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Extract from "The lions of Catalonia – A dead lion" (The Cornhill Magazine, 1872)

Here is a version of early Catalan history published in The Cornhill Magazine in July 1872. I have limited the reproduction to the first pages, up to the birth of King James the Conqueror, to whom most of the article is devoted.

Click , if need be, to read the text




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The lions of Catalonia – A dead lion.

     In the papers which we have devoted at various times to the Spanish province of Catalonia, honourable mention has been made of James I of Arragon - called also James the Conqueror, king of Arragon, Count of Barcelona, and Lord of Montpellier - -one of tho wisest and most brilliant sovereigns of the thirteenth century. This potentate (whose sarcophagus is the first object meet one's eye in the Cathedral of Tarragona added Valencia and the Balearic Islands to his hereditary possessions showed a great deal of good sense and humanity in his domestic politics and left behind him a chronicle of his life, Which w(. propose to make use of in endeavouring to draw his portrait. But, before the attempt that task, we must fill in a background of a geographical and historical character without which the figure, we fear, would have little reality for the English reader. There is hardly such a thing as a good history of Spain in our literature. And besides that, the fortunes of the House of Barcelona are intimately connected with those of the south of France, at a period when our own country had little to do with the France to the south of the Loire, and when our sails were but rarely seen on the waters of the Mediterranean. The Southern nationality – for theire was a certain feeling of nationality in common between the races from trhe Ebro to the Rhone, between the men of Toulouse and the men of Barcelona – has never had ther same interest for us with that of the North, against which the South felt called to defend itself. Yet this nationality had an interest of its own, heroes of its own, touches of beauty worthy of climate and scenery, and has left distinctive elements in the national lives of both sides of the Pyrences.

     The regon over which the Counts of Bnrcelonn were destined to establish and extend their sway was early under the influence of civilization. Greek colonies - perhaps, also, Carthaginian factories - were planted on its coast; and the Roman Government came in good time to modify the savagery, and suppress the lawlessness, of the Celt and the Iberian. In the age of Pliny, Narbonne and Provence ranked almost, if not quite, with Italy; Roman colonies occupied thc Spanish coast from point to point; and the abundance of the wine grown near Tarragona did not escape the attention of tbe philosopher. Barcelona, a town of little importance in the classical period, became gradually richer, and rose rapidlv after the occupation of the countrv bv the Goths, in the beginning of the fifth century. The modern name of the province, Cataluña – a variation upon Gothalania – still records the conquest by that race, which entered Aspain (as the Romans had entrered it) at the Mediterranean end

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of the Pyrenees, and held also the provinces lying between the Loire, the Durance, the Alps, and the sea. A similarity of condition, a common enjoyment of the traditions of Roman civilization under Gothic rule, united what is now the South of France with what is now the East of Spain; and all that Mediterranean sea -board acquiesced more tranquilly in the rule of the foreigner than the more turbulent peoples of Aquitaine. The Goth, in fact, was better liked than the Roman governors to whose power he succeeded. Those governors were in the habit of regarding Spain as a country from which to extort money to be spent in Italy. Their thoughts were with the stately houses of the Palatine, and the villas of Tibur or Baiæ, with the luxurious dinners, the spectacles, the treasures of literature and art, of the capital of the world. But to the simpler and sturdier Visigoth from the distant banks of the Dnieper, Spain was a paradise. The Roman civilization which he found ready-made to his hands, the vine - clad hills and grey olive - groves, the soft dry air, and cheerful blue sea, all united to make him a contented settler and a kind master. He soon learned all that the civilization of the Romans had to teach him, without losing the indomitable vigour natural to every branch of the wide Teutonic family. And fortunate for Spain was it that he made himself a Spaniard. But for the Goth and the Frank, she must have been permanently annexed to Africa by the Moor; just as but for the Roman she must have been permanently annexed to it by the Carthaginian.

