Comunero Revolt Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Comunero Revolt by the cities of central Castile was sparked by a disputed monarchical succession and evolved into social revolution that called for the right of the Castilian parliament to assemble and discuss, without royal summons, matters pertaining to the realm’s welfare.

Summary of Event

The traditional interpretation has characterized the Comunero Revolt as a xenophobic response to a foreign monarch who threatened feudal rights and privileges. Castilian cities and grandees, the landed nobility, despised Charles I’s greedy Burgundian court and opposed his election as Holy Roman Emperor in 1519. The grandees soon abandoned the cities and joined forces with the royalists to crush the revolt, thereby ending medieval urban liberties and ushering in an era of monarchical absolutism. Comunero Revolt (1520-1522) Acuña, Antonio de Charles V (1500-1558) Padilla (1490-1521), Juan de Padilla, María de Pacheco Joan the Mad AdrianVI Charles I (king of Spain) Ferdinand II (king of Spain) Isabella I (queen of Spain) Joan the Mad Adrian of Utrecht Padilla, Juan de Acuña, Antonio de Padilla, María de Pacheco Pacheco, Diego Lopez de

Modern scholars have challenged the predominantly political and military analysis of the revolt by stressing the social and economic trends that established the preconditions for a modern revolution. During the reign of Ferdinand II and Isabella I, a growing fissure developed between the economic interests of central Castile and the periphery. In the late Middle Ages, central Castile emerged as the most dynamic region of Spain because of its thriving textile industry. The demand for Spanish wool in the industrial centers of Burgundy led to the rise of the Mesta, a sheep owners’ guild. Each year a merchant guild in Burgos contracted the raw wool for shipment north. By forcing up the price of local wool and limiting land available for grain, the Burgos trade struck at the economic interests of interior textile centers such as Toledo, the ancient Visigothic capital, and Medina del Campo, the region’s trade nexus and site of medieval fairs. The dramatic rise of Seville as an international trade emporium for the American trade also threatened the heartland by introducing greater foreign competition and by causing fluctuations in the price of grain and bread.

Ferdinand and Isabella tamed a rebellious aristocracy by removing them from the councils of government while granting them economic rewards. Following the death of Isabella in 1504, however, Castile endured a series of succession crises that repoliticized the aristocracy and renewed old rivalries. Weary of Ferdinand of Aragon’s influence in Castile, a faction of Castilian grandees formed in support of the first Habsburg succession, Philip the Handsome, son of Emperor Maximilian I. Isabella’s daughter and heir, Joan, was deemed mentally unfit to govern, so her husband, Philip, assumed the regency of Castile in her name. His sudden death in 1506 further exacerbated Joan’s illness and led to Ferdinand’s assumption of the regency with the support of anti-Habsburg grandees.

Between the death of Isabella and the arrival of Charles in Castile in 1517, there were four weak regency governments dependent on the support of rival factions of grandees. At the local level, this meant that lawsuits brought by towns against grandees for usurping their grain lands went unheard in royal courts. The aristocratic offensive created an urban-noble conflict that, combined with royal favor of the periphery, created a revolutionary environment in central Castile.

In 1517, Charles arrived in Spain with a court from his native Burgundy intent on exploiting Spanish wealth. Objections quickly arose in the cortes, the Castilian parliament, which had the power of voting taxes, the servicio. At Charles’s first cortes in 1518, city representatives complained that he should stop appointing foreigners to office, avoid any increase in taxation, forbid shipment of gold or silver from Spain, and reform the royal law courts to process suits more quickly. Taxation;Spain Afterward, Charles evaded the cortes by naturalizing Burgundians as Spaniards before granting offices and by negotiating huge loans in Germany with Spanish resources as collateral. Following the death of Maximilian I, Charles used these loans to bribe the imperial electors to elect him Holy Roman Emperor in 1519. His plan for an opulent trip to Germany forced him to request an additional servicio, though the old one had not expired.

Charles convened the cortes in remote Galicia, so he could leave Spain more quickly, and demanded that the servicio be voted prior to his hearing grievances. After several large bribes, eight of the eighteen cities in the cortes finally passed Charles’s servicio. Further insulting the cortes, Charles appointed his old Burgundian tutor, Adrian of Utrecht, rather than a Spanish grandee, as governor in his absence. Before Charles set sail on May 20, 1520, Toledo was in open revolt under the leadership of city councilman Juan de Padilla.

Few cities heeded Toledo’s call to revolt until Adrian sought to punish Segovians for the public murder of a cortes delegate who had taken a bribe. After Padilla led a force north to help defend the city, the royalists sought artillery in Medina del Campo. In the ensuing melee, half of the ancient trading center was burned to the ground on August 21, 1520. By October of 1520, fourteen of the cortes cities had joined in a revolutionary government in Tordesillas (the sancta junta) where they sought legitimacy by professing loyalty to Charles’s mother Joan, who they proclaimed the legitimate ruler of Castile. While expressing sympathy with their grievances, Joan shrewdly refused to sign any documents.

