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Bertan > Tower houses and lineages of Gipuzkoa > Manor, Lineage and Tower
Bertan 11

Manor, Lineage and Tower

Rural area

In the rural area , the Tower is the place for settlement, the reference that grants material soundness and guarantees the stability and prestige of a lineage. At the beginning, they were born as an answer to the need oí accommodation and organisation oí the lineage itself, and gave shape to the preceding Manor. Furthermore, the Manor originally gave name to the lineage that inhabits it: The Manor of Murua populated Lazkao.

Antxieta Tower (Urrestilla)
Antxieta Tower (Urrestilla). © José Luis Galiana

The configuration of the Tower, as has survived till today and as manifested in the numerous examples preserved, is the end of a process in which different factors take part:

a. The Manor: in the basis of the social organisation of Gipuzkoa the main substrate is the Manor; a multiform concept, that gathers elements of very sundry nature.

The Manor is pre-existing. What does that mean? Without entering into deep scientific discussions which have no connection with what we are talking about, we can state that the social organisation of a gentilitious type upon which Gipuzkoa was organised in the Early Middle Ages, already crystallised by the beginning of the XIV century into a pyramid-type structure of lineages that was dominated from the top by a series of lineage chiefs or "Elder Relatives" who were characterised by exercising the undivided ownership of the Manor from which the lineage derived, and that gave it its name. Thus, Ruy Perez de Ganboa was the lord of the Olaso Manor during the first third part of the XIV century, as his coeval Lope Garcia de Murua and Martín Lopez de Murua were the respective lords of Lazkao and Amezketa.

The Manar had its own entity, both geographic and judicial and in its "zone" the main house of the lineage chief, who was the owner and Lord oí the Manor, was built; a lineage chief that would sometimes use the name, which to us seems to be a little ambiguous, and which seems to have a Navarre origin, of "Cabo de Linaje", to distinguish it from other lineages which are socially inferior and to distance itself from the great mass of farmers and small owners that also have a Manor but that seem to also have had, in this epoch, a very limited judicial capacity and were usually subject to the Elder Relative. Still halfway through the XV century, valleys such as those of Errezil or Vidania, " are subordinated to the opinion and partiality of the Manor of Ganboa", while those of Beizama or Goiatz are to that of Oñaz. The estate in all those valleys was divided into fragmented property, belonging to small owners (although we are still unaware up to what point and to what degree of real and effective dominance) who had their own Manor and were far from the scope of influence and power of the lineage Chief and from the Manor of 0Iaso the Iower Deba,although the latter, Royal concessionary of the Board since mid-XIV century enjoyed the churches of Errezil and Goiatz and owned the Manor (latter Tower) of Errekondo in the valley.

Galarza Tower, SE view
Galarza Tower, SE view. © Diputación Foral de Gipuzkoa. Servicio de Patrimonio Histórico Artístico.
Coat of arms of the Balda Palace
Coat of arms of the Balda Palace. © José Luis Galiana

Artean XV. mendearen erdialdean, Errezil edo Bidaniako bailarak "Ganboako Orubearen iritzi eta joerakoak ziren"*; Beizama edo Goiazkoak, berriz, Oinazkoarenak. Bailara horiek guztiak lur jabetza zatikatuez osatuta zeuden, hau da, beren orubea zeukaten jabe txikiez osatuta (ez dakigu zein neurritaraino eta zer mailatako jabari erreal eta efektibo zeukaten), eta Olasoko Orubeko leinu-buruaren eraginpetik eta boteretik urrun zeuden, hau da, Deba behetik urrun, nahiz eta aipatutako leinu-buru horrek berea zeukan, Erregeak emanda, XIV. mendearen erdialdeaz geroztik, Errezil eta Goiazko Elizen Patronatua, eta bailaran bertan Errekondoko Orubea (eta gero Dorrea) ere berea zeukan.


