TOLEDO. Toledo was an important city of Spain for much of the early modern period. Symbolic of this prominence are the large fortress (alcázar) built by the monarchs, the vast and richly decorated cathedral, and the impressive archdiocesan palace built by the prelates of Toledo, primates of the Spanish church.
Toledo's importance owes much to its geographic location. Security from outside attacks was enhanced by the deep, fast-flowing Tagus (Tajo) River, which offered a natural protective border on two-thirds of the city's perimeter and amplified the resistance offered by sturdy city walls and the heights of the interior space. Also, Toledo was at the center of the Iberian Peninsula, so it was a natural stopping-off point for travelers and merchandise, whether from Lisbon to the west or on the north-south routes in the crown of Castile. Within the region of New Castile, Toledo was the largest city and dominated the economy for much of the sixteenth century. This changed after Philip II (1527–1598) settled his court in the nearby city of Madrid in 1561. By the 1580s the two cities were competing for grain in local villages, and in the 1630s they competed over rights to plant vines and sell wine.
The population of Toledo expanded during the first three-quarters of the sixteenth century. According to the first census of 1528, some 30,000 people (5,898 households) lived in Toledo, and this figure doubled to approximately 62,000 people (12,412 households) by 1571. This appears to be the high point of the city's demographic expansion, as in 1597 only 54,665 people (10,953 households) were recorded. Baptismal records indicate a decreasing number of births in the first decade of the seventeenth century, when the city was struck by plague and then a subsistence crisis in 1605–1606. Population was also lost through emigration, especially to Madrid. Finally, among the city's wealthy families, fewer marriages were celebrated, in part because the crown's chaotic monetary policies ruined many and in part because numerous individuals of both sexes preferred celibacy and a church career. By 1632 the population had contracted to only 22,686 inhabitants, fewer that those recorded in the first census of 1528.
The oligarchy that governed Toledo consisted of a council of regidores and another council of jurados, both of which were supervised by a crown-appointed corregidor. The jurados did not vote on issues, but they could protest to the crown about injustices. They formed part of the small committees that did much of the actual work for the city, and they were entitled to supply one of the two deputies who attended the Castilian Cortes, the representative assembly. The regidores were divided into two benches, citizens and the more prestigious nobles, and into two factions according to the side on which they sat, the Silva on the right and the Ayala on the left. Frictions between the two benches and the two factions were constant, although after the Comuneros Revolt, which took a heavy toll on the Ayala faction, the battles were largely verbal and legal rather than physical. The crown added yet another division among the regidores in 1566, when a pure-blood statute was imposed on the citizens' bench. This ruling was directed against conversos, Jews who had converted to Christianity, whose bloodlines were seen as impure. Many citizen regidores were conversos, and a few openly protested to the crown about the new ruling, but to no avail. By 1639, however, the citizens bench was abolished, thus eliminating two of the three divisions that had previously divided the regidores.
Toledo had an active converso population that was especially visible in certain occupations. They accounted for two-thirds of the public notaries, probably a majority of the city's jurados, and certainly a majority of the local merchants and tax farmers. They built up the textile industries, most prominently silk and wool, of their native city. Many merchants kept a flock of sheep, and wool was sold to Toledo weavers, including cap makers, whose products were sold locally and were exported. Some merchants traveled to local fairs to buy wool cloth woven by villagers, which they took to Toledo to be finished. But Toledo is best known for the manufacture of silk products. Toledo families farmed the royal tax levied on Granada silk, and this post afforded Toledo merchants the opportunity to obtain the best silk of the Iberian Peninsula, although silk was also bought in Murcia and Valencia. In 1562 the master silk weavers of Toledo numbered 423. Unfortunately Toledo's textile industries followed the same downward path as the population.
See also Conversos ; Madrid ; Spain .
Brown, Jonathan. El Greco of Toledo. Boston, 1982.
Martz, Linda. A Network of Converso Families in Early Modern Toledo: Assimilating a Minority. Ann Arbor, Mich., 2003.
——. Poverty and Welfare in Habsburg Spain: The Example of Toledo. New York, 1983.
Montemayor, Julian. Tolède entre fortune et déclin (1530– 1640). Limoges, France, 1996.
Ringrose, David R. Madrid and the Spanish Economy, 1560– 1850. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1983.