“Historias ciudadanas” and genealogical forgery

Résumé de la communication prévue dans le cadre du colloque

L’entreprise généalogique, Paris, 27-28 novembre 2014

(http://humanisme.hypotheses.org/434)

 

Rafael M. Girón Pascual (Université de Grenade-Université de Harvard-Villa I Tatti)

“Historias ciudadanas” and genealogical forgery. The case of the city of Cuenca in Early Modern Castile

Since the seventeenth century and until the end of early modern period it flourished in Castile what it is known today as “Historias ciudadanas” or citizen histories. These books or manuscripts were made to extol the cities, their antiquity and the ancient nobility of the elites that ruled them. They usually begin with a legend about the city foundation, followed by the passing of ages: Phoenician, Greek, Iberian, Carthaginian, Roman, Visigoth, Muslim, and finally Christian from Castile. The transition between the last two periods takes a special place in these histories with the always perfectly known fact of conquest and its actors – who attacked this gate, who climbed this tower the first, who helped the king in the siege – surprise the reader for the accuracy of the feats that happened centuries ago. Lists of benevolent bishops and notable persons, in a mix of reality and legend, accompanied these narratives. But what is more important for us is that they contain genealogical appendices for the families of the local elite as the crucial element for sustaining the citizen republic.

One might argue that the genealogical reconstruction of the elite in those books was directly involved in the self-perception and power of the privileged group because it standardised and gave homogeneity to an elite characterised for its diverse origins. For the authors of “Historias ciudadanas” almost all noble descended from Christian conquerors that took the cities from Muslims hands. In that vision, there is no place for change or heterodoxy and, like in the Augustinian view of the society, every person takes his place fixed by birth.

However, findings made in Spanish Social History in the last three decades questions this theory because change is found and processes of social mobility were more the rule than the exception. However, these chronicles managed to present new upstart families of wealthy and powerful oligarchs – most of them made rich by the silk, cloth and wool trade and preindustrial production, and almost everyone from a “judeoconverso” heritage– at the same level as high noble minority from feudal backgrounds that in fact ruled the cities since the Conquest. There is no place in its pages for merchants, artisans, physicians, moneylenders or bastard sons; for a humble farmer boy who became a bishop; for simple soldiers nor generals, wardens or knights of Santiago; for people accused by the Inquisition; for unequal marriages that no one remember, or they don’t want to remember, the names of the bride’s parents, or just place for common people rather than noble. Commonplaces as faction fight murders that forced individual to travel to other cities, which linked oligarchs with noble families from distant locations, or the trip from the mountains of north Castile to the conquered lands, both situations to justify the sudden appearance of certain family not known as noble some decades before. Did it happen as it is described in these books? Certainly not.

The city of Cuenca, one of the few cities with “voto a Cortes”, seat of the diocese of the same name, had two well known “historias ciudadanas”: Martir Rizo’s Historia de la muy noble y leal ciudad de Cuenca (1629) and Mateo López’s Memorias Históricas de Cuenca y su obispado (1786). Different years and approaches, various sources, but the same result: the mystification of the elites as progeny of chivalry and even of own or foreign kings that could be traced back to the Visigoths, rather than the truly provenance in a social background of bureaucratic and artisan-merchants. In both essays surnames were confused with lineages; “limpieza de sangre” with “hidalguía”; individual goals with the nobility of the family in long and totally elitist – or even racist – discourses that claim sometimes the different nature of men depending its noble or plebeian origin.

This paper will analyse both works and the role played by genealogy as a tool used by writers and genealogists to justify forgeries like the ones in these works. Moreover, it will claim that this historical tool could be used as a mechanism for historians to knock down fakes and also to study the society, especially its elites, in Early Modern times.

 


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