Despite the junta’s drafting of a broad program of national reform, most cities and grandees focused their attention on using revolution as an excuse to settle local feuds. As individual cities launched assaults against individual grandees, a general anti-señorial movement evolved, which the Comunero junta eventually endorsed. The demagogic champion of the anti-señorial movement was the sixty-five-year-old bishop of Zamora, Antonio de Acuña, who assured his followers that God was on the side of the poor and against the grandees.

As class antagonisms divided the junta, Adrian asked Charles to appoint two Spanish grandees as cogovernors, thereby winning back most grandees. Without the grandees, the armies of Padilla and Zamora lacked cavalry, which proved decisive when Padilla met the royalists on the field of Villalar Villalar, Battle of (1521) on April 23, 1521. Padilla and two other Comunero leaders were executed the next day.

Henceforth, the revolution centered on Toledo, where Acuña joined Padilla’s widow, María de Pacheco Padilla, in continuing the struggle. Maria appealed to her powerful uncle, Diego Lopez de Pacheco, marquis de Villena, to negotiate a settlement with the Crown. The French invasion of Navarre in northern Spain, along with Villena’s warning of the governors that he would not allow them to besiege Toledo, led to protracted negotiations, which were finalized in February, 1522. María went into exile in Portugal, where she died in 1531. Acuña was captured after sneaking out of Toledo to join the French and, after murdering a guard, was later executed. Apart from a few leaders, Charles exercised extreme clemency in punishing former rebels. The general pardon of May, 1521, exempted only 293 individuals, some 150 of whom either bought amnesty or were pardoned.

The traditional image of the loss of urban liberty on the field of Villalar has undergone significant alteration since the 1960’. After the revolt, Charles instituted most of the Comunero junta’s demands. He reformed the royal courts and again removed grandees from the high governing councils. He stopped granting Spanish offices to foreigners and Spaniards quickly came to dominate his imperial bureaucracy. The cortes met every three years and gained more control over collection of the servicio. If adjusted for inflation, the servicio actually decreased over the course of Charles’s reign.


There were, however, negative consequences outside the political arena. Unable to stop rapidly growing foreign competition or to slow the export of Spanish wool, the Castilian textile industry collapsed in the 1540’. Sensing an underlying affinity between the Comuneros and Lutheran rebels in Germany, Charles expanded the authority of the Spanish Inquisition to ferret out any heterodox thought: Lutherans, mystics, even Christian humanists. Increased inquisitorial censorship was the most enduring legacy of the Comunero Revolt.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crews, Daniel A. “Juan de Valdés and the Comunero Revolt: An Essay on Spanish Civic Humanism.” Sixteenth Century Journal 22, no. 2 (Summer, 1991): 233-252. Analysis of Fernando de Valdés’s role in the revolt and its relation to the political thought of his son Juan de Valdés, the famous Humanist.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Elliott, John H. Imperial Spain, 1469-1716. Reprint. New York: Penguin, 1990. Considers the revolt a reactionary, xenophobic response to Charles’s imperialism. Its defeat opened Spain to foreign influence, particularly that of Christian Humanist Desiderius Erasmus.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Haliczer, Steven. The Comuneros of Castile: The Forging of a Revolution, 1485-1521. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981. Fine synthesis of European scholarship on the social and economic factors underlying the revolt.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lynch, John. Spain, 1516-1598: From Nation State to World Empire. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1991. Brief summary that views the Comunero Revolt as a true revolution but concludes with the traditional argument that it was an unqualified victory for absolutism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ruiz, Teofilo F. Spanish Society, 1400-1600. New York: Longman, 2001. A detailed and diverse look at all aspects of Spanish cultural history in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Discusses the Comunero Revolt and places it in the context of other Renaissance Spanish rebellions of the poor against the elite.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Seaver, Henry L. The Great Revolt in Castile: A Study of the Comunero Movement of 1520-1521. 1928. Reprint. New York: Octagon Books, 1966. Seaver argues that the revolt was a struggle for constitutional monarchy that turned into class war and anarchy. Based on published Spanish sources, especially the six-volume Historia critica y documentada de los comunidades de Castilla, edited by Manuel Danvila (1897-1899).
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tracy, James D. Emperor Charles V, Impresario of War: Campaign Strategy, International Finance, and Domestic Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Examination of the financial and political consequences of Charles V’s military campaigns. Discusses Charles’s relationship to local governments within the empire, especially those that learned to exploit Charles’s need for money.

Oct. 19, 1469: Marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella

1499-1517: Erasmus Advances Humanism in England

June 28, 1519: Charles V Is Elected Holy Roman Emperor

Categories: History