Nzria Silleras-Fernandez

title.none: VanLandingham, Transforming the State (Nzria Silleras-Fernandez)

identifier.other: baj9928.0401.010 04.01.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Nzria Silleras-Fernandez, University of California Santa Cruz,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: VanLandingham, Marta. Transforming the State: King, Court, and Political Culture in the Realms of Aragon (1213-1387). Series: The Medieval Mediterranean, vol. 42. Leiden: Brill, 2002. Pp. xv, 249. $85.00 900412743-7. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.01.10

VanLandingham, Marta. Transforming the State: King, Court, and Political Culture in the Realms of Aragon (1213-1387). Series: The Medieval Mediterranean, vol. 42. Leiden: Brill, 2002. Pp. xv, 249. $85.00 900412743-7. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Nzria Silleras-Fernandez
University of California Santa Cruz

VanLandingham's first book Transforming the State. King, Court and Political Culture in the Realms of Aragon (1213-1387) studies the ordinances promulgated to rule the court and household of the kings of the Crown of Aragon. During this period four kings of this dynastic aggregate (which included Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia and other territories), Pere the Great (1276-1285), Alfons the Liberal (1285-1291), Jaume the Just (1291-1327), and Pere the Ceremonious (1336-1387), and one king of Mallorca, Jaume III (1324-1349), established formal palatine protocols. Although all of these kings, as well as Jaume the Conqueror (1213-1276), are discussed in this work, the real focus of the book is the reign of Pere the Great. As the author affirms, the ordinances of the kings were an attempt "to impose a structure on the court and household in order to maximize the resources, and to elaborate the court into a system of administration that would allow the ruler to consolidate and disseminate his authority more effectively within his territory" ( 2-3). The changes in administrative practice which resulted were as much the product of immediate circumstances and practical situations as a clearly established political strategy. For VanLandingham the kings were the driving force which produced administrative change in their attempt to build the state. Thus, the book is divided into three parts, each a metaphor for the body of the king. In the first part, the chancery is "the king's memory, voice, justice and conscience," in the second the treasury is "the king's purse" and finally, in the third the household appears as "the king's body."

Part One is divided into four chapters. The first, "The Chancellor: Office and Official" analyzes the role of the chief secretary, a doctor of laws (civil and canon) whose function was to serve as the state's memory and voice. He oversaw the vice-chancellor and a team of scribes who issued the documents that communicated and preserved the monarch's decisions and policies. He also presided over the royal council. This office, which appeared for the first time in 1218 underwent a series of changes over the next century and a half. The contrast the author makes between the rules of the office and the actual behavior of the officials who held it is interesting. Through case-studies she puts a face on two of Pere the Great's chancellors: Arnau de Torre (his chancellor on the mainland) and Giovanni di Procida (his chancellor in Sicily). Chapter Two, "The Chancery: personnel, procedure, innovation" examines the evolution of the functionaries of the royal secretariat. For instance, during the reign of Jaume the Conqueror, a notary was appointed to assist the chancellor and to oversee the work of the scribes. Subsequently he became known as the vice-chancellor. Again VanLandingham uses an example from the reign of Pere the Great to contrast administrative theory and actual practice. This time she investigates the career of Pere de Sant Climent, who was an important figure in the professionalization of the chancery. It was during King Pere's reign that the chancery of the Catalano-Aragonese Crown became more efficient, when documents came to be archived by subject, rather than merely in chronological order. In 1281, three years after this process had started, Sicily was conquered and incorporated into the Crown of Aragon. This kingdom had a more sophisticated administrative system, and came to provide a model for development for the Crown. Chapter Three, "The King's Law: Royal Justice and Royal Administration," deals with the monarchs' use of royal courts to impose their program of kingship, which aimed to establish their superior jurisdiction outside the ecclesiastical sphere. In the Crown of Aragon this was resisted by the nobles, who fought to keep their traditional rights of merum et mixtum imperium. Chapter Four, "The Royal Chapel: Religious Regulations and the Ordering of the State," describes the codification of the spiritual life of the court and its relationship to the program of legitimization of the state. Here the author focuses on the royal chapel and rites developed by Jaume the Conqueror and also on the Ordinacions promulgated by Pere the Ceremonious in 1344, the code which provided the most detailed rules on the subject. In this case VanLandingham describes the texts but doesn't analyze the actual situation of the court, as she did in other chapters. This is an important consideration: AgustC Altisent has pointed out in his work on Pere the Ceremonious [[1]], the king himself didn't follow his own ordinances relating to alms and pious ritual during Holy Week. In view of this, one can only assume with caution that he faithfully followed his other ordinances.

