Don Juan Manuel (May 5? 1282-1349), infante of Castile, son of the infante Don Manuel and Beatrix of Savoy, and grandson of St Ferdinand, was born at Escalona. His father died in 1284, and the young prince was educated at the court of his cousin, Sancho IV of Castile, with whom his precocious ability made him a favorite. In 1294 he was appointed adelantado of Murcia and in his fourteenth year served against the Moors at Granada. In 1304 he was entrusted by the queen-mother, Dona Maria de Molina, to conduct political negotiations with James II of Aragon on behalf of her son, Ferdinand IV, then under age. His diplomacy was successful and his marriage to James II's daughter, Constantina, added to his prestige. On the death of Ferdinand IV and of the regents who governed in the name of Alphonso XI, Don Juan Manuel acted as guardian of the king who was proclaimed of age in 1325.
His ambitious design of continuing to exercise the royal power was defeated by Alphonso, who married the ex-regent's daughter Constanza, and removed his father-in-law from the scene by nominating him adelantado mayor de la frontera. Alphonso XI's repudiation of Constanza, whom he imprisoned at Toro, drove Don Juan Manuel into opposition, and a long period of civil war followed.
On the death of his wife Constantina in 1327, Don Juan Manuel strengthened his position by marrying Dona Blanca de la Cerda; he secured the support of Juan Nunez, alferez of Castile, by arranging a marriage between him and Maria, daughter of Don Juan el Tuerto; he won over Portugal by promising the hand of his daughter, the ex-queen Constanza, to the infante of that kingdom, and he entered into alliance with Muhammad III of Granada . This formidable coalition compelled Alphonso XI to sue for terms, which he accepted in 1328 without any serious intention of complying with them; but he was compelled to release Dona Constanza. War speedily broke out anew, and lasted till 1331 when Alphonso XI invited Juan Manuel and Juan Nunez to a banquet at Villahumbrales with the intention, it was believed, of assassinating them; the plot failed, and Don Juan Manuel joined forces with Peter IV of Aragon. He was besieged by Alphonso XI at Garci-Nufiez, whence he escaped on July 30, 1336, fled into exile, and kept the rebellion alive till 1338, when he made his peace with the king. He proved his loyalty by serving in further expeditions against the Moors of Granada and Africa, and died a tranquil death in the first half of 1349.
Distinguished as an astute politician, Don Juan Manuel is an author of the highest eminence, and, considering the circumstances of his stormy life, his voluminousness is remarkable. The Libra de los Sabios, a treatise called Engenos de Guerra and the Libra de Cantares, a collection of verses, were composed between 1320 and 1327; but they have disappeared together with the Libra de la caballeria (written during the winter of 1326, and the Reglas como se debe Irovar, a metrical treatise assigned to 1328-1334.
Of his surviving writings, Juan Manuel's Cronica abreviada was compiled between 1319 and 1325, while the Libra de la caza must have been written between 1320 and 1329; and during this period of nine years the Crania de Espana, the Cronica complida, and the Tratado sobre las armas were produced. The Libra del caballero et del escudero was finished before the end of 1326; the first book of the Libra de los estados was finished on the 22nd of May 1330, while the second was begun five days later; the first book of El Conde Lucanor was written in 1328, the second in 1330, and the fourth is dated I2th of June !33S- We are unable to assign to any precise date the devout Tractado on the Virgin, dedicated to the prior of the monastery at Penafiel, to which Don Juan Manuel bequeathed his manuscripts; but it seems probable that the Libra de las frailes predicadores is slightly later than the Libra de los estados; tha the Libra de los castigos (left unfinished, and therefore known by the alternative title of Libra infinido) was written not later than 1333, and that the treatise De las maneras de amor was composed between 1334 and 1337.
The historical summaries, pious dissertations and miscellaneous writings are of secondary interest. The Libra del caballero et del escudero is on another plane; it is no doubt suggested by Raymond Lull's Libre del orde de cavalleria, but the points of resemblance have been exaggerated; the morbid mysticism of Lull is rejected, and the carefully finished style justifies the special pride which he author took in this performance. The influence of Lull's Blanquerna is likewise visible in the Libra de los estados; but here are marked divergences of substance which go to prove Don Juan Manuel's acquaintance with some version (not yet dentified) of the Barlaam and Josaphat legend. Nothing is more striking than the curious and varied erudition of the turbulent prince who weaves his personal experiences with historical or legendary incidents, with reminiscences of Aesop and Phaedrus, with the Disciplina clericalis of Petrus Alfonsi , with Kalilah and Dim-iah, with countless Oriental traditions, and with all the material of anecdotic literature which he embodies in the Libra de redecessor of Boccaccio in the province of romantic narrative. The Cento novelle antiche are earlier in date, but these anonymous tales, derived from popular stories diffused throughout the world, lack the personal character which Don Juan lends to all he touches. They are simple, unadorned variants of folklore terms; El Conde Lucanor is essentially the production of a conscious artist, deliberative and selective in his methods. Don Juan Manuel has not Boccaccio's festive fancy nor his constructive skill; he is too persistently didactic and concerned to point a moral; but he excels in knowledge of human nature, in the faculty of ironical presentation, in tolerant wisdom and in luminous conciseness. He naturalizes the Eastern apologue in Spain, and by the laconic picturesqueness of his expression imports a new quality into Spanish prose which attains its full development in the hands of Juan de Valdes and Cervantes. Some of his themes are utilized for dramatic purposes by Lope de Vega in La Pobreza estimada, by Ruiz de Alarcon in La Prueba de las promesas, by Calderón in La Vida es sueño, and by Canizares in Don Juan de Espina en Milan: there is an evident, though remote, relation between the tale of the mancebo que cas6 'on una mujer muy fuerte y muy brava and The Taming of the Shrew; and a more direct connection exists between some of Don Juan Manuel's enxemplos and some of Andersen's fairy tales.
Last updated: 05-09-2005 16:28:57