Land and Society in Golden Age Castile
David E. Vassberg
The Increasing Rural Malaise
 By the beginning of the seventeenth century, it was abundantly clear to almost everyone that rural Castile had fallen on hard times. Through the words of Pedro Crespo, a character in El Alcalde de Zalamea, the Golden Age dramatist Lope de Vega (cited Arco 1941: 882) lamented the rural depression and harked back to better times in the past:
Ay de aquella edad sencilla!
Agora todo es maldad
en la más pequeña villa.
(Ah, for that simple time!
Today everything is bad
in the smallest town.)
It is worth emphasizing that Lope and his contemporaries not only recognized
that Castilian agriculture was in a state of decay; they also looked back
to a halcyon earlier period. The previous chapter dealt with a number of
changes in the sixteenth-century rural world, many of which played a role
in worsening the position of the Castilian peasant. The present chapter
will examine certain other aspects of the rural economy that also contributed
to the deteriorating rural situation.
PRICES AND MARKETS
The twentieth-century observer is likely to think it quite obvious that the Castilian peasant would have been very much affected by changes in prices and markets. But the truth of the matter is that the typical sixteenth-century peasant producer was far less vulnerable to price fluctuations than we might suspect. Most peasants of the day lived in a subsistence or a semi-subsistence economy. In other words, they lived in an economy based on mere survival. They worked  continuously to reap low yields. In fact, they often worked lands that only marginally rewarded the labor put into them, because time lacked value in the mind of the peasant, and above all, because even a minimal yield would help feed his family. The peasant family tried to diversify its production to guarantee the maximum self-sufficiency in food and dress. There were scant surpluses to put on the market, and, as a consequence, there was not much cash with which to purchase goods from the outside world. The typical peasant lived an austere life bordering on poverty. But although the peasant's needs were minimal, in many cases he could not support himself solely with his agropastoral production, and had to seek other sources of income. Many families engaged in domestic industries such as textile production or other artisan-type manufacturing activities. This supplied them with cash to buy what they themselves could not produce for their own needs, and occasionally it yielded a surplus. There were rich peasants and poor peasants, of course. But for most peasants, life was precariously balanced on the edge of subsistence (Ortega Valcárcel 1966: 100-6).
Nevertheless, although the average peasant rarely had much to sell in the way of agropastoral commodities, a substantial minority of peasants were doing quite well exploiting the possibilities of local, regional, and even international markets. It is well known that there was a large and profitable overseas market for oil, wine, and wheat. This market was served chiefly by producers in Andalucía, through the port city of Seville. There was also a lucrative foreign market, both in the Indies and in northern Europe, for Spanish leather and leather goods, and for woolen, silk, and linen textiles - finished and unfinished. (1) Thus the humbler peasant population, who did not normally have any surplus agricultural products to export, could nevertheless profit from the external market by engaging in light manufacturing or processing. The overseas market cooled in the1570s, when the American colonies began to produce enough grain for their own needs, but before that there was a period of thirty or forty years of economic boom, based on the high prices of the export market (Gómez Mendoza 1967: 502-3).
The prosperity of Castile was reflected in the great fairs of Medina 8 del Campo (Valladolid), where the leading merchant and banking houses of Europe transacted enormous exchanges of goods and of loans and other financial contracts (Rodríguez y Fernández 1903-4: 667). But the peasants were likely to be only indirectly involved in  this. They sold their goods in local and regional markets, and if they participated at all in the international economy, it was almost always through middlemen. Throughout the kingdom there were periodic tax-free fairs (ferias francas) in the most important provincial cities. And it was to these fairs that the peasants liked to bring their produce for sale. The inhabitants of a given village might have the choice of several fairs. For example, in 1569 the villagers of Casasola de Anón (Valladolid) reported that they could travel eight leagues to the city of Valladolid, where there was an annual fair; or they could go seven leagues to Medina de Rioseco (also in the province of Valladolid) where there were two yearly fairs; or thirteen leagues to Salamanca; seven leagues to Zamora; or only three leagues to the nearby city of Toro (Zamora province), which had several fairs and tax-free markets throughout the year.
In some cases peasants were willing to travel considerable distances to bring their products to the right fair. This was facilitated, of course, when the commodity to be sold was livestock, because the beasts could be transported on the hoof. The hog-raisers of Trujillo, for example, were able to drive their animals to sell in the fairs of Toledo and La Mancha (Vassberg 1978: 52). The fairs dealt with all types of merchandise, but some fairs came to specialize in certain things. The city of Badajoz, for example, had an important livestock fair on St Mark's Day (25 April). And Arévalo (Avila) in the mid-1500s served as the chief marketplace for Castilian wheat, being well situated between the cereal-growing plains of the Duero valley and the growing urban market in Madrid. Even within more limited geographical areas, the peasants found that they would do better to market their goods in certain nearby towns rather than others. The vecinos of Palomas (Badajoz), for instance, in the mid-1570s reported that they preferred to sell their livestock in Mérida, whereas they seemed more inclined to sell their grain in Zafra. (2)
The great national and regional fairs served an important function, providing an outlet for agropastoral surpluses at appropriate times after harvest. But the week-to-week and day-to-day sales and purchases of the country were transacted in the more humble town markets. It was customary for the towns of each area to hold their weekly markets on different days, to enable buyers and sellers to appear at several markets. For example, in the Adelantamiento of León, there was a market every Monday in Santamaría del Rey (?), and on Tuesday there were markets in Mansilla de las Mulas and in  Villafranca del Bierzo. On Wednesday there was one in Mayorga (?), but it was described as 'dismal' (ruin). On Thursday one could choose to go to market in Benavides, Valencia de Don Juan, or Venbilas (?), and on Saturday there was a market at La Baneza, which was particularly good for sales of oxen and other livestock. Looking at market days in a more restricted area: in the Tierra de Campos (Palencia province) there was market day in Vallada on Wednesday, in Carrión de los Condes on Thursday, in Paredes de Nava on Friday, and in Villalón on Saturday. For some reason, perhaps because of its mid-week position, Thursday seems to have been considered an especially good day for market. The city of Trujillo (Cáceres), which served as the commercial center for dozens of subject villages, held its mercado franco on Thursday. So did the city of Segovia, which similarly ruled over a large Tierra. Villagers who went to market in these administrative-commercial centers could not only exchange goods, but could also learn the latest news, and they could be apprised of the most recent orders emanating from municipal and other authorities. The news-disseminating function of the market towns was underlined in 1556 by the government of m Peñafiel (Valladolid), which had about twenty villages in its Tierra. Peñafiel reported that it had its major (undoubtedly tax-free) market on Thursday, but that various goods and supplies could be bought and sold there on any day of the week. This, to be sure, was true also of other market towns, but on ordinary tax-paying days the market would have been not nearly as well-attended. (3)
The vitality of the local and regional markets fluctuated, of course, depending upon general economic conditions. And there were extraordinary local factors that could drastically affect market conditions. The peasants of Morales de Toro (Zamora) discovered this after 1561, when Philip II moved his court from nearby Valladolid to Madrid, on the other side of the Sierra de Guadarrama. The move occasioned grave financial difficulties for the inhabitants of Morales, because they had come to specialize in the production of wine, which could be profitably transported the short distance to Valladolid, but not to Madrid. Consequently, the wines of Morales now had to be sold in local cities, at a greatly reduced price. (4) On the other hand, the court's move created a new and lucrative market for peasants living in villages in the vicinity of Madrid. The prosperity of rural areas, as this example demonstrates, was linked to the
economic well-being of the cities that served as markets for their  surpluses. Generally speaking, both rural Castile and urban Castile were doing well in the early and mid-1500s, with extraordinary economic and demographic growth. But as the export economy soured in the last third of the century, many Castilian manufacturing and trading cities found their economies deteriorating. At the same time, there were decreasing agricultural surpluses, and even crises of subsistence in some places, because the peasants had been obliged to utilize marginal lands to feed the burgeoning population. Given the primitive agricultural methods of the time, the equilibrium between rural and urban populations had always been precarious, and it began to fail in the last decades of the reign of Philip II. The features of the relationship between urban and rural areas have been ably sketched by Angel García Sanz for Segovia (1977: 58, 79), and by Michael Weisser for Toledo (1971:1976: 56-62).
Agricultural prices on the local level were subjected to a type of economic control that could be described as municipal mercantilism. Throughout Castile it was considered normal for municipal governments to enact regulations fixing prices and restricting the movement of goods. The Castilian wine-growing centers, for example, adopted a strongly protectionist attitude toward their own vintages. This local protectionism, which began in the Middle Ages, initially consisted merely of a tax on outside wine. But from the end of the twelfth century there began to exist ordinances for the complete exclusion of outside wines. In those places where local production was unable to satisfy all the demand, the ban on outside wine was limited to the period necessary to use up the local vintage. In some places the date was fixed; elsewhere it was flexible, to allow for variable local harvests. But the major wine producing centers tended to impose an absolute ban on introducing outside wines for the entire year. The idea was that there was to be no 'foreign' competition (Huetz 1967: 175; García Sanz 1977: 194-5).
This kind of protectionism caused many complaints, especially in places where the local wines were of poor quality. Local consumers resented having to drink up the bad local product before they could buy more palatable imported vintages. Local merchants also protested, because of the loss of sales, and the royal treasury suffered reduced sales-tax receipts. The protectionism was denounced as a privilege that did not benefit the entire community, but only a few wine producers. But these few usually included the most powerful figures of the place, and they were able to control the  municipal government for their own profit. And there were certain officials who were accorded special privileges. For example, we find that in Cieza (Murcia), the ordinances of 1523 forbade the importation of outside wine as long as the vecino s of the town still had some of their own to sell. But the comendador (commander) of the Order of Santiago was permitted to bring in outside wine from his own harvest at his pleasure, and he could bring in any other wine he wished. He could not sell it, however, without the permission of the town council, which was to establish a 'reasonable' price (Salmerón 1777; 94-5). In the city of Segovia there were also regulations of longstanding to exclude all outside wine until the local product had been exhausted. But these exclusionist regulations were increasingly unpopular, and toward the end of the sixteenth century the municipal government liberalized them somewhat. It authorized three taverns to sell 'fine' wine, mainly from the Duero Valley and from La Mancha, which was not subject to the usual import restrictions. But the municipal authorities set such a high price on this outside wine that only the rich could afford to buy it, and most Segovians had to continue to endure the miserable local stock. It is revealing to note that the special interests responsible for these restrictions were thus able to preserve their privileges in Segovia until the eighteenth century (García Sanz 1977: 194-5).
Municipal mercantilism was not limited to wine, but extended to other agropastoral products as well. The councils of every city, town, and village had the power to fix the price of fruit, vegetables, grain, meat, cheese, oil, or any other merchandise. And they did not shrink from their authority. They granted monopoly rights to tavern keepers, butchers, and other officially designated victualers for the locality. And they established detailed price schedules from which no one could deviate without the special permission of the council. The official prices were in force even on market days, when peasants were permitted to bring in their crops for sale. Such price controls (as always, throughout history) caused problems. The legal price was likely to be too low in the eyes of the producer, because the idea behind municipal price fixing was usually to protect the consumer, rather than the producer. The 1583 ordinances of Los Santos de Maimona (Badajoz) went so far as to require any vecino who had fish, game, vegetables, or fruit for sale to offer his wares in the market of the town before removing them from the municipal jurisdiction for sale elsewhere. And the council reserved for itself the right to determine  how much could be 'exported'. Moreover, the ordinances of Los Santos made it illegal for anyone to offer anything for sale in the town marketplace without notifying the council a day in advance (Guerra 1952: 520-1).
