The Communeros were groups of rebels composed mostly of townspeople, but also including some clergy and nobles. The revolts erupted in the northern town of Castile sparked by Charles demands for funds from the Cortes to support his bid for the crown of the Holy Roman Empire. The Communeros revolt overlapped with that of the Germania, albeit in different states of Spain, making it a more dangerous revolt than it might otherwise have been. It was also more serious because a number of revolts broke out in different places at similar times.
There were a range of factors and events that led to the outbreak of the Communeros revolt beginning in May of 1520, only to end with defeat at the battle of Vilalar in 1521. One of these was that Charles I was basically a foreigner to the Spaniards and remained so for most of his reign. Kilsby quotes a contemporary writer saying, ‘amongst Spaniards, no foreigner is accounted of importance’. Charles ‘foreignness’ made them anxious about where his loyalties lay and how much he knew about Spain and its people. He spoke no Spanish at first and he had few Spanish advisers in his retinue.
In addition, many of the officials appointed were foreigners. He also put his imperial title first, rather than his Spanish one. There was also concern that Charles’ responsibilities elsewhere might need to be funded by Spain; this would mean higher taxation. Alternatively, Spain might lose its separate identity and be absorbed into his other territories. Another factor was the protests that began in Toledo and other places; the nobility began to divide into factions, some of which were based on long standing family feuds or were linked to competition for office rather than as a consequence of the national situation.
For example, the Riberas family, who had lost some pre eminence with the death of Ferdinand, were initially sidelined, but soon restored to a position of prominence when the Ayalas family were discredited because they supported the Archbishop Cisneros. Loyalties to Castile or Aragon were important. Juan De Padilla, a member of the Riberas faction, made written demands that a meeting of town representatives should be held to discuss the fact that Charles had slighted Castile by spending too long in Aragon.
Some of this opposition was also spurred on by Padilla’s wife, who felt that her husband had not been justly rewarded for his loyalty to the crown. Castilians were angry that senior government posts were given top Burundians’ rather than Castilians. Religion was also a factor. A group of friars made it clear to their local Cortes in Santiago that they would not support any agreement by the Cortes to grant money to the king. Jews were also scapegoated. In 1521, the Constable of Castile suggested that the converses were the root of the cause of the revolt despite the lack of evidence.
A further grievance was that of the much respected cardinal Cisneros was replaced by a 17 year old as archbishop of Toledo. A serious challenge to Charles as the rightful ruler of Castile came from the Cortes of Castile in 1518, led by Juan De Zumel. This challenge failed, but was followed by various demands including that he learnt Spanish, use native officials and maintain the laws of Spain. In return for these concessions, Charles asked for money. The Cortes had little choice but to vote the money. In addition, the towns were already hostile to the nobility, increasingly so after the death of Isabella in 1504.
This promoted open opposition between the two groups. There were also concerns about the future of the wool trade, which might now be diverted to the empire with consequent loss of earnings to Spain. The news that the Holy Roman Emperor was dead, and the fact that Maximillian was Charles grandfather, suggested that Charles would have good prospects of taking over the role of emperor. However, in order to take over the role, Charles had to be chosen by the seven electors; one way to encourage their support was through bribery. Money needed to be raised.
Charles, therefore, held a Cortes at Santiago. To say that the Communeros revolt lacked in cohesion and a sense of purpose is unfair. The purpose of the revolt was itself unity therefore there is no way in which the Communeros revolt could have lacked cohesion. Nevertheless, the lack of cohesion can be identified in the demands of the rebels, there were concerns regarding the lack of unity, this included the missed opportunity to join the Germania revolt, and also the rivalry between towns in Castile particularly prevented a co ordinate movement.
The impact of the Communeros revolt, Elliot supports the view that Spain was now more open to change, therefore it can be argued that the purposre of the war was to be able to gain freedom for the kingdom, after the war, with regard to domestic change such as ‘Castilian Liberty’ was ‘crushed and defenceless in the face of restored royal power’. It can be said that the Communeros revolt was a confused affair as there was not just one single aim. There were many purposes to the war, religious, political, social and economic, therefore it can be said that the Communeros revolt was a confused affair lacking in cohesion and a sense of purpose.