- Anonymous Noblemen: The Generalization of Hidalgo Status in the Basque Country (1250–1525) by Díaz de Durana, José Ramón
As José Ramón Díaz de Durana discusses in this intricate study of the spread of the Basque petty nobility, this area boasted ‘[t]he highest concentration of hidalgos in Castile, and probably, indeed, in the whole of Europe’ with almost the entire coastal population claiming hidalgo status. Studies so far, however, have tended to concentrate on ‘aristocracy and noble groups … beyond the merely local’ (p. 20) with the exception perhaps of the ‘bottom-up approach’ of Peter R. Coss to ‘the emergence of the [English] knightly class’ (pp. 7–9). Anonymous Noblemen, by contrast, focuses on the paradox of an underclass of noblemen, a lesser nobility poorly recognized.
Coastal Guipúzcoa and Vizcaya, with near-universal hidalguía, were far removed from the frontier, while in the North-Central Basque province of Álava the number of hidalgos was a still significant, yet more modest 25 per cent (p. 46). Attempting to explain generalized hidalguía, the author notes that ‘in 1326 Alfonso XI extended tax exemptions to all settlers in towns (except peasants on royal lands) in recognition of the expense incurred in the construction of the town walls of Tolosa’ (p. 57). Consider the importance of frontier politics: town walls were needed because a war was being deployed as part of the Reconquista to end in Granada in 1492. [End Page 304]
Fascinatingly, Díaz de Durana argues in Chapter 6 that hidalgos were integrally engaged in the creation of the three distinct Provinces through social conflict. As he earlier explained, ‘The hidalgos were a heterogeneous group that included the barons of Álava, the Parientes Mayores [‘heads of clans … entitled to the entirety of the family’s inheritance’ (p. 74, n. 10)] of Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa, [and] the lesser rural hidalgos of the different territories’ (p. 72).
Conflict between the Hermandades – armed peasant ‘brotherhoods’ – and the Parientes Mayores, whom they defeated at the king’s behest in the 1450s, reached its climax when ‘Enrique IV ordered that the razing of … their fortified towers (casas-torre) … be completed’ (pp. 120–21). Worse followed, as the Parientes were sent to fight near Granada, for four years at their own expense, after which they were to show obedience to the king and to the Hermandades, and to swear to abide by the latter’s ordinance books.
Importantly, like peasant brotherhoods, hidalgos achieved much through joint negotiation; the hidalgos of Álava ceded much of the actual province of Álava to the commoners in 1332 in exchange for the assurances of Alfonso XI that he would safeguard their privileges, such as the ‘right of pursuit over peasants fleeing their holdings’ (pp. 50–51).
This study offers the historian – or, indeed, the literary scholar interested in Spanish literature and culture – a wealth of material, which may take years to be fully realized.
Hallym University, South Korea