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A History of Aragon and Catalonia

H. J. Chaytor


7

Pedro III

[97] His accession. Disaffection of the nobility. Relations with Castile. Intervention in Sicily. Guelfs and Ghibellines. Charles of Anjou, Manfred and Conradin. The Sicilian Vespers. Pedro's preparations. John of Procida. Pedro invades Sicily. Charles challenges him to combat. Action of the Pope. Pedro's difficulties in Aragon. French invasion of Catalonia. Pedro's victory and death.

James had divided his territories in his will, leaving Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia to Pedro, the Balearic Islands, Roussillon and Montpellier to James. Pedro was now forty years of age and had obtained a good deal of military experience during his father's wars with the Moors. His first act was to arrange for his coronation at Zaragoza in November 1276; he and his wife Constance received the crown from the hand of the Archbishop of Tarragona, but at the same time he reversed the obligation of vassalage to the papacy undertaken by his grandfather Pedro II, and made a solemn declaration before the nobles that he did not receive the crown from the Roman Church to which he acknowledged no feudal obligation. His son Alfonso, then aged five, was acknowledged as his heir by the assembled estates of the realm, and after distributing presents and honours to the nobles, Pedro returned to Valencia to conclude the war which had been interrupted by his father's death. By September of the following year he had driven the enemy out of their strongholds into Montesa, where they surrendered and the pacification seems to have been complete.

Meanwhile, a serious revolt had been begun in Catalonia by certain disaffected nobles led by the Viscount of Cardona and the Counts of Foix, Pallas and Urgel. Pedro had made himself unpopular with the nobility by previous acts of severity; the excuse for revolt upon this occasion was the fact that he had omitted to summon the estates of Catalonia [98] upon his coronation and to confirm their privileges. The succession to the county of Urgel was also in dispute. The manner in which James the Conqueror had gained partial possession of the county has been already related. The claims of Guerao, whom James had dispossessed in favour of Pedro of Portugal, were revived by Guerao's son, Pons, who could count upon the support of any noble at variance with James and succeeded in recovering a number of towns. In 1236 it was agreed that James should keep Lérida and Pons should retain what he already held, both rulers holding the title of count, an arrangement which lasted until the death of Pons in 1243. He was succeeded by his son Alvaro, aged four, who was betrothed to Constanza the daughter of Pedro Moncada of Béarn, in 1255, the bride being aged ten and the bridegroom fourteen. The marriage was not consummated, the children disliked one another, and in 1256 Alvaro married Cecilia, a daughter of the Count of Foix. The result was a quarrel between the Moncada and Foix families. An action for divorce was referred to the ecclesiastical authorities, while James the Conqueror made a further attempt to get possession of the whole province. Successive ecclesiastical courts ended by crediting Alvaro with two wives, and his death in 1268 left the county at the mercy of two opposed factions. Alvaro's eldest son, Armengol, made repeated attempts to recover his patrimony, some parts of which were in pawn with the King, while others were held by the Count of Cardona; eventually, in 1278, Armengol regained possession of the county on condition of holding it as a fief from Pedro III. Few more dismal examples of the results produced by feudal separatism and ecclesiastical muddling can be found in the records of the Middle Ages.

When this matter had been settled, the King attacked the refractory nobles in 1280 with an army drawn from the towns, drove them into Balaguer, a stronghold in Urgel, and obliged them to surrender after a month's siege. The leaders were imprisoned in Lérida, but were released in the following year on giving guarantees of future loyalty, with the exception of the Count of Foix who was not released until 1284. About this time the King's brother, James, signed a declaration that he held his states in fief from Pedro whose authority was to be binding upon him and his successors. The connection [99] between the Balearic Islands and the Aragonese kingdom was thus reaffirmed. The subjects of James were displeased with his action and he himself asserted at a later date that he had signed under compulsion. Pedro continued friendly relations with Castile and Portugal; he arranged a marriage between the Infanta Isabel of Aragon and King Diniz of Portugal; in the quarrels concerning the succession to the Castilian throne, his reception of the Infantes de la Cerda, the grandsons of Alfonso X and the direct heirs to the throne, when they took refuge in Aragon with Pedro's sister Violante and her daughter-in-law, their mother Blanche, sister of Philip III of France, led to no immediate breach with Castile.

