidalgos of Ruanes were peasants. A few were prosperous, some were very poor, but most seem to have led a fairly comfortable existence, according to the standards of the rural world of the time. The overwhelming majority of the vecinos of Ruanes were landowners: only 7 of the lay family heads owned no land; and only 19 owned neither a vineyard nor a garden. But here, as elsewhere in Castile, the landowning statistics alone can be misleading. One person who reported that he owned no land at all was nevertheless identified as being moderately well-off (tiene medianamente). And the sole non-noble vecino was described as well-to-do (tiene bien), although he was one of the minor property owners of the village, with only 4 fanegas of land. The source of his wealth was not land, but rather livestock: he owned 150 sheep, and a variety of other animals as well. The largest landowner in Ruanes had 150 fanegas of land, but there was another individual who owned almost as much -- 120 fanegas. There were five vecinos who owned from 40 to 70 fanegas; thirteen who owned from 20 to 30; eight who had from 10 to 12 another eight with from 5 to 8; and nine with less than 5 fanegas. (15)

The data we have for the distribution of landownership suggests that the arable land of Castile was very much subdivided into small plots. The statistics I have offered above do not tell the whole story, however, because the typical Castilian peasant landowner of the sixteenth century owned not just one block of land, but several. The origins of peasant ownership, and the prevailing systems of rotation made such subdivisions inevitable. In Menasalbas (Toledo), for instance, it was normal for the peasant  labrador to have several different plots of varying size, even within a single pago (planting district) of the locality. One vecino of Menasalbas owned - in one pago - no fewer than fifteen different plots, ranging in size from 1 fanega to 15 fanegas. (16) In La Bureba (Burgos) there was also an extreme parcelization. According to Brumont (1977: 43-5), the average size of cultivated plots varied from place to place, ranging from 0.4 to 1 .7 fanegas. This type of extreme subdivision might have been expected in the mountain villages of La Bureba. But it also existed on the plains. Bartolomé Bennassar (1967: 3 14-15) found that in Valladolid [141] parcels of grain land were normally less than a yugada (0.72 fanegas). And this was true not only of peasant property, but even of the property of the privileged orders, as has been mentioned earlier. The extreme parcelization of land was also a characteristic of the landholding system of Horche (Guadalajara) (García Fernández 1953: 220-2, 227-8). And it was mentioned earlier in this chapter that it was widespread in the formerly Moorish lands of the kingdoms of Murcia and Granada.

Even in the open spaces of La Mancha the size of fields was small, although much larger than the foregoing examples: the typical grainfield in Ciudad Real seems to have measured less than 5 fanegas (Phillips 1979: 38). The fragmentation of the land into small parcels had grave consequences: it occasioned the loss of time, as the peasant went from one field to another; and it represented the loss of useful surface, in the uncultivated turn rows and other boundary lines. It is obvious that this type of loss would increase with each decrease in the size of plots. According to Brumont (1977: 45) research has demonstrated that the land loss caused by parcelization would amount to 0.16 percent of the total surface in fields of 100 hectares; 1.6 percent in parcels of 1 hectare; and 16.1 percent in parcels of only 1 are. It seems to me, based on my personal experiences in farming, that this is a conservative estimate, and the actual loss could be even higher. The loss of time caused by the subdivision of plots could be considerable, because the fields of an individual peasant might be scattered not only around the territory of his own village, but of neighboring villages as well, for many peasants had to look beyond their own locality for fertile lands to work (Silva 1967: 31, n. 17).


In the strict sense, there was no well-defined 'peasant' class in sixteenth-century Castilian society. Some inhabitants of rural villages were mere wage-earners; others were sharecroppers or renters; still others were landowners with a family-farm type of operation, or prosperous large-scale farmers or ranchers with many hired workers; and there were even absentee landowners whom we could call 'peasants'. Furthermore, there was considerable overlapping between these categories. The term 'peasant', then, is really too broad to be of much use, except to designate the rural population, or the population directly linked to agropastoral production, either through actual [142] work in the fields, or through property ownership. But since the rural population tended to live in municipalities, and since many individuals connected with agropastoralism lived in large cities, the issue is further confused, as it is also by the social division between noble and non-noble. No one would think to apply the term 'peasant' to a wealthy grandee who lived an urban existence in Madrid or in some other capital, even though he might have been the owner of many rural properties. But what of the noble who lived in a village, and personally supervised the operation of his estate, to say nothing of the modest rural hidalgo who did most or all of the work with his own hands?

