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Identification. Castilians are the people of Castile, the Interior lands of the Meseta, the central plateau of Spain, traditionally a region of rural smallholdings and the historic seat of what eventually became the Spanish kingdom. The name "Castile" derives from the great many frontier castles to be found in the region.

Location. There are two officially recognized regional units that bear the name "Castile" (Castile-and-Leon, and Castile-La Mancha), but historically and ethnographically, "Castile" refers to the tablelands (Meseta) of interior Spain, divided by the Sierra de Guadarrama, which runs east-west across the center of the region. Annual rainfall is scanty, averaging 70 centimeters, and most of it falls in the spring and winter. In late spring and early summer, thundershowers are common, but they bear inadequate moisture and often bring hail, which damages local crops. At one time, all of Spain was heavily forested in pine. Of the much-reduced forest lands of today, most are to be found in Castile. Other than these woodlands, the Castilian terrain is either scrub-covered or under cultivation. Soils are poor to mediocre, and the principal water courses (running east-west) are the Duero and Tagus rivers.

Demography. Reliable population figures specific to Castile are not readily ascertainable, but one may roughly estimate that of the 1986 total population of Spain (38,700,000), three-fourths live in the Castilian region. This number is misleading, however, for Castile is a predominantly rural smallholding region, where average population densities are low but are offset by the fact that the region also contains massive urban concentrations in cities such as Madrid, Toledo, and Valladolid. Throughout the region, the demographic trend has been toward the depopulation of the rural sector as its residents migrate toward urban centers or abroad.

Linguistic Affiliation. Of the six recognized Spanish dialects (Andalucian, Aragonese, Asturian, Castilian, Leonese, and Valencian) Castilian is the official one. Indeed, the linguistic designation "Spanish" refers specifically to the Castilian dialectmuch to the discontent of many other Spanish (but non-Castilian) speakers. More than 28,000,000 speakers of the language are estimated in Spain alone, although not all of these speakers reside in the historic region of Castile. Castilian, along with the other five Spanish dialects, is a member of the North Central Ibero-Romance Family, and it displays strong lexical similarities (greater than 80 percent) with Portuguese, Catalan, and Italian. Less closely related, but still quite similar (greater than 70 percent lexical similarity) are French, Rheto-Romance, Sardinian, and Romanian.

History and Cultural Relations

Originally populated by Iberian and later Iberoceltic peoples, Castile was for a time ruled by Rome and, later, the Moors. For a time it was governed by counts under the supremacy of Asturias and Leon; it was later annexed by Sancho of Navarre (1026-1035), who gave Castile to his son Ferdinand I in 1033. Leon was united to Castile in 1037, separated in 1065, and reunited under Alfonso VI in 1072, who also annexed Galicia. Afterward, Castile and Leon were separated but were finally reunited under Ferdinand III in 1230, when he conquered large parts of southern Spain from the Moors. Other noted kings were Alfonso X and Pedro the Cruel.

Isabella of Castile married Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469, and became queen of Castile in 1474. Ferdinand became king of Aragon in 1479, from which time Castile and Aragon were united. Under Ferdinand and Isabella, not only was the Spanish territory consolidated, but authority was finally Centralized in the hands of a single royal government, and Castile became the regional seat of that authority. Prior to this Centralization, the independence of feudal nobles meant that the territory was riven with lawlessness and disorder. By legislating property and personal rights and stripping the nobility and the great crusading orders of much of their former independence and power, Ferdinand and Isabella gained great support among the populace. The ruling pair acquired from the pope the right to nominate all the higher ecclesiastical officers in Spain, and they used that right to reform the church by filling its offices with men of unquestioned orthodoxy and unwavering loyalty to the crown. Thus the church became an extension of royal power.

The Inquisition, begun in 1478 under the control of the monarchy, was directed from Castile to root out heresy and crush what remained of Muslim religious practice, often bloodily. The Inquisition soon developed an independence and momentum of its own, and by 1492 it had far exceeded its original purpose of ensuring that Moors and Jews were expelled from the country. In 1609, Philip III ordered the expulsion of the Moriscos (descendants of Christianized Moors) as well. As a result, when Charles II took the throne in 1665, he inherited a country that had been stripped of nearly all of its tradespeople and artisans. Agriculture declined; arts and literature degenerated.

