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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

The Holy Brotherhood Hermandad


had grown by almost continuous conquest of lands from the Moslems, and these additions were acquired in many ways. If they had been made in what may be termed a national war, the lands seized became the property of the king, and could be retained by him or granted to his lords spiritual and temporal under varying conditions. In some cases these grants made the possessors almost independent princes. On the other hand, lands might be wrested from the aliens by private adventurers, and in such cases they remained in possession of the conquerors, who formed municipalities which had the right of choosing and of changing their overlords, and really formed independent communities. Then there were, as was natural in a period of continuous warfare, waste lands. These became the property of those who settled on them. Lastly, there were the dangerous frontier lands, which it was the policy of king or great lord who owned them to people with settlers, who could only be induced to undertake the perilous occupation provided they received charters (_fueros_), which guaranteed their practical independence. In such a condition of things the central authority could not be strong. It was further weakened by the fact that the great feudatories claimed to have both civil administration and military rule over their lands, and assumed an almost regal state. Military religious orders abounded, and were possessed of great wealth. Their Grand Masters, in virtue of their office, were independent military
commanders, and had great gifts, in the shape of rich commandries, to bestow on their followers. Their power overshadowed that of the sovereign. The great ecclesiastics, powerful feudal lords in virtue of their lands, claimed the rights of civil administration and military rule like their lay compeers, and, being personally protected by the indefinable sanctity of the priestly character, were even more turbulent. Almost universal anarchy had prevailed during the reigns of the two weak kings who preceded Isabella on the throne of Castile, and the crown lands, the support and special protection of the sovereign, had been alienated by lavish gifts to the great nobles. This was the situation which faced the young queen when she came into her inheritance. It was aggravated by a rebellion on behalf of Juanna, the illegitimate daughter of Henry IV. The rebellion was successfully crushed. The queen and her consort, who was not yet in possession of the throne of Aragon, then tried to give the land security. The previous anarchy had produced its usual results. The country was infested with bands of brigands, and life was not safe outside the walls of the towns. Isabella instituted, or rather revived, the Holy Brotherhood (_Hermandad_), a force of cavalry raised by the whole country (each group of one hundred houses was bound to provide one horseman). It was an army of mounted police. It had its own judges, who tried criminals on the scene of their crimes, and those convicted were punished by the troops according to the sentences pronounced. Its avowed objects were to put down all crimes of violence committed outside the cities, and to hunt criminals who had fled from the towns' justice. Its judges superseded the justiciary powers of the nobles, who protested in vain. The Brotherhood did its work very effectively, and the towns and the common people rallied round the monarchy which had given them safety for limb and property.

The sovereigns next attacked the position of the nobles, whose mutual feuds rendered them a comparatively easy foe to rulers who had proved their strength of government. The royal domains, which had been alienated during the previous reign, were restored to the sovereign, and many of the most abused privileges of the nobility were curtailed.

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