One unusually warm morning in early June of 2015, a multinational group of researchers assembled in the Centre for Medieval Literature at Syddansk Universitet in Odense (Denmark), eager to discuss and share their work and how it related to king Pedro I of Castile. They had come for the first Redes Petristas workshop (https://www.facebook.com/CentreForMedievalLiterature/posts/985986771411768) to present their vision of how medieval networks formed, interacted and evolved in the context of the reign of Pedro I of Castile.
They shared the common believe that despite the work that had been done―and was being done―on the (in)famous king and the rise of the Trastámara dynasty, it was necessary to transcend disciplinary boundaries in order to produce a broader picture of literary and artistic production at the time of the Civil War and the decades that followed it. All these variegated materials converge on two axes: the circulation of people, objects and ideas during and after the conflict as a result of political alliances and exiles; and the creation of personal networks where women played a crucial role, whether through family or diplomacy.
The idea of creating an academic network soon emerged. The workshop in Odense made evident that, to a certain extent, we were already a community engaged in a displaced dialogue and we simply required an institutional umbrella to allow us to gather and start a conversation. The Center for Medieval Literature enthusiastically embraced the idea and offered financial support. CML has since funded or sponsored panel discussions, research and conference trips for its members associated with Redes Petristas, as well as the design and development of this website. Moreover, it has provided the institutional support that can ensure the sustainability of the project.
www.petristas.org is the result of many concerted efforts and has come together thanks to its founding members’ commitment to the best transnational and interdisciplinary scholarship. As a network we aim to operate in a non-hierarchical and horizontal manner to ensure rigorous, relevant and creative ways of studying the Middle Ages. As an online platform, www.petristas.org, strives for openness, interaction and innovation. In order to achieve this we have set up a blog that is available for members and non-members to share their work in progress, research questions, reflections and notes on archival work etc.
We have connected with different Social Media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to interact with other projects, share news and events, and actively find commonalities with other research platforms. We conceive www.petristas.org as a site in constant transformation. We want members of the network to use it as a repository for information, to suggest changes in capabilities, to use it as a template for digital humanities projects. This site is an open canvass and we put it at the service of the research and education community to foster investigative projects, to creatively engage students at different levels and to coordinate our own proposals for scholarly outputs and impact.
History and Memory of Pedro I of Castile
The reign of Pedro I of Castile is one of the most controversial periods of Spanish history and its study is heavily distorted by centuries of mystifications, distortions and re-appropriations. From the chronicles of Pero López de Ayala to the present day, new layers of meaning have piled up to the point that it is difficult sometimes to avoid the influence not only of earlier scholarship but also of more popular portraits of the king. In other cases, though, some of these anachronistic approaches had been of inspiration for conceptualizing our own project. For example, interest in this conflict amongst several intellectuals exiled after Spain’s modern Civil War led us to reflect upon the deep social fracture the death of Pedro may have created in late medieval Castilian society. Authors such as Francisco Ayala more than once returned to 1369 in order to understand the spiral of destruction and displacement provoked by the Franquista coup d’etat, as in Ayala’s “La noche de Montiel” (1940) and “El abrazo” (1949). However, rather than consider the war between Pedro I and Enrique de Trastámara as the “first Spanish civil war” or the earliest episode of Spanish Cainism, as in some recent publications, we prefer to affirm the possibility of surveying these events and creations from a perspective akin to that used for the study of the literary and artistic production that emerged after the Holocaust, the Spanish Civil War or the Latin-American dictatorships.
In these terms, the fratricide in Montiel could be regarded as the starting point for a memory battle that lasted more than a century, one where texts and images were deployed to defend the “authorized version” disseminated by the Trastámara dynasty or the contesting claims of Pedro’s descendants, together with other, more independent, views offered by international observers such as Froissart. The Castilian Civil War not only gave birth to a new dynasty in the Iberian realm but also displaced the Hundred Years War outside the Anglo-French space, fundamentally disrupting European politics at the end of the fourteenth century. The marriage of Constanza of Castile to John of Gaunt came to assume an extraordinary importance for political and cultural relations between Iberia and England, although these circumstances have only begun to be analyzed in detail in the last decades. Strikingly enough, one of very few depictions of Constanza is found in Manchester Town Hall. In this Victorian recreation of the Wycliffe trial the Iberian princess is shown pulling back her spouse back by his mantle, as though fearful that he might in his excitement do some injury to the prelate. In the background Chaucer, the Duke’s other protégée, is seen just above John of Gaunt’s gesturing hand, wearing a green hood. Ford Madox Brown was a fervent supporter of the idea that history painting shapes national character. However, his unheroic, decentered compositions invited viewers to problematize notions of historical causation and dramatization. According to Julie F. Codell, his ideas were close to those of Macaulay, for whom every event was the outcome “not of one, but all other events, prior or contemporaneous, and will in its turn combine with all others to give birth to new ones”, “a web of history in which causation was not as a chain or line, but rather as a tissue, or superficies of innumerable lines, extending in breadth as well as in length”.
On Networks, Structures and Nodes
It is precisely the concept of network that inspires our project in form and content: the quest for links connecting events, people, objects and places; the identification of nodes of meaning. Networks are dynamic structures in a constant process of re-elaboration. They can even allow us to express relations of dependence, causality or resistance. Different networks can overlap to greater or lesser degree. And since we are talking of human networks, they can also be completely unpredictable, irreducible to the systematic patterns known to the sciences. However, the very image of a network can remind us of synaptic transmission, another congenial metaphor since we aim at mapping the memory of a historical event at an individual and collective level. Nothing more labile than memory: unconsciously reworked, manipulated, invented, re-written as a palimpsest. In fact, there is no better example for understanding these processes than the tomb of the king itself. After his death Pedro I was buried in the church of Santiago in La Puebla de Alcocer, but in 1447 his remains were transferred to the convent of Santo Domingo el Real in Madrid by Constanza of Castile, granddaughter of Pedro and prioress of the institution. A new tomb effigy was carved but did not last for long. In 1504, the Catholic Monarchs―both of Trastámara descent―decided to intervene in order to rehabilitate the memory of King Pedro once and for all and commissioned a new praying effigy that refigured “the Cruel” as a virtuous and pious sovereign. The head of the effigy―thought to be a faithful portrait of the king―was preserved and incorporated into the new monument. With this gesture the till then marginal “Petrista memory” was finally incorporated into “official/national” memory, although the negative and more novelistic features of his legend were not erased.