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DON JUAN MANUEL (1282-1349)

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Originally appearing in Volume V15, Page 530 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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DON JUAN MANUEL (1282-1349), infante of Castile, son of the infante Don Manuel and Beatrix of Savoy, and grandson of St Ferdinand, was born at Escalona on the 5th of May 1282. His father died in 1284, and the young prince was educated at the court of his cousin, Sancho IV., with whom his precocious ability made him a favourite. In 1294 he was appointed adelantado of Murcia and in his fourteenth year served against the Moors at Granada. In 1304 he was entrusted by the queen-mother, Dona Maria de Molina, to conduct political negotiations with James II. of Aragon on behalf of her son, Ferdinand IV., then under age. His diplomacy was successful and his marriage to James II.'s daughter, Constantina, added to his prestige. On the death of Ferdinand IV. and of the regents who governed in the name of Alphonso XI., Don Juan Manuel acted as guardian of the king who was proclaimed of age in 1325. His ambitious design of continuing to exercise the royal power was defeated by Alphonso XI., who married the ex-regent's daughter Constanza, and removed his father-in-law from the scene by nominating him adelantado mayor de la frontera. Alphonso XI.'s repudiation of Constanza, whom he imprisoned at Toro, drove Don Juan Manuel into opposition, and a long period of civil war followed. On the death of his wife Constantina in 1327, Don Juan Manuel strengthened his position by marrying Dona Blanca de la Cerda; he secured the support of Juan Nunez, alferez of Castile, by arranging a marriage between him and Maria, daughter of Don Juan el Tuerto; he won over Portugal by promising the hand of his daughter, the ex-queen Constanza, to the infante of that kingdom, and he entered into alliance with Mahomet III. of Granada. This formidable coalition compelled Alphonso XI. to sue for terms, which he accepted in 1328 without any serious intention of complying with them; but he was compelled to release Dona Constanza. War speedily broke out anew, and lasted till 1331 when Alphonso XL invited Juan Manuel and Juan Nunez to a banquet at Villahumbrales with the intention, it was believed, of assassinating them; the plot failed, and Don Juan Manuel joined forces with Peter IV. of Aragon. He was besieged by Alphonso XI. at Garci-Nufiez, whence he escaped on the 3oth of July 1336, fled into exile, and kept the rebellion alive till 1338, when he made his peace with the king. He proved his loyalty by serving in further expeditions against the Moors of Granada and Africa, and died a tranquil death in the first half of 1349. Distinguished as an astute politician, Don Juan Manuel is an author of the highest eminence, and, considering the circumstances of his stormy life, his voluminousness is remarkable. The Libro de los sabios, a treatise called Engenos de Guerra and the Libro de cantares, a collection of verses, were composed between 1320 and 1327; but they have disappeared together with the Libro de la caballeria (written during the winter of 1326, and the Reglas como se debe trovar, a metrical treatise assigned to 1328-1334. Of his surviving writings, Juan Manuel's Cronica abreviada was compiled between 1319 and 1325, while the Libro de la caza must have been written between 1320 and 1329; and during this period of nine years the CrOnicc de Espana, the Cronica complida, and the Tratado sobre las armas were produced. The Libro del caballero et del escudero was finished before the end of 1326; the first book of the Libro de los estados was finished on the 22nd of May 1330, while the second was begun five days later; the first book of El Conde Lucanor was written in 1328, the second in 1330, and the fourth is dated 12th of June 1335. We are unable to assign to any precise date the devout Traclado on the Virgin, dedicated to the prior of the monastery at Penafiel, to which Don Juan Manuel bequeathed his manuscripts; but it seems probable that the Libro de los frailes predicadores is slightly later than the Libro de los estados; that the Libro de los castigos (left unfinished, and therefore known by the alternative title of Libro infinido) was written not later than 1333, and that the treatise De las maneras de amor was composed between 1334 and 1337. The historical summaries, pious dissertations and miscellaneous writings are of secondary interest. The Libro del cabalkro el del escudero is on another plane; it is no doubt suggested by Lull's Libre del orde de cavalleria, but the points of resemblance have been exaggerated; the morbid mysticism of Lull is rejected, and the carefully finished style justifies the special pride which the author took in this performance. The influence of Lull's Blanquerna is likewise visible in the Libro de los estados; but there are marked divergences of substance which go to prove Don Juan Manuel's acquaintance with some version (not yet identified) of the Barlaam and Josaphat legend. Nothing is more striking than the curious and varied erudition of the turbulent prince who weaves his personal experiences with historical or legendary incidents, with reminiscences of Aesop and Phaedrus, with the Disciplina clericalis, with Kalilah and Dimnah, with countless Oriental traditions, and with all the material of anecdotic literature which he embodies in the Libro de patronio, best known by the title of El Conde Lucanor (the name Lucanor being taken from the prose Tristan). This work (also entitled the Libro de enxemplos) was first printed by Gonzalo Argote de Molina at Seville in 1575, and it revealed Don Juan Manuel as a master in the art of prose composition, and as the predecessor of Boccaccio in the province of romantic narrative. The Cento novelle antiche are earlier in date, but these anonymous tales, derived from popular stories diffused throughout the world, lack the personal character which Don Juan lends to all he touches. They are simple, unadorned variants of folk-lore items; El Conde Lucanor is essentially the production of a conscious artist, deliberative and selective in his methods. Don Juan "Manuel has not Boccaccio's festive fancy nor his constructive skill; he is too persistently didactic and concerned to point a moral; but he excels in knowledge of human nature, in the faculty of ironical presentation, in tolerant wisdom and in luminous conciseness. He naturalizes the Eastern apologue in Spain, and by the laconic picturesqueness of his expression imports a new quality into Spanish prose which attains its full development in the hands of Juan de Valdes and Cervantes. Some of his themes are utilized for dramatic purposes by Lope de Vega in La Pobreza estimada, by Ruiz de Alarcon in La Prueba de las promesas, by Calderon in La Vida es sumo, and by Canizares in Don Juan de Espina en Mildn: there is an evident, though remote, relation between the tale of the mancebo que cash con una mujer muy fuerte y muy brava and The Taming of the Shrew; and a more direct connexion exists between some of Don Juan Manuel's enxemplos and some of Anderson's fairy tales.
End of Article: DON JUAN MANUEL (1282-1349)
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