In 1700, the death of King Charles II of Spain opened the door to dispute over who should be his successor. France favored Charles II's own choice, Philip of Anjou (grandson of Louis XIV), of the Bourbons. But France's adversaries of the time were less pleased with this choice, and they formed a "Grand Alliance" in an attempt to wrest control from the French favorite. Thus began the Wars of Spanish Succession, which raged throughout Europe until 1713-1714, ending with the Peace of Utrecht and leaving Philip V on the throne.

In 1808, Napoleon's brother Joseph succeeded to the throne. His efforts to modernize Spanish institutions led to a backlash against liberalism. By this time the populace consisted of wealthy noble, ecclesiastic, and military groups on the one hand and poor agriculturalists on the other. Because crafts and trade had been largely the province of the original Jewish and Moorish peoples in Spain, when they were suppressed and later expelled from the region there was no powerful or progressive middle class to serve as a source of reformist sentiment, so that such movements became concentrated in the military and among the intellectuals. In 1822, the crown reacted against liberal pressures, and Ferdinand VII acted against the wishes of his own people to secure the assistance of other European powers in controlling his now rebellious colonies in the Americas. Ferdinand set aside established laws of succession and transmitted the throne to Isabella II in 1833, sparking the Carlist Wars (1833-1840), in which supporters of his brother Charles challenged her succession. In 1868, a revolution drove Isabella from the throne, and the period that followed was a confused succession of contenderseach briefly securing, then losing, control over the country.

In 1870, the throne was offered to Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. This move incited a diplomatic crisis in Europe as a whole, and for the French in particular, precipitating the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. Still unable to settle their problems of government within the country, the Spanish offered the throne to Prince Amadeo of Savoy, but he abdicated in frustrated discouragement three years later. Then a brief period of republican rule ensued, which lasted until 1875, when Alfonso XII assumed the crown and restored peace to the nation. When he died in 1885, he was succeeded by his posthumous son, Alfonso XIII. Until Alfonso was declared of age in 1902, however, Maria Cristina (widow of Alfonso XII) served as regent.

The last of Spain's colonial holdings in the Americas broke out into open revolt, beginning with the island of Cuba in 1895. U.S. intervention resulted in the loss by Spain of not only Cuba but also Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam, which resulted in the impoverishment of the Spanish Economy. A coup d'etat in 1923 established General Primo de Rivera as chief minister of the Spanish cabinet with dictatorial powers, and he managed to enforce a period of quiescence, though one could hardly call it peace, until 1931, when revolution broke out.

Alfonso XIII fled Spain in 1931, and a republican constitution provided for the confiscation of church property, the suppression of religious instruction in the schools, and the expulsion of all religious orders. The attacks on the church, intended to destroy a major source of the monarchy's power and influence, were resented by the largely pious population. This policy, as well as plans for land reform and an attempt to curb the power of the military, alienated the three most powerful traditional elements of Spanish society. The "Popular Front," composed of leftists (including Communists and Socialists), won the elections in 1936. The disgruntled military reacted by revolting, initiating the Spanish Civil War in 1936, aided by arms, planes, and artillery from Germany and Italy. The Soviets aided the Republican side against the Fascist "Nationals," but the Nationalists, under General Francisco Franco, emerged victorious in 1939.

The Franco regime remained nominally neutral but actively favored the Axis powers during World War II, so in the postwar years there was no incentive for the Allied powers to provide economic development aid to Spain. Thus Spain was left out of the Marshall Plan for aid to Europe. These postwar years are known in Castile as the "years of hunger," when the economy was so devastated that even the dogs and cats disappeared from Spanish streetsthey either starved to death or were eaten. Although Franco continued in power (he was made acting head of state for life), Spain was in theory still a monarchy.

By 1950, economic recovery was slow at best, and the government's efforts at social and economic reform simply meant a greater intrusion of the state into the lives of Individuals, minor industrial development of the urban centers, and the introduction of foreign firms. This meant that the rural areas benefited little from development, except for Franco's public-works schemes. Agriculture remained largely unchanged, and people from predominantly rural areas, including Castile, were forced to emigrate to the major cities and foreign countries. In 1973, Franco made Adm. Louis Carrero Blanco prime minister in the hope that Blanco would continue his policies after the end of Franco's rule. However, Basque terrorists assassinated the admiral six months after his appointment. The admiral was replaced by Carlos Arias Navarro (Arias). Franco's death, in November 1975, Returned power to the crown. King Juan Carlos selected Adolfo Suarez as prime minister, inaugurating a period of massive reform, both political and economic. A new Spanish constitution was passed in 1978 and was hailed as the most liberal constitution in Western Europe. It defined Spain as a parliamentary monarchy with no official religion and prescribed a limited role for the armed forces, the abolition of the death penalty, and an extension of suffrage. But although political reform earned the government a great deal of popular support, resentment and dissatisfaction grew among the military. When Suarez resigned the premiership in 1981, and before his successor was sworn in a month later, this dissatisfaction was vented in a rightist coup attempt which, although foiled, persuaded the government to take steps to appease the military. Since that time, the country has attempted greater Economic development, particularly of its agriculture, and has moved toward greater provincial autonomy.


