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Escalona (Municipality, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain)

Last modified: 2020-03-31 by ivan sache
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Flag of Escalona - Image by Ivan Sache, 9 September 2019

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Presentation of Escalona

The municipality of Escalona (3,199 inhabitants in 2018; 7,315 ha; tourism website) is located 60 km north-west of A HREF="es-to-to.html">Toledo.

Escalona developed around the big fortress erected by King Alfondo VI on a hill overlooking river Alberche, a strategic place located 10 km of the border fixed after the Christian reconquest of the area from the Muslim kingdom of Toledo. Impregnable from the river, the castle controlled the Royal road connecting Toledo to the towns of Old Castile (Ávila, Valladolid, Tordesillas...).
In the aftermath of the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), the border was moved 100 km southwards. No longer of strategic significance, Escalona was granted by Alfonso X the Wise to his brother, Infante Manuel, who established there his residence.
For the next four centuries, Escalona was among the most powerful domains of Castile. Four of its rulers exerted a strong influence on the Court of Castile and attempted to interfer with the Royal power, if not to exercize themselves.

Infante Juan Manuel (1282-1348), the "prince writer", transformed his birth place into an impregnable stronghold defended by a complex system of towers, fortifications and secrete galleries. In 1327, he declared war to the young king Alfonso XI, aged 16. During the king's minority, the nobles led by the Infante controlled the Court. Among the numerous privileges Juan Manuel obtained from the king was the marriage of his own daughter, aged 9, with Alfonso XI. Upset by the Infante's subsequent claims, the king repudiated his child wife and married the daughter of the king of Portugal. As a retaliation Juan Manual set up an alliance with the Muslim king of Granada; several skurmishes opposed the two armies in Sigüenza, Valladolid and Peñafiel. In early 1328, the king ordered the siege the castle of Escalona in the absence of the Infante. Confident in the defenses of his castles, Juan Manuel did not attempt ot lift the siege but attacked the castle of Huete. In April, the king came to Escalona to personally conduct the siege from his camp located on the other bank of river Alberche. Three months later, the king had to leave to Valladolid, where a conflict has broken out, lifting the siege.
In 1335, Juan Manuel definitively quit plotting for literature. His most famous work, the collection of tales entitled El Conde de Lucanor (full text) is one of the masterpieces of the medieval Castilian literature. Some of the Infante's weird tales were a source of inspiration for subsequent writers; Calderón de la Barca re-used Tale No. 10 ("What happened to a man who by poverty and lack of other food ate lupins") in "Life Is a Dream", while Andersen re-used Tale No. 32 ("What happened to a king who let pranks make his cloth"), through a German translation, in "The Emperor's New Clothes".

