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A History of Aragon and Catalonia

H. J. Chaytor


13

Juan I and Martin

[194] Character of Juan. Dissatisfaction of the nobles. French invasion. Alliances by marriage. Anti-Semitic riots. The problems of Sardinia and Sicily. Martin in Sicily Death of Juan. Foundation of the Consistori de la Gaya Sciensa. Bernat Metge. Martin accepts the crown. The Great Schism. Pedro de Luna as Benedict XIII. Operations in Sicily and Sardinia. Death of Martin.

It is difficult to imagine a character more opposed to the restless and intriguing spirit of Pedro than that of his son, Juan I, who succeeded him. His ideal of life was peace and harmony in which he might be allowed to pursue his favourite occupations of hunting, literature and art. He would have liked to make the Aragonese court a centre of intellectual refinement and of the kind of society that troubadour patrons had gathered round them in the South of France a hundred and fifty years earlier. Statesmanship had no great interest for him, and the details of government were too often left to his Queen, Violante, the daughter of Duke Robert de Bar, a woman energetic and domineering, but in sympathy with her husband's tastes. Juan therefore maintained a court of luxury and splendour unprecedented in the annals of Aragon. Song, music and dance filled the evening hours, while the days were spent in numerous and costly hunting parties. Hence the King was known by the Aragonese as "El Cazador," and by the Catalans as "El Amador de la Gentileza." None the less, Juan began his reign by a furious persecution of his stepmother, Queen Sibila. In her was repeated the history of Leonor of Castile, but unlike her, she fell into the hands of her persecutors and was imprisoned and actually tortured by her stepson, on the charge that his attacks of ill-health were due to the practice of witchcraft on her part. After a year's imprisonment, she was set free, at the entreaty [195] of the cardinal legate in Aragon, while some of her supporters were exiled and others executed. Juan was crowned in Zaragoza in 1388, and upon that occasion the nobility took the opportunity of expressing their dissatisfaction at his conduct. His Queen, and therefore himself, were entirely under the influence of her confidante, Carroza de Vilagut, while the King's leanings to refinement were regarded by the nobility as sheer effeminacy. At the Cortes of Monzón held in 1389, the Estates of the Realm manifested their displeasure without restraint. The Vice-Chancellor, Ramón de Francia, and the Justicia, Domingo Cerdan, speaking in the name of the deputies of Aragon and Mallorca, demanded that the royal pair should reform their court and dismiss a number of people whose life and morals were regarded as derogatory to their dignity and a bad example to others. Naturally complaints were raised that the influence of Carroza and her adherents induced the King to squander the royal revenues by giving away fiefs and incomes without consideration or restraint. Negotiations continued for some months, and when the King at length realized the threatening nature of the situation he gave way. The objectionable female party was banished from his court. He undertook to observe the laws and liberties of his realms. By keeping peace with neighbouring states he hoped to find time and opportunity to devote himself to his own favourite pursuits.

In the year 1390, however, his northern frontiers were disturbed by the Count of Armagnac, who raised a claim to the Crown of Mallorca, which he said had been transferred to him by Isabel, wife of the Marquis of Montferrat, a short time after the death of Louis of Anjou, an earlier claimant. The Count gathered an army largely composed of the wandering mercenaries who were the plague of the South of France, crossed the frontier and overran much of the country in the neighbourhood of Gerona. He was defeated by Bernard de Cabrera in a battle near Navata, and when Juan was able to conclude his quarrel with the nobles and collect an army, the French retired precipitately across the Pyrenees. They continued their ravages in Roussillon until the Count was called to Italy in 1391 to help his brother-in-law, Charles Visconti, against Galeazzo Visconti who had driven him out of the town of Milan. The Count then abandoned his claims [196] to Mallorca; Isabel of Mallorca also disappears from history shortly afterwards, and with her the conflicting claims to the sovereignty of the Balearic Islands came to an end.

