Principality of Catalonia

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Principality of Catalonia
Principat de Catalunya  (Catalan)
Principatus Cathaloniæ  (Latin)
Principality of the Crown of Aragon (1162-1641, 1652-1714)
Principality of the Monarchy of Spain (1516-1641, 1652-1714)
Principality of the Kingdom of France (1641-1652)

12th century–1714

Territory of the Principality of Catalonia until 1659.
Capital Barcelona
Languages Catalan, Latin
Religion Roman Catholicism
Government Monarchy subject to constitutions
 •  1162–1196 Alfons I (first)
 •  1706–1714 Charles III (last)
President of the Deputation of the General
 •  1359–1362 Berenguer de Cruïlles (first)
 •  1713–1714 Josep de Vilamala (last)
Legislature General Court of Catalonia
Historical era Medieval / Early modern
 •  Marriage of Ramon Berenguer IV and Petronila 1137
 •  Reign of Alfons I 1162
 •  First Catalan Courts 1283
 •  Reign of Charles V 1516
 •  Catalan Revolt 1640-1652
 •  Treaty of the Pyrenees 1659
 •  War of the Spanish Succession 1701- 1714
 •  1700 est. 500.000[1] 
Currency Croat, Ducat, Barcelonian pound, and others
Today part of  France
The Principality of Catalonia in 1608 by Jan Baptist Vrients

The Principality of Catalonia (Catalan: Principat de Catalunya, Latin: Principatus Cathaloniæ, Occitan: Principautat de Catalonha), is a historic territory and a medieval and early modern political entity in the northeastern Iberian Peninsula, mostly in Spain, with an adjoining portion in southern France. Between the 13th and the 18th centuries it was bordered by the Kingdom of Aragon to the west, the Kingdom of Valencia to the south, the Kingdom of France and the feudal lordship of Andorra to the north and by the Mediterranean sea to the east.

The first reference to Catalonia and the Catalans appears in the Liber maiolichinus de gestis Pisanorum illustribus, a Pisan chronicle (written between 1117 and 1125) of the conquest of Minorca by a joint force of Italians, Catalans, and Occitans. At the time, Catalonia did not yet exist as a political entity, though the use of this term seems to acknowledge Catalonia as a cultural or geographical entity.

The counties that would eventually make up the Principality of Catalonia were gradually unified under the rule of the Count of Barcelona. In 1137, both the County of Barcelona and the Kingdom of Aragon were unified dynastically, creating the Crown of Aragon, but Aragon and Catalonia retained their own political structure and legal traditions. Because of these legal differences and their use of different language —Aragonese and Catalan— an official recognition of the Catalan Counties as a distinct political entity with its own institutions, laws and political community became necessary.

Under Alfons the Troubador, Catalonia was first used legally.[2] Still, the term Principality of Catalonia was not used legally until the 14th century, when it was applied to the territories ruled by the Courts of Catalonia.

The term "Principality of Catalonia" remained in use until the Second Spanish Republic, when its use declined because of its historical relation to the monarchy. Today, the term is used primarily by Catalan nationalists and independentists to refer collectively to the French and Spanish-administered parts of Catalonia.

History of Catalonia[edit]

Main article: History of Catalonia

Like much of the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula, it was colonized by Ancient Greeks, which chose Roses to settle in. Both Greeks and Carthaginians interacted with the main Iberian population. After the Carthaginian defeat, it became, along with the rest of Hispania, a part of the Roman Empire, Tarraco being one of the main Roman posts in the Iberian Peninsula.

The Visigoths ruled after the Western Roman Empire's collapse near the end of the 5th century. Moorish Al-Andalus gained control in the early 8th century, after conquering the Visigothic kingdom in 711-718. After the defeat of Emir Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqiwas's troops at Tours in 732, the Franks gradually gained control of the former Visigoth territories north of the Pyrenees, which had been captured by the Muslims or had become allied with them, in what is today Catalonia under French administration. In 795, Charlemagne created what came to be known as the Marca Hispanica, a buffer zone beyond the province of Septimania, made up of locally administered separate petty kingdoms which served as a defensive barrier between the Umayyad of Al-Andalus and the Frankish Kingdom.

