Pere III the Great, Pere III of Catalonia and Aragón, Pere II of Catalonia, Pere I of Valencia, and Pere I of Sicily, “was the troubadour-warrior ruler of the realms of Aragón (1276–1285) and liberator-conqueror of Sicily. He was born at Valencia, two years after that Islamic city fell to his father Jaime the Conqueror, of Jaime’s second wife Violante of Hungary. Jaime named him heir to Catalonia in 1253, procurator or vice-regent there at seventeen in 1257, and—at the death of Jaime’s son Alfonso by his first wife in 1260—procurator of the Catalonia, Aragón, and Valencia realms. (Pere's brother Jaime became procurator of the Balearics, Roussillon, and Cerdanya.) In 1262 Pere married Constance, the daughter and heiress of Manfred, the Hohenstaufen ruler of Sicily-Naples. Besides four sons and two daughters by his mistresses María and Agnés Zapata, he had four sons (Including his successors Alfonso II and Jaime II, and Frederico III of Sicily), and two daughters (Queen Violante of Naples and Isabel Queen of Portugal).
Although his formal reign lasted only nine years versus his famous father’s sixty-three, the Infante Pere enjoyed a fifteen-year public career as procuratorial co-ruler and soldier before his coronation. He restored feudal order as a teenager, plunged into Mediterranean Ghibelline politics during negotiations for his marriage, championed Occitan refugees after such troubles as the 1263 Marseilles revolt, captained the first phase of the Murcian Crusade in 1265–1266, replaced his father at home during Jaime’s abortive Holy Land Crusade in 1269 (and intervened in the Urgell wars of 1268), and prepared an invasion army to seize Toulouse in 1271. Relations with his father deteriorated in 1272, with Pere stripped of all offices and revenues; reconciliation came the following year. When the northern Catalan nobles revolted, Pere captured and drowned their leader, his bastard brother Ferran Sanxis. During a diplomatic visit to Paris, he met Philippe the Bold. His greatest test came in 1275–1277, when the Mudéjars of Valencia with Maghribian support revolted and nearly recovered their land. Pere had one thousand horsemen and five thousand foot soldiers at first, but soon had to assume the entire responsibility when his father died on the field (27 July 1276). Burying Jaime provisionally at Valencia and deferring his coronation at Zaragoza to 17 November, Pere grimly set about conquering much of Valencia “a second time,” as the contemporary memoirist Ramón Muntaner puts it. Meanwhile his brother Jaume II of Mallorca received the Balearics, Cerdanya, Montpellier, and Roussillon.
With the Mudéjar headquarters at Montesa castle fallen (September 1277), Pere began a vigorous domestic and international program. He demanded tribute from Tunis, harrying it through his admiral Conrad Llanca, pressured Jaime II of Mallorca into accepting vassalage, and moved strongly against the still-rebellious northern barons, ending their six-year war by his siege of Balaguer (1281) and winning their support by his clemency. By holding as “guest hostages” the Infantes de la Cerda, he dominated the Castilian succession crisis. His negotiations with Philippe the Bold at Toulouse in 1281, and his treaties of Campillo and Ágreda with Alfonso X and the Infante Sancho of Castile that year, stabilized his peninsular situation. He established understandings with Byzantium, England, Genoa, Granada, Portugal, and the papacy, and was finally ready for his life’s coup: to foil the Angevin power that had absorbed Occitania and taken over Sicily-Naples, and to assume the Hohenstaufens’ Sicilian kingdom and Ghibelline leadership in the western Mediterranean.
Massing his naval and military strength, he simulated a crusade against Tunis, actually taking Collo there; the pope refused crusade title or aid. Previously in contact with the Sicilians, Pere now supported the Sicilian Vespers revolt of 30 March 1282. He moved eight hundred knights and fifteen thousand foot soldiers by sea to Trapani, receiving the crown of Sicily-Naples at Palermo and starting a twenty-year war. A succession of naval victories by his admirals, especially Roger de Lluria, established the Catalans as the dominant maritime power of the western Mediterranean after Genoa. Besides Sicily and much of the Italian mainland, Pere also took Malta and Tunisian Djerba Island.
Meanwhile Pope Martin IV, feudal lord of Sicily and proponent of its Angevin king Charles of Anjou, excommunicated Pere in November 1282, deposed him in March 1283, and transferred all his realms to the son of Philippe the Bold of France, Charles of Valois, in February 1284. The Catalans supported their king, but the Catalan Aragonese had been ill-disposed toward the Sicilian adventure from the start. In that long and bloody war, one episode stands out—the Challenge (desafiament) of Bordeaux. Anjou offered to settle the war by personal combat with Pere but instead arranged a trap for his arrival at English Bordeaux; Pere still appeared, met the challenge, and escaped, to the edification of Europe’s chivalric classes (1283). More formidably, a papal crusade to set Valois during Pere's reign saw an army of 118,000 foot and 7,000 horse under Philippe the Bold sweep into Catalonia. Pere delayed this greatest army since ancient Rome at Girona until Lluia’s fleet from Sicily could arrive to destroy the French naval flank and logistics, ending the invasion (September 1285). Pere suppressed a plebeian revolt in Barcelona under Berenguer Oller that same year, negotiated a major commercial treaty with Tunis, and mounted a punitive amphibious expedition against his traitorous brother on Mallorca, but died on the road to join the fleet.
The contemporary memoirist Bernat Desclot calls Pere “a second Alexander” for his generalship. Dante lauds him as “the heavy-sinewed one [who] bore in his life the seal of every merit”; and he appears both in Boccaccio’s Decameron and Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. Pere was a troubadour (two of his poems survive) and their patron. He presided over a constitutional revolution (Aragón’s Privilege of Union, Catalonia’s Recognoverunt proceres annualparliament) in 1283–1284. He stabilized coinage with his silver croat, and maritime law with his restructured Llibre del Consolat (1283). He protected Jews and gave them important posts in his administration. As a politician and diplomat he is thought superior to his great father, and he presided over a commercial, literary, and architectural flowering in Catalonia.
Henry John Chaytor