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Crown of Aragon at its greatest extent in the 1380s.
Standard of the Crown of Aragon

The Crown of Aragon was a permanent union of multiple titles and states in the hands of the King of Aragon.

At the height of its power by the 14th and 15th centuries, the Crown of Aragon was a thalassocracy controlling a large portion of the present-day eastern Spainmarker, Southwestern France, as well as some of the major islands and mainland possessions stretching across the Mediterranean Seamarker as far as Greecemarker. The component realms of the Crown were not united politically except at the level of the king. Put in contemporary terms, it functioned more as a confederacy rather than as a single country. In this sense, the larger Crown of Aragon must not be confused with one of its constituent parts, the Kingdom of Aragonmarker, from which it takes its name.

In 1479, a new dynastic union merged the Crown of Aragon with the Crown of Castile, creating what would become the Kingdom of Spainmarker. The component titles of the Aragonese Crown as subsidiary titles of the Spanish monarch were used until 1716, when they were abolished by the Nueva Planta decrees as a consequence of the defeat of the preferred pretender of the former components of the Crown of Aragon in the course of the War of the Spanish Succession.


The leading economic centres of the Crown of Aragon were the cities of Barcelonamarker and Valencia. Another political centre was Zaragozamarker, where kings were crowned in the La Seo Cathedralmarker. Finally, Palmamarker (Majorcamarker) was an additional important city and seaport.

The Crown of Aragon eventually included the Kingdom of Aragonmarker, the Principality of Cataloniamarker, the Kingdom of Valencia, the Kingdom of Majorca, Sicily, Maltamarker, the Kingdom of Naples and Sardinia. For brief periods also controlled Montpelliermarker, Provence, Corsicamarker, the Duchy of Neopatria and the Duchy of Athens.

The countries that are today known as Spainmarker and Portugalmarker spent the Middle Ages after 722 in an intermittent struggle called the Reconquista. This struggle pitted the northern Christian kingdoms against the Islamic taifa petty kingdoms of the Southmarker and against each other.

In the Late Middle Ages, the expansion of the Aragonese Crown southwards met with the Castilian advance eastward in the region of Murciamarker. Afterward, the Aragonese Crown focused on the Mediterraneanmarker, acting as far as Greecemarker and Barbary, whereas Portugal, which completed its Reconquista in 1272, focused on the Atlantic Oceanmarker. Mercenaries from the territories in the Crown, known as almogàvers participated in the creation of this Mediterranean "empire", and later found employment in countries all across southern Europe.

The Crown of Aragon has been considered by some as an empire which ruled in the Mediterraneanmarker for hundreds of years, with the power to set rules over the entire sea (for instance, the Llibre del Consolat del Mar or Book of the Consulate of the Sea, written in Catalan, is one of the oldest compilation of maritime laws in the World). It was indeed, at its height, one of the major powers in Europe.

However its different territories were only loosely connected, in a manner that does not match well the traditional idea of Empire. A contemporary, the Marqués de Lozoya described the Crown of Aragon as being more like a confederacy than a centralized kingdom, let alone an empire. Nor did official documents ever refer to it as an empire (Imperium or any cognate word); instead, it was considered a dynastic union of autonomous kingdoms.



The Aragonese "empire" originated in 1137, when Aragonmarker and the County of Barcelona merged by dynastic union by the marriage of Raymond Berengar IV of Barcelona and Petronilla of Aragon and their titles were finally borne by only one person when their son Alfonso II of Aragon ascended to the throne in 1162. With this merger, the House of Barcelona inherited and took up the royal crown. Slowly the various entities over which they ruled and came to rule came to be called the Crown of Aragon due to the greater prestige of the royal to the comital title.

Raymond Berenger IV of Barcelona, the new ruler of the united dynasty, still called himself count of Barcelona and merely "prince" of Aragón.

The son of Ramon Berenguer IV and Petronila, Alfonso II, inherited both the titles of King of Aragon and Count of Barcelona, in a style that would be maintained by all its successors to the crown. Thus, this union was made while respecting the existing institutions and parliaments of both territories.


Alfonso II tried to conquer Valencia due to favorable circumstances, but the opportunity was lost when Sancho VI of Navarre invaded Aragon. Alfonso II signed the treaties of Cazola with Alfonso VIII of Castile in order to secure the Aragonese frontiers. The treaty also delimited anew their zones of prospective Moorish conquest: the Kings of Aragon were to have Valencia, leaving Murcia to Castile.

King James I (13th century) started the era of expansion, by conquering and incorporating Majorcamarker and a good part of the Kingdom of Valencia to the Crown. With the Treaty of Corbeil , which was based upon the principle of natural frontiers, French claims over Catalonia came to an end. The general principle was clear, that Aragonese influence north of the Pyrenees was to cease. James I had realized that wasting his forces and distracting his energies in attempts to keep a footing in France could only end in disaster. On January 1266, James I besieged and captured Murcia, settled his own men, mostly Catalans, there; and turned over Murcia to Castile by the treaty of Cazorla.

