All those interested in Castilian administration in the early colonial period will applaud Marvin Lunenfeld’s readable and well-researched book on the late medieval corregidor. While jurisdictional limitations kept these officials from playing the central role which some have assigned them, the corregidors were important, and scholars have not given them adequate attention. Since Isabella I was the first ruler to successfully use the corregidor as a general instrument for increasing royal authority in areas where monarchical jurisdiction had often been only nominal, Lunenfeld appropriately focuses on her reign.
He demolishes the old idea that an easy crown-city alliance existed in Isabel-line Castile. Indeed, until the mid-1480s corregidors often faced stiff resistance from the municipal elites. Perhaps Lunenfeld’s most important insight is that corregidors could only be effective when they had consistent backing from the central government while administering policies supported by prominent urban leaders. Such a happy combination of interests only existed during the period from 1485 to 1494, and, even then, some corregidors were baffled by the crown’s contradictory attitude towards Jews and Muslims. Moreover, corregidors generally lacked royal support for challenging territorial aristocrats, clergy, and officials of the Inquisition, military orders, and Hermandad, all of whom had tremendous power.
Royal financial difficulties after the war in Granada weakened the crown in the face of the great lords, and poorly supported corregidors increasingly bowed to special interests, which damaged their reputation as individuals and as a group. The unstable central government after Isabella’s death combined with a deterioration in the quality of the corregidors led to a further decline of municipal support for these officials. The ineffective or corrupt corregidor became a principal target of the Comunero rebels of 1520-1521. This rebellion reminded the urban elite that they depended on a stable royal government and showed Emperor Charles V how important an effective corps of corregidors was to his exercise of power in Castile. Lunenfeld takes Charles’s reforms of 1523-25 as the dividing line between the periods of the medieval and early modern corregidor.
While Lunenfeld has done an excellent job of meeting his goals of defining the nature of the Isabelline corregidor and of showing this official’s true role in royal administration, there are some important omissions. His focus on the office often leaves unanswered questions about the officials themselves. For example, names I recognize in his valuable lists of corregidors and residencia judges lead me to ask the following: how many of these men were drawn from the urban nobility; was the office part of a career which later included more university training; what other roles in local and royal administration did these men play? Thanks to Lunenfeld’s fine book, we should now be able to penetrate more deeply into the social history of Castilian government.