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Navarrese who left their mark


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Diario de Navarra

Ana Zabalza

Professor of Modern History

Agustín de Sesma y Sierra and the splendor of the Ribera del Ebro in the XVIII century.

One of the biggest surprises in the history of the kingdom of Navarre in the past is perhaps the merindad of Tudela, which is not as well known as it deserves to be. Its history during the XVI, XVII and XVIII centuries, and until 1841, was marked by the fact that, after the Castilian conquest of 1512, the customs of the kingdom did not coincide with the political border, but remained on the Ebro River. During these centuries, French products or those entering from France entered Navarre with hardly any customs duties; on the other hand, to re-export them to Castile or Aragon they had to be paid, although the amount of the tax depended on whether or not the exporter was from Navarre: if he was, the fiscal conditions were much more beneficial; something similar happened with imports. This circumstance made the south of Navarre a privileged space for trade, particularly advantageous for those who enjoyed the condition of Navarrese -by birth or naturalization-. Today, when we evoke the idea of frontier, perhaps we limit ourselves to thinking of the Pyrenees, which certainly existed. But from a social and economic point of view, the Ebro border was no less important, separating Navarre from the two neighboring kingdoms of Castile (of which the Rioja was a part) and Aragon, with hardly any physical barriers.

Navarre is an asymmetrical territory, more populated and prosperous in its western half than in the east. This asymmetry is well perceived in the merindad of Tudela, as the border with the Rioja stood out for the strength of its cities, more numerous because much of the border with Aragon is occupied by the Bardenas Reales. The economic and commercial dynamism of these towns and cities attracted people from neighboring kingdoms as well as from Navarre itself: many families from different regions of the territory settled in La Ribera. Some of these emigrants descended from ancient mountain lineages, and continued to maintain their ancestral home in their place of origin, as it was the source of their identity and their rights, but they lived permanently in this active space where they found great opportunities for business, as well as an urban environment in accordance with their aspirations, which allowed them to exhibit their wealth before their peers, both through the construction of luxuriously decorated palaces and by sponsoring artistic works of all kinds subject, without forgetting sumptuary goods such as clothes or jewels. Some examples of families originating from the north but established in the south are the Marichalars, natives of Lesaka and neighbors of Peralta, in the merindad of Olite, and the Zabaletas, one of the great medieval lineages of the same town of Lesaka, settled in Viana, in the merindad of Estella. The same phenomenon can be observed in Tudela.

We cannot forget another very numerous contingent: the Bajonavarros. The leave Navarra was part of the kingdom when it was conquered by Ferdinand the Catholic, who incorporated the whole territory to the crown of Castile in 1515. However, this status was short-lived because around 1527 Charles I, faced with the impossibility of defending the lands north of the Pyrenees, which were poor in resources, decided to abandon this area. It was not until 1610 that leave Navarre finally joined the kingdom of France, after years of turmoil marked by religious conflicts. However, the two Navarras in many aspects formed a community, especially the valleys of the northern half. Both shared two elements: the Basque language and the Catholic religion, essential to achieve a rapid and complete integration in the territory of arrival, and this status did not change despite the ups and downs of politics and the confrontation that France and Spain experienced throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. leave Navarre was a poor territory, scarce in natural resources and relatively overpopulated. Throughout the Modern Age it was a breeding ground for emigrants, especially young men, almost children, who permanently crossed the Pyrenean barrier to look for a way to make a living in Upper Navarre. It was a continuous and silent phenomenon; the newcomers did not form a separate group but tended to spread throughout the territory of peninsular Navarre, entering to serve as farmhands or shepherds in peasant houses, of which in more than a few cases they ended up being the masters after marrying the heiress: there is no doubt that women played an important role in the full assimilation of the new Navarrese. Initially, many of them served for seasons in places close to their native soil, but as it is obvious, the emigrant escapes from precarious conditions and avoids settling in environments similar to the one where he came from, where opportunities are equally scarce. For this reason, we will soon find them in southern localities, where they sometimes arrive after several generations of life in Upper Navarre.

