Reapers' War

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Reapers' War
Part of the Franco-Spanish War
Batalla de Montjuïc de 1641.jpg
Battle of Montjuïc (1641)
Date 1640–1659
Location Catalonia, eastern Spain, southern France
Result Revolt crushed; Treaty of the Pyrenees
County of Roussillon and the northern half of Cerdanya ceded to France
Flag of Catalonia.svg Principality of Catalonia
Kingdom of France Kingdom of France
Spain Habsburg Spain
Commanders and leaders
Catalonia Francesc de Tamarit
Catalonia Josep Margarit
Kingdom of France Philippe de La Mothe-Houdancourt
Kingdom of France Jean Armand de Maillé-Brézé
Spain Viceroy Pedro Fajardo
Spain Duke of Fernandina
Spain Duke of Maqueda
Spain Duke of Ciudad Real
Spain Marquis of Leganés

The Reapers' War (Catalan: Guerra dels Segadors, Eastern Catalan: [ˈɡɛrə ðəɫs səɣəˈðos], Western Catalan: [ˈɡɛrɛ ðeɫs seɣaˈðos]) affected a large part of the Principality of Catalonia between the years of 1640 and 1659. It had an enduring effect in the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659), which ceded the County of Roussillon and the northern half of the County of Cerdanya to France (see French Cerdagne), splitting these northern Catalan territories off from the Principality of Catalonia and the Crown of Aragon, and thereby receding the borders of Spain to the Pyrenees.


Corpus de Sang (7 June 1640).

The war had its roots in the discomfort generated in Catalan society by the presence of Castilian troops during the Franco-Spanish War between the Kingdom of France and the Monarchy of Spain as part of the Thirty Years' War. Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, the chief minister of Philip IV, had been trying to distribute more evenly the huge economic and military burden of the Spanish Empire, until then supported mainly by the Crown of Castile. But his Union of Arms (Spanish: Union de Armas) policy raised hostilities and protests all across the countries of Spain. Catalan peasants, who were forced to quarter Castilian troops, responded on Corpus Christi day, May 1640, with an uprising known as 'Bloody Corpus' (Catalan: Corpus de Sang), under the slogans "Long live the faith of Christ!", "Long live the land, death to bad government". This 'Bloody Corpus' which began with the death of a reaper (Catalan: segador),[citation needed] and led to the somewhat mysterious death of Dalmau de Queralt, Count of Santa Coloma and Spanish viceroy of Catalonia, marked the beginning of the conflict. The irregular militia involved were known as 'Miquelets'. The situation took Olivares by surprise, with most of the Spanish army fighting on other fronts far from Catalonia.

Pau Claris, head of the Generalitat of Catalonia, called the politician members of the all Principality in order to form a Junta de Braços or Braços Generals (General Estates), a consultive body. The calling was a success, and the presence of royal cities and feudal villages was exceptionally large. This assembly, which worked with individual voting, began to create and apply various revolutionary measures, such as the establishment of a Council of Defense of the Principality and a special tax for the nobility (the Batalló), while the tension with the monarchy grew.

At the same time, the Generalitat maintained contacts with France, in order to establish an alliance between the Principality of Catalonia and this country. In this way, the General Estates presided by Pau Claris proclaimed the Catalan Republic under the protection of the French monarchy, on January 17, 1641.


The threat of the French enemy establishing a powerful base south of the Pyrenees caused an immediate reaction from the Habsburg monarchy. The Habsburg government sent a large army of 26,000 men under Pedro Fajardo to crush the Catalan Revolt. On its way to Barcelona, the Spanish army retook several cities, executing hundreds of prisoners, and a rebel army of the Catalan Republic was defeated in Martorell, near Barcelona, on January, 23. In response the rebels reinforced their efforts and the Catalan Generalitat obtained an important military victory over the Spanish army in the Battle of Montjuïc (January 26, 1641).

Despite this success, the peasant uprising was becoming uncontrollable, progressively focusing on the Catalan nobility and Generalitat itself. In effect, the conflict was also a class war, with the peasants revolting both against the Habsburg monarchy and against their own ruling classes, which turned to France for support[1]. A little later, the death of Pau Claris created an untenable situation, which resulted in the local clergy and aristocracy half-heartedly accepting the proclamation of Louis XIII of France as sovereign count of Barcelona, as Lluís I of Catalonia. For the next decade the Catalans fought under French vassalage, taking the initiative after Montjuïc. Meanwhile, increasing French control of political and administrative affairs (maritime ports, taxes, key bureaucratic positions, etc.) and a firm military focus on the neighbouring Spanish kingdoms of Valencia and Aragon, in line with Richelieu's war against Spain, gradually undermined Catalan enthusiasm for the French.

A Franco-Catalan army under Philippe de La Mothe-Houdancourt moved south and gained several victories against the Spanish, but the sieges of Tarragona, Lleida and Tortosa finally failed and the allies had to withdraw. In the north of Catalonia in Roussillon, they were more successful. Perpignan was taken from the Spanish after a siege of 10 months, and the whole of Roussillon was under French control. Shortly after, Spanish relief armies were defeated at the Battle of Montmeló and Battle of Barcelona.

In 1652 a Spanish offensive captured Barcelona bringing the Catalan capital under Spanish control again. Irregular resistance continued for several years afterwards and some fighting took place north of the Pyrenees but the mountains would remain from then on the effective border between Spanish and French territories.

The war was concurrent with the Arauco War in Chile where the Spanish fought a coalition of native Mapuches. With the Arauco War being a lenghtly and costly conflict the Spanish crown ordered its authorities in Chile to sign a peace agreement with the Mapuche in order to concentrate the empire's resources in fighting the Catalans. This way the Mapuche obtained a peace treaty and a recognition on behalf of the crown in a case unique for any indigenous group in the Americas.[2]


Map of Catalonia with the resulting division.

The conflict extended beyond the Peace of Westphalia, which concluded the Thirty Years' War in 1648 but remained part of the Franco-Spanish War (1635-1659) with the confrontation between two sovereigns and two Generalitats, one based in Barcelona, under the control of Spain and the other in Perpinyà (Perpignan), under the occupation of France. In 1652 the French authorities renounced Catalonia, but held control of Roussillon, thereby leading to the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659.

See also[edit]

  • "Els Segadors" ("The Reapers"), the current national anthem of Catalonia. The current lyrics are from 1899, originally based in this revolt.
  • Revolt of the Barretines, another Catalan revolt from 1687–1689.


External links[edit]