Protecting the "Royal Treasure"
Historians have emphasized the solicitude of Aragon's kings, and of their bailiff generals, for protecting their Muslim subjects. While the efficacy of royal protection is itself debatable, still more troubling is the avoidance of the question of why Mudejars so often felt compelled to turn to the king for aid against their oppressors. Many of the difficulties Mudejars experienced derived from their membership in a turbulent and conflictive Valencian society, and, lacking comparative data for other social groups, it would be risky to posit that Muslims necessarily suffered more than Christians or Jews. Nevertheless, it is equally true that much of the hardship Mudejars endured inhered in their peculiar status as Muslims in a Christian society.
Modern observers would deplore the fact that the Mudejar was not, in either juridical, political, or social terms, on an equal footing with his Christian counterpart. The Mudejar, however, did not expect parity in treatment any more than did the Christian and Jewish dhimmi s[*] in Islamic societies; nor did he strive to effect social change or to achieve social advancement, for not even substantial wealth could alter his inferior status vis-à-vis Christian society. The price the Mudejar paid, and was willing to pay, for his adherence to Islam was social inferiority and a lack of political status or power. Although Mudejar inequality was not an issue in fifteenth-century Valencia, the terms on which that inequality was based were, for the Mudejar, the source of numerous problems.
Muslim survival in Valencia had been founded on a series of surrender treaties reached between the conquered Muslims and King Jaime I of Aragon. Every right the Mudejar enjoyed—the ability to practice Islam, own property, and so on—was set forth in a specific royal privilege or concession. There was no higher law guaranteeing the permanence of Mudejar existence or their enjoyment of particular rights; all depended on the royal will, at times quite capricious, and privileges
could be as easily withdrawn as confirmed. The only source of protection for the Mudejars against the aggressions of nobles, clergy, local officialdom, or the Christian mob was the king. The king confirmed privileges and provided protection not because he was morally bound to do so—indeed, purely religious considerations advised against this course of action—but because the Mudejars' assiduous toil was beneficial for the kingdom's economy. Crown, nobility, clergy, and urban oligarchies all suffered the Muslims' presence out of economic interest, and all expected to profit from it. Although Mudejar vassals were sought after and the competition for them sometimes ameliorated the conditions of their vassalage, they were nevertheless perceived by their lords primarily as exploitable labor. If the Mudejars did not produce, there was nothing else, and least of all their religious affiliation, to justify their presence. If revenue could not be squeezed out of the Mudejar legally, then the interested parties were quick to resort to methods of extortion. Because the Mudejar professed an inferior religion, the Christian offender experienced little compunction for his crimes. Royal protection of the Mudejar rarely entailed the punishment of the culprit. Usually only restitution of the victim's property was demanded, which underlines the economic aspect of the problem, for restoring to the Mudejar what he had lost ultimately redounded to the benefit of the Mudejar's lord, either king or nobleman. The Mudejar, as individual or corporate aljama, was not really the main concern.
Valued as a dependable source of labor and conspicuous by virtue of their faith, the Mudejars tended to suffer acutely from the kingdom's socioeconomic dislocations. Thus, when labor was scarce, the Mudejars were more sought after by nobles and royal towns, but being the object of their rivalry also meant that they were frequently the victims of injury by the antagonistic parties. Either guarded as a precious resource despite the fact they were Muslims, or subject to the brutalities and extortions of a Christian majority because they were infidels, the Mudejars' position was a precarious one.
We have seen, regarding the issue of Mudejar vassalage, that the disputes between towns and neighboring lordships could become quite heated. Municipal governments and noblemen might clash for any number of reasons, and in each case the interests of the local inhabitants, both Christian and Muslim, were implicated. Rights to land and water usage were vital questions. Alcira's modifications of the irrigation system that served it and the adjacent baronies in favor of the landowners of its own huerta prompted complaints from the councils and aljamas of Alberique, Alcocer, and Alasquer. The effort of Don Manuel Lançol, lord of Gilet, to appropriate lands located within the boundaries of Murviedro was the cause of considerable hostility between the Chris-
tians of Murviedro and Don Manuel's Muslim vassals, taking the form of a breakdown in trade between Gilet and Murviedro and much "murmuring" on both sides. The competence of municipal officials to collect taxes from seigneurial vassals in the surrounding countryside was also a point for debate. Orihuela's collection of the sisa del carn (sales tax on meat) from the vassals of Albatera raised objections from their lord.
