A History of Aragon and Catalonia

H. J. Chaytor


Juan II. Union of Aragon with Castile

[234] Settlement of Alfonso's possessions. Carlos de Viana imprisoned by Juan. Catalan enthusiasm for Carlos. Agreement between Carlos and Juan Death of Carlos. Indignation of Catalonia. Civil war. Catalan separatism. Pedro of Portugal. His defeat by Ferdinand of Aragon. René of Anjou invited to Catalonia. War with France. Ferdinand marries Isabella of Castile. End of the Catalan revolt. Peace with France. Death of Juan.

Alfonso left his Italian possessions to his illegitimate son, Ferdinand, while the Aragonese territories went to his brother, who ascended the throne as Juan II when he was already sixty-two years of age. Juan was recognized by the Cortes of Aragon and Barcelona as their ruler in the latter half of 1458, and Italian affairs immediately claimed his attention. Pope Calixtus was unwilling to recognize Ferdinand, Alfonso's son, as the King of Naples, while the local barons were divided into parties, some preferring Carlos de Viana, others Juan II himself, others the son of René of Anjou, while Ferdinand was not without supporters. Juan was not prepared to support his stepson, Carlos de Viana, whom he profoundly disliked, nor was he any more inclined to the son of René of Anjou, and his own supporters were too few to enable him to prosecute his own claim. He therefore gave his support to his nephew, Ferdinand. Pope Calixtus died in that year, but his successor, Pius II, invested Ferdinand as King of Naples, in spite of the opposition of Jean of Anjou, the son of René, who continued to assert his claims until 1463, when he was definitely defeated and returned to Provence. Juan II was thus relieved of anxiety with regard to Naples, but the same could not be said of Sicily, where his hated son, Carlos, had taken up his residence. It seemed likely that the Sicilians would offer the crown to Carlos de Viana out of loyalty to their [235] memory of his mother, and these expectations were realized. Carlos was living a retired life, devoted to literary study, in which he was disturbed by a deputation urging him to accept the crown of Sicily. Carlos declined, and the only obvious reason for his refusal seems to have been his desire for a reconciliation with his father, and for a period of repose in some spot removed from the political disturbances of the epoch. Juan was chiefly anxious to get his son out of Sicily, as he did not wish to deal with the possible revolt of the inhabitants in favour of Carlos. The Prince eventually went to Mallorca, and, after lengthy negotiations, a convention was concluded in 1460, under which Carlos submitted himself and his possessions in Navarre to the King's authority, and received his pardon.

It was generally expected that at the Cortes which were shortly afterwards held in Fraga and Lérida, in which Juan declared that Sardinia and Sicily were for ever to be united with the Crown of Aragon, he would declare his son as his successor and request the Cortes to acknowledge him as such. This longstanding custom secured the existence of a viceroy in case of need, and was thus an additional guarantee for the peace and security of the kingdom. Juan, however, declined to make any announcement of the kind. From the Admiral of Castile, Fadrique, the father of his second wife, Juana, he received information that Carlos was beginning secret negotiations with the King of Castile for a marriage with his sister, Isabella, and for the support of Castile in pushing his own claims. The Queen, who profoundly hated her stepson, induced her husband to summon him to Lérida, and imprison him. This unexpected treatment of a prince whose popularity was general aroused great dissatisfaction in the several Estates of the Realm which had come together for the recent Cortes. The accusation that Carlos had been plotting against his father's crown and life found not the smallest credence, and both Catalan and Aragonese deputations requested the King to set his son at liberty. When this request was declined, the Catalans displayed the utmost dissatisfaction. They regarded themselves as pledged to secure the liberation of the Infante, as he had been illegally arrested upon their territory. The Council of Barcelona summoned a general meeting of the citizens, and called the whole country to arms. A fleet was [236] equipped, and a formidable army prepared for operations against the evil advisers of the king. Juan hastily made his way to Zaragoza. He found that Aragon was no less disturbed than the other parts of his kingdom, while the King of Castile was threatening a descent upon his frontier; and in March 1461 he therefore gave way. Carlos was released and handed over to the Catalans, who conducted him with great delight to Barcelona, into which town he made a triumphal entry amid unbounded enthusiasm. The Queen, who had been appointed Governor-General of the Principality, then began negotiations between Carlos and the King, and at length a convention was concluded at Villafranca. The Prince was to be recognized as successor to the Crown, and to be permanent Governor of Catalonia, while a general amnesty was to be granted to all his supporters. The King found himself obliged to agree to these conditions, however disadvantageous to himself.