But not all were shepherds. The disinherited sons of palaces and noble houses of Badajoz also sought opportunities in peninsular Navarre. One of these families is that of the Loigorri, originally from the house of that name in the town of Lasa. As was usual in the region, the patrimony was inherited by only one of the sons; in 1680, a disinherited son, Juan, married in the town of Burguete with a woman heir of his house. A son of this couple, called Gracián de Loigorri, will continue the displacement towards the south because in 1716 he married in Cintruénigo with Mrs. Josefa Virto y Casado, member of a well positioned family in the town; in the second half of the XVIII century Loigorri was one of the main exporters of wool of the Ribera, as Ana Azcona demonstrated. Already in full maturity, in 1756, Don Gracián and his wife obtained the recognition as hidalgos. It is one example among many.

Once they arrived at the Ebro River Bank, soon the complicated surnames of many of these new neighbors will be simplified to bring them closer to the pronunciation of better known words; thus, in the melting pot of the towns of the Ebro, the Imbuluzqueta become Iblusqueta; the Zay and Lorda become Zailorda; the Gorosabel become Guisabel; the aforementioned Loigorri lose their first surname, Echapare, and a long etcetera. In towns like Corella and Cintruénigo, families from very diverse places of peninsular Navarre are concentrated, as their surnames attest: Aibar, Anchorena, Artázcoz, Asiáin, Bertizberea, Bonel, Celigueta, Galarreta, Garisoáin, Goñi, Gorráiz, Ichaso, Imbuluzqueta, Iriarte, Izal, Larumbe, Lizaso, Luna, Navascués, Olóndriz, Ruiz de Murillo, Sada, Sagaseta, Sanz, etc. The Bajonavarro origin can be traced in the aforementioned Loigorri, Armendáriz, Chivite and Lacarra. There is no lack of French people, coming from territories other than the leave Navarra, such as Bernardo de Monlaur, a Bearnese who settled in Corella and obtained the nature of Navarrese in 1717. From Aragon came the Virto family; from Alava the Miñano family; from Castile, the Ágreda, Arévalo, Barea, Cervera, Escudero, Igea, Laínez, Sáenz de Heredia, Ursúa (of Baztanes origin but coming from the neighboring Alfaro).

Corella: the splendor of a baroque city

Corella awoke an attraction B due to its privileged location. In 1630, Philip IV, always in need of resources to maintain his armies deployed on different fronts, had granted this town the degree scroll of city after having helped the Royal Treasury with the disbursement of 26,500 ducats of double silver and an income of 3,500 ducats, as Pilar Andueza has written. The years of greater prosperity would still take time to arrive, because as in other places of the Monarchy in the XVII century there were epidemics and bad harvests. But around 1640 there were signs of growth: the old parish church of San Miguel had become too small and in 1643, the process of an ambitious reform began; in addition, the parish church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario was rebuilt. It did not take long to experience a real construction fever: it was necessary to build houses for all these new neighbors, but in many cases they were also quality houses, in accordance with the social and economic level of merchants and businessmen enriched by the active commercial traffic.

The strength of the merindad of Tudela, and in particular the valley of the Alhama -integrated by Corella, Cintruénigo and Fitero- was evident when, between October and December of 1695, the Courts of Navarre met for the first and only time in Corella. Since the procurators stayed in the city during those three months, it is possible to think that by that time the city had houses appropriate to the condition of the representatives of the three states, particularly the nobles. In the course of this assembly, a small but significant detail is that, when those who had reviewed the accounts presented by the depositary were rewarded, they were paid with "arrobas of cocoa". Corella had entered the international trade routes.

Agustín de Sesma in the "Navarrese time" of the XVIII century.

