Enrique de Villena

Enrique de Villena

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Enrique de Aragón Marquess
A marquess or marquis is a nobleman of hereditary rank in various European peerages and in those of some of their former colonies. The term is also used to translate equivalent oriental styles, as in imperial China, Japan, and Vietnam...

 of Villena
Villena is a city in Spain, in the Valencian Community. It is located at the northwest part of Alicante, and borders to the west with Castilla-La Mancha and Murcia, to the north with the province of Valencia and to the east and south with the province of Alicante. It is the capital of the comarca...

, was a medieval Spanish writer, theologian and poet. He was also the last legitimate descendant of the royal house of Aragón and the counts of Barcelona. When political power was denied to him, he turned to writing and was reputed to be a great necromancer.


He was born in Torralba de Cuenca, in Castile. After the death of his father, Pedro de Aragón y Villena, Enrique went to the Aragonese court, where he was raised by his aristocratic grandfather, Alfonso de Aragón, first marquess of Villena. There he met the leading literary and intellectual minds of his era and became skilled in mathematics, chemistry and philosophy. The Aragonese Queen Violant of Bar, aware of Villena’s academic gifts, invited him to study at the royal court of Barcelona
Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain after Madrid, and the capital of Catalonia, with a population of 1,621,537 within its administrative limits on a land area of...

 – where Villena met the leading authors of Catalan literature. This experience further solidified Villena’s already promising future.

However, Villena encountered difficulty towards the end of the fourteenth century when his grandfather began losing power in the Castilian court. By 1398, Alfonso had lost his position as marquess of Villena. This loss did not rest well with either Alfonso or Villena. Alfonso spent the next many years attempting to re-instate his grandson as marquess of Villena. Meanwhile, Villena straightforwardly declared himself Marquess of Villena – signing all official documents in this name, though not legally correct.

Historians believe Villena traveled to Castile during the first years of the fifteenth century, took residence there, and married María de Albornoz – a wealthy heiress from Cuenca
Cuenca, Spain
-History:When the Iberian peninsula was part of the Roman Empire there were several important settlements in the province, such as Segóbriga, Ercávica and Gran Valeria...

, Spain. Continuing this rise towards aristocratic prominence, Villena soon received titles as count
A count or countess is an aristocratic nobleman in European countries. The word count came into English from the French comte, itself from Latin comes—in its accusative comitem—meaning "companion", and later "companion of the emperor, delegate of the emperor". The adjective form of the word is...

 of Cangas
Cangas do Morrazo is a municipality in Galicia, Spain in the province of Pontevedra.-External links:**...

 and Tineo
- Politics :-Parroquias :-Tourism:The Sacred Art Museum of Tineo is located at the Plaza Alonso Martinez inside the Convento de San Francisco del Monte , a 14th century Roman Catholic church accessible via the AS-217 road.-External links:***...

 – offered to him by his cousin, King Henry III of Castile
Henry III of Castile
Henry III KG , sometimes known as Henry the Sufferer or Henry the Infirm , was the son of John I and Eleanor of Aragon, and succeeded him as King of the Castilian Crown in 1390....

. However, in 1404, Villena resigned from the court to pursue world travel. Ironically, that same year, Villena tried to become master of the Order of Calatrava
Order of Calatrava
The Order of Calatrava was the first military order founded in Castile, but the second to receive papal approval. The papal bull confirming the Order of Calatrava as a Militia was given by Pope Alexander III on September 26, 1164.-Origins and Foundation:...

 – a prestigious religious and military order. Pursuing this position, Enrique divorced his wife, claiming impotence, and renounced his position as count so he could officially become a friar of Calatrava. The King of Castile mandated that the comendadores (commanders) of Calatrava promote Enrique as master of the Order. This position, however, did not suit Villena well for, although intelligent, he was not politically competent. Authorities soon stripped him of his leadership position.

Fortunately for Villena, he received a token of good fortune when his cousin, Infante Ferdinand of Castile
Ferdinand I of Aragon
Ferdinand I called of Antequera and also the Just or the Honest) was king of Aragon, Valencia, Majorca, Sardinia and Corsica and king of Sicily, duke of Athens and Neopatria, and count of Barcelona, Roussillon and Cerdanya...

 became King of Aragon in 1412. Villena enjoyed several years of tranquil peace as Fernando’s personal assistant. However, upon Ferdinand I's death in 1416, Villena returned to Castile and spent the next several years at his wife’s estates in Cuenca taking care of family affairs. But he also had affairs with other aristocratic ladies. Therefore he had two daughters born out of wedlock. One of them lived from 1430 to 1490, was baptized as Elionor Manuel, and entered under the name of Isabel de Villena
Isabel de Villena
Isabel de Villena was a Spanish writer....

 a convent in Valencia. There she became abbess in 1463 and wrote a Vita Christi that was published posthumously by the new abbess in 1497.