The Castilian municipalities also undertook to regulate the operation of grain and oil mills, and other processing establishments related to agriculture. For example, the council of Arjona (Jaén) adopted a comprehensive and quite specific set of rules for oil mills. The town tried to regulate everything: milling procedures, working hours, measurements, salaries, and prices. All of this was designed to protect olive growers and olive oil buyers from unscrupulous mill operators. It may have succeeded in that, but it also must have discouraged innovation and experimentation, and by ossifying existing structures and techniques it made it difficult (in fact, actually illegal) to adjust to changing circumstances. It is hardly surprising, then, to discover that such well-intentioned trade-regulating ordinances were often honored in the breach. The market gardeners of Yeste (Albacete), for instance, discovered a loophole in the local ordinances, which fixed low prices for all fruit and vegetables sold in the town marketplace. Instead of bringing their produce to the market square, they simply sold it in their homes and gardens, outside the urban area, where they charged whatever prices the market would bear. This worked for a while, but in 1595 the town government ruled that this was illegal, and that all fruit and vegetables had to be sold in the marketplace, at the official price. The gardeners appealed to the Chancillería (supreme tribunal) of Granada to reverse this local ruling, protesting that they would be ruined by such low prices. The documents in the Chancillería archive do not reveal how the case ended, but one suspects that the gardeners lost their suit. And if they were forced to sell at prices they regarded as too low, they probably reduced, or even abandoned their market gardening. (5)
It is well known that there was also price fixing on the national level. During the Middle Ages there had been crown-dictated legal maximum prices for various commodities in both Islamic and Christian Spain. But Ferdinand and Isabella did not establish maximum prices until 1502, when a tasa (legal maximum price) was set for wheat, barley, and rye. The declared purpose of the tasa was to protect the poor by fixing a value for grain that would be fair to both buyers and sellers. Severe penalties were prescribed for requesting or accepting more than the tasa. And local and royal governmental  authorities were empowered to force the possessors of surplus grain to sell it at a price not exceeding the tasa, when the grain was needed for local consumption or for transportation to other places in the kingdom where there was a shortage. The grain tasas expired in 1512, and after that for nearly thirty years there were no royally imposed price controls on Castilian grain. This long interim of free trade can be explained partly by the realization that the first controls despite the heavy penalties for non-compliance - had been inefficacious. Furthermore, the market price entered a long period of moderation and stability after 1509, and the political situation was unsettled after the death of Isabella. But in 1539 Charles V restored the tasa after a poor harvest sent grain prices sharply upward, and after that the legal maximum grain price became a permanent feature of Castilian economic life. The emperor's tasa, like the one imposed by his grandmother, exempted Galicia and the Cantabrian region from the price controls, but the tasa was to be enforced in the remainder of the kingdom of Castile. The new maximum prices were intended for points of origin, rather than for points of ultimate sale (as in the case of the earlier tasa), because the regulations permitted the addition of transportation costs, including a 'reasonable' profit. The emperor's tasa fixed lower prices for the province (Reino) of Toledo than for the remainder of Castile, although there seems to have been no good justification for this inequity. Charles's maximum prices, which were about twice as high as those of Isabella, remained in effect until 1558, when Philip II revised them upwards to compensate for inflation. And after that, from time to time they were raised still higher, and various new regulations concerning transportation and sale were added. Among the innovations introduced by Philip II were the exemption of imported grain from tasa controls (decreed in 1558), the provision of stiffer penalties for non-compliance (1571), and the appointment of special royal judges (1593) to enforce the various price-fixing regulations. But the activities of these judges elicited such loud and bitter complaints from the cities that the monarch felt obliged to recall them (Hamilton 1965: 243-60).
The tasa was the subject of lively and continual controversy - in high political circles, among intellectuals, and to be sure among the peasants and other members of the general public who were affected by the price controls. There were many spirited debates on the subject in the Cortes, and the Cortes often requested that the tasa be abolished, or that the price be raised, or that special schedules be  established for the different provinces (Actas: vols. II-XV). Time and again the tasa was blamed for the deteriorating condition of the Castilian peasantry. Several corregidores, writing near the end of the reign of Philip II, agreed that the tasa should be revoked, because it discouraged cultivation. As early as 1539 the chronicler Florián de Ocampo had observed that the price ceiling was low enough to cause some producers to lose money, and that this eventually led to grain shortages. (6) And some arbitristas denounced the tasa (e.g. Fernández Navarrete 1626: 274-8), but there were many others who staunchly defended it. Among the latter, Melchor Soria y Vera (1633: 38-50, 87-91) even went so far as to condemn the periodic upward adjustments of the tasa , on the grounds that they harmed the poor, and benefitted only the small minority of rich labradores who ever had surplus grain to put on the market.
It is difficult to assess the effect of the tasa on Castilian agriculture. The pioneering agricultural historian Carmelo Viñas y Mey (1941: 103-l0) thought the tasa was highly prejudicial. He pointed out that whereas there was a price ceiling on grain, the crop of the labrador, there was no similar price ceiling on the cost of tools, labor, seed, draft animals, and other instruments of production needed by grain growers. Viñas y Mey concluded that 'the state of permanent disequilibrium between the government's agricultural price policy and its cost policy, to the detriment of the producer, together with all the other unfavorable influences for agriculture, particularly oppressive taxation, was one of the most effective elements in the process of undermining the farming business - which frequently operated at a loss . . .' The problem with this view is that it flies in the face of an abundance of evidence that there was widespread evasion of the tasa regulations. In fact, the increasingly severe penalties decreed for infractions suggest that violations must have been a serious problem.
Because of the nature of illegal dealings, we will never be able to ascertain the exact degree of non-compliance with the tasa , but Hamilton surmised that at least half the grain transactions in Andalucía and New Castile were in violation of the law. And many seemingly legal sales may have been influenced by hidden considerations forever obscured to the researcher. Friar Francisco Ortiz Lucio (1600: 1-4), writing near the close of the sixteenth century, deplored the general disregard of the tasa. He declared that the labradores and others who sold grain at prices in excess of the tasa were guilty of mortal sin, because the tasa represented a 'just' price. But he noted  that violations of the maximum price regulations usually went unpunished, because royal justice officials deliberately overlooked them, and failed to take the appropriate action. Some clergymen, when faced with this kind of wholesale lawbreaking, and lack of enforcement, tried to resolve the moral dilemma by adopting a double standard. For example, Soria y Vera reported (1633: 90-1) that the bishop of Jaén from 1597 to 1595 instructed his priests to require rich people who confessed non-compliance to return any illegal profits to the grain buyer. But the priests were instructed to overlook the same offence when committed by poor labradores , on the grounds that they needed the extra money to compensate for their scanty harvests.
What do we conclude, then, about the effect of the tasa? Antonio Domínguez Ortiz has suggested (1973a: 27) that the black market in grain so vitiated the intent of the law that the practical effect of the tasa was almost nil. It seems that in years of normal harvest only the clergy paid any attention to the official price ceiling, and in years of famine, virtually everyone (including the government) completely disregarded it. In years of abundance, of course, the market price fell well below the tasa level and the existence of a legal maximum had only a potential importance. According to this view, the royal government maintained the tasa mainly out of inertia, and the price ceiling was useful chiefly as a point of reference for calculating the value of rents. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the existence of the tasa had a moderating effect on prices. And despite the ease of violating the official price ceiling, contemporary observers asserted that there were many peasants who stopped growing grain as a market crop, and turned instead to wine or other alternative crops (Domínguez 1973b: 157; Hamilton 1965: 258-60). It is quite possible that the threat of punishment for tasa violations did indeed discourage grain production to some degree, but in view of the evidence, we cannot think that that factor was very important.
Hamilton clearly demonstrated that the market price of grain fluctuated wildly, despite the tasa , and this has been corroborated time and again by more recent research. A good storage system, enabling the surplus of good harvests to be held over to make up for the deficit of bad years, would have stabilized prices. Many large landowners did store their grain, sometimes for several years. But they did this not to stabilize prices, but rather to take advantage of the movement in prices, for their own benefit. The great price fluctuations encouraged speculative grain storage, despite the likelihood of  losses from insect damage and spoilage from improper ventilation. Some of these grain speculators sold everything, and even went into debt to hoard grain, knowing that a year of famine would permit them to make astronomical profits (Domínguez 1973a 26-32). Obviously, if the tasa had been enforced, this kind of activity would have been totally impossible. If there had been a sufficient number of private granaries, the surplus grain they contained might have functioned - despite the intent of their owners - to hold prices down during periods of scarcity. But there were not enough of them to exert a significant downward pressure on the market. There were municipal granaries that were supposed to do so. In fact, these existed in all the major towns and cities, not just in Spain, but throughout the Mediterranean area.
In Castile the municipal granaries were called alhóndigas or pósitos. They were created to eliminate regrating, to stabilize prices, and to guarantee an adequate supply of grain following catastrophic harvests. The pósitos purchased grain at threshing time, and stored it for later sale at reasonable prices for planting seed and for bread making. During famines, many of these municipal granaries operated as charitable enterprises, selling grain to the needy below the purchase price. And the pósitos of large cities such as Valladolid distributed grain in this manner not only to local residents, but also to the vecino s of surrounding villages. The municipal granaries were of unquestionably great importance. Ideally, they would have been able to end the problem of recurring shortages and wide price fluctuations. Philip II realized this, and ordered all the towns of Castile to establish pósitos. But most of these lacked the resources to function adequately (Yun 1980: 71-8, 118-19; Bennassar 1967: 65-9, 77-8; Hamilton 1965: 24!). Furthermore, many municipal granaries fell under the control of powerful local figures who used them for their own selfish advantage. (7) And in the final analysis, although the pósitos in many places certainly acted as a brake on oscillating prices, and although they were often able to mitigate the effects of crop failure, both problems remained a leitmotiv of the Castilian rural world, and they grew much worse near the end of the sixteenth century.
In the eyes of sixteenth-century Castilians, one of the most disturbing features of the century's price inflation was the steady rise of the cost of labor. Near the end of the reign of Philip II the corregidor of Ecija (Sevilla) noted that many fields of the area were no longer  planted. And he put a large share of the blame for this on the high cost of labor. (8) Those who fulminated against the tasa almost invariably pointed to the unfairness of a situation where there was a maximum price for grain, but not for wages. But actually, although it is true that there was no national wage maximum corresponding to the tasa on grain, it was quite commonplace to find wage ceilings on the municipal level. Municipal ordinances, promulgated by the local landowning oligarchy, established low wage rates, which had to be observed under pain of severe penalties. And whereas the national grain tasa was largely ineffective, it seems that the municipal wage regulations were generally enforced. In some cases the municipal wage rate ordinances were quite specific, but they could still be flexible enough to account for seasonal changes. For example, in 1588 the council of Cifuentes (Guadalajara) established a wage ceiling of 1 real (34 mrs) in February, 57 mrs in March, 60 mrs in April, and 2 reales (68 mrs) in May and June, both for plowmen and for pruners (Domínguez 1973b: 166). Some intermunicipal unions also adopted wage regulations. The ordinances of the Tierra of Segovia (1514), for instance, specified that the workday for salaried rural laborers was to commence an hour after sunrise, and it was to last until sundown. The Segovia ordinances also flatly prohibited paying rural workers in kind, lest they benefit from the rising prices of grain and other agricultural commodities (García Sanz 1977: 285).
At harvest time there was a vital need for a supply of reasonably priced field help. And the municipal governments, dominated by large landowners, undertook to ensure favorable labor conditions for local producers. In the province of Jaén, for example, the councils of Villanueva del Arzobispo and Iznatoraf enacted ordinances enabling them to set a tasa on wages 'whenever they saw that it was needed'. And they prohibited harvest workers from leaving the area until all the grain of the towns' vecino s had been reaped. (9) The harvest-time labor requirements were often so high that they could not be met solely with local workers. Consequently it was necessary to recruit outside workers on a seasonal basis. The procedures for this varied. In La Mancha, which had a low population density, landowners contracted to bring harvest workers in from the north. As early as three months before harvest a contract would be made with one or two men from the workers' locality, and these individuals would then arrange for recruiting the rest of the crew. The contract normally included not only a wage agreement, but also specified that the  landowner provide bread, meat, wine, and other things that were customarily given to harvesters in the area. The wage agreement could be either a flat rate paid to the contractor, for a given amount of land, or it could be a fee for each fanega of land to be harvested, out of which the contractor was to pay the wages of the crew (Phillips 1979: 39, 151 n. 17).