Álvaro de Luna (1390-1453), the "powerful and excessive seducer", was the nephew of Pedro Martínez de Luna (1328-1423), better known as Antipope Benedcit XIII or Pope Luna. A favorite of King John II, he was appointed Constable of Castile and granted several privileges. Erected lord of Escalona in 1424, Álvaro de Luna maintained Juan Manuel's fortifications but completely rebuilt the inner parts of the castle into a wealthy palace, described in chronicles as "the most princely residence in Spain". Three century laters, travelers deemed the castle "a noted and very munificient building by its size and strength hardly equaled elsewhere in the kingdom". Masters from Brussels and mudéjar craftsmen created a mixed decoration, associating delicate Gothic and refined Oriental elements. The heart of the palace, the "Rich Hall", was built of precious wood and decorated with paintings and ivory inlays. A patio surrounded by stone columns decorated with fganciful capitals was set in the center of the palce. Outside the building, gardens grown with exotic trees and equipped with waterfalls overlooked the river.
Álvaro de Luna organized sumptuous festivals in the castle, funded by his personal treasure, composed of coins and gems kept in chests. The "Escalona Treasure" soon became a matter of legends, claiming for instance that the constable always travelled with several chests, in case negotiation was required.
For 20 years, John II stayed once a year in Escalona, being offerred festivals, hunting parties and cultural events. The chronicles recall how the flavors, marvels and "exquisite and ingenious inventions of new modes of human delectations" imagined by Álvaro de Luna mesmerized the king and prompted him to forget the difficulties of the kingdom, which was in war with all its neighbors.
On 10 August 1438, lightning impacted the castle's keep; it took three days to 800 men to extinguish the resulting blaze and the palace was burned to ashes. Gutierre, Bishop of Toledo, compared the event with the premonitory lightning that impacted a statue of Jules Caesar in Rome short before his assassination, announcing the fall of the ambitious constable. Thz careful bishop soon claimed that this was only a rumor and that no such event ever occured in Roma. Álvaro de Luna, not scared at all by the "divine warning", rebuilt the palace in an even more sumptuous way than the previous one. In 1448, Álvaro de Luna organized in the new palace an eight-day, non-stop festival to celebrate the second marriage of John II with Isabel of Portugal, a marriage he had hismelf arranged to get rid of the Aragonese claims on Castile. According to the chronicles, the queen's cortege was sumptuous, as was the scenography designed by Álvaro de Luna himself. The visitors were welcomed by a lion's fur with claws, offered by a Moorish king, hanging on the entrance gate. The patio was equipped with a cosy, wooden pavilion allowing the visitors to enjoy games and jousts. Inside the hall, the knights and their dames were served exquisite dishes announced by trumpets. The room was lit by big torches attached to thins wires, which appear to float in the air. The festival was a succession of music, dances, and performances of poems written by the most famous writers, the constable included.
This outrageous display of luxury and power was Álvaro de Luna's climax and first step to disgrace. Back to her palace, the queen understood how the constable had taken control of the kingdom's affairs. Álvaro de Luna already had experienced short periods of disgraces, but he always turned the table. That time, the queen gained support from the nobles led by Juan Pacheco, 1st Marquis of Villena, who manipulated John II's first son, crown prince Henry. In spring 1452, John II stayed for 20 days, and for the last time, in Escalona. The next year, he came back with his army to besiege the castles of Maqueda and Escalona. While Maqueda was seized, Escalona proved once again to be impregnable. Advized by his wife, his son and the nobles, John II ordered the arrest of the constable in Burgos. Transferred to Valladolid, he was sentenced to death and beheaded, his head being exposed on a pike.
His widow, Juana Pimentel, subsequently known as the Sad Countess, delivered the castle of Escalona to the king, who also confiscated two-thirds of the Treasure of Escalona. John II died a few months later in a deep reprentance, while Isabel went mad and was locked in Tordesillas, where Álvaro de Luna's ghost tourmented her until her death.

Juan Pacheco (1419-1474), "the sublime plotter", was introduced to the Court by Álvaro de Luna. Soon the favorite of the weak Prince Henry, he maintained a fierce, obsessive rivalry with the constable. Henry IV succeeded his father as the king, while Pacheco "succeeded" Álvaro de Luna as the king's favorite. In 1470, Pacheco was made lord of Escalona, and, two years later, Duke of Escalona. As his rival was, Pacheco was the wealthiest and more powerful noble of the kingdom. His Gilded Age lasted much shorter than Álvaro de Luna. Both Henry IV and his favorite died in 1474.

Diego López Pacheco (1447-1529), the "illuminated battler", succeeded his father as the 2nd Marquis of Villena and the 2nd Duke of Escalona. Before passing away, Henry IV asked him to support the claim of his daughter Joanna, known as la Beltraneja, to the throne of Castile. Her rival, Isabel the Catholic, proclaimed herself in Segovia, initiating a four-year civil war. Diego Pacheco invited Joanna in a safe place, the castle of Escalona, which was a kind of declaration of war to Isabel. While Escalona remained loyal to its lord, several towns controlled by the Marquess took Isabel's party, expecting to get rid of the feudal rule. Isabel's troops invaded the State of Escalona, but did not attempt to seize the impregnable castle. When Joanna's cause appeared to be lost, Pacheco negotiated an honorable exit with Isabel, which prefered to establish good relations with such a powerful noble.
Pacheco swore and kept loyalty to the queen; as a reward, the Catholic Monarchs appointed him Captain General of the Border in the final assault against the Kingdom of Granada, entering the town in 1492.
At the end of his life, the Marquis of Villena invited a sect of illuminati from Guadalajara to the castle of Escalona. The Alumbrados called for a direct relation with God, without clercis; they opposed to public prayers, images and most elements of liturgy, claiming that Jesus was not really incarnated in the Eucharist and rejecting holy water and confession. The sect was founded by Isabel de la Cruz and her disciple, Pedro Ruiz de Alcaraz, who taught the Marquis and his wife, Juana Enríquez, how to read the Scriptures. The new religion soon spread out of the castle to the town, the recently created Franciscan convent included. The Spanish Inquisition did not bother the powerful Marquis, but Isabel de la Cruz and Alcaraz were served a life sentence; Alcaraz was publicly whipped in Escalona. After this odd episode, the Marquis and his wife funded in the town an hospice for the poor and pilgrims, and, outside the town, a convent of Franciscan nuns.

