Catalunya, the Revolt of Cataluña & the Count-Duke of Olivares

Catalonia (English spelling), Cataluña (Castilian spelling) and Catalunya (Catalán spelling) all refer to the same autonomous region, made up by the provinces of Barcelona, Gerona, Lérida and Tarragona (the last three in Spanish spelling). Catalonia was united with the Kingdom of Aragón from the year 1337, and developed a huge trading empire in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The Catalans have always been known for hard work, and their principal port, Barcelona, is among the best in the world.

When the crowns of Castilia (Spanish spelling) and Aragón (Castilian spelling) united (1469-79), Catalunya became part of Spain, but a strong, not to say severe Catalan independence movement has been surging around since the seventeenth century. It still surges, in the gentle hands of Artur Más y Más, Durán y LLeida and Jorge Trias.

In September, 1932 a Catalan autonomy statute was at last granted, which might have led to eventual complete independence but unfortunately General Franco abolished it during the Spanish Civil War. In 1979 however Catalonia became autonomous with its own elected President (Catalan and English spelling) Government (The Generalitat), and Ministers. The 1932 version gave the country autonomy status, made Catalán the official language and gave the Catalans control over most regional issues. Then came the forty years of Franco, and after he died (1975) came the Autonomy of 1979 with a substantial measure of home rule: but not enough.

The Revolt of Catalonia lasted roughly twelve years from 1640. There had been decades of unrest and political tension between Catalan authorities and the Castilian Government. Historians claim that the Revolt was provoked deliberately by the Conde-Duque de Olivares, who wanted a Union of Arms which included a passive Cataluña. The Catalans were having nothing of it. In 1635 when Spain went to war against France, Olivares deliberately centred the battles up and down the Catalan frontier in order to force the Catalans to defend themselves, but Catalans associate themselves and much of their language with France, not Spain, as they share a north/south frontier, and their language has connections with French.

Castilian soldiers were billeted in the province and caused much mayhem. Then the Castilian viceroy in Barcelona was murdered in the ‘Corpus of Blood’ of 1640. The Catalans used this moment to declare the separation of their province from Spain, and its permanent alliance and adherence to France. But again historians claim that French rule was much worse than Castilian rule! After a long, arduous and atrocious siege Barcelona surrendered to the Castilian army under Don Juan José of Austria in 1652.

Portrait of the young Philip IV of Spain / nuevayork-exhibition.org

Portrait of the young Philip IV of Spain / nuevayork-exhibition.org

Guzmán and Pimentel, Conde-Duque de Olivares was born in 1587 and became a favourite and Chief Minister of the Spanish King Philip IV. He was an exceedingly clever man, and the king was very young and mostly interested in young women. Olivares virtually ran the country while his king moved elegantly but not always with discretion from bedroom to bedroom.

He cultivated the arts, and tried hard to modernize Spain’s anachronistic and antique administration; he was interested also in building up Spain’s military strength. When he tried to introduce his Union of Arms there were revolts in Portugal (then Spanish) and Catalonia. The Union of Arms was a force of 140,000 men to be raised and maintained by each component state under the Spanish monarchy – in proportion to its resources. The plan was partially put into effect in Spanish America, Flanders and Italy, but ran into violent opposition in Aragón and Cataluña.

Guzmán took Spain into renewed wars with the United Provinces (now parts of Belgium and Holland), challenged France over the Mantuan Succession in 1628, and was most unpopular with the super-powerful Cardinal Richelieu (q.v.) in France. The Cardinal became Guzmán’s chief opponent during the absurd and repulsive Thirty Years War. The Spanish Fleet was finished off at the Battle of the Downs (1639); the city of Roussillon was taken by the French and Olivares was dismissed from office. He died quite mad, in exile in 1645.

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