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L'histoire et les nouveaux publics dans l'Europe médiévale (XIIIe-XVe siècle)

Jean-Philippe Genet

IV. Nouveaux publics, histoire et pouvoir

The Rewriting of the Historical Past - Hispania et Europa

Brian Tate

Texte intégral


1Up to the beginning of the sixteenth century the rest of Europe gained little of its knowledge of the past history of the Iberian Peninsula or contemporary affairs through the works of native writers. Their writings, as one foreign historian later remarked, were confined to the limits of the Peninsula. Even news and descriptions of the recent campaign over the kingdom of Granada, the discovery of the New World, circulated in works by Italians, as for example the Panegyricon ad Ferdinandum by Ugolino Vero, the Historia Baetica and the Ferdinandus Servatus by the two Verardos. Ugolino was ordered by Alexander VI to write an account of the fall of Granada before it actually occurred, and Paolo Pompilio was able to place in the hands of messengers taking news to Rome of the surrender of the city his Triumphus Granatensis. And of course the first chronicler of the Indies for the Crown of Castile was Peter Martyr from Anghiera.

  • 1 R B. TATE, "Sancho de Nebrija y su antologia historiografica", Insula, 551, Madrid, nov. 1992, pp. (...)

2It was not until 1545, the year of the inauguration of the Council of Trent that an effort was made by Sancho, the son of Antonio Nebrija, to put into the public domain a collection of basic texts of the past history of Spain, all written in Latin and in their totality offering a panorama of Peninsular history from earliest times up to the reigns of Ferdinand and Isabella.1 This was printed by Sancho in Granada in 1545 and bore a dedication by Sancho to prince Philip, a great lover of history, and carrying as a preface a remarkable letter by the father Antonio, written to king Ferdinand in 1509 on the subject of how and by whom the history of Spain should be written. We are now on the threshold of the Spanish domination of European politics.

  • 2 Johannes VASEUS, Chronici rerum memorabilium Hispaniae, Salamanca, 1552; second ed., Rerum Hispani (...)

3At the same time another foreigner in Salamanca University was engaged single-handed in exploring the past history of Spain and in this process bringing together the most complete collection to date of narrative texts he had found in archives and libraries in both Spain and Portugal.2 He is the first scholarly historian of the "middle" period of Peninsular history, and his declared objective was to bring the most accurate and chronologically correct account of Spanish achievements within the reach of all intelligent readers in the form of a consecutive narrative. Johannes Vaseus of Bruges brought out in Salamanca in 1552 his first and only volume on the history of Spain and Portugal, covering from the beginning of the Christian era to the death of Sancho of Navarre. His aim was to deal with all Hispania, and not only military and political history, but also, on the threshold of the Counter Reformation, ecclesiastical history, which he claimed had not been properly treated in previous works. These two events signal an important phase in the evolution of the historiography of the Peninsula, first in the choice of period, and second in the intention to reach beyond the frontiers of Hispania to communicate with the rest of Europe.

  • 3 "The Content and Purpose of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain", Anglo-Norman (...)

4It is the object of this paper to sketch out the preliminaries to such a situation and to indicate the process which culminated in the work of Vaseus. I am fairly convinced that in Castile there is evidence of a continuum between the mid-fifteenth and the mid-sixteenth centuries in the matter of historiography, clear at some points and tenuous at others. All the works to which I shall refer to are more or less general narrative histories of Hispania, written deliberately in Latin and aimed at a public not only within the Peninsula, but also at readers abroad, by authors of more than average political experience, chiefly, but not exclusively prelates, who were aware of the distinct (and often unsympathetic) cultural perceptions of Spain abroad, and who, consciously and collectively, strove to secure "cultural respectability" for their own kingdoms. I paraphrase the words used by John Gillingham in his recent study of Geoffrey of Monmouth.3 In his history, the ancient Britons are made out to be far from barbarians, and so in these later accounts, an elaborate tradition is devised to connect the ancient Hispani with their later descendants.


  • 4 Much of the subsequent material is drawn from my Ensayos sobre la historiografia peninsular del si (...)