In 1391 Juan married his daughter, Violante, to Louis of Anjou, who styled himself King of Jerusalem and of Sicily, and was the son of the Count of Anjou, who claimed the crown of Mallorca. To Maria of Sicily he married his nephew, Martin, the Count of Ejérica, an alliance already proposed by his father, and then prepared to deal with the position in Sicily and with the revolt which had broken out in Sardinia. His preparations were disturbed by a general attack upon the Jews which broke out in various parts of the kingdom and especially in Barcelona. In that town the Aljama or Jewish quarter was entirely destroyed; a massacre went on for several days and the few Jews who saved their lives were obliged to make a nominal profession of Christianity. Similar scenes occurred in Gerona, Tarragona, Valencia and other towns. The causes of the outbreak appear to have been those common in all ages for outbursts of anti-Semitism: complaints of debtors against extortionate interest, envy of Jewish wealth and commercial success, sentiments further inspired by religious fanaticism. When this uproar had subsided Juan was able to return his attention to Sicily and Sardinia. Pedro IV had secured a convention towards the end of his life, which he hoped would guarantee a permanent pacification of Sardinia. This had been broken in 1387, and subsequently renewed; but Juan's pacific policy gave the numerous unruly elements in the island every opportunity for asserting themselves. In 1391 Brancaleo de Oria with his wife, Leonora de Arborea, gathered a large body of Sardinian adherents, drove the Aragonese and Catalans out of their possessions, and induced even the town of Sassari to revolt; it seemed likely that Aragon would lose entire control of the island in a short time. The position of affairs in Sicily was no less confused. Juan certainly had the assent of the Avignon Pope, Clement VII, to a marriage between Maria and Martin, but the Great Schism was now in full progress, and the approval of Avignon was not sufficient to secure the loyalty of the barons of the island, many of whom aspired to independence. As soon as the news arrived that the [197] father of Martin, the Duke of Montblanch, proposed to place his son and daughter-in-law in possession of the island, and was making preparations for that purpose, a league was formed to oppose the Duke, in case he should attempt to act without their general consent, and this refractory body naturally declared for Pope Boniface IX, whom the Aragonese regarded as a schismatic. However, in 1392, when his preparations were nearly complete, the Duke sent two barons to Sicily with promises and representations which secured a number of adherents to his cause, while many came over to him in fear of the power of Aragon. The majority of the Sicilians, however, were prepared to offer resistance and to make their loyalty to Boniface their excuse. When the Duke appeared in Sicilian waters with a fleet of a hundred sail and a large force of well-trained infantry, the numerous barons and knights of the Sicilian party were unable to oppose his landing. In March 1392 he seized the harbour of Trapani, captured Palermo some months later and imprisoned numerous leaders of the opposition. Some barons, however, continued to hold out in their castles, the chief among them being Artel de Alagon, the nephew of the Governor of the same name who died in 1388, and Pope Boniface excommunicated the Catalans as enemies to the Catholic faith. The result was a general rising in 1393, and only by the help of reinforcements sent by Juan was the Duke able to maintain his footing in the island. Meanwhile, the duchies of Athens and Neopatria had been seized by the Lord of Corinth, Nerio Acciajuoli, a Florentine. He was attacked by the Venetians and the struggle was ended by the Turks who made themselves masters of the duchies by 1394. The Catalan rule in Greece thus came to an end, and while his possession of Sardinia and of Sicily was still doubtful, Juan died in May 1395, killed, according to the usual account, by a fall from his horse while hunting. The papal difficulty was further increased by the death of Pope Clement in Avignon, and the election of a Spaniard, Pedro de Luna, Cardinal of Aragon, who took the name of Benedict XIII, and to whom the Aragonese naturally continued their recognition.

It will thus be seen that Juan was not the right king for Aragon in these desperate and troublesome times. Few of his [198] contemporaries had much sympathy with his leanings to art and refinement, and he was freely charged with leading an idle and dissolute life, and leaving the business of government to his women. To him is said to be due the foundation in Barcelona of an institution in imitation of that which had been begun in Toulouse as early as 1323. In that year a number of citizens had gathered together and had formed the Sobregaya Companhia dels Set Trobadors de Tolosa with the object of reviving the dying spirit of troubadour poetry; it is probable that this movement arose from informal meetings of poets held in earlier years. This committee, the Consistori de la Gaya Sciensa, elected a chancellor and seven judges, or mantenedors, and offered an annual prize for the best poem produced among contemporary poets, the famous Golden Violet, and as the second prize, a wild rose in silver, while other prizes of a similar kind were afterwards given for particular forms of poetry. Hence the name Jochs Florals, or floral games, that was afterwards given to these assemblies. A series of rules was drawn up; the Leys d'amors, an Ars Poetica, was produced, and a new if temporary impulse was given to lyric poetry, which soon made itself felt beyond the Pyrenees. A number of theoretical works appeared, of which the most famous are those by Ramon Vidal de Bezaudun. This movement was precisely of the kind to attract the attention of King Juan. He is said to have sent an embassy in 1388 to Charles VI of France, asking him to commission a few members of the Academy of Toulouse to found a similar institution in Barcelona. For this story there is no evidence, and in any case Juan had two men in his own kingdom who were perfectly competent to perform the work, Jayme March and Luis de Averso, who were commissioned by him to found an academy in Barcelona on the model of the institution in Toulouse. Every year in March a poetical contest was to be held in honour of the Virgin Mary, and a prize for the best poem was to be given. Funds for the Academy were provided, and its privileges and wealth were increased by Juan's successor, Martin I, but subsequent political confusion ended its activities for a time, and it was not until the reign of Ferdinand I in 1412 that the Catalan Poetical Academy resumed its work.

