The Medieval Review 14.04.08

Jenkins, Ernest E. The Mediterranean World of Alfonso II and Peter II of Aragon (1162-1213). The New Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Pp. xiv, 263. $85.00. ISBN: 978-0-230-10714-4.

Reviewed by:

Brian Becker
Delta State University

In this volume, Ernest E. Jenkins (University of South Carolina, Lancaster) evinces great enthusiasm for the burgeoning field of Mediterranean studies, and also makes clear his intention to contribute to it. He in fact does just this by providing his readers with a survey of royal diplomacy during the reigns of Alfonso II (1162-1196) and Peter II of Aragon (1196-1213), a dynamic period of change for the Crown of Aragon, "particularly regarding its interaction with the Mediterranean world" (1). Sources from this period document many significant internal developments taking place during the reigns of this father and son, including the enhancement of key alliances among families, the strengthening of their working relationship with the papacy and other ecclesiastical officials, as well as the reinforcement of the collaboration between count-king and nobles. But, Jenkins pays the closest attention to one development in particular: Alfonso's and Peter's efforts to increase Aragonese strength in the Midi (southern France), where the threat of the spread of the Albigensian heresy ensured that King Philip II of France and Pope Innocent III possessed an interest in the region just as intense as their own. Indeed, all of the above policies demonstrate the desire of Alfonso and Peter to stabilize, solidify, and enlarge their kingdom, but the author argues these sources "are, by themselves, insufficient for appreciating the scope and potential of these developments" (1). Jenkins therefore augments the abovementioned diplomatic sources with a multitude of other evidence, including charters, narrative sources, and saints' lives, in an effort to demonstrate the impact of these policies on the wider Mediterranean world. It is his ultimate goal that this study will help fill what he sees as a lacuna in the field of Mediterranean studies, namely the dearth of regional studies concentrating on the tenth through the thirteenth centuries (when compared to those focusing on the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries). It is not entirely clear whether the disparity to which Jenkins refers is in fact as pronounced as he makes it out to be, or if it exists at all, but the work nevertheless makes a useful contribution to the field of Mediterranean studies in general, and the history of the medieval Crown of Aragon in particular.

In the book's first chapter, "The Mediterranean Matrix of Connections for Alfonso II and Peter II," Jenkins wastes little time introducing the reader to two of the most important themes that permeate the entire work: community and connectivity. He acknowledges the role played by the Mediterranean Sea in connecting and focusing the political lives of the communities surrounding it, but cautions against undervaluing the unique features, customs, household structures, family networks, relationships, etc. of each individual regional society. It is the dynamic connections existing among these community-specific features which gear a particular region's perspectives and range of activities toward securing its own advantage, of which the reigns of Alfonso II and Peter II are perfect examples. The ongoing involvement of these two rulers of Catalonia and Aragon in the Reconquista made it necessary from a wide array of perspectives, whether military, diplomatic, or commercial, to forge repeatedly connections with those, such as northern Iberian rulers, Genoa, and Norman territories, who could assist them with these campaigns and initiatives. In addition to this, their deepening interest in areas such as the Midi made partnerships with Montpellier crucial for their success there. The important thing to note here is that, while the activities of Alfonso and Peter were intended to strengthen and enlarge their own kingdom, in transcending their immediate locality to forge these international relationships they were simultaneously creating a more stable, connected Mediterranean community in which they and their realm could fully participate. Indeed, Jenkins makes it clear that the efforts of these two rulers to cultivate a broader community within the Mediterranean, with the Crown of Aragon at its center, were a conscious, consistent policy, and this work "occupied a significant share of their energies and resources" (17).

Jenkins then supports the above argument in the following chapters using a substantial amount of case-specific evidence. In Chapter 2, "Forging a Regional Community: Alfonso II and the Midi," the author discusses Alfonso's involvement in the affairs of southern France. An analysis of the king's activities points to an ever-deepening commitment to his presence in the region, especially the maintenance of key familial alliances which ensured him support and assistance. These alliances were of course designed to further his own interests there, but ironically sometimes cost him extra-regional support. This was certainly the case with his ally Count Raymond V of Toulouse, whose toleration of the Cathar heresy drew the ire of the papacy and other rulers.