5Vaseus was aware of the edition by Sancho Nebrija. Significant texts were published for the first time: Jiménez de Rada's De Rebus Hispaniae, Alfonso de Cartagena's Anacephaleosis, Joan Margarit's Paralipomenon Hispaniae, Antonio de Nebrija's Decades Duae which dealt with the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella and the Granadine and Navarrese campaigns. If we were to add to these Sanchez de Arévalo's Compendiosa Historia Hispanica and Lucius Marineus Siculus's De memorabilibus Hispaniae (I am using shortened titles for convenience), these would constitute a chronological coverage of Peninsular history, less Portugal, up to the beginning of the sixteenth century.4 The primary themes of these authors are not those of the vernacular regnal chronicles, or of the romance collections of biographies of the fifteenth century. These latter mirror the local struggle of loyalties amongst the aristocracy, lay and ecclesiastical, between duties to the monarchy and the respublica on the one hand, and the exercise of obligations to one's own rank on the other, issues cultivated in various literary forms by the aristocracy since the times of don Juan Manuel. In the above mentioned Latin texts the themes dealt with concern legitimacy of sovereignty and rank on the international stage, precedence both cultural and political. The majority of the authors are prelates engaged in representing the monarchy and the church abroad. It is this varied experience beyond the frontiers of Hispania, in confrontation with foreign powers at international councils or in the Vatican, that mould their exposition of the past of Hispania. Jiménez de Rada at the Fourth Lateran Council fought for the primacy of his Toledan see and also for the united alliance that led to victory at Navas de Tolosa in 1212. For more than two hundred years his histories constituted the spinal column of the general history of the Peninsula. It provided Alfonso de Cartagena with the articulation for his Anacephaleosis-, what el Toledano did for Alfonso VIII, the Bishop of Burgos tried to do for Juan II. In his turn he represented Castile at the Council of Basle where the debate over the international ranking of European powers ended in blows and scuffles. The presentation of the Castillan case in the matter of precedence led Cartagena to assert the case for a continuity of Spanish monarchy and its antiquity in more elaborate terms than did el Toledano. The manipulation of historical data was further used to support territorial claims by Castile to Coastal islands and to parts of North Africa. What distinguishes then Anacephaleosis and later treatments of the De Rebus Hispaniae is the concentration on Castile to the disadvantage of the other Peninsular kingdoms, and Cartagena's work did have some impact abroad, for it led Pius II to reread in a new light Jordanes's History of the Goths.

6Cartagena's thesis bore fruit in subsequent histories, particularly that of a pupil Rodrigo Sanchez de Arévalo. His Historia Compendiosa (ca. 1470) was written from Rome and in clear awareness of the cultural friction between the humanist bureaucracy, the defenders of the church councils and the émigré Castillan supporters of papal supremacy. Sanchez de Arévalo was more of a career diplomat than Cartagena and circulated throughout the courts of Europe, never ceasing to attack defenders of the church councils, and to promote the role of Castile as a leader of a crusade and Juan II as a Lord of Hosts. Both he and Cartagena had been aggravated by the cultural debate between the latter and the Florentine chancellor, Leonardo Bruni. The latter had protested about Cartagena's claims for his country which Bruni alleged as overrated since Castile was located, in his words "in extremo mundi angulo" in contrast to Italy's central position. Both Castillans responded with the argument that Sallust, as a Roman, had used against the Greeks, that the Italians/Romans owed their fame more to their writers than to their own merits. Sanchez de Arévalo used the De Rebus Hispaniae just as Cartagena had done, and upon it as a base, raised a monument to the homo hispanicus, elaborated by information from new translations of Greek historians and geographers. His prime intent was to affirm, like Cartagena, the antiquity and continuity of the Castillan monarchy up to and including Enrique IV, successor to Juan II, at the very moment when that royal authority was being challenged by opponents of the king in the Vatican itself.

7The debate over the heritage from the past receives a new dimension through the more scholarly approach of the Bishop of Gerona, Joan Margarit and the lay scholars Nebrija and Marineus Siculus. Margarit is a political prelate very much in the mould of Cartagena and Sanchez de Arévalo, and like these two he wished to bind closely the powers of the church and the monarchy, and strove to condemn any action to overthrow the legitimate monarch, who in his eyes was Juan II of Aragon, also threatened with deposition like the other Castillan kings Juan II and Enrique IV. Like Cartagena and Arévalo he had written treatises on the education of princes; like Arévalo he was educated abroad, this time at Bologna, and acted as a political emissary to three kings. He had also accumulated a library of new historical and geographical translations from the Greek. The two great folio volumes of Ptolemy’s geography in Salamanca and Barcelona universities belong to his library. But he, like the subsequent generation of lay scholars, is an outspoken critic of Jiménez de Rada, not so much for his uninformed use of etymology for historical identification of settlements, but for what he had omitted to say about prehistory. Like Cartagena he employed a Greek title for his history, a history which stands in effect like a prologue to the history of the Peninsula as then expounded. He, as distinct from Cartagena and Arévalo, tried to marry the twin strands of Roman and Gothic inheritance, as well as exploring the earliest reaches of the past.

8Marineus Siculus and Antonio de Nebrija - the former from the Aragonese realm of the two Sicilies, the latter from Andalusia are representative of the new generation of lay scholars. Both were educated in Italy, in Rome and Bologna. Through their association with the royal bureaucracy, and with Ferdinand rather than Isabella, they are commissioned to write histories, specifically in Latin, which have as their base a vernacular source. Their cultural allegiances, however, are sharply distinct. The Italian immigrant wishes to credit classical Rome with all that is of positive value in contemporary Spain, while the Andalusian is inflamed by Marineus's attempts to deprive the country of what are claimed to be Spain's native writers in Latin, like Silius Italicus. These mutual differences are heightened by professional antagonisms in the university of Salamanca and by their rival bids for the position of historiographer royal. Royal patronage seems infinitely preferable to their poorly paid university posts as teachers of grammar and rhetoric, and tutors to the young nobility.

