Muslims in Christian Courts: Jurisdictional Conflict
The foregoing account lends the impression that the judicial system of the kingdom of Valencia ran smoothly and efficiently with hardly a snag. This was for the most part true to the extent that in cases between Muslims the Muslim and Christian judiciaries were content with their respective spheres of jurisdiction and with the division of juridical labor when collaboration was necessary. However, regarding those cases over which the Christian courts had exclusive jurisdiction, namely, the Mudejars' non-hadd[*] crimes and litigation between Muslim and Christian, this impression bears little relation to the reality of late medieval Valencia. The administration of justice to Mudejars, and apparently to Christians as well, was fraught with obstacles created by the strife between those officials who presided over the kingdom's various tribunals. The main problem was that royal, municipal, and seigneurial officials were unwilling to recognize the boundaries of their respective jurisdictions. While at times jurisdictional conflict arose from an official's honest mistake and erroneous interpretation of the law, most often it was the result of a willful trespassing on the jurisdictions of others. Such official bickering affected Muslim plaintiffs and defendants, although the resultant confusion might work to the benefit of the latter.
Three types of jurisdictional conflict are apparent in the documentation: (1) the bailiff general and the local bailiffs against the governor general and his lieutenants; (2) the local bailiffs against the municipal justices; and (3) lords and seigneurial officials against royal and municipal officials. The royal towns found this dissension to be so troublesome that in the Cortes of Monzón (1510) their representatives complained to the king that "many times it happens in your city and kingdom of Valencia contention and difference over jurisdiction between the governor and bailiff, and their surrogates and lieutenants, and the justices of the royal towns of the said kingdom." No specific mention was made of the
cases involving Muslims. The clash of antagonistic officials in such cases, therefore, was only part of a more widespread phenomenon.
It was long established that the bailiff general and the local bailiffs were to have jurisdiction over those Muslims living on royal and ecclesiastical lands. Since the fourteenth century the local bailiffs, though subordinate to the bailiff general, had acquired greater power to administer justice to the inhabitants of the local morerías . It was not so much that the bailiff general's powers had been reduced as that the increasing complexity of administration necessitated the more frequent delegation of his authority to local representatives of the Crown. This tendency was especially marked in Játiva, where, owing to the very large population of its morería , close Crown supervision was essential. For the most part, the bailiff of Játiva and the bailiff general were able to attend to their respective duties without stepping on one another's toes. However, royal directives were occasionally issued to ensure that this cooperation continued. In 1405 King Martin had ordained that "the local bailiff of Játiva should have no power concerning the cases of Sarracens pending before the bailiff general." Fernando was more concerned with hindering the flow of cases in the opposite direction, and so commanded the bailiff general that he should, as little as possible, issue pardons to or make settlements with those Muslims whom the bailiff of Játiva had already sentenced. In both cases the idea was to prevent redundancy and additional legal expenses.
Quite unlike the relative ease with which any tension between the bailiff general and local bailiffs was smoothed over was the great difficulty in resolving the discord between the bailiffs and the governors (i.e., the different regional governors and their lieutenants). The governor was supposed to have jurisdiction over only those seigneurial Muslims whose lords did not exercise criminal jurisdiction on their lands. However, the governors were not satisfied with this limited judicial competence. They frequently interfered in the cases of Muslims that properly belonged to a bailiff's jurisdiction. Simply stated, their motives were financial; they wished to divert more cases to their courts in order to collect for themselves and their subordinates the proceeds from monetary fines and settlements. Of course, the bailiffs, as the guardians of the royal patrimony, were equally determined to defend their jurisdictions and thereby, as they often claimed, "the rights and revenues of the lord king."
Játiva and its region were the main judicial battleground between the bailiffs and the governors. Logically, the royal town with the largest morería drew the highest degree of gubernatorial interference. For this reason, among others, Fernando confirmed, at the request of the aljama of Játiva, the privileges that Alfonso V and Juan II had granted to it.
Among the privileges was that placing Játiva's Muslims under the exclusive jurisdiction of the bailiff general and the bailiff of Játiva. This confirmation of privileges, however, had minimal impact.
