The Mutiny of the Trout

There are events in history that are kind of blurred, because stories don’t always have logic or people don’t want others to find out about things. Monarchs and authorities do not want to be known for  setting dangerous precedents with future repercussions. This was the case of the so-called “Trout mutiny”, which was silenced for years.

Zamora was an important and prosperous city during the middle of the 12th century. Because of the recent independence of the Kingdom of Portugal, it was the city that kept the Duero’s border. It was also one of the main routes for trading silver and to the road of  South Santiago. Because of this, there was a thriving bourgeoisie and a crowded market in Zamora. A large population of plebeians began to demand more social prominence against the Knights and clergy who ruled over the town.

el motin de la trucha
Vista de Zamora

In the market of Zamora, on a day during the year 1158, a  shoemaker had just bought the last remaining trout from a fishmonger. He was suddenly interrupted by a servant of the knight Gómez Álvarez from Vizcaya. The steward of the nobleman argued that he needed that fish, and that because of the status of his lord, he should get it. However, the shoemaker and the fishmonger said that the trout was already sold and refused to give it to him. A heated discussion then ensued, and a crowd of curious people grew around the men, taking sides during the discussion. The discussion ended in arguing, and the servant began marching to the gentleman’s house without the fish. This is where the ‘Mutiny of the Trout’ would begin.

When the knight found out what happened, he brought together other men and knights, all of them marching in search of the shoemaker, the fishmonger, and those who had supported them the most during the tumult. The plebeians were captured and put into custody; Then Don Gómez summoned the other gentlemen of Zamora to a meeting in the Church of Santa Maria to decide what to do with them. At the church, he argued that in order to avoid repeating this kind of insolence, it was appropriate to punish all the involved plebeians by hanging the perpetrators of the tumult.

Meanwhile, the bourgeois who participated in the trout riot were angry about the arresting of their fellow townspeople and mutineers and their imprisonment. Numerous plebeians congregated around the church where the knights were deciding their future, and then Benito ‘the Pellitero,’ intervented, a procurator of the common people who represented them in town meetings with the other leaders of the town.

In addition to haranguing those present, Benito took a bundle of firewood and set it at the door of the church. Others followed his lead, until the door was completely blocked by the wood. Then they set fire to the church, burning the temple and all the noblemen gathered inside. The mob then went to the house of Álvarez de Vizcaya, to loot and burn it as well. They did the same thing at many of the other houses of noblemen. Having killed the knights in charge of maintaining authority, the city of Zamora was now in the hands of the mutineers.

Fearful of the reaction of King Ferdinand II of León and of the relatives of the murdered nobles, Benito ‘El Pellitero’ and the great contingent of mutineers, possibly several hundred, gathered their belongings and exiled themselves to the nearby Portugal. From there, they wrote to the king and the Pope, relying the incident of the trout mutiny and the long series of grievances inflicted on the hands of the murdered. They begged forgiveness for the church’s fire and the deaths caused.  If they were not forgiven, they would remain in Portugal and become subjects of King Alfonso Enriques.

The young king of Leon, who was 21 years old and had only been in the throne for a year, had a great dilemma on his hands. If he accepted the petition from the exiles, his authority was very undermined, and the nobles could even remove him from his throne. Fernando had been proclaimed king when his father was cut off from León de Castilla, so accepting the petition of the exiles could cause enough nobles to abandon him and support his brother (who wanted to reunify the kingdom). On the other hand, this important contingent of Zamora represented reinforcement for the king of Portugal; who was more powerful than the Castilians. Finally, the king understood that their anger had some justification and that the increase of residents (the mutineers) in Portugal could make them more of a threat than Castile.

el motin de la trucha
Iglesia de Santa María la Nueva

According to Pope Alexander III, he sent the exiles a letter specifying the conditions of forgiveness. The mutineers needed to build a new church of Santa María, which from that moment was known in Zamora as ‘The New‘. In addition, they would have to carve an altarpiece containing at least 200 silver frames and a certain number of gemstones. This was done, and the New Temple of Santa Maria (founded in the 12th century and expanded during the 13th century) was the completed result. Anyone who visits Zamora will see a street named after the “Mutiny of the Trouts” next to it.

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