9Vaseus is another immigrant in the same category, but this time from the North, from Bruges, thus standing apart from the debate over cultural inheritance. He had read most of the texts mentioned above, and more besides. His aims are similar, and he is even more explicitly concerned with the European audience. His main field of interest is, however, neither the remote past nor the contemporary scene, but that period least well known of Peninsular history, comprising both Spain and Portugal, both secular and ecclesiastical history, written in the international language, Latin, and covering the first thousand years of the Christian era.


  • 5 "Los godos y el origen de la epopeya espanola" in I Goti in Occidente. Problemi (Spoleto, 1956), p (...)
  • 6 Margarit i el tema dels gots", Actes del cinqué colloqui internacional de llengua i literatura cat (...)
  • 7 "In eis Gothici apposuerunt memoriam per foramina in singulis eminentibus lapidibus constituta, ut (...)

10Let us after this brief survey turn back to the preoccupations of those prelates who attempted in their historical narratives to enlarge and enhance the remote past of the Peninsular kingdoms- that is the period of the Gothic invasion and seulement, preceded by the Roman colonisation, and before that by the hazy existence of the original inhabitants, the Iberians. The fifiteenth century is the time when the so called neo-Gothic thesis of the Toledano is enlarged to somewhat intemperate extremes that eventually lead to protests even amongst Spanish historians, like the Crónica de Aragon (1499) of Fabricio de Vagad. The praise of the Gothic inheritance which had tended to lapse in Castillan historiography of the fourteenth century was reinvoked in mid-fifteenth by Cartagena and Arévalo not only to establish a continuity of sovereignty but to uphold the military superiority of the Goth not only in Hispania but elsewhere, as the conquerors of Rome, a Rome which had succumbed to the vice of ambition and the vain desire for worldly fame. They repeatedly quoted Orosius: "Hos Alexander vitandos docuit, Pyrrhus pertimuit, Caesar exhorruit." Arévalo strove in addition to splice the Gothic settlers with the existing Hispani to produce a significant fusion between native and coloniser, rendering the former more physically tough and the latter more magnanimous and civilised. This is a thesis which has enjoyed a remarkably long life. Despite the attacks on the supposed Gothic inheritance by Ortega in España invertebrada, it was restated more or less by Menéndez Pidal in the Spoleto symposium of 1956: "Si [los godos] no dieron a la Hispania el nombre de Gotia, en compensación lograron crear en el ánimo de los espanoles esa superbia gótica...", a necessary concomitant to their greatest cultural legacy in his eyes, the Spanish epic.5 The preoccupations of Cartagena and Arévalo, however, were more concretely concerned with legitimacy of authority, international ranking and territorial aggrandizement of Castile. There is an Aragonese equivalent much less well known; that is Cardinal Margarit's De origine regum Hispanie et Gotthorum6 This precedes the Paralipomenon by some twenty years and is directed to Juan II of Navarre rather than to his son and daughter-in-law Ferdinand and Isabella. What Margarit wishes to do in this treatise is to link the Goths not with Toledo, but with Barcelona and Gallia Narbonensis. He argues that the zone between the R. Ebro, the R. Cinca and the Pyrenees was originally known as Gotholaunia, which could be linked with Gocitania, the modem Occitania. Margarit does not involve himself with defending the Goths against contemporary Italian criticism ("bestia, arrogantissima superbia gothica"). Like Orosius he identifies the Goths in Spain with the Getae, but unlike Orosius sees the Visigoths as more linked to Rome by treaty than divided by war. The sack of Rome by Alaric was not a destructive whim, but a divine punishment inflicted by a human agent, and the holes pierced in the building blocks of the Coliseum were left to remind the Romans of their treachery, avarice and ambition.7 This crude political posturing of the 1460s did not persist into the Paralipomenon, where indeed it would have no place. Margarit's thesis here in his dedication to Ferdinand and Isabella is that Hispania enjoyed its supreme moment of peaceful unity when Hispania ulterior was linked with Hispania citerior under Caesar Augustus; this marks the concluding point of the surviving manuscript of the Paralipomenon, although we have evidence that Margarit intended to continue to the reigns of Arcadius and Honorius, and link up with the Gothic period.

  • 8 De memorabilibus in Hisp. Illustr., I, p.291.
  • 9 Ibid., p.318.
  • 10 Ibid., p.320.

11The most extreme statement of the positive influence of Roman colonisation occurs, as we have said earlier on, in the works of Lucius Marineus Siculus. He did not know of Margarit's work, but he had read extensively in the Greek and Roman historians and even in the vernacular chronicles of the Peninsula. Castilian was for him merely Latin grown old. Latin in his day in Spain, he claims, was badly spoken, badly written and poorly understood. If Spaniards were reeducated in their knowledge of the past, they would truly understand how much they owed to Rome. He had lived there, he said in his last historical work, for some fifty years, travelled all over the country and read all there was to knowa bout it: "Hispaniam peragravi fere totam, res omnes in ea memoratu dignas, quas apud Graecos et Latinos autore legeram"8 and concludes: "quicquid in Hispania memorabile vidimus, Romanorum esse minime dubitamus."9 Many of the great noble families can trace their family names back to Roman times: "Nec Hispanorum quamvis nobilissimum quenquam fore arbitrer, qui sese non foelicissimum putet, qui a Romanis originem duxerit, cum praesertim olim gens Romana caeteras omnes omni genere virtutis antecesserit".10 Spanish, despite its defects, is closest to Latin, and Castillan is the best variety. Spain adopted Roman agriculture, education, law, customs as well as language, and the noble families linked with Roman families include the Pimentel, Castro, Fonseca, Padilla, Coronel and Cortés. And speaking of Hernan Cortès, the first item found by the crew of Columbus on arriving in the New World was a Roman coin.

