The First Castilian Kings of the Trastámara Dynasty

from Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective by Simon Harris

Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective by Simon Harris

With the death of Martí the Humane in 1410, the Catalan House of Barcelona died out. Following a disputed succession, Fernando de Antequera of the Castilian Trastámara Dynasty acceded to the throne of the Crown of Aragon. His son Alfonso the Magnanimous was an absentee monarch and Alfonso's brother Juan the Faithless ruled as viceroy in his place before coming king in 1458. As his name suggests, Juan was an unpopular ruler and his reign was marked by plague, economic decline and civil war.


Chapter 8: The First Castilian Kings of the Trastámara Dynasty

Martí I the Humane, the last Catalan king of the Crown of Aragon died in Barcelona in 1410, reportedly due to indigestion and uncontrollable laughter. The story goes that King Martí was indisposed on account of eating an entire goose when his favourite jester came into his bedroom.

The king asked the jester where he had been and the jester replied "Out in the next vineyard, where I saw a young deer hanging by his tail from a tree, as if someone had so punished him for stealing figs." Apparently, King Martí found this joke so funny that he couldn't stop laughing and died in convulsions.

Martí the Humane's death left the Crown of Aragon without a surviving heir to the throne. As subsequent events show, this was to be no laughing matter. There were initially five pretenders to the vacant throne but after two years of bickering between the different realms of the Crown of Aragon, the decision came down to two main candidates.

A Contested Succession

Jaume of Urgell was Martí the Humane's brother-in-law and also great-grandson of his grandfather King Alfons IV of Aragon. His claim to the throne could be traced directly through the male lineage and being Catalan, was the preferred candidate of the Corts Catalanes.

Fernando of Antequera was the son of Martí's sister Eleanor, which meant he was matrilineal grandson of Martí's father Pere IV and claimed the throne via the female line. He was also second son of King Juan I of Castile and a member of the Castilian Trastámara Dynasty but when his brother Enrique died in 1406, he had renounced his claim to the Castilian throne.

Fernando, or Ferran in Catalan, was the preferred candidate of the Aragonese and Valencian Corts probably because, after centuries of dominance of the House of Barcelona, they felt a Castilian monarch would give them more chance of wrestling power from the Catalan nobility.

In 1412 representatives of the three Corts of Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia met in the Aragonese town of Casp to vote on who would be the next king. At what was known as the Compromise of Casp all the Aragonese and Valencian representatives voted for Fernando of Antequera while only two out of the three Catalan representatives chose Jaume of Urgell. Fernando I of Aragon was crowned in Zaragoza in January 1414.

The first of the Trastámara Dynasty, it was with Fernando's accession that the power base of the Crown of Aragon began to shift away from Barcelona. As a member of the royal house of Castile, Fernando was accustomed to authoritarian rule and almost immediately came into conflict with the Corts Catalanes and the Council of One Hundred in Barcelona, whose chief councillor Joan Fivaller insisted on the king paying his taxes.

The Compromise of Casp was definitely a turning point in Catalan history. Although it is impossible to predict what would have happened had Jaume of Urgell come to the throne, the 15th century marks the start of the erosion of a political system that was amongst the most advanced in Europe at the time.

Alfonso The Magnanimous

Fernando I's reign was short. He died in 1416 and was succeeded by his eldest son Alfonso, who became known as Alfonso V the Magnanimous. I doubt, though, whether this epithet was bestowed upon him by his Catalan subjects.

Due to the system of government by consensus, new monarchs were obliged to swear allegiance to the Corts Catalanes before they were crowned. Alfonso immediately offended his new subjects by insisting on addressing the Corts in Castilian during the ceremony.

Over the next few years, the Corts met on various occasions to complain about the castilianisation of the government. The Corts of Sant Cugat and Tortosa in 1420 ruled to no avail that Castilian members of the Royal Council be dismissed.

In 1421, the childless Joanna of Naples named Alfonso her heir and he spent the next 17 years fighting rival pretenders. He was finally crowned King of Naples in 1442 and spent the rest of his reign there. When he died in 1458, the Kingdom of Naples was inherited by his illegitimate son Fernando.

Alfonso the Magnanimous was an absentee monarch and in his place his brother Juan ruled as lloctinent or viceroy. The role of viceroy had actually been invented by the Catalans in order to control their large empire. If it wasn't insulting enough to have a king who didn't want to reign from Barcelona, Juan was not the most popular of rulers. He earned himself the title of Juan II the Faithless.