It was not at all unusual for trouble to break out between migrant harvesters and native residents of the harvest place. In 1566 the council of Alpera (Albacete) wrote that the migrant workers who came to the village at reaping time were a 'mutinous and troublesome' lot, who were the source of many disturbances (including knifings), both among themselves and with the locals. And the Extremadurans who migrated to Andalucía to work in the vineyards and olive groves had a well-deserved reputation as violent and untrustworthy types (Herrera 1971: 431-5). Many migrant workers were ne'er-do-wells, who led lives of unceasing vagabondage. One would expect their conduct to be disreputable. But others were stable, family types - perfectly respectable peasants who were forced by economic necessity to abandon their homes for several months out of the year to work in distant fields. The council of Palomas (Badajoz) reported in 1575 that the majority of the vecino s of the place were poor labradores, who had to spend over half the year working in Andalucía to earn enough money to feed themselves and their families. It seems that as the economic situation deteriorated in the last third of the sixteenth century, more and more peasants were forced to become hired laborers, many of them homeless vagabonds. (10)
The lot of the sixteenth-century migrant workers was not a pleasant one. As indicated above, their working conditions and wages were likely to be subject to municipal control, to their distinct disadvantage. But they did not always meekly endure their plight. We have an interesting case of labor unrest in Córdoba in the year 1595. Córdoba had just come out of several penurious years, as the result of bad harvests and other unfavorable circumstances. But the 1595 harvest promised to be good, and everyone looked forward to a return to normalcy. Then, quite unexpectedly, the agricultural workers who were supposed to reap the crop took advantage of the situation to declare a strike. It had all the familiar characteristics of twentieth-century strikes: demands for higher wages and shorter hours, and the use of coercion and violence against workers who would not join the strikers. The harvest was endangered, and the  city had to act quickly to put an end to the conflict. The municipal council voted to arrest all 'vagabonds' (read striking workers) in the taverns, streets, or plazas, who refused a wage offer. The 'vagabonds' were to be rounded up each Monday, following the Sunday when they traditionally contracted for a week's work in the fields, and they were to be given four hours in the pillory and a ten-day jail sentence. All muleteers who refused to work were to be accorded the same treatment. These draconian measures worked well: the strike was broken, and the crop was harvested, to the satisfaction of the landowners and municipal authorities. As for the workers, their condition was certainly worse than before, for they had been defeated, and they received no compensation for their days without work. They would not likely be willing to strike again in the near future, nor would the landowners likely accede to their demands, now that both sides in the dispute knew where the city stood (Torre 1931a).
As the agricultural situation became progressively worse in the last half of the 1500s, there were increasing complaints about low yields. The combination of decreasing yields and a growing population was a dangerous one, because in the best of times there was a precarious balance in Castile between the food supply and the needs of the rural and urban population. In the last two decades of the century, an increasing number of subsistence crises produced a malnourished people who were highly susceptible to the eruption of virulent plagues (García Sanz 1977: 79-82; Bennassar 1969: 51-2, 69-70). Let us look at the subject of crop yields in greater detail, for the subject is quite complex, and most important.
The Castilian peasant, like all of history's agriculturalists, spent
much of his time worrying about the weather. It seemed that he was always
either praying for rain, or praying that the rains would stop. The climate
of Spain has probably not changed much over the last four or five hundred
years. Thus, in the 1500s, just as today, most of Spain was rather dry,
but the climate was variable, and it was subject to great extremes. However,
although the climate has remained substantially unchanged, we must be aware
that there have been cycles within the last half millenium, and these cycles
have had a drastic effect on certain marginal crops. As mentioned in the
previous chapter, a slight change in the average winter lows had a 
effect on the sugar cane industry. Olive trees and citrus trees in marginal
locations undoubtedly suffered a similar fate. And a slight drop in the
average rainfall might have resulted in the abandonment of marginal dryland
fields in many semi-arid parts of Castile. Throughout the sixteenth century
there were wet and dry cycles, and good years and bad. Not all parts of
Castile experienced the same conditions, of course, and the rain that was
beneficial to one crop might be disastrous for another type of crop, because
trees, vines, cereals, and legumes do not have identical seasonal needs.
We should remember this in speaking about 'bad' years. Furthermore, even
within regions such as Andalucía, there might be drought and crop
failure in one place, while there were abundant harvests only a day's ride
away. With these caveats, let the reader examine the following chronological
list (it is incomplete, to be sure) of severe weather and crop failures
during the sixteenth century:
1503 A wet year, with devastating storms in the region of Seville. Flooding of the Esgueva River near Valladolid. The foregoing list shows yield-damaging weather, or reports of bad harvests, in fifty-four years, clearly indicating that the Castilian peasant was all too familiar with the specter of crop failure. And capricious weather was not the only menace endangering the peasant's fields. A recurring hazard affecting the harvest of many crops was devastation by plagues of locusts (la langosta). Mediterranean Europe had always been subject to locust plagues (Delano 1979: 203), and it was a serious problem, because a major locust invasion could cause a complete crop failure, and could even kill livestock, by contaminating their food and water supply. There was no effective way to control the locust population, although many methods were tried, and from time to time the fields of different parts of Castile were ravaged by these voracious insects (Huetz 1967: 617-19; Bennassar 1967: 49-50; Fernández Duro 1882-3: II, 267). Locust populations increased and decreased, depending upon the life cycle of the insect, but the huge migratory swarms that caused the greatest damage were triggered by unusually hot weather. Hence, drought was often followed by an invasion of locusts. There were such plagues in Andalucía in 1508-9, in Old Castile in 1541, and throughout Spain in 1542-3. Andalucía suffered from locusts again in 1547, and the insects struck New Castile in 1549. Many parts of Old Castile reported locust plagues in 1556, and again in 1573-4. Extremadura was devastated in 1579-80, and also in 1585-6, along with Andalucía and La Mancha. And in 1593-4 Old Castile was hit by locusts once more.(12) It should not be thought that locusts were the only insect pests to attack Castilian crops. A number of others, such as aphids and various worms, were always present; but their effect was never as dramatic as that of the locusts.
1504-6 A droughty period, with famine in all of Spain in 1504. Andalucía, Murcia, and Old Castile suffer crop failures and epidemics.
1507-9 Drought in Andalucía.
1510-11 Floods in Andalucía in 1510, and in Old Castile in 1511.
1513 Drought and famine in Murcia.
1514 Drought and bad harvests around Seville.
1521-2 Drought in Andalucía, with bad harvests, famine, and riots.
1523 Winter floods in Old Castile.
1527-9 Floods throughout Spain. Killing freezes in April of 1529.
1535-6 Record cold winter in Toledo, causing the Tajo to freeze.
1539-40 Drought in Old Castile and Murcia, and famine in 1540.
1543-4 Drought followed by excessive rainfall in Old Castile, Murcia, and Andalucía.
1548-50 Generally dry weather and poor harvests in Old Castile and in Murcia.
1551 Devastating floods in Murcia.
1554-5 Flooding of the Guadalquivir (1554) and the Duero (1555).
1556 Generally draughty spring and summer, causing poor crops.
1557 Uncommonly cold winter in Valladolid.
1558-9 Crops ruined by heavy rains in Andalucía, Extremadura, and Old Castile. Flooding of the Duero.
1561-2 Drought and scarcity in Seville.
1566-7 Terrible drought in Andalucía, followed by famine, and by plague in 1568.
1571 Draughty spring around Seville.
1573-6 Unusually cold and rainy period. Late freeze, causing widespread damage in New Castile.
1582 Flooding around Valladolid.
1584 Crop failures in Jaén, Granada, and Málaga.
1586 Generally harsh winter throughout Spain.
1589-90 Excessive rainfall in all of Spain, followed by epidemics.
1591-2 Bad harvests in Old Castile.
1593 Droughty spring in Old Castile and in Murcia; rain and floods around Seville; poor crops all over.
1594 Bad harvests in Old Castile.
1597 Floods in Old Castile, causing food shortages.
1598 Late freeze kills vines in New Castile. Disastrous harvests in Toledo, and bad harvests in Old Castile.
1599 Drought in Valladolid area, and probably also in Andalucía. (11)
It is tempting to blame the proverbial Castilian rural poverty on the extreme variability of the climate, and on the other natural  causes that we have just mentioned. No one can deny that these factors were responsible for great fluctuations in production, and that this had a serious effect on the life of the Castilian peasant. But we must agree with Domínguez Ortiz (1973b: 156-64) that it is futile to look here for the real root of the agrarian problem. The real problem of Castilian agriculture was not meteorological or entomological, but rather political and social - that is, human. In other words, the environment was not at fault. The poverty that characterized the system was the product, rather, of man-made institutions that were inefficient, and that did not permit the proper utilization of existing resources.
The most prevalent system of crop rotation in sixteenth-century Castile was the biennial año y vez, in which half the land was planted, and the other half left fallow every year. Why did Castilian peasants cling to this inefficient rotational system centuries after their northern European neighbors had adopted the far superior three-field system? The answer lies partly in the difficulty of changing existing institutions. As indicated in the previous chapter, there were peculiar historical circumstances that made it easier for northern Europeans to effect a revolutionary change in their rotational system. Furthermore, the climate in Spain is considerably drier and hotter than in northern Europe, and the durability of the biennial system in Castile seems to be linked to this climatic difference. In theory, the biennial fallow was necessary for the soil to absorb rainfall for the next crop, and to recuperate its fertility. But to give their animals the maximum benefit from stubble grazing, Castilian peasants postponed plowing their stubble until March of the post-harvest year (this was discussed under the derrola de mieses in chapter 1). This delay reduced to a bare minimum the time needed for soil regeneration and moisture retention before the next planting, thus largely vitiating the benefits of the fallow year, at least as far as arable agriculture was concerned.
It seems that the primary advantage of the biennial system was that it nurtured the pastoral sector, which was of paramount importance in medieval Spain. But the system was retained, probably out of inertia, long after livestock had declined to secondary importance in most parts of the country. Añoy vez rotation reflected the Castilian preference for extensive, rather than intensive, agriculture. Some fields, mainly small irrigated plots, were planted year after year, but these represented only a tiny proportion of the total arable area. Far more prevalent than annual cropping was triennial rotation  (de tercer a tercer año), in which the land was planted only once in three years. This was the system customarily used on second-class lands. For third-class lands - with shallow hillside soils, or soils that had become exhausted - there were even longer fallow periods, some of eight to ten years, or even more. (13)
Table 1. Proportion of different cereals produced
|Castañar de Ibor (Cáceres)||1579-84||90||5*||5*||N.D.|
|La Bureba district (Burgos)||1579-95||63||32||4||1|
|El Campo (Cáceres)||1590-5||67||18||15||N.D.|
|Pineda de Gigüela (Cuenca)||1591||64||36||N.D.||N.D.|
|La Bureba (Burgos)||1579-84||5.5-1||5.5-1||5.5-1||N.D.|
|Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz)||1590-5||N.D.||5-1||N.D.||N.D.|
|Hoyales (Burgos)||c. 1580||N.D.||5-1||4-1||6-1|
|Cuevas de Provanco (Salamanca)||c. 1580||N.D.||3.75-1||3-1||2.25-1|
|Ponseca? (Salamanaca)||c. 1573||6-1||N.D.||N.D.||N.D.|
|Eastern Toledo province||c.1561||7.5-1||N.D.||N.D.||N.D.|
|Western Rioja (Logroño)||1557-1603||N.D.||5.7-1||7.1-1||N.D.|
1590 5.83-1 (somewhat above average)This was for grain harvested from essentially the same lands - subject, to be sure, to the prevailing rotational system. Year in and year out it included both good lands and poor lands. Marginal lands were expected to yield no more than half as much as first-class lands. In Cuevas de Provanco (García Sanz 1977: 159) it was exactly half: wheat was expected to yield 5 to 1 on good land, and only 2.5 to 1 on  inferior soils; the ratios for barley and for rye were the same. The reader should be apprised that the rye yields reported for Cuevas de Provanco were highly unusual, because rye normally outyielded wheat by a comfortable margin. I should also like the reader to know that the best quality lands normally produced yields far in excess of those listed in table 2. To reach the higher averages listed in table 2 it was necessary for the best lands to have yields of 10 or 12 to 1, and even higher, in exceptionally bountiful years.
1591 2.25-1 (a very bad year)
1592 6.33-1 (considerably above average)
1593 4.5-1 (somewhat below average)
1594 6.4-1 (a rather good year)
1595 5.5-1 (about average).
