Mendicants and Rulership in the Crown of Aragon during the Reign of King Alfonso IV (1327–1336)

Robert Friedrich, Universität Greifswald

Abstract: In meinem Ordens- und Herrschaftsgeschichte verbindenden Dissertationsprojekt frage ich nach der Rolle der Bettelorden in der Herrschaftsorganisation der Krone Aragon unter König Alfons IV. und seiner Gemahlin Eleonore von Kastilien (1327–1336). Auch die Übergänge der Herrschaft von seinem Vater Jakob II. (1291–1327) und zu seinem Sohn Peter IV. (1336–1387) finden Eingang in die Untersuchung. Die Franziskaner- und Klarissennähe des aragonesischen Königshauses stand schon häufiger im Fokus der Forschung, vor allem in Bezug auf Fragen persönlicher Frömmigkeit. Der politischen Rolle von Ordensmitgliedern wurde bisher jedoch eher weniger Aufmerksamkeit zuteil, gleiches gilt für die anderen Bettelorden und insbesondere die Dominikaner. Im Zentrum meiner Arbeit stehen die Wechselbeziehungen zwischen dem Königshof und den verschiedenen Ebenen der Bettelordenshierarchie, vom Gesamtorden bis zum einzelnen Bruder bzw. der einzelnen Schwester. Ein besonderer Fokus liegt auf den Tätigkeiten der Brüder am Königshof, wo diese u. a. als Berater, Diplomaten und Beichtväter in Erscheinung traten. Als Quellengrundlage dienen zum einen die in ihrem Umfang einmaligen Register der königlichen Kanzlei im Kronarchiv in Barcelona und zum anderen die Akten der General- und Provinzialkapitel der Bettelorden sowie exemplarisch einige Konventsarchive. Im ersten Teil der Arbeit soll die Herrscherperspektive im Zentrum stehen und anhand konkreter Ereignisse untersucht werden, welche Rolle die Bettelorden in der Herrschaftsorganisation König Alfons’ spielten. Der zweite Teil ist prosopographisch angelegt und nimmt die Karrieren einzelner Brüder in den Blick, die auf Basis eines Personenkatalogs untersucht werden. 

The royal family of the House of Barcelona-Aragon in the 13th and 14th centuries has been called “a strikingly philo-mendicant network”1, and its spiritual proximity to the Franciscan Order has long been established by historical scholarship, especially in terms of personal piety. More than a few members of the royal family relied on friars for their spiritual guidance, founded convents, appointed them as confessors or even chose their final resting place in one of the convents. Alfonso IV was no exception here. In his testament, he declared that he wanted to be buried in the Franciscan convent of Lleida, and even obtained apostolic absolution for breaking the promise to his father that he would be buried in the Cistercian monastery of Poblet.2 However, the political role of the Friars Minor, as well as that of the Dominicans and other mendicant orders, has received far less attention. Although the Friars Preachers had developed in the same manner as the Franciscans and were considered almost equally important at court, they have inspired far less research. The same can be said for the reign of King Alfonso, who is generally overshadowed by both his famous father, James II (1291–1327), and his son Peter IV (1336–1387), who both enjoyed a very long reign.

The aim of my research project is to address these shortcomings by focusing on the relationship between the mendicant orders and the royal house of Barcelona-Aragon during the reign of King Alfonso IV. In order better to contextualize his reign, I shall include the years of his infancy, from around 1323, as well as the first years of the reign of his son and successor Peter IV, until around 1340. My analysis will take place on four levels which represent the hierarchy of the respective orders: individual friars, convents, provincial chapters, and general chapters. Interactions with the court occurred on all of these levels, sometimes individually, sometimes interconnected. All areas of the king’s political activities will be considered, including international relations as well as the internal organisation of the lands of the Crown of Aragon. Through this approach, my research will contribute to a better understanding of the interactions between these two spheres in particular but also between political and religious actors in general.

My project draws on a wide range of source material. Because documentary sources are vital to trace specific moments of interactions, the registers of the royal chancery housed in the Crown Archive in Barcelona as well as the Cartes Reials – a collection of documents of all sorts – and the Pergamins, a collection of charters, will be of utmost interest. In order to assess the orders’ perspective, I shall focus on the acts of the provincial and general chapters, documents issued by the orders’ masters general as well as chronicles such as Francisco Diago’s “Historia de la Provincia de Aragon de la Orden de Predicadores”. Archives of individual convents will only be consulted to a lesser degree, as their communications with the court can usually be traced via the royal registers. Another important perspective is provided by papal charters and letters issued during the pontificates of John XXII and Benedict XII.

My analysis will be divided into two parts. The first part will explore the king’s perspective and analyse concrete moments of interaction between the mendicants and the royal family in different areas of royal politics, considering both general matters such as the foundation of convents or international negotiations as well as more specific contexts such as the conquest and integration of the Kingdom of Sardinia. The latter represents an especially intriguing example of how the king made use of certain trusted friars in order to gain control of the island after the military conquest had been completed in 1323. This influence can be traced on all levels of the orders’ hierarchy, from the reorganisation of mendicant provinces to the foundation of new convents and the exchange of Tuscan friars for loyal Catalan clerics.3 This first part of my study will thus on the one hand illustrate how Alfonso perceived the role of the mendicants and made use of them in his political endeavours; on the other hand, it will demonstrate how this was put into practice in specific political contexts.

The second part will explore the perspective of individual friars. By adopting a prosopographical approach, I will establish a catalogue of all friars who were in one way or another connected to King Alfonso, be it as confessors, counsellors, ambassadors, or even as bishops appointed upon the king’s recommendation. Based on this catalogue, my aim is to follow the careers of individual friars and gain a better understanding of how their connection to the king shaped their careers and how their status as a mendicant influenced their service: What role did education play? What did it mean if a friar came from an important noble family? What influence could a friar’s service for the king have on the career within the order? A telling example is that of the Franciscan Arnau de Canelles who has been described as follows: “he distinguished himself more in the service of the king than in that of the order“4. Although this verdict is somewhat exaggerated – he had also served as lector and provincial minister – there is some truth to it. The degree of interaction becomes clear when Arnau is accused of supporting the Spirituals, a branch of the Franciscans declared heretic, in 1331. On the insistence of the pope, the Franciscans deposed him from all his offices. As a reaction, the king intervened and declared his trust in friar Arnau, demanding that all accusations against him be dropped. The case concludes with a letter from Arnau to the king in which he gives him spiritual advice.5

These examples shall suffice to showcase the questions and potentials of my research project. By conducting the first comprehensive study of mendicant-royal relations in the context of one particular reign, I hope to contribute to a better understanding of these interactions. I also hope to present a more nuanced view of King Alfonso IV, whose reign has – if at all – generally been presented in a rather negative light. 


Photo: Dominicans and Franciscan friars singing, conducted by Christ. Abbey Bible (c. 1250-1262), Getty Museum, Ms 107, fol. 224r (Detail). Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program. Ⓒ: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/de/

  1. Nikolas Jaspert, Testaments, Burials and Bequests: Tracing the “Franciscanism” of Aragonese Queens and Princesses, in: Princesses and Mendicants. Close Relations in a European Perspective, hg. von Nikolas Jaspert / Imke Just (Vita Regularis 75), Münster-Berlin 2019, S. 90. []
  2. Ebd., S. 89–90. []
  3. Jill R. Webster, Els menorets: the Franciscans in the Realms of Aragon from St. Francis to the Black Death, Toronto 1993, S. 68–69. []
  4. Ebd., S. 216. []
  5. Heinrich Finke, Acta Aragonensia III, S. 740–742, Nr. 48. []