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Tordesillas (Municipality, Castilla y León, Spain)

Last modified: 2015-01-17 by ivan sache
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Flag of Tordesillas - Image by "Castespaña" (Wikimedia Commons), 28 February 2014

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Presentation of Tordesillas

The municipality of Tordesillas (9,186 inhabitants in 2012, therefore the 5th most populous municipality in the province; 14,195 ha; tourism website) is located on river Duero, 30 km southwest of Valladolid.

Tordesillas is of unknown exact origin. Some historians believe it originates in a Celtiberian town, either Sarabis or Acontia. Other say that the town was founded in 83 BC by the Roman Proconsul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius (130 BC - 63 BC), a supporter of Sulla during the Sertorian War. The proconsul would have erected a tower known in Latin as Turris Syllae (Sulla's Tower), subsequently translated into Spanish as Torre de Sila. Yet another etymological explanation relates the name of the town to Arabic Thor Shilah, meaning the fortress of the Shilan, an Arabic tribe that settled the Iberian peninsula in the 8th century.
However, the most widely accepted theory states that Tordesillas was established in the Middle Ages as Oter de Sillas or Oter de Cillas: otero means "an elevated place", refering to the location of the town. sillas, from silla, "a rectangular parallelepipedic cut stone", would refer to a watching tower built near the river - or from silla, "a saddle", would refer to a saddle-shaped tower; other say that cilla means "a cave", referring to the numerous natural caves found close to the river and probably already inhabited by early Celtiberian tribes.

Tordesillas was mentioned for the first time on 939, when Abd-ar- Rahman III crossed the village with 100,000 soldiers, heading to Zamora. A few months later, he was defeated on 5 August 939 by the allied troops of Ramiro II, King of León, Fernán González, the 1st Count of Castile, and García Sanchez I, King of Navarre; the event, known as the battle of Simancas, took place on the today's municipal territories of Simancas and Tordesillas. Al-Mansur seized Tordesillas in 981; in 995, Sancho García, Fernán González' nephew, eventually expelled the Moors and organized the re-settlement of Castile.
Kings Ferdinand II of León and Alfonso VIII of Castile signed in 1180 in Tordesillas a treaty that established the peace between the two kingdoms. Tordesillas was granted a charter in 1262 by Alfonso X the Wise. His son Sancho IV incorporated the town to the Royal domain, granting a new charter.
Alfonso XI (1311-1350) started in 1340 the building of a Royal palace for his mistress Leonor de Guzmán; the palace was completed by his son, Peter I the Cruel (1334-1369). In 1353, Queen Blanche of Bourbon and Queen Mother Mary of Portugal took shelter in the palace of Tordesillas, following the repudiation of the queen by Peter I two days after the celebration of the wedding in Valladolid; the next year, the king settled the palace with his mistress María de Padilla. Infants Isabel (1355) and Alfonso (1359) were born there.

Henry III ordered in 1400 the building of a new Royal palace, making of Tordesillas a stronghold of the Trastámara dynasty; the next year, he gathered the Cortes in Tordesillas. In 1420, while the court stayed in the old palace, the weak King John II (1405-1454), only aged 15 but proclaimed of age one year before, was kidnapped by Infant of Aragón Henry. He escaped a few months later with the help of Álvaro de Luna, whom he would appoint Constable of Castile in 1423. Eleanor of Aragón, the mother of the Infants of Aragón, was captured in 1430 and jailed into the St. Clare convent of Tordesillas. John II was jailed in his own palace once again in 1434 by the second Infant of Aragón, Ferdinand, The dispute was solved in 1439 during the Tordesillas Assurance, a meeting organized under the mediation of the Count of Haro; the united nobles were represented by the Infants of Aragón, while the monarchic party was represented by John II and Álvaro de Luna.

Queen Joanna the Mad (1479-1555) arrived in 1590 in Tordesillas, leading the funerary cortege of her defunct husband, Philip the Handsome, whose body remained in the St. Clare convent for the next 13 years, until transferred to the royal Chapel of Granada. Joanna would spend the last 46 years of her life cloistered in the convent. In 1517, she was visited by her son Charles I (1500-1558) and the solemn funeral of Philip were organized; subsequent visits by Charles I required the temporary relocation of the court to Tordesillas. During the War of the Comuneros, caudillo Padilla sought support by Joanna on 29 August 1520; the queen acknowledged his requests but refused to sign the Decree required to depose Charles I. Tordesillas was seized on 5 December 1520 by the Royalist troops commanded by the Count of Haro.
Joanna died on 12 April 1555. Originally buried in the presbytery of the St Clare convent church, her remains were subsequently transferred to the Escorial Palace, and, eventually, to the Royal Chapel of Granada.

