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Diada: that's how the Catalan myth was made

2019-09-11T14:14:34.725Z

The Spanish War of Succession (1702-1713) is not an episode well known even to History students. A conflict whose objectives went beyond interests


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The Spanish War of Succession (1702-1713) is not an episode well known even to History students. A conflict whose objectives went beyond peninsular interests and extended to the New World, in which hundreds of thousands of people died. He also punished the Iberian Peninsula, where it was somewhat dynastic but had aspects of a civil war. Foreign armies (English and French) came to occupy Madrid and Barcelona, ​​and some corners of the Spanish territory (Gibraltar, 1704!) Remained forever in the hands of others. Aragon territories were (1707) permanently integrated into the crown. Thus was born the Spain we know today, and there are well-documented historical studies that explain what happened during those years.

What happened in Catalonia?

There, two centuries after the war, regionalist writers wrote narratives about the change in the destiny of their country. Salvador Sanpere i Miquel (1840-1915), a journalist and politician with extensive cultural tastes and vast experience, made the most substantial contribution to the myth. He is remembered above all for his monumental work End of the Catalan Nation (1905), which concentrated on the details of the siege of Barcelona in 1714. Subsequent writers of lesser consideration made a much more incorrect narrative, and which is repeated until today. satiety. According to them, the Spanish State, inspired by a totalitarian ideology, attacked the people of Catalonia . All of Catalonia rebelled to defend its constitution. The military power, without offering another way out, crushed the Catalans, abolished their democratic laws, imposed a regime of terror and left Catalonia in an economic misery. It was forbidden to speak or write in Catalan.

This whole version, and also the concept of a popular rebellion, is incorrect. The energetic resistance of Barcelona to the attacks of the British navy in September 1705 showed that the Catalans were not, under any circumstances, in favor of the rebellion against their king Felipe V. Still the seed of discontent existed. The Catalan commitment to the cause of the British acquired greater prominence with an agreement that took place in Genoa in June 1705 between a small group of disgruntled Catalans and agents of the British crown. In exchange for the support of the Catalans to Carlos III, the Austrian candidate for the Spanish crown, the British would supply them with men and weapons, and protect the fueros of Catalonia.

Those who decided the 1705 agreement did not speak in any way on behalf of all Catalans. People in Catalonia, as in other parts of the Peninsula, differed in their opinions about the discussion in support of Felipe V or the archduke. Barcelona had good memories of Felipe's visit in 1701, when the Cortes won concessions from the king that were "the most favorable the province had achieved . "

But in certain parts of the province there was a strong anti-French sentiment, rooted in experiences of previous decades, both among the elite and among the common people. In addition, echoes of past social conflicts still reverberated.

The siege of Barcelona in 1714, which commemorates this year three centuries, is the center of the myth and in this we can focus a brief comment. "Did all of Catalonia rebel?" . "Catalonia as a whole," wrote the Catalan historian Víctor Balaguer in the 19th century, "declared himself against Philip V". Balaguer was the official historian of Catalonia, but he was mostly a poet, and his story is fundamentally a compilation of romantic imaginations. The affirmation of a national uprising against Castile has no basis. As in the other kingdoms of the crown of Aragon, a good part of the upper class - in Barcelona, ​​Tortosa, Reus and other villages - favored the existing regime (of Felipe V).

Illustration by Jacques Rigaud, 'The scope of the looting'.

But they decided not to do anything until military events forced them to do so. Instead, there were conflicts between the Catalans themselves. "The whole Principality," observed the historian San Felipe, an eyewitness to the events, "rose in arms against himself." What took place in Catalonia was a civil division , rather than a rejection of the Spanish monarchy. Many Catalans fled the territory when the rebels seized him. There was a Bourbon Catalonia (Cervera, Berga, Manlleu, Ripoll, Centelles) as well as a Bourbon Aragon and Valencia.

The oscillations of war in the Hispanic arena are well known. Barcelona was finally taken by the Australians in September 1705, and 6,000 Bourbon Catalans left the city. Nationalist history keeps a discreet silence about all those Catalans who were not willing to tolerate the new king imposed by the English.

At no time was there unanimous or majority support in Catalonia in favor of the archduke. The last episode of the war, the siege of Barcelona , has a different history than the rest of the principality. Most of Catalonia had been recovered quite a long time ago: Lleida recovered in 1707, Tortosa in 1708, Girona in 1711. Since the end of 1712 the question as far as Barcelona was concerned was whether it would surrender, as expected by the French as the allies, or if he would resist until the end.