     If the part of Spain with which we are now occupied escaped earlier than others from the rule of the Crescent, this was due mainly to the neighbourhood of France, and to the leadership of the Counts of Barcelona, who were vassals of the Carlovingian Emperors. Catalonia had fallen under the Moor, who had likewise overrun the corresponding portion of France on the other side of the Pyrenees. Walis ruled in Tortosa, Tarragona, Barcelona, Gerona, and not less in Narbonne and Aquitaine. So little was France (we use the title for geographical convenience) yet united, that the Southern tribes, though glad of the aid of Frank against Moor, joined themselves in a struggle with the Moor against their Aquitanian neighbour, who was desirous of uniting their country- Gothie or Septimanie - to his own. They sncceeding in evading this for a time. But tho Frakish power reduced these discordant races gradually into a common obedience, and Catalonia soon felt the benefit of the ascendency of this new branch of tho great Germanic tree. By A.D. 759. the last remnant of the invading Mussulmen was driven from the soil of the soil of Gaul, and the walis of Barcelona and Gerona bati acknowledged the suzeraine of Pepin le Bref. A IFrankisb monasrchy was set np in
Acquitaine, and to this Charlemagne united, under the title of the Marca Hispania, Spanish march or border, the adjoining districts of Spain.

     But his son, Louis the Debonnaire, not conent with a mere suzeraraineté, marched into Catalonia, and drove the Moioirs out of its chief city of Barcelona. This was in A.D. 801, when one Béra wa appointed by Louis

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to be the city's governor. The Marca Hispanica was now considered a regular fief of the masters of France, and more nearly allied to the neighbouring provinces of that country than to the Spain, or Spains, of which it had been a part since the dawn of history. And, even to-day, after the lapse of a thousand years, traces of the influence of this state of things exist. Provincialism - his essence - prevents the Catalan from being either Spanish or French, although his long political union with Castile has subjected him to all the depravation of Spanish mis-government. But his language is - still - more like the Southern dialects of France, than like Castilian. His capital, Barcelona, is the most Frenchified town in Spain, and the scanty survivors of the old nobility of the province regard themselves as the descendants of those foreigners Franks, and others, - to whose leadership the indigenous population owed their deliverance from the scimitar - sway of the infidel.

     A countship once established, with its seat at Barcelona, nothing could be more natural, as the feudal system strengthened itself, than that it should become hereditary. Every title was, at first, an office; and offices had a tendency to vest themselves permanently in families. The earliest known ancestor of King James of Arragon was one Count Wifred - our English Wilfred - whose daughter took the veil in a religious house in Ripoll, in the year 875. Whether Wilfred - called Wilfred the Hairy was, as seems probable, a scion of the Carlovingian family, or the son of one Humfrid d'Arria, a previous governor of Barcelona, whether he was a Frank or a Goth, cannot now be certainly known. He is, in any case, the founder of the house, whose posterity were destined to unite Arragon to Catalonia by marriage; the Balearic Isles, and Valencia, to both by war; and to transmit the accumulated successions to the all-embracing crown of Castile. Wilfred was a worthy founder of the heroic line. At the head of his barons he drove the Moors from Vich and Ripoll, from Manresa, and holy Monserrat. His grandson, Borrell II, had to sustain the shock of a new Moslem invasion, in the course of which he lost, for a time, even his capital. The struggle was renewed by each successive prince, from one range of hills to another - river-line to anotber. There were occasional overthrows of the dykes which they set np against the invading sea. Bnt the reactions were occasional, and the advance, though gradual, was certain. Ramon-Berenguer I, called the Old (1085-1076), deserves special praise amb the chiefs of the line. He was craeful to keep at peace with the Christian lords, on his ownn and the other side of the mountains; having seen what mischief had been caused by factious quafrrels to both the races fighting for the mastery of Spain. He made himself, at one time, supreme in nearly all Catalonia; reached as far as Tortosa and Lerida; and prepared the way br tho recovery of Tarragona by his grandson. His different marriages with ladies of France brought to hisd house rights and disputcd rights, in many fidtricts of that country, such as Carcassonne, Toulouse, Foix, Comminges, and Narbonne. These claims, and the influence resulting from them, and made the House of