Because of the imprecise nature of the term 'peasant' (and it should be said that the Spanish word campesino has the same difficulties), many writers have undertaken to clarify the situation by distinguishing between the different kinds of peasants. I did so earlier in this work when I introduced the term  labrador , which I defined as an independent peasant farmer. But the word  labrador also has some difficulties, because in Golden Age Castile, it was often used in opposition to hidalgo to distinguish the noble from the commoner. For example, the 1561 census of the village of Ruanes (cited four paragraphs above) indicated that there was only one  labrador in the place, whereas the other fifty-one vecinos were hidalgos. But, in fact, many of these hidalgos were in exactly the same occupational and landowning category as the  labrador . Hence, the two terms should not really be thought of as being incompatible. Domínguez Ortiz tells us (1971: 149) that the term  labrador was most frequently used to apply to a peasant proprietor in comfortable circumstances. But because sixteenth-century documents often tell of poor labradores who are near the starvation level, we should avoid insisting that the  labrador was well-off. And we should not insist that the  labrador was a landowner, for many in this category were renters who owned little or no real estate. Today the most commonly accepted definition of the labrador is that used by Salomon -- that he was the possessor of one or more teams of draft animals, whether or not he was a landowner (1964: 266). It is implicitly understood that the labrador was personally connected with working the soil, whether he did so himself, or through laborers whom he supervised. It should be said that there were some places in Castile where the word  labrador was rarely used. This was true of the La Bureba region of Burgos province. Nevertheless, in his study of the area, Brumont (1977: 43, n. 1) employed the [143] term because he found it useful to distinguish peasants who owned at least one pair of draft animals.

The definition based on the ownership of a team of oxen or mules is certainly a workable one, but I prefer not to use it, because it excludes independent peasant farmers who rented one or both of the animals of their team. And it includes peasant proprietors of teams who farmed little or no land, and who supported themselves primarily by plowing for hire. My own definition -- that a  labrador was simply an independent peasant farmer -- is rather loose, but this is intentional, to allow the inclusion of any peasant who supported himself primarily by the growing of crops on his own fields. These fields could be either his own property, or rented. In 1600 the arbitrista (reform writer) González de Cellorigo (fols. 26-7) distinguished between the landowning and the non-landowning  labrador , but only to indicate that property ownership gave the former a much higher social esteem.

Many writers -- both sixteenth-century and recent -- have tried to polarize the peasant world between the  labrador , who farmed his own fields, and the jornalero (day laborer) or trabajador (worker), who supported himself solely by working for others. But such a bifurcation breaks down under scrutiny, because there were many jornaleros who owned their own small fields, vineyards and gardens; and there were many  labrador es who hired themselves out during part of the year, to supplement their income. The distinction between the two was often so fine as to be practically meaningless. In Monleón (Salamanca), for instance, there was a  labrador who owned a yoke of oxen with which he farmed only a few small plots (terezuelas, of unstated size) and some olives. His position must have been considerably worse than that of a certain jornalero from Castañar de Ibor (Cáceres), who owned a fruit orchard, a garden, an olive tree, 400 vines, and four bovines with which he farmed 2 fanegas of grain. (17) In the absence of a generally accepted sixteenth-century standard, comparisons of the proportion of  labradores and jornaleros are of questionable value. Nevertheless, the distinction may be useful to help us gauge approximately how many were primarily self-employed, and to separate these from peasants who depended primarily on wages for their livelihood.