The conclusion of this arrangement was immediately followed by the death of the Prince, and by the no less immediate explanation of that event as due to poisoning by the hand of his stepmother. Juana, an energetic and determined character, immediately went to Barcelona with her son, Ferdinand, then ten years of age, and attempted to calm the prevailing agitation by explanations and assurances, but her efforts were in vain. It was generally believed that poison had been administered to the Prince during his imprisonment. He had, as a matter of fact, been in feeble health from the time of his release. Lamentations were general, and popular indignation expressed itself in a desire for independence. The Queen was obliged to leave Barcelona in 1462, having done nothing to relieve the prevailing tension. It was commonly felt that, if no independent ruler could be found, Catalonia would be well advised to form a republic upon the model of the Italian states. The Catalans considered that their rights had been infringed, and welcomed the preaching of the Dominican, Juan Gualbes, who related that the Prince's tomb had already begun to work miracles, a clear proof that revolt against the King and his evil Queen would be regarded by heaven as a righteous act. The Archbishop of Tarragona and other Catalan nobles attempted to stem the tide, but the spirit of revolt swept over the whole country, and King [237] Juan realized that his own crown was at stake. His first precaution was to secure the friendship of Louis XI of France, whose support was as indispensable as his hostility would have been dangerous. Through the good offices of his son-in-law, the Count of Foix, a treaty was concluded in 1462 between France and Aragon, Louis promising to send a force to help in the subjugation of the Catalan rebels, while Juan pledged Roussillon and Cerdagne as guarantees for the costs of the expedition. A peace was also concluded with Castile and Portugal. But these facts did not turn the Catalans into a more pacific frame of mind. Under the leadership of the Count of Pallars they attacked Gerona, and succeeded in conquering that town, but were unable to get possession of the castle in which the Queen had taken refuge with her son, Ferdinand. The approach of the Count of Foix and the French auxiliary troops obliged them to raise the siege. The King then captured the town of Balaguer and began operations against Tárrega; actions which aroused the Catalans to the highest pitch of exasperation. They publicly declared that the King, as well as the Queen, their councillors and servants, were enemies of the country, and issued a general proclamation that everybody above the age of fourteen years should take up arms against the King.

At the same time, many who had supported the formation of a republic began to doubt their capacity to hold their ground without foreign support. A deputation of ten resolved to approach the King of Castile, who was more closely connected with their former dynasty than was the King of Aragon, and to offer him the position of their ruler on the ground that Juan had forfeited that position by making an alliance with foreign princes and introducing foreign troops into the country. Enrique IV of Castile accepted the proposal at the instance of a majority of his councillors, received the oath of allegiance through deputies and sent a force of 2500 cavalry to help. The city of Barcelona had been already closely besieged, but the courage of the inhabitants was raised by the advent of these reinforcements, and proposals for peace were rejected, whether emanating from the King or from the Pope. Winter put an end to the siege, but Tarragona and other places made a voluntary surrender to Juan, while the war with Castile, which had already broken [238] out upon the frontier, was interrupted by an armistice in the following spring. Louis XI succeeded in negotiating a permanent peace between Castile and Aragon, who agreed to accept his decision upon their differences. In April 1463, he declared his decision that Catalonia should submit to the King of Aragon, and that the King of Castile should withdraw his troops and refrain from sending any further support to the Catalans. Enrique himself advised the deputies of Barcelona to come to some arrangement with their lawful ruler. That stubborn race, however, in spite of the fact that their land had been devastated, were unwilling to ask favours of the King, even though he was ready to grant them. They proceeded to offer their country to the Infante Pedro of Portugal, whom they hoped would find supporters in other parts of the Aragonese dominions, as he had some claim to the succession through his mother, Isabella, the elder daughter of the last Count of Urgel.

