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Au nom du roi

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Stéphane Péquignot

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1This book examines the diplomacy of a monarch, Jaime II of Aragon (1291-1327). Opening in the throes of a conflict with France, the Angevins and the papacy and closing with the conquest of Sardinia, his long, war-studded reign was also one of diplomacy. Indeed the dynasty evinced a preference for the path of peace and of law, seeking to bring an end to a series of struggles which they were scarcely equipped in terms of financial or military resources to settle by force of arms over the long term. Ambitious dynastic plans and great opportunities of alliances made possible by a plentiful royal progeny likewise counselled a major effort in the direction of diplomacy.

2Bearing in mind the comprehensive renewal taking place in studies of mediaeval diplomacy, which have abandoned the “histoire diplomatique en soi” or pure diplomatic history criticized in its day by Lucien Febvre and are progressively eschewing obsessive inquiry into the origins of embassies, the book proposes a scrutiny of a period, a geographical area and a royal mode of diplomacy which have all received little attention. The principal fount is the exceptional collection of documentary sources in the Archives of the Crown of Aragon. In an approach combining the examination of series (233 embassies and 349 ambassadors, catalogued in the appended CD-ROM) and case studies, it looks at diplomatic practice as a whole, from the drafting of documents to the composition of a representation of the House of Aragon, and from the gathering of information to top-level meetings. What did royal diplomacy consist of around the year 1300? In a heterogeneous monarchy during a reign characterized by internal pacification, what was the role of this singular means of exercising power?

3The first part of the book deals with the tools and resources of diplomacy. The formal diplomatic documents (credentials, powers, safe conducts) used during the reign of Jaime II were essentially similar to those produced elsewhere. As recourse to pragmatic writing increased in the West, so the variety and number of such writings grew —instructions to ambassadors, peace proposals, correspondence between ambassadors and the king, but also correspondence with his counsellors, rough drafts of all sorts, etc. Documents relating to affairs of prime importance were then transcribed in special volumes, the highest-ranking among which were the Registra secreta. Thanks to these records and the original letters received, with which they can be correlated, and thanks also to sophisticated document location tools, the king’s archives functioned as a reference file, an instrument for keeping track of ambassadors which was constantly revised and updated by scribes— a store of practical data that could furnish useful arguments for negotiations. The king’s diplomacy also had a veritable “information system” at its disposal. Items of multifarious kinds (public news, rumours, secret information) were gathered by subjects and emissaries of Jaime II outside the Crown territories, and also by a network of foreigners bound to the king by ties of personal loyalty. The conveyance of such information was generally entrusted to royal couriers, but private couriers or other persons often proved necessary. Finance, for its part, was the Achilles’ heel of this diplomacy; while the occasional need for a rapid supply of funds frequently put the royal treasury in straits, other, efficacious means of funding were nonetheless found.

4Diplomacy as practised in the name of Jaime II also constituted a singular mode of exercising power, based on the monarch’s relationship with his representatives (part two). The study looks first at the identification of his ambassadors and their characteristics. Here the chronicles, mirrors of princes, and the diplomatic documentary sources coincide: the royal power sought loyal ambassadors capable of showing prudentia and discretio (discernment) while assuring that the monarch was honourably represented abroad. However, the composition of embassies did not follow a rigid pattern, but tended rather to be tailored to suit the circumstances and the state of the treasury. Jaime II’s ambassadors tended to be of quite high social rank; they were frequently Catalans and possessed good writing skills. Officials of Crown institutions, members of the royal family, the king’s familiares or counsellors, the origins of their closeness to the source of power varied widely. Thirty or so men, essentially counsellors and familiares, were genuine specialists in diplomatic practice, and these were entrusted with the most important missions. Their presence thus lent real continuity to a diplomacy that was characterised by ad hoc missions.

