Mendicants and Conquest in the Crown of Aragon – Mallorca and Sardinia compared

Robert Friedrich, Universität Greifswald

Zusammenfassung: Die Bettelorden sind nicht die ersten, die einem in den Sinn kommt, wenn man an Eroberung denkt. In diesem Blogbeitrag wird die Beteiligung von Franziskanern und Dominikanern an zwei Eroberungen der Krone Aragon untersucht: Das muslimische Mayūrqa und Sardinien. Der Autor vergleicht die Rolle der Brüder in diesen Feldzügen und wie die “Art” der Eroberung ihr Handeln beeinflusste. Die Mendikanten spielten bei beiden Eroberungen eine wichtige Rolle – vor allem in der Zeit nach der militärischen Eroberung –, aber ihre Rolle unterschied sich je nachdem, ob die eroberte Bevölkerung christlich war oder nicht. Der Autor kommt zu dem Schluss, dass die religiösen Orden gute Voraussetzungen mitbrachten, um an beiden Arten von Eroberungen teilzunehmen, und dass sich die Könige bei der Eroberung und Integration neuer Gebiete in hohem Maße auf sie stützten.

Abstract: The Mendicant orders are not the first group that comes to mind when one thinks of conquest. This blog post explores the involvement of Franciscans and Dominicans in two conquests by the Crown of Aragon: Muslim Mayūrqa and Sardinia. The author compares the roles of the friars in these campaigns and how the “type“ of conquest influenced their actions. The Mendicants played an important part in both conquests – especially in the aftermath of the military campaign – but their role differed depending on whether the conquered population was Christian or not. The author concludes that religious orders were well-equipped to take part in both types of conquest and heavily relied on by the kings to conquer and integrate new territories.

The 13th and 14th centuries were the critical periods in the Mediterranean expansion of the medieval Crown of Aragon: The Balearic Islands, Valencia, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica all fell under some form of Aragonese rule, the Crown even established influence in the Eastern Mediterranean. In this blog post, I would like to bring together the study of Mendicant orders and military conquests by comparing the involvement of the Mendicant orders during and after two of the abovementioned conquests: Muslim Mayūrqa (629/1229) and Sardinia (1323). They significantly differ in one particular aspect: the religion of the conquered.1 I aim to explore in which ways religious actors like the Mendicants took part in those clearly political campaigns and how the “type” of conquest influenced their actions. 

When James I started his military campaign in 1229, two Dominican friars accompanied his army: Miguel de Fabra and Berenguer de Castellbisbal. When recounting the events almost half a century later, the king accorded Miguel de Fabra a particular importance for the endeavour’s success. His reputation stemmed from two functions he fulfilled, both during the campaign and after the successful conquest of Madina Mayūrqa on 31 December 1229. The first function is preaching the crusade and the moral support of the army and king. The description of how King James wanted the friars’ doings to be remembered is a striking example of the royal-mendicant symbiosis and merits to be appreciated in full:

And nobody ever saw an army that fulfilled its duties so well; just as was preached by a Dominican friar who was called Friar Michael. He was in the army and was a reader in theology, and his companion was brother Berenguer de Castellbisbal. And when he gave absolution (which he had permission to do from the bishops), everybody would bring everything that he told them they should, whether it was wood or stone. Even the knights did not wait for the foot soldiers to bring things, but helped in every way they could. In front of them in their saddles they would bring by horse the stones for the fenevols. And the men of their houses did the same to supply the trebuchets, delivering the stones on frames that they had tied with cords round their necks. Indeed, when we ordered them to go with armoured horses to guard the war machines by night, or by day to guard those digging the tunnels, or to do whatever else that was necessary for the army, if it was ordered fifty should go, a hundred would go.2

The second function concerns something that could be summarised as symbolic communication for the king:

And we ordered two Dominican brothers to enter, in order to guard the king’s chambers and treasure, and two knights with them, good and prudent men, so that with their squires they should help to protect and watch over the Almudaina, as we were very tired and wished to rest, as the sun had already set.3

Tired after a long siege and his final victory, the king ordered two Dominican friars to stand guard in front of his chambers together with two knights, showing the prominent symbolic place of the friars not only for James’ spiritual well-being but also for his self-fashioning half a century later when writing his autobiography. They were also supposed to watch that none of the army’s members started the town looting, further underscoring their perceived influence over the troops’ morale. Miguel de Fabra then celebrated the first Christian mass on Mallorcan soil, using an improvised altar inside the Almudaina palace. This altar later became the centre of the chapel of Nuestra Senora de la Victoria y San Miguel (another reference to Friar Miguel), around which the first Dominican convent was built, right in the middle of the city and not on the outskirts as it was usual for Mendicant convents. This convent stood at the beginning of Christian Aragonese Mallorca and was closely linked to the royal occupation of the palace. Christian conquest and symbolic Christianisation thus went hand in hand.

