García-Velasco, Municipal law at the Iberian frontier, 1050-1150

Municipal law at the Iberian frontier: the evidence of the fueros and cartas de población during the Iberian Reconquista, c.1050-c.1150

Rodrigo García-Velasco (Cambridge)

The lively debate surrounding the issue of frontiers has seen numerous advances in the past twenty years in the field of Iberian history. It is the aim of this paper to examine instances of frontier political and social interaction during the height of the so-called ‘Reconquista’, during which the northern Christian kingdoms of Castile-Leon and Aragon-Catalonia ‘conquered’, or rather took over, large portions of the Iberian Peninsula.

There is an understudied corpus of sources that can contribute towards a better understanding of these regions and of the configuration of the northern Christian polities. The fueros and cartas de población were royal grants given normally to recently established or conquered settlements. They sanctioned the locals’ right to populate the area, imposing regulations that ranged from fiscal matters to the regulation of penal law. These documents also functioned to confirm the authority of the issuer over the settlement in question. Fueros are found throughout Iberia, with some early examples being issued in Castile-León in the tenth century, whence they spread elsewhere in the late-eleventh and early-twelfth centuries. In Catalonia, a very similar corpus of sources, called cartas de población have similar underlying motives. Through these municipal law codes, we can observe the tensions between the political leadership of the kings of Portugal, León-Castile, and Aragon-Catalonia in their attempts to spread their power throughout vast newly-conquered territories, on the one hand, and the local-based political, social and legal-customary practice of frontiersmen settlers, whose political allegiance was not well defined.

By means of a few case studies, I will propose that the fueros are further evidence of the uneasy relationship and underlying tensions in these settlements, between the northern Christian kings; northern Christian settlers, crusaders, and members of the Church; and the settled Muslim, Jewish, and Arabicised Chrsitian communities. In this paper I will specifically focus on what the fueros tell us with regard to the social and political role of the autochthonous populations, and if they were integrated or segregated from the frontier societies in which they lived, by means of a few case studies.