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Revolt of the Comuneros

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Revolt of the Comuneros

How did Charles I manage to suppress two large-scale uprisings in Spain without even being in the country?

When Charles was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1519, he left Spain for Germany and installed Pope Adrian VI as his regent. In 1520, growing discontent with Charles I and his administration resulted in the citizens of Castile rising and taking control of the cities at the heart of Castile. The uprising was eventually suppressed in October 1521, but it had long-lasting consequences for both Charles and Spain.

Comunero Revolt Charles I StudySmarterPortrait of Charles I attributed to Lambert Sustris, Wikimedia Commons.

Regent

A person appointed to administer a state/country when the king or queen is absent, incapacitated, or a minor.

What caused the Revolt of the Comuneros?

The Comunero Revolt resulted from a combination of factors, including existing tensions, distrust of Charles I, economic issues, and his absence as King. Let’s discuss the different tensions and their importance in triggering the Comunero Revolt.

Charles I’s unpopularity

Charles I’s unpopularity among the Castilian population is often cited as a reason for the rebellions. He arrived in Spain without being able to speak Spanish, having grown up in another country, and with no understanding of the culture and customs.

However, when he first met the people of Castile, he was by no means unfavoured. Castilians were used to a Burgundian ruler because of Philip, Charles’s father. Charles’ joint ruling with his mother meant that his ascension to the throne was a gradual rather than a brash transition.

Castilian demands

Arguably, one could say that the Castilians felt they had the upper hand over Charles and could influence his early decisions. On his first arrival, he was told,

most powerful lord, you are in our service.¹

Before the Castilian Cortes recognised Charles as King, they demanded that he:

  • Reformed the Spanish Inquisition to ensure it punished the wicked and not the innocent.

  • Stopped exporting bullion.

  • Only allowed Castilians to hold public and Church posts.

  • He must learn Castilian (the form of Spanish spoken in that region.)

Non-Castilians in office

Despite agreeing to these demands, Charles then installed Dutch advisors in official posts, offering them letters of naturalisation to avoid breaking his promise. This blatant subterfuge quickly disillusioned the Spanish as they objected to foreigners in office and were angry about Charles’s deception. The advisors’ actions angered them even further, as they handed out honours as if Spain was a conquered country.

Letter of naturalisation

A document that proves someone has been granted citizenship to a country.

Subterfuge

Deceit, which is used in order to achieve a goal.

Financially, Charles gave lucrative positions to foreigners over Castilians, causing resentment and jealousy. Laurent de Gorrevod, a Savoyard (from the French region of Savoy), was given the whole of Cuba as a fief. This offered him an immensely profitable source of income, which Castilians felt was rightly theirs. After this, nobles started to express open dissent.

Fief

An area over which a country, dynasty, or person has control.

Absentee ruler

Charles’ absenteeism was seen as contempt for his Castilian inheritance rather than a necessary evil due to his duties across his Empire. He spent very little time in Castile in the first years of his reign and only visited one major city, Valladolid. His departure to Germany in 1519 to be crowned the Holy Roman Emperor caused immense unpopularity among the Spanish. They felt Spain had been relegated to a minor role, his title as Holy Roman Emperor taking precedence.

Support for Infante Ferdinand

Whilst Ferdinand named Charles the ruler in his will, many Castilians (including Ferdinand) had preferred Charle’s brother, Infante Ferdinand, as the heir to the throne. He had been born in Spain and was seen as the rightful Spanish heir by many Castilians. Many of Infante Ferdinand’s supporters joined the Comunero Revolt to protest Charles' accession.

Comunero Revolt Portrait of Infante Ferdinand StudySmarterPortrait of Infante Ferdinand, Wikimedia Commons.

Economic issues

In the city of Burgos, merchants were happy because they profited from voluminous wool exports to Flanders. Charles’ position as Duke of Burgundy meant they could expect further favours. However, in Castile, foreign cloth imported in exchange for wool threatened the fragile textile industry. Many feared that this problem might accelerate now Charles had taken the throne.

Castilians also felt taxation was excessive under Charles. Charles needed to fund his travels to his other realms, often generating this income through taxation. Spaniards, already dissatisfied with the King’s absenteeism, resented having to pay for these journeys.

What happened during the Revolt of the Comuneros?

Dissent broke out in the cities of Castile in 1519 and the city of Toledo was in revolt a month before Charles left Spain. Its regidores, Pero Laso de la Vega and Juan de Padilla, took over the leadership of a comunal movement, expelled the King’s corregidor (mayor), and proclaimed the Comunidad (independent community.) Protests and riots erupted across other cities and one of Charles’s supporters was murdered by a mob in the city of Segovia.

Regidor(es)

An officer charged with the government of a Spanish municipality (here.)

