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22.08.28 Tomás Faci/Laliena Corbera (eds.), Rogar al rey, suplicar a la reina

22.08.28 Tomás Faci/Laliena Corbera (eds.), Rogar al rey, suplicar a la reina

As Guillermo Tomás and Carlos Laliena note, from 1200 to 1500 the Crown of Aragon, like so many contemporary European monarchies, went through a process of consolidation of royal power. However, rather than present this as necessarily a “positive” development in terms of the experiences of the governed--the evolution of a state that could hold the ambitions of a predatory land-owning political class in check--in the introduction to this collection of Spanish-language essays the editors remind us that this was a process which saw cumulative intrusions into the lives of ordinary people, who were subject increasingly to surveillance and control. That said, the foundation of this institutional evolution rested on a dynamic of consent, a constitutional process in which the ruled ceded power and authority to the rulers with the aim of accruing benefits themselves from these structures of power. It was in the elaboration of these written and unwritten social contracts that we can observe the gathering of the forces that gave rise to both the nation and the state. The monarchy, for its part, personified by the sovereign and royal consort, exercised an executive power that was rooted in a presumed recognition of established custom. As royal power extended, the king increasingly embodied the power to command; but by the same token, he (or she, or they) was obliged to accept petitions or requests from all but the most humble subjects. This phenomenon of petitioning the monarchy is the subject of Rogar al rey, suplicar a la reina: El gobierno por la gracia en la Corona de Aragón, siglos XIII-XV.

The collection itself consists of eleven essays grouped in three parts. The first part, “Documentos e imágenes de la petición,” begins with Beatriz Canellas Anoz’s “Fuentes para el estudio de la súplica al rey: la Cancillería de los reyes de Aragón y el Archivo Real.” This is a short introduction to the relevant sources found at the incredibly rich Archive of the Crown of Aragon in Barcelona, including the numerous chancery registers, and the abundant royal letters of the fourteenth century. She highlights súplicas to both the royal court and local authorities, and ends with information on accessing this material via PARES, the Spanish government’s digital archive portal. [1] Next, turning from text to image, Francesca Español’s substantial essay, “La súplica al rey y sus encuadres iconográficos,” analyzes the images of royal and divine supplication as they appear in the manuscript and ecclesiastical art of medieval Catalonia, as well as providing a study of the spaces, places, and buildings where these petitions were proffered and heard in real life, noting the blurring of the sacred and profane worlds in the context of palace and church.

The second part, “El gobierno de la gracia,” begins with “Por satisfazer a los greuges. Súplicas y agravios en las Cortes de Aragón en la Baja Edad Media.” Here, Carlos Laliena examines complaints made by subjects (whether individual subjects, collectives, ecclesiastical corporations, or municipalities) via the parliament (the corts or cortes) regarding alleged contraventions of established rights on the part of royal authorities or those acting with royal authority. Laliena signals that this is a theme that deserves much more attention, given the amount of unstudied documentary material that exists relating to these processes, and because the mechanism of royal grievance served as a sort of safety valve for discontent, a mitigator of despotic tendencies, an important symbol of the responsibility of the king to govern well, and--as such--a bulwark of royal legitimacy. Next, Gemma Teresa Colesanti surveys “Las súplicas a la Corona de instituciones monásticas en el reino de Nápoles en los siglos XIV y XV,” focusing on the petitions recorded at the Monastery of San Pedro and Sebastián and at San Lorenzo el Maggiore, and which focused for the most part on maintaining the royal subventions and privileges these monastic houses had been granted, and which were periodically under threat of revision. In “El ruego del rey, el amparo del reino. La mediación en la Cancillería de la reina Blanca de Anjou,” Diana Pelaz Flores and Lledó Ruiz Domingo remind us that medieval monarchy did not consist of only the king, but also the queen, one of whose crucial roles was that of royal intercessor, and taking Blanca d’Anjou (r. 1295-1310), the second wife of Jaume II of Aragon (1291-1327), as a point of departure. They signal the importance of the queen as a mediator who had the ear of the king and yet was more approachable than the sovereign himself, and point to the existence of an independent reginal chancery as proof of the formal authority and political independence of the queen. [2] Sebastian Roebert’s “La intercesión, ¿un indicador para la mediación reginal? El ejemplo de Leonor de Sicilia (r. 1349-75),” looks at five instances when Pere III’s third wife took an active role in the politics of the realm, suggesting that more work remains to be done analyzing queenly power in Aragon.