Hypothetically, Muslims should not have been affected any more than Christians by these disputes between town and nobility, for the matters of controversy—rights to land and water and to taxation—had little to do with the Mudejars' status as Muslims or as vassals of a particular lord. However, because Mudejars were so highly valued as vassals, the disputants seem to have reasoned that the most effective way of inflicting damage on one's opponent, and thereby lending weight to one's own argument, was to proceed immediately against the persons or property of the opponent's Muslims (a royal town's Muslims would have been royal vassals). This reasoning was given greater force by the Christians' disdain for the Mudejar as an infidel, by the inability of a minority to resist the majority's perpetration of outrage, and by the Christians' confidence that for a crime against a Muslim punishment, if ever doled out, was unlikely to be severe. Thus, when the officials of Gandía arbitrarily raised the amount of the sisa they collected from the lordships located within the town's general limits, their first act was the confiscation of Azmet Vaquel's two mules as security for the payment of the sisa . During their ongoing controversy with the lord of Gilet, the jurates of Murviedro violently threatened to exact the peyta from his Muslim vassals. The officials of the barony of Corbera attempted to settle whatever scores they had with Alcira by making off with goats from the aljama's flock, and by waylaying and robbing a Muslim transporting his olives from Alcira to a nearby mill. The lex talionis as practiced by municipal and baronial officialdom was not "an eye for an eye," but a Muslim for a Muslim. When the bailiff of Alcira was questioned as to why he had seized two Muslim vassals of Valldigna, he responded with the justification that the officials of Valldigna had previously detained Açech Quilis of Alcira. Indeed, the Cardinal of Valencia, Valldigna's lord, made his presence felt in Alcira and Játiva by his maltreatment of the king's Muslim vassals, clamping Offri Negral in irons for not paying a tax on wheat, holding others in his custody for alleged crimes, and summarily hanging two Muslims who had committed theft in Játiva.
Barons and burghers both, jockeying for power and asserting their claims to land and resources, viewed their rivals' Muslims as the ideal target for their initiatives and reprisals. Essential to both as a source of
labor and revenue, dispensable to both as Muslims, the Mudejars found themselves fought over, robbed, and physically abused, a state of affairs that the king, by displaying similar attitudes and by demanding the mere restitution of Muslim persons and property, could not prevent but only referee.
The Muslims of urban morerías , even when safe from the depredations of local barons, still had to contend with the misdeeds of municipal governments. It may seem strange that the same town councils that had frequently struggled with the nobility in an effort to attract and protect new Muslim vassals should have violated the rights of those vassals. One must consider the fact that the towns desired Muslim inhabitants as a means of accelerating the growth of their local economies. Yet, because it was the Crown that collected most taxes, rents, and judicial fines from the royal aljamas, the towns profited only indirectly from the Mudejars' presence, that is, only to the extent that Mudejar enterprise increased local productivity. The towns had a political status independent of the Crown and were not always content to see the king reap all the immediate benefits of Mudejar settlement. Consequently, municipal authorities sometimes resorted to their own dubious means of squeezing revenue out of the Mudejars, revenue that would be deposited in their own treasuries. Furthermore, because the towns were themselves subject to royal taxation, the jurates might have concluded that extorting money from the Mudejars, the king's special wards, was one way of retrieving from him a portion of the taxes Christian citizens had paid.
Alcira was the locus of the most controversy between municipal government and royal aljama. The central problem was the jurates' illegal collection of taxes from the aljama. In blatant disregard of the bailiff general's command they proceeded "rigorously" to tax the aljama (1482), and later (1492), their arbitrary exaction of new sises and peytes was impelling Alcira's Muslims to abandon the morería for seigneurial lands. When taxation bore little fruit, the jurates tried to force the Muslims to labor in the town's public works (1493), and in 1499 they were still making mischief, entering the morería and confiscating the property of Muslims for unspecified reasons. The occurrence of these incidents over a seventeen-year period suggests that the aljama of Alcira was subject to consistent harassment by an apparently undeterred town council.
The experiences of other urban aljamas were variations on the same theme. The aljama of Játiva took the wise precaution of seeing to it that Fernando confirm the provision of Juan II (1479) forbidding the justice and jurates to enter the morería and make executions on Muslim property for whatever reason. This seems to have kept Játiva's ju-
rates at a distance, although, as we shall see, the aljama had far greater difficulties with the local bailiff.
