The Marquis of Santillana, Don Íñigo López de Mendoza, lived at the same time as the king Juan II of Castilla (1405-1454), and almost his whole life and political activity, always fighting for a centralist and absolute-power kingdom, took place during this monarch’s age, that’s why it’s necessary to understand the most important events which happened at the time to better understand not only the realities of that age but the reason why the Marquis had to fight.

            Juan II’s kingdom was very long and, in spite of the great struggles which destroyed his age (domestic struggles; fightings to be more powerful inside the Court and around the whole kingdom; wars against Granada and, sometimes, Aragon), there are two important things at the moment: the monarchic power and the institutions through which is developed are strengthened, and all these things even when the king, Juan II de Castilla, was a very inactive monarch which left his power and throne on other hands (that’s why the favourites existed, and the king left the government on this kind of chief ministers). But this situation doesn’t appear by itself, but the former king, Enrique III, had done the groundwork for this monarchic strengthening, he even took steps of financial and fiscal cleaning-up, he got new objectives to foreign politics and he put an end to the high nobility power, which was succeeded by another nobility who didn’t take the power of the king away as their own properties weren’t yet huge and they didn’t have any political power in the great cities, that’s why they were growing up in the service of the king. The king’s own marriage to Katherine of Lancaster and the indefinite truce who got with Portugal ended not only with the king’s own death but with the first hostilities with Granada, a hard work which gave prestige to monarchy and responded to their political interests. Enrique III kingdom finished in this way and, while Juan II was too young to reign, his mother and his uncle Fernando I acted as regents. When they both died, and after the infants Juan and Enrique’s struggles for Castilla’s leadership, Juan was plead of age in 1498 and began his kingdom, and in it, it started the first royal favourite story, Álvaro de Luna, who got important power in Castilla’s kingdom. At that moment, the Marquis of Santillana had returned to Castilla after his stay in Aragón, supporting Alfonso V, the other king, and returned as a protégée of the infant Enrique, and he wanted to grow up, as many other noble people in Castilla, under the infants’ power. Only some years before him, Álvaro de Luna had arrived to Castilla with his uncle’s encourage, the Archbishop of Toledo; he joined the Court as Juan II’s valet and this only fact was enough to obtain the king’s own confidence as far as the king was really dependant on him (a very understandable fact if we consider that the new king was an orphan and he didn’t have neither friends nor mentors, which meant that he was in the most absolute loneliness. Being alive the Queen Regent, Juan II’s mother, Katherine of Lancaster, she had already noticed the kind of influence Álvaro de Luna made over her son and, although she tried to drive him out of the Court, she didn’t succeed, and he became more and more powerful and, since 1415, he was appointed as the king’s own master and he continued in his most intimate confidence. That’s the way in which a bastard who arrived the Court without any wealth, got a very important role in the political life of that age. At that moment, seeing his personal power increasing incessantly, he succeeded in doing what he could with most part of the aristocracy and he governed dictatorially and got a very important increasing of his own properties. Anyway, in the first months of 1439, the situation created by himself became unbearable and he was forced to accept the Infants’ return: while infant Enrique supported the aristocracy requiring the Consejo Real de Castilla’s control and a kind of politics which restricted the king’s own power, infant Juan joined Álvaro de Luna’s opponents and put the king under his own control, which meant the first setback for the new Condestable, Álvaro de Luna, who was immediately banished from Castilla’s kingdom. Although the Infants established new political rules in the following years, don Álvaro, even being far from Castilla, got an alliance from the nobility, some of whom belonged to the Consejo Real de Castilla, promoted by the Infants, and that’s why the tensions in Castilla started (these tensions ended with the Infants’ power and the king’s “desired” freedom by the nobility, as they could get more land and titles from the king at don Álvaro’s request). In spite of don Álvaro’s attempts to finish with the Infants’ power, they got the closest members to don Álvaro in the Consejo Real de Castilla driven out, and the king retained under their own power. But something they didn’t expect happened then: the nobility joined in an alliance with so many cities and demanded the king’s freedom. After several battles, the Infants lost their government on the Consejo Real de Castilla and even on the king. So, once the king had been freed, don Álvaro returned to Castilla again. Then, he tried to strengthen the alliance with Portugal (that’s why the king got married in second wedding to Isabel of Portugal) and to avoid any attempt of the Infant Juan to get new power in Castilla again. Being the things in this way, the most important members of the Castilian nobility got some more titles from the king and don Íñigo López de Mendoza attained more dignities for him and his family: Marquis of Santillana, Earl of el Real de Manzanares (apart form the other titles he had inherited: Lord of Hita and Buitrago, although his family had lost the title of Admiral of Castilla as don Íñigo’s father died before he could inherit this title as he was too young). But this fact didn’t improve the bad relationship the Marquis and don Álvaro had had during their whole lives; on the contrary, the Marquis’s hate for the Condestable increased, as don Íñigo knew that the Condestable had the king’s power in his hands and was usurping the royal right to govern. Anyway, this new step in don Álvaro’s endless rise didn’t last so much time as he thought. On one hand, the new Queen, Isabel of Portugal, declared as one of his worst enemies; on the other hand, don Álvaro imprisoned some aristocratic people he still thought as the Infant Juan partisans, so another nobility alliance was founded to fight against the Condestable’s almost dictatorial power. After this period, the Toledo’s battle in 1449 entailed the end of the Condestable’s authority on everything. The palace conspiracies against don Álvaro, based not only on the Queen’s animosity on him but on the aversion the own king Juan II developed on him after his long personal and political dependence, they entailed several murder attempts (in one of which don Íñigo and several other important members of the Castilian nobility took part) don Álvaro avoided thanks to his personal escort, but he couldn’t face the personal king’s decision, which was to imprison him in Burgos and afterwards, at the request of his own lawyers and the Consejo Real de Castilla, his own execution in Valladolid in 1453. This was a really strange decision, as this kind of punishment didn’t use to be normal for the nobility at that time. But this was the way in which don Álvaro’s life ended after usurping for so many years the royal power. The Marquis of Santillana fought against him personally, although always in a hazy or in a dialectical way (except for the time when he, helped by some other people, tried to kill him). In don Íñigo’s work, we can find two important didactic poems in which the attack against don Álvaro is really clear: Doctrinal de privados and Coplas contra don Álvaro de Luna. These attacks against the Condestable were made by the Marquis because he wanted a united country with a very clear national identity concept: the power had to be on the king’s hands and it couldn’t be a dictatorial one in which the only profit was for one person and his allies, the profit had to be for everybody although the lower classes didn’t have any strength to fight for personal or class rights.


