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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

Little Known History: The Kingdom of Mallorca

Once upon a time .......... there was a Kingdom of Mallorca which existed for nearly seventy years. It began as a peaceful division of the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon in 1276, and it ended with a forced reunion with Aragon in 1344.

Although this particular piece of Mediterranean history began in 1229, when James I of Aragon (aka James the Conqueror) wrested Mallorca from Arab Moslem control, with an invasion fleet of 155 ships. He ruled both Aragon and The Balearics until his death in 1276. In his will he divided his kingdom between his two surviving sons. The youngest, another James, became King James II of Mallorca, whilst his elder brother became King Peter III of Aragon. In 1279 Peter III made the kingdom of Mallorca a vassal state to Aragon at the Treaty of Perpignan.

James II's kingdom embraced not just the island of Mallorca itself but the other Balearic islands, together with territory on the mainland. This territory consisted of the County of Rousillion, with its capital at Perpignan, the Signory of Montpelier further along France's Mediterranean coast, Cerdagne, to the south of Rousillion, and now partly in France and partly in Spain, and, finally, the small and detached French viscountcy of Carlat to the north.

This fragmented kingdom had either to expand or contract if it was to survive. In the event it did neither and was reincorporated into Aragon by the Aragonese in 1344. James II of Mallorca was succeeded as monarch by two others, his son Sancho and Sancho's nephew James III. The kingdom found itself increasingly in debt, first in paying back a loan to Aragon for Mallorca's war against Sardinia, then in a forced alliance with Aragon in its war with Genoa. Mallorca incurred further costs in this war, in addition to losing valuable markets. To raise money James II levied large taxes on the Jewish business community. But nothing could avert the financial collapse, and in 1343 Peter IV of Aragon invaded Mallorca and in the following year invaded Cerdagne and Rousillion.

In 1344 Mallorca was incorporated into the victorious kingdom of Aragon. Rousillion and French Cerdagne did not become part of France until much later, at The Treaty of The Pyrenees, in 1659. The reason that Perpignan and its hinterland remain today steadfastly Catalan and very much a thorn in the side of the Government in Paris is due to its relatively late absorption into metropolitan France.

Perpignan today also has the great Castle, or Palace, of the Kings of Majorca, for it was in this city that James II established his capital. Perpignan's grand cathedral was begun by Sancho of Mallorca in 1324, and finally finished long after the kingdom had become a memory, in 1509. If you visit today you will see that its altar is draped with the flag of Catalonia, with Sancho being buried in his own cathedral.

You might be forgiven for thinking this is old history and there will never be any further conflict between France and Spain. As far as anyone can see such a view is obviously true. What isn't true is that there is no political turmoil bubbling just below the surface, and sometimes breaking that surface. As Spanish Catalonia has in recent years sought to leave Spain so French Catalonia, based on the old Mallorcan capital of Perpignan, has in turn sought to break with France (or at least a vocal part of its population seeks to) and reunite with the Spanish part. My wife and I visited French Catalonia two years ago and can report that evidence of Catalan nationalism was everywhere to be seen. The Catalan colours of red and yellow and the Catalan flag seemed omnipresent, all based on the old heraldry of medieval Aragon.

PS Further to my opening blog about Poitou donkeys, there is also ( still today) a rare breed of Catalan donkey. Like the Poitou it is a large sturdy donkey well suited to the terrain where in the past it was used in agriculture. Today it can be found represented on all sorts of goods, for it has been adopted as a symbol of Catalan nationality. Some Catalans think that by using their donkey as a national symbol they are also ridiculing the use of the bull in the iconography of Andalusia.

The living examples of this donkey can be found either side of the Spanish-French border. Some authorities believe it is descended from an original Mallorcan donkey, and some believe that it was the breed mentioned by Pliny as being seen on the agricultural plains outside of Barcelona.

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