From the Dutch Revolt


Many Spanish politicians tell that Spain's history begun in 1469, when the crowns of the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were united by the marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. In 1492, the combined forces of Castile and Aragon captured the Emirate of Granada, ending the last remnant of a 781-year presence of Islamic rule in Iberia. This marriage led to what would become the Kingdom of Spain under King Philip II, son of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. The Crown of Aragon existed until it was abolished by the Nueva Planta decrees issued by King Philip V in 1716 as a consequence of the defeat of Archduke Charles in the War of the Spanish Succession (1714, September 11th).

Spanish politicians argue that Catalonia has no history. So, Catalonia has no right to decide. For instance, the Spanish ambassador to the United Kingdom, Federico Trillo, sent a letter to Financial Times in which he claims that Scotland and Catalonia are very different cases: "Scotland was an independent nation and has been part of the United Kingdom since the Scottish parliament decided freely to join in the 18th century. By contrast, Catalonia was part of the wider Kingdom of Aragon and has been an integral part of Spain since its inception, more than five centuries ago". Last week, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs ordered his diplomatic offices to start a campaign against independence. It is based on two points: [1] the claim that Spain desires an agreement and [2] the exclusion from European Union of an independent Catalonia.

Let's reduce Trillo's arguments to absurdity:

  • In 1469 Ferdinand was King of Aragon, King of Sicily, King of Naples, King of Majorca, King of Valencia, King of Sardinia and King of Navarre, and Count of Barcelona. Be aware, Mr Monti: Sicily, Naples and Sardinia were also Spanish territories more than five centuries ago, and Spain takes care of its unity very seriously.
  • So many aristocratic titles! Wasn't Ferdinand also King of Catalonia? No. It never existed a Kingdom of Catalonia, although Catalonia was the very heart of the Crown of Aragon (a confederation of kingdoms that was born in 1137). Ferdinand was Count of Barcelona because the House of Barcelona was the leading dinasty of the Crown for centuries --please, remember a similar case: the House of Plantagenet in England. When the Spanish ambassador denies any right to Catalonia, he seems to be pushing for a wider independence movement. Will Catalonia's independence produce subsequent movements in Majorca, Valencia and Aragon? Trillo is really supporting this bold alternative.
  • Is Catalonia a nation, like Scotland? Maybe it is a province, nothing more, despite the massive demonstration in Barcelona on September 11th, and according to Trillo. But... why don't most Catalans speak Spanish and speak Catalan instead, a Romance language like Italian, Portuguese or French? 
  • Did Catalonia decide freely to join Spain? Some wars demonstrate quite the contrary. The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) is a nice example.
  • Charles V, as grandson of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, inherited even wider possessions. His son, Philip II, as everybody remembers, was the lord of the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands... Is the Spanish president thinking endlessly about the bailout only? Would he rather be remembering the old Spanish Empire and Alva, the 'Iron Duke'? Of course, we will not know it because we will not ask Trillo for advice.

Catalonia's struggle for freedom is older than the Spanish ambassador could imagine. I was reading The Dutch Revolt, a book edited by Martin van Gelderen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, reprinted 2001): "The volume presents five texts which were published in the Low Countries between 1570 and 1590, during the crucial decades of what is nowadays labellled, with understatement, the 'Dutch Revolt'. From 1555 a series of revolutionary events led to the abjuration of Philip II by the States General of the Dutch provinces in 1581 and to the subsequent foundation of the 'Dutch Republic of the Seven United Provinces'" (page vii).

The Dutch Revolt (pages 15-18) provides us with a contemporary testimony about the troubles and calamities of Aragon under Spanish Inquisition five centuries ago, as the first device of Castilian domination over all Spain:

It is now near a hundred years ago since the most noble Ferdinand and Isabel, King and Queen of Castile, having ended their great and long war against the Mohammedans, which had invaded, inhabited and troubled the kingdom of Spain by the space of almost 800 years, and having chased the said enemies out of all Spain and recovered the kingdom of Granada, gave their minds to establish religion, and to root out all the remnants of the wicked Mohammedan and Jewish sects. The charge hereof was committed to the Friars of Dominic's sect, who had wholly possessed the King's and the Queen's hearts and ears with a great estimation of holiness and wisdom: and therewith were also given them full authority in all things that might seem requisite to so great a matter. [...]