Tombstone of the Sepulchre of Sir R. Drury, Rougham, Suffoik (England)
Tombstone of the Sepulchre of Sir R. Drury, Rougham, Suffoik (England). © Her Majesty's Stantionery Office. Victoria and incised slabs. Muriel Clayton, M.a.

b. Architectural evolution: simultaneously, the lords of the Manors began to give especific names to the entity of the Manor itself; i.e., what was no more than judicial, economic and social element that was al located a name which became the "surname" or lineage family name, required a name to describe it, taken from the manner of Castilian vocabulary.

Thus, the Manors of each Lineage of an Elder Relative also received a second name that described, in a singl word, their importance and pre-eminence over the other Manors in the Province.

Therefore, the chief of a lineage with a usually wide and numerically important basis - given by his own social and economic power - required accommodation in accordance with the superiority that he claimed and which was acknowledge by the society of his epoch.

Already by the beginning of the XIV century were of importance in Gipuzkoa and which received the name of Elder Relatives if their chiefs represented a complex net of people from different judicial strata and diverse positions within the regime of kinship in the lineage, were basically settied with the Tower. It was in it that the Lord of the Manor, that is, the natural owner of the Tower and of everything that surrounded it, his wife and legitimate children, as well as the others, the illegitimate and bastará children, lived. Relatives and clase friends sheltered themselves in it and all of them met there when the head of the faction or the chief of the Manor, "grants surname". The Towers were the perfect framework to establish more explicit social relationships within the lineage itself and between them and their equals and inferiors.

Miniature of a message sent from the Prarto Manor to Roberto de Anjou, 1335-40
Miniature of a message sent from the Prarto Manor to Roberto de Anjou, 1335-40. © Archivos de la Fundación Social y Cultural Kutxa. Vascos y Trajes. Tomo I. María Elena de ARizmendi Amiel.

Besides orginising agricultural and livestock activities, the Tower in the rural world was the settling place for the armed retinues of the "lords of war"; the "retinues at truce" accompany their lord, their chief, in his raids and, out oí the contact between them relationships arouse that went further than purely military, resulting, in time, into a network of social relationships that throughout the XVI century were configured around commercial and cultural interests that were completely separated from the original ones. Thus, the Atodos of Beizama, escorts of Juan Amezketa, Lord of Saint-Pée, at the beginning of the XV century in France, and maybe in Great Britain, evolved to offspring a Chancellor of the School of Spain in Bologna in 1522 or a Pontifical Notary some years later, but without drifting apart from the Manor of Beizama, to which they returned to get married...

The life of the lineage was organised around the Tower. The Tower was surrounded by other minor chambers, foundries, mills, etc., that conformed the Manor (in its physical meaning, as well as in its estafe meaning), gave form to its basically stockbreeding and agricultural economic activity and served to run the activities of the lineage in all its aspects. The Tower ended up being materially mixed up with the Manor, like the family arms, already in the second half of the XV century, would end up constituting the meaning of the lineage identity, which they ultimately replaced by its code of great semiotic meaning.

Zerain Manor (Zerain)
Zerain Manor (Zerain). © José Luis Galiana
Coat of arms of the Zerain Manor
Coat of arms of the Zerain Manor. © Gobierno de Navarra. Libro de Armería del Reino de Navarra.

Throughout the XIV and XV centuries, the judicial status of the members of the lineage and the different shapes of the law of property crystallised around the Tower; furthermore, the long process of settling the common norms of said law was carried out. The lineage chief was the owner of the Tower and viceversa. By themselves, the Towers were, back then, a key element in the judicial, economic and social structures of Gipuzkoa.


Balda Manar (Azkoitia)
Balda Manar (Azkoitia). © José Luis Galiana
Peasant work, according to an Italian late medieval fresco
Peasant work, according to an Italian late medieval fresco. © José Luis Galiana

By the XIV century, the main lineages were already inhabiting their Towers, which represented them as well as their military or economic power; i.e., social power. We have documentary referentes dating back from that epoch and we could also date old elements and remains of some buildings, or at least the foundations of the oldest constructions in that epoch and, like we will later see into further detail, still in 1422, some of the Towers, that of the Strong House of Azitain, site of the Unzueta Manor, for example, were still made of wood; therefore, it completely burned down that same year, as narrated by Chronicler Lope Garcia de Salazar.