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Barcelona a name of power among the different peoples of the langue d'oc, - a name second only, if second, to that of the House of Toulouse. Acting together, these houses might have made a formidable stand for the «nationality of the Sonth" already referred to. But they were oftener rivals than friends. The peoples they ruled over, commercial, municipal, lovers of pleasure, were perhaps naturally less energetic and earnest than those of the North, and after the lapse of some ages the South of France fell under the centralizing power, and its kindrcd neighbour, Gotholania or Cataluña, joining itself with Arragon, devoted its energy to Spain, and especially to the trade of the Mediterranean; making, by its enterprise in one field and another, the name of «Catalan» familiar from Constantinople to Alexandria, and from Alexandria to Cadiz.

     The grandson of Ramon-Berenguer the Old, Ramon-Berenguer III, increased the power of the family in France, where ho gained some land and castles in war from the rival house of Toulouse. He also distinguished himself against the Moor, and made one definite conquest of importance - that of Tarragona. Arce potens Tarraco, now decaying and lonely, within the girdle of its primiaeval walls, yet with a fascination for the scholar and the poet which few cities possess, is, indeed, one of the most important cities in the history of Europe. it was the key by which the Romans opened the door to the conquest of Spain. it was the stand-point from which the Counts of Barcelona, both before and after their aquisition of the crown of Arragon, conducted their attack on the Moor. Tarragona now recovóred the archiepiscopal rank, which had been transfered to Vich; and it still disputes the primacy of Spain with Toledo. Ramon-Berenguer III closed his long life in A.D. 1181, having, towards the end, taken the vows, and conformed to the rules, of the order of the Temple. Among his many countships he absorbcd by the family as inferior houses waned, was that of Provence. He left it to the younger of his two sons. Provence several times reverted to the parent stock, but it was always disposed of in the same way. And it is worthy of notice that the historic Counts of Lporovence from this time were of the House of Barcelona.

     Ramon-Berenguer IV, son of the last prince, brought Arragon into the family. He was was betrothed, to Petronila, daughter of Ramon of Arragon, called Ramon the Monk, because he had begun life in a monastery. Through his reign, he contented himself with the style of Prince, while his wife bore that of Queen. He was brother - in - law to the King of Castile, who had married his sister, and by certain concessions in matters pending between Castile and Arragon, he succeeded in living at peace with him. But he had plenty of wars on hand, with Navarre, which Arragon supposed itself to have subjugated; with Toulouse, which brought him into friendly relations with our Henry the Second, eager in the cause of his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine; in Provence, where the Lords of Baux believed themselves the rightful successors of the old line of counts; and in different parts of Spain, with his hereditary foe, the Moor. He joined the Genoese, Pisans, and Castilians, in taking Almeria from the

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Moor (1147 ); and next year, thanks to the aid of the same men of Genoa and Pisa, he wrung Tortosa from the Africans, and finally secured the line of the old Ebro, — the famous old Iberus, to which, perhaps, the entire Peninsula owed its ancient name, and in which Hannibal's Africans bad watered their elephants more than thirteen centuries before. There are fewer traces of the greatness and the culture of the Moor in Catalonia, than in other provinces of Spain. But his cunning Eastern hand has left hints of beauty in the cloisters of Tarragona Cathedral. Some of his baths only perished under the neglect of modern ignorance in Barcelona, quite lately. The older streets of that capital - high, narrow winding bear witness to his happy adaptation of architecture to climate. His norias, in which a huge wheel, girt around with jars, draws water from a well, and discharges it into a cistern, thence to be diffused over the thirsty soil1, - still irrigate the gardens, with their perennial roses, of the eastern principality. Nay, the blood itself of the Moor lives, - though unrecognized like that of the Jew, - in the province, despite its "Latin" boasts and Romish bigotry. The observing tourist who has not been bred in a corner, and who knows what Moor and Jew have done in history, is glad to see Africa looking at him through the hot black eyes of a girl of Vendrell, or to recognize Syria (in a prosaic form) in the knowing looks of a Barcelonese counting-house.