The Marquis of Santillana’s Doctrinal de Privados is a moral-didactic work and a direct attack against the Condestable, Álvaro de Luna, against whom the Marquis had always been due to his personal way of understanding his power. Although this work was written in a more reserved way than the Coplas contra don Álvaro de Luna, the Doctrinal de privados is a very clear showing of the Marquis’s vindictive character. In this work, the tone that prevails is the moral one (as it can be seen, the Marquis’s own thoughts seem like a confession whose sins, faults and attitude to life mustn’t have been taken as an example by other people). After the first verses, in which the own Condestable confesses what he did with all the things which didn’t belong to him and that he had committed all the mortal sins, the poem continues with the Condestable’s confession in first person, and it finishes when don Álvaro knows he is going to be executed, but before, he asks God for forgiveness because every thing he did was immoral, that’s why we say the moral character prevails in this work. The only difficulty this poem shows is to know if the whole confession of the Condestable’s sins makes the poem seems an exultation due to the enemy’s defeat or if it’s only a moral poem whose purpose is to establish the human general dimension of the Condestable’s faults. If we obey to the Marquis personality, the poem was due to the new situation of the Marquis who, after the Condestable’s death, he could help to restore the absolute monarchic power. This fact didn’t cast doubt on the national identity for which the Marquis had fought so much after all the dynastic problems and the civil wars which had taken place in Castilla. The Marquis fought for a national identity as his intellectual and human profile joined the old medieval dichotomy between weapons and letters. At the same time, the Marquis is a brilliant soldier and an erudite and a sensitive person. It can’t be forgotten that he was a fervent Christian, a fact that it’s shown above all the others, because it supposed his everlasting support to our national identity and, therefore, his continuous confrontation against the Condestable.




The Coplas contra don Álvaro de Luna are the most direct attack against the royal favourite of the king Juan II, don Álvaro de Luna, who always manipulated the king’s power for his own benefit and he did it in an obscure and almost dictatorial way. The Marquis most important idea was to maintain a centralist kingdom based on only one person: the king, who could practice it in an absolute way as, at that time, it was thought that God was the centre of everything and that Power emerged directly from God to the King. The Condestable of Castilla, don Álvaro de Luna, supposed an obstacle to the Marquis most important idea, that’s why this enraged attack shows don Álvaro’s worst face, a man full of personal faults, being always a sinner able to do all kind of abuses (murders, rapes, desecrations…). To end, the idea we get from this poem is that the Condestable was an immoral and without the basic-ethical-rules person who never thought he could do any damage to the others, but only on his own benefit.