- From Round Table to Revolt:Amadís de Gaula and the Comuneros
The life of Garcí Rodríguez de Montalvo, refundidor of the enormously successful book of chivalry, Amadís de Gaula (=Amadís), 1508, and author of its first continuation, Sergas de Esplandián (=Sergas), 1510, contains an unexpected and intriguing anomaly. His son, Juan Vaca, and his nephews, García de Montalvo and Gutierre de Montalvo,1 were leaders in the Revolt of the Comuneros in Medina del Campo (Álvarez 1: 502, 519, 526). Given that Rodríguez de Montalvo was responsible for a book that set a fashion for noble behavior (see Place), it comes as a surprise that his progeny were in the vanguard of creating what José Antonio Maravall considered one of the first modern revolutions (Las Comunidades: Una primera revolución moderna). A link between the refundidor of the Amadís and the revolt of Castilian cities against Charles I (1520-1522) runs so contrary to what is commonly supposed that it begs an explanation. [End Page 163]
Amadís has been seen as an elitist text far removed from social reality, an exemplar of Johan Huizinga's view of late medieval chivalry as an empty form produced by the decadent make-believe of clueless aristocrats; in the words of Huizinga's critic, Maurice Keen, it is a mere "polite veneer, a thing of forms and words and ceremonies" (3). A Spanish instance of this view comes from Ángel González Palencia's theory of the upbringing of Lazarillo in Lazarillo de Tormes as a parody of another abandoned child, Amadís (11). A neat dichotomy, foundational to the idea of the evolutionary progress of literary genres, is evident in this comparison: on the one side there is the social reality of the picaresque, and on the other, the "fantásticas aventuras inverosímiles" of Amadís (González Palencia 10).
This approach assumed that a lack of realism within the world of the fictional work meant that the work itself had nothing to do with the reality of its day. Since all fantasy must be, by definition, escapist, critics took for granted that it must also be irrelevant to events in the world. More recently, cultural historians have posed that quite often the concerns —and therefore the reality— of the audience is best re-created in escapist fantasy. In their mythologizing, in their shaping of the fictional construct's social universe, books of chivalry such as Amadís announce the underlying political and social concerns shared by authors and their audiences.2
In this article, I will discuss one of the myths that forms part of the program put forth in Amadís de Gaula: the egalitarianism of chivalric society. This egalitarian aspect of chivalry is perhaps best known in another feature of the Arthurian tradition of which Amadís is a part: King Arthur's Round Table. In large part, the text's vision of social relations —its projected, ideal society of the elect— is found within the interactions of those knights who show their adherence to the chivalric code in the utopian space of Amadís's Ínsola Firme. I shall focus on how the novel's heroes treat each other in a "democratic" manner. I will draw a connection between this behavior and [End Page 164] the life of Rodríguez de Montalvo, an author who introduces himself as "honrado y virtuoso cavallero" and "regidor de la noble villa de Medina del Campo" (Amadís 1: 225). My contention is that the political program envisioned by Rodríguez de Montalvo in Amadís and Sergas prefigures what was to happen in the early stages of the 1520 Comunero Revolt.
Michael Harney's anthropological explanation of the deep substructures of kinship solidarity in Iberian books of chivalry is foundational to my analysis. Harney shows that the social interactions of knights-errant in these books are arranged along lines of an unofficial and fluid kinship, horizontally conceived. This unofficial kinship contests the official kinship of agnatic lineage, which would reduce parentezgo to the pronouncement of lineal descent from father to first-born son (64-65, 103). Amadís and...