All through the long difficult reign of Juan
II, Madrid continued to maintain a privileged position as seasonal residence of
the Cortes and as the scene nationally when the Cortes were called into
Among the numerous Cortes held here since
the previous century we can cite the Cortes of 1418, in which it was declared
that the king had attained his majority of age to ascend the throne. There were
others in 1435.
But the city will suffer the worst moments
of its medieval Christian history due to the terrible famine and plagues which
were desolating Europe from the previous century, and let up only in the final
years of the 15th century.
Within a Castile
divided and torn by alliances, confrontations and quarrels, with a weak,
dissolute monarch, and with nobles, clergy and cities obsessed with control of
power or defense of self-interests, it was as if adversity and nature itself had
conspired against humankind and particularly against disadvantaged human
Since the end of the 14th and beginnings of the 15th century,
irregular phenomena were appearing in the climate, such as great droughts, heavy
freezes and terribly long rainfalls. A great many times, there was no bread or
grains, and life in the city as well as in many other parts of Castile was at
These natural calamities,
which affected agriculture and therefore the life-supports of people of Madrid,
culminated in tremendous rains and hailstorms that fell on the city and on
surrounding lands uninterruptedly from October 29th of 1434 to January 7th of
1435, a phenomenon that passed into the collective memory of Madrid as
So great was the
intensity and force of the rainfall, that it ruined portions of the wall,
overturned houses and overflowed the trench of the lands in the east, whose
waters then flooded the district of San Pedro, and contaminated supplies of
Food supplies failed and hunger and desolation overcame
a city only yesterday so vital, trusting and prosperous. And, since evils never
come singly, given the disorder and fright that took hold of everyone, the many
unburied bodies created an epidemic of plague in summer of 1435. Madrid sank in
The Court and the King fled in haste, and
the epidemic caused innumerable deaths.
After the plague and famine subsided, the
city began slowly to recover from events printed indelibly in the memory of
King Juan II ordered the construction of a mud-brick wall that
would limit and close in all the barrios of the city, especially the suburbs of
San Martín, Santo Domingo, Santa Cruz and San Millán, where the
epidemic had especially vented its fury.
The new mud-brick wall was
indeed necessary, given the unceasing urban demographic growth of Madrid,
although it is possible that in the decades previous to the catastrophe of
1434-35, by reason of the droughts and shortage of food-supplies, this growth
may have slowed down.
Madrid, emerging from its
agony, will witness a second half of the 15th century and again push forward
with a renewed leading role under the new King Enrique IV, who honored it with
titles such as "very noble and very loyal."
But not everything was black
for Madrid during the reign of Juan II, for the townspeople received and
witnessed various foreign legations, all with pomp and acclaim.
Before the famine and
ensuing plague, the Court received ambassadors of the King of France,
- an archbishop and a nobleman, - all well
received with pageantry and congeniality by the courtiers, even before they
approached the walls of the city.
They entered the Fortress-castle (Alcázar)
almost at nightfall, and they found the sovereign in his throne room, with an
enomous lion at his feet, which filled them with natural surprise and fear.
by the King and courtiers of the peaceableness of the beast, they became
acquainted little by little with such an astounding member of the Court. The
chronicler relates that the lion was so tame that it too ate at the King's
And the writer adds that the lion was so fat
that, going one day in a wagon from one place to another, during a terrible
summer's heat wave, the lion burst, choking to death.
After the epidemics and when the Court had
returned to Madrid, the King received the envoy of Pope Eugene IV, who presented
him as a gift the famous "golden rose"
(bouquet of roses blessed by the Pontiff during Lent).
And a year later a legation was received of
Duke Philip of Burgundy, who brought with him information to King Juan on
certain European diplomatic matters.
