Battle of Villalar and execution of Bravo, Padilla and Maldonado

We recommend reading our pages about the two antecedents: the beginning of the common uprising by the lynching of Segovia and the conversion of the uprising in war after the Burning of Medina del Campo

The burning of Medina del Campo by troops loyal to the King provoked the indignation of all Castile. Valladolid and many cities that had remained expectant joined in a new revolutionary organization that adopted the name of Cortes and General Assembly of the Kingdom. On September 24, 1520, their representatives met in the castle of Tordesillas with the queen-mother Joanna the Mad, trying to get her legally to gain control of the government; something she rejected. While the procurators of the rebel cities arrested the members of the Royal Council and took power, the vassals of some aristocrats revolted against their Lords. That was the case of the inhabitants of Dueñas, who rose up against the Duke of Buendía.

The anti-aristocratic look that the movement was taking caused many Castilian nobles who initially opposed the Emperor and his foreign advisers, decided that it was a minor evil to support him if in that way they avoided losing control of the vassals that paid them the tributes.

Cardinal Adriano de Utrecht, in order to recover popularity and trying to dissociate himself from the indignation generated by the burning of Medina del Campo, he put two new nobles at the head of the King’s army: the Constable of Castile Iñigo de Velasco and the Admiral of Castile Fadrique Enríquez . The communal army came to gather up to 17,000 men full of morality.

But then Juan Bravo lost the generalate in favor of Pedro Girón-an important aristocrat and former member of the Royal Council-because of the difference in lineage. A spiteful Padilla returned to Toledo with his troops. But in a few months the military situation had a turnaround; the defeat in the battle of Tordesillas deprived them of the custody of queen-mother Juana the crazy, the important city of Burgos was in favor of the Emperor and Girón resigned and defected. In December 1520 Juan de Padilla was urgently summoned, and he returned to forced marches with new troops recruited in Toledo.

When he met with the demoralized comuneros, he reorganized the army. This included a good artillery and numerous arquebusiers, but he had very few horsemen. In spite of everything, with them he managed to conquer the castle of Torrelobatón. Despite this victory, Padilla had a serious problem of authority, as many captains and prosecutors interfered in their decisions. In its environs the imperial army commanded by Iñigo de Velasco -constable of Castile- was placed with a great contingent of cavalry in which the great majority of the Castilian nobles figured; for that reason the imperial ones had a great advantage to take place a battle in the great plains of the environs. For their part, the comuneros had the advantage of being fortified and have a superior firepower, both for the artillery they had collected after the burning of Medina del Campo and for the large number of militiamen in the cities that had arquebuses. The fact that those days were raining and the countryside was too heavy for the movement of troops and the evolution of the cavalry was an advantage in favor of the comuneros. The imperial troops were uncomfortably quartered in the small town of Peñaflor de Hornija; impatient to enter combat but without seeing the opportunity to organize a siege of the castle.

Batalla de Villalar

The fear of being isolated against a far superior army spread among the comuneros. After long discussions with the numerous procurators and community captains, in the early morning of April 23 Padilla gave orders to his army to go under the rain towards the communal city of Toro. There they hoped to incorporate more troops and to be able to face the imperial ones. When they begin to move, the tropps of the Emperor began to follow them. But the comuneros carried much artillery to drag along the muddy road and almost all their troops were on foot, while Iñigo de Velasco troops had a large cavalry. When Padilla realized that it would be impossible to reach Toro without fighting against a superior army, he tried to place the community army in an advantageous position in the town of Vega de Valdetronco; but his troops wanted to reach Toro as soon as possible and did not obey him. That is why the comunero army continued the road, with the imperial ones getting closer. When they arrived at the environs of the town of Villalar, the commoner army had to prepare hastily for the combat because the cavalry of the Condestable already reached to its rear guard. Padilla tried to fortify himself in the town, placing the cannons in its streets; meanwhile, the last ones of his army were reached by the imperial cavalry in a place called Puente del Fierro. The tired soldiers were easily defeated by the horsemen, producing an authentic massacre. Many of the villagers who had reached the town, instead of getting ready to fight, replaced the red crosses of their uniform with white crosses – the badge worn by the Emperor’s troops – and fled taking advantage of the confusion. Before the rout, Padilla and five squires made a charge against the imperial cavalry to the cry of “Santiago and freedom”; but both they and the rest of the community captains who remained fighting were captured by the Imperials. By the time the infantry of the imperial army reached the place, the Battle of Villalar was over.

