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Faction and civil strife in late Medieval Castillian towns

Faction and civil strife in late Medieval Castillian towns

By Angus Mackay

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, Vol.72:3 (1990)

Introduction: The social and political history of the towns of late medieval Castile appears to have been one of unending, mindless and pointless conflicts. Even contemporaries professed not to understand the nature of urban anarchy and partly described it in terms of rival bandos or factions, named after families or particular areas of a town, engaged in a secular trend of traditional conflict: for example, the Guzman and the Ponce de Leon in Seville, the Benavides and the Carvajal in Baeza, the Tovar and the Reoyo in Valladolid, and the bandos of the San Benito and Santo Tome districts of Salamanca. In doing so, they were to a large extent correct, for the formal pattern of urban government in the royal towns, which consisted of town councils with alcaldes mayores (senior magistrates), regidores (town councillors), and other officials, who were all in theory in the service of the Crown, was largely ‘privatized’ and functioned on behalf of particular factions. However, long before the famous revolt of the Comunidades of 1520, Castilian towns had also witnessed episodes of conflict which were different in nature from those of the bandos, although the two types could fuse, and in these the urban comunidad could play a leading role. In what follows attention will be focused on these two types of urban strife, and in the cases of conflict involving urban comunidades particular attention will be paid to a rite of violence which may be called ‘the law of Padua’. In a sense, therefore, the problem of civil strife is being exaVnined both from above and from below.

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