The sixteenth-century Castilian grain yields are certainly low compared with yields in the industrialized wheat-producing countries of the twentieth century, where yields regularly reach 30 or 40 to 1 (Quisenberry 1967: 6-9, 144-51). In view of this, it is tempting to bemoan the low Castilian productivity, as many writers have done. But actually, as Frédéric Mauro has correctly observed (1969: 13), the Castilian yields are quite respectable when compared with yields in other countries with similar natural conditions and in a similar stage of development. Later, they would be greatly increased through the adoption of modern methods of plowing, fertilizing, rotation, seed selection, and sowing. But in sixteenth-century Castile the economic incentives were not sufficient to stimulate grain producers to make such improvements.
There is considerable evidence that yields were declining in sixteenth-century Castile, at least in the last decades of the century. Michael Weisser found this to be true in the Montes de Toledo (1976: 64-5), as did Francis Brumont for the La Bureba villages of Burgos province (1977: 72-3), and Angel García Sanz for the province of Segovia (1977: 94). There are several reasons for the declining yields. In the first place, the extension of cultivation that characterized most of the sixteenth century involved putting marginal lands to the plow. Many of these were hillside soils, or rocky soils that were poorly suited for cereals, but this fact may not have been readily apparent at the time. Initial yields on these newly plowed lands might have been quite acceptable, but their fertility was soon exhausted, through a depletion of soil nutrients and through erosion. The unecological plowing of shallow hillside soils often caused permanent damage. Stripped of its natural vegetation, the bare soil was completely exposed to the elements; and in some cases agricultural tillage increased the harmful effects of this. Research has indicated (Delano 1979: 295) that the porosity of a clay soil may be reduced by as much as 18 percent after the first forty years of cultivation, because of the diminishing content of nitrogen and organic matter. That would lead to increased run-off of rainfall, and to an intensified erosion. After a few years of cultivation, some of the worst of the affected lands had to be abandoned for grain, but many of them continued to be cultivated, despite meager yields, because their production was necessary for the subsistence of the cultivators.
Many good-quality lands also suffered from diminishing productivity, as a result of improper agricultural techniques. Deeper plowing would have brought higher yields, but Castile, like the entire Mediterranean area, still used the old Roman plow, which did superficial work. In fact, it seems that the quality of plowing deteriorated as a consequence of the sixteenth-century conversion from oxen to mules. The conversion was made in the interest of extensive agriculture, for at the time it seemed advantageous to plow more land -- although shallower, using mules - rather than to plow less land using the plodding, although deeper-plowing traditional oxen.
If more fertilizer had been used, productivity could have been increased, but organic fertilizer was the only type available, and there simply was not enough of it. During the sixteenth century the Castilian pastoral sector declined in importance, while the arable area expanded. As a result, there was a steadily decreasing amount of manure available per unit of cultivated land. Sixteenth-century agriculturalists knew the value of manure, but there was little they could do to alter the existing situation, because additional pastureland for more animals could only be obtained at the expense of arable, and all the arable land was needed to feed the existing human population. The arbitrista Caxa de Leruela noted (1631: 107-8) that many peasants had tried to remedy the shortfall in fertilizer by plowing freshly-burned montes, where the ashes served as a substitute (albeit of inferior quality, and of limited benefit) for animal manure. This, of course, aggravated the perennial problems of deforestation, soil erosion, and a shortage of pastures.
The peasant who gathered a poor harvest as the result of unfavorable weather, insect damage, or other adverse conditions was faced with a cruel dilemma. Should he save the normal percentage of the harvest to use as planting seed the following year? If so, the reduced planting acreage would guarantee another short crop the following  year. Should he eat up his planting seed, and borrow money to buy more, at high prices, when needed at sowing time? Or should he save enough planting seed for a normal planted area, and borrow money to buy food for himself and his family? Notice that almost whatever the peasant decided to do, he was likely to fall into debt.
Peasant indebtedness was an increasing problem during the sixteenth century. According to Noel Salomon (1964: 245-8) this was true because of the clash between the traditional economy, which was largely self-sufficient, and the new and expanding economy of merchants and financiers, which was founded upon the movement of goods, the money economy, credit, borrowing, mortgages, and speculation. Money, the circulation of which was intensified during the century, became a factor in subjugating the peasantry. In Salomon's view, the commercial and financial contracts of an emerging capitalism became the tools for exploiting the peasants. This view is colored by ideology, to be sure, but there is much truth to it. We know that the Cortes, the arbitristas, and the clergy from the pulpit deplored the increasing peasant indebtedness. The Cortes of Madrid (1592-8) declared that the peasants were so burdened with debts that they were unable to make their payments (Actas: XIII, 136). Sancho de Moncada (with reckless exaggeration, we must admit) wrote (cited Salomon 1965: 203) 'the countryside is deserted, the labradores having fled their poverty, overburdened with debts and foreclosures'. And Fernández Navarrete (1626: 270) compared the peasants' debts to a voracious insect, which devoured everything the labradores could produce. These observers were not chasing a chimera: peasant indebtedness was indeed a problem, and it intensified as the century wore on. And it is unquestionably true (Salomon was right) that many clever merchants and financiers were able to exploit the situation to their advantage.
The arbitristas and other critics railed constantly about the censo as the source of the peasants' woe. The censo, which was the principal instrument for agricultural credit in early modern Castile, was a contract involving an annual payment. A considerable amount of confusion has arisen about censos, because many writers have assumed that all censos were similar transactions, whereas there were really two distinct types. The first of these was the commercial loan or mortgage, called the censo perpetuo or the censoal quitar. The former was a debt conversion. It had a principal that could not be paid off (it was perpetual, as the name suggests), or that was for the term of  several lifetimes. This type of contract seems to have originated in the mid-1300s when creditors discovered that they could convert uncollectable short-term accounts receivable into long-term fixed annual payments. This expedient allowed them to salvage their lost capital on a long-term basis. By the mid-1530s the censo perpetuo seems to have been largely superseded by the censo al quitar, so-called because the principal was redeemable. The censo al quitar was similar to the modern mortgage (Phillips 1979: 61-2). The jurist Tomás de Mercado described it (cited Salomon 1964: 245-7) as follows in his Suma de tratos y contratos de mercaderes (first published Salamanca, 1569): 'Its nature and substance consist in giving a person a sum of money on the security of some buildings, or lands, or other possessions, in exchange for a certain annual payment, usually in money, but sometimes in wine, wheat, kermes, or other products.' The mortgage censo, then, was a legal instrument through which the owner of real property received a sum of money in exchange for an obligation to pay the lender a stipulated annual income. In case of non-payment, the lender had legal recourse to recover his capital by seizing the property encumbered by the mortgage contract. In an age when there were no public banks, these private contracts played an important role in financing agricultural and industrial expansion, and in providing ready cash in times of emergency. Bartolomé Bennassar (1967: 258-61) found a significant rise in peasant borrowing through censos al quitar in the province of Valladolid in the mid-1500s. This increased peasant indebtedness probably reflects in some measure the taking of loans to finance agricultural expansion, by peasants who had discovered a new instrument of credit. But in some cases, it probably signifies the arrival of hard times: after bad harvests such as those of 1574-6 peasants needed to borrow not to expand, but just to eat. In 1534 the royal government imposed a legal maximum of 14,000 al millar (that is, 7.14 percent) for censos al quitar. But there is evidence that this legal maximum, like the tasa for grain, was often exceeded. The Cortes complained in 1538 (Cortes: y, 132-3) that many lenders were able to effectively double their interest earnings by requiring payment not in money, but rather in honey, soap, wine, and other products, because in an inflationary age rising commodity prices favored the creditor, in such cases. (14)
The other type of censo is the censo enfitéutico (described in chapter 4), which functioned as a quitrent, or simple agricultural lease. The confusion between the mortgage censos discussed above and the lease  censos lies in the fact that both contracts featured an annual payment based upon a 'principal'. But whereas in the first case this refers to the borrowed sum, in the second it refers to the appraised value of land on which rent is being paid (Nader 1977). The confusion is understandable, particularly since lease contracts were sometimes called censos perpetuos enfitéuticos. But since these had to do with an annual rental, rather than an annual debt service, I will consider them later, along with other rental agreements.
Another type of peasant indebtedness came as the result of credit purchases.
In 1548 the Cortes noted (Cortes: y, 457) that labradores regularly
made such purchases. Carla Phillips (1979: 60-1) has found that in the
province of Ciudad Real the great majority of simple credit sales involved
animals and animal products. Draft animals appeared most often in these
transactions, and payment was usually delayed several years to enable the
buyer to make a profit with his new animals. The use of credit to finance
the tools of production must have benefitted many a peasant. Therefore,
we should not necessarily deplore this type of agricultural indebtedness.
A more insidious type of credit, however, was the mohatra, which
was extended by merchants (principally selling fine fabrics, tapestries,
and lace) who peddled their wares in the villages of Castile in the sixteenth
century. To speed up sales, the merchants began the practice of selling
on credit, against the buyer's coming crop. The merchant's prices were
often exorbitant, but many peasants were beguiled by the dazzling merchandise,
by a skillful sales pitch, and by the apparent ease of the credit purchase.
Unfortunately, all too often the peasant's crop was insufficient to pay
the amount borrowed on top of rent, taxes, the tithe, and other inescapable
obligations. The debt was then extended to the next year's crop, and from
year to year it would snowball, in the worst cases transforming the peasant
into an economic prisoner of the merchant (Salomon 1964 249-50; Weisser
1971: 228). And what was worse, many of these merchants used their share
of the crop to speculate, collecting grain when it was cheap, and selling
it months later, when prices were high (Actas: XIII, 136-7; XX,
413-20; XXI, 317-18).
Peasant indebtedness was not ipso facto bad. Prudently used, credit could improve one's standard of living, and could hasten the accumulation of wealth. But there always existed the danger that bad harvests, which arrived with perverse frequency, would make it impossible for the peasant to pay his debts. The consequence could  be the loss of his property (and the means of his livelihood) through foreclosure, and even imprisonment. And this was no mere theoretical possibility: it happened often, throughout the sixteenth century, whenever there were harvest failures. For example, Bartolomé Yun Casalilla has described (1980: 127-8) how a prolonged drought affected Córdoba during the first decade of the century. The harvest of 1507 was a disaster: the peasants of some places reported that they did not even recover their seed. The municipal government ordered the encarceration of all those who failed to pay the public granary for the seed-grain they had borrowed, and many were jailed. Others fled to avoid debt imprisonment, leaving their property (if they had not already lost it, which was often the case) to the mercy of their more powerful neighbors. And the Cortes in 1538 observed that many labradores lost the work oxen and mules they had purchased on credit, because they were unable to make their payments. Compassion for the suffering peasant caused the royal government to prohibit the seizure of draft animals, except for money owed to the landowner, the lord, or the crown (!), when there was no other property to attach. The Cortes also noted as early as 1548, when Castile was still supposed to be in the flush of prosperity, that indebtedness was already causing peasants to lose their houses, vineyards, lands, and other property (Cortes: v, 126, 457). But this was probably unusual at that time. Virtually all scholars agree that until the late i 500S most debtors in Castile experienced little difficulty paying the interest they owed, or even redeeming their censos, because of the agricultural boom. This is Viñas y Mey's hypothesis, enunciated in 1941, and seldom challenged, yet never really proven (pp. 32-53). Viñas y Mey believed that small- and medium-sized peasant agriculturalists relied on the extensive use of the censo al quitar to finance expansion during the growth period of the economy. As long as the boom continued, they could easily meet their obligations, but when the boom collapsed, they could no longer make their payments, and were ruined.
The durability of the Viñas y Mey hypothesis is remarkable, given the absence of hard documentary evidence to support it. It is a logical hypothesis, and it is in harmony with what we know about the economy in general. Helen Nader recently tested it (1981), using notorial records from villages in the province of Guadalajara, but she found neither the heavy indebtedness nor the mortgage foreclosures that are essential to the Viñas y Mey model. Nor was Bartolomé  Bennassar (1967: 26l-5) able to find such proof for the province of Valladolid. But as Nader observed, that does not disprove the Viñas y Mey hypothesis, it simply fails to support it. The documentary proof may turn up elsewhere. Or it may not! It is hard for us to believe, given what we know about agrarian finance today, but in an age when there was still free (or almost free) land available, and when human and animal muscle comprised the major source of power, it may have been possible for the typical agriculturalist to function quite well, and even to expand, with a minimum of indebtedness. Before we can make an accurate judgement about this we will have to learn far more about the economics of rural production in sixteenth-century Castile. We do know that many peasants were in debt, and there is good evidence that some were deeply, or even hopelessly in debt. What we do not know, unfortunately, is how prevalent this was, and what the consequences were. The evidence studied by Nader and Bennassar suggests that creditors were reluctant to foreclose on mortgages, and that even when they tried to do so, it was exceedingly difficult to evict delinquent debtors from their lands. But it is hard for us to believe that this was generally true, because the arbitristas unanimously declared the contrary, and so did the Cortes. It is highly improbable that the contemporary observers were all so badly mistaken.
