Family and Community in Early Modern Spain: The Citizens of Granada, 1570-1739

Family and Community in Early Modern Spain: The Citizens of Granada, 1570-1739

by James Casey

James Casey offers an innovative study of prestige, power and the role of the family in a Mediterranean city during the early modern period. He focuses on the structure and values of the ruling class of Granada, where a new elite consolidated its authority. The study suggests that their power was linked to the pursuit of honour, which demanded participation in the


James Casey offers an innovative study of prestige, power and the role of the family in a Mediterranean city during the early modern period. He focuses on the structure and values of the ruling class of Granada, where a new elite consolidated its authority. The study suggests that their power was linked to the pursuit of honour, which demanded participation in the politics of the commonwealth and depended greatly on the network of personal relations which they were able to build with kinsmen, clients and patrons. It explores the way in which this system contributed to the relative tranquillity of the community during a turbulent time of religious and political change, that of the rise of absolutism and of the Counter Reformation. The book sheds fresh light on the nature of the early modern family and will be essential reading for historians of early modern Spain and Europe.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The richness of Casey's research places this book at the forefront of other recent publication on early modern Granada."
Richard L. Kagan, Renaissance Quarterly

"Perhaps what is most rewarding about this book is precisely the balance between the local and the global. Interested in a single community (Granada) and analyzing its social history closely, Casey nevertheless engages in 'big questions'. His vision is comparativist, and his ambition wide." -Tamar Herzog, Journal of Modern History

"Casey's careful research advances our knowledge of family and urban life in early modern Spain, offering a significant contribution to a rich and growing field of inquiry." -Jodi Bilinkoff, American Historical Review

Product Details

Cambridge University Press
Publication date:
New Studies in European History Series
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

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Family and Community in Early Modern Spain
Cambridge University Press
978-0-521-85589-1 - Family and Community in Early Modern Spain - The Citizens of Granada 1570–1739 - by James Casey


‘A commonwealth is the proper management of a gathering of families’, affirmed the pioneering economic thinker Martín González de Cellorigo in 1600. ‘Just as the well-ordered family is a true image of the commonwealth’, he went on, so the magistrates must in the home set the example for good order in the city at large.1 Shortly before this, the political philosopher Juan Costa had published an influential treatise on The rule of the citizen (1575). Its title was significant, as he sought to demonstrate that the responsible task of governing other people carried with it the obligation of personal self-discipline, to be learned in the bosom of the family. There was no distinction to be drawn between private and public life; rather, they were mutually reinforcing aspects of moral authority. It was ‘authority’ essentially which distinguished ‘citizens’, setting them apart from the ‘common labouring folk’. The citizen was responsible for the ‘soul’ of the city, which meant essentially its government. Hence, he had an obligation to marry and found a household – ‘a little commonwealth (república)’, as Costa termed it. Here he would ‘learn to govern his person, his household and family so that he can understand thebest way to rule his community’.2

The Romans called citizens padres de la patria, he told his readers, ‘so as to remind them that they must rule the people with the love they show their own children’. Costa wrote with a small-scale, face-to-face society in mind. The citizen should be good at public speaking, he noted, for he would be called upon to move the people to virtuous conduct and assuage their turbulence by his eloquence. The reward for all this was honour – the respect of the community, perpetuated through one's descendants for all time. Costa's world-view proved remarkably enduring, and one finds echoes of it in the work of social anthropologists studying small-scale societies down to the present day.

Honour, suggested the anthropologist Julian Pitt-Rivers, determined until quite recently the social hierarchy in the rural communities of Andalusia. Wealth, of course, was important, but it could not and did not procure those services which it is able to do in a market-orientated, capitalist economy. Rather, the wealthy depended on the exercise of the credit which they and their families had been able to build up with their fellow citizens. This moral authority was based on conformity with the norms of the community – on a certain restraint in the acquisition or at least in the exploitation of material possessions, on a visible generosity in their disbursement. As Pitt-Rivers put it, ‘Mediterranean honour derives from the domination of persons rather than things, and this is the goal which distinguishes the acquisitive values of Andalusia.’3

The overlap between private and public life and the resulting tensions to which it could give rise are surely nowhere better described than in the portrait which Leopoldo Alas Clarín painted of his adopted city, Oviedo, in his classic novel La Regenta (1884–5). In the narrowly bounded horizons of provincial society, authority was won or lost by gossip and personal innuendo. The leaders of the community had to be careful about keeping up appearances in their private lives. Every afternoon the founder members of the casino, the local gentlemen's club, would meet for coffee: ‘Praise was bestowed, without any great enthusiasm, upon those citizens who knew how to behave in a restrained and courteous manner – without going to extremes in any respect . . . If a member walked by and one of those founder members did not know him, he asked: “Who is that?” “That is the son of. . ., who was the grandson of. . ., who married. . ., who was the sister of. . ..”.’4