The following day the mayors Cornejo, Salmerón and Alcalá judged the captains Juan de Padilla, Juan Bravo, Francisco Maldonado and Pedro Maldonado. After declaring themselves traitors to the Crown, they were sentenced to death, the confiscation of their property and the loss of their charges. The Count of Benavente intervened then -influent adviser of the Emperor and uncle of the wife of Pedro Maldonado- obtaining that the life of the second one of the Maldonados was respected. After communicating the sentence to the inmates, they were given time to write to their families and confess. Juan de Padilla wrote two farewell letters, one to his wife María Pacheco and another to his fellow citizens of Toledo. Next, the three condemned to death were taken to the improvised scaffold in the market square of the town of Villalar.

Ejecución de los Comuneros. Antonio Gisbert (1860)

That’s where the following events occurred. When the town crier was reading the aforementioned sentence: “This is the justice ordered by His Majesty and his Constable and the Governors in his name to these gentlemen: send them to slaughter for traitors …” The condemned Juan Bravo interrupted him shouting: “You lie and even who sends you to say; traitors, no, more jealous of the public good, and defenders of the freedom of the kingdom”.

Then Padilla intervened: “Mr. Juan Bravo: yesterday was the day to fight like knights, and today to die as Christians”.

Then Juan Bravo asked the executioner to be beheaded before Padilla, with the argument that he did not want to see the bravest and most good man in Toledo die. And so it was done.

The resistance in all the commune cities collapsed quickly, sending their regidores requests of pardon to the Emperor, and fleeing many of them. The cities of Madrid and Toledo maintained resistance; in the latter were Bishop Acuña and María Pacheco (see our page on the resistance of this heroine). Three centuries later, in 1821 the Liberal Government sent El Empecinado -general and former guerrilla of the War of Independence- with the purpose of recovering the corpses of the executed captains and commemorating the memory of the Battle of Villalar. Thus the State wished to consecrate them as defenders of the rights and liberties of the inhabitants of Castile (and of Spain as a whole) against the absolute power of the King; as well as the defense of national interests against foreigners.

El Empecinado. Goya (1809-14)

The symbolism of those executions continued decades later. In 1889 Práxedes Sagasta – president of the Council of Ministers and leader of the Liberal Party – ordered that the justice roll of the Plaza Mayor de Villalar be replaced by a large commemorative monolith. The pinnacle of this jurisdictional roll was deposited in the town hall of Villalar (where the visitor to the building is exhibited), celebrating the first commemorative feast of the comuneros in the town.

In 1932 -during the first government of the Second Republic- the town was renamed Villalar de los Comuneros. The acts commemorating the battle of Villalar were interrupted from the beginning of the 1936 War until the death of General Franco. From 1976 on every 23rd of April, commemorative acts of Castilianism in Villalar are being celebrated in the town, reminding of the commoner defeat. When the Statute of Autonomy of Castile and Leon was approved in 1983, article 6.3 designates April 23 as the official day of Castilla y León. For some years on the night of the 22nd, musical performances and a large free camp have been held, the next day being political acts. In the place of Puente del Fierro – the scene of the Battle of Villalar – in 2004 a commemorative monument of the Battle of Villalar was built.

Against all odds, the destruction of the communal army and the execution of its captains did not mean the end of the war, because it was continued by the widow of Padilla: the indomitable Maria Pacheco, defender of Toledo.

Text by Ignacio Suárez-Zuloaga and illustration by Ximena Maier

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