In the early 1600s a councilman from the city of Zamora (cited Fernández Duro 1882-3: II, 553-4) declared that many of the labradores of the area had formerly been quite prosperous, but they had fallen into debt, and had lost all their property through foreclosures. And what we know about the identity of moneylenders (Phillips 1979: 62) suggests that seizures of property must not have been rare. Some creditors, to be sure, were the confraternities mentioned by Nader, or other religious corporations such as churches, monasteries, and hospitals. These might well have adopted a compassionate policy toward delinquent debtors. But we know that other mortgage holders were wealthy townspeople: professionals, bureaucrats, and nobles who could not be expected to show much reluctance to foreclose on delinquent debtors. And the fact that these were the very individuals who tended to control the local government would have aided them in the execution of the law. In my opinion, the Cortes memorial of 1598, which denounced the censos al quitar for having destroyed the poor labrador and increased the wealth and power of the rich, has the ring of truth to it (Actas: xv, 752).
 In chapter 6, I described the sale of tierras baldías, which resulted in a massive transfer of funds from the Castilian peasantry to the crown. Nearly all the sales were credit transactions, the terms of which varied greatly, but normally involved a down payment of around 10 percent, and three or four annual installments. Each buyer was required to sign a note for the amount he owed, and to mortgage to the crown all his property (not just the baldíos being purchased) to guarantee payment in full. In many villages nearly every vecino went into debt in this fashion, to buy land from the crown. And it was normal for the town council also to make a credit purchase of at least a portion of the local baldíos, the debt for which, of course, was ultimately borne by the inhabitants of the town. The amount of indebtedness of the typical baldío-buying peasant was not great in absolute terms - normally falling in the 1,000-20,000 mrs range (Vassberg 1975). By comparison, Bennassar (1967: 261-3) found the private peasant debts in the province of Valladolid to be usually in the 7,000-42,000 mrs range. As long as harvests were good, the baldío buyers normally could make their payments to the crown with little difficulty. But when bad harvests struck, combined with rising taxes and other unfavorable conditions, even these small payments could represent an unsupportable burden. Nevertheless, they had to be paid: the crown was willing to grant special disaster postponements to the inhabitants of localities suffering from crop failure or other unusual circumstances, but eventually the payments had to be made. Otherwise, the crown would dispatch collectors to auction off enough property to insure that the debt was liquidated. The land for which the money was owed was the first item sold, but if receipts did not suffice, other property of delinquent baldío debtors would also be seized and sold. In one case, the sale of the property of the principal debtor failed to raise enough money, so a slave, a bed, a mattress, and other household goods belonging to a co-signatory of the note were also seized and sold (Vassberg 1983: ch. 4).
Another type of peasant indebtedness to the crown came as a result of the sale of lands of the military orders (mentioned in chapter 4). In the province of Jaén, for example, the tierras renteñas (rental lands) of the Order of Calatrava were sold in 1577-80 to individuals and municipalities through censos al quitar providing for annual payments for an indefinite period, so long as the principal was unredeemed. A report made by the corregidor of the area around the end of the century named these payments as the cause of economic difficulties for the local peasants. (15)
I have mentioned earlier (in chapter 5) that historians have tended to favor peasant landownership over peasant tenancy. This preference may not always be justified by the facts, but it is undeniable that rent often absorbed a large share of the peasant's harvest. The subject of rental costs merits our careful attention.
In chapter 5, I stressed the great local variations in landholding patterns, but I estimated that around one-fifth of the arable land of sixteenth-century Castile was owned by peasants. The other four-fifths was owned by the municipalities, the crown, the nobility, the church, and other non-peasant entities. Some of this land -- the baldíos, for example, and the municipal common lands -- could be exploited by the peasant without having to pay rent, but the owners of most of this land demanded some sort of payment in exchange for the right of use. Most peasants must have welcomed the opportunity to rent other lands, in addition to their own small plots. Renting may have had some social disadvantages, but these were almost always outweighed by the economic advantages of increased production (else the peasants would have declined to rent). Even if the cost of renting was high, the additional lands were probably indispensable for subsistence, or for growing surplus crops that could be converted into cash to purchase those things that they could not produce themselves. Therefore, we should not be surprised that peasants, such as the villagers of Tarazona de la Mancha (Cuenca) mentioned in the Relaciones, were willing to travel considerable distances - even outside the término of their village -- to find lands to rent (Silva 1967: 31 n. 17).
Fortunate was the peasant who held lands under a censo enfitéutico (rent censo), which I described in chapter 5. The annual rental in these agreements was specified in the contract, and could not legally be changed by the landlord. (16) Originally payable in kind, by the early modern period most censo enfitéutico payments had been commuted partly or wholly to coin. This gave leaseholders an economic advantage during the sixteenth-century price inflation, which had the effect of dramatically shrinking real rental rates. The contracts gave leaseholders the right to transfer land use to a third party. Consequently, the lands held by peasants in this way tended to remain in the family, being passed from father to son. In the 1400s and early 1500s landowners had liked the censo enfitéutico because it gave them a more reliable source of income than working the land themselves. But their attitude changed after the effects of inflation  became clear, and in the mid-1500s landowners preferred limited contracts, for example with terms of eight or ten years. It should be obvious that peasants with leaseholds under censo enfitéutico contracts, especially those antedating the sixteenth century, were much better off economically than those with other rental agreements. Conversely, of course, the landowners were better off with short-term leases, the terms of which could be periodically adjusted (Salomon 1964: 238-9).
As landowners developed a greater concern for profits, sharecropping (aparcería, or partnership) contracts were developed, in which the produce of the land was divided between tenant and landowner. Sharecropping was nothing new -- it is one of the oldest forms of tenant farming, and has been by far the most common tenant contract over the centuries in the Mediterranean area (Delano 1979: 78-9). The form it took varied from place to place, and from landlord to landlord. The rental agreement often took into account local physical conditions, and when new land was being broken, the contract might provide for relatively light rental payments during the first five or six years, to compensate the cultivator for the troublesome work of clearing and preparing virgin soil. In Moslem Spain rent payments had been as little as one-tenth of the total crop. These liberal terms were continued in some Christian kingdoms, but when rents were that low, the landlord normally expected other forms of income or service, in addition to the rent. In the eleventh century, the Monastery of Sahagún (León) contracted sharecropping leases with rents varying from one-fifth to one-third of the produce. A little later, in New Castile, the prevalent type of sharecropping was the quintero lease, where one-fifth of the crop went to the landowner. In the early modern period, throughout the Mediterranean world a fifth of the harvest seems to have been the norm. In Castile, the Cortes of Madrigal in 1438 spoke of rental rates of up to 30 percent of the harvest, but in the sixteenth century sharecropping rents often rose even higher than that. One-third was quite common, and the landlord's share in many places was as high as one-half of the harvest (Salomon 1964: 238-9). We can be sure that peasants would not be willing to pay half of their crop unless the lands in question were of exceptional quality, or unless there were no other lands available, and they needed the additional harvest for survival. (17) From the peasant's viewpoint, the great advantage of the sharecropping lease was that the proportion of the harvest paid to the  landlord remained constant in good years and bad. That meant that the landlord would get a high rent when there was a bumper crop, but when there was a crop failure he would suffer a diminished income along with the peasant. Because of the climatic and other conditions that I have already mentioned, there were dramatic fluctuations in crop yields. The undependability of rental income from sharecropping leases led many landowners to insist upon leases with fixed annual payments. The terms of these leases varied greatly, in all respects. Some were one-year leases, and there were contracts for periods of ten years or more, but rental agreements for three, four, five, or six years seem to have been the norm. Francis Brumont (1980: 241-2) found that the duration of leases in the western Rioja (Logroño) increased in the second half of the sixteenth century, and this may well have been true of the rest of Castile. Payment was sometimes in cash, more often in kind (usually grain, but often including chickens, wine, animals, cheese, straw, or other things), and sometimes a combination of kind and coin. Some leases specified the payment of a certain amount per unit area (usually the fanega), which required measuring the size of the field. Other leases simply established a price for the use of a block of land of undisclosed size, but whose limits were surely known to both lessor and lessee.
Consider, for example, the rental contract executed on 2 February 1552 in Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz) between landowner Nuño de Avila and renters Diego de Medina and Francisco Martín Barbado - all vecinos of Jerez. The lease included a detailed description of the boundaries of the piece of land involved, and it stated that it measured 4 caballerías and 10.5 aranzadas in area. The lease was to run for a period of six years, beginning in the middle of October of 1553. The annual rental was 28 cahizes (a cahiz was equivalent to about 12 fanegas) of wheat, 1 cahiz of barley, and 4 cartloads of wheat straw to be delivered to the landlord's residence, or to some other location designated by him, on the day of Santiago (25 July). The contract contained a clause to protect the renter in the event of a poor harvest. In many regions such clauses were normal in fixed-payment leases, but there were many different formulas designed to allow for bad years. In the case at hand, when there was a lean year (esterilidad) the renter was required to notify the landlord by 1 May, and after it had been agreed that the crop would indeed be poor, the lessor and lessee were to share equally both the costs and the fruits of the harvest for that year. As one can well imagine, there were many suits between  renters and landlords over the question of reduced rents in famine years. Finally, in the Jerez contract, the renter was obliged to allow his successor free access to the land to plow one-third of it between 1 January and 1 May of the final year of the lease, in preparation for fall planting, following the local custom among labradores. Although this particular lease did not, many contracts contained clauses requiring the renter to observe other local rotational and fallowing practices. (18)
The amount of rent in fixed-payment leases varied greatly, depending on the quality of the land, and other factors. In the La Bureba villages of Burgos province, the normal rental was 1 fanega of grain (half wheat and half barley) per fanega of land rented. But rents in the area ranged from a low of .75 fanega to a high of 2.5 fanegas per fanega of land. In fixed-payment leases, the crop yield determined the proportionate share of the landowner: when yields were high, his share would be low; and when yields were low, his share would be high in relationship to the share of the renter. Brumont has calculated (1977: 28, 37-41) that rental payments in La Bureba represented at least a third of the harvest, and sometimes as much as a half. But this was in a high-rent area: the Castilian norm seems to have been between a fifth and a quarter. In a hypothetical case where the annual rent payment was 2 fanegas per fanega of land, and where only half the land was planted (in the prevalent año y vez system), at a yield of 6 to 1 the peasant would have the following fixed costs:
Rent 33% of the cropleaving the peasant with 41 percent of his harvest. But under the same rental conditions, if the yield fell to 4 to 1, the picture becomes quite different:
Seed 16% of the crop
Tithe 10% of the crop
TOTAL 59% of the crop
Rent 50% of the cropleaving the peasant a mere 15 percent of his harvest. Toward the end of the sixteenth century, as average yields declined, for reason  already discussed, the peasant found himself with a shrinking share of his own annual production.
Seed 25% of the crop
Tithe 10% of the crop
TOTAL 85% of the crop
Rental terms were reached through mutual agreement between landlord and tenant, following established local customs regarding payment. In some places it was the practice for landowners to put their property up for rent to the highest bidder - a procedure that was disliked by renters because it tended to drive prices up. (19)
I have been describing rentals of grainland, but the same general principles applied also to rentals of land for other crops. Rent could be either in cash, or in a share of the harvest, or both. In the villages of Guadalajara, the normal rent on grain, olive, and vine lands was equal to 20 percent of the harvest (Nader 1981), whereas in northwestern Castile vineyard owners seem to have received a quarter rent (Huetz 1967: 589). In La Bureba, by contrast, rent for vineyards was as high as half of the crop (Brumont 1977: 37).
