The myth of minority : cultural change in Valencia in the thirteenth century at the time of the conquests of James I of Aragon
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The history of the Iberian Peninsula is intricate and complex. Like most regions of Western Europe in the Middle Ages, it suffered invasion, occupation, political change and an almost constant re–alignment of social alliances. Yet the thirteenth century saw one of the most massive shifts in the balance of power recorded in western history. In the space of fifty years, Islamic rule within the peninsula was ended for good, with the last vestiges of Muslim territory erased from the southern peninsula by the fifteenth century. Christian ascendancy heralded the arrival of a mixed policy of tolerance, as questions began to be asked about the nature of living together with other cultures and religions and whether this new rule – this new Christian rule – needed to tolerate the existence of others in its midst. The most dramatic shift in policy occurred in the middle of the thirteenth century, as the campaigns of the two great northern kingdoms of Leon–Castile and Aragon–Catalonia moved southwards. The most dramatic outcome – due to the size of the Muslim population – was the relatively swift conquest of, in the case of Ferdinand III, the main towns of Andalucia and, in the case of James I, king of Aragon, the region of Valencia by 1245. Yet it is important when examining the campaigns of these great warrior kings not to be overwhelmed by the idea of the religious ethos for the conquest. Some historians have chosen to interpret the thirteenth–century conquests as the Christian reaction for the centuries of subjugation under Muslim rule. The reasoning behind the conquests was far more complex than that of a mere idealistic crusade. In the case of thirteenth–century Christian expansion, desire for territory, sovereignty, inheritance, taxation and inter-territorial rivalry had just as much of a part to play as a desire to overcome the Muslim ‘infidel.’ It is the conquest of Valencia which will form the major focal point of this paper, examining the historical precedent for conquest, the nature of Muslim rule, the ulterior motives of the Christians, the position of Muslims and Jews in existing Christian society (as well as under the conquerors) and the role of James I in both consolidating and changing that culture. The programme of this thesis is divided into two main parts. In the first part, the paper will explore the impact of historical events up to the birth of James; how these events both shaped him as a king and as a warrior; and how domestic concerns may have provided a greater incentive than religious missionaries spreading Crusading fever amongst Western kingdoms. It will review the impact of those close to the king; on the nature of his conquest; on his ideology; and how his attitude towards his conquered subjects was shaped. External political and geographical pressures impacted both upon the king’s campaigning and, ultimately, how complete the conquest was. In the second part, the thesis will focus on the communities themselves and the changes that occurred as the conquests progressed further and further southwards. It will contrast the circumstances and fortunes of those conquered with the lives of minority cultures who were already subjects in the Christian realms. It will examine the idea of hierarchy within minority culture and the social mores that had an even more direct impact upon community life than the military campaigning. Most important of all, it will question the idea of convivencia and the concept of tolerance and ‘living together.’
Thesis, MPhil Master of Philosophy
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