The Amnesty of Zamora That United Spain in 1476

This document secured uncontested recognition of Ferdinand and Isabella as the Spanish monarchs, and played a role during the Inquisition.

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In the Middle Ages, Spain was not a unified nation, but a group of separate states. Castille and Leon ran down the middle of the Iberian Peninsula and over atop Portugal to the west. Aragon was to the northeast, while the Moorish kingdom of Granada remained in the southeast. In 1469, Princess...

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The Amnesty of Zamora That United Spain in 1476

This document secured uncontested recognition of Ferdinand and Isabella as the Spanish monarchs, and played a role during the Inquisition.

In the Middle Ages, Spain was not a unified nation, but a group of separate states. Castille and Leon ran down the middle of the Iberian Peninsula and over atop Portugal to the west. Aragon was to the northeast, while the Moorish kingdom of Granada remained in the southeast. In 1469, Princess Isabella (1451-1504), sister of King Henry IV of Castille and Leon and heir to its throne, married Prince Ferdinand (1452-1516), son of King Juan II of Aragon and heir to its throne. Ferdinand and Isabella would one day inherit and join together their two kingdoms, which composed some 90% of Spain. Then, once the Moors were driven out, Spain would be united under their rule.

That was the intention. However, this plan would not go unchallenged by strong and determined forces. Upon the death of her brother in 1474, Isabella’s right to the throne of Castille and Leon was hotly contested. The rival claimant was Juana (called “La Beltraneja”), wife of King Alfonso V of Portugal, which was then a wealthy and powerful nation. Juana was theoretically King Henry’s daughter, but was popularly thought to be the illegitimate child of a Beltran de la Cueva (as Henry was widely believed to be impotent).

Like Ferdinand and Isabella, Alfonso had a vision of unification; his, however, was incompatible with theirs. Through his wife, he claimed the throne of Castille and Leon for Portugal, thus hoping to unite the two states into a regional super-power, led from Lisbon, which would dominate the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. Although most Castilians favored Isabella, Juana had very substantial support. Zamora is a town northwest of Madrid, near Salamanca, and not far from the Portugese border. The town sympathized with Juana’s cause and the fortress there was held by supporters of Portugal at the start of the contest for the throne. Ferdinand took the initiative, and starting in 1475, a Castilian force led by him besieged Zamora. King Alfonso led a Portuguese army of 8,500 to Zamora’s relief in February 1476. The Portuguese, being well equipped with artillery and arquebusiers, bombarded the Castilian positions for two weeks before moving in the direction of nearby Toro.

Ferdinand pursued and caught the Portuguese five miles from Toro at 4 pm on March 1, 1476, as they negotiated a narrow pass beside the River Duero. The Portuguese formed up beyond the hills and allowed the Castilians through the gap to face them. Some of Ferdinand’s infantry got left behind in the rapid pursuit, so he was slightly outnumbered. The Castilian right was disordered by the Portuguese arquebusiers facing them and the action of the Portuguese cavalry. However, reinforced by late arrivals, the Castilians rallied at the pass and returned to the battle.

Toward evening, after 3 hours of fighting, the Portuguese began to give, and they finally broke when their flank was turned by a massed charge of the Castilian cavalry. In the end, at this, the famed Battle of Toro, some 2,000 Portuguese were killed; and badly beaten, Alfonso returned to Portugal empty handed, his hope of ruling Spain frustrated. Although their patron was defeated at Toro and had fled, pro-Juana Spanish leaders still held Zamora and its Fortress. Ferdinand understood that as long as they remained holed up there, his work was incomplete. There would still be armed resistance to his rule, the Portugese might again try to relieve the city, or the garrison might hold out and become a rallying point for his adversaries. So he would have to besiege Zamora and risk the fortunes of war.

The forces within Zamora were well aware that a siege was imminent, and knowing there was realistically no hope of being relieved from Portugal, saw that their cause was now ultimately doomed. They preferred to surrender the Fortress and transfer their allegiance to Ferdinand and Isabella, if the victors would allow it without taking reprisals. Ferdinand and Isabella realized that, by agreeing to terms for the surrender of the Fortress, they would avoid a potentially long, bloody and expensive siege, attendant with its uncertainties.

Even more importantly, a policy of broadening their support through reconciliation (rather than by taking retribution) would snatch away Juana’s followers and hasten the collapse of her cause, making the return of the Portugese later much more unlikely (and also set a positive example for others who had opposed Ferdinand and Isabella and would now consider transferring allegiance to them).

