If there is anything that sets the Valley of Roncal apart from other valleys and places, then that is a wealth of history and the great enthusiasm that its inhabitants have put into saving and passing it on.
The fire which razed the border village of Isaba in September 1427 claimed the archive of the valley, which was kept in the church. This meant that a great deal of important documentation which would have helped us understand the history of this community of villages much better was lost for ever. Despite all the documentary lacunae caused by the fire, however, a number of indications and ceremonies still live on in the valley (such as the coat of arms, the right to “bardenaje” and the Tribute of the Three Cows), telling us, in a way, that oral transmission, even without papers to back it up, is capable of supporting the valley’s legendary history to a high degree of reliability.
The intention here is to provide a brief, dispassionate outline of the chief features that shape the historical personality of the Valley of Roncal in chronological order, going to some length to remain true and impartial.
1345. Contract of the Union
On the 15th of June 1345, the Contract of the Union and Regime of Wheatfields was signed in Urzainqui, the first document revealing the existence of a community or “unibersidad”. The text of this agreement tells us that representatives of all the villages in Roncal (delegates and commissioners) used to hold regular general meetings every year to address the problems faced by the valley even prior to the signing of the contract; this means that even back then, and albeit in a far more rudimentary form than now, a General Council of the Valley of Roncal already existed.
And so, in 1345, some 50 representatives of all the villages met in Urzainqui on Whit Tuesday, i.e. the 15th of June. That meeting gave rise to the first arbitration agreement, something akin to the valley’s first ordinances or first written agreements of coexistence. It was necessary to seek an agreement so that such basic activities as livestock and agricultural farming, the former being the chief occupation of the local population and the latter arising from the need for sustenance, could be practised in a harmonious fashion. That is why “que los unos dezian que sin panificados he bedado no fuessen los terminos que labor se fazian que aquellas labores e panes con que se abian a mantener en la vida presente, que los ganados les destruyan sus panes, tanto que los de quiheran como a la yglesia de sus diezmos e primicias”.
The Archive of the General Council of the Valley conserves a copy from 1582, made at the request of the village of Isaba. It can be deduced from a read of this copy that the original document was kept in the Valley Archive, located in the same village. Although not entirely conclusive, this goes some way towards supporting the hypothesis defended by the historian Florencio Idoate which dates the Contract of the Union to 1435, rather than 1345. Some of the copies may have fallen victim to mistaken numbers, but we should not forget that all the documents in this archive were lost to the flames in 1427.
1607. Request for a Seat in the Court
Documents reveal that from very ancient times, the Valley of Roncal requested time and again a place in the Court of Navarre. The Valley understood that its history and the rights it had acquired were sufficient to ensure a seat in the Court in their own right.
In 1607, the Valley of Roncal once again requested this “blessing or kindness” from the authorities, but its request was refused and, to add insult to injury, fairly derogatory reasons, such as claiming that the villages of Roncal “are of little consideration and quality”, that not one of them had a population of more than one hundred and that they were poor, were put forward.
Strangely, another weighty reason used to justify denial was that the people of Roncal spoke Basque. It was pointed out that “there are no people of social status or fitting attire who could come and fit in in the Court, because all the residents of these villages, without a single exception, dress in the ‘Roncal’ fashion, without capes and wearing sandals. And this is indecent attire and it would be an outrage were people dressed like this to have a seat in the Court”.
The most compelling argument, however, as Florencio Idoate explains and defends in his book La Comunidad del Valle de Roncal (The Community of the Valley of Roncal), would seem to be so as “not to open a path and set precedents that might encourage other valleys to do the same, starting with the border valleys, because nobody believes they have fewer merits and rights than their neighbours” and also “there were too many people with this right in the Kingdom, to the detriment of the Court, as this lengthened the process through which matters were solved and complicated things all the more”.
In 1785, Roncal’s request for a seat in the Court was denied once again on the basis of similar arguments.