Although there are a number of large urban centers in the Region, Castile is essentially rural, characterized by small towns and villages that are tied closely to a mixed agricultural, vini-cultural, and forestal economy. Nonurban settlements are called pueblos. Small or large, the pueblo is a nucleated settlement, consisting of a central plaza surrounded by shops and (in the larger towns) municipal buildings, themselves surrounded by residential structures. At one side of the plaza is the town church, with its tall belfry that (characteristically) harbors the large nest of a crane. The oldest houses in Castilian villages often combine dwelling, stable, and barn, constructed with separate entrances for the residential and livestock portions. On the residential side, the upper floor consists of bedrooms and perhaps an attic space. The traditional Castilian kitchen has as its center a chimenea an open-hearthed fireplace, around which are hung great cooking pots. Many village homes lack running water, but every settlement has a public fountain. The houses of the more well-to-do are frequently constructed of stone, although stucco is a frequently encountered building material.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Although smallhold farming is the linchpin of the regional economy, it is rare for an individual or household to live off agricultural income alone. Income provided by the family farm is augmented by small-scale animal and poultry husbandry, by public-works employment, and by individual enterprises such as beekeeping, shopkeeping, and other such supplementary economic pursuits. On the farms, alternate-year dry-farming/fallow rotations are customary. Barley and wheat are the important cash crops and are harvested in the summer. Grapes are Commonly grown and are harvested in October. Even in those parts of the region not important for wine production, a farm will generally have small grape arbors, from whose fruit a household will press its own wine. Sugar beets, introduced as a cash crop about fifty years ago, provide a winter harvest. Other common crops, grown for local consumption rather than for sale, are melons, pumpkins, carob beans, lentils, and chickpeas. Traditional farming methodsusing a chiselpoint plow, handsowing, weeding by hand-held hoe, and harvesting by scythehave only slowly been replaced by mechanized means. Chemical fertilizers have slowly replaced manure since the early to mid-1950s. Animals are raised both for fieldwork and for food. Oxen, once the most important draft animals, have largely been replaced by mules. Sheep husbandry was once the heart of the Castilian economy, and in the eighteenth century huge flocks, raised for their wool, were common. Today, however, the number of sheep has Declined drastically, and they are mostly raised for their meat, which is an important component of the local diet. Of all animals raised for food, the pig is most important, and nearly every family raises one or two. Commercial swine herds began to be established in the 1960s, as did commercial poultry Production. Large-scale cattle-raising operations exist in some parts of the region, where pasturage makes it possible. A very important nonagricultural product is pine resin, from which tar, turpentine, and other resin derivatives are made. Forestry-based industries have always been under strict state control, and they can only be carried out in compliance with the regulations of the local forest district office. Even when trees are on privately held property, there are strictly enforced rules regarding the start and end of tapping season, which trees may be cut, and whether or not new forests may be opened up for exploitation.

Industrial Arts. There are few industries in rural Castile. Sawmills and the production of pine-resin derivatives are two such enterprises. In the past, local artisans crafted the tools, utensils, and other consumer goods used by the villagers of Castile, but today the people are more likely to depend upon the stores of the neighboring towns or cities to provide such items.

Trade. Items produced regionally for export to the rest of the country and beyond Spain's borders include pine-resin products, meat, dairy, and poultry products, cereals, and, in some areas, wine and sugar beets.

Division of Labor. In Castile, the division of labor according to sex is best understood according to the distinction Between the public and private spheresto males belongs the world of paid labor, to females the domestic tasks. This division is not complete, however, for it is crosscut by considerations of class and by the demands of the household farm. Generally speaking, in poorer households, a woman may need to seek paid employment in order to supplement the Otherwise inadequate cash income of her husband. In any case, the heavy work of farming and all specialized agricultural and Forestal jobs are the province of men. The task of threshing wheat falls to the male youths of the farm household. While economic necessity may force a woman to take on paid Domestic work or seek employment in a local shop without Seriously damaging her reputation, there is no such mitigating circumstance to justify a man's assumption of "woman's work"a man who does so is simply not considered a "real" man.

