Mayorazgo is a conditional property tenure that arose in the central Iberian kingdom of Castile during the later Middle Ages and by 1500 had come to dominate property holding within that kingdom’s aristocracy. An estate held in mayorazgo could not be alienated from the family’s possession or divided among heirs. Instead, it had to be passed down intact to the next in line. Mayorazgo continued as a significant economic force in Iberia until its disestablishment in 1836. While primarily utilized for holding landed wealth, a family mayorazgo could also incorporate rents and material items, such as money, arms and armor, artwork and books, documents—in short, anything the family wished to maintain possession of over time. Although the origins of mayorazgo date at least as far back as the mid-thirteenth century, this form of tenure underwent a great expansion during and because of warfare that dominated the peninsula during the second half of the fourteenth century—warfare that brought the Trastámaran dynasty to the throne when Enrique II “the Bastard” assassinated his legitimate half brother, Pedro I “the Cruel,” and seized the throne. This article examines mayorazgo and how the wars of the period promoted its growth.

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