Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

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Acuña, Hernando de

Born: 1518/20
Died: 1580
  • Elizabeth Ashcroft Terry-RoisinEmail author
Living reference work entry

Latest version View entry history

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_1133-3


Hernando de Acuña was a lyric poet of the Spanish Renaissance who spent a number of years in Granada. His sonnets posthumously made him famous, some of which celebrated Charles V as Caesar and were part of the Renaissance of Empire. He also translated a Burgundian chivalric romance from French to Spanish at the request of his emperor. In addition, Acuña served in a variety of military campaigns in the Mediterranean, and he became a knight of the Order of Alcántara.


Hernando de Acuña was born in Valladolid in 1518/1520 to a family of minor nobility. He was a “poet-soldier,” who served Charles V in battle in Italy, France, and the German lands (García-Arenal 2010, 99–101). Near the age of 17, in 1537, Acuña was fighting the French in Piedmont when his brother, an infantry captain, was killed in the service of the Spanish governor of Milan, Don Alonso de Avalos (Cortés 1913, 37–39). Acuña was at one point captured by Francis I in Piedmont, and also took part in Charles V’s war against Maurice of Saxony (Cortés 1913, 72–73). In the 1540s, Acuña accompanied Prince Philip on his grand tour of his father’s realms. On April 1, 1549, Acuña took part in Philip’s tournament games in the sandy field near Brussels, and was in the “Army of the East” (Frieder 2008, 191–193). Acuña later fought in the Battle of St. Quentin in 1557.

Acuña returned to Spain in the year 1560. He soon married his cousin Doña Juana de Zuñiga. She was 25, and he was close to 40. From the year 1569 onwards, Acuña lived in the city of Granada (Cortés 1913, 91–95). There he was a member of the literary tertulia which met at the home of an elite Morisco, Don Alonso de Granada Venegas, and his wife, Doña María Manrique de Mendoza. The tertulia met regularly between 1550 and 1570 and somewhat less regularly later under Don Pedro de Granada Venegas (d.1643) (Vázquez 2010, 415). In the tertulia, Acuña interacted with elite Morisco patrons and their friends, the Mendoza family, as well as the poets Juan Latino, Gregorio Sylvestre, Luis Barahona de Soto, and Gaspar de Baeza. Hernando de Acuña died in Granada in 1580. His wife Doña Juana de Zuñiga published his poetry in 1591.

Historiography: Heritage and Rupture with the Tradition

To interpret Acuña, it is necessary to understand the cultural activities of his social class. There are a number of narratives for what was happening to the minor nobility during his lifetime. Historian Helen Nader would argue that Acuña was part of the “caballero Renaissance” – a movement which had been begun by many of the sonnet-writing nobles in the fifteenth century, including members of the Mendoza family (Nader 1979, 138–142). The Mendoza were deeply ensconced in the military and noble leadership in Granada. They were the guardians of the Alhambra palace, and served as Captains General over the troops stationed there. The Mendoza were close associates of the elite Morisco Granada Venegas family, whom the crown had put in charge of the other major Nasrid palace, the Generalife. Nader argues that in the sixteenth century, humanism moved from noble households to the universities (Nader 1979, 145–149). Yet the Granada Venegas’ tertulia met in the late sixteenth century. There Hernando de Acuña interacted with other poets and his hosts, Don Alonso de Granada Venegas, his wife Doña María Manrique de Mendoza, and their family members.

These relationships were manifest in the literature itself. Literary scholar Narciso Alonso Cortés has identified the true identities of speakers in a dialogue poem by Luis Barahona de Soto, “Pilas,” “Damon,” and “Lauso,” as Don Alonso de Granada, Hernando de Acuña, and Barahona de Soto (Cortés 1913, 96–97). Furthermore, Helen Nader has argued that the caballeros were ultimately eclipsed politically by the letrados – educated lawyers – over the course of the sixteenth century, as letrados began to hold more important positions at court. For Nader, the caballero Renaissance was a short one, ending in the early sixteenth century. Her caballeros had a more pluralistic worldview than the letrados, who were more closely aligned with the Inquisition (Nader 1979, 135). Historian Richard Kagan has shown in his research that the number of letrados increased over the course of the sixteenth century (Kagan 1974).