Pedro, who bore the title of Constable of Portugal, was the grandson of James the Unfortunate, whose claims to the throne had been set aside by the Parliament of Caspe and whose eldest daughter, Isabella, had married the Infante of Portugal, Pedro, Duke of Coimbra, the second son of Juan I of Portugal. Pedro, therefore, arrived at Barcelona in January 1464, received the homage of the citizens, and proceeded to style himself King of Aragon and Sicily. He had no money and no troops, and his cousin, the King of Portugal, declined to give him any support. He was, therefore, confined to Barcelona, while King Juan continued his operations against the rebels and captured Lérida in July. Juan, however, showed no particular energy in prosecuting this success, and appears to have preferred to wait for dissension among the ranks of his enemies, as happened in 1465, when one of their allies, Juan of Beamonte, the most powerful personality in Navarre, deserted the rebels and made his peace with Aragon. At the same time King Juan was involved in the confusion of Castilian politics. Enrique of Castile was dissatisfied with his convention with Aragon, and quarrelled with the Archbishop of Toledo and the Marquis of Villena who had been responsible for its conclusion. They, therefore, joined the Admiral of Castile and other barons who were opposed to the King, and Juan of Aragon had [239] given them his support as early as 1464, promising to join in the defence of the Catholic faith, to co-operate in the conquest of Granada and to secure the succession to the Castilian throne to Enrique's brother or sister, Alfonso and Isabella, to the exclusion of his putative daughter, Juana. Civil war, therefore, broke out in Castile with greater intensity in 1465, when the rebels proclaimed Alfonso as King. In February of that year, the Infante Ferdinand of Aragon, who was then thirteen years of age, was placed by his father at the head of an army, and gained a brilliant victory over Pedro of Portugal at Prats del Rey or Calaf, between which two villages the battle took place. The Catalan forces were completely defeated, and a number of their chief leaders were taken prisoner. Certain fortresses continued to hold out, Cervera and Amposta in particular. But in 1466, Pedro suddenly died, and the important town of Tortosa then submitted to the King of Aragon. A number of leaders in Barcelona were inclined to follow this example, but were overweighted by those who desired once again to choose their own monarch, and who were supported by Count Gaston of Foix, the husband of Leonora, the sister of Prince Carlos of Viana, who had advanced into Navarre. It was also pointed out by the malcontents that King Juan's attention was largely occupied by the state of affairs in Castile. Their choice fell upon Duke René of Anjou, who could claim the Crown of Aragon as the brother of Duke Louis of Calabria. The Duke had come forward as a claimant after the death of Martin, and the fact that the Aragonese King had deprived him of the possession of Naples was sufficient to account for his hostility. René was an important and influential personage. By marriage he was in possession of the Duchy of Lorraine, and his son, Jean, was one of the foremost generals of his time. Thus Juan of Aragon found himself confronted by a fresh war at the age of seventy, and at a moment when he was almost blinded by an attack of cataract. He attempted to secure the alliance of the Kings of Naples and of England and that of the Pope against the House of Anjou, without success; nor was an application to the Dukes of Savoy and Milan any more fruitful. But the Aragonese nobles were prepared to support him, and his Queen, Juana, undertook the conduct of affairs with the help of their son, who had been [240] already recognized as his successor, and whom he shortly afterwards appointed King of Sicily and co-regent.

