Poems for the Royal Weddings, 1496–1497 by Nancy Marino
Nancy Marino’s edition of the two pliegos sueltos from 1497 and her introduction contribute significantly to the growing body of work bringing to the fore the material and symbolic culture of the reign of the Catholic Monarchs. Her painstaking work situating the two poems, one on the marriage of Juana to Philip the Fair (actual marriage in Lier on 20 October 1496) and the other on the marriage of Juan to Philip’s sister Margaret of Austria (actual marriage in Burgos on 3 April 1497) reveals both the larger political goals—closing ranks against the French, actively participating in and encouraging the providencialism and messianism around the Holy Roman Emperor, and thus fulfilling Alfonso X’s dream of empire—and the details of the symbolic exchanges among the royals and aristocracy thus engaged in the public expression of those goals in the extended ceremonies. The Coplas fechas sobre el casamiento de la hija del rey d’España con el hijo del emperador duque de Bergoña, conde de Flandes, archiduqe de Autarixa (El casamiento) is a pliego suelto of four leaves in a quarto format, set in tortis type in two columns, with two woodblock illustrations at the end of the text also used in Cárcel de amor, and is attributed by F. J. Norton and Edward M. Wilson to Fadrique Biel de Basilea. It is known in four copies, two [End Page 273] at the Biblioteca Nacional, one in the British Library, and a fourth at Harvard University’s Houghton Library.
The Coplas fechas a los altos estados de los reys nuestros señores, de cómo salieron a misa con el alteza del muy alto príncipe e princesa de España e de los cavalleros que con sus altezas salieron (Los altos estados) is also four pages in quarto format, in tortis type of two columns, with a woodcut on the title page, and is attributed by Norton and Wilson to Juan de Burgos, although their date of 1496, before the events represented within the text, cannot stand; the unique copy is held at the Library of Congress.
Marino asserts that the poems publicize the successful insertion of Spain into the Holy Roman Empire and onto the forefront of the European political scene, as well as projecting it “against a background of social stability and prosperity on the home front” (7). The details included suggest authorship by someone close to or within the court of the Reyes Católicos. On the basis of textual and contextual evidence, Marino advances the candidacy of Pedro de Gracia Dei, whose family name perhaps indicates that he was either a converso or a herald, and who had significant remuneration for his service in Prince Juan’s household. Several of Gracia Dei’s prose works survive, most of them heraldic or genealogical in nature, in keeping with his position as Rey de Armas, although Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo refers to him as a chronicler, and indeed several of his works are historical, including two chronicles in verse. As Marino asserts, the poems are not literarily brilliant, but serve to present to modern readers “a glorification of a way of life, a social order, and a system of values” (7).
How these poems do that is by detailing the pomp and performativity of the negotiations, processions and rituals (fashion, social performances, jousts, juegos de cañas and so on) that formed part of the larger ritual of the marriages (and indeed, the actual marriage ceremony of Juan and Margaret is secret and not revealed to any but the most intimate and, presumably, powerful). By recounting as epideictic the powerful individuals who participated and their roles, praising and pointing to the wealth and puissance expressed by their positions in the processions and to the sumptuous garb and jewels they were permitted to wear on this particular occasion, the poet makes them the essence of the nation, a synecdoche of the crème de la crème. Those participating in the procession for Juan and Margaret’s pre- and post-nuptials also stand as synecdoche for the recently “unified” nation. Salient examples are Juan Albret “infante of Navarra” [End Page 274] and Juan and Fernando “infantes de Granada”. In both these cases, the account testifies to a kind of taming and substitution: as Albret was the husband of Catalina de Foix in the Trastámara line that had usurped the throne of Navarra; the “Infantes de Granada” were Boabdil’s half-brothers whose mother was a cristiana cautiva and who had been converted and gathered into the court in part to keep them from becoming a touchstone for resistance in Granada (as they would eventually prove to be). This is, however, in keeping with the general presentation of civil strife contained and grounded, as the highest nobles participating together in the procession testify to the same tensions among the Castilian and Aragonese aristocracy. To this end, Marino provides a series of very useful genealogical tables showing the relationships among the noble houses and the royal house, clearly laying out the use of marriage in binding the highest nobility together via both legitimate and illegitimate offspring.
Not only does Marino make these documents accessible, but her thorough introduction integrates the evidence from the poems with that of chronicles, which tend to lack concrete detail, and also includes the fragments and mentions of the lost third poem about the marriage of Juan and Margaret, the Obra hecha por Hernán Vázquez de Tapia escriviendo en suma algo de las fiestas y recebimiento que se hicieron al tiempo que la muy esclarescida y excelente Princesa nuestra Señora Doña Margarita de Flandes hija del Emperador Maximiliano desembarcó en la Villa de Santanders; y así mismo de cómo fue festejada ... e de las fiestas solemnes que en su casamiento se hizieron ... (abbreviating even more the prolix descriptive title). In short, Marino brings together all the primary and relevant secondary documentation across a number of domains, attending to the material details of the documentation, and magisterially synthesizing the early modern and recent historical texts to provide a rich context for the poems and to make best use of what they offer to us estudiosos of Spain in the late fifteenth century.
In addition to the substantive contribution of the volume itself, Marino brings together extensive bibliography, and both opens up and supports new directions in research on the period, its culture, and cancionero poetry in the pliegos sueltos. I, for one, find intriguing the slippage between Burgundy and the “French” fashion sported by so many of the altos who appear in Los altos estados, particularly given the strategic import of the insistently constructied alliance of Burgundy and Spain against the Valois that Marino signals (9). Also fascinating is the possible nexus between the courtly procession of El casamiento and sentimental fiction, and the import of that nexus for Spanish book history. [End Page 275]
The poor quality of the reproductions of the woodcuts from the pliegos sueltos is to be lamented, particularly when images at higher resolution are easily had. The volume is affordable and readily accessible, although more so in Europe than in North America. As the unique source of both primary texts as well as a valuable introduction, it is highly recommended for libraries that collect in late medieval and early modern European, as well as Spanish, history and culture.