Noel Salomon calculates (1964: 257-68) that between 25 and 30 percent of the vecinos of the Relaciones villages of New Castile were  labradores. But the proportion varied widely within that region. The percentage of jornaleros was also greatly variable, but Salomon estimates [144] that at least 60 percent of the rural family heads fell into this category. In other parts of Castile the proportion also fluctuated from place to place. In the village of Cebolla de Trabancos (Avila) 40 percent were  labradores and only 4 percent were jornaleros, and in little Pineda-Trasmonte (Burgos) -- a place with only thirty-five vecinos -- there were no jornaleros at all, and the entire active population was  labrador except for one shepherd and a tailor. It should be said that the selection of my examples was determined partly by chance (blind selection of documents in the archives), and partly by the availability of the proper kind of data. Looking at such random samples elsewhere in Castile, we find that a 1558 census of Monleón (Salamanca) showed 38 percent  labradores and 74 percent jornaleros. About the same ratio existed in Castilbianco (Badajoz) in 1586: only 7 percent were listed as salaried workers; and although the term  labrador was not actually used, a property inventory makes it clear that at least 43 percent fell into that category. And in 1595 the  labradores of the village of Moncalvillo del Huete (Cuenca) outnumbered the local jornaleros (here called braceros) by around four to one. Turning again to Extremadura, we find that a report for the year 1595 indicates that 40 percent of the 150 vecinos of the village of Las Casas de Reina (Badajoz) were  labradores. In this case there was no indication of the number of jornaleros. Twenty-seven percent of the vecinos of the village were described as being 'poor' -- a designation often applied to mere wage-earners in sixteenth-century Castile, but it is not clear whether that definition is applicable to the example at hand. Even in Andalucía the proportion of  labradores was often quite high. The newly established Christian towns in the kingdom of Granada, of course, were predominantly inhabited by independent peasant operators. But  labradores also formed the majority in many older areas. In 1569, for instance, a royal official reported that 800 (57 per cent) of the 1,400 vecinos of Quesada (Jaén) were in this class. (18) And finally, Brumont (1977: table 32) has calculated that in the La Bureba villages of Burgos province, an average of 35 percent of the vecinos were  labrador es, and only 64 percent were jornaleros. But within that region, the percentages varied widely: for  labradores, from a low of 6 percent at Uña, to a high of 72 percent at Movilia; and for jornaleros, from a low of 2 percent in several villages, to a high of 25 percent in Navas. The foregoing examples demonstrate the danger of making generalizations for the whole of Castile from a limited data base. But they do indicate that a significant percentage of the Castilian [145] peasantry in the 500s were independent operators in the  labrador category, and many of them were doing quite well.

The image of the rich  labrador is prominent in Castilian Golden Age literature. In Cervantes's Don Quixote (part 1, ch. 28) the beautiful Dorotea is the daughter of an Andalucían labrador whose wealth is so great that it almost confers hidalgo status. This  labrador has many servants, both domestic and agricultural, and is involved in grain, wine, olive oil, apiculture, and livestock. Another character in Don Quixote (part II, chs. 19-21) is Camacho the Rich, a prosperous Manchegan  labrador , who demonstrates his affluence by staging an extravagant open-air wedding feast. And in Lope de Vega's El hombre de bien, there is the labrador Felicio, who gives a list of his assets, including 100 oxen, 2,000 sheep, two or three large grainfields, four fruit orchards, and extensive vineyards and olive groves (Arco 1941: 863). The rich labrador was not a mere figment of the writers' imagination -- he represented a real historical socio-economic type. The Relaciones show that  labradores who owned five or six teams of oxen or mules were usually the wealthiest villagers, but there was an aristocracy of non-noble labradores who were very wealthy indeed (Salomon 1965: 355, 748-9, 758-9, 779-80). For example, Domínguez Ortiz cites (1971: 149) a report that some  labrador es in Utrera (Seville) kept 300 oxen for draft animals, and that many sowed 1,500 to 2,000 fanegas of wheat, and more. The Relaciones value the fortunes of the rich  labradores of New Castile between 2,000 and 6,000 ducados, and according to the arbitrista Guillén Barbón y Castañeda (1628: fol. 9), in the late 1500s there were  labradores in Old Castile with estates of 8,000 and 9,000 ducados or more.

'Rich' and 'poor', of course, are subjective or comparative terms. For instance, the most prosperous labrador in the village of Zarza de Montánchez (Cáceres), according to a census of 1561, had an estate that was quite modest compared with some of the preceding examples: nevertheless, he was described as 'rich'. This individual owned 2 houses, a mill, a half-interest in an orchard-garden, 6 peonadas of vineyard, ii cows, 110 sheep, 11 hogs, a mule, and 2 yoke of oxen. Apparently he owned no grainland, but undoubtedly he farmed a sizeable area in the local baldíos. In the same province, by contrast, in the village of Castañar de Ibor, there lived a labrador who appears to have been just as well-off -- although he was by no means the wealthiest peasant in the place -- but who was not identified as being rich. According to a census of 1586, this  labrador had 3 houses, a fruit [146] orchard, a 1,200-plant vineyard, 2 fanegas of grainland, 2 hogs, 100 goats, 3 bovines, 2 beehives, and a mule. In addition to the 2 fanegas he owned, he must have farmed at least a dozen fanegas of tierras baldías, because in 1586 it was reported that he had 74 fanegas of grain sowed. But although the meaning of 'rich' might be vague or changeable, it is beyond question that the wealthy  labradores constituted a small minority of the peasantry. Most  labradores led a modest existence, and many were undeniably poor. (19)