The chief event of Pedro's reign is his intervention in Sicily and consequently in the struggles between the Papacy and the Empire, for the comprehension of which a brief reference to the political situation is necessary. On the death of Lothair II, Emperor and King of the Romans in 1137, two candidates appeared for the Imperial Crown, Conrad of Hohenstauffen, Duke of Swabia, and Henry the Proud, Duke of Bavaria; the family of Conrad was known by the name of Waiblingen, from one of their estates in the diocese of Augsburg; the house of Bavaria had had many princes of the name of Wolf, which thus became a regular appellation. These names were italianized as Ghibellino and Guelfo, and became the titles of the opposed factions during the struggles between the Empire and the papacy during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In general, the Ghibellines were for the Emperor and the Guelfs for the Pope; the Ghibellines were supporters of authority and of a universal empire of which Italy was to be the head, whereas the Guelfs stood for liberty, self-government and the principle of nationality. The struggle was, or professed to be, one between a temporal and a spiritual power, but the Popes claimed temporal hegemony in the Italian peninsula and attempted to secure it by calling in the help of foreign princes. In the latter half of the thirteenth century the distinction between the parties was by no means so clearly cut as the above description might seem to imply; the watchword of one generation often becomes the catchword of the next, and Guelf and Ghibelline became mere party cries, confused [100] with memories of ancestral feuds and inherited hatreds, labels for the leaders of bloodthirsty vendettas. In the North of Italy the formation of leagues enabled the great towns to maintain a certain independence; in the South, Naples and Sicily remained under the dominion of the Stauffen. After the death of the Emperor Frederick II in 1250, Manfred his natural son was appointed by his will to govern the province on behalf of his legitimate son Conrad, who was to remain in Germany. Pope Urban IV, a Frenchman of humble birth, who succeeded to the papacy in 1261, strove to revive the Guelf party and opposed Manfred by every means in his power. As has been seen, he was unable to prevent the marriage of Manfred's daughter Constance with Pedro of Aragon, a union which might be regarded as counterbalancing that of Beatrice, the Countess of Provence, with Charles of Anjou, the brother of St. Louis, to whom the Pope proceeded to offer the crown of Naples.

Charles was to turn out the German power and to hold the kingdom as the Pope's vassal. Charles was certainly the ablest and probably the most unscrupulous of the Sons of Louis VIII. In Provence he had succeeded in establishing Northern methods of government and Northern ideals of life. The feudal nobles lost their independence and the cities their muncipal franchises; the prelates of the Church ceased to be temporal sovereigns and the troubadours migrated to other countries. But Charles provided justice and settled government; the towns found that their commercial interests were considered and the country gradually became reconciled to the new régime. His wife Beatrice, the daughter of Berenguer IV of Provence, in whose right he held the county, was no less ambitious than himself, and at the time when the Pope called him to Naples, Charles might consider himself at least as powerful as most of the reigning sovereigns of Europe. Urban IV died as Charles was about to march into Italy, but his successor, Clement IV, was no less ready to support the French, being by birth a Provençal from Narbonne, and gave the invasion the character of a crusade. Manfred was completely defeated at Benevento on February 26, 1266, and was himself killed, while his wife and children were thrown into prison; Constance of Aragon was the only member of the family left at liberty.

[101] Conradin, the grandson of the Emperor Frederic II, inherited his father's claim to the kingdom of Naples, a claim which Manfred had never denied, though he had shown no inclination to retire in Conradin's favour. This young man was now persuaded by the Ghibelline party to attack Charles the usurper. His cousin, Frederick of Austria, was prepared to join him in the adventure. Conradin was defeated by Charles at Tagliacozzo in August 1268, and was captured with Frederick by one of the Frangipani, as he was trying to escape to Sicily. Charles beheaded both of them after a form of trial as rebels against himself, and as Pedro of Aragon was, through his wife Constance, the only possible claimant to the throne, and the last hope of the Ghibelline party, it appeared that Charles might now enjoy his new possession in peace. His position was to some extent dependent upon the sympathies and the policy of the Pope for the time being; his supporter, Clement IV, died a month after the execution of Conradin and a successor, Gregory X, was not elected until 1271. This pontiff was anxious to recover the Holy Land and for this purpose to keep peace between the various powers of Europe; he died in 1276, at the moment when he had prepared the way for a united crusade against the infidels, and after a rapid succession of three popes within a year, Nicholas III was elected in 1277. His policy was that of Gregory X and Charles found that any projects of self-aggrandisement were impossible. On the death of Nicholas, Charles worked the papal election in his own interests and secured the elevation of a Frenchman, Simon de Brie, who took the title of Martin IV. Charles kept the new Pope under his own supervision at Viterbo, and was able to make himself the predominant power in the Italian peninsula. He was then preparing to attack Constantinople, when the outbreak occurred which is known as the Sicilian Vespers.

