[Sunflower logo of the Kansas Heritage
Group]Introduction to Medieval History
Jofre Isaac and the Weight of Tradition (1140-1185)

Dictionary and Thesaurus

What follows is neither a lecture nor a lecture outline, but a draft chapter from an as yet unpublished book. The book is about the city of Huesca, in Spain, during the twelfth century. It's not even about the whole city, but deals with the residents of three neighboring houses located a short distance from the cathedral. One family is the Boclones, nine children and their widowed mother, Boneta; the second is Jofre Isaac, a shoemaker, cobbler, and money-lender, who carries on a long campaign to disinherit his children from his second marriage in order to pass his fine house on to his youngest child, a son from his third marriage; and the third are the Peitavins, an ambitious family who, over three generations, try to gain political influence. At the end of the century, the grandson is a counsellor to the king, but is finally reduced to poverty and ends up as a charity case in the cathedral.

It is not easy for medieval historians to write the history of a common person doing common things, and so I wanted to share this with you. You may find the story complex, but Jofre Isaac made it so in an effort to get what he wanted. You may even find it boring, but the everyday lives of common people are not usually the stuff from which motion pictures are made. Besides, you can always click off and do somethings else

The Boclónes gained a new neighbor in the summer of 1147. Jofre Isaac was an up and coming young shoemaker with a shop a short distance away, on the Zapatería. He came from an even older Huescan family than the Boclónes, though not of the same social circle. He was a nephew of Isaac the shoemaker, who was in turn the son of Ium Tob the shoemaker. It is unknown when the family converted, but it not unlikely that it was shortly after the conquest, when a learned co-religionist of Huesca accepted Christianity, taking the baptismal name of Petrus Alfonsus. It seems probable that Isaac converted shortly after the Christian conquest of the city, and a short time after the birth of his eldest son, perhaps in order to avoid expulsion from the inner city. Although there is little evidence concerning the status and standing of new Christians, Jofre Isaac was not the class of person one might have expected to move into the Houses on the Hill. A curious combination of circumstances had allowed him to do so.

Jofre and his wife Calveta had made their start in life in 1140, when they had purchased a modest huerto (garden or orchard) in the district of Almeriz from a member of a Jacan family recently arrived in Huesca. This purchase provided Jofre with additional acquaintances in Jaca. It is quite probable that he had already come into contact with Guillem of Jaca when Guillem, his brother Borrell, and his father-in-law Lambert were buying up property in Huesca, and before Juan Boclón had acquired the bulk of Guillem's property between Campaneros and the Pellicería. It would have been in his interest to extend his circle of contacts as widely and as quickly as possible, particularly since his family's conversion would have would have limited his matrimonial opportunities to quite another circle from that in which the family had previously been established. At any rate, when Calveta died in about 1144, Jofre headed for Jaca to acquire a new wife.

It is uncertain what influence he may have had, but he succeeded in gaining the hand of Oropesa, the daughter of Guillem of Jaca and doña Boneta of Jaca. Jofre gained a great deal of prestige from an alliance with such a distinguished family and won entry into a kindred who controlled a great deal of land in and about Huesca. He soon began to reap the benefits of this new alliance. In August of 1146, Jofre and Oropesa bought the equivalent of two and a third fields near Huesca for the quite modest sum of 35 solidi. The seller was Borrel of Jaca, Guillem of Jaca's brother and close associate. In December of the same year, they managed to acquire a one-third interest in another thirteen fields for the reasonable price of 150 solidi. The lands had belonged to Lambert of Jaca, and the seller in this case was Ramón of Provins, husband of Oropesa's half- sister, Poncia of Jaca. It is clear that Guillem's family wished to see Oropesa well-situated, and were willing to provide the couple with good lands in Huesca at low prices in order to give them a start in life.