For literary scholar Leah Middlebrook, however, it was not that caballeros were becoming eclipsed by university-educated letrados. Rather, the caballeros’ role was changing from knight to courtier (Middlebrook 2009, 2–3; See Elias 2000). Acuña, in his lyric poetry, practiced these “techniques of self-restraint,” which were part of courtierization. Middlebrook argues that the Renaissance lyric genre was modern due to its interiority and its focus on the individual (Middlebrook 2009, 17).

Central to scholarship on Renaissance lyric is the role of Italian Petrarchan models. These models were reinterpreted in Castilian in a spirit of competition that contained both a fear of inferiority and an expression of national and linguistic pride (Navarrete 1994).

Literary scholars are not in agreement over whether lyric or epic was a more fundamental genre to the culture of the Spanish Renaissance or over which gave a better ideological defense of empire. According to Elizabeth B. Davis, “Even when re-examined as the product of a specific political milieu, the Italianate lyric of Garcilaso and his followers cannot presume to narrate the story of Spain’s new imperial polity in search of legitimizing myths. That narrative function corresponds more properly to the epic, a genre central to Golden Age cultural practice but not read much today” (Davis 2000, 2). Following Davis, Elizabeth Wright has helped to make the Latin epic, the Austrias Carmen of Juan Latino available in English, and has published a monograph on Latino’s life. In contrast, Leah Middlebrook has argued that “the cultural framework that surrounded this poetry [the epic] had been eclipsed” by the lyric (Middlebrook 2009, 58).

Putting this in social context, Luen-Gen Liang has recently reexamined the role of the Spanish nobility in crafting the Spanish Empire itself. According to Liang, noble families, like the Fernández de Córdoba, actually took primary roles in running the Spanish Empire – they were not eclipsed by letrados and they were not merely courtiers who had lost their military function – rather they were viceroys, governors, and generals who acted as agents in the creation of the Spanish Empire throughout the sixteenth century. These early modern nobles continued to take active military roles, both in expanding and in governing the empire in the Mediterranean and elsewhere (Liang 2011).

Innovative and Original Aspects

Hernando de Acuña is well-known today as a poet. He wrote lyric poetry, and the most famous of his poems was dedicated to the emperor Charles V, “Al rey, nuestro señor,” which expressed the idea that Spain was on the brink of a golden age (Padrón 2006; Fernández, Díez, and J. Ignacio 2011). In this poem, Acuña created an image of Charles as emperor and Caesar. These were important themes of the Spanish Renaissance, and of the Imperial Renaissance, in which Spain embraced the ideologies and aesthetics of the Roman Empire, and the disciplines of poetry and history from the studia humanitatis were used in service to empire (Dandelet 2014).

Acuña took on a different type of commission in 1551, from the emperor himself. This was to translate a Burgundian French chivalric romance for a Castilian audience (Tyler 1956, 29). To help him, Charles provided him with a version he had already translated himself as a young man (Blockmans 2002, 16). The romance was Le Chevalier Deliberé (1483) by Olivier de la Marche, which had roughly three sections: A knightly quest and chivalric romance, the glorification of a ducal or royal house, and an emphasis on self-examination in an ars moriendi treatise. It is possible to see the first two sections as part of an epic tradition – a quest and pride in one’s dukes and kings. The third is more closely linked to the lyric, as it was focused on the knight’s interior self and his contemplation of death. There were numerous proto-Reformation and pre-Reformation ideas floating around in the Low Countries which connect with this interior piety of the pilgrim knight in Le Chevalier. In fact, Erasmus’s Enchiridion would follow some of the same themes, but provide guidance for the Christian layman in spiritual rather than physical warfare, like “Memory” does for the knight at the end of Le Chevalier. Suzie Sutch and Ann Lake Prescott have shown that this Burgundian romance took on very different shape in Spanish and English contexts, as Acuña’s El Caballero Determinado and Elizabethan Stephen Bateman’s The Travayled Pylgrime, published 1569, and Elizabethan Lewes Lewkenor’s The Resolved Gentleman, published 1594. (Sutch and Prescott 1988).

