Continuing as promised, or threatened, the rethink of my picture of frontier development in Catalonia spurred by the recent chapter by Julio Escalona and Francisco Reyes on the same themes in tenth-century Castile… let’s talk about peasants.1 At some level, after all, the expansion of settlement, social structures and government into an unorganised zone requires the basic work of somebody taking tools to the soil, felling unhelpful trees, clearing scrub, putting it to the plough or planting helpful trees and generally turning the land to use. This is implicit in any story of territorial expansion that isn’t simple annexation of territory where someone else has already done that. The question is thus not whether this is happening, but rather who is controlling it. Now, I have worked on this for Catalonia, partly because it’s just inherent in an expanding frontier situation as I say but also because of an early article by Cullen Chandler that I disagreed with and which gave me a fair bit of work to figure out what my alternative picture was (and even longer to publish it).2 This does mean that I could simply direct you to that work but because it’s part of the argument that I’m developing here in reaction to the Escalona & Reyes chapter, it needs to be out where it can be seen. I will reuse some text, though, and the first bit I will reuse is that from my book which attempts to describe how other historians have answered this question of control. Given that what follows is quite a lot of quotation, and that the whole post is plural thousands of words, a cut seems moot here… Anyway, the section of book I mean went like this (and you can pursue the references there if you need them):3
The status of the persons in the documents considered is particularly relevant when frontier clearance and settlement is involved, because their origins and resources must have very much affected how the settlement was orchestrated and achieved. Abadal, concerning himself primarily with the county of Osona where an orchestrated repopulation appears to be implied by Count Guifré’s supposed reconquest and the rapidly-evident scale of development, supposed that this occupation would have been achieved by enticement and investment. In addition to the basic draw of good available land, he hypothesised that those in charge would have set up favourable landholding conditions, such as were later seen in charters of population for towns and cities on the frontier. He also imagined considerable investment by the counts to enable the settlers to survive until their newly-acquired land began to return on their labour of clearance and plantation. Bonnassie added to this the idea of overcrowding in the mountain lands from which settlers might have come, and hints of a rigid and oppressive ‘tribal’ lordship in these areas, to suggest that the principal motors of settlement were free peasants, of no great economic standing, looking for their chance of independence on the frontier. While mountain overcrowding is one of the parts of Bonnassie’s work which more recent study of the documentation has undermined, parallels from elsewhere and his mass of evidence for peasant smallholdings in border areas make his overall case hard to dispute.
None the less, to demonstrate definitely that such was the normal pattern of settlement seems to require a number of things: evidence of small independent freeholders in number; ideally, some reference to their place of origin; some to their new status; and some hint at the resources that maintained them while their endeavours sprouted beneath the soil. Only the first of these has really been provided. There are a few hints as to the origin of new settlers, but almost none of these come from charters and those that do naturally refer to the level of landholder who retained their old lands along with the new, that is, the wealthy. As far as can be ascertained there is no indication whatsoever of comital payouts to settlers in the charters from the frontier area between 880 and 1000, although there are accounts of organised settlement which may imply such support, albeit with a heavy political loading. As for free peasant status, Bonnassie placed much weight on the holding of alodial land, which can loosely be said to imply land with no obligations except to the public power, but this is not enough to overcome the methodological problems involved in the detection of the small peasantry in charter evidence. Tenant farmers could also hold alodial land, and whether it was always so free of lordship has been much doubted….
Now, I could go on – evidently, since this is pp. 16-17 of a book of 207 pages – but let me consolidate a bit here. I see basically three models in operation here: one in which the peasants are the initiators, either because they’re fugitives running from oppressive lordship in the Pyrenees or wherever (Bonnassie, Freedman) or because they’re small self-respecting independents who want to make a better life for themselves and their progeny (Iglésies, Salrach sometimes); one in which the big lords (including the church) organise people onto these lands more or less by fiat and may or may not support them with initial capital and by providing defence and some kind of church provision (Abadal mostly, Salrach early on); and one in which the big lords operate instead rather by setting things up in such a way as to attract settlement of the first type into areas where they can then assert control, rather than just into random badlands that then become jurisdictional problems (Abadal kinda, Salrach at odd moments, Farias).4 The problem with distinguishing between these as likely models is that the sources more or less explicitly support all of them.
