Who’s to blame for the trousers in Spain?

team-spirit-437507_640Here is something to test your intelligence. Tell me, who first introduced trousers to Spain?

  1. A Lisbon cloth merchant by the name of Carlos Trouseros;
  2. Bernardo’s most famous Celtic ancestor, Paddy O’Shea, a.k.a Paddy the Intelligent;
  3. Needle-brandishing lesbians from the isle of Lesbos;
  4. Santiago Pantalones, a mercenary who brought back a pair of trousers after fighting alongside the Romans in Dacia;
  5. José Fabricas, who served under Hernan Cortes in the conquest of the Aztec Empire, and from whom the word “fabric” is derived.

Think about it while you read on ….

The reason why I ask is, having just finished reading David Birmingham’s A Concise History of Portugal (Cambridge University Press), I have hopped over the border and am now reading The Horizon Concise History of Spain, by Melveena McKendrick. It’s a 1972 hardback published by American Heritage Publishing Co that I picked up recently in a second-hand book store.*

Although I studied history to the end of my high school days, the history that we covered, I realise now, was very limited: a bit about the Ancient Greeks, and then mostly continental Europe from the French Revolution to the start of the first world war, but very much from a British historian’s point of view. We were taught very little or nothing about Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, the Americas, the Ottoman empire, Asia, the Antipodes, the Middle East or even Africa – even though that was where I got my schooling. Our exam papers were sent to England to be marked.

If you are learning other languages, though, you have to take in other cultures and their histories, and when you travel and see historical sites, your curiosity is aroused. So, Bernardo is making a belated effort to acquaint himself with Spanish history.

Here are some interesting snippets from the opening bits of McKendrick’s book.

spain-23588_640From the foreword: “Geographically, Spain was by European standards seriously underendowed at birth. After Switzerland it is at once the most mountainous and highest country in Europe, while in the impoverished aridness of its terrain it is second to none …The divided nature of the land has encouraged and perpetuated a social and linguistic fragmentation. The country is in effect a collection of states or kingdoms – Galicia, the Basque Provinces, Aragon, Navarre, Catalonia, Valencia, León, Murcia, Extremadura, Asturias, Castile, and Andalusia … only the last three of which naturally speak Castilian.”

celtic-161957_640From Chapter 1, Early Spain: “By the time the Greeks reached Spain [around the sixth century B.C.] the people living there on the east coast had come to be known as Iberians – a term now taken as not indicating a specific race of people, but as a generic label for the complex group of inhabitants of the Peninsula’s Mediterranean coast … Little is known about these Iberians. What is clear is that they were quite distinct from the people of the interior. For while the Phoenicians and the Greeks were busy developing trade in the east, the interior was witnessing equally important events of a different order. Between 900 and 600 B.C. successive waves of Celts on their migrations through Europe from Asia penetrated the Pyrenees and … occupied much of Spain. Naturally, Celts and Iberians did not remain entirely separate. On the great central plateau they mingled and interbred … Traditionally the Celts were regarded as a race of violent, rustic shepherds and the Iberians as pacific farmers and urban dwellers, but the reality, it is now felt, must have been more complex. The Celts have a clearer identity than the Iberians and we know that they brought to Spain the broad sword, the technique of iron metallurgy, and trousers.”

and the answer is…

kilt bumSo, my friends, who introduced trousers to Spain? I will claim the credit on behalf of my Celtic ancestor, Paddy O’Shea, whose knees were beginning to freeze as he crossed the Pyrenees, so he cleverly stitched some blankets together. But once he reached the plain in Spain he ditched the trousers, and later moved on to Ireland, where he could comfortably hang loose in a kilt. That’s Paddy there on the left in his post-trousers phase.

The answer thus is No.2 – did you get it correct?

* important footnote

galleon-146994_1280Bernardo doesn’t just read concise histories, you know. He can do fat books too. Also on his bedside table is The Last Crusade – The Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama (18 pages down, just another 493 to go) by Nigel Cliff, A.R. Disney’s two-volume A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire (all together more than 800 pages) and T.H. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom (almost 700 pages). Stirring stuff! The bedside table is wilting under the weight.



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