Understanding Catalan history in 10 points and four eras

Catalan MonitorHistory, News Roundup


1.- WE ARE MEDITERRANEANS and the result of the Roman colonization of a territory inhabited largely by Iberians. Our language –Catalan– is a direct derivation of Latin. By the IXth Century, it had already acquired its key features and began to appear in written form. This language is to be the vehicle of a powerful administrative tradition and culture, which produced texts such as the famous Cròniques  (Chronicles) and fully-fledged literary figures such as Ramon Llull, Joanot Martorell, Ausiàs Marc, Anselm Turmeda, Jacint Verdaguer, Caterina Albert (Víctor Català), Salvador Espriu, Mercè Rodoreda, Emili Teixidor, Jaume Cabré or Maria Mercè Marçal…

2.- Romanization and its Christian continuation mark us to the core: indeed, the first archbishopric dates back to Roman times. Saint Eulaly (Santa Eulàlia) is a IIIrd Century martyr.

3.- Our flag – four red stripes on a yellow background- has its origin in our war against the Normans in the IXth Century. One of the key llegends is based on the birth of the flag over one thousand years ago.

4.- The expansion of Christianity in its territorial conflict with Islam: Here two frontiers are created. The oriental one (with the Balearic Islands) and the Southern one (in València). It is the advance on these two confines that the Catalan countries are created.

5.- Catalan society in origin is the sum of a feudal society and peasants and a society made up of cities with craftsmen, guilds and merchants.

6.- The dynasty that governed us for six centuries is that of the House of Barcelona, ​​which unifies the different counties. It arises from the Carolingian Empire (9th century) and expands to Aragon by marriage (12th century), to the Mediterranean (advance over Islam) and in the south to Alacant (advance over Islam). It has an intense relationship with Occitania.

This dynasty created the territory of the Catalan Countries –as the popular expression says- “from Salses to Guardamar and Maó to Fraga” denotes.

  • It reigns over a territory made up of  a) farmers and peasants (the popular or Royal estate); b) the gentry (the noble estate), the clergy (the ecclesiastic estate) and a Parliament  or “Corts” (1214) from which lwas and juridical regulations known as “Usatges” of Barcelona and after as the Constitucions.
  • The Catalan political System is one based on agreement or pacts:  laws are drawn up with the consensus of the assembly and the king must obey them. This system of agreement is totally opposed to the absolutism that defines so many European courts of the period.
  • From commercial activity arises the special jurisdiction and maritime laws of the Consulate of the Sea, while the ecclesiastical and civil powers regulated the laws of war by way of the Assemblies of Peace and Truce (since the 11th century), which became a fundamental basis of the articulation of the Corts.

7.- This country –referred to as “Catalan” as from the 11th century- made up of farmers, craftsmen and merchants creates a market in the Mediterranean and a strong political and cultural relationship with Occitania (Catalan troubadours expressed themselves in Occitan until the fifteenth century). The Catalans are a people that is not rich but very active economically: farmers, craftsmen, merchants, artisans, small nobility. It creates a great amount of economic activity with a basis of wheat, vines, olives, textiles, commerce…

8.- The House of Barcelona reigned and governs for six centuries until 1410. Its most important king-counts are the Count of Barcelona Guifré called the Hirsuit (? ~ 840-897); Ramon Berenguer III (Rodés, Occitania 1082-Barcelona 1131) called the Great, who strengthened the ties with Occitania), Ramon Berenguer IV (? ~ 1113-Piedmont 1162) first king-count of Catalonia-Aragon; James I called the Conqueror (Montpellier 1208-Valencia 1276) king from 1213 to 1276), Pere called the Great (Valencia 1240- Vilafranca del Penedès 1285) and Pere el Cerimoniós (Balaguer 1319- Barcelona 1387).