For evidence of the third form of settlement, the lordly enticement hypothesis, it’s easy to point at the franchise of Cardona in which a slightly-desperate Count Borrell II offered some really good judicial privileges to settlers in the town, although he abrogated the criminal amnesty his grandfather had used too, this all being necessary because there was plainly no way he was going to be able to protect them when trouble came a-calling, which probably explains why this was the third attempt to populate this town on record in a century and the fourth in two.5 I have a translation of this document I use for teaching and it might maybe make a ‘From the Sources’ post in future but it is so long that I’m not sure about that, and I don’t have the Latin, so, I dunno, if people are interested. One can also look at Borrell’s arrangements for the deserted city of Isona that I have treated that way and see him doing something similar, albeit via the intermediation of the monastery of Sant Sadurni de Tavèrnoles.6 Borrell, alone, seems to have used the word perprisio for this, which fits with his other tendencies to theorise his rights over the fisc.7 That document also supports the second form of settlement, in as much as it speaks of Borrell having garrisons and dominicaturas in this more-or-less deserted area; he had moved in some kind of machinery of settlement but was, seemingly, very keen to shift the expense of it onto someone else. More on that in a subsequent post.
The least easy form of settlement to evidence is the first, especially since when Bonnassie argued it a big part of his argument was being able to show the intensive quality of the lordship in the Pyrenees, something that he did from a consecration act of the cathedral of Urgell that we now believe to be forged.8 Nonetheless, we do see lots of people in the sources who held land from clearance and who were not, apparently, subject to restrictions on what they did with that land. The word these people use is aprisio, a word that will make certain readers of the blog bristle I fear and which has been given quite technical legal implications, but which I think I have shown really means nothing more than ‘assart’ or ‘clearance’. Some of the documents where it turns up do also add a clause about being ‘first men on the land (under the rule of the Franks)’, the crucial bit there being that second subclause I think, but I don’t think this kind of specification tells us more about aprisio as a set of rights, I think it tells us that these people had something else in their favour that they also thought worth getting down in ink.9 Anyway: there are so many of these references, so few of which appear to involve approval from any lords, and some indication that their most common areas of occurrence move outwards over time – that is, they follow the edge of jurisdiction as it moves into what Abadal called the terra de ningú, no-man’s land, of the frontier – that this is what these references must represent for me, independent peasant ventures.
But! That does not mean I think that there was the kind of endless flow of fugitive pioneers that Abadal saw and Freedman seems to see powering this movement. Au contraire: I think that where we can identify these people they are overridingly local. In my article on aprisio I tried to set this out as an alternative to the royally-powered model of settlement, using my much-beloved Gurb as an example:
There are nonetheless difficulties with such an account of settlement. The small peasant leaving no land behind him would surely be a person of limited resources. How would he and his family be able to survive for the long months it would take them to clear and sow land and then wait for the crops to grow? I myself think such journeymen peasants would be more likely to seek work on existing holdings belonging to others. A true settler of new land would have to be equipped with more resources, even if only livestock. Abadal believed that these resources would come from the count and the church, but it is difficult to reconcile this with the extensive allodial holdings which seem to be evidenced in the land sales and donations of the ninth and tenth centuries that led Bonnassie to his conclusions, even if the process is documented in one or two charters. This appears to leave the possibility that land was largely opened up for exploitation from existing holdings, presumably not too far away from the new sites. This also fits well with the charter evidence, as large numbers of charters even in areas as long settled as Girona show extensive tracts of waste through their boundary clauses. But does it fit with our picture of aprisio?
In one particular area, the comarc of Gurb in the county of Osona, the earliest charters show a very tightly knit group of local transactors, selling land for small amounts of money within the group. In and around Gurb and the nearby village of Ros between 886 and 902, we are shown by the surviving charters a total of sixty-nine people. Of them twenty-one appear only as witnesses, two of these being priests of the cathedral of Vic, and the others probably people who had gathered at the cathedral, relatively nearby, and thus been present when the Gurb villagers had gone there to transact. Four more are scribes, not obviously involved in local landholding. The forty-four remaining people all appear as landholders, exactly half of them as transactors.
