|Juan de Borbón, father of Spain's Juan Carlos I.|
The House of Bourbon, personified by Philip V, took control of Catalonia and the Kingdom of Spain thanks to a tricky scheme devised by France's Louis XIV agents concerning Charles II's will. It was really a veiled coup d'état, although perhaps it was unavoidable given the historical circumstances. However, the House of the Austrias did not resign themselves to losing the Spanish throne so easily, and they presented their own candidate, Archduke Charles.
We all know what happened next: the War of the Spanish Succession (the first international conflict between European powers) and the end of the empire created by the Catalan kings during the middle ages—Spain would lose Naples, Menorca, and Gibraltar. The destruction from the inside of the Crown of Aragon with the annulment of each state's constitution, and the enforcement of the Nueva Planta decree disassembled a 700 year old state. The new dynasty carried on a bloody suppression of all liberties. Even though some Spanish historians have tried to present Philip V as modernizing, Castel Rodrigo's words in 1715 speak for themselves:
“One must put down everywhere any ill-intentioned hopes the natives might harbor by publicly and solemnly abolishing the rights of the city and of the Principate [i.e. Catalonia], so that they are effectively annulled, eradicated, and burned, and so that no memory remains of them whatsoever.”
Philip V's government was neither reformist nor revolutionary, and it imposed a new tax on Catalans, known as cadastre, which became the first in the centuries-long economic plundering we suffer to this day. Not coincidentally, Catalans are an industrious people, warriors of a former time who had exchanged sword and battles for looms and textiles. Weapon manufacturing and commerce of liquor became widespread as well.
Later on, during Charles III rule, Catalans' fame as a hard-working people made it all the way to the court through the works of Cadalso, Cartas Marruecas, and even Napoleon wished to incorporate Catalonia to his empire, but, alas, Catalans refused to become French. During the 19th century the Spanish crown had a difficult relationship with Catalonia, whose affiliation ranged from opposition to Isabel II, to Carlism, and Republicanism. Catalans, who are often utopian, would resort to revolution, like in the 1868 revolution, or like in multiple urban revolts. In time they would try to go back to an Austrian model, a dual monarchy, and force a deal with the crown to resolve their uneasy political situation in a liberal Spain unsuccessfully trying to copy the French centralizing ideas. The memory of the Austrian monarchy is so alive that even to this day a painting of Archduke Charles is on display at the entrance of Vic's bishopric.
The early 20th century saw the efforts by Cambó and La Lliga, but Alfonso XIII's support of the military coup d'état by Primo de Rivera put an end to that period. The Second Republic was received enthusiastically in Catalonia, but it ended badly, and the ensuing dictatorship did not reinstate the king. It also spelled terrible anti-Catalan repression which tried to finish off what Philip V had started—Catalonia's annihilation. After that, everything would change so that everything could stay the same. What we know as the transition to democracy, a change without breaking off, brought about yet another reinstatement of the Bourbon monarchy personified by King Juan Carlos I, who has tried to be more amenable, but who has not deviated an inch from the Bourbons' original plan which so much tension and trouble has caused—the Spanish king has never agreed to the kind of commonwealth structure Catalonia so much prefers.
Perhaps the words by Juan de Borbón, the man who would be king and who used the title of Count of Barcelona as an exile during the dictatorship, and father of the current king, were prophetic. When he neared death he changed his mind about being buried in Poblet, where the Catalan kings had been buried during the middle ages, arguing sadly that he did not want to be buried in a land that some day would no longer be Spain.
Bernat Roca, Historian