Majorca, together with the counties of Cerdanyamarker and Roussillon and the city of Montpelliermarker, was held independently from 1276 to 1279 by James II of Majorca as a vassal of the Crown after that date, becoming a full member of the Crown of Aragon in 1344.Valencia was made a new kingdom with its own institutions, and so was the third member of the crown (the legal status of Majorca was not as consistent as those of Aragón, Catalonia and Valencia).

On 1282, the Sicilians raised against second dynasty of the Angevins on the Sicilian Vespers and massacred the garrison soldiers. Peter III responded to their call, and landed in Trapanimarker to an enthusiastic welcome five months later. This caused Pope Martin IV to excommunicate the king, place Sicily under interdict, and offer the kingdom of Aragon to a son of Philip III of France.

When Peter III refused to impose the Fueros de Aragon in Valencia, the nobles and towns united on Zaragoza to demand a confirmation of their privileges, which the king had to accept on 1283. Thus began the Union of Aragon, which developed the power of the Justicia to mediate between the king and the Aragonese "ricos hombres". The Justicia de Aragón institution and the annual Catalan General Courts date from that time.

When James II (not to be confused with James II of Majorca) completed the conquest of the Kingdom of Valencia, the Crown of Aragon established itself as one of the major powers in Europe.

By grant of Pope Boniface VIII to James II, the Kingdoms of Sardinia and Corsica were added to the Crown in 1297, though it would not be for more than a century that they were brought under control of the Aragonese Crown. By marriage of Peter IV to Mary of Sicily, the Kingdom of Sicily, as well as the Duchies of Athens and Neopatria, were added in 1381. The Greek possessions were permanently lost to Nerio I Acciaioli in 1388 and Sicily was dissociated in the hands of Martin I from 1395 to 1409, but the Kingdom of Naples was added finally in 1442 by conquest of Alfonso V.

It must be noted that the King's possessions outside of the Iberian Peninsula and Balearic Islands were ruled by proxy through local elites as petty kingdoms, rather than subjected directly to a centralized government. They were more an economic part of the Crown of Aragon than a political one.

The fact that the King was keen on settling new kingdoms instead of merely expanding the existing kingdoms was a part of a power struggle that pitted the interests of the king against those of the existing nobility. This process was also in under way in most of the European states that successfully transitioned from the medieval era to what was to be called the modern state (see modern era). Thus, the new territories gained from the Moors (namely Valencia and Majorca) were usually given fueros (in Catalan furs) as an instrument of self-government in order to limit the power of nobility in these new acquisitions and, at the same time, increase their allegiance to the monarchy proper. The trend in the neighbouring kingdom of Castile was similar, both kingdoms giving impetus to the Reconquista by granting self-government either to cities or territories, instead of placing the new territories under the rule of nobility.

Union with Castile

Ferdinand V and Isabella I, King and Queen of Castile and Léon, later King and Queen of Castile and Léon, of Aragon, Valencia, Sicily, and Majorca

In 1410, King Martin I died without surviving descendants. As a result, by the Pact of Caspe, Ferdinand of Antequera from the Castilian dynasty of Trastamara, received the Crown of Aragon as Ferdinand I of Aragon.

Later, his grandson King Ferdinand II of Aragon recovered the northern Catalan counties (Roussillon) which had been lost to France and also the kingdom of Navarremarker, which had recently joined the Crown of Aragon but had been lost after internal dynastic disputes.

In 1469, Ferdinand married Infanta Isabella of Castile, half-sister of King Henry IV of Castile, who became Queen of Castile and Léon after his death in 1474. Their marriage was a dynastic union which became the constituent event for the dawn of the Kingdom of Spainmarker. At that point both Castile and the Crown of Aragon remained distinct territories, each keeping its own traditional institutions, Parliaments and laws. The process of territorial consolidation was completed when Charles I of Spain in 1516 united all the kingdoms on the Iberian peninsula minus Portugal under one monarch, thereby furthering the creation of the Spanish state, albeit a decentralized one.

Decline and dissolution

The literary evocation of past splendour recalls correctly the great age of centuries XII and XIII, when Valencia, Mallorca and Sicily were conquered, the population growth could be handled without social conflict, and the urban prosperity, which peaked in 1345, created the institutional and cultural achievements of the Crown.The Crown waned after that date: the demographic growth was offset by the expulsion of Jews from Spain (1492), Mudéjars (1502) and Muslim converts (1609). It was unable to prevent the losses of Roussillon, the loss of Minorca and its Italian domains in 1707-1716, and the imposition of French language on the Roussillon (1700) and Castilian language in all the old Crown lands in Spain (1707-1716).

