The notarial register of Martín Fernández of Ruiforco (1468). A public scribe in the County of Luna (León)

Studies on royal and municipal diplomatics have successfully documented the notarial profession and its appointment mechanisms in Late Medieval Castile. Seigneurial diplomatics studies, on the other hand, have failed to shred light on the precise conditions under which notarial praxis was performed in Castilian lordships. Consequently, in this paper we have intended to pay scant attention to the circumstances surrounding the material author of the studied manuscript (León. Archivo Histórico de Caja España, Condes de Luna, Papeles, 246), seeking to answer the following questions: who he was, how he was appointed to fulfill his charge, what his jurisdictional scope was, what his role within the seigniorial administration was, how his office was transmitted, what his background/professional career was, etc.

This manuscript can be included into the Castilian medieval register typology, that is, prior to the 1503 Pragmática issued by the Catholic Monarchs. Unlike the later modern notarial protocols, Castilian medieval notarial registers only recorded a brief entry or minuta summarizing the content of the final business. It seemed relevant to me, therefore, to analyze these abridgments in the writing and how they affected the final understanding of the notes in the elaboration of both, historical and diplomatics works.

Another necessary part of this paper was to identify the mechanisms employed in the authentication of public documents. In this case, it was particularly interesting to bring up what happened in early administration books, whose guarantor and issuer was at the same time, its final holder.

Subordinately, the manuscript paleographical and codicological studies were conducted in order to understand the conditions and characteristics of the script, as well as the features of the material support confection.

The study of this casebook digs in work of the Castilian public notariate operating within seigniorial jurisdictions, as well as in the use of registers as a common tool in their profession. Moreover, this paper has intended to shed light on professional and social aspects of a seigniorial scribe who operated in a deeply rural territory, far away from the better-documented, urban notarial offices.

Regarding the external features of the manuscript, it can be concluded that it is less elaborated and  less internal organized than other Castilian casebooks (such as the registers of Santillana, Dueñas, Seville, Madrid or Jerez). In fact, its outward appearance is characterized by a permanent lack of care and internal organization, probably caused by the nature of the manuscript itself and, more specifically, by the surrounding working conditions.

The most inconspicuous characteristic of the affaires recorded in the book is the fact that they belong to three different spheres, demonstrating how the lack of specialization became an archetype in the Asturleonese rural world. Indeed, together with private documents, Martín Fernández developed an intense activity as justice scribe (in fact, the number of entries related to judicial affaires is quite similar to that of private business, which allows to document a rather complex jurisdictional framework running in the valley of Torío) and, equally important, he took part in the local council meetings by acting as its scribe.

Although this 1468 register is the only one preserved in the Archivo de los Condes de Luna, its annual chronological limit may indicate a widely spread use of registers. Rather than thinking of the uniqueness of this sample, it seems more plausible to think of  the elaboration casebooks with annual periodicity which have not been preserved.

Finally, we can conclude that the author of the manuscript, Martín Fernández de Ruiforco, played a key role within the comital administrative apparatus. The original public vocation of these royal civil servants was eventually interfered by the nobility in its lordships. The office was learnt at home and father-to-son transmitted, making the office patrimonialization easier. Notarial offices, therefore, became a resort of the county by assuring its control within the circle of a family of loyal servants. The appointment of notaries was therefore another dimension of the struggle fought among the late medieval social groups in Castile. It proves how writing played an important role as a political weapon as well. The Castilian nobility, in their eagerness to take over the resorts of the royal and municipal administration, consciously appropriated public offices, notarial writing offices included.

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Suggested Citation: Francisco Javier Álvarez-Carbajal: The notarial register of Martín Fernández of Ruiforco (1468). A public scribe in the County of Luna (León), in: Mittelalter. Interdisziplinäre Forschung und Rezeptionsgeschichte, 8 December 2014, http://mittelalter.hypotheses.org/4720 (ISSN 2197-6120).


Francisco Javier Álvarez-Carbajal

Born in Palma de Mallorca in 1986, I graduated in History in the University of Oviedo, Spain (2009). My degree dissertation was awarded with the 2012 Extraordinary Prize. In 2010 I enrolled in the PhD program of the History Department at the University of Oviedo under the direction of professor Miguel Calleja Puerta. Within the framework of a "Severo Ochoa fellowship", granted by the Government of the Principality of Asturias, I began my PhD research on "The documentary production of the Counts of Luna at the end of the Middle Ages: lordship administration, political struggle and social legitimacy". In April 2014 I got an ESR Marie Curie Fellowship and I moved to Lyon, where I work for the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales for DiXiT (Digital Scholarly Editions Initial Training Network). My current project, Practice and Usability of Digital Critical Editions is directed by Jacques Berlioz and supervised by Marjorie Burghart.

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