It is a world very reminiscent of that described by Thomas Mann in his classic portrayal of the decline of the old patrician class of Lübeck, the milieu into which he had been born in 1875. With the coming of German unification and the mass market, the old autonomy of the city states with their code of honour in business, of hierarchies of power geared to good marriages and public office-holding, was drawing to an end. While it lasted, however, that world had set out firm guidelines for its members: sacrifice of the self to the family, on whom one's whole standing in the community depended. ‘My child, we are not born for that which, with our short-sighted vision, we reckon to be our small personal happiness’, old Johann Buddenbrook lectured his wayward daughter Antonie. ‘We are not free, separate and independent entities, but like links in a chain, and we could not by any means be what we are without those who went before us and showed us the way.’5 Wealth was, of course, the foundation of the dynasty, but it had to be gained in the right way and spent in public service to some extent if one wanted to enjoy that power – the real power in localised communities – which came from moral authority.

If one can hardly hope to understand local society in Spain and its workings without taking into account loyalty to networks of family and clan, the reverse is surely true as well: that the family makes little sense divorced from the community within which its resources, material and moral, were secured. It was a scenario of which Max Weber was aware when he wrote in 1921, ‘In the ancient city only the clanless, politically illegitimate plebs were organised in terms of local residence. The individual could be a citizen in the ancient city, but only as a member of his clan.’6 Though associated with the idea that the medieval European commune tended to break with older forms and create a federation of free individuals, Weber was more cautious about this than some of his critics allow. He did indeed suggest that money tended to replace other ties, thus permitting the mobility of the individual, and that the commune had certain revolutionary characteristics as a kind of mutual protection league for individuals who had fled from serfdom. But he envisaged the town as perfectly compatible with other forms of community in feudal society. In particular he drew a distinction between Northern Europe where the commune and the guild were primary, and Southern Europe where clans continued to serve as a rival focus of solidarity.

Research since Weber's day has tended to confirm his intuitions. For the medieval period itself there seems to be little doubt: the Italian cities grew in part under the shadow of the aristocratic lineages of the surrounding countryside who took up residence within their walls. They carved out urban space into clan-dominated neighbourhoods, protected by great towers from which they fought their bloody vendettas.7 The situation in medieval Spain may not have been so clear-cut. If clan towers and lineage feuds seem typical of medieval Castile and even in a modified form of that Mediterranean city state Valencia, such manifestations of exclusive loyalty to the wider family appear to have little relevance to the growth of the great trading city of Barcelona.8 In any case, the revolt of the common people in the fourteenth century did away with much of the old aristocratic pretension: the city halls rose in the Tuscan towns as the towers of the magnates were pulled down. The development of civic humanism and of the trading economy seemed to betoken the demise of the solidarity of the old clans. And in Castile the measures taken by the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, to restore royal authority after the civil war of 1474–9, have often been seen as a turning point in the emergence of cities from under the shadow of clan towers.9 What role was left, then, to the institution of the family?

It was the pioneering sociologists of the nineteenth century, and principally Frédéric Le Play (1806–82), who discovered, in a time of unprecedented social upheaval, the latent role of family structures – those often ‘hidden’ or ‘silent’ communities, as Marc Bloch was to call them – in shaping the forms of the wider society. Rather than a study of an ‘institution’ in its own right, the research of Le Play and his disciples was really an investigation of social values as these were inculcated by the experience of family life. Thus, respect for authority, self-reliance, team-spirit, all of these things could vary from region to region and from one historical period to another depending on the way the household, its patrimony and traditions were handed on from generation to generation.10 Though usually identified with rather arcane enquiries into inheritance practices, Le Play was basically concerned with the transition from the community structures of the Old Regime to the individualism of the new liberal age. Meanwhile in Spain it was the political disorder and corruption associated with the liberal regime which led the sociologist Joaquín Costa (1846–1911) into the exploration of the moral foundations of citizenship, which he traced back to the structure of the family. If one wanted to understand the contrast between the instability of Castile and the good order enjoyed by Aragon (of which Costa was a native), one could not do better than consider their separate inheritance systems: the pauperisation of the Castilian peasant through subdivision of the inheritance, the moderate prosperity of his Aragonese counterpart, heir to a family farm kept together over the generations. In an address to a congress of jurists in Zaragoza in 1882 he affirmed: ‘to the so-called heir there is transmitted not only property but the physical and moral entity which we designate as the house, with all that baggage of memory, sentiment, virtue, friends and kinfolk, customs, reputation, obligations and responsibilities, which make up the tradition of a family and give it character’.11

