The political influence of the Castilian and Aragonese towns rose and declined with that of the Cortes. The defeat of the comuneros at Villalar on April 23, 1521, made possible the construction of royal absolutism. The hermandades of which this movement was the last political expression represented a medieval constitutional tradition that preceded absolutism. For that reason the first generation of Spanish Liberals at the beginning of the nineteenth century traced its own ideology to these roots. Such arguments appeared in Francisco Martínez Marina’s Teoría de las Cortes (Madrid, 1813), a work cited by both authors under review. Liberals such as the poet Manuel Josef Quintana and the playwright-politician Francisco Martínez de la Rosa glorified the resistance of the comuneros in their respective works, A Juan de Padilla and La Viuda de Padilla.

Antonio Alvarez de Morales’ scholarly monograph traces the evolution of the hermandad from its origins in the twelfth century until the dissolution of the Hermandad Vieja of Toledo, Talavera, and Ciudad Real in 1834. He distinguishes three periods. The first hermandades, such as the league of mutual interest and assistance between Escalona, Plasencia, Avila, and Segovia (1190), sought to defend the customs and fueros of the towns against the encroachments of seigneurial jurisdiction and power. In other instances the Hermandad de las Marismas (1296) defended the interests of the ports of Santander, Castro Urdíales, and San Sebastián. Civil wars and royal minorities ensured the expansion of such leagues. A General Hermandad in Castile (1282-1329) and the Union in Aragón (1265-1348) eventually provoked royal reactions against these restrictions of monarchical jurisdiction and influence by organized groups of privileged private persons. The Crown itself inaugurated the second phase of the hermandad by employing this institution to reinforce royal administration of justice. After 1367 the hermandades acted as military unions for the pursuit of criminal delinquents. Inevitably, they became involved as the Crown’s principal weapon against the nobility in the civil wars of the fifteenth century. The Reyes Católicos opened the third phase by approving the proposal of the Cortes of Madrigal (1476) for a Santa Hermandad to bolster their disputed political power. They placed this force under a Consejo de la Hermandad composed of royal nominees. After 1498 these monarchs dispensed with this close alliance that had proved so lucrative in the war against Granada.

Luis Bonilla’s interpretation of the comunero rebellion of 1519-1521 begs many questions. He tends to idealize the policies of the Reyes Católicos by regarding them as a satisfactory harmonization of administrative centralization and respect for the fueros. In this way the full responsibility for the development of absolutism falls upon Charles V. Furthermore, it is doubtful whether the medieval constitutional tradition in Spain was in any sense “democratic.” Even the Cádiz Liberals of 1810, who professed to admire it so greatly, disclaimed any intention of creating democratic or republican forms of government.