Early in Fernando's reign the bailiff of Játiva, Joan Dezpuig, and the lieutenant governor beyond the Júcar River, Francesch de Malferit, were at loggerheads. After Dezpuig's lieutenant imprisoned a Muslim criminal, Malferit's men proceeded to pardon the Muslim. Dezpuig responded by issuing a proclamation that called for the revocation of all pardons and safe-conducts previously granted to Muslims and Jews. Malferit next attempted to prevent the public crier from making the proclamation. Failing that, Malferit had the Muslim in question arraigned before his court and reached a settlement with him. According to Dezpuig, Malferit had forced the royal prosecutors to cooperate in the matter. At Dezpuig's request, the bailiff general sent off an angry letter to Malferit, reminding him that in such cases pertaining to the jurisdiction of the bailiff only the king could interfere. Moreover, he required the prosecutors to denounce Muslims before the bailiff and no one else. The case, therefore, was to revert to Dezpuig's court. The bailiff general's words were not heeded for long. By 1487 Fernando was compelled to reprimand the governor general for pardoning Christian and Muslim criminals of the district of Játiva, thereby giving others "boldness to live evilly."
The bailiff of the new morería of nearby Castellón de Játiva, given jurisdiction over the Muslims like other local bailiffs, seems to have felt especially beset by the judicial encroachments of the lieutenant governor. In 1482 Fernando was informed that the bailiff and the local Muslims "dreaded" being called before the court of the lieutenant governor. The king responded by remitting all cases involving the bailiff and Muslims of Castellón to a citizen and a jurist of Játiva for consideration. Eventually, the jurisdiction of the bailiff of Castellón de Játiva was incorporated within that of the bailiff of Játiva.
Despite the seemingly incessant bickering, differences were resolved and justice administered. The account books of the bailiff of Játiva reveal that the bailiff and the lieutenant governor many times extricated themselves from these judicial quagmires by simply splitting the proceeds from individual cases. For instance, of the 150s fine paid by the chicken thief Mahomat Melich, the bailiff received 75s and the lieutenant governor the other 75s.
It should not be thought that the governors were always in the wrong. Of the two arguments between the bailiff of Játiva and the governor concerning the prosecution of Muslims for sexual relations with Christian women, the king decided one in favor of the governor. Furthermore, the resolution of other jurisdictional disputes hinged on such
legal hairsplitting that it is difficult to know whose interpretation of the law was correct. For instance, in March 1482 the bailiff general reprimanded the lieutenant governor for having tried a Muslim of the seigneury of Manuel for the murder of another Muslim of the same place. Since Manuel was located within the limits of the district of Játiva, a royal town, and since its lord did not possess criminal jurisdiction, the bailiff general maintained that the case belonged to his jurisdiction. The lieutenant governor agreed that, yes, Manuel was located within the district of Játiva, but countered by citing a ruling of the jurist Domingo Masco (21 July 1457), according to which the governor was to have jurisdiction over all seigneurial Muslims inhabiting lordships "within the boundaries [i.e., the surrounding districts] of the royal cities and towns where the lord king has criminal jurisdiction." In his reply the bailiff general corrected the lieutenant governor's reading of Masco's decision, stating that the governor, indeed, had jurisdiction over seigneurial Muslims, "but only if the said towns, castles, and hamlets and places are not located within the boundaries [i.e., district] of some royal city or town."
Here, however, the bailiff general was wrong, and he probably knew it; for just four months prior (December 1481) to this dispute with the lieutenant governor, the king had made a decision on precisely this question of law in the governor's favor, even citing the opinions of Domingo Masco as authoritative support. A royal letter of July 1483 seems finally to have disabused the bailiff of his pretensions on this point.