It was probably early in 1147 that Guillem of Jaca died. Since Poncia, his first wife, had died in about 1129, the time had come for their children to divide their parents' property. There was every possibility that Jofre's Jacan relatives might be willing to divest themselves of some of their newly-acquired property in Huesca at bargain prices. In June of 1147, Jofre and Oropesa travelled north to Jaca and met with Oropesa's half-sister, Boneta, the widow of Bancio Fortuñones. In the presence of an impressive assemblage of Jacans, including the alcalde, merino, members of the family of Guillem of Jaca, and leaders of the shoemakers' community, Boneta and her children sold Jofre and Oropesa their entire interest in the inheritance of Guillem of Jaca in and about Huesca for a total of five hundred solidi. The alihala that day cost twenty solidi, impressing the guests with the significance of the transaction for Jofre and no doubt contributing to their impression of him as a man of substance and dignity.

Oropesa and Jofre then returned to Huesca, where they prepared an important event in the life of the Hill. On a day somewhat later in June, a large crowd gathered to witness their purchase of another one-third share in Guillem's Huescan properties from Oropesa's cousin, Ponz Guillem, for another five hundred solidi. A thousand solidi was a considerable sum, but the final one-third share had surely fallen to Oropesa as Lambert's grand-daughter. The couple now owned a substantial amount of land and rental properties. Perhaps most important from Jofre's point of view, and certainly from the neighborhood's, he now possessed the Houses on the Hill, the residence at the northwest corner of Pellicería and the calle mayor, a property of great value and a residence of some distinction. One may imagine that, from his shop down the street in the Zapatería, he might often have coveted the status such a residence would bring.

It was the Aragonese custom of the time to seal a contract with a convivial meal of the witnesses and testors. The meal, called an alihala, was supposedly intended to repay the testors and witnesses for their time and to help fix the event in their mind, but it also served the social purpose of bringing the buyer's friends together to celebrate a new acquisition of property. It may be conjectured that the witnesses gathered at the intersection of Zapatería and Pellicería to celebrate the contract. Twenty-five solidi would have provided an exceptionally fine meal, one that must have assumed the proportions of a banquet. Bread and wine were provided, as was customary, but there was also the luxury of meat. Even the canons of the cathedral chapter ate meat only three times a week, and they were generally considered to be living like lords. The fact that three sons of Jofre the Butcher were among the witness no doubt assured that the meat was both good and plentiful. There were twenty-eight witnesses and testors in the crowd, primarily shoemakers, furriers, butchers and their sons and sons-in law, presumably all having come to see one of their own make good.

It would appear that there may have been some sort of epidemic in Huesca and Jaca in about 1148, for a number of prominent and active members of the middle class, including some of the residents of the Hill, do not appear in documents after that date. Oropesa, wife of Jofre Isaac, was among that number. Jofre had done well during the three or four years of their marriage. Although the charters probably fail to record the full extent of their activities, during the last ten months of their marriage, Jofre and Oropesa had spent some 1185 solidi and acquired eight and two-thirds fields in the vicinity of Huesca as well as two- thirds of the casas and shops once owned by Guillem of Jaca and his wife Poncia. One assumes that Oropesa's inheritance brought them the other third of the urban property and secured them the remainder of the thirteen fields once owned by Borrell, Guillem, and Lambert of Jaca. She had also brought him two sons, Mateo and Guillem. Jofre Isaac had become a substantial man through his marriage to Oropesa, owner of an orchard and thirteen fields, proprietor of a significant amount of urban rental property, owner of his own shop and casas in the Zapatería, and resident of the property known locally as illas casas de illo collelo, or "The Houses on the Hill."

There is little record of Jofre's business activity for the next couple of years except for his gaining another part of Oropesa's inheritance by acquiring one- third of the casas built directly against the Cathedral, property that had descended from Guillem of Jaca and Poncia. It may well be that Jofre was in Jaca at this time, settling Oropesa's claims to properties there and pursuing his trade among the other shoemakers of the city. In any event, he found another Jacan bride, and was married in March 1151 to María, daughter of don Ramón of Jaca.

María must have brought Jofre enough money for him to become a even more substantial businessman; from the time of their marriage on, he is recorded as the purchaser in a series of transfers of property in both Huesca and Jaca. Between 1151 and 1169, Jofre and María spent a total of over 2400 solidi, acquiring some fourteen fields, two city lots, the casas and shops that had belonged to Flandina, daughter of Guillem of Jaca, a casa in Jaca, and other assorted properties, including a field under mortgage, a tanning pond, a vineyard, and some properties in Barluenga. They also had a son, Ramón Aster, probably named in honor of his maternal grandfather.