9.- With the dynastic disappearance of the House of Barcelona (when King Martí the Human (Perpinyà 1356-Barcelona 1410) dies without succession) the so-called Casp Commitment (Compromís de Casp) takes place (1412) from which the following non-Catalan dynasties follow on: 1) the Castilian Trastamara dynasty, a family of large livestock owners which is very much at a loss to accept the pact-based system of the Catalans. This would explain the first Catalan war against a king (1462-1472) – who is finally obliged to respect it. In 1481 the king swore the Constitution of Observance. 2) The Habsburg dynasty, which started up in 1519, with European and American imperial ambitions, which places the Catalan country in the midst of constant wars, with the obligation to accommodate soldiers, provide young men for the king’s wars, suffer asphyxiating fiscal pressure to pay for this imperial policy outside the country, face danger and obstacles from the enemies of this empire, especially the maritime piracy which interferes with trade. The Catalans, headed by Christopher Columbus, who had the economic support of the Santàngel family, Valencian converts from Judaism, play an important role in the first decades of the discovery of America (with characters such as the Hieronymite monk and ethnographer Ramon Paner, the soldier Pere Bertran Margarit, the cosmographer Jaume Ferrer de Blanes, the Valencian expeditioner, Jaume Rasquí, etc.), and in the ambition to establish a commercial route from the newly discovered lands.

The Catalan nation in the fifteenth century is a nation with emerging power that occupies its Papal See with Valencian popes Borja and has a brilliant literature and a first rate cultural role in the western world.T

The expulsions of the Jews (1492) and Muslims (1609) constitutes an attack on the population and its economic and civil structure.

The peasant social and commercial base to Catalan society explains its capacity for resistance and revolt. The Catalans rebelled against the Habsburg dynasty in the so-called War of the Reapers (1640): the entry of the Spanish troops along the Ebre river (Spanish, Ebro) prevented the expansion of this Catalan rebellion into Valencia with the bloody repression of Tortosa; This war has the serious consequence of the loss of part of the territory of the Hapsburg-dominated Catalan nation to the Bourbons of France: the territory of the Catalan nation is divided between these two monarchies by the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659). Northern Catalonia (Catalunya Nord sometimes known as the Roussillon) with its capital at Perpinyà (Perpignan), which was the second largest city in Catalonia, was taken by the Bourbons of France and the rest of the country remained under the control of the Habsburgs, although maintaining its institutions and prerogatives as a free nation. In contrast, the delegation of the Catalan Generalitat in Roussillon and other territories of Northern Catalonia was eliminated in 1660 and replaced by the Sovereign Council of the Bourbon Roussillon. The Catalan language was outlawed.

10.- From 1707 to 1715, the Catalans rose up against the Bourbon dynasty which aimed to replace the Habsburgs (in the misnamed “War of Succession”, which in appearance was a war of dynastic conflict but in reality was a war which the Catalan Countries fought for an alternative to absolute monarchy). After a tough war of resistance, with cities such as Xàtiva (and many others) burned to the ground, cities bombed out (Barcelona), numerous executed (General Moragues …), exiled and persecuted, the new dynasty of the Bourbons was established with absolute power over the Catalan nation. But the Catalans are a rebellious people and the absolute power of the new Bourbons dynasty is expressed in New Regime decrees (Decret de Nova Planta – 1715-1716) that mean that Valencia, the Principality of Catalonia and the Balearic and Pitiüsa islands are occupied “by right of conquest” in an attempt to wipe the Catalan nation off the map by way of physical extermination and political liquidation, which altered the social composition of power by strengthening local oligarchies.

The Catalan nation’s economic life is now under control and deprived of its own fiscal capacity. It is deprived too of an autonomous cultural life: the Catalan language is outlawed and its universities are suppressed. There is no longer to be an independent social and political existence as the institutions of the Generalitat and the municipalities is abolished.

But the resistance continues and the lost liberties and rights are not forgotten: so much so that, at the present time, the national day of the Catalans is a day dedicated to the vindication of the abolished nation: on September 11, which is remembered every year as the day that, in 1714, the Bourbon troops entered the besieged and destroyed city of Barcelona.