  • 11 "Antonius Nebrisensis, chronographus regius, dum Burgis in curia desidet ociosus dispunxit, interp (...)

12A final and intriguing development of the earlier history of Hispania was the effort made in various quarters to locate Biblical and classical myth in Spain - Tubal, Geryon, Hercules, the Fortunate Isles, Tartessos. This occurred patchily early on in Jiménez de Rada, later and more coherently in Margarit. But the main attempt to promote for Spain an antiquity greater than that of Greece or Rome was made, not by Cartagena, Arévalo or Margarit, but by Nebrija in his famous Muestra de las antigüedades de Espana, reproduced in part in Latin in the Decades Duae. The data were derived from the notorious treatises by Annius of Viterbo. His Commentaria were published in Rome and Venice in 1498 and Spain is the only region mentioned at length in this tapestry of partial truth and manifest invention of antique sources. It is not surprising that Annius or Giovanni Nanni had intimate connections with the Castillan envoy to the Vatican, Bernardino Carvajal, who may have been instrumental in having him dedicate the Commentaria to Ferdinand and Isabella, and whom Annius calls agents of Divine Providence. The devious manipulation of authors like Heredotus, Strabo, Trogus Pompeius and others leads him to claim that Hispanic culture preceded that of Greece by some 800 years. By juggling with etymologies some Iberian settlements are deemed to have been founded by Noah; Baetica has both an Etruscan and Hebraic origin. He also asserts that the original line of Iberian kings can be traced back 600 years before the foundation of Troy and that Gothic colonisation did not invalidate this antiquity. Hard though it is to believe, almost all sixteenth century European historians followed Nanni's line of argument. Virtually every world chronicle and every study of national origins written before Scaliger's studies in chronology rested in whole or in part on such assertions. There were sceptics like Vives and Antonio Agustín, but the pressing need to fill gaps in prehistory and to flatter patrons led many others, including the self-confident Nebrija, to use this material. Indeed, he was personally involved in preparing an edition of the Opuscula which appeared in Burgos in 1512.11


13Given the educational background of these two generations of chroniclers, like Cartagena, Arévalo and Margarit, and lay scholars like Marineus Siculus and Nebrija, it is not surprising that their main means of communication was in Latin; some of them wrote in no other language. Most of them had written educational treatises for the laity; some had taught the nobility, and never failed to stress the educational value of the reading of history as against Works of fiction or moral homilies. It was a period that marked the slow decline of gnomic literature, the teaching instrument of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, usually disseminated in the vernacular. Their understanding of the close ties between church and state, their diplomatic activities, their consciousness of cultural distinctions all inevitably pointed to the use of Latin as a means of communicating with an international audience. Others expressed disquiet at the low level of competence of chroniclers writing in the vernacular, like Enrique de Villena at the beginning of the fifteenth century or Alonso de Herrera at the end. The latter wrote to Marineus (in Latin, of course; I translate):

  • 12 For Enrique de Villena, see R.B. TATE, "El cronista real castellano durante el siglo quince", Home (...)

"As a resuit [of incompetent writers] in Spain much lies concealed in the realms of Pluto when it ought to be illuminated by the thunderbolts of Jove, as the saying goes. In other countries many have felicitously steered their narrative between the sirens of the fabulists and the rocks of the unlettered to the satisfaction of the demands of history... But either through lack of intelligence, contempt for the charm of style, or because the most inept have invaded this field, the history of Spain swarms with cockroaches [res Hispaniae cum blattis hactenus egerant]... but you [Marineus] have neither spared yourself expense nor toil however great to bring these matters into the light of day and clothe them in Latinity [qui neque impensis pepercisti, neque laboribus, quamlibet vastis, donec eas et luce simul et Latinitate dares]"12

14All these sentiments are present in the first treatise written in Latin in the Peninsula by Marineus entitled De laudibus historiae (ca. 1498) probably intended as a preface to the biography of Juan II of Aragon commissioned by Ferdinand the Catholic:

  • 13 De memorabilibus, in. Hisp. Illutr., I, p.292.

