James I of Aragon

James I
Jaume I Palma.jpg
King of Aragon
Reign12 September 1213 – 27 July 1276
PredecessorPeter II
SuccessorPeter III
Born2 February 1208
Died27 July 1276 (aged 68)
Alzira, Valencia
SpouseEleanor of Castile
Violant of Hungary
Teresa Gil de Vidaure
among others...
Violant, Queen of Castile
Constance, Lady of Villena
Peter III, King of Aragon
James II, King of Majorca
Isabella, Queen of France
FatherPeter II, King of Aragon
MotherMaria of Montpellier
ReligionRoman Catholicism

James I the Conqueror (Catalan: Jaume el Conqueridor; 2 February 1208 – 27 July 1276) was King of Aragon, Count of Barcelona, and Lord of Montpellier from 1213 to 1276; King of Majorca from 1231 to 1276; and Valencia from 1238 to 1276. His long reign—the longest of any Iberian monarch—saw the expansion of the House of Aragon and House of Barcelona in three directions: Languedoc to the north, the Balearic Islands to the southeast, and Valencia to the south. By a treaty with Louis IX of France, he wrested the County of Barcelona from nominal French suzerainty and integrated it into his crown. He renounced northward expansion and taking back the once Catalan territories in Occitania and vassal counties loyal to the County of Barcelona, lands that were lost by his father Peter II of Aragon in the Battle of Muret during the Albigensian Crusade and annexed by the Kingdom of France, and then decided to turn south. His great part in the Reconquista was similar in Mediterranean Spain to that of his contemporary Ferdinand III of Castile in Andalusia. One of the main reasons for this formal renunciation of most of the once Catalan territories in Languedoc and Occitania and any expansion into them is the fact that he was raised by the Knights Templar crusaders, who had defeated his father fighting for the Pope alongside the French, so it was effectively forbidden for him to try to maintain the traditional influence of the Count of Barcelona that previously existed in Occitania and Languedoc.

As a legislator and organiser, he occupies a high place among the European kings. James compiled the Llibre del Consolat de Mar,[1] which governed maritime trade and helped establish Aragonese supremacy in the western Mediterranean. He was an important figure in the development of the Catalan language, sponsoring Catalan literature and writing a quasi-autobiographical chronicle of his reign: the Llibre dels fets.

Early life and reign until majority

James was born at Montpellier as the only son of Peter II of Aragon and Marie of Montpellier.[2] As a child, James was made a pawn in the power politics of Provence, where his father was engaged in struggles helping the Cathar heretics of Albi against the Albigensian Crusaders led by Simon IV de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, who were trying to exterminate them. Peter endeavoured to placate the northern crusaders by arranging a marriage between his son James and Simon's daughter, when the former was only two years old.[2] He entrusted the boy to be educated in Montfort's care in 1211, but was soon forced to take up arms against him, dying at the Battle of Muret on 12 September 1213. Montfort would willingly have used James as a means of extending his own power had not the Aragonese appealed to Pope Innocent III, who insisted that Montfort surrender him. James was handed over to the papal legate Peter of Benevento at Carcassonne[3] in May or June 1214.

James was then sent to Monzón, where he was entrusted to the care of Guillem de Montredó,[4] the head of the Knights Templar in Spain and Provence; the regency meanwhile fell to his great-uncle Sancho, Count of Roussillon, and his son, the king's cousin, Nuño. The kingdom was given over to confusion until, in 1217, the Templars and some of the more loyal nobles brought the young king to Zaragoza.[5]

In 1221, he was married to Eleanor, daughter of Alfonso VIII of Castile. The next six years of his reign were full of rebellions on the part of the nobles. By the Peace of Alcalá of 31 March 1227, the nobles and the king came to terms.[5]