Land Tenure. Agricultural land is privately owned, in smallholdings. The pine forests are owned by the communidad, a group of neighboring villages. This form of organization derives from medieval times, when clusters of villages and hamlets were under the authority of a ruling lord who maintained his seat in a nearby city. These affiliated settlements held large tracts of land, much of it forested, in Common under the dominion of the lord. Although the individual settlements eventually achieved politically independent Status as municipios in the sixteenth century, their confederation in the communidads remained in place with regard to forests and pasture lands. Today, the primary role of the communidad is to apportion the income realized from commonly held lands and to regulate the use of such lands in order to protect future income. For the pine forests, this means that the rights to harvest the trees or their resinbut not the property rights to the land itselfare periodically allocated by communidad authorities.


Kinship is reckoned bilaterally. Fictive kinship in the form of godparenthood is of social and ritual importance, but as godparents tend to be chosen from within the bilaterally determined consanguinai kin circle (grandparents, aunts, or uncles) it does not usually result in the extension of kin-based rights and obligations beyond the preexisting family group. The single most important kin group is the nuclear family. The term pariente (kinsman) refers to all consanguineal relatives, but family loyalty tends largely to focus on one's siblings and parents. This loyalty, however, is frequently contradicted by disputes, particularly over inheritance.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage is a milestone in the lives of Individuals and for the community. Young village girls will pray to the saints to bring them husbands, and fiestas are occasions for girls to flirt with the boys they favor. For males, it is only upon marriage that full adult status is achieved. It is nearly unheard of for a male to marry prior to the completion of his national military service, and couples do not care to marry before achieving at least a minimal degree of independence, so that couples tend to postpone marriage until about the age of twenty-five. There is strong social pressure for individuals to marry within their own socioeconomic class. When exceptions occur, they usually involve a male of higher class and status marrying "beneath" his stationrarely the other way around. Marriages between first cousins can and do occur, but they require special church dispensation. Parents exercise a great deal of control in the selection of their children's prospective spouses, but they do not arrange the actual match. Rather, a young man and woman will develop an interest in one another, and should they desire marriage the young man will formally request that the woman's parents consider him as a formal suitor. Upon the acquiescence of the woman's parents, the couple may begin holding hands in public, and they are invited to social occasions together. Propriety is carefully maintained during courtship, for not only the reputation of the couple but also that of their respective families may be damaged by scandal. A young woman is expected to be modest and, above all, chaste before marriage. Upon becoming formally engaged, the bride-to-be begins to prepare her trousseau of linen and clothing, all finely embroidered by the young woman, or handed down to her by her mother. In much of Castile, the groom pays a small sum (traditionally not to exceed 10 percent of his fortune, now often a token sum). Until relatively recently, marriages throughout Spain were recognized only when consecrated by the church, but with the introduction of laws allowing religious choice in the 1960s, civil ceremonies became permissible. Still it remains rare for a couple to marry outside of the church in most of Castile. The ceremony is held in the parish church of the bride. During the ceremony, a white veil is held over the bride's head and the groom's shoulders, to symbolize the submissive role a proper wife should adopt toward her husband. Spiritual sponsors (godparents) stand with the bride and groom at the ceremony. These traditionally were the father of the bride and the mother of the groom, but they now may be aunts and uncles or influential friends. There are strong prohibitions against adultery and divorce.

Domestic Unit. A new domestic unit is established with marriage, and it is expected that a couple will live apart from the parents of either spouse. However, the parents of the new bride usually will provide substantial assistance in the Purchase or building of the new home, so that the couple Generally takes up residence in the vicinity of the bride's parents.

Inheritance. Inheritance is bilateraleach child can expect to inherit an equal share of each parent's property.

Socialization. Child rearing is a mother's responsibility. The relation between father and child is distant, and it remains so between father and son throughout their lives. Concern for the good name of oneself and one's family in the face of possible gossip or censure is very high.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. There are three broad social classes represented in the region: a small upper class consisting of families descending from the old nobility, wealthy industrialists, and high government officials; a small middle class of professionals, government functionaries, and the clergy; and a predominantly agricultural working class. The first two categories are largely urbanin the villages, most residents share similar opportunities and access to resources, at least in principle, so that an egalitarian ethic is the rule. Informal authority is conceded to a villager on the basis of age, economic success, or other personal qualities. Castilian village society is highly individualistic, with weak, limited institutional venues for cooperative action. One such institution is the cofradía, or lay religious society, which is dedicated to the veneration of a specific saint and cooperates in the planning of Lenten Ceremonies and processions.

