March 19, 1624: Representatives of several Basque towns expelled from provincial assembly for not knowing Spanish

Men in stocks in Bramhall, England, 1900. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On March 19, 1624, the council representatives of Líbano de Arrieta (today Arrieta), Castillo y Elejabeitia (today Artea),  Ispaster, Sondika, Leioa, Berango, Lemoiz, Laukiz, Ubidea, and Bakio were expelled from the Bizkaian provincial assembly meeting because “they were not found to possess the necessary proficiency in reading and writing in Castilian [Spanish].” This followed a decree, passed some ten years previously by the provincial assembly on December 10, 1614, which stated that, “henceforth, whoever does not know how to read or write in Romance [a synonym used for Spanish] cannot be admitted to said assembly.” As a postscript to the story, the same assembly member for Laukiz turned up once more at a later meeting of the assembly, and was rewarded for his audacity by being “placed in stocks and a severe judicial process begun against him.”

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), p. 113.

Language Rights and Cultural Diversity, edited by Xabier Irujo and viola Miglio, is a collection of articles by different authors that explore several cases of smaller languages and how they survive within the legal and administrative frameworks of larger, more dominant languages.


  1. How could they not knowing spanish?

    • katu

      March 28, 2017 at 3:16 am

      Thanks for your question. The key, really, to the issue is that these people did not have what was judged to be the “necessary proficiency in reading and writing” Spanish. This means they were not sufficiently literate in Spanish. Their first language was Basque and they were more than likely illiterate in that language as well because literacy, in general, is a much more recent phenomenon in human history than orality. But it also reveals that just because a polity existed by the name of Spain, not everyone mastered the Spanish language. Spain was and is made up of many different cultures and languages. By way of comparison, bear in mind that, as Eugen Weber famously argues in Peasants into Frenchmen (1976), the majority of the adult population of France did not know French, even as late as the early twentieth century. Similarly, some people in the UK, in Wales and Scotland for example, would not have known English, maybe as late as the nineteenth century. The great push toward extending knowledge and use of so-called national languages like English, French, and Spanish, came (among other things) as a result of implementing specific public education policies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Basque Sociolinguistics: Language, Society, and Culture by Estibaliz Amorrortu, available free to download here, is a great introduction to the social history and current state of the Basque language.

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