Monthly Archives: December 2012

Evaluating Both Style and Substance in One’s Sources

From the Introduction to History of the Spanish Conquest of Yucatan and of the Itzas, by Philip Ainsworth Means. Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, vol. VII, 1917. (The Kindle edition is available for free on Amazon!)

Though Villagutierre’s Spanish style is far superior to that of such writers as Fernando Montesinos and Antonio de la Calancha, it is, nevertheless, atrocious. Although he wrote about 1700, Villagutierre’s style is excessively archaic; his grammatical construction can hardly be called construction at all, so formless and ambiguous is it. Villagutierre never hesitates to write several long sentences without a single main verb between them, nor does he often refrain from going on and on for a page or so without using a period. In the use of capitals he is most whimsical; usually he has them when they are called for, but he has many that are out of place as well.

The style of Cogolludo, on the other hand, is very good, and that, be it noted, despite the fact that Cogolludo wrote prior to 1688. One remarks with considerable surprise that in several cases Villagutierre and Cogolludo use almost the same words. For example, in speaking of the visit which Cortes made to the island of Tayasal, Cogolludo says: “… y aun que la ida de Cortes se tuvo por ossadia, y demasiada confianza…” Villagutierre, in the same connection says: “… que lo tenian a grandissima temeridad, y ossadia, y por demasiada confianza ….” This is an interesting point, and perhaps it is significant that Cogolludo’s book was published in 1688, whereas Villagutierre was not brought out until 1701. It is to be noted that Cogolludo, the earlier writer, uses only two epithets, and that Villagutierre, the later writer, uses the same two, plus a new one of his own. I know of two other cases where equally close and significant similarity exists between the two. It is possible, then that Villagutierre copied (not to say plagiarized) the work of Cogolludo without giving credit for it. But the important point for us in this matter does not concern the personal integrity of Villagutierre. Rather does the importance of the matter lie in this: if Villagutierre was acquainted with the history of Yucatan by Cogolludo to such a degree that he frequently borrowed whole phrases from it, he must have had a very good reason for diverging widely now and again from the version of events given by Cogolludo. Such a reason could only be supplied by the fact that Villagutierre possessed information which he regarded as superior to and more official than that of Cogolludo. Therefore, since in several instances (as in the account of the events leading up to the visit of Cortes to Tayasal) Villagutierre occasionally departs from the footsteps of Cogolludo, we may safely assume that he was at once more critical and better informed than the latter, whom, however, he valued enough to be willing to draw from his work much of his information and even some of his phraseology.

One rarely reads such introductions in scholarly books these days. This book is one of several I began reading to prepare for our winter vacation in the Yucatan, where my historian brother has retired and now works on Maya language projects.

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Spain’s Era of Desengaño: ‘Queremos comer sin trabajar’

From Imperial Spain: 1469-1716, by J. H. Elliott (Penguin, 2002), 2nd ed., Kindle Loc. 5112-5153:

The great plague of 1599–1600 wiped out at a single blow much of the population increase of the sixteenth century, and opened a new era in Castilian demographic history: an era of stagnation, and perhaps of demographic decline.

The economic consequences of the plague were to be seen in the labour crisis with which the new century opened, and can be traced in the 30 per cent increase in salaries in the three years that followed it. González de Cellorigo, an official in the chancellery of Valladolid who published in 1600, under the shadow of the plague, a brilliant treatise on the problems of the Spanish economy, accurately prophesied its effects: ‘Henceforth we can only expect that everything requiring human industry and labour will be very expensive… because of the shortage of people for tillage and for all the types of manufactures that the kingdom needs.’ The acute labour shortage, and the consequent upswing of salaries, were, as González de Cellorigo appreciated, irreparable disasters for the Castilian economy, since they destroyed the possibility that the years of peace might be used to build up Castilian industry to a point at which it would again be able to compete with foreign industries in the home and overseas markets.