There seems to have been friction within the home between Jofre on the one hand, and his sons by Oropesa on the other. This is perhaps to be expected since, as the boys grew up, they would have wished at least a share of their anticipated inheritance, most particularly since their mother was dead. Their father had acquired substantial properties with his second wife, all of which would go to their half-brother Ramón Aster. They may have resented the fact that rents and renders from properties that were their patrimony were being used to acquire more properties that would eventually be Ramón's. In short, the income of their patrimony was being used to enrich their half-brother. There may have been more it than that, since Jofre showed no signs of releasing any property in Huesca to them. He apparently tried to set the boys up in the shoemaking business in Jaca. Mateo stayed in the city, while Guillem moved north to the French city of Olerón to ply his trade.

As time went on, Jofre Isaac continued to acquire lands, casas, and shops, and always seemed able to purchase these properties for cash. A couple of documents, although not involving him directly, disclose that he was in the business of lending money in sums ranging from ten to a thousand solidi. His testament and some later dealings by Ramón Aster reveals that Jofre had become the possessor of a sizable number of mortgages. It is clear that Jofre Isaac was not simply a shoemaker and landlord, but a money-lender on a rather grand scale. In about 1167, Jofre apparently acquired an assistant. Pascal, son of Selvagn of Jaca, was a shoemaker with a shop on the Zapatería not far from those of Jofre and Ramón Aster. He first appeared as a witness of one of Jofre's documents in 1167, and was seldom absent from Jofre's dealings thereafter. He would play a role, and not a very lofty one, in the settlement of Jofre's estate some years later.

On the whole, the proprietor of the Houses on the Hill became one of the most successful of the residents of the neighborhood. The documents of the Cathedral of Huesca, which surely provide only a partial indication of his wealth, record his purchase of forty-two fields, as well as houses, vineyards, and other properties. His access to ready cash meant that he was able to buy the finest property, as the Houses on the Hill witnessed, and presumably the most fertile lands. A part of his success was apparently due to his unwillingness to part with property, and the sons of Oropesa died without enjoying a single piece of their Huescan patrimony.

Jofre apparently regarded the Houses on the Hill as his prize possession, and very much wished to pass it on to his son, Ramón Aster, who had stayed with him, occasionally honored him by using the name of Ramón Jofre, had entered the shoemaking trade and occupied the shop next to him on the Zapatería. This posed a problem, however. Jofre had acquired the Houses on the Hill while married to Oropesa. Even if her children were dead, that property, as well as any other property Jofre and she had acquired together, were the inheritance of her grandchildren. As he grew older, Jofre began to consider ways to circumvent this problem.

An opportunity arose in February of 1181. Guillem of Olerón had died a few years before, and Jofre had renewed relationships with his grandson, also named Guillem, in Jaca in March of 1177. It was perhaps at Jofre's invitation that young Guillem came to Huesca. He was without property there and presumably stayed with Jofre and Ramón at the Houses on the Hill. From later statements by Guillem's cousin, it would appear that Jofre and Ramón put pressure on the lad, and perhaps deceived him as to his real prospects. At any rate, Jofre prevailed upon him to sign an impressive document by which Guillem received two shops and a field,

Just as the boundaries define the properties on all sides, thus I give and concede [it] to you, the aforesaid shops and the above-written field free, quit, clear, and without encumbrances, with their entrances and exits, complete and whole, without restriction or limitation, so that you should have and possess it as your own property, to sell, to give away, and to do there all things according to your wishes, you and your children and all of your descent and posterity for ages without end, amen. ... By this prescribed donative, I give and concede this to you with all deceit far from my mind, so that you may have it after my death...

All young Guillem had to do in return was to approve a previous charter by which Jofre had given the Houses on the Hill and the shops nearby to Ramón Aster. By doing so, Guillem was to understand, he was giving up for all time any claim that the descendants of Oropesa had to the property.