The national State had been abolished but the nation continued to strive in a sense expressed in the saying “the Catalans make loaves out of stones”.

In no sense may the rest of the nineteenth century be seen as a historical period deprived of politics. The lack of institutions was made up for by the active role of civil guilds, which explains the political importance of Catalan civil society in the course of its contemporary history. This explains, among other instances of revolt, the 1760 Grievances Memorial (Memorial de Greuges) in Barcelona, Valencia and Zaragoza, or the revolt against military conscription in 1773.

A period now begins in which, little by little, with agricultural work in rural areas and manufacturing in towns and cities, a cycle of economic accumulation occurs which enables the industrial revolution to take place. As the current historiography says, “without vineyards there are no looms”. A new class of workers is being formed: first in workshops in the peasant homes and later with the workers in factories, which is the social effect of industrialization and emigration from the field and the accumulation of capital in the cities.

The Catalan people, like their ancestors, will rebel against the established power that dominates it: the monarchy of the Bourbons, the army, the church, important forces of the Spanish State. Catalans resist against the Bourbon kings and rebel against them striving for the establishment of the Republican political model. Twice they contributed decisively to outlawing the monarchy of the Bourbons (in the 1st Republic, with the dethronement and exile of Queen Isabel II (1868) and the fracas, without doubt, of the model of a Federal Republic; and the 2nd Republic, with the dethronement and exile of King Alfonso XIII (1931); they also rebelled against military service, a system rich boys could opt out of, and they fought against conscription in numerous riots and “rebomboris” (as they were known); there were also numerous workers’ revolts against terrible work conditions imposed by the new industrial Bourgeoisie, in which popular rage was unleashed against religious buildings, symbols of the power of the Church that was perceived as an enemy of the people. And in turn, the Spanish army acted brutally by killing, bombarding, torturing, jailing and executing.

The power of the Spanish State (an alliance between the aristocracy, the army and the bureaucracy of the Castilian-Spanish hegemony that stretches across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in an almost permanent state of emergency in which the army exerts its influence on the political scene) is also questioned and the memory of the old liberties of the Catalan nation is never lost. When Catalan society is organized in labour unions and in modern political forces, political proposals of rupture and Federalist proposals with the aim of reconquering part of the lost freedoms, restoring the undervalued Catalan language, recovering cultural and social life, giving new strength to the economy … They are the movements known as the Renaixença (XIXth Century) and Modernism and the political “Mancomunitat” (a grouping of Catalan provinces and institutions with some local power in the first part of the 20th century, with Prat de la Riba as the first president), the Republican movement and the Noucentisme movement (leading up to the 2nd Republic in the 1930s).

At that time, the hegemonic Catalan political and social movements believe that they will improve the national and social condition of the Catalan nation if they contribute to “modernize” a very traumatized Spanish State from all political, economic and social points of view. They then make the double option of a Catalan autonomy within the framework of Spanish regeneration.


This idea – that the path to freedom would be made shorter and easier for Catalans if we contributed to the “modernization” of the Spanish State – collapsed completely with the Second Republic (1931) and the fascist uprising of one Part of the Spanish army that, heralding the fascist attack of World War 2, caused a devastating three-year war (1936-1939) against the popular forces that faced the fascist coup that had the unconditional support of the Italian fascist regime of Mussolini and Hitler’s Nazi regime. The 1936-1939 war ended with the triumph of the Francoist fascist dictatorship, which established a dictatorial regime based -over long years- in terror, mass shootings (President Companys, Christian Democrat Carrasco and Formiguera, the Union leader Joan Peiró, the doctor and rector of the University of Valencia Joan Baptista Peset, the President of FC Barcelona, ​​Josep Sunyol i Garriga and many others) and the systematic seizure (with repressive purposes) of all kinds of political and civil archives and documents. The result was a one-party one-union regime, the prohibition of the Catalan language and the denial of freedom of expression, assembly, syndication, demonstration … This dictatorial regime is responded to by the Catalan people with a resistance that, given the circumstances of defeat and persecution, demonstrates the will to continue existing (maquis guerrilla warfare, the heroic Tram Strikes of 1951 and 1957, the demonstrations on the eleventh of September, ongoing underground political activities, training of new groups of political and cultural resistance, increasing political, social and cultural activism (Assembly of Catalonia, Freedom March …)