James the Conqueror had been in receipt of an annual tribute from El Mostansir, the Moorish King of Tunis. When Mostansir died, one of his sons seized the throne and denounced the treaty with Aragon, and Pedro proceeded to secure a footing in Northern Africa. He sent an expedition in 1280, under the command of a Sicilian, Conrado de Llansa, and established what amounted to an Aragonese protectorate [102] over Tunis. In 1281, Pedro prepared to extend his influence yet further upon the coast of Africa, and gathered a fleet of 140 ships and an army of 15,000 men at the mouth of the Ebro. The King of France was not unnaturally alarmed by these extensive preparations and sent ambassadors to inquire into Pedro's intentions; they were informed that the expedition was destined to proceed to Constantine, the Governor of which had asked the King of Aragon to help him against the King of Tunis. A landing was made in 1282 at the town of Alcoyll, where the Aragonese troops fortified themselves and began some desultory operations against the natives. Then came an embassy from the Sicilians who had revolted against Charles of Anjou. On Easter Monday, March 30, 1282, as people were streaming out of Palermo to Monreale to hear vespers in the monastery church, a French soldier insulted a girl under pretence of searching for concealed weapons. A shout was raised, "Muoiano i Francesi," the soldiers on the spot were killed and the population, exasperated by years of brutality and insolence, began a massacre of the French which continued for twenty-four hours and is said to have cost the lives of four thousand victims.

Pedro accepted the invitation of the Sicilians. He was within easy reach of the island, at the head of a powerful and well-equipped force, and it is difficult to believe that his presence in North Africa at that particular moment was the result of mere coincidence. Fugitives from Sicily had constantly appeared in Aragon; the leader of the previous expedition to Tunis had been a Sicilian; and these arrivals were so many reminders of his wife's claim to the crown and of his own duty in the matter. There was the prospect of gaining a kingdom which would compensate Aragon for what she had lost in the South of France; in command of Sicily and with a footing on the African coast, Aragon would dominate the western part of the Mediterranean. Doubts have been thrown upon those narratives which relate the activities of the secret service agent, John of Procida, but the story has no inherent impossibility. John of Procida was the physician, the friend and counsellor of both Manfred and Conradin; after the defeat of Tagliacozzo, he escaped to Aragon and devoted himself to the task of overthrowing [103] Charles and of establishing the rights of Manfred's daughter. He visited Sicily, found the island seething with discontent and urged the leaders to await the suitable moment which he would prepare. He went to Constantinople and warned the Emperor Palæologus of the designs of Charles, and promised that a diversion would be made by Aragon, if an adequate subsidy were forthcoming. The Greek Emperor was unwilling to act without the approval of Pope Nicholas III, which John succeeded in obtaining; Nicholas viewed the ambitions of Charles with some alarm and was not averse to a project which might increase the power of the papacy. John of Procida had completed these negotiations and returned to Barcelona, when Nicholas died; his successor, Martin IV, was the creature of Charles. But the work had been done, Palæologus provided funds and the carefully planned scheme was brought to fruition. Pedro must have realized that his enterprise involved a breach both with France and with the papacy, but he seems to have thought it worth while to run this risk, after discussing the matter carefully with his councillors.