There were numerous irregularities in this entire arrangement. In the first place, Jofre had no right to have made a charter giving the Houses on the Hill and the shops there to Ramón Aster, since these properties formed part of the patrimony of the descendants of Oropesa. Surely Jofre was aware that such a document was completely without validity. It would appear that he had done this to put pressure on Guillem. Second, the value of two shops and a field, even if they were excellent properties, was not to be compared with the Houses on the Hill and the shops and fields Jofre and Oropesa had acquired in and about Huesca. Guillem was receiving a quite modest estate in exchange for his half share of some of the most valuable real estate in the city. It is difficult to understand why he would have agreed to this, since Jofre was by now an old man, and Guillem should have realized that he would not have to wait long to collect his inheritance. He must have been in desperate straits to have accepted such an exchange, and, if he were, it would have been his grandfather's duty to assist him, rather than to use his difficulties as an opportunity to defraud him. Jofre's duplicity went even deeper, however. The field that formed part of the price of Guillem's expectations was one that Jofre and Oropesa had acquired together, and was therefore part of Guillem's patrimony anyway. Guillem appears to have been being doubly cheated. It is difficult to understand why Jofre added this unnecessary piece of duplicity; he had many fields and could easily have given the young man one upon which Guillem had no claim. Finally, however, the whole arrangement was illegal. Guillem could not agree to give up the claims of Oropesa's descendants. He could agree only to give up his own claim, and it is questionable whether this may not simply have meant that his cousin could have claimed the entire property in the same way that he might if Guillem had died. Despite the shady nature of the entire business, Jofre and Ramón found suretors willing to participate, including Jofre's long-time associate, Pascal, son of Selvagn of Jaca.

There was one last piece of meanness involved in this affair. Jofre had granted Guillem the two shops together with their soleros, the lots on which they were located. There was a corral located on the property, and Jofre apparently intended to keep the corral, even though half of it was located on Guillem's land. Realizing that holding back this property would endanger the entire shaky agreement, Ramón Aster promised Guillem that if Jofre did not turn over to Guillem the half of the corral due him,6 he would himself buy it from him at a mutually agreeable price. There appears to be more than a little vindictiveness in Jofre's actions. It is clear that he wished to save the Houses on the Hill for Ramón, and was willing to cheat his grandson to do so. The pettiness of Jofre's arrangements, however, such as using part of Guillem's patrimony to buy his patrimony, and refusing to part with a half of a corral on a technicality suggests that Jofre may have had a deeper and more personal reason for wishing to see his grandson not simply defrauded, but skinned.

Jofre had been relatively active up to this point, regularly appearing in charters, and continuing to buy property, but does not appear in surviving records for the next thirty months. He was now probably in his sixties and was perhaps worn out by the constant insecurities of the money lender's life. On the other hand, Ramón Aster does not appear in the charters either. There was certainly no reason for them to go to Jaca, where they would be sure to meet Berenguer, Jofre's other grandson, who would no doubt seek to clarify the terms of his expected inheritance. On the other hand, there seems no other reason for them to have dropped out of public life in such a fashion. It was October 1183 when Jofre Isaac again appeared in the documents, and the document involved was his last will and testament.

In the end, he appears to have attempted to shortchange everyone except himself. It was customary to give small gifts to the various chapels and chaplains of the Cathedral, as well as to all living relatives. Jofre contented himself with five solidi each to Chaplain Guillem Boclón, who lived in The Mulberry Tree, next door to the Houses on the Hill, and to Chaplain Juan Richard, who lived next door to other casas Jofre owned in the nearby genteel neighborhood of Pedro Maza. He gave a shop in the Zapatería, of which he owned several, to the canons of the Cathedral. He had reared a young girl named España, perhaps an orphaned relative, and he endowed her with a hundred solidi, and his old shop in the Zapatería as property for when she married.

As a slight digression, España's residence with an old widower and a young bachelor (Ramón was by now probably about thirty) was somewhat suspicious to say the least. This is particularly true when one learns that she had a son named Ramón. España does not seem to have married and it is possible that her reputation was impaired to a degree that even a dowry of a hundred solidi and a shoemaker's shop was insufficient to repair it. At any rate, some six years later, in 1189, when she was perhaps twenty-five years of age, we find that she had been the amica, or girl-friend, of a certain Gastón, who was giving her a plot of land and half a casa. The wages of sin did not appear to have been particularly good in twelfth-century Huesca. In March 1205, the Cathedral arranged to give land on easy terms to a group of settlers who agreed to populate and develop the districts of Estrada and Panusa in Igriês, about ten kilometers to the north of the city. España was the only unmarried woman among this group. She last appears as the owner of a casal, an unimproved building lot, in Igriês in 1212. She was now close to fifty and still unmarried. She certainly had not prospered by her connection with Jofre and Ramón.