The bailiffs and governors also managed to come into conflict over another closely related fine legal point, that is, whether or not royal bailiffs had jurisdiction over seigneurial Muslims who committed crimes in royal towns (as distinct from the wider districts of towns) or on royal roads. In February 1481 the king answered this question in the affirmative: "the Moors of the barons [who are] delinquent in the royal cities, towns, or roads, even those who live on royal lands, both [vassals] of knights and of citizens, are totally under the forum and jurisdiction of the said bailiff general and local bailiffs." Fernando reiterated this position the following year. The governors, however, true to form, did not abide by the substance of these decisions. There are two possible explanations: either confusion and legal misinterpretation, or a determination to encroach on the bailiff's jurisdiction, whatever the decisions of the usually absent king. The latter seems most likely, since until at least 1489 the governors frequently interfered in the judicial procedures of local bailiffs against seigneurial Muslims who had committed crimes in the royal towns. For example, the lieutenant governor challenged the jurisdiction of the bailiff of Villajoyosa over a Muslim of the lordship of
Finestrat who had assaulted a Christian of Villajoyosa. The governor of la Plana meddled in similar fashion when Muslims of the seigneury of Nules were cited to appear before the bailiff of Burriana for crimes committed in Burriana. In sum, legal misinterpretation, a disregard for the law even when properly understood, and a desire to extend authority and thereby to increase revenues all contributed to the almost constant strife between the offices of the bailiff and the governor.
The governor general and his lieutenants were not the only nemeses of the bailiff general and the local bailiffs. The municipal justices also were prone to impugn the jurisdiction of the bailiffs over the king's Muslim and Jewish vassals. This was part of a more general tendency displayed by municipal governments, which encouraged the settlement of Mudejars in their towns only to attempt to secure for themselves an inordinate portion of the resultant increased revenues properly belonging to the Crown. In some towns the justices seem to have had as allies the royal prosecutors. In a letter to the Crown prosecutors of Játiva Fernando expressed a clear understanding of the financial motives prompting them to accuse Muslims before the courts of either the local justice or the lieutenant governor: "so that you might more easily conclude settlements with those Moors and Jews and secure a larger part of the settlements."
While one might ascribe gubernatorial interference partly to a misinterpretation of the law, it is far more difficult to give municipal justices such benefit of doubt. The law was unequivocal with respect to the exclusive jurisdiction of the local bailiffs in cases involving Muslims or Jews: "by the laws and privileges of that kingdom of Valencia ... all cases of Sarracens and Jews, both civil and criminal, should be brought personally before the bailiff of that city or town under whose jurisdiction were committed the aforesaid offenses and cases." At best, local criminal justices had a role in the execution of sentences against Muslims condemned to death or to the mutilation of a limb. Nevertheless, the bailiff general often was compelled to remind municipal justices and jurates that they had no right to try Muslims or make executions against their property. For instance, he rebuked the justice and jurates of Liria not only for initiating procedure against Muslims for their crimes, but also for releasing them after the bailiff had arrested them. There is only one case in which a municipal justice voiced anything close to a legitimate reason for proceeding against a Muslim. The justice of Játiva, who had confiscated the arms and other possessions of Muslims as securities for the fines they incurred for gambling, maintained that he had done so because the Muslims had been found playing dice with Christians. Had it been a question of only Muslims gambling, the justice argued, he would not have penalized them.
The lords of Mudejar vassals were at the center of much jurisdictional squabbling. Seigneurial judicial competence varied from place to place. Some lords were entitled only to civil jurisdiction over their vassals, while others, especially the powerful magnates like the Duke of Gandía, were empowered to exercise criminal jurisdiction as well. The king might grant full jurisdiction to a lord as a reward for services rendered. When Fernando ceded to his vice-chancellor, Joan Pages, lordship over Pobla Tornesa, Benicacim, and Montornés, he stipulated "You and yours can force, punish, and castigate them [Sarracenos] as your and their vassals, and you can exercise over them criminal and civil and all jurisdiction." Some lords with criminal jurisdiction were nevertheless restricted in their ability to administer capital or severe corporal punishment. Thus, Bernat Sorrell, the lord of Geldo, at first allowed the lieutenant bailiff of Segorbe (Geldo was located within the "general boundaries" of Segorbe, where the Duke of Segorbe had supreme jurisdiction) to proceed against his Muslim vassal, guilty of assault. However, after the victim recovered the case was remitted to Sorrell, because now the assailant no longer deserved capital punishment.
