Overview of the siege of the fortress of Hondarribia in 1638 with ground troops and French squadron at sea. German engraving. Irun can be seen to the top left of the engraving. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On January 30, 1669, following a traditional custom, the neighboring town councils of Irun and Hondarribia in Gipuzkoa were due to meet to undertake their annual inspection of each other’s weights and measures in this commercially important and geopolitically sensitive border area. That year, however, the Irun council members informed their counterparts in Hondarribia that the visiting inspection had already been carried out. Not deterred by this, the Hondarribia council members swore to attend the planned visit. When they arrived, the representatives of Irun greeted them with a show of arms, which prompted those of Hondarribia to withdraw back to their own town. The latter then complained to he Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa, which mediated between the two, rescheduling the meeting for February 7.

View of Hondarribia. Painting by Luis Paret, 1786. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

February 7 arrived and the appointed Hondarribia commissioners began their inspection of Irun’s weights and measures, only to discover that the Hondarribia stamps there had been removed from the weights in question, with the name of Irun replacing them. On reporting this to the authorities, these weights were declared legally null and void. This provoked the ire of the people of Irun, leading to many taking to street with sticks, stones, swords, and firearms in protest. Worried that this could escalate into a full-blown violent conflict between the towns, the chief magistrate had no option but to restore the legal status of Irun’s weights.

Furious at the decision, the people of Hondarribia waited a few days and then sent a nocturnal expedition to attack Irun. Arriving at night in small barges traveling up the River Bidasoa, the expedition alighted near the Irun hospital, made its presence known by firing several shots and threatening the people there, an then withdrew back to the safety of Hondarribia. Thereafter, the Provincial Council made another attempt to mediate but this was in vain. The matter was then referred to the higher authority of the Castilian Royal Council, which subsequently threatened anyone who dared take up arms again in the matter with prison or even worse, namely the infamous galleys (where prisoners were sentenced o “work the oar” or become human chattel, virtual slaves). The warning appeared to work as no further incidents were reported, although neighborly relations can hardly have been too friendly!

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), pp.126-27.