War and peace in Castile

The Chivalric Vision of Alfonso de Cartagena
October 10, 1997

British Spanish departments tend to disregard literature prior to the Golden Age of the 16th century, on grounds of irrelevance. Here is an edition which may prompt them to revise their parameters. Doctrinal de los Caualleros is, outwardly, in modern terms, a compendium of rules of engagement for officers, composed around 1444. Crucially, it defines the responsibilities of individuals and groups to society, a major issue on the eve of the Renaissance.

Like many other Castilian writers of the time, the author, Alfonso de Cartagena (1384-1456), was a christianised Jew, and narrative literature in particular was motivated by the debate over the assimilation of former Jews. Although the Doctrinal is not polemical in this respect, it was much in demand: at least 15 contemporary manuscript copies survive, and its 1487 edition is one of the earliest books printed in Spain. Remarkably, a further publication followed within ten years, with possibly yet another printing in between the two. There were to be no more editions until Noel Fallows's, although the manuscripts had some distinguished collectors, including a forthcoming cult figure for Hispanists, the Count of Gondomar, and the politician Antonio C novas.

The Doctrinal was commissioned by the wife-murdering Count of Castrogeriz just before a historic battle, in which he was captured by Cartagena's patron Alvaro de Luna (1388-1453), the royal favourite. Some manuscripts acknowledge the count, others have a probably hastily introduced dedication to De Luna.

Cartagena ultimately turned on the latter, who was disgraced and beheaded. These vagaries in the circumstances of the work suggest a variety of applications. Fallows refrains from pursuing them all, since his declared interest is in treatises of this type (the reader wonders what Castiglione would have made of the Doctrinal) and their social implications for the knightly caste.

Important literature often has the character of a bridge, and Fallows's enviable scholarship serves to demonstrate this by tracing Cartagena's literary roots, and showing how his ideas were received by society. The bibliographical references are invaluable to anyone researching this period.

Edward Cooper is historical consultant for the restoration of the castle of Guadamur.

The Chivalric Vision of Alfonso de Cartagena: Study and Edition of Doctrinal de los Caualleros

Author - Noel Fallows
ISBN - 0 936388 75 7
Publisher - Hispanic Monographs Ediciones Críticas
Price - $22.00
Pages - 392

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