But the most serious long-term consequences of the plague may have been psychological rather than economic. Already, before it was struck by the plague, Castile was weary and depressed. The failures in France and the Netherlands, the sack of Cadiz by the English, and the King’s request for a national donativo in 1596 as bankruptcy struck, completed the disillusionment that had begun with the defeat of the Invincible Armada. Then, to crown it all, came the plague. The unbroken succession of disasters threw Castile off balance. The ideals which had buoyed it up during the long years of struggle were shattered beyond repair. The country felt itself betrayed – betrayed perhaps by a God who had inexplicably withdrawn His favour from His chosen people. Desolate and plague-stricken, the Castile of 1600 was a country that had suddenly lost its sense of national purpose.

Castilians reacted to the moment of disillusionment in different ways. Optimism had gone, to be replaced by bitterness and cynicism, or else by the resignation of defeat. The new mood of fatalism and disillusionment naturally tended to reinforce certain latent tendencies that had already been encouraged by the unusual circumstances of the sixteenth century. During that century, events had conspired to disparage in the national estimation the more prosaic virtues of hard work and consistent effort. The mines of Potosí brought to the country untold wealth; if money was short today, it would be abundant again tomorrow when the treasure fleet reached Seville. Why plan, why save, why work? Around the corner would be the miracle – or perhaps the disaster. Prices might rise, savings be lost, the crops fail. There seemed little point in demeaning oneself with manual labour, when, as so often happened, the idle prospered and the toilers were left without reward. The events of the turn of the century could only increase this sense of insecurity and strengthen an already widespread fatalism. It was fatalism that characterized the outlook of the pícaro, and the seventeenth century was essentially the age of the pícaro, living on his wits – hungry today, well fed tomorrow, and never soiling his hands with honest work. ‘Queremos comer sin trabajar’: we want to eat without working. The words could be applied to Castilians in many walks of life, from the townsman living comfortably on his annuities to the vagabond without a blanca in his purse.

It was in this atmosphere of desengaño, of national disillusionment, that Cervantes wrote his Don Quixote, of which the first part appeared in 1605 and the second in 1614. Here, among many other parables, was the parable of a nation which had set out on its crusade only to learn that it was tilting at windmills. In the end was the desengaño, for ultimately the reality would always break in on the illusion. The events of the 1590s had suddenly brought home to more thoughtful Castilians the harsh truth about their native land – its poverty in the midst of riches, its power that had shown itself impotent. Brought face to face with the terrible paradoxes of the Castile of Philip III, a host of public-spirited figures – such men as González de Cellorigo and Sancho de Moncada – set themselves to analyse the ills of an ailing society. It is these men, known as arbitristas (projectors), who give the Castilian crisis of the turn of the century its special character. For this was not only a time of crisis, but a time also of the awareness of crisis – of a bitter realization that things had gone wrong. It was under the influence of the arbitristas that early seventeenth-century Castile surrendered itself to an orgy of national introspection, desperately attempting to discover at what point reality had been exchanged for illusion. But the arbitristas – as their name suggested – were by no means content merely to analyse. They must also find the answer. That an answer existed they had no doubt; for just as Sancho Panza had in him something of Don Quixote, so also even the most pessimistic arbitrista was still something of an optimist at heart. As a result, the Government of Philip III found itself bombarded with advice – with innumerable projects, both sensible and fantastic, for the restoration of Castile.

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Catalonia & Portugal vs. Castile, 1640

From Imperial Spain: 1469-1716, by J. H. Elliott (Penguin, 2002), 2nd ed., Kindle Loc. 5954-97:

Seeing that his authority was gone and that law and order were everywhere collapsing, the unfortunate Count of Santa Coloma begged the town councillors of Barcelona to close the city gates against the casual labourers who always flocked into the city at the beginning of June to hire themselves out for harvesting. But the councillors were either unable or unwilling to agree; the harvesters made their usual entry; and on Corpus day, 7 June 1640, they inevitably became involved in a brawl. The brawl soon acquired the dimensions of a riot, and within a few hours the mob was hounding down the royal ministers and sacking their houses. The viceroy himself had moved to the dockyards for safety, but a group of rioters forced its way in, and Santa Coloma was caught and struck down as he attempted to escape from his pursuers along the rocky beach.

