Jaume I el conqueridor

800 years of Jaume I

He was born on 2 February, 1208, lived for 68 years, and has the most heroic nickname of all Catalan kings. A legend, Jaume I (James I) has just completed eight centuries and ordinary mortals are about to celebrate an anniversary that offers a good excuse for looking back at the man.

His 68 years were very well spent. Extraordinary territorial expansion - Majorca and Valencia - tops his CV, along with his personal involvement in producing the first great royal Catalan chronicle, the Llibre dels fets (Book of Deeds).

But it also includes some less headline-grabbing actions, like promoting trade, introducing Roman law and a policy in favour of institutions such as the Corts (legislative council) and municipalities, thanks to which cities like Barcelona had their first own body of magistrates.

The personal side of his CV is no less remarkable: he bore the humiliation of the nobles, insulted the bishop of Zaragoza and had the bishop of Girona's tongue cut out, invented a story about his third wife having leprosy so he could divorce her and marry his lover, and took part in a crusade to the Holy Land.

And we have not yet mentioned the family side: quarrelling with a father he hardly understood, creating family discord through successive wills and dividing his kingdoms between his sons, keeping a good collection of lovers and breeding a sizeable offspring, both legitimate and illegitimate.

Given his merits and demerits, few can resist having their say. This explains why the king has been the object of so much criticism as well as flattery. Depending on the period when attention is focussed on him, he was a champion of Christianity, a poor politician, a chivalrous hero or an insatiable adulterer. Troubadours, poets, politicians, historians, novelists and the opinionated, past, present and future, have, and will, line up for and against him. But the public, who have the last word when it comes to celebrities, crowned him, in a democratic, popular vote, as Catalonia’s favourite historic figure in the TV3 programme El favorit.

For all these reasons, the former territories of the Crown of Aragon have made a chocolate cake topped with “Any Jaume I" (James I Year) and 800 candles. They have also put together a big selection of presents: conferences, exhibitions, tourist routes, bell-ringing concerts, Te Deums and mascletadas (loud, explosive firework displays with bangers), cantatas, radio re-enactments, and a film with Jude Law as Jaume I which will pay tribute to “the most handsome man in the world”, in the words of Bernat Desclot.

In the country that celebrates Saint George’s Day by giving books as presents, there will be no shortage of these either. Biographies by Stefano Cingolani, Antoni Furió and Ernest Belenguer head the list of new books dealing with Jaume el Conqueridor (James the Conqueror).

Barcelona’s contribution is a series of videos dealing with different aspects of the complex but appealing figure that was Jaume I. These have been produced with Stefano Cingolani, who has written a biography of the king based on the Llibre dels fets, and with the collaboration of Victòria Mora, from the Barcelona City History Museum; Jordi Camps, from the Catalonia National Art Museum; Sebastià Riera, from the Barcelona City History Archives, and Father Tulla, from the monastery of Poblet.

Okay, Jaume, take a breath and happy birthday.

Chapter 1. Portrait of a King(4:00 min.)

Bernat Desclot wrote that Jaume I was "the most handsome man in the world". Tall, blond, well-built and handsome. This, according to Stefano Cingolani, a biographer of Jaume el Conqueridor, was a family trait because his father, Pere el Catòlic (Peter the Catholic), and his son, Pere el Gran (Peter the Great), were also very good-looking. Having studied the Llibre dels fets, Cingolani ...

Chapter 2. Military Leader(4:20 min.)

Jaume I says in the Llibre dels fets that the conquest of Majorca and Valencia was the idea of his nobles, who encouraged him to go ahead with it. That was not exactly the case. Stefano Cingolani believes this allowed the king to present himself as the leader of a joint venture in which the military contribution of the nobles was indispensable. To find out more about the Majorca campaign ...

Chapter 3. Politician(4:14 min.)

Even in the time of Jaume I, Occitan troubadours like Guilhem de Montanhagol and Bonifaci de Castelhana were criticising him, calling him “weak”, while Ibn al-Abbar, the Muslim poet from the kingdom of Valencia, referred to him as “the tyrant Yaqmu al-Barsaluni". In the modern era, historians like Ferran Soldevila do not regard him as a great politician. Stefano Cingolani considers ...

Chapter 4. Municipal Strategy(3:45 min.)

From the very beginning of his reign, the nobles battled with Jaume I and he fought with a variety of weapons: force, his prestige as king, written law, pardon and clemency, and a policy of giving municipal authority to the cities in his kingdoms, among them Barcelona. Stefano Cingolani speaks of the real and symbolic relationship between Jaume I and the city of Barcelona ...

Chapter 5. Death and Legend(4:00 min.)

In his book, Antoni Furió highlights the link between Jaume I and the monastery of Poblet. As early as1232, in his first will, he ordered that he be buried there and, just before he died in Valencia, on 27 July, 1276, he donned the habit, having abdicated to his son Pere el Gran. Nevertheless, the king’s body was not moved there until two years later, once the new king had put down a ...

New

BOOKS
  • Stefano Cingolani. Jaume I. Història i mite d'un rei. Barcelona: Edicions 62, 2007
  • Antoni Furió. El rei conqueridor. Jaume I entre la història i la llegenda. Valencia: Bromera, 2007
  • Ernest Belenguer. Jaume I i el seu regnat. Lleida: Pagès editors, 2008
  • M. Carme Roca. Les dones de Jaume I. Barcelona: L'esfera dels llibres, 2008
  • Agnès and Robert Vinas. La conquesta de Mallorca, Mallorca: Editorial Moll, 2007

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