One of these transactors, a woman called Sarra, is particularly illustrative. In 902 she disposed of land, some of which she had inherited from her parents; her heir, unnamed, was one of its neighbours, and the sanction of the charter guarded against potential disputes from ‘siblings and children and heirs’. Sarra’s heir was therefore old enough to hold land, which at the absolute minimum must mean that he was fourteen. If Sarra had given birth to him or her when she was herself sixteen, Sarra herself would have been born in 879. Both these figures are likely to be low, but the year is significant as it is that in which Abadal held that Count Guifré the Hairy had begun the resettlement of supposedly deserted Osona. Unless these figures are kept to these minimums therefore, Sarra’s parents, from whom she had inherited this land, would have moved there with her as an infant. It is perhaps more likely that they were there already. In any case, Sarra claimed the land both by inheritance and her own aprisio, which was presumably an expansion from her parents’ base.
Sarra is not the only example of long settlement in this little set of villagers. The wealthiest family seen in these charters, that of Donadéu and Mirabella, are only seen together after the former’s death, with their eldest son Guimarà holding a charter for his widowed mother, which indicates that he was of legal age. Another son, Oriol, was already married. The couple had held their land by aprisio and purchase (the latter including land bought from Sarra). This was in 894. Oriol would thus have been born, at the very latest, in 880, and Guimarà in early 879 if not well before. Surely here we see not freshly established immigrants, aprisio notwithstanding, but a resident family whose apparent propertied predominance was the work of more than one generation.
If we are willing then to accept that some aprisio holders might not be newcomers to an area, we are looking at a situation where the new settlers might indeed be relatively small peasants, but already established ones. The capital with which they risked the new settlement would thus have been smaller, because they were already living on a productive estate nearby. They might arrive new in the record, as they subscribed to the imported ideology of the terra regia to describe their clearances, but the newness of record conceals what may have been quite long-established settlements, for if we are willing to allow one generation of heredity, there seems to be little bar to admitting more beyond it. In that case, perhaps there was sometimes good reason, when claiming to be primi homines, to add the qualifier about Frankish rule; the ‘ruptured’ settlement that the clean slate replaced might not have been so very ancient. This ‘new deal’ was one into which all levels of society – the church, the counts, rich landholders willing to risk an expansion venture or the small peasants whose allodial landholding Bonnassie saw as so typical – could enter. However, in at least the last two cases, it may be wise for us to wonder from how far they needed to have come.
These are the clearest examples I’ve found but basically I think this applies anywhere where one finds people who claimed to hold their land by both aprisio and inheritance, and it’s at least implied if they hold by aprisio and purchase, because if they could buy land, someone else was already out here with it already working.10
Still, although I find this over a wide area, it’s still not the whole Catalan frontier by any means and there are some important qualifiers to add. Firstly, there is also a model called complantation, which becomes better and better attested as the year 1000 approaches, by which someone who owned waste land but couldn’t work it themselves recruits someone else to get it working, during which time they pay the owner of the lord a proportion of the produce from it; at the end of what’s usually ten years, either (in the later versions) the occupier becomes the lord’s tenant for the new estate or else (more usual early on) they split the lands, the occupier gets half of it as owner and may or may not continue to work the other half for his old landlord for a steady render. This makes it clear that people can own land that no-one’s using, and somewhat damages the idea that all waste land implicitly belongs to the fisc and therefore the terra regia, meaning that you could just move in there; but I think that dispute over that ‘ancient right’ is exactly why one might put such unusual claims in a charter, so I don’t think this diminishes the scope for independent peasant land clearance too much, especially since if that was as local as I suspect it usually was, which lands were claimed and which weren’t would have been something that was usually known by all parties.
More problematic is that the counts and other nobility also often claimed to hold land by aprisio. In their cases it’s obviously much less likely that they turned up themselves with axes and push-ploughs and spent a laborious winter and spring establishing new fields, so, we have to admit that not everyone that claimed aprisio is actually the person on the land who did the work. In that case, some settlers must have been anything but independent. Gaspar Feliu i Montfort, especially, has run with this and distinguished two sorts of aprisio, ‘aprisio individual’ and ‘aprisio dominical’, and he has argued that the latter is vastly more important. I think that our difference in opinion here is not least because we look at different areas; I know Osona best, which is a mess of little plains and river valleys that it’s very hard to build up as a consolidated territory; he knows Barelona best, where that kind of large-scale landholding is much more possible and therefore unsurprisingly better-documented. I suspect that peasants in the Barcelonès were worked harder than peasants in Osona, and I also suspect that some of them did better anyway because the land is just better.11 But I don’t think either of us would wish to argue that the other’s preferred model never occurred in our specialist zones, it’s just a matter of balance. (I also think that the difference between Feliu’s two classes of aprisio is one people recognised at the time and exactly what Borrell was getting it with his use of perprisio instead, ‘taking through’ not ‘taking up’, but since his pedantry didn’t catch on that doesn’t help very much.)