Chapter 3, "Regional Networks and Pilgrimage Spirituality," shifts the focus to Alfonso's and Peter's efforts to curb the endemic warfare which consumed northern Iberia in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. It is Jenkins' contention that pilgrimage was an integral part of their strategy to resolve conflicts in the region, emphasizing as it does spirituality, connectivity, and change. Both rulers seized upon pilgrimage as a way to foster unity among competing Christian communities of northern Iberia; for example, Alfonso's dramatic peace pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in the late 1190s sought to promote stability there in the face of resurgent and perhaps expanding Almohad communities to the south. In 1204, Peter's royal consecration by Pope Innocent III in Rome also helped strengthen his local support by symbolically linking him to generations of earlier Christian rulers in Iberia, who had for centuries placed great importance on the ceremony. Yet, the consecration also strengthened his alliance with the papacy, whose support in future actions against heretics and Muslims would be crucial.

Alfonso's and Peter's desire for unity in their kingdom is also the major theme of Chapter 4, "Law, Spirituality, and the Practice of Ethics," but the emphasis here is how this desire influenced their policies towards lay violence. At the core of their efforts to curb this violence was a series of royal enactments providing for the Church's Peace and Truce of God initiatives, which illustrate both the dedication of these rulers to the initiatives, as well as their willingness to collaborate with ecclesiastical authorities to advance shared objectives. This collaboration represents a tangible linkage of political and spiritual authority in which Alfonso and Peter participated willingly, as they strove for peace, order, organization, and stability in their realm.

The marriage strategies of Peter II are the focus of Chapter 5, "The Matrimonial Adventures of Peter II of Aragon and Marie of Montpellier." This title is somewhat of a misnomer, however, because the chapter deals much more broadly with the familial ties and social relations among the Houses of Aragon-Catalonia, Montpellier, and Toulouse. Indeed, Peter was hardly forging a new family connection when he married Marie, because their families had been linked by marriage since the time of the First Crusade. Their Houses, and that of Toulouse, had thus long been fideles sancti Petri by the early thirteenth century, participating in the crusading movement and supporting ecclesiastical reform. The course of Peter's marriage to Marie demonstrates the enormity of his ambition not only to consolidate his holdings, but also to expand them across the Mediterranean. There were many strategic advantages that a marriage to Marie of Montpellier won Peter, including the strengthening of his court's ties to those of southern France and obtaining several active ports there that would greatly enhance his realm's communication and trade throughout the Mediterranean. It is therefore a mark of his ambition that he attempted to divorce her and marry Marie of Montferrat, heiress to the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, which would have earned Peter stronger familial connections in the Midi and northeastern Iberia, as well as the prospect of positioning himself at the center of crusading enterprises in both Iberia and the Latin East. In the end, Marie and Pope Innocent III thwarted Peter's plan to remarry, but these affairs demonstrate the connections he was willing to form, and break, in pursuit of his grand designs.

Chapter 6, "Mediterranean Communities in Competition and Conflict," predominantly traces Peter II's crusading policies on the Iberian Peninsula. Peter's predecessors had armed him with several crucial territorial advantages which put him in an excellent position to continue the Reconquista in general, and to achieve his aim of conquering Valencia in particular. He had in fact made great strides on both fronts by the end of 1212, invading Valencia and taking four castles, as well as participating in the important Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. Peter's activities, Jenkins argues, not only evince a continuing interest in the southern expansion of Iberia's Christian kingdoms, but also his dedication to assisting his colleagues' efforts to weaken the position of the Muslim rulers of al-Andalus. In addition to this, the success of Peter's regional policies also won him significant commercial and military gains throughout the western Mediterranean, thus advancing the aims of his predecessors, especially his father and earlier counts of Barcelona, in this regard.

Chapters 7 and 8, "Fracturing a Regional Community, Part I: Peter II and the Genesis of the Albigensian Crusade" and "Fracturing a Regional Community, Part II: Peter II and the Conflicts of the Albigensian Crusade," respectively, focus on Peter II's crusading activity in southern France, which Jenkins characterizes as "an active policy to further his interests and those of his allies in the Midi" (123). The author here cites Peter's long-term cultivation of contradictory allegiances, both locally and internationally, as the most significant factor dictating his ambivalent behavior during the course of the Albigensian Crusade. Indeed, Peter's close relationship with the papacy and associates in Toulouse perhaps put him in a unique position to act as mediator between champions of orthodoxy and Catharism, but his dynastic connections and broader ambitions would ultimately lead him to fight against the crusaders, eventually suffering defeat and dying in 1213 at the Battle of Muret. It is Jenkins' main point here that Peter's failure in southern France was more the result of his own bad decisions than of anything else.

