Peter's fleet landing at Trapani.
Peter the Great ( , ; 1239,
Valencia – 2
November 1285) was the King of Aragon (as Peter
III) of Valencia and of
Majorca (as Peter I), and Count of Barcelona (as Peter
II) from 1276 to his death.
Notice the king wearing the crown and directing the
He conquered Sicily
and became its king
in 1282. He was one of the greatest
of medieval Aragonese monarchs.
Youth and succession
Peter was the eldest son of James I of
and his second wife Yolanda of Hungary
. On 13 June 1262
, he married
, daughter and heiress
of Manfred of Sicily
. During his
youth and early adulthood, Peter gained a great deal of military
experience in his father's wars of the Reconquista
against the Moors
death, the lands of the Crown of
Aragon were divided, with Aragon and Valencia, along with the
Catalan counties, going to the
eldest son, Peter, while the Balearic Islands (constituted as the Kingdom of Majorca), alongside the
territories in the Languedoc (Montpellier and Roussillon), went to
the second son, James.
Constance were crowned in Zaragoza (the capital
of Aragon) in November by the archbishop of Tarragona.
At this ceremony, Peter renounced all
feudal obligations to the papacy which his grandfather Peter II
Peter's first act as king was to complete the pacification of his
Valencian territory, an action which had been underway on his
revolt soon broke out in Catalonia, led by the viscount of Cardona and abetted
by Roger-Bernard III of
Roger I of Pallars Sobirà, and Ermengol X of Urgell.
had grown a hatred for Peter in response to the severity of his
dealings with them in the days of his father. Now, as king, they
opposed him for not summoning the Catalan corts
assembly, and confirming its privileges.
At the same time, a succession crisis continued in the County of Urgell
. When Count Álvaro
died in 1268, the
families of his two wives, Constance, a daughter of Pedro Moncada of Béarn
Cecilia, a daughter of Roger-Bernard II of Foix
, began a
long fight over the inheritance of his county. Meanwhile, a good
portion of the county had been repossessed by James and thus
inherited by Peter. In 1278, Armengol X, Álvaro's eldest son,
succeeded in recovering most of his lost patrimony and came to an
agreement with Peter whereby he recognised the latter as his
Peter defeated the stewing rebellion led by Roger-Berengar III
after besieging the rebels in Balaguer for a
month. Most of the rebel leaders were imprisoned in
Lleida until 1281, while Roger-Bernard was imprisoned
When the Hafsid
Emir of Tunisia, Muhammad I al-Mustansir
, who had put
himself under James the Conqueror, died in 1277, Tunisia threw off
the yoke of Aragonese suzerainty. Peter first sent an expedition to Tunis in 1280
under Conrad de Llansa designed to
re-establish his suzerainty. In 1281, he himself prepared to lead a
fleet of 140 ships with men to invade Tunisia on behalf of the
governor of Constantine. The fleet landed at Alcoyll in 1282 and
the troops began to fortify themselves in.
It was these
Aragonese troops that received a Sicilian embassy after the
asking Peter to take their throne from Charles of Anjou
Peter was the direct descendant and the heir-general of the
Mafalda, daughter of Robert
, Duke of Apulia
conqueror, and his official wife
, daughter of a
Guaimar IV of Salerno
he stood at the end of the Hauteville
succession to Sicily. After the
ducal family of Apulia became extinct with William II
in 1127, Mafalda's
heirs (then counts of Barcelona) apparently became de jure
heirs of Guiscard and Sigelgaita: thus Peter was dormantly a
claimant to the Norman succession of southern Italy. More directly,
he was the heir of Manfred in right of his wife. The Two Sicilies
were to be a tenaciously-pursued
inheritance for the Aragonese royal house and its heirs for the
next five centuries.
The Italian physician John of
acted on behalf of Peter in Sicily. John had fled to
Aragon after Charles' success at
. John travelled to Sicily to stir up the
discontents in favour of Peter and thence to Constantinople to procure the support of Michael VIII Palaeologus.
refused to aid the Aragonese king without papal approval and so
John voyaged to Rome and there
gained the consent of Pope Nicholas
III, who feared the ascent of Charles in the
John then returned to Barcelona and the pope
promptly died, to be replaced by Simon de
, a Frenchman and a staunch ally of Charles. The stage,
however, had been set for a conflict.
receiving an embassy from the people of Palermo at Alcoyll, Peter landed at Trapani on 30 August 1282.
He was proclaimed King in Palermo on
. Charles was forced to
flee across the Straits of Messina and be content with his "Kingdom of Naples."
Simon de Brie
as the new Pope Martin IV
excommunicated both Peter and the Byzantine emperor
for providing Peter III
with gold pieces to invade Sicily
Peter nevertheless pressed his advantage and by February 1283 had
taken most of the Calabrian
Charles, perhaps feeling desperate, sent letters to Peter demanding
they resolve the conflict by personal combat. The invader accepted
and Charles returned to France to arrange the duel. Both kings
chose six knights to settle matters of places and dates.
was scheduled for 1 June at Bordeaux.