The Duke of Lorraine, Jean, came to Catalonia in 1467. King Louis of France, who saw an opportunity of interfering to his own advantage, had given him a free passage through his country. The Duke began the siege of Gerona, but the approach of Ferdinand with a numerous army obliged him to retire. As soon as his allies had sent him adequate reinforcements, he offered battle and Ferdinand was defeated after a desperate conflict. Gerona was once more besieged, when the Aragonese King recovered his sight, thanks to the skill of a Jewish doctor, Crexcas Abiatir, and was able to take the field in person. Meanwhile, Ferdinand took a step which eventually led to the political union of Spain. Enrique's brother, Alfonso, had died in July 1468; his supporters had proclaimed his sister, Isabella, as Queen-regent, and her right to the succession was recognized by the great majority of the kingdom. She was, moreover, inclined to favour the project of King Juan, who proposed that her marriage with his son should bring about the union of Aragon and Castile. Enrique had proposed a marriage with the King of Portugal, but this and other proposals were declined by Isabella. Negotiations were carried on by the Archbishop of Toledo, with such success that, on March 5, Ferdinand and Juan respectively gave their assent to the conditions under which the marriage was to take place. The heir to the Crown of Aragon undertook to observe all the laws, customs and freedoms of the Castilian realm and of particular localities within it, to take up his residence in Castile, to alienate none of the Crown property without the consent of his consort and to appoint only Castilians to his council. Isabella was to make appointments upon her own responsibility, to sign all public documents and to have the deciding voice in questions of peace and war. The marriage was celebrated in October 1469 at Valladolid under difficulties related in detail by the chronicler Alfonso of Palencia, but it brought no immediate support to the King of Aragon in his struggle with his rebellious subjects, as the weakness and irresolution of Enrique IV and the restless ambition of the Marquis of Villena provided every opportunity for the continuance of disturbances in Castile.

[241] A further prospect of danger was opened by the action of Louis XI, who sent ambassadors to Castile to negotiate a marriage between his brother, Charles, the Duke of Berry, and Enrique's daughter, Juana, while Duke Jean of Lorraine succeeded in capturing Gerona, Besalú and Ampurias at a time when Juan of Aragon was called to Navarre by a series of petty struggles, and by the fact that the Count of Foix was threatening Tudela. The Count was obliged to withdraw, and Juan concluded a convention with him for the purpose of ending the Navarrese quarrels and devoting his sole attention to the affairs of Aragon. This agreement was concluded in May 1471. Under it, Juan was recognized as King by the inhabitants of Navarre, on promising to respect the laws and freedoms of their country, while, after his death, and he was then of advanced age, the nobles swore to accept the Infanta Leonor, the wife of the Count of Foix, as their Queen. She was also to occupy the position of Governor-General forthwith, and only to relinquish her functions as such when the King of Navarre should be actually present. A general amnesty for all past wrongs and outrages was proclaimed. The situation in Catalonia was further relieved by the death of the Duke of Lorraine, which occurred in Barcelona in 1470. The more obstinate party among the Catalans continued to struggle for some time, with the help of the French and Italian forces that the Duke had brought into the country, but in the course of 1471 Gerona, the Ampurdan and other important districts were reconquered, and a considerable number of barons and knights returned to their obedience. The inhabitants of Barcelona none the less continued to hold out, and refused to receive Cardinal Borgia, whom Pope Sixtus IV had sent to Spain to negotiate a peace. But eventually starvation appeared in the town, quarrels broke out among the citizens and the mercenary troops, and the courage of the defenders steadily sank. Juan summoned the leaders to a conference in October 1472, promised them far milder treatment in the case of a surrender than they had any reason to expect, but threatened that, if surrender was not offered immediately, the town and its inhabitants would be treated with the utmost severity. The leaders of Barcelona, therefore, opened negotiations, asserting that they had acted merely from fidelity to the Infante [242] Carlos, asking that they and all Catalans should be regarded as legal and faithful vassals, that there should be an amnesty for all past wrongs, and that the laws and privileges of the capital and the country should be once more recognized. The foreign troops were allowed to depart, together with any one else who declined to submit, while the remainder were given ample time to renew their oath of obedience to the King. On October 17, 1472, these negotiations were brought to an end, and the King made his entry into the town on the next day. Thus was ended a conflict which had momentarily ruined the prosperity of Barcelona, and which a little common sense and statesmanship might easily have avoided. The most striking feature of the struggle is the unswerving support which the nobles of Aragon and Valencia gave to their King, whose own energy and determination were able to bring the struggle to a conclusion.

