1. A County in the Pyrenees;
  2. A Kingdom in the east of the Iberian peninsula;
  3. An 18th century Spanish province;
  4. A present-day autonomous community.  
Royal arms of Aragon, crowned. Español: Señal ...

Royal arms of Aragon, crowned. Español: Señal Real de Aragón y de los Condes de Barcelona coronada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The name comes from the River Aragón, which rises in the west central Pyrenees, and flows south, west and southwest to the River Ebro.

1. ARAGÓN, County.    The original County of Aragón lay in the upper valley of the River Aragón, high in the Pyrenees and leading to one of the passes that crosses the mountains.    It very probably began as a Frankish march, established in Charlemagne’s later reign, when his son, the future Emperor Louis the Pious, reigned in Aquitaine.   The Frankish grip in the west and centre of the Pyrenees had gone by the 820s, possibly because Louis, having succeeded to the Empire, could no longer give his old Kingdom of Aquitaine the attention it deserved.

The Counts of Aragón became subject to the Kings of Pamplona (the later Navarre).  In the 920s the heiress of the County was married to the King of Navarre and thereafter the County was held by the Kings.   Navarre reached the height of its power during the reign of King Sancho the Great (1000-35).   From 1015 his bastard son Ramiro governed for him in Aragón.   When Sancho died in 1035 his lands were divided among his four sons, who all held the royal title.   Ramiro gained some of the Navarre eastern frontier zone, but, though King, he remained subject to his half-brother, the King of Navarre.   His realm was really only a County still, as Ramiro himself wryly acknowledged when he called himself “as if King”.

2. ARAGÓN, Kingdom.     The Kingdom of Aragón means three things:

A. The Kingdom proper;
B. The lands of the Crown of Aragón (Aragón proper, Catalonia and Valencia, plus the Balearic Islands)
C. The Mediterranean empire which resulted from the King of Aragón’s acquisition of the Kingdoms of Sicily and Naples.

A. The Kingdom Proper

The original Kingdom of Ramiro I (1035-63) consisted of the County of Aragón, focussed on the town of Jaca, and some Navarrese land to the west.   To the north beyond the Pyrenees lay France, to the south the Moslem lands.   The King of Aragón was subordinate to the King of Navarre;  his was the sort of sub-Kingdom that came and went.

But Aragón survived.   Ramiro was able to extend his lands eastward to include the Counties of Sobrarbe and Ribagorza after the death of his half-brother in 1044 or 1045, so that he held a long strip of central Pyrenean lands between Navarre and the lands of the Spanish March focussed on Barcelona.   Ramiro’s subordinate status was eased in 1054 when his half-brothers, the Kings of Navarre and Castile, fell out and the King of Navarre was killed in battle.   The new King of Navarre also ended his days violently, murdered in a family dispute in 1076.   The Kings of Castile and Aragón then divided Navarre between them, King Sancho Ramirez of Aragón taking the title of King of Navarre.   His father Ramiro had wryly called himself “as if King”;  by becoming King of the well-established Kingdom to which his own was subordinate, Sancho Ramirez removed any doubts about his royal status.

The title of King of Navarre was lost in 1134.   By then Aragón stood on its own two feet.   If there was any doubt, it was about Navarre’s capability to be a Kingdom, not Aragón’s.  What had happened was that the Kings of Aragón had inched their way forward from the mountains to the foothills by extending into Moslem territory in the late 11th century.   In 1089 the town of Monzon in the lower valleys was taken, in 1096 Huesca, in 1101 Barbastro.   In the reign of Alfonso the Battler (1104-34) Aragón had begun to leap forward.   In 1118 Alfonso took the great city of Zaragoza (Saragossa), the most important of Moslem cities outside Andalucía.   Besides these advances at Moslem expense, Alfonso was married to Queen Urraca of Castile, an unhappy arrangement  but the quarrels gave him control of some neighbouring Castilian territory as well.

Alfonso had firmly established the Kingdom, yet it might have died with the greatest of its early Kings.   He was childless and at odds with his stepson, the King of Castile, while his only remaining brother, Ramiro, was a monk.

Alfonso therefore left his Kingdom on his death in 1134 to the Crusading military Orders.   The Aragonese had no intention of suffering this fate:  they brought his brother Ramiro out of a monastery and found him a wife.   A daughter, Petronilla, was duly born, whereupon Ramiro returned to his vocation in 1137.   A Queen in a cradle was not however much of a ruler.   Happily the able and adult Count of Barcelona, Raymond Berengar IV, was unmarried, so he was betrothed to the infant, as Regent bearing the title of Prince of Aragón.  He seems to have scrupulously cared for the interests of the Kingdom, before and after marrying the Queen in 1150.   Their son, Alfonso II, succeeded his father in the County in 1162 and his mother in the Kingdom in 1164.  Both Raymond Berengar IV and his son added to the original Kingdom of Aragón, Alfonso completing it with the addition of the region in the mountains beyond the Ebro around Teruel in 1170.   Teruel lay in the upper valley of the River Turia, which reaches the Mediterranean at Valencia, and so could serve as base for the next advance.   With its capture the original Kingdom was completed.

B. The lands of the Crown of Aragón.

Alfonso II inherited the County of Barcelona from his father in 1162 and his mother gave up the rule of the Kingdom of Aragón to him in 1164.   The two lands did not unite.   Each kept their own laws and customs, but had a common ruler.  The Counts of Barcelona had acquired much of the territory of the old Spanish March:  the region became known as the Principality of Catalonia.   It had more people, was more fertile and wealthier than Aragón.   The Kingdom provided the royal title, but much of the power of the Kings came from their being Counts of Barcelona, so the line of rulers descending from Alfonso II and only extinguished in the male line with the death of Martin I in 1410, is usually known as the Count-Kings.