During the years 1420 – 1425 not much is known about Villena other than that he wrote Arte cisoria and various treatises during this time.

From 1426 to 1429, Alfonso V of Aragon
Alfonso V of Aragon
Alfonso the Magnanimous KG was the King of Aragon , Valencia , Majorca, Sardinia and Corsica , and Sicily and Count of Barcelona from 1416 and King of Naples from 1442 until his death...

, the Magnánimo of Aragón, stripped Villena of his promised inheritance as Duke of Gandía
Duke of Gandia
The hereditary Spanish title duke of Gandía was created in 1485 by Ferdinand II of Aragon from the original Italian title "duke of Candia" belonging to the Italian Stato di Mare or Italian Kingdoms of the Mediterranean Sea; originally granted around 1206 to a Genoan marquis member of the House of...

, giving the position instead to his own brother. Thus, facing financial straits, Villena depended on his nephew for economic support until his death in 1434.

Literary accomplishments

Don Enrique de Villena’s literary achievements are quite diverse. Perhaps Villena’s most successful work among Spanish readers was his interpretation of Los doce Trabajos de Hércules (The Twelve Works of Hercules). Twelve Works draws on Greek mythology for its subject matter and Christian literary traditions for its allegorical significance, a synthesis that Villena makes throughout the work. First translated into Catalan
Catalan language
Catalan is a Romance language, the national and only official language of Andorra and a co-official language in the Spanish autonomous communities of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Valencian Community, where it is known as Valencian , as well as in the city of Alghero, on the Italian island...

 and then Castilian
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

, the work contains obvious and didactic moral messages which Villena found applicable and important within the framework of contemporary Spain. Twelve Works is divided into twelve chapters, and each of those into four parts. Villena justifies his adaptation of foreign myth through the common idea that good fiction is able to both delight the reader and, through that delight, lead the reader to virtuous action. Written in 1417, Twelve Works of Hercules made Villena’s literary reputation, perhaps because it lacks the erudition and theoretical complexity of the later treatises.

Villena’s Arte de Trovar is ironically valued least for its literary merit. Described as “frustrating and sterile” (85), Arte de Trovar is a treatise on the rules and proper prosody of troubadour poetry. The work, like Villena’s other treatises, is erudite and difficult, concerning itself with complex laws of meter and versification
Versification may be*the art of making verses, see poetry*the theory of the phonetic structure of verse, see meter *the rendition of a prose work into verse, especially of classical works during the Middle Ages, see medieval poetry...

, which were laid down as a result of lesser poets violating the structures of the “gay science” of Troubadour
A troubadour was a composer and performer of Old Occitan lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages . Since the word "troubadour" is etymologically masculine, a female troubadour is usually called a trobairitz....

 poetry. These poetic structures were viewed by Villena as a “true and immutable order of things,” and the genius of the poet was to make his words or stories conform to the laws of this order. As expected, the treatise does not hold the attention of many modern readers. Arte de Trovar does attest, however, to the important cultural exchange between Catalonia
Catalonia is an autonomous community in northeastern Spain, with the official status of a "nationality" of Spain. Catalonia comprises four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. Its capital and largest city is Barcelona. Catalonia covers an area of 32,114 km² and has an...

 and the Provençal region of southern France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 (the home of troubadour lyric poetry), and conveys a sense of nostalgia on Villena’s part for the chivalric and highly decorous world of troubadour subject matter. Arte de Trovar was completed between 1417 and 1428.

Also of importance are Villena’s translations of Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

’s The Aeneid
The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. It is composed of roughly 10,000 lines in dactylic hexameter...

and Dante
Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe is a not-for-profit organisation that plans, builds and operates the international networks that interconnect the various national research and education networks in Europe and surrounding regions...

’s Divine Comedy into both Catalan and Castilian. Villena was the first translator of Virgil into a Romance language, and Villena was faced with the difficulty of maintaining the subtlety and depth of The Aeneid while appealing to a largely unlearned audience that was used to easily decipherable allegorical stories. Along with an initial section of “advice for the beginning reader,” the text comments as to how the examples of the ancient text may still be practically applied to contemporary Castilian society. Along with his interest in Virgil, Villena’s translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy reflects, perhaps, a shifting interest from the courtly poets discussed in Arte de Trovar to a divinely inspired Christian poet based on Roman models. Villena also translated Petrarch
Francesco Petrarca , known in English as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar, poet and one of the earliest humanists. Petrarch is often called the "Father of Humanism"...

’s sonnets. These translations of classical literature were widely read by a growing community of literary nobility, a social circle in which Villena was among the most important members.