Apart from the question of taxation, two other points of controversy soured relations between the aljamas and the municipal authorities. One was the administration of justice, the problem here being the attempts of municipal justices to rule on cases involving Muslims so that any monetary fines would be paid into their courts. For this reason impediments were placed in the way of the trying of cases between Muslims in the qadi 's[*] court in Valencia. Játiva's public prosecutor had the same idea when he wrongly brought Muslims and Jews before the governor's court, instead of the bailiff's court. Controversy also revolved around the Muslim butcher shops, which were royal monopolies. Valencia's aljama complained that the Christian guild of butchers was imposing restrictions on how much meat the Muslim butcher could slaughter, perhaps hoping to force the Muslims to buy meat from them. The jurates of Castellón de la Plana feigned religious scruples when they forbade Christians to buy meat from the Muslim butcher shop, where they could not collect the sales tax (sisa ). The jurates then went so far as to exact the sales tax illicitly from the Muslims as well.
Albarracín (Aragon) was the scene of some interesting financial maneuverings involving the king, town council, and aljama. Fernando had conceded to the aljama the privilege of having its own store for the sale of bread, salted fish, oil, and other staples to all Muslims residing in or visiting the morería . The proceeds from the sales were to go to the aljama, which was in financial straits and had scarcely enough funds to pay taxes. The council, more concerned about the town's economy than with the royal patrimony, refused to allow the Muslims to open their store, obviously preferring that they do business with local Christian merchants.
It is difficult to say how far the town councils would have gone in their fleecing of local aljamas if they had not been held in check by the king and his bailiffs. Probably they would have realized, as the Crown had long ago, that the depletion of an aljamas' financial resources was, in the end, detrimental to their own interests. Certainly the depopulation of the morería would have meant an economic setback for the town. However, since the Muslims were not under their supervision and they did not necessarily identify the aljama's interests with their own, the councils were content to welcome the Muslims to their towns and then to exact from them what little else they could.
At the local level, the bailiff was the overseer of royal interests and, therefore, of Mudejar affairs. As the Muslims' judge and protector his office was of crucial importance, particularly in light of the transgres-
sions of town councils. Although most local bailiffs seem to have fulfilled the duties of their office with the king's and the aljama's interests in mind, Joan Dezpuig, the bailiff of Játiva, which housed the kingdom's largest aljama, was a glaringly important exception. On one hand, Dezpuig and his surrogates seem to have guarded the aljama from the trespasses of others. The necessity of the bailiff's protection was demonstrated when the governor's officials, who had come to the morería to inventory and take pledges from the goods of Mudejar debtors, molested Muslim women and stole their belongings. Fernando responded with the command that no one could enter the morería without the bailiff in attendance. This problem or similar ones involving Játiva's jurates did not arise again, so that it may be presumed that someone was doing his job. On the other hand, it seems that Dezpuig protected the aljama from others only so that he himself might interfere in its affairs and treat it as part of his own personal patrimony. Thus it follows that while the aljama of Játiva had the fewest problems with the municipal authorities, it suffered far more than other aljamas from the unscrupulousness of its own bailiff.
We first encounter Dezpuig just after his return to Játiva from an extended absence (1483). During his absence Luis de Fevollet, the lieutenant bailiff, had seen to the aljama's business and had ruled on a variety of matters. Dezpuig's first act was to annul Fevollet's provisions arbitrarily, perhaps because he perceived them to be inimical to his own interests. This act not only violated Fevollet's prerogatives but also seemed sure to burden the aljama with more costly litigation. Although Dezpuig was reprimanded by the king for this, he still was not finished with Fevollet. Because the aljama was paying Fevollet a salary for his services, Dezpuig's next move was to confiscate securities (penyores ) from the treasurer of the aljama so that the payment could not be made. He also incarcerated the aljama's çalmedina for an unknown reason, perhaps because the çalmedina had attempted to stop him.