Rural poverty was particularly widespread in the mountains of the north -- in Soria, Burgos, and León, and the poverty of the entire Cantabrian region was proverbial. In the type of dispersal described by Fernand Braudel (1975: 30-51) large numbers of emigrants fled their mountain villages to seek a better life in the more favored parts of Castile. We should be aware, however, that the inhabitants of these legendary poor regions did nothing to refute the circulating exaggerated accounts of their poverty, realizing that these caused the government to almost forget about them when it made its frequent petitions for new taxes. But their poverty was not just a myth. As mentioned earlier, over half of the peasants of the La Bureba village of the province of Burgos were landowners, but most of them had such minuscule plots that they found it impossible to survive without devoting a significant part of their time to pastoral activities or to non-agricultural pursuits. In La Bureba the average  labrador farmed with only about one and one-half oxen, and in many villages of the area the average was below one (Brumont 1977: table 10). Remember that this was for  labradores, who were more prosperous than the average peasant. In 1597 the sole vecino from Pinos (a La Bureban village) who was described in a census as being 'rich' had attained that distinction on the basis of the fact that he had a yoke of oxen, and that he farmed his own, rather than rented, land -- a meager standard for 'richness' that suggests a generally straitened life style in the area. (20)

But one did not have to go to the mountains to find poor peasants, for they were a fact of life in all parts of Castile. Lope de Vega's Lauro, in El ejemplo de casados, represents the stereotype of the humble  labrador . Lauro owns a small house (una casilla), a few diminutive plots of land, a vineyard, twenty goats, and a yoke of oxen (Arco 1941: 867). In the poverty-stricken mountain villages of the north, Lauro might have been considered to be well-off, or even 'rich'; but in the broader Castilian context, his modest estate placed him among [147] the poorer  labradores. And most  labradores were in that category. For example, in the village of Las Cases de Reina (Badajoz), which had 150 vecinos in 1595, there lived about 60  labradores, nearly all of whom worked with one or two yokes of oxen. Only a few owned as many as three pairs of oxen. Thus, the majority of the  labradores of the place fit into Lauro's category, as did the vast majority of sixteenth-century Castilian  labradores. (21) Most of them were property owners, even if they had no more than a tiny vineyard or garden. But they normally owned only a part of the grain land they farmed -- the remainder being rented, or from the baldíos or municipal commons.


The sixteenth century witnessed a growing investment by city dwellers in agricultural property. This was not a peculiarly Castilian phenomenon, but was also true of the rest of Europe, both inside and outside the Mediterranean region. One reason for the investment of urban residents in rural lands was the deep seated conviction that the only real wealth and security lay in land. Furthermore, by the 1500s, landownership was becoming increasingly popular as an attractive investment. The extraordinary demographic growth of the sixteenth century increased the demand, and raised the prices, of agricultural goods. This, plus the social prestige factor, impelled prosperous city dwellers to want to buy land. The potential for profit was not as high as it was in trade, but landownership was far less risky (Delano 1979: 136-7; Braudel 1975: 424-5). And in the second half of the century, some urban investors began to distrust juros (government bonds), and turned instead to land. Many bureaucrats, merchants, and artisans invested a portion of their earnings in land, and the conquistadores and their families bought rural properties with their loot from America. These urban investors were absentee landowners only up to a point, for they preferred to buy near the city where they lived, so they might have a hand in the management, so they could enjoy fresh agricultural products from their estates, and so they could reap the maximum social prestige from their landownership (Domínguez 1973b: 164-5).