The aim of this book is to explore some of the hypotheses listed above: the nature of an honour society, the informal networks which held it together, the link between the family man and the citizen. Its focus is that period of crisis and consolidation associated with the rise of absolute monarchy and the Counter Reformation. That age is increasingly seen as one of ‘social discipline’, of a return to the values of hierarchy and tradition after the upheavals of the Renaissance and Reformation.12 Sometimes awkwardly labelled the age of the Counter Reformation, or the age of absolute monarchy, or (referring to the dominant architectural trend of the long seventeenth century) the age of Baroque, this was a civilisation which Michelet regarded as stifling the promise of the Renaissance. In his words, by 1600 it was becoming evident that, at least in Catholic Europe, ‘the Middle Ages refuse to die’. The formula is too simple, for the Baroque was to transform as well as inherit familiar aspects of the medieval world. It was an age preoccupied by the new problems of the city and of the mobility of people, reflected in the literature of the pícaro (which was not confined to Spain). As thinkers like Montaigne, whose famous essays of 1580 were some of the most popular reading of their day, began to question the rationality of man, the intellectual optimism of the Renaissance appeared to wane. The monuments which have come down to us from this era – the splendid palaces and grandiose churches – may reflect (as Maravall so aptly put it) a search for grandeur as a reassurance against the disorder and uncertainty of the time. The swirling pillars, broken pediments, play of light and shadow in the art of the Baroque suggest a new sensitivity to the conflict at the heart of creation.13 The political turmoil of the period, and in particular the wars of religion, may have helped induce in many contemporary writers, not least Montaigne, a quest for authority in church and state. Those more robust structures of military and bureaucratic authority which we associate with seventeenth-century monarchies, nevertheless, had to come to terms with the traditional forms of power exercised in the small-scale communities over which they ruled.

Much recent writing on the Spanish city has tended to focus on this transition. After the defeat of the urban insurrections of 1520–1, the famous comunidades, any lingering sense of ‘community’ appears to have given way to a sharper distinction between rulers and ruled. Local oligarchies consolidated their power in return for service to the Crown, seeking honour at court rather than at home.14 The process was complex and raised many questions. How, for example, would the new forms of honour bestowed from above relate to that gained within the community through acceptance by one's peers and acclamation by the ordinary people? Would this new aristocracy, indeed, continue that traditional involvement with public affairs which Juan Costa had defined as the very essence of its privileged status, or would it, as one historian has aptly put it, ‘retreat to the balcony’ as a spectator and no longer an actor?15

At stake here was a redefinition not only of the structure of politics but of the family as well, as the concept of honour was readjusted to take account of the new reality of power. A new line tended to be drawn in much of early modern Europe between the public forum and the home. In his seminal study of the family during this period, Philippe Ariès suggested that it developed a greater intimacy, becoming more focused on the domestic interior and on the successful placement in life of its offspring rather than on the glories of the lineage and the cult of the ancestors. As a consequence of developments in both religion and education, the child learned the virtues of individual self-discipline in the setting of the godly household. Nursery of the citizen, the family began now to produce those law-abiding individuals and carefully trained bureaucrats on whom the absolute monarchies and the Counter Reformation church depended for their personnel.16 Put briefly, the study of power in the old regime tends to lead to the family, but then the family itself can only be fully understood in the context of the wider community which it served. It is with an exploration of this interaction that this book is concerned.


Knights and citizens

It was fitting that the emblem of Granada should be the pomegranate, declared her great historian Francisco Bermúdez de Pedraza. For like the seeds of that fruit so tightly packed and arranged that ‘one might say they embrace one another in unbreakable ties of solidarity’, the citizens formed a real community. ‘For it is a close bond of love that comes from breathing the same air, eating the same fruits, drinking at the same fountains, learning at the same school, becoming skilled in the same crafts and exercises.’ And he went on: ‘The temples, theatres, neighbourhoods, squares, promenades . . . mould the hearts of the citizens with a special love, which we call common friendship. If this were to fail, as Cicero says, it would be like the sun failing the earth.’1 The comment, unconsciously perhaps, evoked memories of a recent turbulent past.

