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17 abril 2024

Aragon, kingdom and crown: its birth and expansion

Go Aragón inaugurates with this article a series of texts that will try to make a detailed portrait of the Community. This first installment will focus on its historical journey, from its birth to its development as a European power in the Middle Ages and the marriage of the Catholic Monarchs.

This text is the first of a series of reports with which Go Aragón seeks to bring the reader closer to the main features of the Community. From its pillars to its most characteristic manifestations, the series will address issues such as its history, economy, culture or scientific advances developed in Aragonese territory.

The first installment will cover the history of Aragon, a journey that will begin in the ninth century because, although within the current borders of the autonomous region the past is tremendously rich, it will not be until then when it acquires its own identity with the birth of the county and subsequent kingdom of Aragon.

Thus, in the middle of the Middle Ages and in the Pyrenean valley of the river of the same name -some argue that this is the origin of its name- the county of Aragon appeared. It arose within the context of the defensive marks that the Carolingian Empire developed on its borders, in this case, to defend itself from possible attacks by the Muslims, who had arrived on the peninsula in the 8th century.

This and others like the Catalans will be, as explained by the graduate in History and founder of the ‘startup’ of the University of Zaragoza History of Aragon, Sergio Martínez Gil, in its origin, dependent territories of the empire of Charlemagne that, at his death, acquire greater autonomy. “Even the county dynasties begin, in which each count is not chosen by the king of the Franks, but is passed from father to son,” he adds.

The first document

It is in this scenario when we can find the first written document preserved in which the word Aragon is mentioned. It dates from the year 828 and relates the donation made by the king of Pamplona García I Jiménez to an early version of the monastery of San Juan de la Peña, a place, by the way, of worship and legend of the future kingdom. The Count of Aragon Galindo I also participated in this donation.

These dates mean that in 2028 it will be no less than 1,200 years since Aragon became a distinct political entity. However, that first period of the countship, as Martínez qualifies with an analogy, “is a great puzzle of 10,000 pieces” that, to complete it, one hundred pieces are available.

About a century later, the county became part of the kingdom of Pamplona with the marriage of Andregoto Galíndez, the only daughter of Count Galindo II Aznárez, to the Navarrese king García Sánchez I. Thus, until 1035 the monarchs of Pamplona were also counts of Aragon, which also incorporated the domains of Sobrarbe and Ribagorza at the beginning of the 11th century.

Ramiro I, King of Aragon

In that year 1035 is when King Sancho III El Mayor distributed his dominions among his sons, in such a way that the county of Aragon fell to Ramiro I, considered the first Aragonese monarch. “He was never called king, but ‘son of King Sancho’; it must be remembered that he was an illegitimate son, out of wedlock, but by all accounts he is considered king of Aragon,” explains the historian of this regent who reigned until 1063.

This newly created kingdom of Aragon was a sparsely populated territory, in a mountainous area and in which the economy was sustained by agriculture and livestock. In spite of the poverty of the area, influenced also by the difficulties of its orography, “Ramiro I will begin to build the basic foundations of what would become decades later a regional power of great importance”, says Martínez Gil.

Signature of Ramiro I.

With this first reign, the bases for the expansion of Aragon towards the south and the policies of alliance with lords to the north of the Pyrenees began to be established, pacts with which it was possible to attract inhabitants and military force.

In fact, it was during the attempt to take Graus that Ramiro I died in 1063. His assassination has been attributed to an agent of the Islamic army who, knowing how to speak Romance language, managed to infiltrate the Aragonese camp and stabbed the king in the head with a knife, although recent studies place the wound in the chest, given the wounds he had. However, and as the historian adds, if it had not been for this attack, the Aragonese leader would have died “shortly after” as a result of syphilis.

“Of the reign of Ramiro I we can speak of an attempt to legitimize a new dynasty -the house of Aragon- that would end up legitimizing his son Sancho Ramírez and, above all, to build certain power bases to attract more population, in order to have more economic and demographic resources to attempt military campaigns,” he summarizes.

The expansion of a power in southern Europe

Precisely, Sancho Ramírez obtained the papal support to call for what is considered “the first crusade in history”, that is, the one that took Barbastro, a “very important” city at the time, from the Taifa of Zaragoza, which, however, would be conquered again by the Muslims a year later.

And, in his rapprochement with the Church, the new Aragonese king managed, with his trip to Rome in 1068, that the Pope legitimized the dynasty and crowned him as king. In this way, and with the vassalage of Sancho Ramírez to the pontiff, Aragon opened up to Europe.

From his reign, on the borders of the kingdom, the creation of the Charter of Jaca stands out, with which he manages to attract population and professionals and that the city reaches 2,000 inhabitants. The construction of the cathedral and the launching of the Camino de Santiago route through the Somport also date from this period. The passage of pilgrims is good business and they will find in the presence of the Holy Grail in the monastery of San Juan de la Peña an incentive to opt for this alternative to Roncesvalles.