Royalist armies intervene

The government, led by Charles’s regent Adrian of Utrecht, sent an army to punish Segovia. Segovia, led by Juan Bravo, appealed to Toledo for help, who responded by sending in a force. On 12 August 1520 royalists tried to seize artillery in Medina del Campo to try and prevent rebels from using it. When they encountered resistance, they ended up setting off a fire that burnt down half of the town. This act, whether accidental or not, destroyed the authority of Adrian.

In September 1520, Padilla and Bravo arrested the royal council members and detained Adrian in Valladolid. The revolution was gaining ground with cities and communities all over Spain engaged in uprisings.

Failure to gain ground

No unanimous uprising across the country occurred due to localism and distinct interests across the towns. The uprisings failed to achieve the aristocracy’s support and Queen Juana encouraged them but never signed any document to legitimise the new Cortes.

The groups of rebels also all had disparate desires and goals, there was no cohesive structure to the revolts.

Localism

A preference for one's own area over national interests (here.)

Final battles

On 5 December, royalist forces seized and sacked Tordesillas and secured the Queen. The Comunero movement then won a victory at Torrelobatón in February but was subsequently crushed by the Castilian aristocracy’s cavalry. Padilla and Bravo were captured and executed.

Cavalry

Groups of soldiers who fight on horses.

Comunero Revolt Communal leaders execution StudySmarterPainting depicting communal leaders Padilla, Bravo, and Maldonado’s execution, WIkimedia Commons.

Fighting ensued until Toledo agreed to capitulate in late 1521. The Comuneros faced harsh repression until Charles returned to Spain and signed a general pardon, which forgave them for their crimes.

Capitulation

The act of accepting defeat, often followed by a withdrawal of forces.

Importance of the Revolt of the Comuneros

After the revolt, Charles positioned many of the Castile elite in government and removed some of the unpopular, ineffective, and corrupt officials. Charles also returned to Spain in 1522, where he stayed for the next seven years, and built better relations with the Castilians. As a result, the government of the country settled and Charles regained his popularity. Historian Henry Kamen argues that this period was

perhaps the most successful phase of his entire reign.²

Essentially, the Comunero Revolt was a success for both sides. The rest of Charles’s reign was relatively peaceful at home as he had successfully repressed the rebels but he also met most of the Comuneros’ demands:

  • The Cortes met regularly to renew the servicios.

  • Castilians were appointed to government positions.

  • Charles married and secured an heir.

  • Charles learnt Castilian Spanish.

  • Charles remained in Spain for seven years.

  • In 1524 and 1534 towns were granted the collection of taxes.

Servicio

A grant of taxes, which were made by the Cortes and only they could renew.

Long-term effects

The revolt had long-lasting effects on Spanish society as splits remained between towns and communities. Charles and later Philip also used the revolts as justification for the harsh repression of future revolts. Myths naturally surrounded the revolts. Rumours circulated that the Comunero Revolt had been incited by Jews, increasing anti-Semitism in the Kingdom.

What was the Revolt of the Germanías?

Another revolt in Valencia took place in 1519–23, parallel to the Castile rebellion. The Revolt of the Germanías (Brotherhoods rebellion) was also a rebellion against Charles and the monarchy but differed from the Comunero revolt as it was a clear class conflict. The conflict pitted the bourgeois and the artisans against the aristocracy. Artist guilds clashed with nobles and took control of cities across the kingdom. It was brutally repressed in 1523 by Henry’s viceroy Germaine de Foix.

Viceroy/Vicereine

The title given to someone who rules a country or province as the representative of the king/queen.

What caused the Revolt of the Germanías?

Charles’ accession ’t the main cause for this revolt. Tensions had been building for years and his rule was merely the tipping point. The rebellion was fueled by three main issues: economic disputes, the plague, and anti-Islamic sentiment.

Comunero Revolt Painting of the Revolt of the Germanías StudySmarterPainting of the Revolt of the Germanías, Wikimedia Commons.

Economic issues

Valencia had plunged into a severe economic crisis due to reduced trade. Europe’s focus on discovery in the Atlantic Ocean meant that Valencia’s artisan guilds (known as Germanías) were neglected and unable to make as much money. They could not generate money through Atlantic trade as Valencia had been excluded from participating in the cross-Atlantic trade.

Artisan guild

An association of artisans (worker in a skilled trade) and merchants in a particular branch of craft/ trade/industry.

The Plague

Many of the nobility had fled Valencia after the plague broke out in 1519, causing resentment amongst the population. The revolt protested these actions and led to a class war against the nobility.

Anti-Islam

The Revolt of the Germanías was also fueled by bitter hostility towards the Mudéjar communities. Religious tensions were not uncommon during this time and were heightened by the tensions of the Spanish Inquisition. During the Revolt, Mudéjar communities were terrorised, and many were forced to baptise and convert to Christianity.

These baptisms also formed an attack on the aristocracy as they theoretically freed the Mudéjars from their lords.

Mudéjars

Muslims that remained in the Iberian Peninsula after the Christian reconquest.

What were the consequences of the Revolt of the Germanías?