Extra-literary accomplishments

Enrique de Villena had various talents and interests, many of which are exemplified in his writing. In Arte de Cisoria (The Art of Carving), we discover Villena’s expertise as he meticulously describes the tools used, the steps taken, and the rules of etiquette while table carving. His knowledge comes from personal observation and experience working at the court of Castile for his cousin and nephew, Henry III
Henry III of Castile
Henry III KG , sometimes known as Henry the Sufferer or Henry the Infirm , was the son of John I and Eleanor of Aragon, and succeeded him as King of the Castilian Crown in 1390....

 and John II of Castile
John II of Castile
John II was King of Castile from 1406 to 1454.He was the son of Henry III of Castile and his wife Catherine of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster by Constance of Castile, daughter of King Peter of Castile.-Regency:He succeeded his father on 25 December 1406, at the age of...

, respectively. Villena’s comprehension of 15th century medicine is seen in his work Tratado de la fascinación o de aojamiento (Treatise on the Evil Eye). In addition to describing the origin of the evil eye
Evil eye
The evil eye is a look that is believed by many cultures to be able to cause injury or bad luck for the person at whom it is directed for reasons of envy or dislike...

, he offers traditional and “present” methods for the prevention, diagnosis and cure of the illness. Further medical knowledge and research is seen in his work Tratado de la lepra (Treatise on Leprosy). In Villena’s Tratado de la consolación (Treatise on Consolation), we see his understanding of psychology. Although a Treatise on Astrology is wrongly attributed to Villena, it is said that he devoted much of his time to the studies of alchemy
Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose early practitioners’ claims to profound powers were known from antiquity. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied; these include the creation of the fabled philosopher's stone possessing powers including the capability of turning base...

, astrology, philosophy and mathematics. This led to his widespread reputation as a necromancer. Upon Villena’s death in 1434, the king ordered Bishop Lope de Barrientos
Lope de Barrientos
Lope de Barrientos , sometimes called Obispo Barrientos , was a powerful clergyman and statesman of the Crown of Castile during the 15th century, although his prominence and the influence he wielded during his lifetime is not well-represented in Spanish history.From relatively humble beginnings in...

 to investigate his library. Barrientos had many of Villena’s books burned, strengthening the public’s assumption that he was involved in witchcraft. A few of the remaining books went to the poet Santillana
Santillana may refer to:*Santillana del Mar, a town in Spain*Carlos Alonso González, nicknamed Santillana, a Spanish footballer*Grupo Santillana, a Spanish publisher owned by PRISA...

, while the rest of them went to the king.

Influence and legacy

Enrique de Villena’s deep interest in science and his great knowledge of astrology and other religious mystical systems gave him the reputation of a necromancer during his lifetime. This brought some of his works into question. Despite this, modern critics now see Villena as one of the most important Castilian intellectual leaders of the 15th century.

Villena exemplified characteristics of vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...

Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

 in his translations and adaptations of the classical works. He encouraged Italian humanist thought and took some of the first steps to incorporate Latin culture and intellect into the culture of Castile. This started a movement to convert classical works into modern vernacular languages so that they could be read and enjoyed by more than just Latin scholars.

Villena was a strong believer in poetry’s necessary role in creating the intellectual elite. This is shown in the way he seeks to instruct his readers on various aspects of morality in his texts. He tries to influence the Castilian court and aristocracy on virtue and etiquette.

His most significant classical translation, Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

’s Aeneid
The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. It is composed of roughly 10,000 lines in dactylic hexameter...

, was the first complete translation of this work into a romance language. He translates the work and provides commentary that enables readers to grasp the obscurity of the text and gives literal interpretations of specific information in order to teach the Castilian society the proper behaviors of courtiers. Typical of vernacular humanism, Villena’s commentary and translation of Virgil’s Aeneid exhibits Villena’s feeling that reading and intellectual curiosity is an important element in the education of the elite.

The accusations of necromancy
Necromancy is a claimed form of magic that involves communication with the deceased, either by summoning their spirit in the form of an apparition or raising them bodily, for the purpose of divination, imparting the ability to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge...

 and the heavy influence Italian Humanism had on his writing made him a bit controversial. The controversy surrounding Villena’s personal character spread his popularity by the interest it sparked in authors who followed. Villena often appears as a character in literature. In El doncel de don Enrique el Doliente, Mariano José de Larra
Mariano José de Larra
Mariano José de Larra was a Spanish romantic writer best known for his numerous essays, as well as his infamous suicide...

 portrays Villena as an evil figure. Lope de Vega
Lope de Vega
Félix Arturo Lope de Vega y Carpio was a Spanish playwright and poet. He was one of the key figures in the Spanish Golden Century Baroque literature...

’s Porfiar hasta morir illustrates Villena as more of a hero figure who works for justice. There is not one portrayal of Villena’s personal character accurate enough to give us a complete understanding of what he was really like. His literary accomplishments have survived time, but the uncertainty surrounding his life still remains today a mystery. However, he is viewed as an intellectual pioneer who exhibited civic virtue and wrote with poetic eloquence.

External links