After negotiations, the leadership within the Fortress at Zamora and Ferdinand and Isabella (often referred to as the Catholic Monarchs) agreed to a two part solution: Zamora and its Fortress would surrender, and in return the Catholic Monarchs would issue an amnesty for those Castilians who had served Juana’s cause and would now pledge themselves to the winning side. Upon concluding this agreement, there would be no active armed opposition to the rule of the Catholic Monarchs within Christian Spain. Although the claims of Juana were not disposed of officially until 1478 (when, after the Treaty of Alcantara, the hapless Juana was relegated to a convent), the decisive nature of the victory at Toro and surrender at Zamora effectively settled the contest and ended the Portugese threat to the unification of Spain.

With the great question of which Christian nation should rule in Spain decided, Ferdinand and Isabella could at last undertake the task of consolidating their control. When they were done uniting Spain in 1492, they were eager to find a way for their country to move onto the world stage. And with their still-dangerous foe Portugal seemingly monopolizing Africa, they were perfectly situated to be receptive to Columbus’s scheme for exploring westward rather than south. Portugal was not the only loser at the Battle or Toro; it also sealed the fate of Spain’s ancient, vibrant and prosperous Jewish community.

The ascendency of the Catholic Monarchs led directly to their expulsion in 1492. What would have been the impact of a Portuguese victory at Toro? Castile would have been dominated or even merged with Portugal, with the latter kingdom being the senior partner. Spain would not have been united in 1492 (nor, perhaps, ever). The Moorish kingdom of Granada may have better suited Portugal as a client state (and as unfinished business for its neighbor, Aragon), than as a conquest for Portugal, so it might have held on well past 1492.

The powerful Spain of the 16th century would not have arisen, and this would have profoundly affected the history of Europe. However, it was not only the fates of Spain, Portugal and Europe that were determined at Toro and Zamora, but of the New World of the Americas waiting to be discovered.

Eight years after Toro, Christopher Columbus approached the royal house in Portugal with his proposal for sailing west to find untold riches, but the King turned a deaf ear, mainly because Portugal was far more interested in Africa, a very familiar and rich turf not far from home. In fact, as early as 1474, trade with Africa was so important to Portugal that it committed to discovering 600 additional kilometers of African coastline a year.

If Castile had been under Portuguese rule, it would have been out of the picture, and Aragon would have been more concerned with avoiding the loss of its independence to the Portugal/Castile colossus than diverting its financial and human resources trying to find routes west. It can safely be said that Columbus’s mission to discover America in 1492 would never have happened, and indeed that a Spain in pieces and dominated by Portugal would not likely have been involved in the American story. Its golden age of discovery and colonization would never have happened. Eventually, some European nation would have sent an explorer on a voyage which would have resulted in the discovery of America, but which, and when? Who would have settled the Americas if not Spain? What culture and language would dominate Central and South America? Perhaps the nation that finally made the discovery would have been interested in developing trade relations with the Americas rather than conquest, in which case there might still be Aztec, Mayan and Incan empires. All of these are fascinating subjects for conjecture.

The following document is the original Amnesty of Zamora issued in conjunction with the surrender of the city and Fortress at the conclusion of the Battle of Toro. It specifically references that the pardons are in consideration for the delivery of the Fortress. Its issuance essentially commenced the rule of Ferdinand and Isabella over a united Spain.

Document Signed by both Ferdinand and Isabella, 4 pages folio, Zamora, March 18, 1476, in Spanish with complete transcription and English translation. It was delivered into the hand of former Juana supporter Alfonso de Valencia, Marshal of Castille and Governor of the Fortress of Zamora, and specifically named 149 people to whom it applied. “Their Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella, by the grace of God King and Queen of Castile, of Leon, of Sicily, of Toledo, of Portugal, of Galicia, of Seville, of Cordoba, of Murcia, of Jaen, of the Algarve, of Algeciras, of Gibraltar…Princes of Aragon, lords of Vizcaya and of Molina. Whereas, in the agreement into which we now enter with Alfonso de Valencia, our Marshal of Castile, Governor of the Fortresses of the City of Zamora, as to the delivery of said fortresses, a clause is set forth by his lord which is as follows: Moreover, it is hereby agreed and established that their Majesties, the King and Queen, are obliged to grant and do hereby grant letters of pardon stating all the cases, from the greatest to inclusion of the least one, to said Marshal and to said Precentor and all those who have been and are now with them in the said fortresses and are come into the service of His Majesty; and also Antonio de Sevilla, a follower of Pedro Gomes, and Diego Martinez of Zamora, and the educated Juan de Aguilar, also to come into the service of said Majesties the King and Queen up to the holy day of Easter first to come, that shall be fourteen days into the month of April this year. As the foregoing, His Majesty hereby orders to grant and free each one of the aforementioned with a letter of pardon in the aforementioned form, freely without paying any fee whatever therefore. And he also orders them to grant the said Marshal and Precentor and the other aforementioned persons a letter of assurance that they shall not be banished or expelled from the said city and its land for any matter at all committed in the past, each and every one of them providing assurance and an oath and rendering homage to remain in the service of the said Majesties, King and Queen, and to act for the benefit and common good of the said city. He also orders the restoration and return of all the trades and legal currency and real estate that is still standing and yields they obtained therefrom and possessed in the time when said Majesties the King and Queen reigned, revoking any grants and seizures of each and any one of them that any person may have performed, so that all the aforementioned and each item and part of that may be released for them and free of encumbrance in the manner in which they held and possessed them at said time…Moreover, we hereby pardon the said Marshal Alfonso de Valencia and Don Gonzalo of Valencia…” The list continues with great specificity, reciting men from leaders to priests down to servants. At one point, it mentions a Graviel Ferrandes as “my relative”, at another it includes three Jews: “Master Bara, a Jewish surgeon, and Yue Soriano, a Jewish ironmonger, and Master ‚uleman [Solomon], a Jewish turner.”

