Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Reviews of Books

Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (2016), 93, (9), 1041–1056.


Reviews of Books • SIMON BARTON, Conquerors, Brides and Concubines: Interfaith Relations and Social Power in Medieval Iberia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. 261 pp. ISBN 978-0-8122-4675-9. Simon Barton’s book, both readable and erudite, concentrates specifically on sexual relations between people of different religions in the Iberian Middle Ages, and reinforces the view which has become increasingly convincing over the years that everything began to change in the Peninsula towards the end of the eleventh century. Before that time, human relations could work on a basis of humanity rather than religion; after that period, personal relations were increasingly dominated by the religion which people professed. Cross-border inter-faith marriages were an accepted part of diplomatic activity in the earlier period. In Barton’s words, this ‘seems to demonstrate the primacy of pragmatism over cultural scruples’ (46). The same applied to concubines; most of the Umayyad emirs or caliphs before the eleventh century were born to slave concubines, many of them Christian (42). Before the twelfth century the fueros, which are such an important window on their world, do not bother to mention sex between people of different faiths (what Barton refers to as ‘sexual mixing’). Histories, historical documents and stories (including the tales of the hundred doncellas and the condesa traidora) from that earlier period refer to, in particular, Christian women in Muslim societies, more commonly than vice versa, without great condemnation. Alfonso VI’s Zaida is thus on the hinge of the period when attitudes were changing, which makes her even more interesting, and Barton discusses her at length, both for her historical reality and the way she is presented in different accounts. Subsequent to the changes, involving increasingly ‘incendiary’ language on the Christian side (71), even Christian prostitutes who slept with BHS 93.9 (2016) doi:10.3828/bhs.2016.65 Muslim men were liable to severe punishment; Barton details at some length the case of Alicsén de Tolba in 1304, whose only available defence against capital punishment was to say that she did not realize the man was a Muslim (55). Conversely, Christian men could, it seems, have concubines (barraganas) of another faith without any problem, even in the Siete Partidas (59). Barton calls this contrast a ‘double standard’ (61), but it is unsurprising, and not confined to Iberia. Relations of Christians with Jews are only mentioned here and there, both in the sources and in this book (and Muslim–Jewish relations hardly at all); much of the worry professed by the northerners had a political rather than a moral basis, in the event. Simon Barton has combined and assessed a great deal of information into a coherent whole. As often, we are left with a feeling that the use of the term ‘The Middle Ages’, or in this case ‘Medieval Iberia’, is unfortunate; life after the 1080s, with the simultaneous advent of crusading ideals from the north and the Almorávides from the south, became so different in so many respects that it would often be best not to conflate both periods as ‘medieval’, tout court. In effect, this is two books, one for before that time and one for later. Both parts are enlightening and well organized. The book is less long than it seems at first; the notes extend for 51 pages (167– 217); the forged Privilegio del Voto, supposedly of 834, with English translation, is reproduced (153–63); the huge and yet still ‘selected’, bibliography extends for 36 pages (219–54); there is also an index; so the highly useful ancillary material covers almost half the book, which in the event makes the text more manageable and turns the whole into a real research tool. It is also attractively printed and will be a valuable addition to our bookshelves. ROGER WRIGHT University of Liverpool

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