Anyway, at the end of this I hope that I’ve defended a reasonable space for thinking that where frontier territories in Spain are seen to be expanding, some of the basic work of that was probably down to peasants who were doing it for themselves. It’s worth, just before finishing, taking this back to Escalona and Reyes’s Castilian frontier and asking if this might also travel there. This is something one might expect not least because in Castile-León there was a very similar word to aprisio, presura, which has also attracted some scholarly work trying to define it.12 The upshot of this has been that in this case, presura actually was a right that had to be confirmed by authority, so that when one sees people claiming it we have to think of a lord being involved. (Or, to put it another way, presura is more like perprisio than aprisio.) I’m fine with this because there is also another word, scalida, that seems just to mean clearance without the lordly baggage. The trouble is that to the best of my knowledge there’s been almost no work treating that term as if it might be a separate thing or an important phenomenon, and I wonder if someone else who is provoked to wonder about the peasants’ role on the Castilian frontier by Escalona & Reyes’s chapter or William Stalls’s work on the same sorts of thing in Aragón didn’t ought to see if this approach gets them a different picture.13 I’ve a feeling it might.
Anyway, that’s (quite) enough of that: let’s put it down for now and then next one of these I’ll come back and try and deal with things from the lords end, which will be where I really have to think on my feet for a bit because what the Escalona & Reyes chapter has made clear to me is that I actually hadn’t, properly, thought this out before. So: if you’re interested stay tuned, and for everyone else there’s a continuing series of seminar reports and other titbits to tide you over till I stop being so thinky.
1. The spur piece being, once more, J. Escalona & F. Reyes, “Scale Change on the Border: the county of Castile in the tenth century” in Escalona & Andrew Reynolds (edd.), Scale and Scale Change in the Early Middle Ages: exploring landscape, local society, and the world beyond, The Medieval Countryside 6 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 153-183.
2. Cullen J. Chandler, “Between court and counts: Carolingian Catalonia and the aprisio grant, 778-897″ in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (2002), pp. 19-44; J. Jarrett, “Settling the King’s Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective”, ibid. 18 (2010), pp. 320-342.
3. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History, New Series (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 16-17.
4. Referring, more or less in order, to Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société, Publications de l’Université Toulouse-le Mirail, Sèrie A 23 & 29 (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols; Paul H. Freedman, The Origins of Peasant Servitude in Catalonia, Cambridge Iberian and Latin American Studies (Cambridge 1991); Josep Iglésies, La reconquesta a les valls de Anoia i el Gaià, Episodis de la història 67 (Barcelona 1963); Josep María Salrach i Marés, El procés de feudalització (segles III-XII), Història de Catalunya 2 (Barcelona 1987); Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, La Plana de Vic en els segles VIII i IX (Barcelona 1948), repr. as “La reconquesta d’una regió interior de Catalunya: la plana de Vic (717-886)” in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents Vols XIII & XIV (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), Vol. I, pp. 309-321; Salrach, “Repoblació i restauració eclesiàstica en el ‘pagus’ de Berga” in Cuadernos de Historia Económica de Cataluña Vol. 17 (Barcelona 1977), pp. 7-23; & Victor Farias, “El desenvolupament econòmic de les àrees rurals” in Borja de Riquer i Permanyer (ed.), Història política, societat i cultura dels Països Catalans volum 2: la formació de la societat feudal, segles VI-XII, ed. Salrach (Barcelona 1998, repr. 2001), pp. 120-123, 125-129 & 131-135. It’s also necessary to mention Salrach’s “Défrichement et croissance agricole dans la Septimanie et le Nord-Est de la péninsule ibérique’ in La Croissance agricole du haut moyen âge : chronologie, modalités, géographie. Dixième Journées Internationales d’Histoire, 9, 10, 11, Septembre 1988, Flaran 10 (Auch 1990), pp. 133–151.