Social Control and Conflict. In the villages, the strongest mechanism for social control is the fear of loss of reputation. While municipal authorities can and do enforce public law, behaviors are kept in check informally through the fear of incurring the disapprobation of one's neighbors, of inciting Gossip and scandal.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Within predominantly Catholic Spain, Castile has the reputation of being one of the most religiously conservative regions. Church attendance by both men and women is generally high on Sundays and holy days of obligation, although it is usually only women who attend daily services. Religious belief and practice assume a rather personalized character in Castile as elsewhere in Spain, and cofradías (Catholic lay brotherhoods and sisterhoods devoted to particular saints) are important to community and ritual life. In 1967, the passage of the Religious Liberty Law granted rights of free worship for non-Catholics throughout Spain, but the country and the region of Castile remain strongly Catholic.

Religious Practitioners. The village priest has Traditionally exercised a great deal of authority over his congregation regarding questions of the faith and secular affairs, but this control appears to be somewhat on the wane.

Ceremonies. Within the liturgical calendar of the Catholic church, the most important ceremonial occasions are Christmas and Easter, as well as the feast day for the patron saint of the village, when nearly everyone will attend mass regardless of their usual level of church attendance during the rest of the year. But much of Castilian ceremonial life, although tied to the religious calendar, has a strong secular flavor as well. The patron saint's feast day is the occasion for a village-wide fiesta, planned by village officials and involving soccer matches, bullfights, dances, band concerts, and fireworks. A parade of gigantes (giants) and cabezudos (big heads) marches through the streets of the village, headed by a band playing spirited tunes. The gigantes are 3-meter-tall effigies of Ferdinand and Isabella made of huge papier-mâche heads over long robes that conceal the man carrying them. Cabezudos are papier-mâché heads depicting historical, Ethnic, and fantasy caricatures and also are worn by men. Lifecycle events (baptism, marriage, funerals) involve churchly ritual.

Arts. Castile possesses a long and brilliant artistic heritagea result in part of its historic role as the seat of the Spanish court, with its provision of royal patronage. Today Castilian participation in the arts remains vital and ranges through the various musical genres (today including Everything from rock to opera), the visual arts and architecture, film, theater, literature, and bullfighting. Outside of Spain, the most famous of Castile's literary figures is Cervantes. But this great productivity in the arts retains little ethnic specificity, unlike the distinctive regional flavor of works produced by Andalusians, for example, or Catalans. This universality, too, may be the result of Castile's heritage as the seat of Spanish government, and the cosmopolitanism of its courtly, and later governmental, patrons. Except locallyand for certain Ceremonial practices, such as the processions of the big heads and giantsCastilian artistic production has come to draw on Influences originating throughout the Spanish culture as a whole, and/or to participate in the larger, international sphere, rather than to celebrate or reaffirm regional or folk themes.

Medicine. Modern medical care and facilities are available and used throughout Castile, as is the case for nearly all of Spain. Folk medical practices have, as a result, largely been lost. While in the more remote, rural areas there may still be some reliance on herbal remedies, and while it is still not uncommon to find people seeking the intervention of one or another saint in the case of illness or injury, such practices and beliefs are secondary to modern medical treatment.

Death and the Afterlife. Mortuary belief and practice are conducted within the general context of Catholicism. The priest officiates over funerals and also confers the sacrament of extreme unction. The body of the deceased is interred after an appropriate mass has been said. Friends and close relatives of the bereaved are expected to provide support, beginning with their willingness to keep vigil over the corpse until burial. The body is carried in its coffin to the church in which a burial mass is said, then to the ceremony for burial, which traditionally is attended only by men. Throughout Castile, the family of the deceased traditionally hosted a funeral banquet, but this practice has fallen into disuse. The hiring of paid mourners and the distribution of food to the poor in conjunction with burials are two other traditional customs that now are encountered less frequently. A widow is expected to assume black mourning clothing, or at least a black head scarf.


Aceves, Joseph (1971). Social Change in a Spanish Village. Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman.

Hooper, John (1986). The Spaniards: A Portrait of the New Spain. New York: Viking.

Kenny, Michael (1961). A Spanish Tapestry: Town and Country in Old Castile. London: Cohen & West.


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