The kingdom of Granada, last fragment of an Islamic civilisation which had once held sway throughout most of the Iberian Peninsula, had taken shape between 1232 and 1246 when the Nasrid dynasty, powerless to halt the overthrow of Al-Andalus by the Christian armies advancing on Seville and Córdoba, threw in their lot with the conquerors. In return for helping the latter take Seville, they were left to rule over Granada as kings or emirs, with the status of vassals paying tribute to the Castilian Crown. Their autonomy was guaranteed to some extent by the inaccessible nature of the territory over which they ruled, for Granada was ringed by tangled sierras to the north and west and by the deserts of Almería to the east. ‘Time in the kingdom of Granada fools many’, commented Diego de Mendoza as he sought to explain the slow progress of the royal armies against the Moorish rebels of 1568, ‘for they do not take sufficient account of the roughness of the terrain’.2 In the nineteenth century some of its famous sons – Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, Miguel Lafuente Alcántara – provided graphic accounts of the hazards of travel through the territory. It could still take two or three days by coach to the great ports of Málaga and Almería, whence the Moors had communicated with North Africa, while the main route west, towards Seville and Córdoba, involved a detour to link up with the traffic heading south from Madrid.3 The most sustained relations of Granada were with communities lying up to sixty or seventy kilometres away, roughly the distance a man might travel in a day on horseback: Loja (the staging post for Málaga), Guadix (from where one could head towards Valencia and Italy), and Motril. Yet, though Motril was the nearest seaport for Granada, there was still in the middle of the nineteenth century no road for wheeled vehicles between the two cities.

The frontier with Christian Spain was for much of the later Middle Ages characterised by uneasy relations of truce, punctuated by cross-border raids. The splendid palace of the Alhambra, built in the fourteenth century, bears witness to non-Islamic influence in the portraits which decorate the Hall of Justice. Genoese merchants played a key role in the economy of Granada, attracted there by its famed wealth in silk and sugar.4 But it was a country which could not feed itself, depending on the import of grain, not least from its enemy, Castile. And it was politically unstable. Some twenty-five sovereigns succeeded to the throne over the two and a half centuries of its existence, half of them by murdering or deposing their predecessor, and the situation seemed to be getting worse in the later years of Nasrid rule. The feuds within the ruling house reflected those in the kingdom at large among the great lineages of Arabic and Berber origin, recounted in the classic work of Pérez de Hita Feuds of the Zegrí and Abencerraje (1595).

For all that, it took the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella ten long years between 1482 and 1492 to conquer Granada. Though the Castilians had a clear military superiority, especially evident in artillery, victory was achieved mostly by negotiation with local towns and their rulers, as in previous phases of the Reconquest, guaranteeing to the vanquished their lands and their religion. Whatever the intentions behind these treaties, they soon proved to be inoperable in practice as friars and settlers poured into the conquered territory. Within a few years those who were able – mostly the leaders of the conquered people – cut their losses and emigrated to North Africa. A few stayed behind and managed to integrate with the conquerors. One of the outstanding examples was Cidi Yahya, governor of Baza, who negotiated the surrender of that town to the Catholic Kings in 1489 and accepted baptism as ‘Don Pedro de Granada’. His descendants, the Granada Venegas as they were known after marriage to that powerful Cordoban family, ranked among the wealthiest landowners in Granada with rents of 7,000 ducats a year, and served as members of the city council and knights of the Military Orders.5 The Zegrí lineage also attained honour in the Christian commonwealth. After being gaoled for obstinacy, El Zegrí eventually accepted baptism as Don Gonzalo de Zegrí, and symbolically the tough Archbishop Cisneros then had him arrayed in ‘scarlet and silk robes as a knight’. His descendants would go on to play an important role in the social and political life of the city.6

In spite of all the promises to respect the religion of the vanquished, opinion was gaining ground that the salvation of souls must take priority over the letter of the treaties and that ‘Moors could never be friends with Christians nor loyal to their sovereigns while they observed different laws, rites and ceremonies.’7 There was also clearly tension at the social level as immigrants poured in, leading to an agreement that no Moors could henceforth acquire property in the city of Granada and that those already there would live separately from Christians in a kind of ghetto in the Albaicín district (1498). Tensions erupted into riot in December 1499, followed by open rebellion in the more inaccessible countryside in January 1500 (First revolt of the Alpujarras). The disturbances gave the pretext for tearing up the treaties, forcing the population to choose between baptism and exile (1502). The name by which the forced converts were known – Morisco – reflects the fact that if they were no longer Moors, they were not fully accepted as Christians either. No doubt there was a gradual process of assimilation taking place.8 But an increasingly interventionist government decided to force the pace, attentive both to Counter-Reformation piety and to political control. In 1566 prohibitions on the Arabic language, customs and dress were reintroduced (dating originally from 1502, they had not yet been enforced), despite the warnings of the Marquis of Mondéjar, Captain General and warden of the Alhambra, in Granada, that they would provoke resistance.9

© Cambridge University Press

Meet the Author

James Casey is Reader in History at the University of East Anglia. He is the author of The Family in History (1989) and Early Modern Spain: A Social History (1999).

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