THIRTEENTH-CENTURY CROWN OF ARAGON:
A VIEW FROM THE GALLERY
Donald J. Kagay
As Joseph Strayer has so aptly pointed out, “political representation was one of the great discoveries of medieval government”.1 By this process, the major elements of European societies in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries could be consulted, asked for money, or summoned for military service by sovereigns who also acted as feudal suzerains. The people called to a royal assembly actually and figuratively represented the entire realm while simultaneously “offering the prince… the rights and privileges recognized and conceded to him.”2 Despite the importance of the people in this parliamentary equation, we have few opportunities to look through their eyes at the inner workings of the representative assembly. Most of the popular accounts of such parliamentary machinery are restricted to England. In the Crown of Aragon, which was every bit as politically innovative as England, the narratives of the assembly describes it from the royal point of view. It is the intention of this paper to broaden the perspective of such assemblies by comparing royal and popular accounts of one Catalan assembly that took place at Barcelona in 1228. With such new evidence, it is hoped that a more balanced understanding of the early public meetings of eastern Spain can be attained. A careful assessment of such evidence, however, can lead to new questions centering on the real understanding of and accountability to the parliamentary process by the majority of the assembly members who, like the rest of their societies, were “unlettered”.
The baserock of all European parliaments was the royal court, that ever-shifting group of illiterate noble retainers who accompanied the peripatetic and under-funded sovereign on his constant journeying. When the king was in need of money, manpower or simply____________________