Juan's sudden death brought into being a work of outstanding [199] importance in the Catalan literature of this period, the Sompni or "Dream" of Bernat Metge. Bernat, who was the King's secretary, was suspected of having plotted against the King's person and was imprisoned in 1395; he wrote his book while he was in captivity to clear his name. His Dream occurs in his prison, the King Juan appearing to him in person, accompanied by Orpheus and Tiresias; the King explains the cause of his death and asserts that he has been saved by his devotion to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and orders Bernat to relate the vision to the Queen and to his friends; Orpheus then tells the story of his life; Tiresias explains the cause of his blindness and inveighs against women, whereupon Bernat takes up the defence of the weaker sex. The book is full of reminiscences of other authors; the account of hell given by Orpheus is entirely Virgilian, and Bernat draws upon Cicero, Cassiodorus, Thomas Aquinas and Ramon Lull, but the argument is connected in strict logical form and presented in admirable style; the invective and satire of Tiresias is amusing in its vigour and the scene of jealousy which he describes must surely have been drawn from life. Bernat Metge, who also translated Boccaccio's story of Griselda, deserves more fame than he has obtained.

As soon as the unexpected death of Juan was known, the Catalan Estates of the Realm met in Barcelona and decided to nominate Martin, the Duke of Montblanch, as King. They sent deputies to Sicily to offer him the crown, with a fleet to support him in his war against the refractory nobles of the island. This war delayed his arrival in Spain, and the opportunity was seized by another pretender to the crown, in the person of Count Mateu de Foix, who claimed it through his wife, Juana, the daughter of the deceased Juan. The Count gathered an army to support his claims, and his attitude caused much alarm in Catalonia where he had a numerous body of supporters and considerable estates, including large possessions in the neighbourhood of Vich, Martorell and other places, while his possessions in Foix and Béarn provided considerable resources on which he could draw. He also secured the support of the Count of Armagnac, who could command the services of several Free Companies of mercenaries who were then wandering about southern [200] France, while the Duke of Berry, the uncle of the French King, and other French nobles promised to help him; in a short time he was able to invade Catalonia with a formidable army, and began the siege of Barbastro. The town, however, offered a desperate resistance. Queen Maria had returned in the absence of her husband, and had taken over the duties of the government, and her vigorous measures, together with the outbreak of disease in the Count's army, and the interruption of his supplies, obliged him eventually to give up the enterprise and return to France by way of Navarre. Shortly afterwards, King Martin left Sicily after handing the government to his son of the same name, and in March 1397 he went to Avignon in the hope of composing the Great Schism which was then dividing the Church.

Clement VII had been succeeded by Pedro de Luna, the Cardinal of Aragon, who took the title of Benedict XIII and was elected in September 1394. The occasion was thought to be an opportunity for ending the Schism, and the cardinal electors drew up a form of oath, binding any one whom they might elect to resign the papacy if he should be called upon by a majority of the cardinals so to do in the interests of the Church. Pedro de Luna declared his willingness to abdicate as readily as to take off his hat. He was well-known as a man of exceptional ability, the worthy representative of an old Aragonese family. He was profoundly learned in canon law, of which he had been a professor in the University of Montpellier, while his personal reputation was blameless. His cleverness, however, was liable to degenerate into craft and subtlety; he had a genius for managing complicated affairs and, in fact, most of the qualities of a great ecclesiastical statesman. Few could defeat him in argument and if he is compared with Boniface IX at Rome, an avaricious materialist, the preference of Aragon cannot be blamed. He was elected in consequence of his expressed determination to bring the Schism to an end, but the cardinal electors soon discovered that the only conclusion which he would contemplate was one which pleased himself. The first two or three years after his election were filled with negotiations upon this point; Benedict established himself in Avignon and cleverly refuted every argument urged in favour of his abdication. Quarrels broke out between the University of [201] Paris and the University of Toulouse upon legal and canonical points of argument. The University of Paris urged the King of France to make Benedict abdicate by force, and at the end of 1396 embassies were sent to Germany, England and Spain to secure their co-operation with this policy. It was when matters had reached this pitch that Martin attempted to interfere, but he was unable to change Benedict's determination, and continued his voyage to Barcelona.

