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  • The Idea of Spain in the Chronicle of Jaume I (c. 1270):Interregnal Rivalry, Culture and Geo-Politics in the Crown of Aragon
  • Alexander Ibarz

Medieval Catalan Identity and Nationhood

From the time that Catalonia became associated with the dominions of the counts of Barcelona in the ninth century, the Catalans seem to have become more aware of their identification as a people, particularly under the reign of Guifré I (the Hairy: 878-897) -the last count to receive his commission from a Frankish king- even though, as Bisson indicates, neither Guifré nor his successors ever controlled all the counties that formed Catalonia later on ("L'essor de la Catalogne" 456).1 By the thirteenth century, when the [End Page 79] counts of Barcelona had become kings of the Crown of Aragon's dynastic federation that merged the realms of Aragon and Catalonia under a single ruler, to be Catalan already set the Catalan counties apart from questions of strict feudal homage. Flocel Sabaté writes of a separate Catalan identity in which the monarchy acted as the bonding agent of those counties: "ja no [en] unes línies de gestació sinó d'aprofundiment" ... "l'enfortiment del poder del sobirà és un gran factor de cohesió. Jaume I se sent rei d'una Catalunya que comprèn comtats que encara no li han jurat fidelitat" (276, 278). Some historians assume that this sense of nationhood was strengthened by the survival of public law and public administration into the eleventh century, a continuity of the potestas regia inherited from the time of the old Carolingian Spanish March (Bonnassie 374). This process of consolidation did not happen suddenly, and it is beyond the grasp of historians to pinpoint its emergence. Rather, it formed part of a sensitive and prolonged process of negotiation and renegotiation of Catalonia's identity and that of the neighbouring kingdoms with whom it shared a geographical and political space.

The Catalan language is, it goes without saying, a key factor in the region's identity. Two features seem decisive in recognising a turning point in the emergence of Catalan as a vehicle for a national literature.2 The first is its thirteenth-century political break with Occitania; the second is the closer involvement of Catalonia -within the Crown of Aragon- in peninsular politics. These two geopolitical factors seem to explain at least in part the writing of Jaume's Chronicle -the Crònica or Llibre del fets-in Catalan, an autobiographical account of his long reign (1213-1276).3 This linguistic shift, [End Page 80] well known to linguists, coincides with the movement away from Occitania toward Spain (Cingolani, La memòria dels reis 85).

In cultivating the vernacular, Jaume's Chronicle also paralleled a European movement, as Alfonso X's Crónica general (1270) and the French translation of Matthew of Vendôme's Historia regum francorum (1274) testify.4 The language of Jaume's Chronicle is no longer a sermo vulgaris. Or rather, since its debt to orality is strong, it represents perhaps an early phase of a new koiné, a literary standard or Literatursprache.5 This did not of course spring up suddenly ex nihilo but was, one assumes, grounded on a vernacular culture developed by the troubadour movement.6 By the 1320s, some fifty years after Jaume's Chronicle was finished, Ramon Muntaner, looking back to Jaume's reign, reports that the "finest Catalan" ("pus bell catalanesc") -spoken by the pages Loria and Lancia in the retinue of Constance Hohenstaufen, the Sicilian princess married to Jaume's son Pere II- was a koiné, compiled "de cascun lloc" and thereby "pus perfet" (44). Catalan linguistic identity had thus been consolidated in terms independent of the wider Occitan Sprachgebiet (Koll 141).7 It seems significant then that the loss of the Occitan counties between the defeat at Muret in 1213 and the final renunciation of Barcelona's claims at Corbeil in 1258 coincides in Jaume's reign with the establishment of a vernacular capable of engaging its own past and present. In so doing the boundaries of identity were being redefined. [End Page 81]

The contribution of the present study to this wider question is limited to...


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