The murder of Santa Coloma left such authority as remained in Catalonia in the hands of the Diputació and of the city councillors and aristocracy of Barcelona. Although they managed to shepherd the rebels out of Barcelona itself, it was impossible to maintain control over a movement which was spreading through the Principality, wreaking vengeance on all those of whom the rebels disapproved. Stunned as he was by the viceroy’s murder, Olivares still seems to have hoped that the rebellion could be checked without recourse to arms, but the new viceroy, the Catalan Duke of Cardona, died on 22 July without being able to halt the drift to anarchy. Almost at the same moment the rebels gained control of the vital port of Tortosa. The loss of Tortosa made it finally clear that troops would have to be sent into Catalonia, in spite of the obvious risk of war in a province bordering on France; and Olivares pressed ahead with the formation of an army for use against the rebels.

The Conde Duque believed that the Catalans were still too loyal to call on the French for help, but he underestimated the determination and vigour of Claris, and the hatred of his Government and of Castile which his policies had inspired in every class of Catalan society. Some time before, Claris had already made tentative overtures to the French, and Richelieu, who had shown himself well aware of the possibilities of causing trouble both in Catalonia and Portugal, declared himself ready to offer help. During the autumn of 1640 Claris and Olivares stood face to face, Claris hoping to avoid the necessity of committing the Principality to an open break with Madrid, and Olivares equally hoping to avoid the necessity of using an army against the Catalans. ‘In the midst of all our troubles,’ wrote the Conde Duque to the Cardenal Infante in October, ‘the Catalan is the worst we have ever had, and my heart admits of no consolation that we are entering an action in which, if our army kills, it kills a vassal of His Majesty, and if they kill, they kill a vassal and a soldier…. Without reason or occasion they have thrown themselves into as complete a rebellion as Holland….’

But worse was to come. The revolt of the Catalans was bound to have its repercussions in Portugal, where there was a growing determination to cut the country’s links with Castile. Uneasily aware that he could never be sure of Portugal as long as the Duke of Braganza and the higher Portuguese nobility remained at home, Olivares had ingeniously thought to kill two birds with one stone by ordering the Portuguese nobility to turn out with the army that was to be sent into Catalonia. This order meant that, if Portugal was ever to break free from Castile, it must act quickly before Braganza was out of the country. Plans for a revolution were laid in the autumn of 1640, probably with the connivance of Richelieu, who is believed to have sent funds to the conspirators in Lisbon. On 1 December, while the royal army under the command of the Marquis of los Vélez was gingerly advancing into Catalonia, the Portuguese conspirators put their plan into action. The guards at the royal palace in Lisbon were overwhelmed, Miguel de Vasconcellos – Olivares’s confidant and principal agent in the government of Portugal – was assassinated, and Princess Margaret was escorted to the frontier. Since there were virtually no Castilian troops in Portugal, there was nothing to prevent the rebels from taking over the country, and proclaiming the Duke of Braganza king as John IV.

The news of the Portuguese Revolution, which took a week to reach Madrid, forced Olivares and his colleagues to undertake an urgent reappraisal of their policies. Simultaneous revolts in the east and west of the Spanish peninsula threatened the Monarchy with total disaster. Peace was essential: peace with the Dutch, peace with the Catalans. But although the Conde Duque now offered favourable terms to the Catalans, and the upper classes in Catalonia seemed predisposed to accept them as the army of los Vélez moved closer and closer to Barcelona, the populace was in no mood for surrender. It rioted in Barcelona on 24 December, hunting down ‘traitors’ with a savagery surpassing that of Corpus; and Claris, faced on one side with the fury of the mob, and on the other with the advancing Castilian army, took the only course open to him. On 16 January 1641 he announced that Catalonia had become an independent republic under French protection. Then on 23 January, finding that the French were not satisfied with this, he withdrew his plans for a republican system of government, and formally declared the allegiance of Catalonia to the King of France, ‘as in the time of Charlemagne, with a contract to observe our constitutions’. The French were now prepared to give the Catalans full military support; the French agent, Duplessis Besançon, hastily organized the defence of Barcelona, and on 26 January a combined French and Catalan force met the army of los Vélez on the hill of Montjuich outside the walls of Barcelona, Los Vélez unaccountably gave the order to retreat, and the last chance of bringing the revolt of the Catalans to a speedy end was lost.

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