These [the Dominicans], either for that they had some fervent zeal of religion, or for that they cunningly cloaked their ambitious pride, partly with wonderful opinion of holiness, partly by the favour and power of Princes and men of great authority to whom they were joined in friendship, kinship and alliance, partly also by corrupt and secret devices, in short time advanced this their new raised empire to so great a height, that now they not only used dominion at their pleasure over the community, but also brought into subjection to the Holy Inquisition all the liberty of all the people, and estates of the realm. [...]

These devices, though to many men they seemed strange and intolerable, yet both because they were principally provided against the most hateful enemies of Spain and Christian Religion, namely the Moors, Mohammedans and Jews, and also for that they bleared most men's eyes with the pretence of God's service and opinion of holiness, and finally for that they not a little availed to the enriching of the King's treasury, now greatly wasted with many years, to whose use the one half of the goods of all persons condemned was employed, they were daily more and more established by the earnest favours, authority and power of the most part of the mightiest persons and especially of the King and Queen themselves, until the Aragonese, who are the principal province of Spain both in right of ancient liberty, in nobility and largeness of dominion, openly resisted. They, when they nothing prevailed with king Ferdinand by humble and lowly petition, attempted by force and arms to keep out this pestilence from their country, for that they plainly saw that their liberty which they had received most large and incredible from their ancestors, and hitherto kept inviolate, should by the means be destroyed, and that [they] themselves and all theirs should be made subject to the most dishonourable tyranny of the clergy. But they prevailed not. For after many troubles, much destruction and bloodshed they were compelled in spite of their wills and per force, as the residue of Spain did, to yield their necks to stoop under this yoke of Inquisition so that the same province, than which in time past there was none or more freedom, is now in such case as at this day there is none to be found in more servitude and subjection. By terror of which example, and by great opinion of holiness which the Inquisitors had gotten by the good success in the case, it came to pass that they subdued all Spain unto them without any further resistance.

But as the greedy desires of men are naturally unmeasurable and unsatiable, this lust of dominion could not long be contained within the bounds of Spain, though they be full large [...]. Therefore of long time they think that they may lawfully enforce upon us the Spanish laws and ordinances, Spanish manners and the Spanish yoke of inquisition, abrogating all our country laws, abolishing all memory of the German* name, destroying our privileges and oppresing our liberty.

I do not mind if we lost independence in 1714 or in 1469. Five centuries ago Aragonese people, Catalan people were already struggling for freedom. Three centuries ago, in 1701-1714, they were still struggling for freedom. The Dutch Revolt reminds us of the extraordinary difficulties we can expect and convinces us that the Catalan Revolution makes sense, regardless of how it will turn out.

* Martin van Gelderen explains the origin of this text and this reference to Germany. William of Orange "sought to consolidate his contacts with French Huguenot leaders and with German princes. One of the attempts to enlist German support was a petition [this text] presented on 26 October 1570 to the Reichstag at Speyer, the Libellus suplex Imperiatoriae Maiestati. The English translation, A Defence and true Declaration fo the things lately done in the lowe Countrey whereby may easily ben seen to whom all the beginning and cause of the late troubles and calamities is to be imputed --the first text in this volume-- was published in 1571 by the office of John Daye in London." (page xv). "The Defence offered both an account of the origins and causes of the troubles in the Netherlands and a defence of the Dutch exiles and their activities. It exerted that Europe was afflicted by a conspiration of 'certain idle men', who under the cloak of religion tried as inquisitors to usurp civil government." (page xvi).


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