Even though he was presumably considering the end of his days, Jofre had not yet given up his determination to save the Houses on the Hill for Ramón Aster, or to keep them out of the hands of the descendants of Oropesa, whichever was his true desire. He made specific bequests to Berenguer and his sons, omitting mention of Guillem, whose claims he considered already vacated.

... I relinquish to Berenguer, who was called the son of my son, the houses that I own that were [the possession] of Juan Isaac and the five fields that I bought from Ponz Guillem. ... and the rights that I have to the shops and house that face the cemetery of the church of Huesca [i.e., the Cathedral] and the houses of Doña Pertolesa, which aforesaid houses the children of Berenguer may hold. All this aforesaid, together with the right that I have to the properties in Jaca which were your family's, I release to you entirely, to be your own property. Indeed, by such an agreement that you will have no further part in the things that I own or that I will leave behind me after my death, neither by my right nor by right of my son Mateo, nor shall you be able to claim a share in anything of mine after my death, because I thus eliminate him from participation and tenancy with the above written properties that I relinquish to him, [and] thus I wish it to remain forever. ... All the other property that I have or possess ... I relinquish to my son Ramón that he shall have and possess them as his own property forever.

This was a clever move on Jofre's part, but one of uncertain legality. Berenguer had seen his father, Mateo, die before ever enjoying his share in either the property amassed by Oropesa and Jofre, or the properties that had come to Oropesa as her share of the properties of Guillem of Jaca. He was himself already a grown man with children, and had gained nothing from his own expectations. Jofre was in effect offering him a bird in the hand, a small, but assured and immediate, estate in exchange for the more extensive properties he could hope to gain if he could wait out his grandfather's death. Whether this contractual arrangement, particularly with its implicit pressure could prevail against the weight of the customs of inheritance may have been beside the point. Jofre had relinquished these properties to Berenguer and thus won at least a legal claim to the rest of his property, including the Houses on the Hill, for Ramón Aster. Should Berenguer take possession or accept the rents of any of these properties, Ramón's claims would be greatly strengthened. Jofre had bought Ramón the opportunity of contesting Berenguer's rights in the court of Huesca, where, if Ramón had any friends and ability, the matter could perhaps be spun out long enough to wear down Berenguer's resistance and force him to a compromise that would win Ramón the Houses on the Hill.

Jofre also provided Ramón with at least some of the resources necessary to sustain such a strategy. He left Ramón all of his other property, together with all his mortgages, share-cropping contracts, and, although unexpressed, his various loans, with the proviso that Ramón should settle all these affairs in accordance with his wishes. The nature of these wishes was somewhat puzzling. Jofre Isaac had left two clerics ten solidi, and a shop worth at most fifty solidi and a banquet (convivium), costing at the most fifty solidi more, to the canons of the Cathedral. He had left nothing for charity, public welfare, or for his relatives of the family of Isaac. He did offer to God one thousand masses for his soul, to be sung by the various churches of Huesca, for which each church was to receive five solidi. This can hardly have totalled much over a hundred solidi. In short, he had left in total less than two hundred solidi in cash to the Church, a remarkably small sum for a man of his assets.

It may well be that he had been suffering losses in his money lending business. Shortly after his death, Ramón began to count up the unpaid debts owed to his father, and a portion of this computation survives among the documents of the Cathedral archives to indicate something of the nature of Jofre's business. He had lent the wife of García Cipri n a thousand solidi on her winery; she had not provided him with the wine he should have had in lieu of interest and she had paid only ten solidi of the principal owed. He loaned his neighbor, Boneta, wife of Galaci n Boclón, ten solidi on a ring that she held for a debt, and she had paid him nothing. He had loaned a Saracen named Borzes seven solidi, and fifty solidi to a Mozarab named Juan, and had been paid nothing by them. The full list was probably much lengthier, but there is no reason to believe that Jofre had really suffered. It rather appears that the reason for his niggardly donations to charity may have been the same as his opposition to giving up the Houses on the Hill, a desire to provide Ramón Aster with as extensive an estate as possible.