Two other cases, in which the aljama of Játiva was not involved, provide a bit more information on Dezpuig and how he operated. As bailiff of Játiva, a knight, and lord of Alcantera, Dezpuig was a powerful man in the region, and a well-connected one. In the first case, Çaat Melich, accused of the murder of Ali Dabbau of Ayelo, was incarcerated in the bailiff's jail. When the victim's family dropped the charges against Çaat, Dezpuig refused to release him because of his own kinship tie with the victim's lord. Çaat continued to languish in jail dying of hunger, which indicates the kind of justice Dezpuig was intending to administer. Dezpuig was also involved in several litigations with the lord of Cárcer. The latter maintained that he was unable to receive a fair
hearing in the governor's court, because the governor's surrogate was Dezpuig's nephew and the governor himself was only concerned that his son, married to Dezpuig's daughter, become Dezpuig's heir. The bailiff of Játiva, then, appears an ambitious man willing to rise above the law and to utilize his considerable power and family connections to attain his ends.
Dezpuig employed like tactics in his dealings with the aljama. The antagonism between the bailiff and the aljama came to the fore in a litigation that lasted for at least fourteen years (1486–1500). The point of dispute was 13 pounds 11s, which, Dezpuig argued, the aljama had to pay to him annually, beyond his regular salary, for services rendered. The 13 pounds 11s was a translation into cash of a gift of linen to Dezpuig's wife, one sheep given to the bailiff himself, 110s for the lieutenant bailiff, and another 100s for Dezpuig's labors in farming out the sisa collected from the aljama. The aljama had made these gifts to the bailiffs in the past, but in 1486 refused to do so, apparently on the good advice of the lieutenant bailiff, Fevollet. Dezpuig responded by abrogating the privilege of the aljama to elect its four adelantats (jurates) and appointed adelantats favorable to his own interests, "less suitable and sufficient, and little zealous for the benefit and increase of the said aljama ... so that you [Dezpuig] can extort from the said aljama the money not owed to you, as is said." Fernando foiled the bailiff's plan, but the suit continued. Dezpuig argued that the bailiff of Játiva's right to the 13 pounds 11s had been established by the provisions of Alfonso V and Juan II, and that, after all, he ought to be recompensed for the labors he exerted on the aljama's behalf. The aljama countered that there existed no such royal provisions and that their gift of the 13 pounds 11s to Dezpuig had not been obligatory; rather, it had been given voluntarily and gratuitously. As for Dezpuig's services, the aljama pointed out that Dezpuig was living in Valencia, was never in Játiva, and had done absolutely nothing for the aljama. Therefore, the aljama had decided that the bailiff no longer deserved the gifts. By 1500, after one of the bailiff general's assessors had decided in the aljama's favor, and then another assessor in Dezpuig's favor, the outcome of the case was still uncertain. What is more certain is that Dezpuig treated the aljama as if it were bound to him personally, obliged to pay him regardless of whether he fulfilled his duties. Throughout the fourteen years of litigation the aljama complained of being subjected to the bailiff's harassment and molestations. That the population of Játiva's aljama experienced a marked decline may well have been in part due to the oppressive administration of Joan Dezpuig.
Dezpuig was not the only one in a position of power over Mudejars to have abused his authority. For example, the archbishop of Zaragoza
interfered in the elections of that city's aljama, and attempted to have the ecclesiastical tithes collected from the seigneurial Muslims of Aragon, an unprecedented act. There were certainly others crueler than Dezpuig. In one instance, after charges had been dropped and a settlement reached between feuding Mudejar families, Luis Bou, the lieutenant governor, nevertheless proceeded to the home of two previously accused brothers, and there seized not the brothers, but their eighty-year-old crippled father, who clearly was incapable of any crime. Bou hung up the old man by his feet and threatened to stone him. The victim's anxious friends and family agreed to pay 3000s to Bou for the old man's release. Bou was not punished; he only had to return the money thus exacted, that is, if the settlement he had reached with the elder's family was not "well made."
Given the fact that men such as Dezpuig were permitted to retain their offices, and given the patent unwillingness of the king to castigate crimes against Muslims seriously, one must question those historians who have applauded the protection afforded the Mudejars by the Crown, although protection is clearly what they needed. The restoration of a Muslim's stolen property, if robbery were the only outrage to which he had been subjected, was an insufficient means of either deterring potential malefactors or repairing the damage done to the victim's human dignity. Still, the king at least recognized that leniency toward the Christian offenders had to be balanced by an attendance to Mudejar needs and grievances if he did not wish to be left with vacant morerías . Also, there were conscientious officials, such as Luis de Fevollet, Pere Caldes, and the bailiff generals, whose efforts on the Muslims' behalf perhaps offset the excesses and brutalities of others.