A carta puebla (or municipal charter) was a legal and administrative document, common in medieval Spain, which permitted the creation of a new village or settlement. These documents, issued by a king, lord, or ecclesiastic authority, allowed the settlers to establish a new village, and specified the general rules they had to follow. The document described here is a great example of this genre, since it entailed the creation of the Spanish city of Ciudad Real.
This carta puebla, issued by the King Alfonso X of Castile on February 20th, 1255, and establishing the city of Ciudad Real, is an interesting example of the legal documents that shaped Spanish settlements during the Middle Ages.
The Birth of a Village
The carta puebla of Ciudad Real is written on parchment, and measures 44 x 44 cm. It was issued in Burgos by King Alfonso X of Castile.
In the upper left corner of the parchment, before the beginning of the letter proper, a Chi-Rho symbol indicating the first two letters of “Christ” is included, and we can also see the large stamp of the privilege of Alfonso X of Castile, in blue and red, occupying a great part of the parchment. This stamp includes the king’s coat of arms, as well as the flags of Castile and León.
The letter, written in Old Spanish, begins with a paragraph in which the King explains the precedent of the foundation of Vila Real (Ciudad Real), i.e. the creation of a settlement over the place formerly called El Pozuelo de Don Gil.
The next paragraphs are devoted to various administrative matters concerning the foundation of Vila Real, as well as the concession of the various villages, rivers, mountains, fountains, and roads of the surrounding areas to the newly created settlement.
Following those paragraphs, we can see the signatures of the many witnesses of the ceremony (ninety-two in total), some of them were very important personalities in medieval Spain and Europe, such as Prince Edward, son of Henry III of England, who was a relative of Alfonso X. In fact, Prince Edward, as stated in the letter, had been created knight by Alfonso X shortly before.
Thus, the carta puebla of Ciudad Real is a very important document, given that not many of these documents have survived. It is held in the archives of the City Hall of Ciudad Real.
A Fundamental Document
On February 20th, 1255, Alfonso X of Castile, after trying to populate the village of Alarcos with no success, granted a carta puebla to the small village of Pozuelo de Don Gil, under the name of Vila Real (later Ciudad Real).
The whole court of Castile and León, as well as friends and vassals of the King, attended the ceremony in which the letter was signed, something that indicates the importance of that ceremony and of this document.
The manuscript described here is a copy of the original, made nine years after the concession of the carta puebla, dated March 7th, 1264. It is believed that the original document is part of a private collection.