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  • Bernat Desclot's Response to Bernat d'Auriac's sirventés:The Battle of Castellammare and the Rise of Catalan as a Royal Language
  • Vicente Lledó-Guillem

The Battle of Castellammare, also known as the Battle of the Gulf of Naples, took place on June 5, 1284. The Aragonese fleet under the command of Roger de Llúria, Admiral of the King of Aragon, defeated the Angevin navy and captured Charles of Salerno (1254-1309), son and heir of Charles I of Anjou (1226/27-1285). The Catalan chronicler Bernat Desclot (c. 1240-1288) describes this naval confrontation in chapters CXIX to CXXIX of his Llibre del rei en Pere d'Aragó e del seus antecessors passats, commonly known as Crònica, one of the oldest Catalan texts. The actual armed conflict on the southern coast of Naples is narrated in chapter CXXVII; the other chapters describe the battle's preparation and aftermath. The way the episode is narrated is important for its significant linguistic and political implications in thirteenth-century Europe. Finding out what happened exactly in the summer of 1284 may be an impossible task, but by focusing on the way Desclot transforms the historical material into a coherent linear narrative, [End Page 145] we can understand how the author's political agenda influenced the story line. In order to achieve this, I shall focus on the context for Desclot's account of the Battle of Castellammare in his Crònica. Then, I shall explain how Desclot constructs his narration as a historian who both mirrors and creates the past.1

Inspired by the Aragonese conquest of Sicily in 1282, Desclot initiated his Crònica in 1283 with the intention of glorifying the Aragonese monarchy. The composition was interrupted by the invasion of Catalonia by French crusading armies in 1285; he resumed its writing between 1286 and 1288 (Arnau 6). Cingolani prefers to talk about two versions of the Crònica and shows that between 1286 and 1288, Desclot revised the first version and made some changes in the first 130 chapters, dying before he could revise the remaining ones (La memòria dels reis 99). In his first version, Desclot does not refer to any of the events that took place between June 1, 1283, and the end of November 1284. In other words, we must take into account that Desclot's account of the Battle of Castellammare was not written until 1286 (Cingolani, Historiografia, propaganda i comunicació 493).

I argue that the narration of the battle episode, composed at least two years after the events took place, is a response to the political sirventés, "Nostre reys, qu'es donor ses par", written by Bernat d'Auriac during the French invasion of the Catalan lands in 1285. This sirventés gave rise to a poetic debate, carried out in llengua d'oc, between d'Auriac, the Count of Foix, and an anonymous author who supported the French invaders, and their opponents: Pedro III, King of Aragon (1276-1285), and Pere Salvatge.2 [End Page 146]

In his rejoinder, Desclot first manages to affirm and naturalize Catalan's independence from the langue d'oïl.3 Secondly, he is able to establish a further distinction between Catalan and llengua d'oc by stressing Catalan's lack of political neutrality or ambivalence. Finally, he establishes the Catalan monarchy's military superiority by means of a negative portrait of Charles of Salerno. With his report of Charles of Salerno's silence during one of the most dramatic episodes of the battle, along the French prince's behavior as a prisoner, Desclot challenges French linguistic and political arrogance expressed by d'Auriac in his sirventés.

Desclot's narrative constitutes a metalinguistic episode in thirteenth-century Europe that intends to establish and naturalize a linguistic ideology emphasizing the independence of Catalan as the language of the Aragonese monarchy, different from both the langue d'oïl and the llengua d'oc.4 Desclot's active role as a historian can be better understood if we consider the intertextual importance of the 1285 poetic debate, paying special attention to the poem by d'Auriac.

The Battle of Castellammare is one of...


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