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Medieval Sourcebook:
A Late-Medieval Spanish Nobleman:
Don Juan Pacheco, Master of the Order of Santiago (1419-1474)

Translated by Simon Doubleday, with original notes, from Fernando del Pulgar, Claros Varones de Castilla, ed. Robert Brian Tate (Oxford, 1971), pp. 29-33. 

Don Juan Pacheco, Marquis of Villena and Master of the Order of Santiago, son of Alfonso Téllez Girón, was a man of middling stature, with a thin and well-formed body, attractive features and graceful gestures. He was Portuguese by nationality, among the greatest nobles of that kingdom, and grandson of one of the knights who came from Portugal to Castile in the service of King Juan I of Castile [1379-90], who was defeated at the battle of Aljubarrota [1385] (1).

He was an astute and very prudent man, and as a youth went to live with the future King Enrique IV of Castile [1454-74] when Enrique was a prince [prince of Asturias], achieving such favor that he was better received than any man in his service. And because of the love that the prince had for Don Juan, and because intellectual virtues flourished in him more as he grew in days, he entrusted him with managing the most important business that he had. He spoke with good grace and reason, without being verbose in his words. His voice trembled slightly because of an unfortunate illness, and not because of any natural defect. As a youth he had the wisdom and authority of an old man. He was a man of integrity, and did not care for appearances or inflated ceremonies. 

When King Juan II of Castile [1406-1454] had a dispute with the infante of Aragón, who at that time was the king of Navarre [Juan of Trastámara, r. 1425- 1479], this knight, still a young man, took part on the prince's side in some conflicts that were occurring in the kingdom [1444-45] (2).  Whether it was the result of good fortune, or whether we should impute it to his wisdom, he was able to resolve things such that King Juan made him marquis of Villena at the prince's behest. Within a few days, he granted him all the towns and places of that marquisate, which had belonged to the King of Aragón.

He had great ability in governing these temporal possessions, and one may believe that he was as well endowed as any man of his time with the four necessary qualities of sharpness, prudence, diligence, and forbearance. He carefully considered the nature of the affairs, the time, the place, the person and the other circumstances that it would be prudent to take into account.

He was so perceptive that on very little evidence he could divine a man's conditions and aims. And giving each man hope of his desires, he often achieved what he himself desired. He was so forbearing that no harsh word that was ever said to him would ever affect him, nor would any negotiating trick change his mind, and he had the best judgment in understanding and resolving the greatest differences. He was a man who with mature deliberation determined what he had to do, and did not force time, but forced himself to wait for the time to act.

He seemed a genuine man by nature, and he liked to deal with true and constant men, although those who wish to acquire great properties and honors, and especially those who take part in high-level government, sometimes happen to dissemble and delay. They fabricate and pretend that because times are inconstant, or affairs are unstable, or to avoid greater harm or gain greater profit, it is necessary to be inconstant in their affairs, as they see fit at the time.  

He had some friends of the kind that prosperity usually brings. By the same token, he also had many enemies, of the kind that envy of property usually raises up, men who wished him death and destruction and discord with King Juan and his son the prince, whom he was serving. And though they sometimes approached the point of having him executed, because of unexpected and admirable twists of fate he was freed from the chains of death that they had placed upon him.

He was a man of good heart and showed himself to be a valiant knight in certain places where it was necessary. He was very wise and moderate in his eating and drinking, and seemed to be exceptionally lustful because of the many sons and daughters he had by various women out of wedlock. And because he knew that there is no use in gifts when they are not properly shared out, he made use of them freely in the places and with the people with whom he had to be liberal. By giving and sharing out, he increased his income and better preserved what he had. And because of this virtue of liberality that he had, he was well served by his men, and was advised by strangers in some times and places, which accounted a good deal for the preservation of his life and status. 

He had the desire, common to us all, of gaining honors and properties, and he knew very well how to get and acquire them. And whether it was good luck, or ability, or both, he gained greater income and status than any other lord in Spain during that time.

He was an approachable man, with a pleasant conversational style, and so humane that he was never involved in anyone's death, or agreed to it, even though he was in charge of governing. He was not a man given to vengeance, not would he waste time or thought pursuing it. He used to say that every man who thinks of vengeance tortures himself, rather than harming the enemy. He forgave easily, and was pious in the execution of criminal justice, because he thought great mercy more acceptable to God than extreme justice. He had a singular forbearance, which he rarely broke with words in a serious dispute with anyone, and much less with actions. He preferred to end his differences with an agreement rather than with rigor or rupture, because he held certain peace to be better than uncertain victory. He did not want to risk, to the fortune of one hour, all that he had gained in his life in the past. And even though he sometimes menaced with force, he never came to demonstrate against anyone the ultimate strength of which he was capable, even if they were less powerful than he. He used to say that keeping your enemy afraid with menaces was much better than freeing him from it by showing one's full force. And having forbearance, and biding his time, he gained honor and gathered properties.

We see, from experience, the great apprehension that all people feel of falling from the rank in which they have been placed, and the great deeds and dangerous adventures in which they become involved in order to preserve it and not fall. So this knight, feeling that his privileged position next to King Enrique IV was not secure, because of the degree of death and destruction he thought other royal favorites wished upon him, decided to leave his service [1463-64] (3).  And he was the principal figure among the knights and churchmen who divided the kingdom between King Enrique and his brother, "king" Alfonso [1465-68] (4). And in these conflicts, he showed such ingenuity that he was elected and granted the position of Master of the Order of Santiago.

And because no-one is set aright if he has not completely repented, this knight * knowing that he had strayed from the path that he should have followed * not only returned to the prince but even tried to pacify the agitated knights and churchmen who wished to continue the discord. He returned into the favor of King Enrique, who pardoned him and gave him great grants of towns and villages and other great sources of income, and entrusted him with the whole governance of the kingdoms. And from then on, he governed absolutely, with fewer restrictions and more freely than he had initially enjoyed.

I do not wish to deny that as a human being this knight had his vices like all men, but one may well believe that while his human frailty could not resist them, the force of his prudence was able to hide them. He continued to govern wherever he was lord for thirty years, and he died in great prosperity at the age of fifty-five.    


1. Battle between Castilian and Portuguese armies, 14 August 1385, driven by Juan I's claims to the throne of Portugal and determined resistance from the citizens of Lisbon; the Castilian army was crushed. A number of Portuguese nobles had supported the Castilian occupation, and subsequently settled in Castile.

2. The infante Juan, actually one of the most powerful landowners in Castile, had become dominant in the affairs of the kingdom, eclipsing the king (Juan II) himself. Prince Enrique, Pacheco and Alvaro de Luna, rebelling against this dominance, defeated him at the battle of Olmedo, 19 May 1445.     

3. Pacheco conspicuously betrayed Enrique IV's interests during crucial negotiations over Catalan sovereignty at Bayonne in 1463, and was then replaced as royal favorite by Beltrán de la Cueva.     

4. An alliance of nobles, including Villena, had demanded that Enrique's brother Alfonso be declared heir. Enrique initially agreed, then withdrew the offer; the magnates proclaimed Alfonso king, and a period of civil war was ended temporarily only by Alfonso's sudden death in 1468. 


© Translated by Simon Doubleday [], with original notes, from Fernando del Pulgar, Claros Varones de Castilla, ed. Robert Brian Tate (Oxford, 1971), pp. 29-33. .

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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Paul Halsall, January 12, 2001


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