Coat of Arms of the Balda Manor
Coat of Arms of the Balda Manor.© Gobierno de Navarra. Libro de Armería del Reino de Navarra.
Detail of the window of the Ugarte Tower (Oiartzun)
Detail of the window of the Ugarte Tower (Oiartzun). © José Luis Galiana

As has alreaay been mentioned, during the XIV century, almost all the Manors from which we have some referente, and which would be later occupied by similar tower-type structures, were called "Strong Houses" or "Palaces". Thus happened to the "Strong Houses" of the Iraeta, Azitain (Unzueta, in Eibar), larza (Beasain), Iraeta or Antxieta (Urrestilla) Manors and with "Palaces" such as those in Balda, Loiola (still called " Palace " in certain cases in the middle of the XVI century) or that in Amezketa. The latter may bave been called so due to its closeness to Navarre.

The ownership of the Amezketa Manor took the name of Amezketa "Palace" in the times of its owner, the Frenchified Auger (Ojer) of Amezketa and Saint-Pée (born around 1370), through marriage also lord of the Lazkao Manor, and brother of the Lord of the Saint-Pée Manor and of the Tower of Leaburu, Juan Amezketa, both becoming the centre of a mofley and splendid family network of owners of Towers spread throughout Gipuzkoa (Amezketa, Lazkao, Leaburu, Alegia, San Millan (Zizurkil), Altzega (Hernani), larza (Beasain), Ozaeta (Bergara), etc.) and in Lapurdi [Vid. Genealogical Diagram I].

In the preceding example, Martín Gonzalez de Antxieta, Knight and Custody of King Henry III, became Lord of the Strong House of Antxieta, with its mill, dam, outdoor stoves, etc., (besides the foundry Manor of Aranas " the elder "), and endowed it all to his son, Lope Gonzalez de Antxieta Osorio, in 1409, as wedding dowry; like Lope Otxoa de Unzueta was endowed Tuesday, the 3rd of December, 1402, for his wedding to Ines de Ganboa Abendaño Muxika, with the " Azitain Manor and Strong House ". In neither case, it was especified that there was or not what we will later call and identify as a Tower. In both cases, they could be structures mostly made of wood and with a still limited use of stone as a building element.

Simplified chart of family relationships between the lands of Amezketa, Lazkao, Iartza (Beasain), Altzega (Hernani), Alegi, Ozaeta (Bergara), Berastegi, Larguain (Aia) and related.
Simplified chart of family relationships between the lands of Amezketa, Lazkao, Iartza (Beasain), Altzega (Hernani), Alegi, Ozaeta (Bergara), Berastegi, Larguain (Aia) and related.

The armed conflicts that arouse among lineages (that involved whole valleys in their obediente to the chief of their "kin and partiality", of whom they were their "retinues at truce and of his faction ") are called wars oí the Oñaz and Ganboa factions, and were complicated by the confrontation of all of them with the towns (in the struggle, the town of Arrasate was burned and plundered in 1448, and some years later the same actions were attempted against the town of Tolosa), conflicts which basically developed between 1400 and 1456, and that took shape in the burning of the tower (which was the expression of the power of the Manor which for its part was, as already said, the plastic materialisation of the lineage) of the opponents. The success of some lineages over others was thus expressed, apart from the number of casualties and other outrages and abuses of all kinds described in the different chronicles of the epoch and documentation preserved.

Coat of arms of the Amezketa Manor
Coat of arms of the Amezketa Manor. © Gobierno de Navarra. Libro de Armería del Reino de Navarra.
Coat of arms of the Lazkao Manor
Coat of arms of the Lazkao Manor. © Gobierno de Navarra. Libro de Armería del Reino de Navarra..

