Muslim-Christian Litigation: A View of Valencian Society
The interpretation of a given litigation, or a number of them, poses problems for the historian. Because lawsuits and complaints comprised a large part of the affairs handled by the Crown authorities, the less contentious and routine occurrences of daily life have been lost from view. It is all too easy for historians to amplify the significance of the evidence at their disposal, to find in a series of commercial lawsuits a widespread economic problem, or to see in a homicide the eruption of class and ethnic violence. Some litigations, like many of those associated with commerce and property, were random events arising haphazardly from the daily social and economic interchange of a society. They had no repercussions beyond the lives of the individuals whom they immediately concerned and no connection with others of their kind. Other judicial disputes, while not of great import as isolated events, when linked to others of their type formed a larger pattern. In the aggregate they could affect a large part of society and were expressions or harbingers of
serious tensions. Here we will briefly discuss the various types of litigation between Muslims and Christians as a means of providing a view of some facets of Christian-Muslim relations in Valencia. Care will be taken to distinguish between the litigation as a random event and the litigation as part of a larger social problem.
Quite a few cases involved Christian lords and Muslim vassals as allies. This can be accounted for by the symbiotic relationship between lords and vassals, and their mutual concern for seigneurial properties and finances. Lords sometimes took a special interest in the lawsuits of their Muslim vassals. When the governor passed sentence against a Muslim vassal of the Duke of Segorbe in her litigation with a Christian, the Duke "on account of his certain interest felt vexed and prejudiced," and therefore appealed to the king. Lords and vassals also appeared in court as coplaintiffs or codefendants in disputes with adjacent seigneuries over irrigation, livestock, and boundaries. The resultant armed clashes might lead to arraignment for more serious charges. The noble Luis Ladro and "some almugavers and some Sarracens" were denounced before the royal audience for having set fire to Relleu.
Seigneurs and their aljamas most often banded together against their creditors, the censalistas , who sued in court for the payment of the pensions owed them. As the financial situation of many seigneuries worsened, the lords and aljamas became more evasive and their creditors, many of them urban folk, ever more insistent. The debtor-creditor relationship between the landed nobility and the town citizens contributed to the tension between the two-social groups. This tension expressed itself in other court battles concerning the right of municipal governments to collect taxes from the vassals of neighboring seigneuries or to penalize lords and vassals for improper use of the irrigation systems. Cases such as these, by themselves not of great moment, cumulatively provided some of the tinder for the conflagration of the revolt of the Germanías .
Yet, the symbiosis between lords and Muslim vassals was a delicate one, easily upset when their interests diverged. Most suits pitting lord against vassal arose from any action on the part of the vassal that threatened to diminish the revenues received by the lord. The bailiff of Játiva ruled on a case in which the lord of Genovés disputed the right of a female vassal to marry another Muslim, probably from another seigneury. That the lord feared his vassal's change of residence and the consequent loss of seigneurial dues is suggested by another case in which the lord of Argelita resisted the attempt of a Muslim of Triega to sell the property owned by his wife in Argelita. Apparently lords preferred that their female vassals marry local boys. The lord's fiscal concerns led to the leveling of charges at those vassals who defaulted on
their rent payments, especially those who abandoned the seigneury without settling accounts. For instance, the lord of Alberique sought from the king the prosecution of his former amin[*] who was still indebted to him for the purchase of some wheat. The tendency of insolvent vassals to seek refuge in other seigneuries, the lords of which were often happy to receive them, complicated matters further. Thus, Joan Miralles, lord of Beniala, asked the viceroy to proceed against his debtor vassals whom the lord Ramon Pujades was protecting. Already familiar to us is the large body of litigation between seigneurs and their former vassals residing either in royal morerías or on the lands of other lords. Most of this litigation concerned the lords' resistance to the efforts of their erstwhile vassals to cultivate and collect the harvest from the lands they continued to rent on their seigneuries.
While the lawsuits that aligned lords and vassals against creditors, townsmen, and other seigneuries attest to grave tensions straining the kingdom's socioeconomic structure, those between individual Muslims and Christians arising from commercial transactions reflect another reality equally important, but far less dire. Such cases, usually involving the claims of unpaid vendors against indebted buyers, reveal some of the few difficulties encountered by Muslims and Christians in the wide-ranging trade between them in land, livestock, agricultural produce, and a variety of manufactured goods. There is nothing in this type of litigation indicating widespread Muslim-Christian animosity on the basis of economic competition. Commercial claims were not made by or against Muslims on religious grounds; they were not a divisive force in Valencian society. Rather, they are fragmentary evidence of the regular economic interaction between Muslims and Christians, which, because it was normally unencumbered by legal problems, never aroused the interest of the royal bureaucracy.