Much of our understanding of Acuña’s life comes from a memorial he wrote to Philip II, asking for recognition for his many years of military service (Cortés book on Acuña 1913, 111–123). This sort of source was typical of minor nobles in early modern Spain who were striving for a merced from the crown. Court life in the early modern period was full of competition. According to Leah Middlebrook, Hernando de Acuña and Jerónimo de Urrea competed with one another for the best translation of Le Chevalier Deliberé (Middlebrook 2009). As a further act of social striving, towards the end of his life, Acuña applied to enter the military order of Alcántara (Acuña y Zuñiga 1562).

Interestingly, the work that Acuña published during his own lifetime was not his poetry – it was his translation, El Caballero Determinado (1553). It was after his death that another edition of El Caballero was made (1590), and that his wife published the Varias Poesías (1591) (Díaz, 1980, 219–220).

Impact and Legacy

As a caballero and a “poet-soldier”, Acuña manifested the dual interest in both Renaissance and chivalric culture which was common among the Spanish elite (Terry 2015, 89). As a writer of sonnets as well as a translator of chivalric romance, Acuña produced and exemplified both the admiration for classical Antiquity as well as the values of a traditional late medieval and early modern warrior elite, weaned on chivalric romance.

Interpreting Acuña and his social and cultural context, several questions are raised regarding modernity – whether the interiority of his lyric poetry is tied to modernity, or if the glorification of world empires is more linked to modernity is a matter of debate. According to scholar of literature Christopher Maurer, epic poet Juan Latino greatly influenced Hernando de Acuña’s most famous poem where he glorified Charles V as Caesar (Maurer 1993, 35–51). Latino’s epic Latin poem, Austrias Carmen, celebrated the victory of Spain and the Holy League at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. In the poems of these two members of the Granada Venegas family’s literary tertulia in Granada, both the epic and lyric poetic genres served the Renaissance of Empire (Dandelet 2014; Terry 2015).


Hernando de Acuña was a translator from French to Castilian, a soldier-poet, and caballero in the Order of Alcántara. At the literary tertulia of the Granada Venegas family he not only met epic poet and Latinist Juan Latino and other poets, but he also may have met the famous Jesuit philosopher, Francisco Suárez, who was a generation younger than Acuña. Suárez’s family owned a house with an adjoining wall to the Granada Venegas’s urban palace, the Casa de los Tiros, and the philosopher was born there in 1548 (López Guzmán 2005, 70–71).



Primary Literature

  1. Acuña, Hernando de. 1553. El Caballero Determinando, traduzido de lengua Francesa en Castellana por Don Hernando de Acuña y dirigido al Emperador Don Carlos Quinto Maximo Rey de España nuestro Señor. Antwerp: Juan Steelio.Google Scholar
  2. Acuña y Zuñiga, Sarmiento y Castilla, Hernando de, nieto del conde de Buendio. Valladolid, 1562. OM Caballeros-Alcántara 12, Archivo Histórico Nacional, Madrid.Google Scholar
  3. de Acuña, Hernando. 1591. Varias poesías, compuestas por don Hernando de Acuña dirigidas al Príncipe don Felipe nuestro Señor. Madrid: P. Madrigal.Google Scholar
  4. Memorial de D. Hernando de Acuña a Felipe II, (apéndice I en N. Alonso Cortés, [1913], pp. 111–123). La cita en pp. 111–112.Google Scholar

Secondary Literature

  1. Blockmans, Wim. 2002. The Emperor Charles V, 1500–1558. Trans. Isola van den Hoven- Vardon. London: Arnold Publishers.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryAustin CollegeShermanUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Alejandro Coroleu
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Arts. Building B, Campus UAB, Department: Catalan LanguageUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBellaterra (Cerdanyola), BarcelonaSpain