The Treaties of Tordesillas were signed on 7 June 1494 by the Catholic Monarchs and John II of Portugal. The first treaty (Oceanic Treaty) divided the Atlantic Ocean by a pole-to-pole ray placed 370 leagues west of Cape Verde islands; the eastern hemisphere was granted to Portugal while the eastern hemisphere was granted to Castile. This was the first treaty ever that established borders both on land and sea. The second treaty (African Treaty) addressed African issues discussed for decades by the two kingdoms, delimiting the areas of future conquest and of fishing.

Ivan Sache, 28 February 2014

Symbols of Tordesillas

The flag of Tordesillas (photo, photo, photo) is purple with the municipal coat of arms in the middle.

The coat of arms of Tordesillas is prescribed by a Decree adopted on 2 July 1986 by the Provincial Government of Valladolid and published on 14 July 1986 in the official gazette of Castilla y León, No. 78 (text).
The coat of arms is described as follows:

Coat of arms: Argent a mount vert charged with three rider's saddles or placed 1 and 2 in base waves azure and argent in chief two keys or fimbriated sable. The shield surmounted by a Royal crown closed.

The Royal Academy of History released on 5 May 1986 its recommendation on the proposed arms of Tordesillas:

The Municipality of Tordesillas [Valladolid], "the very noble, loyal and crowned town", appears to have old arms differing in their design; the most reliable references are the coat of arms of the St. John church (18th century) and those of the previous [19th] century - as represented on the Town Hall, without colours. Based on the presented evidence, the Academy proposes to organize the coat of arms of Tordesillas as follows: "Argent a mount vert charged with three rider's saddles or placed 1 and 2, a base wavy azure and argent in chief two keys fimbriated sable. The shield surmounted by the Royal crown closed (not the one originally proposed). No external ornament except the crown; the "natural ocher" colour of the saddles is also to be suppressed as not existing in heraldry.

The official arms are therefore a "modernization" / "rehabilitation" of the traditional arms of Tordesillas. Mariano García has published on his blog a detailed study of the historical evolution of the arms of Tordesillas (El escudo de armas de Tordesillas: Iconografía emblemática). The study includes reproductions of original documents, as well as heraldic reconstructions by the author. For the sake of concision, I skip below the detailed discussions of the heraldic merits and flaws of each reported design.

The oldest written description of the arms of Tordesillas is credited to Méndez Silva. Forty yeas later, a similar description appeared in Averiguaciones de las antigüedades de CantabriaÉ, published in 1689 in Salamanca by Gabriel Henao, a Jesuit father from the St. Ambrosius College in Valladolid. Lecturer in theology at the Salamanca University, Henao often travelled between Valladolid and Salamanca, crossing river Duero on the Tordesillas fortified bridge, whose main gate was engraved with the arms of the town. Henao writes: "On a high mount of earth scattered rider's saddles [...] on the flanks of the mount are two golden keys..."
The arms of Tordesillas are engraved on the silver medallion of the Majordomo of a religious brotherhood, originally known as Our Lady of the Rock's Brotherhood and re-founded in 1731 as the Shepherd and Citizen's Brotherhood, Probably crafted by the local silversmith Carlos de Pineda, not earlier than 1713, the medallion shows on the one side a portrait of the Virgin and on the other side the arms of the town, represented as a high rock charged with three saddles placed 1 and 2, between two keys placed per pale. The medallion is surmounted by a Royal crown open.
The pamphlet introducing the Tordesillas religious festival for year 1715 includes a similar representation of the arms of the town.

The oldest known pictorial representation of the coat of arms of Tordesillas, dated 1721, is still visible in the St. John parish church, where the Council of the town used to meet, at least since 1405. The coat of arms is painted on the big wooden door that conceals the recess where archives were kept. The painting is credited to Melchor García, from the neighbouring village of Mota del Marqués.
The shield is oval, ending in base with a point, and fimbriated in gold. It features the elements subsequently used in all variants of the arms of Tordesillas: two keys affronty flanking a mound charged with three rider's saddles, the whole placed on a base suggesting water. The shield is surrounded by lambrequins and other leather-like ornaments. A cartouche is appended to the point of the shield, inscribed with the year "A„O Ć 1721". The field of the shield, originally blue, faded to red with time.

