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"By My Absolute Royal Authority": Justice and the Castilian Commonwealth at the Beginning of the First Global Age is a study of judicial administration. From the fifteenth century to the seventeenth, the kingdom of Castile experienced a remarkable proliferation of judicial institutions, which historians have generally seen as part of a metanarrative of "state-building." Yet, Castile's frontiers were extremely porous, and a crown government that could not control the kingdom's borders exhibited neither the ability to obtain information and shape affairs, nor the centrality of court politics that many historians claim in an effort to craft a tidy narrative of this period.
Castilians retained their loyalty to the monarchy not because of the "power" of the institutions of a developing "state," but because they shared an identity as citizens of a commonwealth in which a high value was given to justice as an ultimate purpose of the political community and a conviction that the sovereign possessed "absolute royal authority" to see that justice was done. This expectation served as a foundation for the political identity and loyalty that held together for several centuries the disparate and globally-dispersed domains of the Hispanic Monarchy, but perceptions of how well crown judicial institutions worked were a fundamental determinant of the degree of support a monarch could attract to meet fiscal and military goals.
This book maps part of this unfamiliar terrain through a microhistory of an extended, high profile lawsuit that was carefully watched by generations of Castilian leaders. Justices from the late fifteenth century to the reign of Philip II had difficulty resolving the conflict because the proper exercise of "absolute royal authority" was itself the central legal issue and the dispute pitted against each other members of important groups who demonstrated a tendency to give prominence to different interpretive schemes as they tried to comprehend their world. The account brings together political ideas and political action by giving serious attention to how well royal justices were able to handle difficult, prominent lawsuits that raised politically troubling questions and involved major litigants.

J. B. Owens is Professor of the History and Director of the Glenn E. Tyler Collection at Idaho State University, where he specializes in Spanish history and the use of Geographic Information Systems for research and teaching.


This groundbreaking book. . . is based on meticulous archival research and a thorough reading of the pertinent scholarship. It is well organized and the use of subheadings within chapters makes the material more accessible to readers. . . . Owens makes an original and substantial contribution. . . All those interested in the nature of monarchial government in Castile will benefit from closely reading this book. PARLIAMENTS, ESTATES, AND REPRESENTATIVES, Volume 28 [Sean T. Perrone]

Students of Spanish history will particularly appreciate Owens's insights into the nature of monarchy in Castile. His discussion, moreover, will challenge political historians of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries throughout Europe who enodw the "state" with wishful authority. HISPANIC AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW, November 2005

Handsomely-produced and extensively documented, the book is essential reading for scholars interested in the evolution of the European state. RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY

Owens's polyphony of personalities, motives, and local circumstances in early modern Castilian Spain exposes a consistency in occurrences not traditionally linked, and a revealing homogeneity of priorities in litigation issues and governmental principles across two dynasties, Trastamara and Hapsburg. --Edward Cooper, London Metropolitan University

In this challenging and original book, J. B. Owens questions historians' most cherished assumptions about the growth of absolutism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Owens's vision ranges over three centuries and across two continents to give a wide-ranging and sophisticated account of the interplay between the Hispanic monarchy and its constituencies. --Sara T. Nalle, William Paterson University

Owens demonstrates masterfully how conflicts we identify as political were debated and resolved in the Castlian court-system, and how the ability of the king to adjudicate them was the basis for his so called "absolute authority." Challenging our understanding of the early modern state, this book is likely to transform the way its readers understand the past. --Tamar Herzog, Stanford University

Owens' contibution is a welcome addition to the growing corpus of literature on the state and political culture in early modern Europe. An excellent, thought-provoking, and well archived work. THE MEDIEVAL HISTORY JOURNAL [Rila Mukherjee]


First Published: 15 Sep 2005
13 Digit ISBN: 9781580462013
2 black and white illustrations
Pages: 392
Size: 9 x 6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: University of Rochester Press

Details updated on 05 Oct 2015


  • 1  Rethinking the Hispanic Monarchy in the First Global Age
  • 2  John II's Controversial Reward
  • 3  The Catholic Monarchs and the Legacy of John II
  • 4  Rebellion against Crown Administration as a Defense of Absolute Royal Authority
  • 5  Pursuing Justice: Due Process, Procedure, and the Adjudication of a Major Lawsuit in the Absence of Coercive Muscle
  • 6  Making Judgments: Letrado Theories and Interpretive Schemes
  • 7  Philip II, the Great Fear, and the New Authoritarianism
  • 8  The Paradox of Absolute Royal Authority