As we move into contemporary times, the Catalan language begins to lose both its political and linguistic predominance. As the kings of the Crown of Aragon were Castilians, it makes sense to use the Spanish rather than the Catalan version of their name.
The sound of Joan el Sense Fe is particularly barbed in Catalan. An interesting contrast between Catalan and Castilian versions of history is that Juan the Faithless is known as Juan el Grande or Juan the Great by Spanish historians.

Juan the Faithless

Juan the Faithless finally came to the throne of the Crown of Aragon following the death of his brother Alfonso in 1458. He had married Blanche of Navarre in 1425 and following her death in 1441, had ruled the Kingdom of Navarre alone on the understanding that their eldest son, Carles, Prince of Viana, would subsequently become king.

However, when Carles of Viana came of age, Juan the Faithless refused to stand down as king and a civil war broke out in Navarre between his own supporters and the supporters of Carles. In 1451. Carles was defeated by his father at the battle of Oibar and taken prisoner. The Catalans thought highly of Carles and after he had been in prison for ten years, the Corts Catalanes met at Lleida and insisted that he be released.

Once in liberty, the Corts named him Viceroy of Catalonia in 1461 as his father was now King of Aragon, Valencia, Mallorca, Navarre and many other territories. However, Carles of Viana died in suspicious circumstances later that year and many suspected that he had been poisoned by his father.

The situation in Catalonia under the Juan the Faithless, both as viceroy and king, had been far from easy. Already hit by the Black Plague, the population was further decimated by a number of bad harvests and the local nobility, whose earnings were also affected began ignoring the old feudal laws of the remences, which protected the peasants' land rights. All this led to a peasant uprising.

At the same time in Barcelona from 1425 onwards, maritime trade had taken a downturn for many of the same reasons and two groups of citizens, La Busca, who favoured protectionist laws, and La Biga, who wanted free trade, became involved in an often violent political battle for control of the city's Council of One Hundred.

The situation was aggravated by an absentee monarch, Alfonso the Magnanimous, who was represented in Barcelona by a despotic Juan the Faithless at a time when both of Catalonia's proto-democratic political institutions, the Council of One Hundred and the Generalitat, were attempting to establish themselves with greater representative powers. The suspected murder of Carles, Prince of Viana, the Catalans' favourite candidate, was the final straw and full-scale civil war broke out in 1462.

Civil War

On April 24th, the Council of the Generalitat brought together three hundred knights with a hundred lances and more than a thousand foot soldiers under the command of Hug Roger III of Pallars Sobirà and war was declared. King Juan had most of the territory well protected and could also call on the loyal trained troops he had used during the Navarrese Civil War.

The Catalans called first on King Enrique IV of Castile for help and then on Pere of Portugal, who was grandson of Jaume of Urgell, and so a member of the royal House of Barcelona. In 1464, the Generalitat  proclaimed Pere of Portugal King of Catalonia with the intention of creating a new independent Catalan state and so guaranteeing the Principality's traditional laws and institutions.

Juan the Faithless laid siege to Barcelona in 1465 and Pere of Portugal died in 1466. The Catalans then offered the throne to Renat I of Anjou, who made his son Joan viceroy and sent troops. In need of a powerful ally, King Juan married his son Fernando to Isabel, heiress of Castile, in 1469. The result was the union of the Castilian and Aragonese branches of the Trastámara Dynasty.

With Castilian troops now on his side, Juan laid siege to Barcelona once again in 1471. This time the siege was successful and the city capitulated. The Treaty of Pedralbes was signed in October 1472 mainly because both sides were decimated and there was in fact no clear winner.

King Juan's reign lasted until 1479 when he was succeeded by Fernando but the consequences for Catalonia's democratic institutions were disastrous. The pactists accused the Generalitat of having ignored the claims of the peasants and ten years of civil war had led to the loss of foreign trade. Furthermore, the taxes required to finance the war had left the population close to starvation level.

The marriage of Fernando to Isabel of Castile would mean even greater Castilian influence at a time when the Castilian economy and its population were booming. The Crown of Aragon was the weaker partner in the relationship and even within the Crown of Aragon much of Barcelona's mercantile power had moved to Valencia. The reign of Fernando and Isabel, the Catholic Kings, would be a difficult period for Catalonia.

Now Read Chapter Nine of Catalonia Is Not Spain - The Catholic Kings

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