A History of Catalonia
The roots of Catalonia as a nation with its own territory and government
go back to the early part of the Middle Ages. During this time, the Counts
of Catalonia freed themselves from the Frankish kings and conquest of territory
from the Saracens led to repopulation of the area with Catalan-speakers.
The Catalan-Aragon dynasty came to an end in the early 15th century.
The throne then passed to the Castilian Trastámara dynasty.
The dominion of Castile was consolidated during the reign of the
Catholic Kings, whose marriage brought together the crowns of Castile and
Catalonia-Aragon. Ferdinand II (1479-1516) introduced Castilian institutions
(such as the Inquisition), and even posted Castilian troops in Catalonia.
With the establishment of the Hapsburg Dynasty, Catalan institutions
faced worst threats. During the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), Castilian troops
committed atrocities in Catalonia that led to a popular revolt. On 7 June
1640, a peasant army entered Barcelona to fight the royalists and touched
off a Spanish invasion. Despite initial Catalan victories, Philip IV was eventually
victorious and reneged on his promise to defend Catalonia by ceding Catalan
territory to the French.
In the 18th Century, Catalonia then lost its political institutions
as a result of the War of the Spanish Succession in which Catalonia backed
the losing side. In March 1713, Philip V’s troops laid siege to Barcelona.
After eighteen months of bitter siege the city was finally forced to capitulate
on 11 September 1714. Catalonia’s institutions were disbanded and the last
vestiges of its independence quashed. Attempts were then made to destroy the
Catalan language through banning its use in all official circles.
In the early 19th Century, with the rise of Napoleon, Catalonia
was embroiled in a devastating period of war that left the country ravaged
and impoverished. During the rest of the 19th century, the history of Catalonia
was punctuated by civil unrest, the Carlist wars and confrontations between
At the turn of the 20th century, Catalonia became the economic
driving force of the Iberian Peninsula. Consequently, Catalan political
nationalism was reinforced and an important cultural, artistic and literary
renaissance took place. However, political gains were soon wiped out by the
dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera (1923-1930).
On 12 April 1931, the ERC, a Republican left-wing party, won a
clear victory in elections. On 14 April, Fracesc Macià proclaimed the
Catalan Republic within an Iberian Federation. A few hours later the second
Spanish Republic was proclaimed in Madrid. The Generalitat de Catalunya was
re-established as the government of Catalonia with Macià as its first
On 6 October 1934, Lluís Companys, second President of the
modern Generalitat, considering that the stability of the Republic and the
autonomy of Catalonia were in danger, proclaimed the Catalan State within
the Spanish Federal Republic. The movement was quashed by the army, the Statute
of Autonomy was suspended and the Government of Catalonia and many other citizens
were sentenced to long prison terms.
General elections, held in February 1936, led to the members of
the Government of Catalonia being released from prison and the Generalitat
resumed its functions. Then on 18 July 1936, General Franco led a military
uprising against the Republic, which marked the beginning of the Spanish Civil
The defeat of the Republic in 1939 forced the Catalan Government
and thousands of ordinary citizens into exile. President Lluís Companys
was captured in August 1940 in France by agents of the Gestapo and handed
over to the government of Franco. He was executed on 15 October 1940.
A period of oppression followed Franco’s victory in which Catalan
institutions were again abolished and further attempts made to annihilate
the language. Posters of the time stated: “Catalans! Don’t Bark! Speak Christian!”
Following the death of General Franco in 1975, elections were held.
In Catalonia, parties promising the reestablishment of the Generalitat were
elected. On 29 September 1977, the Generalitat de Catalunya was re-established
and Josep Tarradellas returned home after a forty years in exile to be recognised
as President of the Generalitat.
King Juan Carlos was soon to approve the new Spanish Constitution
and later the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia granting the province a certain
amount of self-rule.
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