Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The birth of Catalonia. The Feudal and Counts’ society.

The Carolingian monarchs re-conquered the region from the Muslims, organised it into counties and built defensive castles near the frontier. This process is known as the ‘Marca Hispanica’. At the head of these counties there was a count, who was appointed by the Carolingian royal family. The post was temporal and revocable and served as a political-administrative, judicial and mainly military role. However, in the tenth century, the Catalan counts started to seek independence from the Carolingian empire.

The Carolingian monarchs divided the region into counties, which corresponded with the well established human and physical realities of the area which, in turn, had their origin in old historical divisions. By the count’s delegation, a nobleman received administrative, military and judicial power over the area surrounding the castle, and, as a reward for these duties, he also received a part of the region’s public land which was known as a fief. This system of re-population gave way to the apparition of a social structure and economical links between various social groups. Furthermore, and during the first two thirds of the ninth century, these counties suffered the consequences of the internal battles of the Franc Kingdom which acted to the detriment of their good government and defences.

In the context of the assimilation policy of the Franc dominion on the north and south of the Pyrenees, and from the end of the eighth century, the Catalan bishops were under the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Narbonne, since Tarragona was in a Muslim occupied area. The limits of the dioceses, which generally coincided with those of the counties, increased with the newly conquered regions. The smallest territorial demarcation in each diocese was a parish. Later, some monasteries were added to the parish network: Sant Benet de Bages, Cuixà, Sant Pere de Roda, Tavèrnoles, Sant Cugat or Gerri, which were all under the rule of Saint Benet, and all maintained firm ties with their respective dioceses. So much is it so that, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, in the Geronan demarcation, many of the bishops of the different dioceses had previously been abbots.

The count Guifré
These counties which were governed by a count, who was designated by the King, started to become independent from the ninth century onwards, that is, during the time of the Carolingian empire. The revocable nature of the count started to loose validity, becoming a hereditary title which gave way to the apparition of autochthonous county dynasties, which were the basis for the future independence of the region. This change is mainly due to the internal crisis of the Carolingian monarchy, which was incapable of controlling the counts who ruled the Marca Hispanica under the Pyrenean fringe, being the name given to the Franc territory in the Iberian Peninsula. However, on the other hand, the exercising of power meant that the counts became rich and confused the public land they were administering with private land and, as a consequence, the inheritance of their children. This phenomenon did not only happen in the Catalan county, because it was a general phenomenon in all the other counties of the Carolingian empire. In 877, a law normalised what was in fact already a frequent use: the authorization of the hereditary succession of the counties. This event encouraged the apparition of grand county families.

At the end of the ninth century, the future Catalonia was divided into ten counties which today still answer to the actual districts: Ribagorça, Pallars, Urgell, Cerdanya, Rosselló, Empúries, Besalú, Osona, Gerona and Barcelona. During his reign, the count Guifré el Pilós (who died in 897) managed to gather under his command the following counties: Osona, Urgell, Gerona, Barcelona and the Berguedà district, giving rise to what would be the central nuclei of Catalonia and the origin of a count and royal dynasty which would pass from father to son until the year 1410.

Borrell II
Another decisive moment in Catalan independence from the Carolingian empire occurred in 988, when the count of Barcelona, Borrell II, refused to be the vassal of the Franc King, by calling himself Iberian duke and marquis by the grace of God. This act of rebellion was in part a response to the lack of assistance from the Franc monarchy during the raid on the city of Barcelona in 985 by the troops commanded by the Arab chief Al-Mansur. With Borrell II’s incompliance to be a vassal, the ever increasing, more theoretical than practical ties which had united the counties of the Marca Hispanica to the Franc Kingdom, were undone.

Document from the chancellery of Ramon Berenguer I
The unification process of the various counties and the consequent apparition of a national awareness which surpassed the political plurality of the various counties, was born due to various factors: firstly, due to the intensification of the relationship between the different counties of the Old Catalonia; secondly, due to the strong family ties between the different county families; in third place, due to the existence of a central nuclei of power and, in fourth place, because we cannot preclude the importance of the progressive formation of a common language spoken all over the region, that is, Catalan, which was a daughter of Latin, like Spanish, Galician, French or Italian.

Ramon Berenger & Almodis
The unifying process consolidated in a definitive way during the rule of the count of Barcelona, Ramon Berenguer I (1035-1076). At that time, the counts of Besalú, Cerdanya, Empúries and Urgell, realised the supremacy of the count of Barcelona. Furthermore, we must also mention that the Catalan bishops belonged to the same ecclesiastical province, that of Narbonne, which also acted as a unifying element. Therefore, in the following century, during the reign of count Ramon Berenguer III (1096-1131), the terms ‘Catalan’ and ‘Catalonia’ had already been consolidated to refer to the region and the people who inhabited it.

At first, and until the middle of the tenth century, the re-population system followed by the Francs, which consisted in the handing over of land to the colonizers who went to live on the frontier lands, generated the existence of a free farming class. This condition of freedom did not last very long, because at the end of this period the lack of free farming land meant that the society became progressively feudalised. From the eleventh century onwards, a big sector of the population, due to ecclesiastical reasons – cession of part of their property to the Church in order to save their souls – or judicial reasons – confiscation of land due to debt – meant that most of the farmers were under the control of a few masters, to whom they had to serve and pledge fidelity. Part of this sector of settlers remained tied to the land, without the right to abandon it. These were the so called ‘remença’ farmers who, in order to free themselves from the land, found themselves forced to pay great sums of money.

Although the hegemony of the rural world was absolute, at the end of the tenth century there was a timid resurgence of the urban world, which coincided with the progress in agricultural production. The reappearance of concessions of markets, by the hand of the public authorities and the appearance of suburbs on the outskirts of some Catalan cities, were proof of this rebirth. This was the first nuclei which led to the appearance of a very dynamic social sector, the mercantile bourgeoisie, which gave rise to an enormous peninsular and Mediterranean commerce. This new sector, that is, the bourgeoisie, later occupied a relevant political role.

During the eleventh century, the basic characteristics of a national reality were configured. Summarising, the common origin, the territory, an economic life, a social structure, a cultural community which expressed itself in its own tongue, that is, Catalan, and a legislation which regulated the behaviour of the community, without forgetting the common awareness of belonging to this community.

Ramon Berenger IV & Peronella
Another important fact which marked the later history of Catalonia was the matrimonial tie of the count of Barcelona, Ramon Berenguer IV, in 1137, to Peronella, the heiress of the Kingdom of Aragon. This union was the beginning of what would be the Kingdom of Aragon: various independent kingdoms under the same sovereign.

In contemporary times, the sovereigns of Catalonia, that is, the counts of Barcelona of the eleventh and twelfth centuries commenced an ambitious policy of feudal dominion over a wide region of the south of what is actually France. The purchase in 1067 of the counties of Carcossone and Rasés and the acquisition of various rights over Narbonne, Toulouse and Besiers by count Ramon Berenguer I, was the first step. Ramon Berenguer III, a century later, in 1112, thanks to his marriage to Dolça of Provence, acquired the rights to Gavaldà, Millau, Carladès and Provence.

Catalonia, like other feudal states such as Asturias, Leon, Castilla, Galicia, Navarra and Aragon, became configured in its political, institutional and socio-economical aspects, with relation to the long reconquest which began with the arrival of the Arabs at the beginning of the eighth century and concluded when this group had been completely expelled at the end of the fifteenth century.

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