A History of  Catalonia

The Mediterranean


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 political parties.

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 President.

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 War.

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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