"Pretiosa res est igitur ac potius incomparabilis praeteritarum rerum, Latino praesertim exculta sermone, narratio, quae historiam vocamus".13

15In view of the works commissioned by the crown to be written in Latin, this must echo an official view, a view more closely associated with Ferdinand than with Isabella. She was more inclined to commission translations from the classics into the vernacular, or order original works in Castilian, like the versions of Josephus or Plutarch from Alfonso de Palencia, or the general history of Spain commissioned from Diego de Valera, or the history of her reign from Fernando del Pulgar. Ferdinand, no doubt influenced by the example of his uncle, had requested not one but two scholars, neither clerics nor bureaucrats, to write a biography of his father Juan II of Aragon in Latin, just as Alfonso the Magnanimous had asked Lorenzo Valla to write the life of Fernando de Antequera, the father of Juan II and himself. This may have been a request preliminary to writing a biography of the son, as it was in the case of Valla, although the planned history of Alfonso V was never written.

  • 14 See text of letter reproduced and translated in G.H. ANDRÉS, Obras Históricas de Nebrija. Estudio (...)

16But just at the moment that Marineus assumed he would be offered the post of royal historiographer by Ferdinand, he discovered that it had been awarded to another, Antonio Nebrija. Nebrija was both clearly surprised and delighted to receive the commission and addressed an elaborate epistle to Ferdinand expressing his thanks, dated 13 April 1509.14 This eventually became the preface to his Latin account of the reign of the Catholic Monarchs, focusing on the two main episodes, the conquest of Granada and the annexation of Navarre. Both weregrounded on vernacular originals, by Fernando del Pulgar and Luis de Correa, and the suggestion may have corne from a remarkable figure, a royal secretary, Lorenzo Galindez de Carvajal, who seems to have been given (or have taken on) the task of collecting all the significant texts of Spanish history, both Latin and vernacular, with a view to having them printed.

17In his preface Nebrija asks the rhetorical question, why should I have been chosen? Why not someone like Angelo Poliziano, Pico della Mirandola, Ermolao Barbaro? These are not known as historians of course, but as men of letters from Italian city states, well grounded in rhetoric, men of known forensic ability. To this Nebrija replies quite explicitly that you cannot expect a foreigner to write objectively about Spain's history; and amongst foreigners the Italians in particular, Italis maxime. They envy our reputation, they are irritated because we govern them (remember we are in the period of the League of Cambrai, the Holy League and the investiture of Naples). They in reality despise all foreigners as barbarians and peasants. And, adds Nebrija, borrowing a text from Annius of Viterbo, you must recall what Marcus Portius Cato said to his son about the Greeks: whatever they may give us in the way of letters, it will corrupt us. Can you expect those who want to claim Quintilian and Silius Italicus as their own to write sincerely about the past history of Spain? And even if you think they do know a good deal about our history, do you think that those who hate the title of king and who claim to live here in liberty can write about us Spaniards who cannot survive under any regime but monarchy?

18What is the reason for this overblown self-defence? Although the topic is one that has been handled before in general terms by historians I have mentioned, related to the different cultural perceptions of Spaniards and Italians (here magnified because of the contemporary political situation), there is more immediate and local explanation. The due lies in the curious title Nebrija gives to his epistle Divinatio in scribenda historia. This has traditionally been understood as a reference to Nebrija's foresight that he might sometime be offered the post of official chronicler. In his conclusion he says that an inspired guess early on had led him to gather notes on the topic; but this is no more than provocative wordplay. The term divinatio would be recognised by his learned readers as a specialised legal term. Divinatio is the title of a species of board of expert lawyers whose duty it is to decide amongst various applicants who would be best suited to serve the state as prosecutor. Cicero had in fact written under this title a well known defence of his right to prosecute Verres, the notorious praetor of Sicily, for his past misdeeds. Nebrija has simply taken on the mantle of Cicero to attack the claims of another unnamed opponent. There are a sufficient number of oblique references to Sicily and Sicilians to persuade the reader that Nebrija was jubilant at having defeated the claims of Marineus, but felt it necessary to justify the choice to others who might not so easily have approved. Something must have happened to change Ferdinand's mind, just as Isabella changed her mind about rejecting the official historian Alfonso de Palencia for another who wrote in the vernacular. The reasons for these choices still remain unclear. Nebrija saw himself appointed as a Latinist capable of doing as well as any immigrant and infinitely more reliable to put across the political messages which run through the Decades Duae, particularly the concept, also evident in Margarit's Paralipomenon, of "Hispania tota sibi restituta est", in respect of the union of crowns, the conquest of Granada, the inclusion of Navarre and the recovery of the Pyrenean counties of Roussillon and Cerdagne.

19This concern for the political correctness of the official historian of the realm is precisely mirrored in the observations of Galíndez Carvajal about such appointments. He is the first in the Peninsula to frame his remarks in this way:

  • 15 Anales breves del reinado de los Reyes Catolicos in BAE, vol. LXX, Madrid, 1953, p.536.

"Mucho se habia de mirar en la elección de la persona que ha de escribir la corónica, que fuese nombrada por el principe con aprobación de muchos, pues se hace de perjuicio de tantos, y no dar lugar que cada uno fâcilmente se ingiriese a escribir lo que le place en loor de pocos y en perjuicio de todos: y en tal elección se habia también de mirar el bien de la legalidad de la persona, que el elegido fuese de buena parte; por que ni temor de los poderosos, ni aficion de su gente le hiciese apartar de la verdad".15


  • 16 See his views on Latin as the language of historians in Roma Triumphans, in Opera, Basle, 1531, p. (...)
  • 17 "Quare quis non videt rebus novis esse accommodanda nova nomina? Ut veteres, a quibus praecepta ha (...)