The second part of the book examines "the king's purse": the royal treasury. Chapter Five, "Royal Finances and Financial Administration before 1283" looks at the monarchs' sources of income including the various taxes they received. In the thirteenth century the royal finances were not in good shape, and the kings struggled to gather revenues in order to cover current expenses and debts. She examines how, despite this difficult situation, the monarchy multiplied its territorial holdings throughout the Mediterranean. In this chapter Pere the Great's administration of royal finances is also examined, notably the role played by a series of Jewish subjects who acted as "regional financial managers" (131), and helped the king to reform the accounting system. Chapter Six, "The Creation of Central Financial Offices," studies the formation of the royal treasury. Inspired by the Sicilian model, Pere the Great created the office of mestre racional (auditor of accounts), the highest officer of the financial bureau, who was put in charge of examination and control of accounts and revenues. This office, however, was not successfully established, due to the resistance of the estates to any reforms which would have augmented the king's control over the territory. On the other hand, Pere the Great was able to establish the office of treasurer, the person who managed the king's payments and receipts, also on the Sicilian model. In fact, the practices that Pere the Great tried to impose had better success with his successor, Jaume the Just who, having come to the throne after first ruling Sicily, reestablished the office of mestre racional.

The last part of the book, "The Household" or "the King's Body," examines the court, the working environment of the king, in terms of his two bodies "the natural and the politic" (157). Chapter Seven, "The High Offices and Officials of the Household," describes the various officials and servants who belonged to the court, based on the palatine ordinances developed by the various monarchs, but especially those of Pere the Great. This king established his ordinances as a response to very concrete situations and clearly codified a series of offices, including the majordomo (the highest official in the household) and the reboster (the custodian of the royal stores, the second most important official). Later, in 1344, under Pere the Ceremonious, a series of new offices were created for the monarch's household. Chapter Eight, "The Needs of King, Queen and Court: Table, Lodging, and Entertainment," focuses once more on the court of Pere the Great, although here the household of Pere's queen, Costanza of Hohenstaufen, heiress to the Kingdom of Sicily, is also considered. As she notes, the households of the queens and "the ruling princess paralleled in smaller scale the organization of the king's"(174). VanLandingham only touches on the topic, probably because palatine regulations she studies refer almost exclusively to the kings' courts. In fact, there are references to the queen's household included in Jaume the Just's ordinances of 1308 (appendix F, p. 221-223), and the same king also provided concrete regulations for the court of his wife Maria of Cyprus in 1318. Further, in 1353 Pere the Ceremonious added an additional ordinacions to his protocol, regulating the ceremony of coronation of the king and queen. The rest of the chapter deals with the king's table, security and entertainment and the officials in charge of these.

Finally, VanLandingham closes her book with a short conclusion (two and a half pages), in which she points out how the monarchs of the Crown of Aragon of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries "attempted to enact programs of kingship that utilized and manipulated precepts of Roman law and other contemporary political theories, as well as examples and traditions from their own and neighboring realms, in order to increase the effectiveness and extent of their exercise of power" (196). In this manner they reorganized their courts to be more effective for gathering resources and controlling their subjects. The book also includes appendices with English translations of the palatine ordinances of Pere the Great, Alfons the Liberal and Jaume the Just. VanLandingham chooses not to include the fourteenth-century Ordinacions of Pere the Ceremonious or the Leges Palatinae of Jaume III of Mallorca (which were the inspiration for the Ordinacions). Pere's code is the most complete and detailed of all of the sources, but it is perhaps too lengthy to publish as an appendix. Although all of these palatine ordinances have been published in the original languages, these appendices will be helpful for teaching and for non-Catalan speaking historians interested in issues of kingship and royal administration.

In sum, VanLandingham's book presents a clear picture of the development of the royal ordinances which contributed to the creation of a more efficient administrative bureaucracy and a better controlled household for the kings of the Crown of Aragon, an important theme in medieval Spanish political history and the history of the state. The sources are exhaustively described, and her analysis of them, based on her archival investigation, is credible if conservative. The author is familiar with and makes good use of previous scholarly work on the subject, and goes a step further by framing her analysis in a broad chronological period.


[[1]] Altisent, Agusti. L'almoina reial a la cort de Pere el Cerimonios. Estudi i edicio dels manuscrits de l'almoiner fra Guillem Daude, monjo de Poblet (1378-1385). Poblet: Scriptum Populeti, 1966, XLII.