The protest was brutally repressed by Germaine de Foix, widow of Ferdinand II and newly appointed Vicereine of Valencia. She treated the rebels harshly, condemning hundreds to the death penalty and issuing huge fines. Her actions helped to quell resistance and built up Charles’ authority. His image changed dramatically and years later when he visited the city in 1527, a bridge collapsed due to the enormous crowds that had come out to see him.

Comunero Revolt Portrait of Germaine de Foix StudySmarterPortrait of Germaine de Foix, Wikimedia Commons.

Revolt of the Comuneros - Key takeaways

  • Charles I left Spain for Germany to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1519 and installed Pope Adrian VI as his regent.
  • When Charles I came to power, the Cortes demanded he only installed Castilians in office. Charles disregarded these wishes and installed Dutch advisors in office.
  • Castilians resented Charles for his absenteeism. They were also unhappy about heavy taxation and his policies.
  • The burning of Medina del Campo destroyed Pope Adrian’s authority.
  • The Comunero Revolts failed to gain ground due to localism and a lack of support from the aristocracy.
  • The Comunero Revolt agreed to capitulate in late 1521. The Comuneros faced harsh repression until Charles returned to Spain and signed a general pardon.
  • After the Revolt, Charles met all of the major demands of the rebels and relative peace ensued.
  • The Revolt was used to justify future harsh actions to rebellions. It also fed anti-semitic myths.
  • The Revolt of the Germanías was caused by anti-Islamic sentiment, economic issues, and anger over the nobles leaving Valencia after the Plague.
  • It was brutally repressed by Germaine de Foix, who treated rebels harshly. This helped prevent future resistance.

Sources
  1. Henry Kamen, Spain, 1469-1714: A society of conflict, 2005.
  2. Henry Kamen, Spain, 1469-1714: A society of conflict, 2005.

Frequently Asked Questions about Revolt of the Comuneros

The Comunero Revolt began in 1520 after Charles I left Spain for Germany in 1519, and was the culmination of growing dissatisfaction with Charles. It was suppressed in October 1521.

The Comunero Revolt was a result of a number of factors, including Charles I's unpopularity, Castilian demands, upset over non-Castilians in office and economic issues. Many were unhappy about Charles I, who was seen as an absent and foreign King.

Final Revolt of the Comuneros Quiz

Question

Who did Charles I install as his regent when he left to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor?

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Answer

 Pope Adrian VI

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Question

Why did Charles’ language skills cause a problem?

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Answer

Charles’ inability to speak Spanish, having grown up in the Netherlands, did not ingratiate him with the Spanish population. It accentuated his representation of a foreigner with little knowledge of the culture or customs.

Show question

Question

Which of the following did the Castilian Cortes demand from Charles I? 


Show answer

Answer

He must stop exporting bullion.

Show question

Question

How did Charles install Dutch advisors in official posts but avoid breaking his promise?


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Answer

He offered them letters of naturalisation, which meant they were classified as citizens of Spain.

Show question

Question

How did Infante Ferdinand contribute to the Comunero Revolt?

Show answer

Answer

Whilst Charles was named in Ferdinand’s will as ruler, many Castilians (including Ferdinand) had preferred Charles’ brother, Infante Ferdinand, as the heir to the throne. He had been born in Spain and was seen as the rightful Spanish heir by many Castilians. Many of Infante Ferdinand’s supporters later joined the Comunero Revolt.

Show question

Question

What were two economic reasons for Charles’ unpopularity?


Show answer

Answer

The textile industry was threatened by foreign cloth imported in exchange for wool. 

Upset over heavy taxation.

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Question

Which potentially accidental event destroyed the authority of Pope Adrian?


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Answer

On 12 August 1520 Royalists tried to seize artillery in Medina del Campo to try and prevent rebels from using it but, when they encountered resistance, ended up setting off a fire that burnt down half of the town.

Show question

Question

Which of the following prevented the uprising from gaining ground? 


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Answer

 Localism prevented unanimity.

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Question

What happened after Toledo agreed to capitulate in late 1521? 


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Answer

The Comuneros faced harsh repression until Charles returned to Spain and signed a general pardon.

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Question

How did the historian Henry Kamen describe the period after 1522?


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Answer

He describes it as ‘perhaps the most successful phase of the entire reign.’

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Question

Which of the following demands of the Comuneros did Charles meet?


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Answer

Charles learnt Castilian Spanish.

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Question

How did the Revolt of the Germanías differ from the Comuneros?


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Answer

 It was a clear class conflict.

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Question

Which of the following caused the Revolt of the Germanías?


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Answer

Anti-semitism

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Question

Who was Germaine de Foix?


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Answer

She was the widow of Ferdinand II and Vicereine of Valencia.

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Question

How did Germaine de Foix’s treatment of the rebels help Charles I?


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Answer

Germaine de Foix treated the rebels harshly, which quelled resistance and helped Charles gain authority.

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