Bourgeois investment in rural property was particularly noticeable around large cities such as Madrid, Toledo, and Valladolid. The village of Vicálvaro is a good example of what could happen to a rural settlement that became caught in the orbit of a large metropolis. [148] Situated just to the east of Madrid, Vicálvaro seems to have had a closed, self-sufficient economy based on its own agropastoral production, until the sixteenth century. Then, as Madrid expanded into an important capital, the vecinos of Vicálvaro increasingly took advantage of the city's market and job opportunities. And residents of Madrid became interested in buying land in Vicálvaro. Whereas the village had once been dominated by small and medium landowners, by 1576 only one-third of the vecinos of the place owned any land. But the 'poor' who had sold, or lost, their property were able to support themselves very nicely in the labor and produce markets of Madrid (Pérez-Crespo 1969: 462-5). Another example, an extreme case from the same area, is the village of Ribas de Jarama. According to the Relaciones (Madrid, p. 528), it had a population of twenty-five vecinos, all of whom were  labradores. But because of the proximity of the capital, the normal landholding patterns did not hold true here, for all the lands of the village were owned by residents of Madrid, to whom the  labradores who worked them had to pay rent (Terrasse 1968: 152).

The phenomenon of urban investment in agricultural property existed also around smaller cities like Guadalajara, Talavera de la Reina, and Ciudad Real (Salomon 1964: 165-76; Phillips 1979: 65-75). And it could be found in all parts of Castile. We have an interesting example of the operation of the process in the Tierra of Plasencia (Cáceres) in the early 1500s. The 1520s were a period of hard times for the  labradores of the area, and many of them were obliged to sell their lands to provide funds for subsistence. The merchants and officials of the city of Plasencia were quick to exploit the situation, buying up as much rural property as they could at depressed prices during the period of agricultural crisis. By 1531 the rural economy had recovered, but city dwellers now owned a large proportion of the farm lands of Plasencia's villages. The vecinos of the villages complained, via a lawsuit lasting from 1531 to í549, that these new landowners, although commoners, were claiming the tax exempt status traditionally enjoyed by hidalgos. There had always been an important noble investment in the agricultural properties of the area, but bourgeois ownership was something new, and it was resented by the villagers, especially since many of the new urban landowners were conversos (Jewish converts to Christianity, and their descendants). We have a somewhat similar example of bourgeois [149] land acquisition in the province of Jaén in the 1560s. The council of the village of Rus lodged suit against a group of vecinos of the nearby city of Baeza. The city dwellers had bought up the lands of the deserted settlement of Arquillos, which was illegal, according to Rus, because of a certain agreement forbidding land transfers to outsiders. The Baeza landowners included officials of the city, professional men, and artisans, but only one was an hidalgo. Together they owned the entire area of the deserted village, which was divided into some thirty four parcels. (22) But bourgeois ownership was not everywhere important. There were many areas where it was quite inconsequential -- places such as La Bureba, whose remoteness from any large urban center made it unattractive as a focus of investment (Brumont 1977: 35, n. 1).

The increasing bourgeois investment in agricultural property had far-reaching consequences. It spurred the development of a market oriented agriculture, in which vineyards and olive groves played the major role, particularly in Andalucía. It encouraged the concentration of the rural population, and as a result, the depopulation of many small rural settlements. The new urban landowners and the rich  labradores formed a class that contemporaries called the poderosos (powerful). This was a class outside the traditional distinction between nobles and commoners. The rich commoner -- whether  labrador or urban bourgeois investor -- was often far more important in his town than some impoverished hidalgo. In many places the poderosos were able to monopolize the municipal offices, and to use them to consolidate their wealth. They were often quite successful in exploiting the crisis of the late 1500s and the 1600s, to absorb the property of bankrupt small and medium  labradores. They also were the leaders in the movements for juridical independence (villazgos) for their towns, to increase their freedom and power (Domínguez 1973b: 164-6; Salomon 1964: 169). Another consequence of bourgeois land buying was that the funds thus invested were seldom used to foment increased productivity. There was a mere shift in the ownership of part of the land, without any major changes in the methods of production. Fernand Braudel (1975: 729-34) has called this the 'defection ["treason", in the original French] of the bourgeoisie'. By investing in titles of nobility and land, they deserted their 'proper' function. Rather than making true capitalistic investments, in commerce, industry, and banking, they turned instead to [150] the soil, seduced by the prestige value and security of landownership. One should not exaggerate the consequences of this 'treason', especially since it was not peculiar to Spain. But the effects seem to have been especially pernicious in Castile, and this certainly helps explain the prolonged economic depression in the area during the late Habsburg period.