A distinctive Catalan culture started to develop in the Middle Ages stemming from a number of these petty kingdoms organized as small counties throughout the northernmost part of Catalonia. The counts of Barcelona were Frankish vassals nominated by the Carolingian emperor then the king of the Franks, to whom they were feudatories (801-987).

In 987 the count of Barcelona did not recognise Frankish king Hugh Capet and his new dynasty which put it effectively out of the Frankish rule. Then, in 1137 Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona married Petronilla of Aragon establishing the dynastic union of the County of Barcelona and its dominions with the Kingdom of Aragon which was to create the Crown of Aragon.

It was not until 1258, by the Treaty of Corbeil, that the king of France as heir of Charlemagne and the ancient Frankish Empire did formally relinquish his feudal overlordship over the counties of the Principality of Catalonia to the king of Aragon James I, descendant of Ramon Berenguer IV and heir of the House of Barcelona. This Treaty turned the de facto independence into a full de jure recognition of the Catalan counties as constituent members of the Crown of Aragon, whereas the king of Aragon and count of Barcelona also relinquished any claim over territories in southern France (except the counties of the Roussillon-Vallespir, Capcir and Conflent that were and remained part of the geographical area known as Catalonie or Cathalania). The treaty solved a historical incongruence, as the counties had been ruled independently for more than two centuries. As a coastal territory within the Crown of Aragon and the increasing importance of the port of Barcelona, Catalonia became the centre of the Crown's maritime power, helping to expand its influence and power by conquest and trade into Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Sardinia and Sicily.

Catalan Constitutions (1283-1716)[edit]

1702 compilation of Catalan Constitutions

The first Catalan Constitutions are of the ones from the Catalan Courts (Corts) of Barcelona from 1283. The last ones were promulgated by the Courts of 1705, with the king Charles III. The compilations of the Constitutions and other rights of Catalonia followed the Roman tradition of the Codex. This Constitutions developed an advanced compilation of rights for the whole population of the Principality, limited the power of the kings and even the Constitució de l'Observança (1481) established the submission of royal power to the laws approved in the Catalan Courts.

The General Court of Catalonia, dating from the 11th century, is one of the first parliaments in continental Europe, and the current Parliament of Catalonia is considered the symbolical and historical successor of this institution.

Catalonia after the Middle Ages[edit]

The marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon (1469) unified two of the three major Christian kingdoms in the Iberian peninsula, while the Kingdom of Navarre was incorporated later following Ferdinand II's 1512 invasion of the Basque kingdom. This resulted in the reinforcement of the concept of Spain, which was already present in the mind of the these kings,[3] made up by the former Crown of Aragon, Castile, and a Navarre annexed to Castile (1515). In 1492, the last remaining portion of Al-Andalus around Granada was conquered and the Spanish conquest of the Americas began. Political power began to shift away from Aragon toward Castile and, subsequently, from Castile to the Spanish Empire, which engaged in frequent warfare in Europe striving for world domination.

The Battle of Montjuïc (1641), a decisive victory of the Franco-Catalan armies during the Catalan Revolt

For an extended period, Catalonia, as part of the late Crown of Aragon, continued to retain its own laws and Constitutions but these gradually eroded in the course of the transition from a feudal territory to a modern one and the king's struggle to get from the territories as much of the power as possible until they were finally suppressed as a result of the War of the Spanish Succession defeat. Over the next few centuries, Catalonia was generally on the losing side of a series of wars that led steadily to more centralization of power in Spain. Despite this fact, between the 16th and 18th centuries, the powers of the Catalan institutions and the participation of the political community in the government of the country were increased, while the King's powers were restricted. Tensions between the constitutional Catalan institutions and the centralized Monarchy, algongside the other facts as the economical crisis, the presence of soldiers and the peasant's revolts caused diffent conflicts, such as the Catalan Revolt, in which Catalonia declared itself an independent republic under French protection in 1641, but the Catalans were finally defeated.

In 1659, after the Treaty of the Pyrenees signed by Philip IV of Spain, the comarques (counties) of Roussillon, Conflent, Vallespir and part of la Cerdanya, now known as French Cerdagne were ceded to France. In recent times, this area has come to be known in Catalonia, as Northern Catalonia (Roussillon in French).

Catalan institutions were suppressed in this part of the territory and public use of Catalan language was prohibited. Currently, this region is administratively part of French Départment of Pyrénées-Orientales.