It cannot be forgotten that a few weeks before his death, dictator Franco had five death sentences carried out.


Once the dictator had died, the Catalan people continued their demands for the points included in the antifascist manifesto of the Platform known as the Assembly of Catalonia, founded in 1971: Freedom, Amnesty, Statute of Autonomy as a step towards the exercise of the right to self-determination. Both the Constitution of 1978 –largely monitored by the military- and the statutes of autonomy of Catalonia, the Valencian Country, the Balearic Islands were voted in with relative enthusiasm. The independence movement is the only political movement that opposes it with any decision. It considers that all these laws do not lead to a plurinational Spanish State that will show respect for the Catalan nation. The Constitution imposes a monarchic regime in the person of the new Bourbon king chosen by the dictator. It does not recognize the various nations nor the various languages ​​of the state under any form of equality and opens the door to a king and an army with the capacity to intervene, thus having a determinant role in political life. So much so that not three years had passed under the new Constitution that an important part of the army took part in a coup d’état to make it clear that even this Constitution was too open. For them it needed an enforced and unmovable interpretation which would be restrictive to the maximum. The Catalans, then, live in a “supervised and monitorized democracy”, within a political regime that, especially after the 1981 coup d’état, organizes a system of taxation which is most damaging to the entire nation of Catalonia and the whole of the Countries Catalans, who suffer from the well-known fiscal plundering (upward of 8% GDP) which threatens their economic and political vitality.

Far from admitting such a negative situation of submission, the Catalan nation has wanted to continue to be a dynamic society. This socio-economic dynamism always contrasts with a tight and rigid political framework it is made to operate in. It has grown enormously in population since it has been a pole of attraction for migrations, first from other areas of the State and, more recently, in the last twenty years, with more than one million people from all over the world. Despite having a very unfavorable situation to keep Catalan as a predominant and common language for all, it has displayed enormous vitality in literature, the media, the educational system and new technologies in cyberspace. Against all odds, it maintains an enviable situation on the internet and in social networks and a determined will to maintain excellence in all aspects that depend on social vitality.

Catalan society has realized that, if it wants to continue to maintain its vitality and the expectations of improvement, wellbeing and growth for all, subordination to the Spanish State must be done away with. No new statutes of autonomy will be of any use because autonomy is something that the Spanish Constitutional Court dismantles since the 2010 statute resolution.

That is why since the 1981 coup d’état, there have been political actions and organizations of civil society that have questioned this subordination, calling for an exit towards sovereignty and independence: from cultural organizations, Trade union organizations, from sports organizations to youth organizations, from the political world to the business world, from the university to the ecologists, with internal political action and political action directed at the European Union and the world. Here the principal associations are Platform for the Right to Decide (PDD) since 2005, the National Assembly (ANC) since 2011, the Association of Municipalities for Independence (AMI) since 2011.

One of the most interesting political actions was the set of popular consultations on independence (consultes populars) that were organized in more than 500 towns and cities, including the capital city of Barcelona, ​​throughout the years 2009-2011.

They are political actions aimed at achievement of radically democratic independence. They seek the free expression of a social majority and the exercise of the right to self-determination under international supervision. This is the objective of the binding Referendum on independence that the Catalan Government has called for Sunday, October 1, 2017 with the following question:

Do you want Catalonia to be an independent State in the form of a Republic?


Blanca Serra (Historian) , July-August 2017