20The adoption of Latin, revised and improved by those trained in Ciceronian rhetoric or in the manual of Trapezuntios, could pose problems for writers of history who had to deal with phenomena which did not exist before or whose linguistic correlates had changed in meaning since Imperial times. This was not an issue faced squarely by historiographers of the early period of the Middle Ages, but it did become a matter of debate from the late fourteenth century onward. It was the uncontrolled influx of neologisms into the vocabulary of scholasticism that provoked a wave of criticism about the technical jargon of jurists and philosophers who handled a preposterous mixture of Greek and Latin terms. For the historian there were three main complications if he was to write for an international audience. First, the concept expressed in the vernacular had often no universally intelligible Latin equivalent. Second, the vernacular term may have had a Latin base, but its semantic value had changed so much as to make the use of the Latin equivalent inconvenient. Third, a vemacular term and a Latin term might exist for the same item, as in toponymics - a particular problem for Spain with its Arabicised placenames. Such difficulties had been debated in Italy. Flavio Biondo thought that the common bond of Latinity far outweighed the difficulties created by such peripheral problems and was happy with lightly Latinised vemacular expressions.16 Valla also accepted the inevitable neologism, since for him intelligibility was more important than stylistic homogeneity. Early on he rejected antiquarianism in geographical and ethnographical terms while he was handling the vemacular Crónica de Juan II as a source for his biography of Fernando de Antequera.17 Some insight can also be gained into the problems from the debate between Bruni and Cartagena on linguistic matters. Bruni was very chary of neologisms and refused to pepper his Latin with Greek imports. Cartagena tended to follow the practices of his predecessors, lightly Latinising consecrated romance forms like Marchio Villenae, magister Calatravae, barones, magnates, nobiles, infans, infantissa. This occurs even when classical Latin equivalents exist - Sevilia, Hispalis; Coimbra, Conimbriga. Arabic words are given Latin waistcoats - Alcalam, almirandum, alchaidum. Patronymics in the vemacular are respected - Beltrandus de La Cueva, Bernardus de Carpio.

  • 18 "Nopienso gastar ni un instante en discutir los testimonios de Plinio, Estrabon y Tolomeo... yo ll (...)
  • 19 See various examples in TATE, Ensayos, pp. 195-196, 200-201.

21With the arrivai of the immigrant Italian scholar or foreign trained Spaniard, the debate becomes both noisy and polarised. There were those who wished to resurrect the Roman lineaments of modem Hispania. So Marineus divides the contemporary Peninsula into the provinces of Lusitania, Gallaecia, Carthaginensis, Tarraconensis and Baetica, with the resuit that Toledo turns up under Lusitania and León under Gallaecia. As a resuit he is obliged to prepare for the reader a table of equivalents. He is offended by the cacaphony of certain Galician placenames. He prefers templum to ecclesia, sacella to capella, and he always uses pontifex and praesul. He tries to resurrect or invent ancient toponymics - Complutum, Alcalâ de Henares; Mantuam Carpetanam, Madrid. He glosses local terms: "Henricus Hispaniae maris praeses, quem almirantem vocant." And he prefers Laletania to Catalonia. But not all immigrants follow this line. Peter Martyr prefers to call a spade a spade, and in the matter of placenames he insists in calling them what their inhabitants commonly use, thus Almeria, not Abdera; Granada, not Illiberis; Jaen, not Montesa.18 Nebrija, as one would expect, is particularly sensitive about the issue, and concerned enough to dedicate a separate paragraph to the issue in the prologue of the Decades Duae, so that explanations of his terms would not have to be included in the narrative. He planned to discuss the topic under three headings: toponymics, patronymics and institutions. Unfortunately the Latin text is not complete. It appears from what was printed that he follows an idiosyncratic line, not exclusively classicising in the manner of Marineus, but at the same time unsympathetic to what he calls barbaric terms in the vernacular; here he prefers a Latin term even if it is only an approximation. We can glimpse his working practices in the handling of Pulgar's vernacular narrative. Nebrija disposes of the Old Testament framework of reference and substitutes the language of Livy. Vernacular terms are roughly transposed: contador mayor becomes quaestor maximus; reyes de armas, caduceatores; mayordomo mayor, regiae domus oeconomorum maximus. Arabic words are disposed of: mezquita becomes Maurorum fana. In the formulation of the narrative, Pulgar's Castilian phrase: "junto fasta cinquenta mil combatientes de Castilla la Vieja, e de todas las montanas e Asturias" is transformed into "ex Asturibus, Bardulis, Cantabris, Vasconibus superioresque Hispaniae populis ad quinquagenta peditum nulla diversorum generum armaturae coegit".19 To view the Castilian original and the Latin equivalent together is to experience the written equivalent of the two Salamanca cathedrals cheek by jowl, the one Romanesque, the other plateresque.


