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James I of Aragon

James I of Aragon (Catalan: Jaume I) (Montpellier February 2, 1208 - July 27, 1276), surnamed the Conqueror, was the king of Aragon, count of Barcelona and Lord of Montpellier from 1213 to 1276.

As a child he was a pawn of power politics in Provence, where his father was engaged in struggles in the wars between the Cathars of Albi and Philip IV's military agent, Simon de Montfort. Peter endeavoured to placate the northern crusaders by arranging a marriage between his son James and Simon's daughter, entrusting the boy to be educated in Montfort's care in 1211, but Peter was soon forced to take up arms against them, and he was slain at Muret September 12, 1213. Montfort would willingly have used James as a means of extending his own power. The Aragonese and Catalans, however, appealed to the pope, who forced Montfort to surrender him in May or June 1214.

James was now entrusted to the care of Guillen de Monredon, the head of the Knights Templar in Spain and Provence. The kingdom was given over to confusion till in 1216 the Templars and some of the more loyal nobles brought the young king to Saragossa.

He first married, in 1221, Eleanor, daughter of Alfonso VIII of Castile, and then after having the marriage annulled (though a son was declared legitimate), in 1235, Violant of Hungary, daughter of Andreas II of Hungary.

After a false start at uniting Aragon with Navarra through a scheme of mutual adoption, James turned to the south and the Mediterranean, conquered the Balearic Islands (from 1228 over the following four years) and Valencia (the city capitulated September 28, 1238).

With the French, James endeavoured to form a state straddling the Pyrenees, to counterbalance the power of France north of the Loire. As with the earlier Visigothic attempt, this policy was victim of physical, cultural and political obstacles. As in the case of Navarra, he was too wise to launch into perilous adventures. By the Treaty of Corbeil, with Louis IX, signed May 1258, he frankly withdrew from conflict with the French king, and was content with the recognition of his position, and the surrender of antiquated and illusory French claims to the overlordship of Catalonia.

During his remaining two decades, James warred with the Moors in Murcia, on behalf of his son-in-law Alphonso the Wise of Castile. As a legislator and organizer he occupies a high place among the Spanish kings. The favor he showed his bastards led to protest from the nobles, and to conflicts between his sons legitimate and illegitimate. When one of the latter, Fernan Sanchez, who had behaved with gross ingratitude and treason to his father, was slain by the legitimate son Pedro, the old king recorded his grim satisfaction.

At the close of his life King James divided his states between his sons by Yolande of Hungary, Peter receiving the Hispanic possessions on the mainland and James, the Kingdom of Majorca (the Balearic Islands) and the Lordship of Montpellier, a division which inevitably produced fratricidal conflicts. The king fell very ill at Alcira, and resigned his crown, intending to retire to the monastery of Poblet, but died at Valencia July 7, 1276.

King James wrote or dictated at various stages a chronicle of his own life, "Llibre Dels Fets" in Catalan, which is the first self-chronicle of a Christian king. As well as a fine example of autobiography the "Book of Deeds" expresses concepts of the power and purpose of monarchy, examples of loyalty and treachery in the feudal order, the growth of national sentiment based on homeland, language and culture, and medieval military tactics.

External link


  • The Book of Deeds of James I of Aragon: A Translation of the Medieval Catalan "Llibre Dels Fets" ("Crusade Texts in Translation" Series) translated and edited by Damian J. Smith and Helena Buffery, 2003

Preceded by:
Peter II
King of Aragon Succeeded by:
Peter III
Count of Barcelona
King of Valencia

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45