The next mention of the arms of Tordesillas appears in Noticias sobre Valladolid..., a booklet published in 1741 by the Academia de Caballeros Voluntarios de Valladolid, one of the numerous circles founded in Valladolid in the 18th century. The arms are briefly described as "A rock or on a field azure and two keys". This laconic description omits the waves and the saddles.
In Población General de España: historia cronológica, sus tropheos, blasones y conquista heróicasÉ, published in Madrid in 1747, Juan Antonio de Estrada also omits the saddles, describing the arms as "on a blue shield a high rock beaten by the waves between two golden keys". This very synthetic description omits the saddles.
A more comprehensive description of the arms appears in Rasgo heroyco: declaración de las empresas, armas y blasones, con que..., published in 1756 in Madrid by Antonio Moya. The arms are given as "On a hill, on the banks of river Duero, was founded the old town of Tordesillas. Its coat of arms shows a height [otero] over waters, those of the river, and three staffs topped with the same number of rider's saddles, and two keys placed per pale". Moya adds that the town was once known as Otero de las Sillas; he interprets the keys as a symbol of safety, safeguard and custody.

The coat of arms of Tordesillas is engraved on the balcony of the Town Hall, rebuilt in 1804 in neo-classical style by architects from the Royal Academy of Mathematics and Humanities of Valladolid. The arms are made of an oval shield surrounded with a laurel wreath, showing a high rock beaten by the waves charged with three saddles placed 1 and 2 between two keys placed per pale. The shield is surmounted by a Royal crown.
In the beginning of the 19th century, a reform established the mandatory use of official paper by the municipal administrations. The coat of arms used in 1807 in Tordesillas shows a shield rounded-off in proportions 6:5, following the Castilian heraldic tradition, surmounted by a pseudo-crown (not representing any crown in actual use at the time but Tordesillas as a "crowned town"] open, and featuring the same elements as before.
A more elaborated representation of the coat of arms was designed for the altarpiece the chapel of the Virgin of the Rock, the town's patron saint, destroyed on 28 October 1812 during the War of Independence and rebuilt, as it was before, in 1823. The coat of arms is here in 16th century, Baroque style, with several curves and counter-curves. The field is or, the waves are vert and argent, the rock is vert, the saddles are proper and on the sides and top of the rock, and the keys are sable. The shield is surmounted by a Royal crown open of the Trastámara design.

The famous Diccionario Geográfico-estadístico-histório de España, directed by Pascual Madoz and published in 1849 in Madrid, gives the arms of Tordesillas as "a high rock beaten by waves between two golden keys". As in the 1741 booklet, the saddles are omitted from the description.
The first seal of the constitutional Municipality of Tordesillas, established in 1851, shows a sketchy representation of the arms of the town, placed on a shield in Castilian style surmounted by a Royal crown open. As opposed to all earlier designs, the keys are here pointing downwards.

In Viaje de S. M. la Reina de Castilla, Asturias y Galicia (Journey of Her Majesty the Queen of Castile, Asturias and Galicia), Juan de Dios de la Rada y Delgado (1827-1901) recalls the visit of Queen Isabel II in Tordesillas (17-18 September 1858), writing: "We have not elucidated the origin of the arms of the town, which consist in a rock surrounded by water, three rider's saddles each topping a staff, and two keys on the sides". The drawing of the coat of arms shown in the book has a field azure, a rock proper forming a kind of emerging island, represented in non-heraldic style, ensigned with three saddles topping staffs. The keys are affronty. The author questions the "nobleness and legitimacy" of these arms, pointing out several heraldic flaws.
Further in the 19th century, different versions of the arms were represented, with some attempts of standardization. All these representations included rider's saddles topping staffs.
The arms represented by Francisco Piferrer in 1860 (Trofeo heroico: Armas, emblemas y blasones de las provincias y principales ciudades y villas de España) were subsequently reproduced in the Espasa Enciclopedia (Enciclopedia Universal Ilustrada Europeo-Americana, 1923). In 1861, José Maria Quadrado (Recuerdos y bellezas de España. Tomo: Valladolid, Palencia y Zamora) described the arms as "The canting arms of the town feature three rider's saddles over a rock between two golden keys".
The new municipal seal designed in 1872 featured two keys, still pointing downwards, and three saddles, as did the models sent on 8 January 1877 to Madrid upon request by the Ministry of the Interior.

