September the twelfth and all that

In April 2019, the Archive of the Kingdom of Majorca released its document of the month. The Balearic government's culture ministry explained that, once a month, it would be staging a document of the month activity. The purpose of this was to make known the main documents that are held in the Archive, and the document chosen in April last year was one of great historical significance. It was no less than the Carta de Privilegis i Franqueses, literally the Letter of Privileges and Franchises, that was dated September 12, 1276.

Except to highly trained eyes, those of scholars, the document is pretty much indecipherable, but this does perhaps add to the mystique of what was in a sense the first act of government of the new king, Jaume II, for the dynasty of the Crown of Majorca.

Jaume's father, Jaume I the Conqueror, died in July of that year. He had established the Kingdom of Majorca in 1231, two years after the conquest. The Kingdom had its administrators, the men in whom Jaume I invested his trust, but institutional development on the island lacked any real coherence.

Jaume was a mostly absent king. There was no court as such, and his absenteeism served only to fail to create a sense of genuine community in Majorca and in the Balearics as a whole. He mainly lived in Perpignan, and so the islands were not only isolated geographically, they were separated in terms of administration and - to a degree - socially and culturally. Although Majorca became a Christian society and was "Catalanised" by virtue of who had been on the conquest, it is fair to say that the island and indeed the rest of the Balearics were like discrete entities that followed their own development over the course of the first decades after the conquest.

The conquering king had to reward loyal nobles and clergy, and he did so through the system of territorial distribution. The result of this was that there were small fiefdoms but without a unifying body, such as the court. Jaume was aware of this, and so in August 1272 his will set out what was to effectively become the proper foundation for the Crown of Majorca, which Jaume II was to inherit. On being crowned, Jaume II applied his father's will - it was the Carta de Privilegis i Franqueses.

Arguably, rather more is made of this document than is necessary. This was because it was a ratification of the franchises that Jaume I had first granted in March 1230. This was the process by which the king encouraged the repopulation of Majorca, and this had therefore entailed the declaration of certain rights and privileges. But the Carta was nevertheless important for the reasons outlined above. It was more than a ratification, it was a reinforcement and it created a true institutional base for the Kingdom and for its government.

A point to consider in all this is the degree to which Majorca had begun to acquire its own identity. The four-decades long hiatus without coherent institutional development was then complemented by the model that Jaume I contemplated in his will. This was a model that existed within his Crown of Aragon, and it essentially acknowledged the autonomy and personality of the Crown's territories.

So, while not wishing to get hung up on contemporary political arguments, it is just possible that one can view those decades in the thirteenth century (to include the period after Jaume II became king) as a time when Majorca established - for want of a better word - a "Majorcaness". The Kingdom was in the Aragon (and Catalan) sphere, but it had assumed a specific reality - that of Majorca.

The twelfth of September is a date with meaning beyond the coronation of Jaume II in the church of Santa Eulàlia in the Ciutat (Palma) and the swearing of the privileges and franchises. It is also the date for celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Lluc, Majorca's patron. How did this celebration come to be on the twelfth? The origin of the liturgical feast of Our Lady of Lluc isn't known, but the answer almost certainly stems from the coronation. Jaume II, someone said to have had intense  Marian devotion (i.e. to the Virgin Mary), made clear this devotion during his coronation.

There is also a question as to why the coronation was on the twelfth. There may have been no particular reason, but it is suspected there was, as September 12, 1229 was the date of the first main battle (Portopi) between the Muslims and Jaume I's forces.

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