The color shading shows the division between The Principality of Catalonia (present-Spain) and the counties of Roussillon and Cerdagne (present-France) divided in 1659

At the end of the War of the Spanish Succession (in which the Catalans supported the unsuccessful claim of the Archduke Charles of Austria as Charles III of Spain) the victorious Bourbon Duke of Anjou, now Philip V, signed the Nueva Planta decrees, which abolished the Crown of Aragon and all remaining Catalan institutions and prohibited the administrative use of Catalan language.

So late as in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Catalonia under Spanish administration benefited from the beginning of open commerce to America and protectionist policies enacted by the Spanish government, becoming a center of Spain's industrialization; to this day it remains one of the most industrialized parts of Spain, along with Madrid and the Basque Country. On several occasions during the first third of the 20th century, Catalonia gained and lost varying degrees of autonomy, but as in most regions of Spain, Catalan autonomy and culture were crushed to an unprecedented degree after the defeat of the Second Spanish Republic (founded 1931) in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) which brought Francisco Franco to power. Public use of the Catalan language was again banned after a brief period of general recuperation.

The Franco era ended with Franco's death in 1975; in the subsequent Spanish transition to democracy, Catalonia recovered political and cultural autonomy. It became one of the autonomous communities of Spain. In comparison, "Northern Catalonia" in France has no autonomy.

Institutions and legislation[edit]

The Catalan parliament in the 15th century, presided over by Ferdinand II of Aragon
  • Institutions:
    • Cort General del Principat de Catalunya (General Court of the Principality of Catalonia)
    • Diputació del General or Generalitat (Deputation of the General or Generalitat of Catalonia)
    • Consell de Cent de Barcelona (Council of One Hundred of Barcelona)
    • Reial Audiència (Royal Audience)
    • Conferència dels Tres Comuns (Conference of the Three Commons)
    • Junta de Braços (General Estates)
    • Tribunal de Contrafaccions (Court of Contraventions)

The term Principality[edit]

Seal of the Deputation of the General or Generalitat of Catalonia, with Saint George, the patron saint of this institution

The counts of Barcelona were commonly considered the princeps or primus inter pares ("the first among equals") by the other counts of the Spanish March, both because of their military and economic power, and the supremacy of Barcelona over other cities.

Thus, the count of Barcelona, Ramon Berenguer I, is called "Prince of Barcelona, Count of Girona and Marchis of Ausona" (princeps Barchinonensis, comes Gerundensis, marchio Ausonensis) in the Act of Consecration of the Cathedral of Barcelona (1058). There are also several references to the Prince in different sections of the Usages of Barcelona, the collection of laws that ruled the county since the early 11th century. Usage #64 calls principatus the group of counties of Barcelona, Girona, and Ausona, all of them under the authority of the count of Barcelona.[4]

The first reference to the Principatus Cathaloniae is found in the convocation of Courts in Perpignan in 1350, presided by the king Peter IV of Aragon and III of Barcelona. It was intended to indicate that the territory under the laws produced by those Courts was not a kingdom, but the enlargement of the territory under the authority of the Count of Barcelona, who was also the king of Aragon, as seen in the "Actas de las cortes generales de la Corona de Aragón 1362-1363".[5] However, there seems to be an older reference, in a more informal context, in Ramon Muntaner's chronicles.[citation needed]

As the Count of Barcelona and the Courts added more counties under his jurisdiction, such as the County of Urgell, the name of "Catalonia", which comprised several counties of different names including the County of Barcelona, was used for the whole. The terms Catalonia and catalans were commonly used to refer to the territory in Northeastern Spain and western Mediterranean France, as well as its inhabitants, and not just the county of Barcelona, at least since the beginnings of the 12th century, as shown in the earliest recordings of these names in the Liber Maiolichinus (around 1117-1125).

In 1931, Republican movements favoured its abandonment because it is historically related to the monarchy.