Juan was now seventy-five years of age, but, none the less, after restoring peace in Catalonia, he proposed to revenge himself on Louis XI, who had overrun the counties of Roussillon and the Cerdagne and was largely responsible for a war which had ravaged parts of Catalonia for four years, not to speak of disturbances in Navarre. The inhabitants of the two countries offered the strongest objection to a foreign rule, and the towns of Perpignan and Elne arranged with the King to attack the French garrisons on the same day. Such of their numbers as managed to escape to the castles were immediately besieged by Juan's army. A numerous French force speedily approached, and Juan was himself besieged in Perpignan for three months, until reinforcements from Aragon and Catalonia and the approach of an army under the King of Sicily obliged the enemy to retire. Louis of France began negotiations in 1473, which were apparently only a mask to conceal fresh preparations on his part for renewing the attack. He detained the Aragonese ambassadors in France, in spite of the safe-conduct that had been assured to them, and advanced into Roussillon in the summer of 1474, capturing all the important towns, and pushing forward even beyond the Pyrenees. The danger was increased by the disturbed state of Castile, even after the death of Enrique IV in December 1474, as the new sovereigns, Ferdinand and Isabella, were not immediately [243] able to secure a general pacification. Enrique had declared Juana in his will as his heiress and successor, and had once more expressed his desire for a marriage between her and King Affonso of Portugal. The Portuguese King was thus induced by the representations of a number of Castilian nobles to come forward as a claimant to the crown, and to invade Castile, where he was proclaimed as King, with his betrothed Juana. King Ferdinand was thus obliged to remain constantly in Castile, and a local quarrel among the barons of Aragon prevented King Juan from defending Perpignan, which fell into the hands of the French in March 1475. An armistice was concluded from April to September, after which Louis entered into an alliance with King Affonso, and renewed his attacks upon Catalonia. However, Affonso was decisively defeated by Ferdinand at Toro in 1476. A French army which had entered the Basque provinces to support him was driven back. A guerrilla warfare continued for some time upon the Catalonian frontier, but a final peace was concluded in October 1478, under which Juan was obliged to leave the counties of Roussillon and Cerdagne in the hands of his enemy until he could raise sufficient money to redeem them. He retired to Barcelona, and early in 1479 he died in the eighty-second year of his age. Navarre became once more an independent kingdom, but Aragon was united with Castile, so that, for the first time, the Spanish peninsula may be regarded as a political whole.

It was a union fraught with many difficult problems. Aragon and Castile stood, as it were, back to back. The interests of Aragon were foreign and Mediterranean; the problems of Castile were domestic and Atlantic. It had seemed, in fact, more likely and more reasonable that Portugal rather than Aragon should be united with Castile, and the marriage of their respective rulers was the only immediate bond of union between the two states. These rulers began their complicated tasks with considerable advantages to help them; they were a united and affectionate couple, enjoying high popularity among their subjects; they were inspired by lofty ideals of statesmanship and endowed with full determination to pursue them. It is doubtful if any other combination could have rescued Castile from its condition of dreadful anarchy and have restored the prestige [244] of monarchy in so short a time, or have conciliated interests so diverse and local prejudices so deeply rooted as those which divided their respective states. Had their successors continued their policy of gradual extension of the monarchical power, it is possible that political union might in the course of time have led to real national unanimity. But there were too many distracting possibilities before the ambitions of Spanish rulers; relations with France and the Netherland possessions, commitments in Italy and Africa, the government of the New World beyond the Atlantic, the religious struggles and European entanglements in which Charles V involved the country; in the embarrassment of alternative policies the interests of domestic statesmanship were too often neglected. Here our narrative comes to an end; henceforward the history of Aragon and Catalonia cannot be separated from that of the Spanish peninsula as a whole.