The third part, “El lamento de los oprimidos,” consists of five essays. “El reino abatido. Las súplicas al rey como estrategia de restitución en el contexto de la guerra de los Dos Pedros (Aragón, 1356-1375)” is by Mario Lafuente Gómez. Pere III was the pyrrhic victor of this brutal drawn-out war with Castile which saw significant Aragonese territory occupied, the local populations brutalized, and the military exhausted by a decade of conflict. The mechanism of royal petition--chiefly for the remission of taxes, due to economic hardship and compensation for costs, suffering, and damage brought about by war--enabled the king’s subjects and the king to plot a recovery from this cataclysmic near-defeat. Indeed, Lafuente sees the war as a watershed in shaping the communications with the king, forcing the king to see the necessity of responding with pragmatic sympathy to the circumstances of his subjects. As Tomás outlines in “La súplica al rey como herramienta de acción política de las comunidades rurales en Aragón (ss. XIII-XIV),” it was not only the kings but their subjects who appreciated the political uses of the royal petition. Focusing on the documentation of the royal chancery, the author shows how local communities employed the petition to counter the authoritarian abuses of their seigniors, appeal against excessive taxation, or resolve intractable partisan tensions within their own communities. Such supplications did not fall on deaf or indifferent ears, and even prior to the catastrophe of the War of the Two Peters, Aragon kings showed themselves ready to intervene to resolve the perceived injustices of even their most humble subjects. In “Las súplicas a la Corona de los concejos rurales de la frontera septentrional valenciana en la Baja Edad Media,” Vicent Royo Pérez investigates how municipalities in the northern region of the Kingdom of Valencia employed royal petitions as a strategy of collective action and communal defense, whether resisting outside seigniorial powers, including Military Orders, or imposing their authority on subordinate hamlets. Next, in “La monarquía y los remensas: quien paga, ¿manda?” Rosa Lluch Bramon analyzes royal responses to the complaints lodged by Catalan peasants vis-à-vis the abusive feudal rights (mals usos) which seigniors had imposed on the peasantry since the late fourteenth century. Whereas Alfons the Magnanimous had allowed the peasants to organize and had suspended the mals usos, this provoked a reaction on the part of the landed nobility, which in turn sparked two civil wars in the second half of the fifteenth century and led Fernando the Catholic to reinstate those seigniorial privileges. Petitions to Alfons’s wife are the subject of Inmaculada Melón Juncosa’s “A nos es stado fecha clamor. Quejas y ruegos a María de Castilla, señora de Borja (1442-1458),” taking as its point of departure a controversy over a debt owed by the Muslim aljama of Borja in Aragon to a Jewish lender, the collection of which was enforced by a neighboring Christian municipality, and highlighting the effectiveness with which both the Muslim community and individual mudéjares were able to extract concessions from the queen. Thereafter follows a brief conclusion by Eduard Juncosa Bonet, and a selection of twenty edited documents dating from 1330 to 1457, relating to the various essays. An index of names, places, and subjects is unfortunately not included.

Through the various essays in this collection we see the evolution of the royal petition over the course of three centuries--an important stabilizing mechanism in relations between ruling and ruled, and a crucial factor in the conveniencia, or the convergence of intereststhat characterized medieval government here. Attending to the complaints and pleas of even the most humble subjects, and formalizing and ceremonializing the process of petition, reinforced the power of the monarchy and allowed rulers to adjust their policies and positions, presenting this not as debilitating compromise but the largesse of grace. Petitions provided a safety valve to dissipate the pressures of discontent, and helped cast rulers as pious homologues to the rulers of the kingdom of Heaven. This choreography of compromise enabled the monarchy to consolidate and entrench its power. As a collection of essays, Rogar al rey embodies all of the usual strengths and weaknesses of the genre. Some contributions, notably those of the editors, are substantial, well-developed, and thoughtful; others, while illuminating, conclude with a call for “more work.” In any event, there is much here to interest Spanish-reading scholars working on a range of subjects: medieval government, peasants, minorities, queenship, secular iconography, manuscript studies, and so on, and enough to suggest that what would be welcome at this point is a comprehensive monograph on the subject which proposes a clearly articulated and coherent thesis. But this is certainly a solid first step.



1. Scholars interested in using the collections of the Crown of Aragon may be interested in the annual four-day virtual workshop on Latin diplomatics and the collections of the ACA, convened by the Mediterranean Seminar (see Full disclosure: this reviewer is the course instructor.

2. The authors would have done well to consult Eufemià Fort i Cogul, La Reina Blanca d'Anjou (Barcelona: Rafael Dalmau, 1975) and Núria Silleras-Fernández, María de Luna: poder, piedad y patronazgo de una reina bajomedieval (Zaragoza: Institución “Fernando el Católico” (CSIC), 2012 [English: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008]), who reaches many of the same conclusions.