A couple of years after Jofre's death, a complicating factor entered the standoff between Berenguer and Ramón over Berenguer's inheritance. Sometime in the winter of 1185/1186, Guillem, son of Guillem of Olerón fell ill. For some reason, Ramón Aster was not there to offer him aid, or perhaps Guillem blamed Ramón in part for the loss of his expectations and preferred to do without his help. At any rate, feeling that he was dying, he went to Jofre's old henchman, Pascal, son of Selvagn of Jaca, whose shoemaker's shop stood nearby and who was at least a native of Guillem's home town of Jaca. Pascal and his wife were more than willing to take care of him, but at a price. When a person without relatives needed permanent care because of illness, age, or disability, it was not unusual for them to arrange for such permanent care through a process called afilamiento. Declaring themselves without family, they adopted a person who agreed to care for them as if for their father or mother. Pascal managed to get such an agreement from Guillem. This made Pascal legally Guillem's son, and thus entitled to a half share in the patrimony of Oropesa and Jofre Isaac.

Whether Pascal had improved upon the occasion of Guillem's death to try to gain a portion of the estate, or whether this was a means of applying further pressure upon Berenguer to compromise, or whether Pascal had obtained an afiliamiento simply to ensure that he would not be out of pocket for the costs of caring for Guillem and arranging for his burial is a matter of conjecture. At any rate, it seems to have worked out well for Ramón and Pascal. Berenguer came to Huesca in February 1186 to retrieve the situation. He and Ramón met with Pascal, and Pascal quoted the value of the afilamiento as 250 solidi. This was not an extraordinarily large sum, but it was one that Berenguer was not able to pay immediately. He could have borrowed the sum from his uncle, Ramón Aster, but seems to have been too wary of the situation for that. Instead he promised to pay Pascal the money in the coming month of June, and Pascal accepted the arrangement. The fact that Berenguer had brought along Ramón, son of the alcalde of Jaca may have had something to do with Pascal's easy acquiescence to Berenguer's proposal.

The technicalities of this resolution of the affair were such as to gladden the heart of anyone versed in the law of the times. Berenguer had to acquire the afilamiento, or Pascal would have had an equal share in the estate due Oropesa's descendants. The fact that Berenguer had to defer payment indicates not only that he was short of cash, and would thus become even shorter, but that his credit was low, also. No one stood surety for Berenguer, as Pascal might have requested. The purchase of the afilamiento placed Berenguer in the position of being the sole heir, but the fact that he had agreed in assessing its value at 250 solidi meant that he tacitly accepted the validity of the contract Guillem had made with Jofre Isaac back in 1181. It would be clear to anyone that the value of a half share in the Houses on the Hill alone exceeded 250 solidi, but was a reasonable price for Guillem's estate of two shops with the lot on which they stood and a field in Almeriz. If Berenguer were in the future to argue against the power of Jofre's testament to limit his inheritance, he could then be asked why he had been willing to accept the legality of the contract between Jofre and Guillem. Meanwhile, the temptation to compromise had been increased. If Berenguer took possession of the field and two shops, he would de facto agree that Guillem had alienated his half of the inheritance, and he could then expect to gain no more than half of the property in descent of Oropesa. Meanwhile, he was 250 solidi poorer. Berenguer had certainly not gained any advantage through this complex affair.

It was perhaps the complexity of the case, coupled with the legal and financial advantages enjoyed by Ramón and the stubbornness of Berenguer that caused the matter to drag on for such a great length of time. There are few records of Ramón Aster's activities in succeeding years, but those that survive suggest that he was steadily advancing in wealth and prestige. In 1190, Bernardo of Huesca, canon of the Cathedral, exchanged a country house and vineyard just outside Zaragoza, for two vineyards just outside Huesca owned by his brother Guillem of Huesca and his wife Toda of Villanúa. As the document stated,

... I, Bernard, the aforesaid canon, give on my part as guarantors of the security of this exchange, according to the law of the land, [and] by order of Richard, bishop of Huesca, and of Prior Galindo of Perola, and of the entire chapter of Huesca, don Ramón Isaac and don Bernardo of Tierz ...