The Tower of the lineage, in as much as its social representation (one among others that we will refer to further on, among which we could point out the identification of the Manor or lineages by means of marks and signals that crystallised into family arms, and then into coats of arms) fulfilled and served its objectives. It is naïve to believe that the meaning of the Towers of Gipuzkoa was always univocal, due to the fact that during the XV century, the Territory of Gipuzkoa was shaken by an armed social conflict that confronted very different interests and that was generically called the "war of factions".


Coat of arms of the Loiola Manor.
Coat of arms of the Loiola Manor. © Gobierno de Navarra. Libro de Armería del Reino de Navarra.
Coat of arms of the Huarte Manor
Coat of arms of the Huarte Manor. © Libro de Armería del Reino de Navarra.

Lords of war, such as the Elder Relatives of the Manors of Amezketa, Lazkao, Olaso, Atxega, Jaolaza, San Millan or Gebara who, in the middle of the XV century used their Towers for military, offensive and defensive purposes, for at least two or three generations. And there is the chronicle of Lope Garcia de Salazar, to bear witness of it, even if it is only fragmentary and offers but an outline which lacks many stories. But it is not less true that for other Elder Relatives of Manors such as those of Zarautz, larza or Altzega, Loiola, Murgia, Enparan or Iraeta, although they intervened in isolated conflicts, and did not remain aside from the confrontation of their blood relations, the Tower bore a more neutral meaning, depending on how much its owner was involved in trade related activities.

More or less violent, more or less rural or urban, it is, on the other hand also true that a series of lineages, among which we should group up those traditionally called the Elder Relatives with other less well known ones and which did not usually receive that name, dominated the rural world of Gipuzkoa and an important part of its economic resources, both through more violent methods, as well as through others of social coercion, which skilfully united the simple authoritarian oppression to the economic pressure. For all those lineages, the Tower constituted one of the most appreciated and valuable elements indicative of their power.


Disappeared Olaberria Tower (Legazpi).
Disappeared Olaberria Tower (Legazpi). © C. de Echegaray, Monumentos civiles de Guipuzcoa, 1921.
Iturrioz House-Tower, Oiartzun, West view.
Iturrioz House-Tower, Oiartzun, West view. © Diputación Foral de Gipuzkoa. Servicio de Patrimonio Histórico Artístico.

But the evolution that took place throughout the XV century was very quick and resulted in a situation, at the beginning of the XVI century which was very different from the one scarcely 100 years before.

Due to the conjunction of different factors:

a. The Manors, Faction heads or not, but identified with the "faction" struggles, adopted the shape of the Tower, with its fences, its round boundary, foundry, mills, etc. Many other Manors, that started being called "de fijosdalgo" in a still comprehensive way, adopted architectural shapes which were similar to those of the most important ones, in the logical process of social emulation. We still know little about the "pyramidal" conflicts between the Heads of the Factions and Lineages and their inferiors, but the rural areas of Gipuzkoa started filling up with constructions that resembled the Towers, even if they were not strictly towers. They represented the consolidated stratum of the small owners, already liberated from the wer of a lineage chief which, although they were not exactly towers, they were usually like them and represented very typical architectural characteristics; a great amount of them survived in Gipuzkoa.


Scene by a German author depicting artisan and metal works in the late Middle Ages.
Scene by a German author depicting artisan and metal works in the late Middle Ages. © F. Cardini, Europa, 1492.
Split coat of arms of Zegama and Gebara, ar. 1520.
Split coat of arms of Zegama and Gebara, ar. 1520. © Gobierno de Navarra. Libro de ARmería del Reino de Navarra.

b. Many other lineages, located between the rural and the urban worlds, being aside from those occupying the social summit, could compete against them in economic means and wealth, building constructions that followed the Tower model. That was the cse of the lineages dedicated to iron woks who, already by the XV century had a lot of power and who, in their own interest, entered "the truces" between the lineage Factions, which guaranteed the peace required for business, and with whom they also allied themselves through marriage (both groups looked for mergers in a first stage of the illegitimate descendants of the Elder Relative Manor, and the Manor itself "populated" part of its domains, which was ripped out of the original undivided property, creating in many instances, Houses and Towers for their bastards, were trade activities were indirectly developed) reproducing one of the most classical and orthodox social models in Western history. There was rarely an Elder Relative who, by the beginning of the XVI century had not already linked with a lineage of merchants, blacksmiths or not; obviously, all of them with their Towers as main heritage.