Upon his arrival, he declared the Count of Foix to be a rebel and traitor, confiscated his estates in Catalonia and, when he attempted to renew the attack in 1398, obliged him to beat a hasty retreat. The Count died a few months later. His French possessions passed to his wife, and his sister, Isabella, who was married to a Gascon lord, was compassionately granted most of the fiefs in Aragon which her brother had held. Meanwhile, the King was obliged to send further reinforcements to Sicily, where his son eventually subdued the turbulent nobles of the island, and himself went to Zaragoza for his coronation, which took place in April 1399 with great splendour. At the same time, the domestic peace of the kingdom was disturbed by private quarrels between two noble families, represented by Pedro Ximenes de Urrea and Antonio de Luna. The discord thus engendered spread over a considerable part of the country. The towns were drawn into the dispute. The Justicia was unable to compose the quarrel and, as the King's presence was required in Valencia, he was obliged to appoint a Governor General of the kingdom, a dignity conferred upon Count Alfonso de Denia. For a considerable period the authorities were unable to secure complete domestic peace and order, partly in consequence of the fact that the King's attention was distracted by the papal question at Avignon and by further disturbances in Sardinia and Sicily.

As regards Avignon, Benedict had been informed by the French King that the Schism must be healed by February 1398, otherwise the King would himself remove the cause of it. Benedict declined to yield; the French Church therefore withdrew its allegiance from him in July of that year, and Benedict was cut off from all means of raising money from the ecclesiastical revenues of France; most of his cardinals left him, and Marshal Bouciquot was commissioned to [202] remove him from Avignon by force. Benedict held out in the palace of Avignon, apparently deserted by every possible supporter. He summoned the King of Aragon, who held the position of Gonfalonier of the Church, to help him, but Martin was not inclined to begin a war with France, as he had other pressing matters upon his hands. He contented himself by sending an embassy to the King of France, urging a reconciliation with the Pope, and finally Charles VI agreed to withdraw his troops from Avignon, provided that Benedict undertook to abdicate in case Boniface at Rome abdicated or died, and not to leave Avignon without the King's permission. For the next four years Benedict remained a virtual prisoner in his palace. A gradual reaction in his favour took place. The French clergy discovered that they were better off under the Pope than they were under the King, who demanded large contributions from the Church to meet the expenses in which the schism has involved him. Benedict escaped from Avignon in March 1403 and took up his position in Château Renard, a few miles from the town, where he could rely upon the protection of Louis of Anjou, whose claims upon Naples he had supported. The Duke of Orléans had also urged the King to release him, and an embassy from Aragon had made similar representations. Benedict determined to return to Avignon, which he garrisoned with Aragonese soldiers and provisioned for a siege in case of emergency, and by the end of May the obedience of France was restored to him. The question was reopened when Boniface IX died in October 1404, but Benedict maintained his position, as will be seen, until 1415.

In 1400 Martin was obliged to send another armament to Sicily, where a revolt had been supported by King Ladislas of Naples. Martin the younger, however, succeeded in crushing the revolt to such purpose that it was possible to turn attention to the problem of Sardinia. Here again the Aragonese were helped by the outbreak of domestic feuds. Brancaleone de Oria, with the help of the Genoese, had succeeded in conquering much of the island, but had so enraged the inhabitants that they turned for aid to the Viscount Aimerich of Narbonne, who had married Beatrice of Arborea, the sister of Leonora, and had already claimed the inheritance of the last Judge of Arborea. Martin of Sicily arrived in [203] November 1408, determined not to leave the island until its conquest was complete; and on June 30, 1409, he won a decisive victory at San Luri. Many of the Sardinian nobles who had hitherto been independent submitted, and Martin appeared to have every prospect of fulfilling his determination, when he suddenly died on July 24. The general grief was increased by the fact that he left behind him only an illegitimate son, Fadrique, while the King of Aragon himself was in weak health. Negotiations, therefore, began for the nomination of a successor to the crown, but before these were completed the King of Aragon died on the last day of May 1410, leaving no directions in his will except that the inheritance should pass to his rightful heir. With him ended the dynasty of the Counts of Barcelona, which for nearly three centuries had provided the kingdom of Aragon with a succession of competent and energetic rulers, for the most part equal to the difficult times in which they had to govern.