A hundred knights would accompany each side
and Edward I of England
adjudge the contest; the English king, heeding the pope, however,
refused to take part. Peter left John of Procida in charge of
Sicily and returned via his own kingdom to Bordeaux, which, evading
a suspected French ambush, he entered in disguise. Needless to say,
no combat ever took place and Peter returned to a very troubled
While Peter was back in France and Spain, his admiral, Roger of Lauria
, was wreaking havoc in
routed Charles' fleets on the high seas several times and conquered
Malta for Aragon.
Later domestic unrest
Peter was dealing with domestic unrest at the time when the French
were preparing an invasion. He took Albarracín from the rebellious noble Juan Núñez de Lara, and
he renewed the alliance with Sancho
IV of Castile and attacked Tudela in an
attempt to prevent the king of
Navarre, Philip I, the son
of the French king, from invading on that front.
held meetings of the cortes at Tarragona and Zaragoza in 1283.
He was forced to grant the
to the newly-formed Union of Aragon
. Also in that year, Peter's
brother James joined the French and recognised their suzerainty
over Montpellier, giving them free passage through the Balearic
Islands and Roussillon. In October, Peter began preparing the
defences of Catalonia.
In 1284, Pope Martin IV
kingdom of Aragon to Charles,
Count of Valois
, the son of the French king, Philip III the Bold
, and great nephew
of Charles. Papal sanction was given to a war — crusade — to
conquer Aragon on behalf of Charles of Valois.
In 1284, the first French armies under King Philip and Count
Charles entered Roussillon. They included cavalry, crossbowmen, and
infantry, along with 100 ships in south French ports. Though the
French had James' support, the local populace rose against them.
of Elne was
valiantly defended by the so-called bâtard de Roussillon
("bastard of Roussillon"), the illegitimate son of Nuño Sánchez, late count of
Eventually he was overcome and the
cathedral was burnt; the royal forces progressed.
Philip entrenched himself before Girona in an
attempt to besiege it.
The resistance was strong, but the
city was taken. Charles was crowned there, but without an actual
crown. The French soon experienced a reversal, however, at the
hands of Roger de Lauria
, back from
the Italian theatre of the drawn-out conflict. The French fleet was
defeated and destroyed at the Battle of Les Formigues
. As well,
the French camp was hit hard by an epidemic of dysentery
Philip himself was afflicted. The heir to the French throne, Philip the Fair, opened negotiations
with Peter for free passage for the royal family through the
Pyrenees. But the troops were not offered such passage
and were decimated at the Battle of the Col de
Panissars. The king of France himself died at Perpignan, the capital of James of Majorca, who had fled in
fear after being confronted by Peter, and was buried in Narbonne.
James was declared a vassal of Peter.
Peter matched his father in patronage of the arts and literature,
but unlike him he was a lover of verse, not prose. He favoured the
, of which he himself was
one, and wrote two sirventesos
The first is in the form of an exchange between Peter and one
, a jongleur
. The second forms part of a compilation of
five compositions from Bernat
, Peter the Great, Pere
(perhaps the same as Peironet), Roger-Bernard III of
Foix, and an anonymous contributor.
As well, the wars with Philip of France and James of Majorca
furnished material for new sirventesos and during this period the
sirventes was converted into a convenient tool of political
propaganda in which each side could, directly or allegorically,
present its case and procure sympathy propitious to its
Death and legacy
died at Vilafranca del Penedès on 2 November 1285, in the same year as his two
royal foes, Charles and Philip, and was buried in the monastery of
His deathbed absolution occurred after he
declared that his conquests had been in the name of his familial
claims and never against the claims of the church.
Peter left Aragon to his eldest son Alfonso III
and Sicily to his second
son James II
. Peter's third son,
succession to his brother James, became regent of Sicily and in due
course its king. Peter did not provide for his youngest son
and namesake, Peter (1275 – 25 August
1296), who married Constanca Mendes de Silva,
daughter of Soeiro Mendes
Petite, governor of Santarem in Portugal. This Peter left Spain for Portugal with his sister Elizabeth.
Peter also had two daughters, Elisabeth
, who married Denis of Portugal
, and Yolanda
(1273 – August 1302), who married
Robert of Naples
In the Divine Comedy
sees Peter "singing
in accord" (d'ogni valor portó cinta la corda
) with his
former rival, Charles I of Sicily, outside the gates of Purgatory
- Chaytor, 97.
- Ibid, 98.
- Ibid, 101.
- Ibid, 102.
- Ibid, 103.
- J. Harris, Byzantium and The Crusades, 180
- Ibid, 104.
- Ibid, 106.
- A royal tomb ever desecrated: Peter III of Aragon in