For centuries Castile possessed local Hermandades to police the highways and the countryside. In an attempt at coordination Ferdinand and Isabella in 1476 formed a council to manage the brotherhoods, and staffed it with loyal servitors. This experiment at strict royal control, which lasted twenty-two years, is the subject of Marvin Lunenfeld’s book.

The Hermandades quickly received wider powers from the council, gaming authority over rebels and the right to operate in populated areas. The council raised a militia which performed with credit in crushing those cities and nobles who supported the disputed candidacy of Enrique IV’s daughter Juana. The militia units helped repel the invasions of Afonso V of Portugal (Juana’s foreign champion) and participated in the war against Granada. Tax assessing and collecting duties also fell within the council’s purview. As a final task the council drew up plans for a Castilian army based on universal conscription. With foreign and domestic enemies quelled, in 1498 the Catholic monarchs acceded to pleas from the cities that the expensive central organization be disbanded, although local brotherhoods long endured.

Using archival sources to good effect, Lunenfeld has presented a history of the Santa Hermandad in the recently developed revisionist tradition which is dispelling many myths about the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella. On the basis of Lunenfeld’s information, we must reject the concept of the crown and the towns united against the nobility. The council was not the result of a popular outpouring of urban affection for the monarchy against the nobility. In the beginning only a minority of the Castilian cities cooperated, and the first targets were the cities and nobles who supported Juana against Ferdinand and Isabella. The organization was widely unpopular, and the crown only maintained it by a clever combination of force and propaganda. Council members did have great authority and latitude for action, but their control over the local units was incomplete and sporadic. The attempts at rigid centralization failed.

In this slim book Lunenfeld has contributed to the changing history of Castile in the fifteenth century. Far too many errors, mainly misspellings, mar the work; a careful editor should have caught them. But in the interpretations and in the lines of further research indicated, The Council of the Santa Hermandad will be of great interest to the student of early modern Spain.