The Welcoming Ceremony of Charles V in the City of Murcia and the Signification of the Monarchy-City Relationship (6 December 1541)

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Cultural history has gained momentum during the last few years in the comprehension of early modern polities. Rituals, discourses and ceremonies have been conceived as ideological mechanisms of legitimation and reproduction of political orders. The narrative by Francisco Cascales of the welcoming ceremony celebrated by the city of Murcia (Spain) for Charles V in 1541 will be used in this post to discuss the possibilities, limitations and possible developments of this approach for a better understanding of political processes within urban contexts.

Charles V landed in Cartagena in the shadows of the night on 1 December 1541. The emperor, defeated in his attempt to conquer Tunisia, was welcomed by the bishop, the governor of the cities of Murcia, Lorca and Cartagena, his secretary, Francisco de los Cobos, and the marquis of Vélez, warden of the kingdom. Four days later, Charles V was ready to be welcomed by a very different cortege in the city of Murcia. It took place at one of the gates of the city. The royal banner lead the path of the representatives of Murcia to the encounter with their emperor. The lieutenant of the governor, Francisco de Molina, spoke first. He thanked God for the safe landing of Charles V and he equally expressed the gratitude of the city to Charles V for his visit. Francisco de Molina related then the services given by the city to the emperor and his predecessors since its conquest almost 300 years before. As a reward for these services, the lieutenant begged the emperor, in the name of the city, to confirm and to vow to respect the privileges of the city of Murcia with all the solemnity that a transcendental moment like this one demanded.

At that gate, still outside the urban perimeter of the city, on an altar prepared for this occasion under the royal arms, the dean Sebastián Clavijo took a missal book and he opened it to let the emperor put his right hand on it after taking his hat off. The fingers of Charles V touched the gospel and the cross meanwhile he vowed ‘to respect the privileges, uses and traditions of this city, like they were respected, and like they were confirmed, respected and vowed by his predecessors’. After pronouncing these words, Francisco de Molina and the members of the concejo, took the canopy and they escorted the emperor until the gates of the cathedral. Francisco de Cascales underlined the decision of Charles V of renouncing to the privilege of the canopy for his entrance into the cathedral. The emperor went straight to pray in front of the sepulchre that contained the heart and the entrails of his ancestor Alphonso X, the king who conceded its first privileges to the concejo and the city of Murcia. Once the mute dialogue among kinship was ended, Charles V moved to the houses of the bishop. The ceremony was over.

The principal agents that signified the integration of the city and the kingdom of Murcia in the monarchy of Charles V appeared  in the narrative of Cascales . First, the city of Murcia; a republic defined by the existence of privileges that guaranteed its autonomy as an effective political community. It was represented by a small number of selected persons. Second, the dean Sebastián Clavijo as representative of the Church of Murcia-Cartagena. Acting as the granter and witness of the mutual deal between the city of Murcia and its king was his duty. This transaction signified the imbrication of the city within the monarchy as a transcendental political community through the mediation of God and the figure of Charles V, as member of a God-privileged lineage reproduced without interruption in the past either in the future to come.

Yet the signification of the Monarchy of Charles V in Murcia was very far from the picture offered by the testimony of Cascales. The Hispanic Monarchy behaved as a plural commonwealth in which several agents and institutions participated in different ways from the notion of sovereignty. Ceremonies such as the one narrated by Francisco Cascales contributed to signifying the articulation of the relationship between cities and polities. They established an apparatus of semiotic codes that defined a whole framework on which agents organised their own political agency. They constituted instruments in the service of the interests of local power groups. Ceremonial representations of the city as political community constituted means of representing the hierarchical structure of the community. They behaved as instruments of reaffirmation and self-legitimation of local power groups.

The narrative of Francisco Cascales perpetuated the performativity of the ceremony. It conserved the picture created in the ceremony. It kept the memory of the assistants, the protocol, and the hierarchies. Nevertheless, the question of the reliability of the testimony of Francisco Cascales is something to consider. I do not refer only to the persons whose participation is evidently hidden. I also refer to the different attention given by his narrative to different moments and participants. Some of them are quoted, others are referred with their names, other agents remain hidden under the shadows of anonymity. The translation of the ceremony into a narrative implies a re-configuration of the event. The author of a written or painted depiction of a ceremony such as this redefines the communicative, factual and spatial elements that define the performativity of this event. Other depictions of this ocasion contain passages that are not mentioned here. In the story of Cascales, Charles V never breaks the protocols in order to talk with an old solider in his service. In other depictions of the ceremony, no altar is mentioned for the ceremony officiated by Sebastián Clavijo. Unluckily, there is no kind of visual depiction of the ceremony. Words are the only source a historian may use to know what occurred on the streets of Murcia on that 6th December in 1541. How it was lived and sensed by its protagonists. How it constituted a mechanism of production of semiotic frameworks for the articulation between the city of Murcia and the monarchy of Charles V. How it contributed to affecting political processes developed on that territory at that time.

Ceremonies and narratives such as these are crucial for the comprehension of processes between early modern polities and cities. No theoretical paradigm may be forged without the perspective offered by this kind of cultural analysis of politics. But this perspective also offers certain limitations derived from the repertory and nature of available sources, but also from its own intellectual and analytical foundations. It is necessary, consequently, to articulate channels of dialogue between these sources and paradigms and other ones who offer alternative approaches to political processes. How to configure these channels of dialogue, which paradigms to include in them, and which results to obtain from the mentioned dialogue are some of the objectives of our future discussions in the workshop Is There Space in Cities for State Building? Early modern political processes in an urban global scope: agents, practices and discourses.