The townspeople of Madrid
consulted together several times in protest against the controversial,
contradictory Enrique IV, but it seems that the King never let on that he was at
all concerned. We have already said that this king ennobled and took care of
the city and he did spend so much time in Madrid that it can well be said that
long before the days of Philip II, Madrid already was the Court City.
to all the many intrigues and difficulties of his reign, the monarch frequently
organized festivals and tournaments, as much within the town-limits as in the
surrounding areas, with rare pomp and on the pretext of a visit of almost
But Enrique IV also occupied
his time in bettering the life of the citizens of Madrid; he transferred the
National Mint to this city, which until then had been in Segovia. He
strengthened the City Couincil with more means and more powers, renewed the
weekly Thursday markets with more exemptions and ordered the reform and widening
of the central Plaza de San Salvador, today called Plaza de la Villa, which then
was small and of llttle use to the new growth and vigor that breathed in Madrid.
The King, who so much loved his city, died
in the Fortress (Alcázar) in 1474.
Before the death of King
Enrique, there already were uprisings between partisans of his daughter, called
"la Beltraneja," - because they supposed
her to be the matiral issue of Beltran de la Cueva, a minion of the court of the
monarch, who was born in the Alcázar in 1462, - and Isabel,
stepsister of the King.
But these clashes intensified, coming to hand to hand battles in the
city after the King died, and when Isabel was proclaimed queen in Segovia.
Citizens of Madrid divided up into those in favor of one or another pretender to
the throne, as much among the nobilty as among the common people, although it
appears that the people inclined more toward Isabel.
The nobles who favored Juana
fortified themselves in the Alcázar and although they also controlled
several gateways, tradition tells us, the hosts who battled for Isabel succeeded
in entering Madrid by the treachery of a gentleman of Madrid, who opened the
Puerta de Guadalajara for them.
The era during the reign of the "Reyes
Católicos" (Fernando and Isabel), in the final years of the 15th
century and early years of the 16th, was a time of peace and security for
Madrid, in trade and agriculture. There was a convocation of Cortes in Madrid
in the year 1482.
The City came to fully stable life, politically,
socially and economically. However, some natural catastrophes, like those of
the first half of the century, again arrived.
King Fernando and Isabel
in their frequent movements, took advantage always when they were passing near
Madrid, to stay over for a few days in the Alcázar, where every Friday
they meted out justice for the common people.
King Fernando called in also all solicitors
general in the City, in order to sustain the operations of the Santa Hermandad
During 1494 and 1495 heavy
rains took place, fierce hurricanes and deep snows, which produced damages and
reverses both in fields and in the city, although they did not bring about the
dire situations of 1434 and 1435. But damages were heavy enough that the Crown
ordered some 40,000 maravedis to be paid from the Royal Treasury to carry out
repairs in the city walls and public buildings of Madrid.
In 1494, the Crown
authorized the City Council to impose a public excise tax in order to build
porticoes in the Plaza Mayor for the sale of food-stuffs and that these should
not have to suffer from bad weather. Other royal dispositions follow in years
immediately afterwards, with intentions always of improving the functioning of
the City Council
But an order of 1498 strikes our attention, when the
monarch prohibited the free running of hogs through the streets and squares of
Such a situation seems to us
today as unbelievable, but let us realize that the Madrid of the end of the 15th
century wavered still between the traditional town that lived off surrounding
fields and an elegant city of courtiers, the stage for legations and the Cortes,
as well as temporary royal residences, neither of these tendencies having yet
taken the lead.
Possibly unfortunately, a
short time later, and during the first half of the following century, Madrid
would choose, more than anything else, to be a city of courtier and political
life, forgetful and abandoning the cultivation of agriculture, which had
supplied food for the people and almost always well supplied them, a city that
during the Middle Ages, excepting in some windy gusts of the 15th century, had
known an increasingly abundant prosperity and forward thrust.
However, human beings rarely
remember what is most useful, inclining most frequently toward the facile and
- Style of the ruling classes of 15th century.
stylings were characterized by pronounced pleats
and by ample tunics of
velvet fringed with furs.
Feminine stylings are more difficult to adjust
since they went from a dress
in which as much the sleeves as the skirt are
interchangeable to whole garments.
- Rabbi of the 15th century, reading sacred
texts in a synagogue.
His shoulders are covered with the "talit"
or ritual mantle,
while he carries on his arm and forehead strips of leather
"phylactery" which bears sacred phrases.
- Coat of arms of Fernando and Isabel
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