It would appear that Ramón Aster's wealth, property, and the fact that he had no descent had gained him entry as a lay canon of the Cathedral. He had powerful support now against any claims to the Houses on the Hill. They would eventually pass to the Cathedral, and it must be assumed that the Cathedral would assist in establishing his clear claim to the properties.

Another document, of December 1195, illustrates how wealthy Ramón had in fact become and how powerful his friends were. He stood suretor for an old friend, Guillem Peitavin, a former zalmedina of Huesca, in his sale of properties worth almost 3,900 solidi to his son, Pedro Peitavin and his wife, Sancha of Torres, a wealthy widow and close friend of King Pedro II. It is clear that Ramón had both money and the friendship of the ruling oligarchy, both secular and clerical, of the city. It was perhaps inevitable that Berenguer of Jaca would eventually be worn down.

In February of 1198, Berenguer and Ramón Aster finally reached a compromise and settled their dispute of some fifteen year's standing. Berenguer received the houses that had belonged to Juan Isaac and had been offered him in Jofre Isaac's will. Ramón provided him an assortment of other properties: two fields, a established vineyard, a newly-developed vineyard, an orchard, parts of three other fields, and a one-eighth share of the casas and three shops that had once belonged to Berenguer Constantine. Ramón offered Juan Peitavin, perhaps the richest and most influential member of the Huescan middle class at the time, as one of his suretors. Berenguer's agreement was complete, although he may have vented some lingering resentment of the fraud practiced on his cousin, Guillem, many years before:

And by reason of this charter of partition written above, that I, Berenguer, accept from you, the Ramón written above, of my own good will and not through any force, nor standing with you in your house, nor in your power, I define and relinquish to you and to all your posterity forever all properties and all things, personal and real, whatever they might be, of the aforesaid Mateo, my father, and from my grandparents as his inheritance, and I define and relinquish to you that donation that was made by my father Mateo of all the houses and shops that are on the Hill, in such a fashion that neither I nor any of my posterity may ask anything more from you or your regarding [the inheritance] of my father Mateo or my grandparents Jofre Isaac and Oropesa.

It is interesting to note that Berenguer offered that same suretors as Ramón Aster Juan Peitavin and Lorenzo Mercer suggesting that he was without either the kinsmen or prestige to offer his own backers. Pedro of Avenna, Justiciar of Huesca, witnessed the agreement, and the matter was definitively settled. The long process begun by Jofre Isaac years before was ended, and the weight of the laws and customs of inheritance had been overcome. Ramón was left sole and legitimate proprietor of the Houses on the Hill.

During the next few years, Ramón divided his time between Jaca and Huesca, managing his properties with a sure hand. Generally speaking, he leased his Jacan properties, presumably to reduce the time necessary for him to manage them personally. He was by now approaching fifty, and the road between Jaca and Huesca was both long and difficult. Moreover, the bulk of his property lay in and around Huesca. One can imagine him spending these years, the prime of his life, managing his ever-increasing estates and enjoying the dignity he had achieved as a lay canon. From his residence in the Houses on the Hill, he could stroll past the corner where, sixty years before, Jofre and Oropesa had completed the purchase of this fine property and a great neighborhood party had been held. He could walk down the busy Zapatería, passing his father's old shop, the shops once held by his unfortunate cousin, Guillem, and his own establishment, where he had once cobbled shoes. After he had had his fill of the busy life of the artisan streets, he could always return to the Houses on the Hill, wash and dress, walk across to the chapter refectory and, in the quiet dignity of those quarters, eat, drink, and chat with those of his neighbors who had really succeeded in life.

After 1207, Ramón Aster, son of Jofre Isaac, disappears from historical records, and may be presumed to have died sometime in his mid-fifties. The Houses on the Hill became the possession of the Cathedral of Huesca, and remained so, most probably as leased property for another century, until they were razed to make way for the construction of the new Cathedral and the splendid plaza that was to grace its approaches.


Lynn Harry Nelson
Emeritus Professor of
Medieval History
The University of Kansas
Lawrence, Kansas

Hosted at WWW-Virtual Library @ www.vlib.us