The Seven Partidas

Alfonso X de Castilla

King Alfonso X of Castile depicted in a miniature included in the Cantigas de Santa María (source: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes).

Barely having any relationship with the history of the Canary Islands, we could say today we are sneaking an intruder into this project. Not without a good reason, of course.

Archaeological records and preserved traditions aside, we can say most of the knowledge we know about the indigenous world comes from European written sources, because unfortunately we have no evidence that old Canarians left explicit memories about their culture.

On the other hand, European testimonies suffer from the distortion introduced by the so-called colonial filter, that is, by a view of the indigenous culture strongly influenced by the inevitable comparisons should be made between the European way of life in those years and its African counterpart. In most cases this was not an interested distortion, but it came from the inability of the witnesses to infer –probably impossible to establish in many cases– precise equivalents between cultural elements of both worlds at a time when ethnographic studies, still lacking a minimum formal rigor, were no more than a means of satisfying curiosity for the exotic, if not directly nonexistent.

Therefore, to minimize the effects of such distortion would be ideal to know as precisely as possible the mindset of the European society that gave rise to these testimonies, and a good starting point to achieve this are the laws that ruled everyday life.

In the case of the Crown of Castile, the main legislative body consisted of the seven Partidas (parts), composed between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries by several anonymous lawyers, allegedly at the initiative of King Alfonso X the Wise (Toledo, 1221 – Sevilla, 1284 ), one of the most important patrons and intellectuals of the late Middle Ages, which remained in effect in Hispanic territories until the eighteenth century.

The Partidas are a key work in the history of jurisprudence, constituting a kind of true encyclopedia –the content of each Partida is divided into titles subdivided into lawsdescribing in concise language, not only the rules but also the late medieval social pyramid.

Some trivia on the laws written in the Partidas:

  • Despite the lesser life expectancy at that time with respect to ours, the age of majority was reached at twenty-five.
  • Knights, minors, villagers and women were excluded from knowing the laws except in cases of notorious infringement (treason, murder, theft, adultery, etc.).
  • Differences between prisoners and captives are made, the latter being those who fall into the hands of men of another belief.
  • Positions and professions associated with the conquering activities are described, as alfaqueque, adalid, almogávar, knight, cómitre, adelantado, and others.

Among all the editions of this work, made from various codices, we recommend –see section references– the transcription of 1807 in three volumes by the Real Academia de la Historia, also available in HTML thanks to the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes. Through the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica we can also access the digitization of one of the oldest copies preserved, dated between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Antonio M. López Alonso


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