Land for pasture was rented in many different ways. Some pasture leases were for short terms of only a few weeks or months. These short-term rentals were primarily for the convenience of owners of migratory animals. For the same reason, in many places summer and winter pasture rights (el agostadero and el invernadero) were rented separately. But there were also long-term pasture leases for periods of six or seven years. The price of pasture was calculated sometimes according to the resources of the piece of land involved. But this method of reckoning rents could encourage overgrazing, and to avoid that danger many leases assessed the rental payment on a per animal basis. Nevertheless, a prudent landowner would not allow an excessively large number of animals to use his pastures, for fear that they would cause lasting damage to the vegetation. Grazing rental rates varied according to place, season, quality of pasture, and the animals involved. Around Ciudad Rodrigo (Salamanca) the annual pasture fee (for stubble and fallow grazing on land in a triennial rotational schedule) was about 10 reales per head of larger animals (cattle and equines) in the late 1560s and early 1570s. By contrast, in the mid-1500s the Order of Santiago had rented its pastures in the Campo de Montiel area (Ciudad Real) to owners of migratory flocks, on a seasonal basis, for only 8 mrs per head, but this rate seems to have been considerably below the market price, because of the influence of powerful stockowners. (20)
Animal owners who could not find enough pasture using a combination  of common lands and their own property would be obliged to rent additional grazing grounds. Members of the Mesta regularly had to do this for their migratory flocks and herds, as did many owners of large sedentary flocks. The typical Castilian peasant, however, did not own many animals, and normally was able to graze his beasts without having to resort to the expedient of renting. But in some places there was a shortage of pasturage, and something needed to be done. I have mentioned earlier (chapter 2) that the towns tried to provide adequate common pastures for their vecinos, even to the extent of renting pastures for common use. But that was not always feasible, and some modest peasant stockowners were obliged to lease grazing lands for their animals. I do not know how widespread this was, but I have seen evidence that some peasants formed partnerships to rent the pastures they needed. Martín Galindo (1961: 190-1) has described another form of pasture rental that was practiced in the Valdeburón district of the province of León: a peasant who owned too many animals for his own pastures could rent additional grazing land using an adaptation of the aparcería system, which in this situation allowed him to use another landowner's pasture in exchange for half of the young born during the period of agreement. This custom not only provided supplementary grazing land for some individuals, it allowed others who had lost their herds to rebuild them by renting out their pastures in that way. The Mesta, at the height of its power, persuaded Ferdinand and Isabella to forbid the regrating of pasture rentals, (21) and the prohibition was repeated by Charles V (Actas: 1, 359), but I have seen no evidence that profiteering by subletting pasture rentals was a major problem.
We could also consider the pegujalero agreements of the province of Segovia to be a type of rental contract. According to the 1514 ordinances of Segovia and its Tierra, a pegujalero (also called a yuguero) was a rural wage earner whose employer assigned him a plot of land (pegujar, or pegujal) at least 2 or 3 obradas in size as a part (or all) of his salary. The harvest from four-fifths of the landowner's property would go to the landowner, and the harvest from the other one-fifth (the pegujar) would go to the pegujalero, as compensation for his labor (García Sanz 1977: 284-5). There are two ways to look at the pegujalero: he can be perceived as a mere laborer who gets a bit of land as compensation for his work (perhaps the fact that the landowner also supplied him with a house supports this view); or he  can be seen as a peasant who is given the use of a piece of land for himself, in exchange for laboring in the other fields of the landlord. In any case, the pegujalero must have lived a miserable existence, for he had to pay the landowner an overwhelming share of the crops he produced. The senarero of Avila province was analogous to the pegujalero of Segovia: his employer gave him a plot called a senara to work as a part of his salary (Salinero 1970: 38-9). In other parts of Castile -- in the La Jara district of Toledo, for example -- the word pegujar was used, but it referred to tiny plots of arable land that were usually owned by the peasants who worked them (Jiménez 1951 570).
How much of a burden did land rents represent for the typical Castilian peasant? The answer is not a simple one. We know that there were many complaints about high rents, and that peasants usually preferred to work lands -- such as the baldíos -- for which they did not have to pay a portion of the harvest to a landlord. (22) That leads us to believe that rents were high, and in fact we know they were high in many places. Salomon concluded (1964: 243-5) that land rent represented a greater share of the peasant's production than did the tithe, and that at times it was as high as three or four times greater than the tithe. Oppressive indeed! Brumont (1977: 41) is more cautious in his assessment of the weight of rent payments, but asserts that rent was almost always higher than the tithe. And both Brumont and Salomon agree that rent was generally the heaviest burden - compared to the tithe and to various taxes - that the Castilian peasantry had to bear. Should we not conclude, then, that rents were truly oppressive for the Golden Age peasant, and a major source of his misery? Not necessarily. Although it is unquestionably true that many rents were burdensome, we must keep in mind that the typical peasant rented only a portion of the lands he used. The remainder were his own property or were common lands of various types. Therefore, although his rent payments may have represented a burdensome proportion - perhaps half - of the harvest from the lands he was renting, he may have been renting, for example, only a quarter of the lands he worked, in which case his rent payments would have comprised a mere 12 percent of his production. The oppressiveness of a given peasant's rental payments, then, depended not only upon the rental rate, but also upon the proportion of his rented to non-rented land, and this varied greatly from person to person and from place to place, even within regions.
 We can get some idea of the extreme variability of the weight of rent payments by examining Brumont's figures for the La Bureba villages (1977: table 5). Using data from 1586 and 1597, Brumont calculated that the average percentage of peasant production going into land rents ranged from a low of 2.9 (in Galbarros, 1586) to a high of 49.3 (in Rubiales, 1586), but the average in a majority of the villages fell between 15 and 30 percent. Unfortunately, I do not have comparable information for many other places in Castile. But the peasants of Castañar de Ibor (Cáceres) reported that they paid only 2.4 percent of their grain harvest as rent in the period 1579-84, and those of Pineda de Gigüela (Cuenca) reported 5.14 percent in 1591. (23) In Belvis (Toledo), however, the figure was 31.58 percent (Jiménez 1952: 661). But all of these figures - including the estimates made by Salomon and Brumont - are misleading, because they are based exclusively on data about cereal production. Wine, fruit, and garden crops were omitted, causing notable distortions in places where those crops were important, because vineyards, fruit orchards, and garden plots tended to be peasant-owned. Furthermore, animals and animal products were not included in the previously cited rent calculations. Therefore, the rent paid by the peasants of these villages, figured as a percentage of total agropastoral production, would be considerably lower than those given. In sum, until we know much more about the economics of peasant production, we should be skeptical of claims that high rents impoverished the rural population of Castile.
As far as the landowner was concerned, agricultural property was a good investment in the sixteenth century so long as it was not bound by low-paying perpetual leases. Land did not permit the spectacular returns that were possible in mercantile activities, but it was a safe investment, and one that provided a dependable income over the long haul, despite periodic crop failures (Nader 1977; 1979: 114). According to Bennassar (1967: 322) the value of rent as a percentage of the price of land around Valladolid was normally between 4 and 7 percent during the early 1530s. After that, in the mid-1500s the rising price of grain may have made higher profits possible for investors in rural property. But by the end of the century profits were down again, and in 1611 Valle de la Cerda (cited Viñas 1941: 110) calculated that the most productive lands would show a profit of only 5 percent, while ordinary or second-class lands would bring a return of no more than 4, 3, or 2 percent.
 The Castilian peasant not only had to pay rent, seigneurial and ecclesiastical levies, and the charges of financiers and merchants; he was also forced to bear the brunt of the burden of supporting the vast sixteenth-century Habsburg imperial venture. Gold and silver from Mexico and Peru were a windfall for the royal treasury, but the sums derived by the Spanish crown from the Americas comprised a small proportion of its total revenue, rising from about 11 percent in 1554 to some 20 percent in 1598. Most of the remainder was paid, directly or indirectly, by the Castilian peasant, for Castile was a rural society, with agropastoral production the basis of her wealth (Vassberg 1975: 629). Salomon has called the Castilian peasant farmer of the time a 'marvellous beast of burden', because in large part the splendors of the magnificent Golden Age rested upon his labor (1964: 213). And in fact, the sixteenth-century Castilian peasant was a model of productive labor for the ruling classes of the day. The Spaniards tried to get the American Indians to produce as much as Castilian peasants, but the result was utter failure, for reasons both psychological and physical. The crown did not hesitate to exploit the taxpaying ability of the Castilian peasantry. Between 1494 and 1598 total royal revenue increased over ninefold. However, the effects of this massive tax rise were mitigated by the fact that over the same period the population doubled, and there was a fourfold price increase. Furthermore, the agrarian economy was expanding, along with the general economic boom. Consequently, the average nominal and real taxes in Castile actually declined until about 1575. Then the tax burden was drastically increased (Phillips 1979:78-9). About the same time there was a slowing of economic growth, undoubtedly aggravated, if not caused, by the increase in tax rates. As a result of an unfortunate combination of circumstances, including higher taxes, economic recession, and lower yields, the limits of the endurance of the Castilian peasant were finally surpassed near the end of the reign of Philip II: the peasant could no longer pay what was expected of him, and a long period of rural decadence began.
Taxation provided an institutional means for transferring agricultural surpluses to the privileged classes of society. Since these were largely urban, taxation can also be seen as the shifting of rural surpluses to the cities. It should be emphasized that the peasants received scant compensation, if any, in return for the taxes they paid.  One of the basic taxes throughout Europe under the ancien régime was the tithe. In Castile the tithe was not a strictly ecclesiastical tribute. It was divided by the church and the crown; therefore, it was as much a civil as a religious duty. In theory, the tithe was a universal tax on all production. God's rights had no limits -- everything belonged to Him. Therefore, the tithe should consist of one-tenth of everything, including grain, wine, fruit, animals and animal products, and even the salaries of hired laborers. No expenses could be deducted -- not even planting seed -- and the tithe had to be paid in good quality products, not the sick or the inferior. In some places the tithe was even charged on grain that had been damaged by animals before harvest, on the grounds that proper supervision could have saved the crop! In practice, however, the tithe was not collected on everything (not even agricultural goods) that was produced.
The tithe was gathered in special warehouses (cillas) where the produce was stored. During the sixteenth century it became more and more common for the collection of the tithe to be farmed out to private individuals called cilleros, after the warehouses they supervised. These tithe collectors naturally had a personal interest in collecting as much as possible, because they could keep for themselves everything in excess of the quantity fixed in their contract. Understandably, there were many abuses connected with the office of tithe collector, particularly with speculation in grain and other commodities (Salinero 1970: 41; Garzón 1974: 30-45). The tithe was far more oppressive than the various seigneurial duties that still remained in Golden Age Castile. In fact, Salomon has calculated (1964: 224-5) that the tithe represented a burden from ten to twenty times greater than all the feudal levies paid by peasants in New Castile in the 1570s: whereas the maximum annual seigneurial duties amounted to some 50 mrs, the minimum tithe was nearly 500 mrs plus 7.5 fanegas of grain (the tithe was often converted to coin, rather than collected in kind).
In addition to the tithe, the peasant was obliged to pay certain supplementary charges such as first fruits (primicias), which gave the parish priest a welcome addition to his meager share of the tithe. Only about a third of the tithe went to the parish priests, although they constituted the large majority of the secular clergy. Another third went to the upper clergy, and by the sixteenth century the final third had been assigned to the crown. In fact, as early as 1219 Fernando III was able to secure a papal bull giving the royal  treasury the right to two-ninths of the tithe, which was to compensate the monarch for his expenses in the Reconquest. From time to time the pontiffs reminded the Castilian monarchs that the concession was supposed to be temporary, but the crown was able to increase its share, and in 1494 Alexander VI confirmed the tercias reales (royal third of the tithe). After that, there came to be such a close identification between church and state in Castile that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the one from the other. To support the war against the infidel Turks and the heretic Protestants, Pius V granted Philip II the diezmo del escusado, the amount of the total tithe paid by the third largest producer of each village. And in 1569 Gregory XIII gave Philip the tithes and first fruits called novales, which were paid on newly plowed lands. And in 1571 the pope increased the escusado to include not just the third producer, but also the first. This privilege was initially conferred for a five-year period, but it was extended, and finally became a regular feature of the intertwining royal- ecclesiastical financial system (Garzón 1974: 99-l00; Salomon 1964: 219-24; García Sanz 1977: 311-13).