Ramon-Berenguer IV, supported in his view of the Provence question by the great Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, was on his way to meet him at Turin, when he sickened and died near Genoa, in the August of 1162. His body was brought to Ripoll, to be buried with his ancestors, in the spot where their figures first become visible through the darkness of the ninth century. Great was the advance that they had made since the days of Wilfred the Hairy, without whom, and his career, they and their careers would never have been. Their Moorish vassals in Spain, their French vassals in France, counted by dozens. From the hills of Navarre to the sea, from the Ebro along the sea to Genoa, they were known, followed, or feared. Their rivals of the House of Toulouse had been weakened by the Crusades, though still paramount among the houses of the South. This was the moment when the House of Barcelona stood highest on the Gallic side of the mountains. Nor did it afterwards add to its power in that direction.

     Ramon-Berenguer IV was followed by a son, to whom was given the name of Alfonso, in compliment to the Arragonese, who loved it for the sake of their king, Alfonso el Batallador.. He was a prince of the true type of his line, daring, intelligent, generous, a poet, and the friend of poets. The troubadours of the South were now - in the latter half of the twelfth century - in full song, celebrating the roses and nightingales of the

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Southern summer; fanning the gale of Southern feeling and sentiment; and pelting with satires, bright and hard as the sugar - plums of a Carnival, princes whose arms were weak, and princes whose hands were empty. Alfonso I. of Barcelona, II. of Arragon, was often lauded and often lashed. He was prosperous in war, like most of his ancestors. He carried the Christian arms as far as Valencia; and a quarrel having arisen between Provence and Toulouse, he took the side of the former, and triumphed completely over the race of the Raymonds. Alfonso, whose morals in some points severer than those of the South generally, and especially than those of some of the greatest men of his own lineage, was called Alfonso the Chaste. He died at Perpignan, in April, 1196, leaving three sons, - Peter the Catholic, who succeeded him in Arragon; Alfonso, who inherited Provence, and other trans-Pyrenean fiefs; and Ferdinand, monk of Poblet and Abbot of Montaragon, whom we shall meet again.

     In all but the quality to which his father owed his distinctive appellation, Pedro el Catolico was his father's true son. Brave and lavish, he, too, was liked by the trovadores, who called him “a grain come of a good ear» - «gran de bon espic» -and urged him on to the love of war and song. This prince was even more Provençal and Languedocien than Catalan. He seems to have understood, says an historian of that country, that union alone could give force to the lords of the South.2 He married his two sisters to two successive Counts of Toulouse. He took to wife himself a daughter of the Lord of Montpellier. He was often in those countries; and he lost his life at Muret, fighting on the side of the Count of Toulouse against Simon de Montfort in A.D. 1213. He was no heretic of the Albigensian or any other sect. He had fought splendidly for the Christian faith at Las Navas de Tolosa. He was driven to arms, it would seem, against a Pontiff he respected, and against a crusade in favour of a faith to which he adhered, partly by feeling that his brother-in- law, Raymond VI, was being sacrificed to the ambition of Simon de Montfort, and partly because he saw in the crusade itself a Northern conquest disguised in the form of a religious war. Why — thought the gay and gallant Count - and why, echoed in chorus all his troubadours, should these Franks come down from the other side of the Loire, to carry havock into our pleasant land of -

Dance, and Provençal song, and sun-burnt mirth ?

     But it was too late. Simon de Montfort, - whom Peter had once hoped to make a friend of the South, - was too strongly established in it. And all the King of Arragon could do, was to die, sword in hand, “ following, ” says his son, our hero, King James, “ the device of all our lineage, and which We shall always follow, - to die or conquer.3 We may add , on

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same filial authority , and as a trait of the manners of the time , of the region , and of King Pedro himself, that that sovereign had passed the night before the battle in such excess of lasciviousness, that he could hardly stand on his legs at mass in the morning. So ended el bon reis d'Aragon.

