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Or the many economic problems brought forth by the war, two have stimulated especial interest and have already been made the subject of considerable research. One of these is the national control of raw materials, and the other the economic foundations of newly organized states. It may not be altogether inopportune, therefore, at a time when so much thought is being given to these fundamental matters, to invite attention to the same questions as they appeared in another age and under far different circumstances.

Spanish merino wool was for generations one of the great staples of commerce during the period when modern Europe was in the making. The history of the Honorable Assembly of the Mesta,' the Castilian sheep raisers' gild, presents a vivid picture of some six hundred years of laborious effort on the part of one of the great European powers to dominate the production and marketing of that essential raw material. This policy, though primarily concerned with the agrarian affairs of the realm, had, nevertheless, a far wider significance because of its part in the mercantilistic ambitions of the greatest of the Castilian monarchs. The high unit value of wool, its compact, exportable form, and the universal demand for it made it one of the most valued means for determining the relative status of rival monarchies.

As a factor in the laying of the foundations of the Castilian state which rose from the ruins of the Reconquest, the Mesta played an inconspicuous but important part. It was used by each of the stronger sovereigns in turn to carry on a prolonged struggle against the ancient traditions of Spanish separatism – political, racial, and economic provincialism -- and to work toward a united peninsula. Its rise synchronized with the successful efforts of the warrior monarchs of the Reconquest to weld their newly won dominions into a nation. Its decline began with the collapse of the monarchy and the triumph of separatist influences under the seventeenth-century Hapsburgs.


The study of the economic development of Spain, and more particularly of its declining centuries, has occupied the attention of many investigators, but their interest has centred chiefly upon the use of economic conditions as convenient explanations of political phenomena. This has been especially true of the general works dealing with the great days of Spanish absolutism in the sixteenth century. A clearer understanding of the interrelation of economic and political factors can be possible only after considerably more attention has been paid to the study of certain special topics which are illustrative of the economic development of the country. Among these lacunae in Spanish historiography there is none more important than the account of the Mesta. The long and active life of this body from 1273 to 1836 has been a notable and in many ways unique feature of Spanish economic history. For hundreds of years it played a vital part in the adjustment of problems involving overseas trade, public lands, pasturage, and taxation.

The extant descriptions of the Mesta are, for the most part, based upon prejudiced discussions and fragmentary documents originating with its numerous opponents. In no case has any use been made of the rich treasury of the Mesta's own archive, which has been in Madrid for nearly three hundred years, untouched and practically unknown. Whether the institution was but a product of strongly intrenched, cunningly directed special privilege pursuing its selfish ends, is a question which even the most recent investigators have too readily answered affirmatively. In its later centuries it unquestionably did contribute much to the agricultural decay of the country; but that circumstance should not obscure an appreciation of its earlier stimulative and constructive influence, both political and economic. Present day scholarship has been too ready to accept the point of view expressed in such seventeenth-century couplets as

"¿Que es la Mesta?
i Sacar de esa bolsa y meter en esta!"

“Entre tres ‘Santos' y un 'Honrado'
Está el reino agobiado.”

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The latter voices the popular contempt for such ancient and once revered institutions as the Santa Cruzada, the Santa Hermandad, the Santo Oficio de la Inquisición, and the Honrado Concejo de la Mesta. It would be safer to accept the observation of Ambrosio de Morales, a distinguished scholar of the period of Philip II: “What foreigner does not marvel at the Assembly of the Mesta, that substantial, ably administered body politic ? It not only gives evidence of the infinite multitude of sheep in Spain, but a study of it helps toward a better understanding of our country, if it be possible to understand her." i

The almost entire absence of reliable investigations in the field of Spanish agrarian history has made it necessary to base the present study very largely upon hitherto unused manuscript materials, found in the archives of the Mesta and of small towns in remote parts of Castile. For this reason the references in the bibliography and footnotes have been made more extensive than might ordinarily seem necessary, in the hope that suggestions might thus be given for subsequent investigations of such subjects as the domestic and foreign trade of mediaeval Spain, the enclosure movement in the peninsular kingdoms, or Castilian field systems and commons.

The researches upon which this book is based were made possible through two liberal grants from Harvard University for studies in Spain and elsewhere in Europe in 1912--14: the Woodbury Lowery and Frederick Sheldon Fellowships. Whatever merits the volume may have as the first fruit of the Mesta archive as a field for historical study are due entirely to the unfailing courtesies of the Marqués de la Frontera, the late Señor Don Rafael Tamarit, and their colleagues of the Asociación General de Ganaderos del Reino of Madrid, the successor of the Mesta. These gentlemen interrupted the busy affairs of their efficient organization in order to provide every facility for the exhaustive examination of the valuable collection in their possession. Without their cordial coöperation and expert advice upon Spanish pastoral problems this study could not have gone

i Los Antigüedades de las Ciudades de España (Alcalá de Henares, 1576),

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P. 40.

beyond the limits of a perfunctory essay. The search for supplementary material was carried into several obscure archives in different parts of the peninsula, where little could have been accomplished without the aid of such helpful friends in Madrid as Professor Adolfo Bonilla y San Martín, Professor Rafael Altamira y Crevea, and Señor Don Arturo G. Cardona. I am especially indebted to Professor Bonilla for many pleasant and invaluable hours of counsel upon mediaeval Spanish law and local institutions. My sincerest thanks are due to the officials of the Real Academia de la Historia and of the great national collections in Madrid, and particularly to the courteous archivists of the Casa de Ganaderos in Saragossa and of the estate of the Duque de Osuna in Madrid. The library of the Hispanic Society of America generously secured copies of scarce volumes and pamphlets which would otherwise have been inaccessible. I am under obligation to Professor Alfred Morel-Fatio of the Collège de France for many thoughtful kindnesses while I was working in the various archives of Paris; to Dr. Constantine E. ivícGuire of the International High Commission in Washington for advice upon doubtful passages in certain important manuscripts; to Professor Charles H. Haskins of Harvard for constructive suggestions regarding several shortcomings of the investigation; and to Mr. George W. Robinson, Secretary of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, for assistance in preparing the manuscript for the press.

Among the many friends who have given freely of their valued counsel I must acknowledge especially my great indebtedness to three teachers at Harvard, to whom it has long been my good fortune to be under the heaviest obligations. Professor Archibald C. Coolidge first suggested the subject, and his constant encouragement and confidence in its possibilities made many difficulties seem inconsequential. Professor Roger B. Merriman gave abundantly of his sound scholarship and of his inspiring enthusiasm for Spanish history, two contributions which have been of inestimable help to me, as they have been to many others among his pupils who have had the rare privilege of intimate association with him in studies in this field. Professor Edwin F.

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