The lands of the Crown of Aragón (Corona d’Aragón) were extended by conquest from the Moslems.   The Balearic Islands were seized, 1229-35 and much of the Kingdom of Valencia, which extended southwards from Catalonia, was added in the 1230s, all of it by the early 1250s.   Valencia was treated as a Kingdom, with its own laws and customs, though under the rule of the Count-King.

James I of Aragon created a Kingdom of Majorca for his second son, James II.   It consisted of the Balearics and the north Catalonian lands of Roselló and Cerdanya.   When James II died in 1311 his successor was obliged to acknowledge the suzerainty of the Count-King.   In 1343 Peter IV, the Count-King, confiscated the Kingdom.

The line of the Count-Kings, the male heirs of Alfonso II, died out in 1410, and the last century of complete Aragonese separation saw the lands of the Crown of Aragón ruled by a cadet line of the Castilian royal House.   The last of these Kings, Ferdinand II (1479-1516), had married Isabella, the future Queen of Castile, in 1469.   He administered Castile for his mentally sick daughter Juana after her husband’s death in 1506.   When he died in 1516, his Habsburg grandson, the future Emperor Charles V, succeeded him in Aragón and took over the rule of Castile.   The title of King of Spain (more accurately King of the Spains) began to be used.

C. The Mediterranean Kingdom.

The Kings of Aragón became a Mediterranean power first by the acquisition of Catalonia and then by the advance into the Balearic Islands.

In 1282 Peter III of Aragón, the son-in-law of  Manfred of Sicily, who had been dispossessed and killed by Charles of Anjou in 1266, was able to capture the island of Sicily.   When he died in 1285 his second son, James II, succeeded him in Sicily, though the death of his elder brother in 1291 brought him the throne of Aragón.   Eventually a third brother became King of Sicily in 1296 and his heirs reigned there until 1409, when the King of Aragón, Martin I, succeeded his own son, Martin I of Sicily, who had inherited the Kingdom from his wife, its heiress.   Martin I of Aragon thus became Martin II of Sicily.   Thereafter Sicily was united with the Crown of Aragón (and so with that of Spain after 1516) until the War of Spanish Succession in the early 18th century.

The Pope in appreciation of James II of Aragón’s agreement to give up the throne of Sicily in 1295 had granted him the island of Sardinia though it was not until 1321 that James began to act to secure his claim and not until 1478 that the entire island was more or less under Aragonese control.

King Alfonso V of Aragón and Sicily was bequeathed the throne of Naples by Joanna II, who died in 1435.   Not until 1442 was he securely established.   At his death in 1458 Aragón was inherited by his brother John II but Naples passed to his bastard son Ferrante.   In 1502-4 Alfonso V’s nephew, Ferdinand II of Aragón and Sicily, ousted his cousin and added Naples to the possessions of the Crown of Aragón.

The Kings of Aragon thus created a Mediterranean Empire, which later passed to the Habsburg Kings of Spain.   The War of Spanish Succession, which followed on the death of the last Habsburg, separated Naples and Sicily from Spain.   Though later in the century, in 1735, a son of the King of Spain became King of Naples and Sicily (the Two Sicilies) it was a requirement that if he succeeded to the throne of Spain, which he did in 1759, he should give up the Two Sicilies.   The Aragonese Empire thus did not reappear.

Although both Castile and Aragón were ruled by the same King after 1516, the lands of the Crown of Aragón (the Kingdoms of Aragón and Valencia, and the Principality of Catalonia) continued to be ruled according to their own laws and privileges, with Viceroys representing the King within each territory.   It was a nuisance to the Habsburg Kings, but in the Kingdom of Castile, where royal power was much stronger and more centralised, they had the means of governing Spain, and so they were generally able to treat the lands of the Crown of Aragón as an irritating provincial backwater.   Occasionally they became of great importance, most notably in 1640 when Catalonia revolted.  Eventually the revolt was crushed.   France, which had given encouragement to the rebels, walked off with the loot in the Peace of the Pyrenees in 1659, adding the Catalan lands north of the Pyrenees to the French Kingdom as the province of Roussillon.

It was the extinction of the Spanish Habsburgs in 1700 and the subsequent War of Spanish Succession that gave the incoming King the chance to reduce the separateness of the lands of the Crown of Aragón.   Aragón, Catalonia and Valencia had all decided in 1705 to support the claims of the Archduke Charles, the Austrian candidate, but it was the Bourbon Philip V who prevailed.  Their privileges were abolished and the lands were reduced to the level of provinces.

ARAGÓN, Province and Autonomous Community.

In 1707 King Philip V of Spain, the first of the House of Bourbon, recovered control of the old Kingdom of Aragón, which two years earlier had rallied to the support of the Austrian Habsburg candidate for the throne of Spain, the Archduke Charles.   He abolished its privileges and reduced its status from Kingdom to province, no longer ruled by a Viceroy but by a Captain General.

The Province of Aragón, the lands of the former Kingdom from the Pyrenees to Teruel, remained a large one throughout the 18th century, even though the lands of Castile were being divided into more manageable units during that time.   In 1833 Aragón was at last divided into the provinces (south to north) of Teruel, Zaragoza and Huesca.   In the northwest of the province of Huesca was the original County that had appeared in the early 9th century and had become a Kingdom in the 11th.

In democratic Spain the lands of these three provinces form the autonomous community of Aragón, whose first parliament was elected in 1983.   The capital is Zaragoza, on the River Ebro.   The government is known as the Diputación General.   Aragón is the fourth largest of the autonomous communities, but 10th in population.   The province of Zaragoza, in the valley of the Ebro, has more than twice the population of the two mountain provinces that lie either side of it.

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