In the third part of the 19th century, the call for the protection of the "Castilian interests" boosted a renewed attention to the local symbols. The town notary, Federico García Casal, added the arms to the frontpage of a public document released in 1874. Here the keys are oversized, seemingly protecting the rock and the saddles.
In 1875, the Provincial Government of Valladolid restored the old palace of the Counts of Pimentel; the coat of arms of Valladolid, surrounded by the coats of arms of the capital of the judicial districts, were placed on the gate of the palace. Here the saddles are placed on staffs and the keys are not affronty.
Yet another representation of the arms of Tordesillas was published in 1895 by J. Ortega y Rubio, in Pueblos de la provincia de Valladolid. The arms are described as follows: "The arms of Tordesillas are made of a high rock beaten by the waves on a field azure between two golden keys, above it three staffs each charged with a rider's saddle gules". On the drawing, the saddles are placed in chief, "pushing down" the keys, which are shown pointing downwards and not affronty. The staffs mentioned in the description are not represented at all. This design appears to have been modelled on the arms represented in the staircase of the Town Hall, also used on the headed note-paper of the municipal administration.

The oldest known representation of the arms in the 20th century appears on a fresco decorating the vault of the church of the old Franciscan convent. Painted in 1901, the fresco disappeared in the 1980s when the church was totally ruined. The shield has a golden border and is surmounted by a Royal crown open. The shield shows a landscape made of a spur bathed by river Duero. The saddles are placed above the spur, without staffs, 1 and 2. The keys are placed in chief, pointing downwards and not affronty.
The municipal seal used on 27 October 1904 shows the arms with three rocks each ensigned with a saddle, placed 1 and 2, and two keys affronty in chief, pointing downwards. This is the first time that three rocks are represented on the arms, maybe following an erroneous interpretation of the 1843 design. No document explaining the reasons of the change was found in the municipal archives.
The coat of arms used at the time on the procession shaft of the Virgin of the Rock is quite similar to the one painted in the staircase of the town hall and on the vault of the Franciscan church. The three designs should probably be credited to Juan de la Cruz.
The Mayor's official chair, dated 1907, is decorated with a coat of arms similar to the one shown on the altarpiece of the Virgin chapel. Here the rock is clearly downsized, emphasis being put on the saddles and on the keys.

The coat of arms that appeared in 1925 seems to be based on the 1895 design, with the size of the rock increased, the saddles placed in chief, and the waves of Duero suppressed.
During the Second Republic, the coat of arms painted in the Town Hall, today disappeared, followed the model of the altarpiece and of the procession shaft. The Royal crown was replaced by a mural crown, which was re-established in 1942, together with the 1895 model of shield.
The coat of arms embroidered on the cloak of the town's patron saint, designed in 1943, shows the saddles topping staffs; those staffs would be used in most subsequent representations of the arms.
The municipality released in 1948 a series of stamps showing a very sketchy representation of the arms, with a narrow rock emerging from waves, flanked by two keys and ensigned in chief by three saddles.

A brand new design of the arms of Tordesillas was released in 1962 and widely used in the subsequent years. For the first time, the shield has a bordure, inscribed with the titles of the town, "MVY ILVSTRE, ANTIGVA, CORONADA, LEAL Y NOBILÍSIMA" [Very Famous, Old, Crowned, Loyal, and Most Noble]. The shield is surmounted by an Infant's coronet, recalling that Tordesillas is listed in the Libro Becerro de las Behetrías (1352) as part of the Valladolid Infantazgo. The saddles are completely re- designed. Three rocks are represented, as on the 1904 design.
Eusebio González Herrera (Tordesillas en la Historia, 1968) proposed a similar representation of the arms (he was, most probably, the designer of the 1962 version), described as:
"On a field azure three red rocky spurs bathed by the blueish water of the Duero. Above the spurs three staffs, showing the knots of the wood, each of them topped with a rider's saddle. The shield surmounted by a Royal crown or from the medieval period, set with jewels [...]. The shield surrounded by an orle inscribed with the titles "MVY ILVSTRE, ANTIGVA, CORONADA, LEAL Y NOBILÍSIMA"."
On the companion drawing of the arms, the rocks are represented sable, while the water of the river is represented vert and sable. Natural colours are used, as well as light and shadow effects and perspective representation, therefore not in compliance with the rules of heraldry.
In El Norte de Castilla, 5 August 1981, J.L. Garañeda, the correspondent of the newspaper in Tordesillas, published a design by V. Redondo, described as "A high rock beaten by the waves, charged with three rider's saddles. Above it, on the sides, two golden keys".

Mariano García concludes his study on the arms of Tordesillas by its own interpretation of the design:
- the Royal crown, established by Philip II (1527-1598) recalls that Tordesillas was a Royal town [this interpretation does not match the usual interpretation of the Spanish Royal crown closed, as a symbol of belonging to the modern Kingdom of Spain];
- the keys are a symbol of jurisdiction;
- the mount and the waves refer to en elevated place bathed by the water of the sea, a lake or, here, a river)
- the saddles, in their apparent clarity, are the elements that generate most variations, discussion and confuse interpretations.

Ivan Sache, 28 February 2014