The ninth and final chapter of this book, "Alfonso II, Peter II, and the Tradition of Community in the Mediterranean World," is essentially the study's lengthy conclusion. Jenkins contends that both "Alfonso II and Peter II of Aragon cultivated a set of regional interests that would link the Crown of Aragon more effectively to a Mediterranean social system" (159). It is important to note, argues the author, that this was a conscious policy on the part of these two rulers, who hoped to forge stronger and closer connections with communities throughout the Mediterranean world in order to link Catalonia and Aragon more effectively and tightly to said world. Jenkins places a special emphasis on the part crusading played in the kings' efforts to achieve this end, seeing as it was an activity that held the possibility of creating and/or strengthening their relationships with other Christian communities across the Mediterranean. Indeed, the intense involvement of Alfonso and Peter in both advancing the Reconquista in Iberia and battling the Cathar heresy in southern France required them to ally with regional rulers against common enemies, as well as work with the papacy to advance its policies, even if Peter II's conflicting allegiances in the Midi strained his relationship with Pope Innocent III. Yet, Peter's marriage alliances also reveal his desire to participate in eastern crusades, and thus increase his influence across the Mediterranean. This was certainly one of the most important factors, argues the author, motivating Peter to divorce Marie of Montpellier and marry Marie of Montferrat; his marriage to the former may have won him great political clout in the Midi and wider western Mediterranean, but the latter was the heiress to the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, which increased his clout throughout the Mediterranean by facilitating his recruitment of crusaders in both the East and West.

Jenkins is very careful to end his final chapter by reemphasizing what he clearly sees as the most important theme of his book, the search for connectivity: "This study has explored some of the ways that common terms such as justice, mercy, and community animated the search for fitting expressions of communal life during the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, particularly with respect to two Mediterranean societies. In these societies, the inhabitants--led by the examples of Alfonso II and Peter II of Aragon--sought opportunities for enhancing their social, economic, legal, spiritual, and environmental connectivity with each other at a time when other social and political forces presented threats to the possibility for connecting any of these, much less all of them" (173). There is absolutely no doubt that the author believes that these rulers frequently, if not always, acted in the interest of increasing their realm's presence in and connections to the wider Mediterranean community, what is not clear, however, is to which "two Mediterranean societies" he is referring. Confusion such as this is, unfortunately, a recurring issue in a book that otherwise makes some very important points about the international diplomacy of these two kings. The author's intense focus on the connections among "Mediterranean communities," whether political, religious, textual, scholastic, etc. in nature, oftentimes makes it difficult to keep straight which communities he is addressing at any given time, as his discussion oscillates from group to group and connection to connection. What occasionally adds to this confusion is the author's attempt to link theoretical and physical communities to each other, even when a cause- effect connection between them is not necessarily apparent. The book's final chapter offers a good example of this, when Jenkins attempts to link Alfonso's and Peter's search for commonalities among Mediterranean communities with an emerging theological tradition in Iberia, namely the striving for unity of action and reflection (170- 172). It is an interesting discussion, but one wonders just how deeply this scholastic turn affected the foreign policy agendas of these two rulers on the ground.

It is also unfortunate that lengthy digressions often detract from the flow of the arguments Jenkins constructs throughout his book. The author frequently breaks the rhythm of an important and interesting discussion about some aspect of Alfonso's and Peter's international relations by turning his attention to a topic of questionable relevancy to it. For example, in Chapter 2, Jenkins interrupts an otherwise very useful discussion of Alfono II's relationship with the counts of Toulouse with consecutive discussions of the history of both notaries in the Mediterranean world and heresy in England, without so much as an explanation for their presence. [1]

It is in no way my intention to imply that this book is unsuccessful in offering its readers an interesting and useful introduction to the international diplomacy of Aragon and Catalonia under Alfonso II and Peter II. The volume is handsomely constructed, has an excellent bibliography and, as a result of meticulous editing, very few grammatical errors. The above complaints aside, Jenkins has succeeded in making a useful contribution to both the field of Mediterranean studies and the history of the medieval Crown of Aragon.



1. This is merely one example of many the reader will encounter throughout Jenkins' book. A few other topics on which the author digresses for unknown reasons include: 1) the collection and use of tolls throughout the Midi (149-151); 2) the different marriage patterns of northern and southern France (151-154); and 3) the changing role of noble women within marriage over the course of the Middle Ages (168-170).

Copyright (c) 2014 Brian Becker

Give Now

ISSN: 1096-746X | Administrator Login