Amid the general enthusiasm of the Sicilians he landed at Trapani on August 30, 1282; at Palermo he received the homage of the Sicilians and confirmed their laws and privileges. He sent a force to relieve Messina, which Charles was besieging and obliged him to evacuate the island by the end of October. The Pope excommunicated the invaders, but the fulminations of the Church did not help Charles, who had lost command of the coast of Calabria by February 1283. Charles then, in full medieval style, sent Pedro a letter by the hand of two Dominican monks, accusing him of treachery to God and the Church and challenging him to decide the issue by single combat. Pedro, a powerful and expert warrior, readily accepted the challenge and Charles went to France to make arrangements for the event, after the Pope had vainly tried to dissuade him from leaving Italy at such a critical moment. Six knights were chosen by either side to determine the time and place of the combat which was fixed at Bordeaux for June 1, 1283, when each king was to appear attended by a hundred knights; it was hoped that Edward I of England would act as umpire, but in obedience to the papal prohibition, he declined any participation in the [104] business. Pedro explained the situation to the authorities at Messina, left John of Procida in charge of administrative matters, while the conduct of the war in Calabria was entrusted to the famous admiral, Roger de Launa, and returned to Aragon on his way to Bordeaux. He then heard that Charles had no intention of meeting him in open combat but had prepared an ambush to capture him and his following. In order not to break his word, he entered Bordeaux in disguise, revealed himself to the seneschal of Guienne, under whose direction the combat was to be held, and returned in safety to Aragon, evading the French pursuers who had heard of his movements. Here considerable difficulties awaited him. On November 18, 1282, the Pope had declared him to be deprived of his kingdom, had relieved his subjects of their oath of fidelity and had conferred his possessions upon Charles of Valois, the third son of Philip III of France, who was now preparing to invade Aragon with an expedition to which the Pope had given the character of a crusade. Pedro found his subjects in a state of dissatisfaction and anxiety; it was unjust that a papal interdict should be laid upon a country which had always been foremost in the struggle against the Moors; as France was in possession of Navarre, there was every prospect of an invasion from more than one point; and this, while the possession of Sicily was by no means assured. The nobles considered that their advice should have been sought before the enterprise had been begun, and the additional taxation rendered necessary by the cost of the war aroused much discontent among the people at large. Stormy meetings with the estates of the realm took place at Tarragona and Zaragoza; a formidable combination of nobles, with the support of some municipalities, threatened revolt, and formed a "Union" with an armed force of its own. Pedro was obliged to recognize this body and to grant a number of concessions, known as the Privilegio General, which defined the immunities and privileges of nobles and municipalities. His successor, Alfonso III, was driven further upon the same path and forced to recognize that the nobles had a constitutional right to form a union and that the Cortes might even depose the King, if he failed to fulfil his obligations. The inevitable struggle was fought out by Pedro IV, as will be seen hereafter. In October 1283, Pedro [105] was able to go to Catalonia and take measures for placing his country in some posture of defence against a French invasion.

This task was considerably lightened by the success with which Roger de Launa had conducted the war in Sicily. On leaving Bordeaux, Charles of Anjou had collected a fleet in Provence and had sent a squadron of it in advance to Naples. This was intercepted by Launa and destroyed off the island of Malta, which he also captured from the French. By plundering the neighbouring coast-line, he then induced the son of Charles, the Prince of Salerno, to leave Naples with every available ship and attack him in the open sea; Launa again won a complete victory and returned in triumph to Messina with the Prince of Salerno, Charles the Lame, and other important persons as his prisoners, and forty-two captured vessels. It is possible that an attack upon Naples might have been successful at that time ; a series of disturbances broke out which were suppressed only by the timely arrival of Charles with reinforcements. Pedro was able to strengthen Launia's forces and Charles was prevented by the insecurity of his position in Italy from undertaking a campaign against him. The Angevin's defeats and the loss of his son are said to have preyed upon his mind and in January 1285 he died, leaving the Italian war without a leader. Shortly afterwards the French began their invasion of Catalonia, perhaps the most unjust, unnecessary and calamitous enterprise ever undertaken by the Capetian monarchy.