5. First printed, with still-useful commentary, in Jaime Villanueva, Viage Literario a las Iglesias de España tomo VIII: viage à las iglesias de Vique y Solsona, 1806 y 1807 (Valencia 1821), ap. XXX, but now better in Antoni Galera i Pedrosa (ed.), Diplomatari de la vila de Cardona, anys 966-1276: Arxiu Parroquial de Sant Miquel i Sant Vicenç de Cardona, Arxiu Abacial de Cardona, Arxiu Històric de Cardona, Arxius Patrimonials de les masies Garriga de Bergus, Pala de Coma i Pinell, Diplomataris 15 (Barcelona 1998), doc. no. 7, though given that Villanueva is in the Internet Archive and the Galera edition is one of the ones from before the Fundació Noguera were putting their stuff up online for free Villanueva may still be easiest for you to get; there is valuable work on this document and its contents in Victor Farias, “Guerra, llibertat i igualitarisme a la frontera” in Riquer, Historia Política, Societat i Cultura dels Països Catalans 2, pp. 112-113.
6. Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Diplomatari del monestir de Tavèrnoles (segles IX-XIII)” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 12 (Montserrat 1995), pp. 7-414, doc. nos 23 & 24, the former also edited from a different copy as Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 17, Publicaciones de la Sección de Barcelona 15 (Madrid 1951), doc. no. 174.
7. See Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 129-133; there is more that could be said here, a lot of it has actually been said here but I stil intend to write it it properly some day soon.
8. Bonnassie, Catalogne, I pp. 86-91, with a very helpful map; he was also guided by the work of Manuel Riu, already circulating in typescript by then and so cited but only fully published later as “Hipòtesi entorn dels orígens del feudalisme a Catalunya” in Quaderns d’Estudis Medievals Vol. 2 no. 4 (Barcelona 1981), pp. 195-208; the text in question is now printed as C. Baraut (ed.), “Les actes de consagracions d’esglésies del bisbat d’Urgell (segles IX-XII)” in Urgellia Vol. 1 (Montserrat 1978), pp. 11-182, ap. 2, where dated to 839, which retracted in Baraut, “La data de l’acta de consagració de la catedral carolíngia de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia Vol. 7 (1984), pp. 515-529, suggesting a late tenth-century date instead.
9. E.g. Udina, Archivo Condal, ap. 116: “primi homines in terra regia sub ditione francorum”; see Jarrett, “Settling the Kings’ Lands”, pp. 334-335.
10. Ibid. pp. 337-338, 339-340.
11. G. Feliu, “La pagesia catalana abans de la feudalització” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 26 (Barcelona 1994), pp. 19-41, repr. in his La llarga nit feudal: mil anys de pugna entre senyors i pagesos (València 2010), pp. 93-109.
12. Ignasio de la Concha y Martílnez, La ‘Presura’: la ocupación de tierras en los primeros siglos de la Reconquista, Monografías de Derecho Español 4 (Madrid 1946); Abilio Barbero & Marcelo Vigil, La formación del feudalismo en la Península Ibérica (Barcelona, 1978), pp. 354–61; I. V. Benavides Monje, “La presura en León (siglos VIII–X)” in Maurilio Pérez González (ed.), Actas del II Congreso Hisp´nico de Latín Medieval (León, 11–14 de noviembre de 1997) (León 1999), pp. 255–262; for some kind of synthesis of the current thinking see J. J. Larrea & Roland Viader, “Aprisions et presuras au début du IXe siècle : pour une étude des formes d’appropriation du territoire dans la Tarraconaise du haut moyen âge” in Philippe Sénac (ed.), De la Tarraconaise a la Marche Supérieure d’al-Andalus (IXe–XIe siècle) : les habitats ruraux, Études médiévales ibériques ACT1 (Toulouse 2006), pp. 167–210.
13. Until this is done the most current thing specifically on that area known to me is Esther Peña Bocos, “Las presuras y la repoblación del valle del Duero: algunas cuestiones en torno a la atribución y organización social del espacio castellano en el siglo IX” in Repoblación y reconquista: Actas del III Curso de Cultura Medieval, Aguilar de Campoo 1991 (Palencia 1993), pp. 249–259. The work of William Stalls mentioned is William Clay Stalls, Possessing the Land: Aragon’s Expansion Into Islam’s Ebro Frontier Under Alfonso the Battler, 1104-1134, The Medieval Mediterranean 7 (Leiden 1995).