22What were the subequent responses, then, to the view expressed in Nebrija's letter to Fernando on the issues of who should be appointed to write the history of Spain and how should the esta Hispanorum be made known abroad? The most immediate answer was of course the printing by Sancho Nebrija in Granada, 1545, for the first time, of four historical narratives in Latin crucial to the knowledge of Spanish history from prehistorical times to the present day. It was, as I have said, a botched and rushed job; the texts were in a confused state and Sancho did not even know the name of the Bishop of Gerona. We do not know where the original texts came from, but it is possible they came from Antonio Nebrija's own library. There may have been pressure to hurry the publication. We are, of course, in a period when the Spanish presence in Europe was more aggressive than it had ever been. The Emperor had just left Spain for Europe and only returned later to renounce the throne. There was a new spirit of militancy abroad as Spain prepared the Counter Reformation, using the Council of Trent, the Inquisition, the Index and the printing press. Sancho's dedication was to Philip, the prince who was to lead that battle; and he was very conscious of the power of the printed word.

23The second and more substantial response to Nebrija was the Rerum Hispanicarum Chronicon by Johannes Vaseus of Bruges, printed in Salamanca 1552, and shortly afterwards in Cologne 1557. It was dedicated to his patron Henry, Cardinal Infante of Portugal, Archbishop of Evora, and is preceded by a long, detailed and intriguing exposition of aims, scope and sources utilised. He had just read Sancho de Nebrija's edition, which he classified as excellent in promise and lamentable in execution, and I have no doubt that he read with careful attention Antonio's Divinatio, for one of the first points that he makes is that as a foreigner he feels himself to be perfectly reliable as an historian of Spain, and that, as a foreigner who previously knew nothing of the country, he now intends to make the history of Spain available to all who can read Latin:

  • 20 He continues "Et consentaneum omnino videtur, ut res hae quas Hispani gesserunt, quemadmodum orbis (...)

"Volui quidem ut Hispanorum res gestae posthac non Hispane tantum, sed etiam Latine legerentur; nam Latina leguntur in omnibus fere gentibus. Hispana suis finibus, quamquam non exiguis, sane continentur."20

  • 21 Ibid., loc. cit.

24Moreover, unlike Marineus or Nebrija, he does not use the argument that Latin is the supreme stylistic vehicle. He sets truth against the demands of style: "praesertim quum ea scribantur in quibus non tam stili venustas desideretur quam fides historiae quaeratur." This is a new note.21

25He is quite prepared to defend (against Nebrija's accusations) his qualifications for writing the history of Spain; one should not be amazed he observes, or consider it a defect, or rashness, that a foreigner should dare to write about Spanish affairs:

  • 22 Ibid., pp.575-576.

"Neque quisquam miretur, aut vitio dandum arbitretur, vel temeritati adscribet quod homo peregrinus et velut in alio natus orbe, de rebus Hispaniae sim ausus aliquid commentari. Primum enim neque novi quicquam facio, neque sine exemple".22

26Think of the Greeks, he adds, who wrote the history of Rome - like Polybius, Plutarch; Livy himself was not a Roman. If the Athenians could count a citizen anyone who had been seven years amongst them, and the Romans gave citizenship to people who had never seen Rome, then I should be numbered amongst the Spaniards, for I have live here twenty years, married a Spaniard and brought up a family. I have sweated my life out as a teacher and I doubt if there is a town in Spain that does not have a pupil of Vaseus.

27He was an innovator in many fields. He is the first to claim explicitly that he is writing a scholarly history of Spain in Latin to educate the foreigner; the first to place accuracy above a good Latin style; the first to set out an elaborate methodology and bibliography with an alphabetical list of sources; the first to locate early medieval texts like Idatius, Biclarense, Sampiro, Pacensis; the first to amend textually the manuscripts he had found in obscure places; the first to cover both Spanish and Portuguese history; the first to accept that others had written on earlier periods, like Beuter and Ocampo, and that he should as a consequence concentrate on the first eleven centuries of the Christian era because these were the least well known; and he is the first to tackle both political and ecclesiastical history together. And finally, he is the first to add three folios of corrections and annotations to his own work. Above all, it is a work which attempts to give a firm chronological structure to the period under study.


28I hope to have demonstrated that, between mid-fifteenth century and mid-sixteenth century there took place a concerted effort through a series of Latin histories to spread the knowledge of the res gestae Hispanorum beyond the limits of the Peninsula. It is an important phase in the development of Spanish historiography. I have not wished to argue that humanism, as it is generally understood was a fundamental element in this process. It was certainly important, in particular over the recovery of Latin and Greek texts, and also in the cultivation of the idea that the citizen should employ his scholarship in the service of the respublica. But with reference to the main thrust of these narratives, it is clear that international politics, the defence of national pride, the dignity and legitimacy of the sovereign power were paramount in the minds of these authors. And when the combined crowns of Castile and Aragon entered into hegemony in Italy, acquired an Emperor in Charles V, halted the Turk at Lepanto, it was then that the editing of Spanish historical texts began abroad in any substantial fashion. If we leave aside the second edition of Vaseus's chronicle in Cologne in 1557, the real process begins in 1579 in Frankfurt, with the work of Robert Bell the Englishman, Rerum Hispanicarum scriptores, followed some quarter of a century later in the same city by the series of volumes entitled Hispaniae Illustratae seu Rerum urbiumque Hispaniae, Lusitaniae, Aethiopiae et lndiae scriptores varii (1603-05) edited by the Jesuit historian Andreas Schott. This enlarges the vision from the Peninsula to the worldwide explorations carried out by both Spanish and Portuguese and marks the high point of the publicity given to such material.


