In the last weeks there has been a lot of attention about the political situation in Catalonia. The objective of this blog post is not to analyse the current events in the region, but the origin of the bonds between Catalonia and the rest of the medieval Spanish kingdoms, and the role played in it (small as it may have been) by the King Henry II of England.

After the Iberian Peninsula was invaded and conquered by the Muslims in 711 A.D., the Christian inhabitants began a slow process of recovery known by the name of La Reconquista. It started in the Northwest with the kingdom of Asturias, that later became the Kingdom of Leon. There was another early kingdom in Pamplona (later Navarre). These two kingdoms included several counties; three of them finally earned their independence and became the three more powerful kingdoms of the medieval Iberian Peninsula: Portugal and Castile (from Leon) and Aragon (from Navarre). Meanwhile, in the Northeast a handful of Christian counties were born, linked to the Frankish kingdom: the most important of them was the county of Barcelona.

In 1134 the King of Aragon, Alfonso I, died leaving no heir. To succeed him, his brother Ramiro was called from his retirement in a monastery. Ramiro II el Monje (the Monk) only desired to go back to his monastic life and decided to give the kingdom a heir as soon as possible and go back to the monastery. In the same year he married Agnes of Poitou, aunt of Eleanor of Aquitaine. His wife got pregnant soon and on 29th June 1135 she gave birth to a baby… but the newborn was not a boy, but a girl.

Rather than regretting this situation, Ramiro took advantage of it, and saw a chance to achieve his goal even sooner than he thought: all he needed was finding a suitable husband for the baby queen Petronila and handing him over the government of the kingdom as protector of his wife to be. He put his eyes in Ramon Berenguer IV, count of Barcelona, Gerona, Osona and Cerdanya.

A treaty was signed: Ramon Berenguer was to marry Petronila when she grew older enough; in the meantime he would defend the realm, respect Ramiro as a lord, king and father, and maintain the costumes and laws of the kingdom of Aragon. Ramiro abdicated in his daughter Petronila, who became Queen, and put the realm under the protection of Ramon, named Prince of Aragon. If Petronila died without issue, Ramon would inherit the Crown. Then, Ramiro retired to his monastery. When Petronila was fourteen years old, she properly married Ramon Berenguer, and in 1152 the Queen gave birth to a son, named Alfonso.

The couple continued to rule the kingdom. One of the issues that Ramon Berenguer faced in the year 1159 was to help King Henry II of England when he tried to conquer Toulouse. Henry’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was Petronila’s cousin through Petronila’s mother, Agnes of Poitou. The Toulouse affair didn’t work, but closed links between Ramon and Henry II. They agreed to marry the future Richard the Lionheart with one of Ramon’s daughter, although this marriage never took place.


Henry II

When Ramon was about to die in 1162, he named his son Alfonso as his heir in his will. The boy, who was ten years old at that time, would become King of Aragon and Count of Barcelona when his parents were dead. This would be a difficult task for a boy, for there were many in Aragon and in Catalonia that were not happy with the prospect of being ruled by the same man. And the neighbours kingdoms, both Christian and Muslims, colud take advantage of the weakness of a realm led by a boy. So Ramon decided in his will (for everybody to know) to put Alfonso under the tutelage of a mighty European figure, his friend King Henry II of England.

Alfonso II became Count of Barcelona in 1162 and in 1164 queen Petronila transferred him the government of the kingdom of Aragon. It is difficult to say whether the tutelage of such a powerful figure of this time as King Henry II discouraged Alfonso’s adversaries (both internal and external) to challenge him, and his reign was not free of difficulties at all, but the boy became a man and ruled over the kingdom of Aragon and the Catalan counties until his death. As an example, when Alfonso signed a treaty with his namesake of Castile, they promised to help each other against any enemy… except if the enemy of Castile was Henry II of England. Being that the case, Alfonso II would not help Castile against the man who was his tutor. In 1170, when Alfonso of Castile married Eleanor, daughter of Henry II, Alfonso II of Aragon was there to seal the marital agreement. In 1183, when Henry II faced a rebellion of his son Richard, Alfonso II travelled to Aquitaine with his army, met the English King and helped him; the troops of Aragon put siege to the castles of Saint Fort, Limoges and Hautefort.


Alfonso II of Aragon

Alfonso II died in 1196. His progeny ruled over Aragon and Catalonia until 1410 and added to their possessions the kingdoms of Majorca and Valencia and huge lands in Italy and the Mediterranean. When King Martin I died with no heir in 1410 his successor was chosen in a joint meeting in Caspe by the representatives of Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia. That doesn’t mean that the institutions of Aragon and Catalonia merged and became one; on the contrary, their independence and privileges were respected. The kings of Aragon were also rulers of the Catalan counties, who had their own parliament.

The rest is well known. In 1469 Isabel of Castile married Ferdinand of Aragon, and they ended the Reconquista by conquering the Muslim kingdom of Granada in 1492. In time their descendants unified both kingdoms and the old roman province of Hispania was again united (except Portugal). In 1700, the last King of the Habsburg dynasty, Charles II died childless and that triggered the War of the Spanish Succession. In 1713, Philippe of Bourbon became King of Spain and enforced the French model of centralised government. The institutions and privileges of the kingdom of Aragon and Catalonia were suppressed.

Images| Wikimedia Commons

Sources| Martin Aurell. L’Empire des Plantagenets (Spanish edition).

Adela Rubio Calatayud. Breve historia de los reyes de Aragón