Portrait of Alfonso I El Batallador by Francisco Pradilla.

“The importance of the Toulouse road for the growth of the Kingdom of Aragon in just 40-50 years is tremendous,” stresses the expert, who sees in this factor the focus of attraction of population that allowed the conquest of Barbastro (although it was later lost) and, later, in 1096, that of Huesca by the hand of Pedro I.

“Sancho Ramírez must be named as the true founder of the Kingdom of Aragon because, although it is initiated by Ramiro I, he is the one who establishes the foundations for the creation of a kingdom that, once he dies, is able to conquer in just 20 years not only Huesca, but the entire middle valley of the Ebro”, highlights Martínez Gil.

Curiously, the three sons of Sancho Ramírez who reach adulthood end up reigning. First, Pedro I, who died without descendants, was followed by Alfonso I El Batallador, who also died without descendants and was succeeded by Ramiro II El Monje.

The conquest of Saragossa

Alfonso I finds in the conquest of Saragossa the main milestone of his reign (1104-1134). “It was the total and definitive confirmation, if it had not already done so with the conquest of Huesca, that Aragon was a very important power, especially militarily, in southern Europe,” says the historian.

The importance of Zaragoza passing into Aragonese hands lies in the fact that the Ebro valley was a demographic barrier and, after its conquest in December 1118, the great cities of the surrounding area fell like a house of cards. Tarazona or Calatayud, the latter, after the battle of Cutanda, “one of the most decisive in terms of the conquest of Al-Andalus”, are some of those places that incorporated the young kingdom.

La campana de Huesca’, by Juan Casado de Alisal.

Alfonso I also highlights his marriage to Urraca I of León, which could have advanced the step taken by the Catholic Monarchs by several centuries. However, as a result of this union, no descendants were born to inherit both titles and the marriage was declared null and void by the Pope.

As happened with Pedro I, El Batallador died without having children. In this case, in Poleñino, when he was trying to conquer Fraga, in 1134. Once again the kingdom was forced to look for a brother to reign, in this case, the one who would later become Ramiro II. The members of the Aragonese nobility, says Martínez Gil, “thought that he was going to be an easily manageable person, a puppet in their hands”.

This was far from being the case. In fact, Ramiro II, called El Monje because he was part of the clergy as bishop of Roda, is the protagonist of the legend of the bell of Huesca, in which the new king decapitates the rebellious nobles, including scenes of a certain macabre tinge, such as the fact that he used the head of the bishop of Jaca as a clapper.

The germ of the crown

Ramiro II will reign from 1134 to 1157 and, as a result of his marriage to Inés de Poitou, his daughter Petronila will be born. She would marry the Count of Barcelona, Ramon Berenguer IV, in a marriage that would be the seed of what would later be called the Crown of Aragon. In this way, her descendant, Alfonso II, would rule and hold the ownership of both territories, both the Aragonese kingdom and the Catalan part.

It was from the 13th century onwards, and especially towards the 14th century, when the name Crown of Aragon became popular. It is also the period in which the power added conquests such as Valencia, Mallorca and, later, with its expansion to the Mediterranean in the different reigns of kings such as James I.

The influence of Aragon in Europe at this time was considerable, especially due to its weight in the Mediterranean. The House of Aragon thus became “a very important factor of political and military influence”, as well as commercial, for centuries. It was a tremendous decisive factor in many aspects of much of medieval European history,” he insists.

Proof of its strength are the conquests of Sicily, Sardinia, Naples and, eventually, Athens and Neopatria. These last two territories, by the way, fell into the hands of the Almogavar company and Peter IV incorporated them into the crown, although they barely remained an Aragonese domain for a decade. However, they will leave an image for history: the royal sign waved for a few years on the Parthenon in Athens.

The Caspe Compromise, an example of dialogue

With the death of Martin I The Humane in 1410 without descendants, since all his sons died before him, the crown was faced with a new challenge: to find a new king. The solution was found in the Compromise of Caspe, which chose Ferdinand, of the Castilian house of Trastámara, from among six candidates.

“Until that moment, it was an unparalleled event that a new king was elected without a civil war,” Martínez Gil points out about this pact, which was the result of laws and dialogue at the beginning of the 15th century.

The new dynasty, inaugurated with Ferdinand I, meant “a radical change” that, above all, would be manifested with the next monarch, Alfonso V of Aragon. “Already with the Trastámara, different uses of government began to enter, more contrary to that polarity of a pacitist court, which tried to control more the power of the monarchy”, points out Martínez Gil, who refers to changes such as the disappearance of the Aragonese language in politics.

However, it will be a Trastámara, Ferdinand II of Aragon, three centuries after Alfonso I, who will marry Queen Isabella I of Castile. This marriage will mean the dynastic union that will give the first step to the formation of the Kingdom of Spain.

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