The town of Escalona is the scene of a proeminent episode of Lazarillo de Tormes (full text), the archetypal picaresque novel published in 1554 in Burgos by an unknown author, whose identity is still a matter of vivid controversy among scholars. The book is a chronological, "autobiographic" relation of Lázaro's life, from birth to adult age. Each of the seven "Treaties" composing the book relates the meeting of Lázaro with a specific character and the resulting event ("How Lázaro met a ... and what subsequently happened"). Treaty I decribes how Lázaro, born in Tejares, a hamlet of Salamanca located near river Tormes, is entrusted by his widow mother to an old blind man as his servant. At the end of the chapter, the two men stay in Escalona, where Lázaro eventually takes revenge from the sarcasms and humiliations inflicted by the master, whom he definitively abandons. During a big storm, the blind master asks his servant to bring him inside an inn until rain stops. Lázaro pretends to search the narrowest section of the "stream" they have to cross, indeed a small brook fed by the storm; on his advice, the man jumps in the wrong place and violently hits with his head one of the big stone columns supporting the facade of the Town Hall.

Ivan Sache, 9 September 2019

Symbols of Escalona

The flag of Escalona (photo, photo, photo, photo) is prescribed by an Order issued on 24 October 2005 by the Government of Castilla-La Mancha and published on 10 November 2005 in the official gazette of Castilla-La Mancha, No. 226, p. 20,368 (text).
The flag is described as follows:

Flag: Rectangular, in proportions 2:3, white with a red cross, charged in the center with the coat of arms of Escalona.

The Royal Academy of History did not object to the proposed flag, composed of the well-known Christian ensign, a red cross on a white field, which was adopted in the Middle Ages by several towns such as Barcelona and Tudela. The panel's proportions are 2:3 while the width of the cross is not specified. The municipal arms are placed in the center of the flag.
The Academy opposed "significant objections" to the representation of the arms. First, the shield is crowned by a "Royal crown open", which was used until the reign of Philip II but is today meaningless. The crown shall not be a mere ornament, a reminiscence of the past, or an intended archeological "reconstruction", but an heraldic element with a modeern meaning. The present-day's Spanish Royal crown has a different design, known as "closed". Moreover, the approval of the coat of arms by the Royal Academy History in 1976 explicitely mentioned a "Royal crown closed".
The tower protecting the bridge is represented as a broad, three-towered castle; however, the original design, featured on a seal kept in the Lázaro Galdiano Museum, shows a narrow tower with a single crenellated top.
Accordingly, the approval of the flag is conditioned to the correction of the aforementioned flaws in the design of the coat of arms.
[Boletín de la Real Academia de la Historia 202:2, 314. 2005]

The coat of arms of Escalona is prescribed by Royal Decree No. 3,159 signed on 23 December 1976 and published on 25 January 1977 in the Spanish official gazette, No. 21, p. 1,776 (text).
The coat of arms is described as follows:

Coat of arms: Gules supported [by waves] argent and azure a two-arched bridge or masoned sable surmounted dexter by a tower or masoned and port and windows sable sinister by a ladder [escala] leaning on the crenels. The shield surmounted by a Royal crown closed.

Philip II's Relaciones (16th century) report the arms of Escalona as "A ladder on a bridge applied to the gate of a castle".
[José Luis Ruz Márquez & Ventura Leblic García. Heraldica municipal de la Provincia de Toledo. 1983]

Ivan Sache, 9 September 2019