Footprints in Spain
by Simon Courtauld, Quartet, £20
Ever since Henry VIII cast off Catherine of Aragon, we have had an uneasy relationship with Spain. This is, of course, partly because of the Armada, and the fervent piety and bloodlust that bubble away under the Spanish sun.
Simon Courtauld begins this charming and perceptive guide at Huevla, where the Rio Tinto company started copper mining a century ago, building a club and a Protestant church. Walking up the grassy slope to the walls of Badajoz, he is conscious of the lingering resentment against the Duke of Wellington for failing to prevent his troops from slaughtering the inhabitants in 1811.
After politely noting the pre-Tridentine Mozarabic liturgy in Toledo, Courtauld turns to such residents as the painter El Greco and the poet Roy Campbell. At Valladolid, his blood quickens at the record of burning heretics and the dramatic statues of the Holy Week processions. Yet he is fascinated by the English College, which, under the protection of the Spanish Crown, has been training priests for the English mission for 400 years and commemorates its martyrs on the walls of a corridor.
Religion is no longer a cause for war between our two countries – George Borrow encountered little hostility when trying to hawk Bibles to bemused muleteers in the 1830s. But there were the long-running Carlist wars for the throne, from which one bloodthirsty warlord, Ramón Cabrera, retired to live with an English wife at Virginia Water.
Among those involved in the Spanish Civil War, George Orwell said Barcelona was the first town he had seen where the working class were in the saddle, and Kim Philby, the Soviet secret agent, received an honour from General Franco for his reporting in the London Times of the battle of the Ebro river.
Today the colony of Gibraltar remains the contentious issue, exacerbated by Brexit. Wistfully, Courtauld suggests that the revival of the Calpe Fox Hunt, which had joint English and Spanish masters and hunted over lands in both countries, might be a first step in resolving the problem.
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