The royal treasury had a policy of collecting its taxes in coin, rather than in kind. That policy presupposed the existence of regular agricultural surpluses that would be sold in local and regional markets, because the peasant would have to obtain enough money from somewhere, to pay his taxes. The backbone of the Castilian tax system was the alcabala, a sales tax that the crown originally collected indirectly through tax farmers. But the excesses of these financiers caused widespread dissatisfaction, and Isabella and Ferdinand began the practice of allowing municipal councils to pay their taxes directly to the royal treasury in a fixed annual lump sum called the encabezamiento. Taxpayers found this method vastly preferable to collection by extortionate tax farmers. And in 1536 Charles V established the encabezamiento as a permanent, generalized feature of the tax system. The city or town at the head of each district was responsible for raising the amount of the district encabezamiento owed to the crown. These district capitals then fixed the proportionate share to be paid by each village under their jurisdiction. There were many inequities connected with this, because the district capitals often overcharged their villages, and the villages frequently complained about this and other abuses. Each town or village (or occasionally groups of federated villages) then had the task of collecting the alcabala from its own vecino s. The encabezamiento usually lumped the alcabala together  with the tercias reales, the crown's share of the tithe. For collecting these royal taxes, every town council had to draw up a list of vecinos, specifying which were pecheros (taxpayers) and which were not. The clergy were generally exempt from taxes, but not always. And contrary to what many historians have believed, the hidalgos did not automatically have tax-exempt status; in many places -- in Extremadura, for example -- the cream of the local nobility figured on the tax rolls along with their plebeian neighbors. A committee appointed by each town government had the task of apportioning the local tax burden, based on an estimate of each vecino's wealth, or an estimate of wealth and his sales during the year. For that reason, paupers were not taxed. The individual tax assessments in most places were made after subtracting from the local encabezamiento the local council's receipts from the sale of franchises to vendors of meat, fish, wine, and other goods. But small villages with no such franchise buyers had to collect the entire amount of their encabezamiento through a direct tax on their vecino s (Salomon 1964: 228-31; Le Flem 1967: 263-7; Weisser 1976: 46-8).
Theoretically, the alcabala was a tax representing 10 percent of the value of all goods sold or exchanged, but in practice it was much less in its early history, because of collusion between buyers and sellers to defraud the royal treasury. And in reality, it seldom exceeded 4 or 5 percent of the sale price (Diccionario 1968-9: 100-2). After the alcabala no longer reflected the actual volume of sales, but instead was based upon the encabezamiento, it declined to as little as 2 or 3 percent, as inflation depreciated the value of the crown's receipts. But during the reign of Philip II the crown was able to increase the amount of the general alcabala encabezamiento. In 1562 it went up by 37 percent, and in 1576 by 300 percent -- a dramatic tax increase that came precisely at the moment when Castile was beginning to show signs of economic distress (Phillips 1979: 78-9). The consequences of these increases were severe for rural taxpayers. García Sanz has calculated (1977: 328) that the taxpaying villagers of the Tierra de Sepúlveda (Segovia) experienced a 654 percent increase in their direct contributions for alcabalas and tercias between 1561 and 1584. The magnitude of the tax rise in this example was due to the fact that there were fewer taxpayers, at the same time that the municipal councils were less able to contribute toward the tax burden. The amount of the tax was not large in absolute terms (only 543 mrs per taxpayer in 1584), but it must have constituted a severe  hardship to have to pay that much cash when times were bad. 543 mrs does not seem like much, but it represented the price of sufficient wheat to feed a family of four for about two weeks. In some parts of the country the alcabala burden was much higher than that. In 1597, for example, the vecinos of El Acebrón (Cuenca) had to pay well over 1,000 mrs. Writing the crown in tones of despair, they reported that the village was becoming depopulated, because the inhabitants simply could not bear the excessive taxation. (24) And under the encabezamiento system, when some vecinos emigrated from a place, those who remained behind were left with a higher tax burden.
The alcabala, as administered by the Habsburgs, was certainly an inequitable tax. Michael Weisser has calculated (1976: 63) that the gross alcabala per vecino (before deducting any contributions made by the councils) in the villages of the Montes de Toledo in 1590 averaged 857 mrs, which is consistent with our other examples from the period; but for specific villages, it ranged from a low of 219 mrs to a high of 1,695 mrs. As the economy deteriorated in the 1590s, the situation in many places became truly calamitous. There were increasing numbers of paupers who could not contribute toward their town's alcabala obligations. In Cáceres, for example, pauperism grew from 25.7 percent of the vecino s in 1557 to 42 percent in 1595, placing an ever increasing load on the taxpaying population (Le Flem 1967: 264-5). It seems that the same thing was happening all over Castile, and the situation was exacerbated by the epidemics of the 1590s. In 1597 the council of Tortuero (Guadalajara) sent a pathetic appeal to the crown, requesting a return to the traditional 10 percent alcabala tax, because the encabezamiento was bankrupting the village. The place had lost a third of its population in the past nine years, and most of the remaining vecinos were tenants and day laborers who could barely feed their families. As a result, it was impossible for them to meet the amount of their encabezamiento, and they were harassed by officials seeking to confiscate their possessions for nonpayment of taxes. (25) Now, we should not think that this scenario existed in every village in Castile, but it was all too common in the 1590s.
Because the royal treasury's income from the alcabala declined in real terms, until the drastic increases made by Philip II, the crown was obliged to rely more heavily upon the servicio, which was a special subsidy voted by the Cortes. It was originally regarded as a temporary subsidy granted for emergency purposes, but under Charles V  it became institutionalized as a regular and essential part of royal revenues. It became known as the servicio ordinario, and it became the rule for the Cortes to give it every three years. But Philip II's foreign policy required additional funds, and the Cortes voted a supplementary servicio extraordinario, which it regularly extended every three years, just as it did with the 'ordinary' subsidy. The servicio was a personal tax levied on commoners (clergy and hidalgos were exempted). The municipal councils assessed each of their commoner vecinos a share of the local servicio obligation, in accordance with the property he owned. The average annual amount of the servicio ordinario and extraordinario by the 1590s was around 135 mrs per taxpaying vecino . But, as always in the Castilian tax structure of the day, there were considerable regional inequities: in the province of León, for example, the average was only 100 mrs, whereas it was 165 in Córdoba. Generally speaking, the weight of these taxes was three or four times higher than seigneurial duties, but from five to ten times lower than the tithe (Elliott 1977: 199-202; Salomon 1964: 231-4).
Despite massive increases in the alcabala and in the servicios in 1575, these traditional sources of revenue were inadequate for the crown's needs, and it was necessary to supplement them with a new tax. In 1590 the Cortes approved a new subsidy called the millones, because it was reckoned in millions of ducados rather than in the traditional maravedís (a ducado was equal to 375 mrs). Despite opposition from both inside and outside the government, the millones subsidy was not only extended, but actually increased in 1596, and thereafter it became a regular feature of Castilian taxation. This new royal tax, coming on top of the tithe, alcabala, and servicios, represented a crushing burden for the Castilian peasant. Whereas the average combined servicio burden was some 135 mrs per vecino in 1594, the first millones tax represented at least an annual 337 mrs per vecino . And after 1596 this amount was increased (Salomon 1964: 321-34). From 1590 until 1596 the municipal governments were left free to improvise ways of raising the funds they needed to pay their share of the millones grants (Castillo 1961). And during this period the councils of many towns, reluctant to impose new direct taxes on an already overburdened population, resorted to the expedient of exploiting the various types of municipal property available to them. Under a blanket authorization of the crown, they rented common  pastures to the highest bidder for plowing, they sold common forests for firewood, and they speculated with the resources of public granaries. (26) This was unfortunate, because it exhausted a significant part of the capital reserves of the agrarian sector. Furthermore, it reduced the opportunities for poor peasants to use common facilities, thus worsening their economic position, while it provided new openings for the rich. And after the town and village councils had drained their community resources, it was necessary, after all, to resort to direct taxation. When the amount of the millones was increased in 1596, a special excise tax (sisa) was introduced to gather the necessary sums. This was a universal tax levied on the necessities of life, such as meat, wine, oil, and vinegar. In theory it made the millones an equitable tax, because it applied to hidalgos and to clergy as well as commoners. But in practice it was the poor who suffered the most, because wealthy landowners could supply themselves with most of the dutiable articles from their own estates (García Sanz 1977: 145, 332).
In addition to the above, there were a number of other royal taxes such as the almojarifazgo on the American trade, the servicio y montazgo on transhumant livestock, and a silk tax, that did not affect all parts of Castile, although they were certainly significant in some regions and for certain sectors of the population. And we could consider the sale of tierras baldías, and the sale of villazgos as well, as forms of royal taxation that fell heavily upon the peasantry. Even more oppressive, in many respects, was the billeting of troops. The peasantry was forced to bear the brunt of the burden of lodging and feeding His Majesty's troops when they were in Spain. We tend to forget, when describing the exploits of the great Spanish infantry of the day, that the army was a scourge for the peasants of Castile. When the famous Spanish tercios were not ravaging the Netherlands or Italy, they were stationed in the Iberian peninsula, where they behaved much like they did when they were abroad. The unfortunate Castilian pechero was obliged to furnish room and board for the officers and men who had a billet for his house. Only the privileged -- the hidalgos and the clergy -- could escape this type of servitude (Salomon 1964: 236-8). But even they could not always avoid it: in 1572 the Chancillería of Valladolid ruled that the hidalgos of Briones (Logroño) were obliged to share in the billeting of troops when so large an armed force passed through that the labradores of the place could not properly  lodge them. The hidalgos in this case protested bitterly, and went to court to try to avoid hosting soldiers, for the billeting of troops was regarded as terribly oppressive. (27)
The Relaciones show that it was an esteemed privilege to be exempt from billeting. The village of Fuenlabrada (Madrid: p. 268) received such an exemption from Ferdinand and Isabella for its services in the cavalry, and the council took pains to get the privilege confirmed by Philip II. The presence of royal troops in a village was far from reassuring. In fact, it upset the rural tranquility by introducing a disorderly element. There was no love lost between the soldiers and the villagers, and they frequently came to blows, sometimes with tragic results. For example, the Relación of Getafe (Madrid: pp. 290-1) tells of an affray that occurred between a group of villagers and some royal archers who were stationed there. One young villager -- seemingly an innocent bystander -- was killed when he tried to flee, and two others were injured. The royal justice officials were severe with the murderers: they were beheaded.
Fortunately, civilian-military relations did not often deteriorate to
that point, but soldiers were notoriously ill-behaved and dishonest. In
1566 the council of Alpera (Albacete) complained to the crown that troops
passing through the village stole chickens and lambs, abused the local
women, and generally mistreated the villagers. And in the Relación
of Los Pedroneras (Cuenca) (cited Salomon 1964: 237) the villagers called
the royal soldiers a 'plague' that so devastated the place that many inhabitants
emigrated rather than continue to live in such a vulnerable location (on
the road from Madrid to Murcia). I am sure that one could fill volumes
with the protests of the victims of billeting, and of the requisitioning
of grain, draft animals, carts, and other supplies (not to mention humans)
needed by the military. The victims -- usually peasants -- were supposed
to be paid for the goods and services they provided. But if they were paid
at all - which was not always so - it was at unsatisfactory rates prescribed
by the procurement officer. That explains why villagers tried desperately
to avoid billeting soldiers, even bribing the officers to keep them away,
or to hasten their departure. The presence of soldiers was synonymous with
abuse and scarcity. Around the end of the sixteenth century the corregidor
of Martos (Jaén) reported that the peasants of that area were
in desperate straits, because of the frequency with which troops were wintered
there, three and four months at a time. While the soldiers were there,
their peasant hosts  dared not leave their homes, for fear
of compromising their honor. And the military used up the reserves of the
public granaries, which had been painstakingly accumulated for emergencies.
The burden of supporting the military impoverished individual peasants,
and sometimes even led to increased indebtedness for the entire community.
For example, in 1567 the town of Bobadilla dél Camino (Palencia)
had to secure royal permission to mortgage its propios for 1,000
to help it recover from a sixteen-month stay of a company of men-at-arms.
