History of Europe

The legend of the judges of Castile

Entry taken from the book «From Covadonga to Tamarón».

With the name of jueces de Castilla two figures are known, Laín Calvo and Nuño Rasura, who were presumably chosen by the Castilians to defend their rights and confront the pretensions and excesses of the kings of León. However, after long discussions between historians on the matter, today it seems that it can be affirmed that both figures do not respond to a historical reality, not so much in terms of their existence but in terms of their position and functions as judges. of Castile.

The first mention of both characters is found in the Fuero General de Navarra , a work composed in two periods and which, for those of us who are interested, can be dated between the years 1157 and 1194. When detailing the lineage of El Cid, he points out that this «ueni dreytament del linage de Layn Calbo, who was copaynero de Nueno Rasuera. Et were anvos iudiçes de Castyella».

Subsequently, the Liber Regnum or Villarense Chronicle (between the years 1196 and 1211) describes how on the death of the King of Asturias Alfonso II (843) both judges were elected and how the Count of Castile Fernán González descended from the lineage of Nuño Rasura and the Count of Laín Calvo el Cid Campeador.

These sources were confirmed by some earlier ones on the genealogies of El Cid and Fernán González, which made reference to these two figures, but without mentioning their status as Judges of Castile. It is about the Story Rodedici, biography of the Cid written a few decades after his death in 1099, and from the Crónica Najerense (somewhat after the year 1160).

To give content to the legend of these Judges of Castile we must wait for the Chronicle of Lucas de Tuy (approximately 1236) which gives the Leonese version of this Castilian rebellion and places his appointment in the reign of Fruela II (years 924 and 925):"while King Fruela was still living, the nobles of Castile, not wanting to have a king over themselves, seized power tyrannically. They chose two gentlemen for themselves as judges:Nuño Rasura, from Catalonia, and Laín Calvo, from Burgos». He goes on to point out that Laín rejected the position and that it was Nuño who exercised it, as his son Gonzalo Núñez would do after him, who was named count and married Jimena, daughter of the previous count Nuño Fernández. Fernán González would be born from this link.

The Spanish version is offered shortly after by the Archbishop of Toledo Ximénez de Rada in De Rebus Hispaniae (around 1244). After referring that three Castilian counts had been assassinated by Ordoño II, during the reign of Fruela, when contemplating the tyranny of the monarch "and the many insults they received from kings and magnates", as well as seeing that "the territory of their people were cut down every day and instead of a fair trial they only got contempt and insults» they elected the aforementioned Nuño Rasura and Laín Calvo and «appointed them as judges so that with their decisions they would find an end to the dissensions of the land and the litigations of the litigants”.

He goes on to narrate that while Laín shrugged off the position and could not bear the discrepancies between the litigants, Nuño did listen to each other and made the fairest decision (the fazañas, that became the origin of Castilian law). In such a way that all the Castilian knights ended up leaving their children to be educated by Nuño, including his son, Gonzalo Núñez, who over time the knights choose to act as Count of Castile. He ends by praising the kindness of Rasura's grandson, Count Fernán González (who succeeded his father), since "since he took charge of the county, the kings of Asturias ceased to be insolent towards Castile."

This version passed to the General History of Spain of Alfonso X el Sabio and from there, without being questioned, to all the historical chronicles until the end of the 18th century. It was in 1771 when Father Flórez questioned for the first time this legend of The judges of Castile, by highlighting the contradictions with the chronicles of the reigns of Fruela II and Alfonso IV. Already in the 20th century, two sources as authoritative as Galo Sánchez and Sánchez Albornoz also declared themselves contrary to the historical veracity of the judges of Castile, that he attributed the first to the dissensions between Castile and León at the time when the legend was generated and that he considered incompatible with the judicial organization of the time.

Fray Justo Pérez de Urbel stands out among the defenders of the veracity of the figure of the Judges of Castile, in his History of the County of Castile (1945). In 1969 he published a revised edition of his work in which, responding to the criticism received, he reiterated his belief in the veracity of this figure:«perhaps they have wanted to give the institution of the judges of Castile a value that in reality it does not have; but its existence can be considered a historical fact».

Gonzalo Martínez Díez, in the work that serves as a source for this entry, summarizes the arguments against the historical veracity of the judges of Castile in which authors such as García Gallo, Georges Martin, Díaz de Garayo and Peña Pérez have abounded. These arguments are:

1.- The first written text that mentions the judges of Castile it is not earlier than the year 1157, almost three centuries after the moment of its creation (if it goes back to the reign of Alfonso II) or two centuries later (if it is considered that they were born during the reign of Fruela). None of the abundant previous sources mentions a fact that, due to its historical relevance, they would undoubtedly have referred to if it were true. Thus the Albendense Chronicle (881), the Chronicle of Alfonso III (884), the Chronicle of Sampiro (1040), the Silense Chronicle (1118) or that of Bishop Pelayo (1125), neither of which makes the slightest reference to the judges of Castile.

2.- In no document of the kingdom of Asturias (after León), neither judicial nor political, nor awarding land, nor dating the historical moment of its granting, does it record its existence.

3.- The contradictions between the historical moment (year 843 or year 925) and the circumstances (power vacuum after the death of Alfonso II, abuses of the kings Ordoño II and Fruela II) in which this figure emerged.

4.- The contradiction between the aforementioned circumstances and the historical reality that IS known:there was no power vacuum after the death of Alfonso II (in fact, Ramiro I was precisely in Castile when he died) or rabelions against Fruela II and his successor Alfonso IV (accepted without problems as king in Castile).

5.- All the diplomas awarded during the period discussed in Castile recognize the existence of the Leonese King of the day and, therefore, Castile's submission to him when setting their date. And in this period the existence of counts in Castile and Burgos who would be the representatives appointed by the King of León and who contradict the existence of this native figure of the judges of Castile is continuous and peaceful. In fact, this submission of the Castilian counts to the king of León continued with Fernán González and his successors in the county, who increased autonomy and made it hereditary, but did not become independent from the kingdom of León.

6-. Contradiction of dates if we take as historical period the reign of Fruela II. It seems more than improbable that in 924 Nuño Rasura, grandfather of Fernán González, was appointed judge of Castile, who already in the year 932 we know was Count of Castile. In eight years, Nuño would have held the position of judge, educated and being succeeded by his son Gonzalo, and his grandson Fernán González would have been appointed count.

7.- During the years in which these judges presumably held office, they would apply a kind of will in their decisions that would allow them to interpret the rules at will, it is known that in Castile the Libre Iuidiciorum was applied according to which the judges had to dictate a sentence in accordance with the right that emanated from the laws.

As we said at the beginning, the lack of historical veracity of the institution of the judges of Castile It does not have to imply that the characters who presumably embodied her are not real, nor that the genealogy of one and the other is not true... but that is another story.

Daniel Fernández de Lis:From Covadonga to Tamarón.

Gonzal Martinez Diez. The county of Castile (711-1038). History versus legend I . Marcial Pons Editions of History. 2005.