Was the abolition of Catalan laws inevitable?

The privileges of Lleida had not been touched when the city was recovered in 1708. And even more striking: when the Duke of Noailles occupied Girona, in 1711, he expressly confirmed the privileges of the city. And what about the attitude of the supposedly French totalitarian? In August of that year, Louis XIV also advised the king to treat the Catalans with clemency, to reach reasonable conditions in the capitulation, and to maintain the municipal laws and institutions of Catalonia.

It was Barcelona itself that caused the abolition. In a special session of the Corts, in June 1713, two of the three braços - a majority - voted in the first round in favor of surrender. After the allegations and subsequent votes, two of the braços finally voted in favor of resistance and struggle, and Felipe V was declared war on July 9, 1713. It was this foolish vote that decided the fate of Barcelona . By that time almost all of Catalonia had accepted the Bourbon king of Spain. "The representatives of Bages, Ripoll, Camprodón, Olot and more than 40 cities went to communicate their surrender to the governors of Girona, Tarragona and Tortosa," a witness reported. Mataró also communicated his loyalty to the Bourbon king at that time, and Vic did so in August. Nationalist history has carefully omitted these details and the names of these cities.

Was Barcelona really unanimous in its decision to resist?

It is time to consider the role of the part of Barcelona that did not support the rebellion. It is, indeed, the rebellion of only one section of the elite of Barcelona , much less of all of Catalonia. The abbot of Montserrat confirmed his loyalty to the king at that juncture, a significant proof of the deep division of opinions among the Catalans themselves. A witness inside the city recalled: "At the beginning of September there were large divisions in Barcelona, ​​because it was suspected that the commander of Montjuic was about to surrender the city to the troops of the king of Spain, so the rebels ordered him to behead him ". "Many citizens, fearful of what might happen, took steps to secretly flee to Genoa, where they had already sent their most valuable belongings."

In fact, Barcelona was responsible for its own destruction. The encirclement had cost more lives than the Duke of Berwick considered acceptable. In his Memoirs he estimated that 6,000 defenders had died , but he also estimated that his own army had lost 10,000 men. Annoyed at the futility of so many deaths, when the city was within reach of his hands he did not consider himself bound by the possibilities of a capitulation.

Were the rebels separatists?

No way. The rebels of 1714 were strong supporters of the unity of Spain, which they understood represented the recognition of a king (the Austrian Carlos III) and a nation with autonomous communities that preserved their historical constitutions. In the last phases of the defense of Barcelona, ​​the authorities called on the people to fight "per son honor, per la pàtria i per la llibertat de tota Espanya" . The pàtria was seen as an entity integrated in the context of Spain. The rebel Catalans fought for a free Spain, not for their independence from Spain. But at the same time they fought for their own laws, as they made clear in the last attempts to negotiate with Berwick.

The distortion of those principles, as if the rebels were supporting the formation of a republic or a split republic, demonstrates the irresponsible habitual cynicism of politicians' behavior. Neither 1714 gave birth to any nationalist fervor, nor was there any separatist ideology born.

At no time and for any aspect can it be deduced that the rebels of Catalonia understood that there was a divergence between their interests and those of Spain: they continued to share ideas , aspirations and the social and economic life of old Spain that they had always known. The tension between Spain and Catalonia led to a process of mythological formation that is still active today. In summary, the way in which we can observe the past of Catalonia in the first decades of the modern era has been deeply affected by the myths that were invented later, in the twentieth century.

The year 1714 was a time of great hardship for all, and not only for the Catalan rebels: it was a time of suffering for the Castilian exiles and for the German soldiers in Barcelona, ​​who fought against the Bourbon dynasty; for citizens who did not wish to fight but were forced to fight and die by the implacable decision of the Generalitat; for the thousands of soldiers belonging to the French troops who gave their lives unnecessarily, when a surrender would have prevented that tragedy.

But something crucial had happened in the relationship between Spain and Catalonia: the ties, sometimes complex and difficult, but also cordial, that had united their destinies for centuries tensed until they almost broke.

Politically united to Spain in the new circumstances after 1714, Catalonia was forced to look to Madrid to find answers; dominated by a ruling elite that was beginning to dissociate itself from its cultural and regional roots, the principality had to urgently seek new horizons.

* This article was originally published in the Chronicle supplement on September 7, 2014

According to the criteria of The Trust Project

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