After the list, the document continues, describing these men as those “who have been or are with the said Marshal in the said Fortress and have come into our service in all cases most publicly and down to the slightest detail; and we grant them freedom and acquittal of all this for them and their property, for now and for ever after; and we raise from them and their persons all stain and infamy; and we fully restore them to their good reputation and to their former status prior to having done and committed said offenses and crimes.”

Having completed the language of the pardon, the document then orders other persons to honor it. “And by this our letter we do hereby order the Dukes, Counts, Marquises, rich men, Masters of Orders, Priors and those in our Council and the Justices of our Court, Mayors and Notaries and other justices and officers of whatever rank from our house and Court and Chancellery and the Knight Commanders and their Lieutenants, Governors of the Castles and fortresses and of the plains and of all the councils, Corregidors, Mayors, Sheriffs, Governors, Knights, Squires, officers and good men of the said city of Zamora, and of all the other cities, towns and places in our kingdoms and dominions so they do not sue them, nor accuse, nor seize or arrest or embargo their persons and property or anything belonging to them, as we do hereby pardon them and renounce all cases from the greatest to the least inclusive, as is stated; and for them to comply with and ensure enforcement of this grace and pardon that we grant them and for nobody to go against them nor act or allow anyone to act against it, or against part thereof, at any time. We thus wish said grace and pardon we grant them to be valid and definitive notwithstanding … regulations and charters, or any other things…”

The document then turns to restoring the property and commerce in Zamora. “We also hereby order the restoration and return of all the trades and legal currency and real estate that is still standing and also the yields they obtained and possessed at the time when we reigned by the grace of Our Lord in this kingdom…” It is signed, in the traditional Spanish manner, by Ferdinand as “I the King” and by Isabella as “I the Queen.” The royal secretary, Gaspar de Gricio, has certified the document as prepared by the monarchs’ order.

The history of this document now takes a bizarre and rather chilling turn. The Council of Inquisition was organized and authorized by papal bull in 1478, and it was given the task of enforcing the uniformity of religious practice. It was also a powerful political weapon which allowed Ferdinand and Isabella to intimidate and eliminate their enemies. According to The History of the Inquisition of Spain by Henry Charles Lea, “There was a fully organized Inquisition at Medina [a town near Burgos], with three inquisitors, an assessor, a fiscal and other officials, assisted by the Abbot of Medina as Ordinary. They reconciled some culprits and burnt others…” Our document shows that its recipient, Alfonso de Valencia, was called before that Inquisition, that he used this paper in his defense, and indeed considered it so important to his security that he asked for it back. On its last page is a note, in a different hand than the amnesty, and dated Medina, November 9, 1478, saying that a Gonzalez de Portillo, acting on de Valencia’s behalf, presented it “to the Council, and he requested that the original be returned to him. The gentlemen said they heard him and received it…And they ordered a transcribed record to be taken thereof and for it to be checked against the original with the other part and then returned to the said part of the Marshal mentioned.” However, the inquisitors added the final word, making sure de Valencia understood that if it did not prove all of his points, they would disregard it. The notation continued, in somewhat threatening language, that de Valencia needed to show “each and every item he was ordered; if not, they would not consider it had been presented.” We do not know why de Valencia was hauled before the Inquisition. Perhaps his loyalty was still suspect; or perhaps the fact that the pardon of 1476 included Jews (and may have included converted Jews who were now under suspicion) made suspect the man who likely had been primarily responsible for negotiating its terms with the Catholic Monarchs. Documents signed by Ferdinand and Isabella referring to Jews or relating to the Inquisition are quite rare, and the terms of the amnesty are more than interesting. However, the significance of The Amnesty of Zamora lies less in what it says than in its place in history. It led to the end of a divided Spain and of foreign control there; the unification of Christian Spaniards and the knell for the Jewish community; the start of the golden age of Spanish discovery, wealth and power; and the creation of Spanish America. In very good condition except for some archival repairs and a little water staining. The paper seal is intact.

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