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Leveraging the Symbolic in the Fifteenth Century: The Writings, Library and Court of Carlos de Viana
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Prince Carlos de Viana (1421–1461), first-born and heir presumptive to Blanca, proprietary queen regnant of Navarre, and Juan de Trastámara, ended his life with a political journey in an attempt to regain the throne to which he was legitimate heir, which he was denied by his father Juan, who as king consort reigned under the name of Juan II of Navarre.1 After traveling to Paris, then Rome, and finally Naples in search of the restoration of political and social order, he returned to Iberia, arriving in Barcelona in 1460 to an enthusiastic reception on the eve of the Catalan uprising. This exasperated his father, who had recently ascended to the throne as Juan II

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Fig. 1. 

“El Príncipe de Viana curando a una joven”. Pen and ink on paper with brown wash, 16th century. Juan de Juanes (Vicente Juan Masip), Valencian painter (d. 1579). Courtesy of the Fundación Lázaro Galdiano, Inv. no. 4026.

of Aragon, on the death of his brother Alfonso V, in 1458. Indeed, Carlos de Viana’s reception may well be considered a political apotheosis, as he became a touchstone for Catalan resistance (in the Guerra Civil Catalana of 1462–1472), and for Navarran opposition to the political aspirations of the Trastámara, as well as being elevated to the status of a popular saint (see fig. 1).2

Carlos de Viana went to Paris in spring 1456 to try to recuperate rents from seigneuries held via the family connections of the Évreux to the royal house of France, passing into Italy in July of that year. He attended on Calistus III in Rome to garner papal support there, arriving in Naples in March 1457 to ask his uncle Alfonso V, head of the family, to advocate on his behalf with Alfonso’s younger brother, Juan II of Navarra (and then Aragon) (Desdevises du Dezert 246, 251–52). This journey to marshal his political and economic assets is preceded and paralleled by the leveraging of symbolic assets.

As its title indicates, this article employs the psychoanalytic and structuralist notion of “symbolic order”– the ensemble of discourses and systems such as language, marriage law, economic relations, art, science and religion (cf. Laplanche and Pontalis, “Symbolic”) to put Carlos de Viana’s life in perspective. Clifford Geertz adds a greater philosophical dimension emphasizing that for anthropology, theory cannot stray too far from the concrete particularities observed (24–25), which is also the case, I would suggest (and demonstrate), for literature. Carlos de Viana abandons military action to contest Juan II’s usurpation of the throne of Navarre and demand support for his position as rightful heir. He turns instead to what Geertz calls the “socially established structures of meaning” (12); that is, he makes use of law and history (as precedent for law), and classical philosophy with a (necessarily) theological dimension, the structures of meaning that governed social action in fifteenth-century Europe. He also turns to his kin and the pope, whose duty as rulers was to implement those discourses via reason educated in the liberal arts which are the grounds of law, philosophy, and theology. This article is a “thick description” that views Carlos de Viana’s acts and his writings as “symbolic actions” within a “multiplicity of complex conceptual structures, many of them superimposed upon or knotted into one another” (Geertz 10); this also proceeds through each discourse and the evidence from the prince’s writings and the documentation of his life and death. Within this framework, his writings are a much more coherent body of work, and provide further insights into another fifteenth-century text associated with his court, Alfonso de la Torre’s Visión Deleytable. This approach also illuminates Iberia’s cultural intricacies in the fifteenth century.

Carlos, Navarre, and Iberian Complexity

In a very real sense, Carlos de Viana found himself in a complex and fluid kingdom within the context of mid-fifteenth century Iberia, itself a complex political entity.3 The intricacies of the Iberian cultural and political scene, and the insertion by strategic marriages of the Trastámara in order to bind together almost all the royal houses of...

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