c. A conflict that confronted the Province to the Elder Relatives arouse, in which both powers execised a centrifugal power that drew together those that integrated both factions, blurring the already important social symbiosis that existed between both worlds and that forced the distinction, within each group, of the individualities with interests that now coincided. The Province, erected as the defendant of law and of the collectively and organised under an Association of Towns and Places, held enough power, when the conflic with the factions reached its climax through the Challenge that on Saturday, the 31st of July, 1456, when 18 Gipuzkoans factions chiefs called upon at the doors at Azkoitia (supported by some from Biscay and Araba) to order the demolition, or the "lopping" to be more accurate, of their Towers, while obtaining from King Henry IV the exile to the border of the war of Granada, through a sentence of the following year, 1457.


Lazarraga Tower (Oñati) north view
Lazarraga Tower (Oñati) north view. © Diputación Foral de Gipuzkoa. Servicio de Patrimonio Histórico Artístico.
Crossbowman arms, XV century, as interpreted by Jose Passos in the XIX century
Crossbowman arms, XV century, as interpreted by Jose Passos in the XIX century. © Tipolitografía de Luis Tasso. Armas y Armaduras. Antonio García Llansó.

In 1456, the Association, protected by the Royal power and supported by the King, brought down an indeterminate amount of Elder Relative Manor Towers... and many others that represented the power of relatives, retinues at truce and close friends of them. Thus, for example, different towers of lineages that were mainly iron traders (many of which included their own joined foundry) were brought down in the river banks of the lower Deba. The Towers of the Alzolas, Lasaldes, Iribes and others, around fifty years later, at the beginning of the XVI century, as stated by some eye witnesses, were brought down by "malefyçios con paryentes mayores" (wrongdoings by Elder Relatives). The Association took advantage of the situation to try and sweep the power of the Elder Relatives and their "relatives, servants and friends and allies and adhesives of [their] truces and factions", represented by the Towers, as was said in 1456. The lopping of the Towers meant the beginning of the success of one social model over the other one or, better yet, the omen that a new epoch was approaching, an epoch in which the values represented by the two opposing worlds would be synthesised.

  Coat of arms of the Gebara Manar, Counts of Oñati.
Coat of arms of the Gebara Manar, Counts of Oñati. © Gobierno de Navarra. Libro de ARmería del Reino de Navarra.
Coat of arms of the Balda Manor. © Gobierno de Navarra. Libro de ARmería del Reino de Navarra.

Once the solution of the confrontation among lineages was reached, and perhaps, when social or economic models were settled in favour of the towns and the lineages that governed them, various Manors intensified their already previous and shy presence among them. If an illegitimate son of the Atxega Manor was admitted as "brother of the Association" by the Province in 1486, Juan Lopez, Lord of the Amezketa Manor obtained from the Catholic Queen, in 1493, a licence to rebuild his Tower of Amezketa, and Isabel notified the Town Mayor the cCoat of arms of the Balda Manorommand that " it be not a Strong House, nor with embrasures ", and to be built with "two floors". It is known that some years before, some heads of the Elder Relative lineage that returned from exile from Antequera, Estepona, etc., in 1457, rebuilt the top floor of their towers in brick. Thus, the lords of Loiola or Balda, the towers of which still display that pattern perfectly preserved.


Paper plaque sea), of Iñigo, Count of Oñati,
ar. 1490 (prívate col lection).
Paper plaque sea), of Iñigo, Count of Oñati, ar. 1490 (prívate col lection). © Gobierno Vasco. Irargi, Centro de Patrimonio Documental de Euskadi (Bergara)
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