Gugel, Tonsured squires and criminality in late medieval Valencia

“Dix que ell ere coronat”: Tonsured Squires, Criminality, and Questions of Legal Jurisdiction in late Medieval Valencia

David Gugel (Toronto)

This paper explores the phenomenon of tonsured youths, who served as squires in the households of medieval Valencia’s aristocratic and patrician elite, a topic which heretofore has been largely overlooked.  Contrary to what one might expect, these young men do not appear to have fulfilled clerical or religious duties within the household, but instead appear to have formed part of the personal retinue of elite families, serving in the traditional role of squires as personal attendants to heads of household or their families.  In short, the tonsured squires one finds in Valencian documents performed duties much like traditional squires elsewhere, which begs the question: why were they tonsured in the first place?

While there are many possible explanations, one of the most interesting is that squires were encouraged to wear tonsures as a deliberate means to avoid the jurisdiction of secular courts when arrested for having committed criminal acts. In addition, this paper also briefly considers the motivation of the bishop and other members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, who were necessarily complicit in the practice of tonsuring squires.   Not only was the bishop the individual who often performed the ceremony that granted clerical status to squires, but he and his staff were also those who stood then actively supported tonsured squires in their assertions of clerical privilege in cases where they were brought before secular courts.  Therefore, the role of the Valencian bishop in perpetuating the phenomenon of tonsured squires will also be examined and some reasons for his participation in the practice will be offered.