In the second half of the seventeenth century, the dynamic Corella offered the right environment for the development of careers such as those of Agustín de Sesma y Sierra (1664-1738), an outstanding but not unique example of what could be obtained from these circumstances when they were well exploited. Born on his father's side in Cintruénigo, his maternal family came from Soria, a land with which relations were intense since one of the main activities of the city was the trade of fine wool which, bought in Castile, was sent to the markets of northern Europe through the port of Bayonne. Already in the previous generation, Agustín's father and his uncles had combined trade with the leasing of rents such as tobacco and gunpowder, showing an entrepreneurial spirit that they undoubtedly transmitted to Agustín. Perhaps his father, Gaudioso de Sesma, planned to concentrate the inheritance in this son, since all of Agustín's brothers followed the ecclesiastical degree program . If so, he must have received a good patrimony, but with his work he would manage to increase it in a very significant way; for this he used both his good qualities and what has been called relational capital: his contacts with very well placed people, who projected his businesses to a new scale. Among these contacts, it is worth mentioning the one he had with another Navarrese, Juan de Goyeneche from Baztan. They were eight years apart, since Goyeneche was born in 1656; his biography is well known: he prospered in business in the Madrid of Charles II, amassing a fortune and employing relatives and neighbors in his service. It is not known at what point he entered contact with Sesma, but there is no doubt that the War of Succession that began in 1701 was a unique opportunity that they knew how to take advantage of. Loyal to Philip V, who had already been proclaimed king, against his adversary, Archduke Charles, they supported the Bourbon monarch throughout a prolonged conflict for which, above all, money was needed to pay and supply the troops. Several data allow us to deduce that in the first years of the XVIII Sesma stood out for his position and fortune: married in 1691 with Josefa Escudero Ruiz de Murillo, daughter of a prominent family of the city, in 1705 he founded together with her an entailed estate, "finding ourselves favored of the divine Majesty with different goods, as well acquired by inheritances and orders of our parents and lords like gananciales during our marriage", in order to conserve the luster of his arms and surnames. By proving the nobility of their four surnames, they opened the door for their children to enter institutions that demanded this requirement. The construction of the splendid building known today in Corella as Casa de las Cadenas, a real palace valued at 8,000 ducats, dates from these dates. The test final that Sesma moved in the circle of Goyeneche is that in 1710 he married the eldest of his daughters, Isabel, who was barely 14 years old, to José Antonio Flon y Zurbarán, son of Bartolomé Flon, a businessman of Flemish origin who was, along with Goyeneche, surely the main financier who supported the cause of Philip V. The following year, in 1711, the same monarch lived several months in Corella, in the house recently built by Sesma, the best of the city. Philip V came to the city accompanied by his first wife, Maria Luisa Gabriela of Savoy, who was ill; apparently, someone in his entourage had advised the king the airs of the city of Alhama and the products of its orchard as beneficial to heal Maria Luisa: perhaps it was Goyeneche himself. The truth is that the royal family settled for several months in Corella, accompanied by the court. It was for this reason that the palace of the Sesma family was adorned with a chain that gives it its name and recalls the royal stay.

Agustín de Sesma and Josefa Escudero were the parents of a very large family: nine of their children reached adulthood, six men and three women. Given the breadth of the business that he carried out from his offices and that connected him with different European and American places, Sesma trained four of his sons, Agustín, José, Felipe and Luis. The second, Zenón Bernardo, studied Canons and Law at the University of Valladolid, perhaps with the aim of following degree program ecclesiastical purpose , but after his training he went to the service of Queen Mariana of Neoburg, widow of Charles II, who had supported the Archduke Charles in the War of Succession and, after the Bourbon victory, had to settle in Bayonne. This fact points again to the proximity to Goyeneche, since the man from Baztan was treasurer of the queen dowager. The settlement in Bayonne was very favorable for the interests of Goyeneche and his associates, since they were able to combine their service to Mariana with their commercial activities, since as we have seen, the merchandise with which the Navarrese traded entered and left through the port of that French city. Zenón de Sesma accompanied Mariana de Neoburgo when she was finally able to return to Spain, in 1739, shortly before her death. Upon her death, Zenón entered the service of the infante Don Felipe, son of Felipe V, whom he accompanied for several years in Italy.

A remarkable aspect of the Sesma family is its relationship with the Navy: the dedication to the sea of several descendants of Agustín de Sesma is striking, as it would not be expected from someone who comes from an inland city. Perhaps the core topic of this connection lies in the fact that the Alhama valley is well endowed for the cultivation of a strategic product for the Navy: hemp. It should be noted that approximately 20% of the weight of an 18th century warship was hemp: sails and ropes, and even the wicks of the weapons, were made from this product, which offered unequalled qualities at sea. Spanish production was always scarce, because the plant occupied land that could be devoted to other very profitable crops, while the only one interested in buying hemp was the Crown, a bad payer. The crop had to be subsidized, but even so it was always insufficient. It is possible to think that the Sesma family entered contact with the Navy as hemp suppliers; what is certain is that between 1730 and the first years of the XIX century eleven sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of Agustín de Sesma were cadets in the Royal Academy of Marine Guards of Cadiz; some stood out in a special way, like Baltasar de Sesma y Zailorda, grandson of Agustín, who became head of the squadron in 1794. The war cycle initiated with the war against the Convention and the disaster of Trafalgar would put an end to these careers.