A consideration of the crimes that Muslims committed against Christians does not reveal a special pattern of Mudejar criminal activity. Muslims were accused of theft, vandalism, gambling, defrauding the lessee of the royal saltworks, tax evasion, and the possession of false money. However, Mudejars were by no means notorious for such crimes, for Christians committed them as well. Nor is there an easily perceptible link between Mudejar criminality and their relatively oppressed status. The victims of Mudejar crimes seem to have been more often Muslims than Christians. Mudejar actions to correct perceived injustices were directed against their official and seigneurial oppressors and not against the Christian populace as a whole. Any causal relationship that might have existed between poverty—a social ill which did not especially afflict the Mudejars as a group—and crime,
particularly theft, would have applied as much to Christians as to Muslims.
Turning to cases of homicide and assault involving Muslims and Christians, these do not point toward any dramatic trends in social violence. It is important to distinguish between the random violence occurring for any number of reasons in the context of distinct personal relationships and the systematic violence of the mob directed against a specific social group. Regarding the latter type, although it had occurred as recently as 1455, in the form of the attack on Valencia's morería , and would occur again in 1521, when the Germanías murdered or forcibly baptized thousands of Mudejars, it did not happen during the reign of Fernando.
Random violence, however, was not unknown. Yet, lest one think that Mudejars were always the victims of Christian hoodlums, it is worth noting that there were eight cases in which Muslims were the perpetrators of assault and homicide. In four of these cases the violence seems to have arisen from personal disputes. For instance, Hubaydal Baçanet wounded Luys Lançol in the face and hand. In Játiva Coayat Çarahi, a juglar , and some Muslim companions threw Rodrigo Castanyeda into an irrigation ditch and tried to injure him further. At times individual Muslims reacted violently to official pressure. This seems to have been the case with Azen Satmer, who struck the justice of Manises in the face. In three cases Mudejar violence was linked to the conflict between seigneuries, or between seigneuries and towns. As part of the recurrent troubles between the lordship of Gilet and the town of Murviedro, Ali Ubequer of Gilet and Domingo de la Lança of Murviedro had a brawl during which the latter was wounded. One case of feuding between seigneuries saw unidentified Muslims raid the home of the lord of Náquera and mortally wound one of his vassals. Some of the less sanguinary crimes of Mudejar vassals also fit into the broader picture of seigneurial feuding. For example, a Muslim of Cox was accused of breaking into the home of the lord of Albatera. Characteristically, his lord refused to cooperate in the judicial procedure against him. The lord of Dos Aguas brought charges against Muslim vassals of Resalany and the Vall de Tous for having descended upon his lands and released Muslim prisoners from his jail.
The murder of Muslims by Christians conforms to the picture already sketched of powerful Christians, mostly knights and noblemen, abusing the vassals of their rivals as a means of indirectly injuring them. A Mudejar woman complained to the king that the noble Pere de Montagut and his squires had killed her son. Two Muslims of Játiva also turned to Fernando when a local lord imprisoned a fellow Muslim, as a
result of which the latter died, apparently of epilepsy. Although in both cases the king ordered the initiation of legal procedure, it is unlikely that the murderers, in these cases or others, were ever punished. A constable was fined for the murder of a Muslim slave, but only so that the slave's master could be reimbursed for his lost property. Reprehensible as such violence was, it is nevertheless significant that its perpetrators were largely restricted to the ranks of unscrupulous nobles and officials, men who acted for calculated political and economic motives. Violence against Muslims was not for the most part inspired by religious fanaticism, and the large majority of the Christian populace did not engage in it. In fact, Muslims sometimes joined Christians, their fellow vassals, in attacking Muslims of rival seigneuries. Moreover, Christian violence against Muslims was greatly exceeded in terms of both ferocity and frequency by that between Mudejars. To explain all Christian violence against Muslims as a manifestation of religious animosity is too simplistic. True, Christians displayed greater temerity in their acts against Mudejars because the latter were Muslims; nevertheless, their actions had a firm political and economic foundation related to the complex tensions and rivalries in Valencian society. And, as we have seen, the Mudejars were not always ones to take such abuse lying down.