Notes for Chapter Five

1. About the post-1570 settlers in the Alpujarras, see also Pedro Herrera Puga, Sociedad y delicuencia en el siglo de oro. Aspectos de la vida sevillana en los siglos XVI y XVII (Granada: Universidad de Granada, 1971), pp. 440-60; and José Oriol Catena, 'La repoblación del Reyno de Granada después de la expulsión de los moriscos', Boletín de la Universidad de Granada, 7 (1935), 8 (1936), and 9 (1937).

2. About Espera, see Venta que el Licenciado Nicolás de Chávez otorgó a Fernando Giles, 11 August :588, AGS, CR-7, 3258. See also a petition to the crown from the villa of El Arahal, 12 August 1592, AGS, CG, 365; Relación de Juan de Salas, 27 March 1587, AGS, CG, 3262; and a letter to the crown from Gerónimo Gómez (no date, but apparently from í585), AGS, CJH, 225.

3. Ley del fuero, Título 33 de la presura raíz, from Ordenanzas sobre colmenares (1567), Averiguación de And·jar, AGS, EH, 220; El Licenciado Matheo de Morales y consortes v. Castro del Río (1590), ACHGR, 3-1612-13; Relación de Diego de Argote [sobre tierras en Segura de la Sierra y su Partido] (undated, but apparently from August 1583), AGS, CG, 3262. See also Pedro de Tarifa v. Baeza (1533-9), ACHGR, 3-1123-2; cédula to the alcalde mayor of Estepa (undated, but seemingly from 1573), AGS, CJH, 124 ant. (84 mod.); and Los Caballeros de la Sierra de Hornos v. Juan Muñoz (1572), ACHGR, 3-884-6.

4. Rus v. Baeza (1565-8), ACHGR, 3-426-3; Venta que el Licenciado Garci Prez de Bazán otorgó a la villa de Cabeza Arados, 3 May 1590, AGS, CR-7, 3260.

5. Venta que el Licenciado Andrés de Bueras otorgó a Francisco Gómez, 15 March 1589, AGS, CG, 373.

6. Venta que el alcalde mayor del Adelantamiento de Castilla hizo a Pedro Ramírez, 15 October 1590, AGS, CG, 373.

7. Averiguación de Castilblanco (1586), AGS, EH, 74-14-iii.

8. Lora v. Gobernador Maldonado (1536-9), ACHGR, 511-2288-1, part 4.

9. Lucas Alonso Cabrero y consortes v. Arcos (1548), ACHGR, 507-1863-3.

10. Badajoz v. Juan András y consortes (1551-2), ACHGR, 3-463-5.

11. Averiguación de Monleón (1558), AGS, EH, 323; Averiguación de PIasenzuda (1575), AGS, EH, 906; Averiguación de Castañar de Ibor (1586), AGS, EH, 74; Averiguación de Morales (1569), AGS, EH, 329.

12. Averiguación de Morales (1569), AGS, EH, 329; Averiguación de Castañar (1586), AGS, EH, 74-11-ii; Averiguación de Monleón (1558), AGS, EH, 323.

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

14. Averiguación de Plasenzuela (1575), AGS, EH, 906.

15. Averiguación de Ruanes (1561), AGS, EH, 189-56.

16. Averiguación de Menasalbas (1588), AGS, EH, 400.

17. Averiguación de Monleón (1558), AGS, EH, 323; Averiguación de Castañar de Ibor (1586), AGS, EH, 74-11-ii.

18. Averiguación de Cebolla (1561), AGS, EH, 43; Averiguación de Pineda Trasmonte (1597), AGS, EH, 142-11; Averiguación de Monleón (1558), AGS, EH, 323; Averiguación de Castilblanco (1586), AGS, EH, 74- 14-iii; Averiguación de Moncalvillo (1595), AGS, EH, 130-2; Averiguación de Las Casas de Reina (1595), AGS, EH, 74; three Relaciones from Bachiller Juan de la Concha about lands in Quesada, dated 30 May and 28 June (the third is undated, but clearly also from 1569), AGS, CJH, 94 ant. (65 mod.).

19. Averiguación de La Zarza (1561), AGS, EH, 189-56; Averiguación de Castañar (1586), AGS, EH, 74-11-ii.

20. Averiguación de Pino (1597) AGS, EH, 142-15.

21. Averiguación de Las Casas de Reina (1595), AGS, EH, 74.

22. Plasencia v. los lugares de su Tierra (1531-49), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 64; Rus v. vecinos de Baeza (1565-8), ACHGR, 3-426-3.