The Crown of Aragon and its institutions were abolished only after the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–1713) by the Nueva Planta decrees, issued by Philip V of Spain. The old regime was swept away, the administration was subsumed into the Castilian administration, the lands of the Crown were united formally with those of Castile to legally form a single state (Spainmarker), as it moved towards a centralized government under the new Bourbon dynasty.

Nationalist revisionism

The punishments on the territories that had fought against Philip V in the War of Succession are used by some Valencian and Catalan nationalists as arguments against the very existence of modern day Spainmarker. Some Aragonese took refuge in the myth of an ancient constitution dated before the beginnings or recorded medieval time, while the Catalans remembered their privileges, which they associated with their Generalitat and resistance to Castile.

The Romanticism of the nineteenth century Catalan Renaixença evoked a "Pyrenean realm" that corresponded more to the vision of thirteenth century troubadours than to the historical reality of the Crown. This vision survives today as "a nostalgic programme of politicized culture".


The pales of Barcelona became the emblem of the kings. The Pennon was used exclusively by the monarchs of the Crown and was expressive of their sovereignty. James III of Majorca, vassal of the Kingdom of Aragon, used a coat of arms with four bars, as seen on the Leges Palatinae miniatures.


Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia each had a legislative body, known as the Cortes in Aragon or Corts in Catalonia and Valencia. A diputacion general was established in each, becoming known as a Generalidad in Aragon and Generalitat in Catalonia and Valencia.


The Crown had no capital. The courts were itinerant until Philip II of Spain. Buesa has argued that Zaragoza ought to be considered the political capital (but not economic or administrative), due to the obligation of the kings to be crowned at the Seo of Zaragoza. Nevertheless, the Aragonese kings lived in the city of Barcelona, therefore considered the capital by many historians.

Lands of the Crown

External links


  1. Original Aragonese Empire extension map on "A History of Aragon and Catalonia" by H. J. Chaytor
  2. Marqués de Lozoya, Tomo Segundo de Historia de España, Salvat, ed. of 1952, page 60: "El Reino de Aragon, el Principado de Cataluña, el Reino de Valencia y el Reino de Mallorca, constituyen una confederación de Estados".
  3. BISSON T.N. chapter II. The age of the Early Count-Kings (1137-1213) (The Principate of Ramon Berenguer IV 1137-1162), page 31
  4. El Tall dels Temps, 14. (Palma de) Mallorca: El Tall, 1996. ISBN 84-96019-28-4. 127pp.
  5. Stefano Maria Cingolani. "Seguir les vestígies dels antecessors. Anuario de estudios medievales 36,num 1.CSIC. 2006. ISSN 0066-5061.
  6. BISSON T.N. chapter II. The age of the Early Count-Kings (1137-1213) (Dynastic Policy 1162-1213), page 36
  7. BISSON T.N. chapter II. The age of the Early Count-Kings (1213-1276) (Conquests and the Conqueror 1228-1276), page 67
  8. BISSON T.N. chapter IV. Mediterranean Expansion (1276-1336) (Pere III, II in Catalonia, 1276-1285), pages 87-88
  9. BISSON T.N. Epilogue, page 188-189
  10. BISSON T.N. Epilogue, page 189
  11. BISSON T.N. Epilogue, page 188
  12. " Léon Jéquier. Actes du II Colloque international d'héraldique". Breassone.1981. Académie internationale d'héraldique. Les Origines des armoiries. Paris. ISBN 2-86377-030-6.
  13. Page on the official flag of Aragon and the origin of the "palos de gules" or "barras de Aragón"
  14. Domingo J. Buesa Conde, en El rey de Aragón (Zaragoza, CAI, 2000, págs. 57-59. ISBN 84-95306-44-1 ) postula la capitalidad política (que no económica, ni administrativa —puesto que las cortes eran itinerantes en el siglo XIV—) de Zaragoza para la Corona de Aragón a partir de los mandados de Pedro IV de Aragón establecidos para su propia coronación: "Pedro IV parte (...) de la aceptación de la capital del Ebro como "cabeza del Reino". [...] por eso hizo saber a sus súbditos que 'Mandamos que este sacrosanto sacramento de la unción sea recibido de manos del metropolitano en la ciudad de Zaragoza al tiempo que recordaba: "...y como quiera que los reyes de Aragón están obligados a recibir la unción en la ciudad de Zaragoza, que es la cabeza del Reino de Aragón, el cual reino es nuestra principal designación —esto es, apellido— y título, consideramos conveniente y razonable que, del mismo modo, en ella reciban los reyes de Aragón el honor de la coronación y las demás insignias reales, igual que vimos a los emperadores recibir la corona en la ciudad de Roma, cabeza de su imperio." Zaragoza, antigua capital del reino de Aragón, se ha convertido en la capital política de la Corona(...).


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