Meanwhile, Pedro had been occupied in securing his frontiers. He had first to deal with a Castilian noble, Juan Núñez de Lara, who held through his wife the stronghold of Albarracín within the territory of Aragon, and had been stirred to revolt by French influence. Expecting that Pedro would be unable to leave Catalonia, he had made no special provision for the defence of the town and when the King of Aragon suddenly appeared before it with a considerable force, the place was obliged to surrender. Pedro then renewed his alliance with Sancho of Castile and attacked Tudela, for the purpose of strengthening his position on the side of Navarre, but the approach of winter obliged him to abandon the attempt. As the domestic dissensions of the [106] country were by no means abated, he summoned the estates of the realm to Zaragoza early in 1285, to try and secure some unity in the face of the imminent danger. His concessions were met with fresh demands, and at length he was obliged to tell nobles and citizens that the moment when a great and formidable army was threatening their very existence was no time to be squabbling about constitutional privileges, that these questions must await a more suitable moment and they must support him as loyal subjects against the common enemy. He then went to Barcelona, where he suppressed a revolt among the lower orders by hanging their leaders, and prepared to meet the French, who had now finished their concentration. Few more formidable armies had been seen in France. A fleet of 100 ships was ready in the southern ports, large supplies had been accumulated in the chief towns near the Pyrenees and a force of 16,000 knights, 17,000 crossbow men and 100,000 infantry was ready to take the field. The Aragonese nobles declined to help and some of them even opened communications with the enemy; Pedro was obliged to rely chiefly upon the Catalans. His brother James, the King of Roussillon and the Balearic Islands, had recognised the supremacy of the French King over Montpellier as early as 1283 and now granted him a free passage through his lands. Pedro, however, suddenly appeared before Perpignan and captured James and his family in the castle of the town. He asked his brother to surrender the frontier strongholds for purposes of defence, promising to return them when the danger had passed. James, however, suspecting some further design, abandoned his family and fled; Pedro therefore carried the wife and children into Catalonia, left the defence of the Navarrese frontier to the local forces and himself undertook responsibility for the passes into Catalonia. The advancing French captured and plundered Elne on May 27, but were held up at the Col des Panissars (now superseded by the Col de Pertus to the east of it), where the Catalonians harassed them considerably. Eventually a knight provided by King James betrayed the fact that there was another passage; this was insufficiently guarded and the invaders were able to advance into Catalonia in the month of June. Pedro retreated, ravaging the country as he went, to Gerona, the [107] defence of which was undertaken by the Viscount of Cardona, during the siege which began on June 21. At the same time, the French fleet appeared off the Catalan coast to provision the army and take possession of the harbours. The Catalan fleet was still in Sicilian waters, but Barcelona was able to man eleven ships with which the Admiral Ramon Marquet defeated a squadron of twenty-four French vessels. The garrison of Gerona offered a desperate resistance; the besiegers were constantly harassed by guerilla bands which cut their communications, and the numbers of men and horses crowded round the town engendered an epidemic which inflicted severe losses. The garrison suffered from the same cause, and when their walls had been battered down by the engines of the besiegers, agreed to surrender with the honours of war at the end of August. They had, however, gained the necessary respite for the country. In September the invincible Roger de Launa suddenly appeared off the Bay of Rosas, where the French fleet was concentrated; he had called at Barcelona, picked up such reinforcements as were there and attacked the French without delay. By the end of the day the French fleet was destroyed and the supply and treasure ships were in Lauria's possession. This disaster ended the invasion; the King of France had himself been attacked by the prevailing epidemic and at once ordered a general retreat. Pedro had now persuaded the Aragonese to support him effectively, proposed to hamper the retreat of the French as much as possible, and reoccupied the Col des Panissars. The French left a garrison in Gerona, abandoned most of their baggage and plunder and struggled across the frontier with heavy losses. In October King Philip III died in Perpignan and the garrison left in Gerona was forced to surrender. Pedro then determined to punish his treacherous brother and equipped a fleet for a descent upon the Balearic Islands; at this moment he fell ill and entrusted the expedition to his eldest son Alfonso. Feeling that death was near, he summoned the Archbishop of Tarragona with other prelates and nobles and declared that he had attacked Sicily merely to defend the rights of his family and with no hostile feelings to the Church; when he had declared his readiness to submit to the ruling of the Church, he was given absolution, [108] and his declaration was naturally interpreted as a statement that he would return Sicily to the Pope. He died on November 2, 1285.

Pedro III was known as the Great, and the title was not ill-deserved: in the words of his contemporary Dante, "d'ogni valor portó cinta la corda." Like his father, he was a man of great stature and strength, expert in all knightly exercises and probably more than a match for Charles of Anjou in single combat; he was also a clever and cautious ruler who could wait for his opportunity and display patience under difficulties. To have defeated Charles of Anjou, the French kingdom and the Roman Catholic Church at a time when his own realms were far from united is no small title to fame. By his will his eldest son Alfonso became his heir, to be followed, should he be without issue, by his second son James, who received the kingdom of Sicily, to be followed in the succession, failing issue, by the remaining son, Fadrique or Frederick.