The situation was different when Infant Alfonso conquered Sardinia in 1323. It was no crusade, although the campaignwas authorised and somewhat supported by the papacy, as James had gotten the island as a papal fiefdom in 1295.Alfonso found an already Christian society that needed to be integrated into his realms. He relied heavily on religious orders too, but the goals differed. Instead of creating from the ground up, the functions of the orders focussed on the “Catalanisation” of the island’s population and on exerting influence over them through religious actors. Alfonso and his advisors utilised all levels of the hierarchy of the Mendicant orders. The first measure to strengthen the Catalan religious impact on the island was the demand for three Franciscan friars from Catalonia to be sent there by the provincial minister in 1323. When Alfonso’s brother later asked the king to send one of them back, he refused because the friar was supposed to establish a new Franciscan convent. This leads to the second step of Mendicant involvement: the foundation of new convents and the support of existing convents undertaken by the king. But not only did Alfonso send Catalan friars to Sardinia, he also tried to banish Italian, especially Pisan friars, on multiple occasions, accusing them of conspiring against him. The most important structural change occurred in 1329 when Pope John XXII decided – upon the king’s wish – that all the convents of the four Mendicant orders should thereupon be part of their respective provinces of Aragon and be severed from the different Italian provinces they belonged to before. As the provincial ministers were usually on close terms with the king, this attachment meant a potentially more significant influence on the Sardinian convents and a lesser influence by Italian secular and religious powers. The fourth step concerns the dioceses of Sardinia. Compared to Mallorca, the primary difference was that a net of bishops was already in place, so the king could only try to exert influence when a bishopric became vacant. Already in 1325, Alfonso and his father James had instructed their ambassador to the pope that he should propose different candidates for potentially vacant bishoprics. For Sardinia, they mainly proposed Mendicant Friars well-known to the king and infant. Apparently, Mendicants were seen fit for the difficult task of administering a Sardinian diocese with little promising income.

The key to Mendicant involvement in conquests lies in the fact that conquering and governing a territory are two completely different stories. Unlike the military orders, Mendicants did not fight, but they could have a strong influence on the population as well as members of the royal family. The preaching of a crusade was thus an essential factor, but only possible when the campaign was directed against a non-Christian territory.4 The most critical role the Mendicants played in these contexts usually came after the military campaign. This is true for both the Mallorcan and the Sardinian cases. The type of conquest influenced the degree to which they were involved. Whereas the Mendicants played an important part in other campaigns against non-Christians (be it Muslims in the Mediterranean or pagans in Eastern Europe) in order to build a new Christian society, their role in the Sardinian campaign was facilitated by the papal approval following the treaty of Anagni. The focus here was on the “Catalanisation” of the Christian population. Despite these differences, one can conclude that religious orders were – in the eyes of the kings – well equipped to effectively take part in both types of conquest. They also benefitted from their close relationship with the king, who, in turn, heavily relied on monks, friars, nuns, convents, and monasteries to conquer and integrate new territories.

Photo: Dominican friars watch over a conquered town, in: Llibre dels feyts, f. 41r, URL: [] (03.05.2023).

  1. I have analysed the role of the Mendicant and other religious orders during and after the conquest of Mallorca in an upcoming article: Preaching – Fighting – Organising. Religious Orders and the Christian Conquest of Mayūrqa/Mallorca (627–629 / 1229–1231), in: Sven Jaros et al. (Ed.), Changes of Monarchical Rule in Late Medieval Societies in Comparison. Negotiations – Actors – Ambivalences [in preparation]. The involvement of Mendicants in the conquest of Sardinia is an integral part of my phd-project. See also: Jill Webster, The early catalan Mendicants in Sardinia, in: Biblioteca francescana sarda 2 (1988), 5–18; Maria Giuseppina Meloni, Ordini religiosi e politica regia nella Sardegna catalano-aragonese della prima metà del XIV secolo, in: Anuario de Estudios Medievales 24 (1994), 831–854. []
  2. The Book of Deeds of James I of Aragon. A Translation of the Medieval Catalan Llibre dels Feits. Ed. Damian Smith / Helena Buffery. (Crusade Texts in Translation) London / New York 2003, ch. 69, S. 94.  []
  3. Ibid., ch. 87, S. 109 f. []
  4. That the friars clearly differentiated between those different contexts becomes evident in an almost contemporary case: In 1333/34, the Crown of Aragon found itself in an ongoing war with Genoa (about Sardinia) and planned a crusade against Granada. The Carmelite friar Bernat Despuig was very clear in his sermons: the faithful should pray for the king’s victory in the Granada campaign but not in wars against other Christians. See Adam Franklin-Lyons/Marie Kelleher, Framing Mediterranean Famine, in: Speculum 97,1 (2022), S. 66. []

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