     Pedro had not lived happily, and for some time had not lived at all , with his consort , the good and gentle Marie de Montpellier. Nay, but for a stratagem like that with which we are familiar in Measure for Measure, and All's Well that Ends Well, the great King James might never have been. According to a legend, which is not, however, in the King's own chronicle, the faithful magistrates and burgesses of Montpellier contrived that the Queen should be brought into her husband's chamber, instead of a lady who was expected, but who had less right to be there. As the eventful night passed on, all the churches of the city were open, offered by the faithful; and in the morning the contrivers of the plot waited on their sovereign and implored his pardon, for the sake of the great object in view. The King them favourably, and deigned to express a wish for the success of their devotions. In due time, on the 2nd February, 1208, an infant of unusual beauty was the result; and James the Conqueror saw, for the first time, the light, as it spread over the hills and plains of Languedoc.

     A legend adorns the birth, -an accident determined the baptismal name, - of the glory of the House of Barcelona. The pious Mary, his mother, ordered twelve wax tapers of equal length and bulk to be made; named each of them after an Apostle; and lighted them all at once , with a vow to God that she would give to her son the name of the Apostle whose taper burned longest. The lot fell to that of the Apostle James, Jacme in Provençal, Jaume in Catalan, and Jaime in Castilian; under all of which forms (but principally, in modern times, the last) men still speak of the good King of Arragon. When his father was slain, he was a child in the hands of Simon de Montfort, to whom Pedro had trusted him in the days when he hoped to make a friendly Southern sovereign of the crusading earl. But when he was about six and a half, he he was given up by Montfort, under directions from Pope Innocent the Third, and was received at Narbonne by a number of nobles and citizens of Catalonia. The Papal Legate, justly anxious about the boy's safety, made this committee of his subjects swear to obedience; and then committed him to the guardianship of William de Monredon , Master of the Temple. The head-quarters of this worthy Templar were at the Castle of Monzon, on the River Cinca — the Cinga rapax of Lucan - the boundary-line between Arragon and Catalonia. Here he brought his young charge , to a rocky picturesque spot , a good nest for such an eaglet , and more cheerful , as well as poetic , than the dreary , silent , stony plains of Arragon , upon which the traveller enters after leaving Lerida, the last Catalan town on his way to Zaragoza the

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Arragonese capital. At Lerida (the Ilerda, where Cæsar besieged Pompey's lieutenants ) the Cortes of both kingdoms, - for Arragon and Catalonia were distinct kingdoms under the same king, — assembled to swear fealty. It was the first meeting of joint Catalan-Arragonese Cortes; and it is curious, while to an observer of modern Spanish politics, sad also, to see how early the elements of a rational parliament were brought together in those countries. The clergy, the nobles, and ten sindicos for each city, constituted a fair representation of all interests. James was presented to this body by the Archbishop of Tarragona, Aspargo, who held him in his arms, he says, “from the palace which is now of stone, and was then of wood, by the window where is now the kitchen, in which the servants of the palace get their dinner.” The event had impressed itself, we see, upon the youngster's memory, and no wonder. But as we shall further see, life began very early for King James; and it would be hard to point to any other prince in history, who was in harness either so early or so long. A biographer may justly boast of a hero who wore armour at nine, and made love at seventy! ...


1 Here, we have an explanation, alive and forcible, of the “pitcher broken at the fountain,” and the “ wheel broken at the cistern." The reader who turns to the Septuagint will see that the Greek words exactly correspond to the things as they still exist.

2  Ch. de Tourtoulon, whose Etudes sur la Maison de Barcelone (Montpellier, 1863–1867) deserve our grateful commendation.

3 Historia de Don Jaime I, p. 22. The Chronicle, originally written by the King in the Lemosin dialect, of the Romance Family, was printed at Valencia, for the first and only time in 1557. We quote the Castilian translation of Flotats and Bofarull. (Valencia, 1848).


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