1 R B. TATE, "Sancho de Nebrija y su antologia historiografica", Insula, 551, Madrid, nov. 1992, pp.17-19.

2 Johannes VASEUS, Chronici rerum memorabilium Hispaniae, Salamanca, 1552; second ed., Rerum Hispaniae memorabilium annales, Cologne, 1557; the text used here is Joannis Vasaei Brugensis Rerum Hispanicarum Chronicon in A. SCHOTT, Hisp. Illustr., I, 572-727.

3 "The Content and Purpose of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain", Anglo-Norman Studies, XIII, Woodbridge, 1991, p.100.

4 Much of the subsequent material is drawn from my Ensayos sobre la historiografia peninsular del siglo xv, Madrid, 1970.

5 "Los godos y el origen de la epopeya espanola" in I Goti in Occidente. Problemi (Spoleto, 1956), pp.321-322.

6 Margarit i el tema dels gots", Actes del cinqué colloqui internacional de llengua i literatura catalanes, Montserrat, 1980, pp. 151-168.

7 "In eis Gothici apposuerunt memoriam per foramina in singulis eminentibus lapidibus constituta, ut non minus fuisset mirabile illa [Roma] in tanta sceleris atrocitate servasse quam illam initio construxisse. " Ibid, p.164.

8 De memorabilibus in Hisp. Illustr., I, p.291.

9 Ibid., p.318.

10 Ibid., p.320.

11 "Antonius Nebrisensis, chronographus regius, dum Burgis in curia desidet ociosus dispunxit, interpunxit atque pro virili ex inemendato exemplari castigavit et imprimi curavit. " Colophon to edition of Burgos, 1512.

12 For Enrique de Villena, see R.B. TATE, "El cronista real castellano durante el siglo quince", Homenaje a Pedro Sainz Rodríguez III. Estudios históricos, Madrid, 1986, p.663; for Alfonso de Herrera of Seville, see MARINEUS, De memorabilibus, Alcala, 1530, letter addressed to author in prologue, unfoliated.

13 De memorabilibus, in. Hisp. Illutr., I, p.292.

14 See text of letter reproduced and translated in G.H. ANDRÉS, Obras Históricas de Nebrija. Estudio filológico, Salamanca, 1991, p.125-129. See also R.B. TATE, 'La historiografia del reinado de los Reyes Catolicos'in Coloquio humanista. Antonio de Nebrija: Edad Media y Renacimiento, Salamanca, 1994, p. 17-28.

15 Anales breves del reinado de los Reyes Catolicos in BAE, vol. LXX, Madrid, 1953, p.536.

16 See his views on Latin as the language of historians in Roma Triumphans, in Opera, Basle, 1531, p.2. In Italia lllustrata he adds "Erunt multa vero in quibus nos circumloquutio adiuuabit, sed rerum singularum, quas omnino ut sunt, intelligi oportet, uocabulorum mutatio talis est facta, ut si vetusta illis exponendis attulero, mea ipse relegens scripta, non intelligam. ", Opera, p.293.

17 "Quare quis non videt rebus novis esse accommodanda nova nomina? Ut veteres, a quibus praecepta habemus, et exempla sumimus, factitarunt. Itaque in hac re non venustatis auctoritatem sequar, sed nostrorum consuetudini obsequar. non Barcinonam sed Barcellonam" De rebus a Ferdinando Aragoniae rege aestis libri tres, ed. in Hisp. Illustr. I, p.730 and 745.

18 "Nopienso gastar ni un instante en discutir los testimonios de Plinio, Estrabon y Tolomeo... yo llamaré Vera... y los que quieran, que la llamen Varia. Dire Alméria, y no Abdera, etc. ", Epistolario, II ed. and trans. by J. LOPEZ de TORO, Madrid, 1955, pp. 101-102, carta 64. See also carta 446 to Conde de Tendilla (1510) just about the time when Nebrija was writing; see in particular pp.334 sqq.

19 See various examples in TATE, Ensayos, pp. 195-196, 200-201.

20 He continues "Et consentaneum omnino videtur, ut res hae quas Hispani gesserunt, quemadmodum orbis terrae regionibus definiuntur, sic omnibus gentibus innotescant, et quo manuum Hispanarum tela pervenerint, eodem gloria famaque penetret". Ed. cit., p.572.

21 Ibid., loc. cit.

22 Ibid., pp.575-576.


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