The name "Principality of Catalonia" is abundant in historical documentation that refers to Catalonia between mid-fourteenth century and early nineteenth century. According to research carried out in recent decades, is considered to be in the second half of the twelfth century when the Catalan counties form a unified and cohesive political entity, -although jurisdictionally divided- called "Catalonia". This happens because the counts of Barcelona became the one hand, the majority of sovereigns Catalan Counties and the other hand kings of Aragon, which helped them prevail in the rest of autonomous Catalan counts (Pallars, Urgell and Empúries) if they were not in their feudal vassals, while also incorporated its extensive domain the Islamic territories of Tortosa and Lleida. The political entity resulting from this process since the thirteenth century, was repeatedly mentioned the term "kingdom" as a medieval state, ie public domain political regime monarchist government.

However, it consolidated this denomination officially, because, for various historical reasons, the rulers of the Kingdom of Aragon never uses the title "King of Catalonia." This is where comes in the use of the term "principality", since at least since the twelfth century, the word was synonymous total term "kingdom" which alluded generically political entities which categorize historiographically the expression "Medieval States". Yet it was not until the fourteenth century -specifically, since 1350- that, greetings to work of Peter III of Aragon, the Principality of Catalonia became an official and popular name. This political entity was part of some composite monarchies or dynastic conglomerates as the Crown of Aragon, the Spanish Monarchy and the Kingdom of France (1641-1652), being on an equal footing with other political communities of the time, or external in relation to such great empires, as were the kingdoms of Castile, Aragon, Valencia, England or the Duchy of Milan for to mention a few.

With the destruction of the State by force of Catalan ancien regime as a result of the War of the Spanish Succession (1705-1714), the territory being annexed to Castile become a province of the new and more unified Kingdom of Bourbon Spain, but "principality" continued to be the name of the territory, as witness the Decree of New Plant created the Royal Audience of the Principality of Catalonia in 1716. This situation remained until the Kingdom of Spain was transformed permanently, despite several Carlist Wars, into a liberal state in 1833, when Secretary Javier de Burgos eliminated the province of the Principality of Catalonia, dividing the territory in four provinces that still exist. Thus, the term disappeared from the adminsitrative and political reality of the country.

Neither the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, Spanish Constitution nor French Constitution, mention this denomination, but, despite most of them being republican, it is moderately popular among Catalan nationalists and independentists.


As a State under royal sovereignity, Catalonia, like the other political entities of the period, didn't have an own flag or coat of arms in the modern sense. However, many royal and other symbols were used in order to identify the Principality and it's institutions.


Catalonia constitutes the original nucleus where Catalan is spoken. The Catalan language shares common traits with the Romance languages of Iberia and Gallo-Romance languages of southern France, it is regarded by some linguists as being an Ibero-Romance language (the group that includes Spanish), and by a majority as a Gallo-Romance language, such as French or Occitan from which Catalan diverged between 11th and 14th centuries.[6]

Catalan is one of the three official languages of autonomous community of Catalonia, as stated in the Catalan Statute of Autonomy; the other two are Spanish, and Occitan in its Aranese variety. Catalan has no official recognition in "Northern Catalonia".

Catalan has official status alongside Spanish in the Balearic Islands and in the Land of Valencia (where it is called Valencian), as well as Algherese Catalan alongside Italian in the city of Alghero and in Andorra as the sole official language.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Simon i Tarrés, Antoni. La població catalana a l'epoca moderna. Síntesi i actualització . Barcelona, 1992 p. 217-258 (in Catalan)
  2. ^ Sesma Muñoz, José Angel. La Corona de Aragón. Una introducción crítica. Zaragoza: Caja de la Inmaculada, 2000 (Colección Mariano de Pano y Ruata - Dir. Guillermo Fatás Cabeza). ISBN 84-95306-80-8.
  3. ^ José Manuel Nieto Soria (2007). "Conceptos de España en tiempos de los Reyes Catolicos" (PDF). Norba. Nueva Revista de Historia (Universidad de Extremadura) 19: 105–123. ISSN 0213-375X. 
  4. ^ See Fita Colomé, Fidel, El principado de Cataluña. Razón de este nombre., Boletín de la Real Academia de la Historia, Vol. 40 (1902), p. 261. (In Spanish)
  5. ^ BITECA Manid 2045: Barcelona: Arxiu Corona Aragó, vol. 948
  6. ^ Riquer, Martí de, Història de la Literatura Catalana, vol. 1. Barcelona: Edicions Ariel, 1964

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°19′09″N 3°20′00″E / 42.31917°N 3.33333°E / 42.31917; 3.33333