Lords prized and jealously guarded their judicial prerogatives for the revenues accruing to them from monetary penalties. They bitterly resented the intervention of royal and municipal officials in the business of their seigneurial courts, although this occurred often enough. There were a number of quarrels between the Cardinal of Valencia, who was the lord of Valldigna, and the bailiff general. They arose because the Muslims of Valldigna were in the habit of appealing the decisions of the justice of Valldigna to the bailiff general. In fact, the Muslims had recourse to the bailiff general so frequently that the king appointed a special assessor specifically for assisting the bailiff in handling their appeals. While this practice was perfectly licit, inasmuch as the bailiff general was the final court of appeal for any Muslim in the kingdom, the officials of Valldigna still complained that the bailiff general, under the pretext of his appellate jurisdiction, was attempting to make his the court of first instance in the Muslims' cases. The king, therefore, cautioned the bailiff to interfere as little as possible. At times Valldigna's officials refused outright to release arrested Muslims into the bailiff's hands. In the case of two wandering Muslims who had committed theft in Játiva, the Cardinal's men summarily hanged them, despite the fact that their appeal was pending in the court of the lieutenant bailiff general.
Lords vied with royal magistrates for judicial authority throughout the kingdom. Turning south, one finds the bailiff general and the governor disputing the jurisdiction over a Muslim murderer of Albatera, only to hear the lord of Albatera chime in that both were wrong and that
the Muslim ought to be arraigned before his court. Further north near the capital, the bailiff general and the criminal justice of Valencia attempted to arrest a Muslim vassal of Catarroja who had carnal relations with a Christian prostitute. Joan Canoguera, Catarroja's seigneur, argued that he had purchased jurisdiction over the place from Juan II for 75 pounds, and, therefore, the royal officials had no right to interfere. Even after the bailiff general bought back the jurisdiction from Canoguera, the latter shrewdly asserted that he could still rule on this case because the crime had been perpetrated before he gave up his jurisdiction. In the end, the case was remitted to the royal council and then to the governor for sentencing.
The discord between seigneurs and town officials over judicial questions may be seen as a component of a more general social tension between urban and rural areas. The lord of Alberique complained about the initiatives of Játiva's prosecutors against his vassals and other Muslims implicated in violence on his seigneury. Officials of Gandía antagonized the lord of Jaraco for much the same reason.
The Mudejars' change of vassalage, which exacerbated the fiscal rivalry between the nobility and the Crown and the royal towns, also caused considerable jurisdictional turmoil. This is reflected in the objection of the military estate to a privilege that Castellón de la Plana had obtained from the king. The privilege gave to the lieutenant governor of la Plana competence in all cases concerning crimes which had been committed by new Muslim vassals of Castellón when they were still seigneurial vassals. The nobles argued that by virtue of their criminal jurisdiction their former vassals were still liable to answer to them for their previous crimes.
The lords' objection is understandable, for it seems that Mudejars took advantage of the Crown's avidity for new vassals in order to avoid the penalties of seigneurial courts. Thus, when Manuel Lanqol, the lord of Gilet, was in the midst of passing judgment against Mahomat Hubequer, apparently his vassal, the prosecutor of Murviedro, stopped the proceedings by claiming that the Muslim was a royal vassal. Don Enrique de Rocasfull, the lord of Albatera, was similarly hamstrung in the administration of justice to a Muslim vassal, who, much to his surprise, had changed vassalage. In such cases royal and municipal officials either knowingly abetted the Muslims in their evasion of seigneurial justice or were simply hoodwinked. Royal vassals less frequently enlisted seigneurial support to frustrate Crown magistrates. However, it occasionally happened, as when the officials of the seigneury of Carlet protected their "new" vassal, Mahomat Ametler of Alcira, who had already been sentenced to enslavement to the king.
From the aforementioned complaint of the royal towns in the Cortes
of Monzón (1510) it appears that during Fernando's reign jurisdictional controversy was never completely resolved. This is further evinced in the aggression of the Germanías, especially those of Játiva, Alcira, and Murviedro, against the surrounding lordships, for the question of jurisdiction was one of the many points of contention between the seigneurs and the urban citizenry. Judicially, as in other respects, the Mudejars were in the vortex of a larger socioeconomic conflict, the explosion of which would prove catastrophic for them. In the meantime, so long as order reigned, justice was administered, but not without intermittent starts and stops.