THE CULMINATION OF RURAL MISERY
On top of the increasing tax burdens, the Castilian peasant suffered repeated crop failures of unusual severity in the last decades of the century. The poor harvests, coming at a time when population had reached unprecedented levels, caused widespread shortages and high prices. Famine, or at least the use of poor-quality foods, produced malnutrition, sapping the resistance of the population and rendering it extremely vulnerable to epidemics. Since the mid-1300s the possibility of plague had been a constant worry, for it seemed that the disease was always present somewhere in Spain. There were widespread outbreaks of plague in Spain in 1506-7 and in 1528-30, following periods of famine, but the most generalized and severe plague epidemic for this period began in 1596 and raged through the Iberian peninsula until 1602. It started in the Basque country, and spread gradually into Old Castile and southward. A proverb current in Toledo at the end of the sixteenth century (cited Capmany 1807: 52-3) went:
Dios te libre de la enfermedad que baxa de Castilla,The consequences of this plague were similar to those of the famous Black Death of the late medieval period. Misery was heaped upon misery: disease and death upon hunger. Economic life was disrupted, production was paralyzed, leading to rising prices, but also to higher salaries of a greatly diminished population. Many historians have written that the plague affected the cities most of all; but Bartolomé Bennassar has demonstrated (1969: 8-11, 20, 49-52, 68-70, 79-80)  that this plague devastated the rural villages of Castile with terrible efficiency.
Y de la hambre que sube de Andalucía.
(God preserve you from the plague that comes down from Castile,
And from the famine that comes up from Andalucía.)
The condition of the peasantry must really have been miserable, because in the 1590s the Cortes, which was dominated by urban gentlemen and nobles, spoke increasingly of the plight of the Castilian labrador. And the arbitristas, to a man, deplored the impoverished condition of the rural areas. Early in the seventeenth century Fray Benito de Peñalosa y Mondragón (cited Domínguez 1971: 153; Salomon 1965: 53) wrote these often-quoted words:
The labradores of Spain are the most wretched and downtrodden of all classes. You would almost think that there was a conspiracy on the part of everyone else to destroy and ruin them. It has come to the point where the very word 'labrador' has such a bad connotation that it has become a byword for low-class taxpayer, boor, scoundrel, and even worse. It is associated with coarse food, garlic and onions, crumbs and tough salt beef putrescent meat, barley or rye bread, sandals, ragged coats, ridiculous headgear, rough shirts and collars, crudely-tanned sheepskin jackets and bags, hovels and shanties, houses with dilapidated mud walls, and a few ill-tended fields and scrawny and perpetually famished livestock . . . So why should we be surprised at the pronounced decline in the population of the rural towns, villages, and hamlets? It is a marvel that there is anyone left at all!Notice that this described the condition of the labrador, who represented a sort of elite of the peasantry. What, then, was the lot of less fortunate rural folk? It must have been dismal indeed. We should remember, however, that those who wrote of the misery of the peasantry were often guilty of exaggeration. We can be sure that the agrarian crisis did not impoverish all labradores; in fact, the most clever of them must have been able to profit from their neighbors' misfortune, by acquiring their property on advantageous terms. And the idea, repeated by many arbitristas, that the crisis caused a depopulation of rural Castile, is not really true. There were undoubtedly many peasants who left their villages to go to the big cities, but that had always been so. The countryside was certainly not deserted (Brumont 1978), even though many places were decimated by plague, and some villages were even abandoned, in favor of others in more convenient or more salubrious locations.
Yet despite these exaggerations, the misery of the Castilian peasantry
was no illusion: it was real. It is hardly necessary to belabor the point:
by the end of the sixteenth century rural Castile was in a sorry state.
All authorities -- both contemporary witnesses  and recent
scholars -- are agreed on this. Gone was the optimism of the Relaciones,
which had reflected the economic and demographic expansion of the previous
half-century. The last two decades of the 1500s were full of doom and despair,
of crop failures, devastating tax increases, and virulent epidemics. If
Salomon is correct, at the end of the sixteenth century over half of the
peasant's harvest went to enrich the non-peasant classes of society, through
taxes, rents, tithes, and various other payments (1964: 250). Given that
crushing burden, in an age of low productivity, it is surprising that the
structure held up as long as it did. The society of Habsburg Spain was
overwhelmingly agrarian, and could not continue to prosper without a vigorous
agropastoral sector. As long as the Castilian peasant could generate healthy
surpluses, the empire could maintain its prestige, and could support the
hordes of bureaucrats, lawyers, clergymen, soldiers, and other non-producers
who symbolized its glory. But when agrarian production flagged, the entire
edifice began to crumble. The treasure of the Indies could not save it,
for its foundation had been undermined.
Notes for Chapter Seven
1. Florián de Ocampo, 'Noticias de lo sucedido por los años 1550 a 1558', BN, MSS. 9.937, folios 65-6.
2. Averiguación de Casasola (juris. of Toro) (1569), AGS, EH, 329; Averiguación de Navalvillar de Pela (Trujillo, 1597), AGS, EH, 189-76; anonymous manuscript volume (including a description of the Badajoz fairs) 'Floresta española'(1607), BN, MSS 5.989, folio 80; and for the Aréyalo market, see García Sanz, Desarrollo, p. 36. See also Averiguación de Palomas (1575) AGS, EH, 906.
3. Averiguación del Adelantamiento de León (1588), AGS, EH, 209; Averiguación de la Tierra de Campos (1581), AGS, EH, 209; Averiguación de Trujillo (1595) AGS, EH, 189-49; Segovia v. sus lugares (1588), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 2 Peñafiel v. Quintanilla (1556), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 59.
4. Averiguación de Morales de Toro (1569), AGS, EH, 329.
5. The Expedientes de Hacienda section of Simancas is rich in documents about municipal monopolies and price fixing. See, for example, Ordenanzas de molinos de aceite, Arjona (1537), AGS, EH, 223, folios 493-6. See also the suit El Bachiller Alonso Ruiz Qyevedo y consortes v. la Justicia de Teste (1595), ACHGR, 512-2156-21.
6. Relación de corregidores (undated, but coming from the latter part of the reign of Philip II), BN, MSS g.372=Cc. 42; Florián de Ocampo, 'Noticias de varios sucesos acaecidos desde el año 1521 hasta el 1549', BN, MSS 9.936, folio 63.
7. See p. 36 of the Relación de corregidores cited in note 6 above. There are many suits in the Chancillerías arising out of charges of malfeasance directed against pósito officials. For an example, see Almorox v. los regidores y alcaldes de Almorox (1582-4), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 36.
8. See p. 35 of the Relación de corregidores cited in note 6 above.
9. Iznatorafe [sic] v. el arzobispo de Toledo (1568), ACHGR, 321-4328-18.
10. Averiguación de Alpera (Chinchilla) (1566), AGS, EH, 219-13; Averiguación de Tortuero (Uceda) (1586-97), AGS, EH, 189-9 bis.
11. Most of the data in my chronology of severe weather and bad harvests is from Bartolomé Bennassar, Valladolid au siécle d'or; une ville de Castille el sa carnpagne au XVIe siècle (Paris: Mouton, 1967), pp. 49-50; but some is from Antonio Domínguez Ortiz, El Antiguo Régimen; los Reyes Católicos y los Austrias (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1973), pp. 154-6; Actas, VII (1583-5), 415-16; Abelardo Merino Alvarez, Geografía histórica del territorio de la actual provincia de Murcia desde la Reconquista por D. Jaime I de Aragón hasta la época presente (Madrid: Imprenta del Patronato de Huérfanos de Intendencia e Intervención Militares, 915), pp. 356-9; Melchor Soria y Vera, Tratado de la Justificación y conveniencia de la tassa de el pan, y de la dispensación que en ella haze su mageslad con todos los que siembran (Toledo: Juan Ruiz de Pereda, 1633), p. 47; Bartolomé Bennassar, Recherches sur les grandes épidémies dans le nord de l'Espagne á la fin du XVIe siècle (Paris: SEVPEN, 1969), pp. 5 1-2; and García Sanz, Desarrollo, pp. 79-82.
12. Florián de Ocampo, 'Noticias de varios sucesos acaecidos desde el año 1521 hasta el 1549', BN, MSS 9.936, folios 213-14; Averiguación de Piedras Alvas (Alcántara) (1586), AGS, EH, 142-5; Don Francisco de Aranda v. Francisco Luján (1586), ACHGR, 3-542-6; Averiguación de Puebla del Príncipe (1586), AGS, EH, 146-4-1.
13. Examples of rental contracts requiring the triennial system can be found in the Libro de Rentas (1567) of the duke of Arcos, AHN, Osuna, 16,8; and in the suit Don Alonso de Córdoba v. Doña María Berria (copy of a 1590 contract), ACHGR, 3-639-1.
14. An example of a censo al quitar, on a vineyard in Trujillo (Cáceres) (15 June 1548), can be found in AAT, 1-3-82, no. 17.
15. See a synopsis of the report of the corregidor from Martos (Jaén) (undated, but apparently from near the end of the reign of Philip II), BN, MSS 9.372, folio 31.
16. Copies of censos enfitéuticos can be found in Badajoz v. Juan Andrés y consortes (iss,), ACHGR, 3-463-5; El condestable de Castilla v. Salinas de Rosío (1513), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 59; Herrín v. Ybán de Escobar (1504) ACHVA, PC, FA (F),5.
17. Documents concerning sharecropping can be found in Baeza v. Francisco de Jesús (1540-2), ACHGR, 3-1059-8; Cartas de Bezerra, Antonio de Lahoz Cartera (?) (no date, but apparently from e. 1563), AGS, DC-47, fol. 11 Averiguación de Palomas (Menda) (1575), AGS, EH, 906.
18. The example is from Jerez de la Frontera v. diversos vecinos della (1551-3), ACHGR, 3-465-3. Other examples of fixed-payment rentals can be found in Averiguación de Biniegra (Avila) (1550-6), AGS, EH, 240; Averiguación de Monteagudo (1575), AGS, EH, 323; Averiguación de Calabazanos (1574), AGS, EH, 240; Luzón v. el duque de Medinaceli (1592), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 80; Don Alonso de Córdoba v. Doña María Berria (1590), ACHGR, 3-639-1; Visita de 1575, Ordenes militares: Santiago, AHN, Libro de Manuscritos 1012c, vol. 1, pp. 149-50; Venta que Alonso López de Obregón otorgó a la villa de Priego, 27 March 1590, AGS, CR-7, 3260; Libro de Rentas, duque de Arcos (1567), AHN, Osuna, 1618. For problems arising from allegations of esterilidad, see Actas, V, 130, 2 13; and the suit Don Alonso de Córdoba v. Doña María Berria, cited above in this note.
19. Luzón v. el duque de Medinaceli (1592), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 80; Relación de Juan de Salas, 25 June 1583, AGS, CJH, 204.
20. The Ciudad Rodrigo rental rate is from a Relación de Domingo Hernández for land in Ponseca (undated, but from around 1573), in AGS, CG, 361; that about the Campo de Montiel is in an unsigned and undated document among order papers from the early 1500s in AGS, CJH, 24 ant. (14 mod.). Additional information about pasture rentals can be found in Averiguación de Montealegre (1561), AGS, EH, 323; Averiguación de Andújar (1567), AGS, EH, 240; Catalina y Diego de Pizarro v. Diego de Obando (1557-8), ACHGR, 3-756-15.
21. Mesta v. Diego de San Pedro (1503-37), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 31.
22. For the cultivation of baldíos to avoid high rents, see Córdoba v. Almodóvar del Río (1536), ACHGR, 3-716-3; Averiguación de Montamarta (1585), AGS, EH, 323.
23. Averiguación de Castañar (1579-84), AGS, EH, 74-II -iii; Averiguación de Pineda (1591), AGS, EH, 142-14.
24. Averiguación de El Acebrón (1597) AGS, EH, 209.
25. Averiguación de Tortuero (Uceda) (1597), AGS, EH, 189-9 bis.
26. Specific examples of municipal efforts to use public property to help pay the millones tax can be found in San Sebastián y. Alcobendas (1591), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 81; Averiguación de Herguijuela (1600), AGS, EH, 360; and Mesta v. Valdemoro (1598), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 70. See also Actas, XX, 472-6.
27. Briones v. los hijosdalgo della (1571-4), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 24.
28. Averiguación de Alpera (Chinchilla) (1566), AGS, EH, 2:9-13; Ocampo, 'Noticias', BN, MSS 9.937, folios 64-5; Relación de corregidores, BN, MSS 9.372-Cc. 42; Alonso de Port y sus menores v. Bobadilla del Camino (1567), ACHVA, PC, FA (F), 29.