5When abroad, the king’s representatives had to observe customs (standards of hospitality and courtesy, exchanges of gifts), but they did not do so mechanically. Rather, these practices were used by monarchs and their ambassadors as means of demonstration and persuasion. Within this framework, although also on the sidelines, one of an ambassador’s essential tasks was to negotiate. When he spoke in his official capacity, it was always in the name of the king, never as representative of the State, of the Crown or even of the House of Aragon. The objectives that he was to pursue in the course of his interviews were set out beforehand in precise written instructions; the conduct of his mission was tracked through abundant correspondence; the king always retained the option of an eventual disavowal. As interpreters of their master’s will, certain of Jaime II‘s ambassadors enjoyed a considerable margin of discretion: they used go-betweens to gather information or influence decision-making, and subtly and skilfully played on the ambiguity of their status in their interviews with their proxies; as the king’s mouthpiece, they also spoke in their own names the better to serve their prince’s cause. And finally, in their letters these specialists offered advice to their master. On certain missions they even directly steered negotiations around without consulting the king beforehand.

6A technical business and a domain reserved to the king and the inner circle of this closest servants, diplomacy also involved the Crown’s forces; these were used to demonstrate power to foreigners and to reinforce the king’s legitimacy in the eyes of his subjects (part three). Subjects and towns would appeal to the king to intervene personally with foreign authorities that flouted their rights. In this way they acknowledged the king’s capacity to do justice or see justice done. Also, the very frequent summit meetings (vistae, vistas) that gathered courts around kings and princes served as a stage on which to put their prestige and their honour to test, a special, controlled arena in which to demonstrate their prerogatives. In response to the royal summons, the representatives of the towns, the nobility and the Crown’s churchmen there publicly expressed their consent to the decisions taken by the king and acknowledged his qualities as a dispenser of justice, grace and munificence. Their presence was thus the manifestation of a Crown united behind the person of the monarch, however fragile that unity might be.

7Another function of diplomacy was as a means for a family to consolidate its power in the Kingdom and assert its membership of another, larger family —that of the kings and princes of the West. In this respect the negotiation and conclusion of marriage alliances with foreign houses was crucial. Marriages were reminders of the founding consensus that was held to unite the king, his family and all the subjects living in the Kingdom; they highlighted the importance of the House of Aragon among the great Christian houses of the time. The dynasty strove to speak with a single voice through its different members; it meant to last. And at the same time the preeminence of the Casa d’Aragó over the sister dynasty of Mallorca was stressed in mixed embassies.

8An essential instrument of dynastic policy and identity, diplomacy ultimately remained the king’s business, a vital part of his function. Jaime II made it possible and gave it meaning; he personally was the keystone. All writings, all conversations and all manoeuvres were carried out in his name; his was the interest pursued, his right and his honour the ones defended; pains were taken to present him as a king of peace; and everyone waited upon his word at royal audiences. Diplomacy was the political dimension par excellence, where the king was expected to act as such. Jaime II, who was well aware of this, made great play of his name and his person, not only to defend his right and his aspirations, but also to maintain his royal prerogatives, restore his questioned legitimacy, and to reaffirm his status as head of a Christian dynasty and his legitimate right to govern subjects and a Crown that had been granted him by Providence.

9In the conclusion of the study, the king’s diplomacy appears to share major features with that of other mediaeval powers: the use of a style of documents and a vocabulary that are plainly recognisable, the crucial importance of audiences and summit meetings, obligations of hospitality, and particularly of reciprocity. On the other hand, the “style of Jaime II” was marked by numerous innovations in the management of diplomatic business, by experimentation in royal administration and by the care taken to drive home the king’s prerogatives. For their part, contemporaries highlighted the king’s exceptionally intensive, not to say excessive use of diplomacy as a weapon.

10This monograph then goes on to put forward a number of more general propositions. A diplomatic practice based on the use of specialised documents and widely varying techniques was already to be found outside Italy in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. In the 13th century, the introduction of the written word in audiences fostered the emergence of tempered diplomacy. Mediaeval diplomatic practices did not then constitute either a homogeneous body or a hotch-potch of disparate practices from which the emergence of permanent embassies in the 15th century was inevitable. Having concluded that Jaime II made possibly excessive use of tempered diplomacy, the book finally proposes a more open reading of the history of mediaeval diplomacy.

© Casa de Velázquez, 2009

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