1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/James I. of Aragon
JAMES I., the Conqueror (1208–1276), king of Aragon, son of Peter II., king of Aragon, and of Mary of Montpellier, whose mother was Eudoxia Comnena, daughter of the emperor Manuel, was born at Montpellier on the 2nd of February 1208. His father, a man of immoral life, was with difficulty persuaded to cohabit with his wife. He endeavoured to repudiate her, and she fled to Rome, where she died in April 1213. Peter, whose possessions in Provence entangled him in the wars between the Albigenses and Simon of Montfort, endeavoured to placate the northern crusaders by arranging a marriage between his son James and Simon’s daughter. In 1211 the boy was entrusted to Montfort’s care to be educated, but the aggressions of the crusaders on the princes of the south forced Peter to take up arms against them, and he was slain at Muret on the 12th of September 1213. Montfort would willingly have used James as a means of extending his own power. The Aragonese and Catalans, however, appealed to the pope, who forced Montfort to surrender him in May or June 1214. James was now entrusted to the care of Guillen de Monredon, the head of the Templars in Spain and Provence. The kingdom was given over to confusion till in 1216 the Templars and some of the more loyal nobles brought the young king to Saragossa. At the age of thirteen he was married to Leonora, daughter of Alphonso VIII. of Castile, whom he divorced later on the ground of consanguinity. A son born of the marriage, Alphonso, was recognized as legitimate, but died before his father, childless. It was only by slow steps that the royal authority was asserted, but the young king, who was of gigantic stature and immense strength, was also astute and patient. By 1228 he had so far brought his vassals to obedience, that he was able to undertake the conquest of the Balearic Islands, which he achieved within four years. At the same time he endeavoured to bring about a union of Aragon with Navarre, by a contract of mutual adoption between himself and the Navarrese king, Sancho, who was old enough to be his grandfather. The scheme broke down, and James abstained from a policy of conquest. He wisely turned to the more feasible course of extending his dominions at the expense of the decadent Mahommedan princes of Valencia. On the 28th of September 1238 the town of Valencia surrendered, and the whole territory was conquered in the ensuing years. Like all the princes of his house, James took part in the politics of southern France. He endeavoured to form a southern state on both sides of the Pyrenees, which should counterbalance the power of France north of the Loire. Here also his policy failed against physical, social and political obstacles. As in the case of Navarre, he was too wise to launch into perilous adventures. By the Treaty of Corbeil, with Louis IX., signed the 11th of May 1258, he frankly withdrew from conflict with the French king, and contented himself with the recognition of his position, and the surrender of antiquated French claims to the overlordship of Catalonia. During the remaining twenty years of his life, James was much concerned in warring with the Moors in Murcia, not on his own account, but on behalf of his son-in-law Alphonso the Wise of Castile. As a legislator and organizer he occupies a high place among the Spanish kings. He would probably have been more successful but for the confusion caused by the disputes in his own household. James, though orthodox and pious, had an ample share of moral laxity. After repudiating Leonora of Castile he married Yolande (in Spanish Violante) daughter of Andrew II. of Hungary, who had a considerable influence over him. But she could not prevent him from continuing a long series of intrigues. The favour he showed his bastards led to protest from the nobles, and to conflicts between his sons legitimate and illegitimate. When one of the latter, Fernan Sanchez, who had behaved with gross ingratitude and treason to his father, was slain by the legitimate son Pedro, the old king recorded his grim satisfaction. At the close of his life King James divided his states between his sons by Yolande of Hungary, Pedro and James, leaving the Spanish possessions on the mainland to the first, the Balearic Islands and the lordship of Montpellier to the second—a division which inevitably produced fratricidal conflicts. The king fell very ill at Alcira, and resigned his crown, intending to retire to the monastery of Poblet, but died at Valencia on the 27th of July 1276.
King James was the author of a chronicle of his own life, written or dictated apparently at different times, which is a very fine example of autobiographical literature. A translation into English by J. Forster, with notes by Don Pascual de Gayangos, was published in London in 1883. See also James I. of Aragon, by F. Darwin Swift (Clarendon Press, 1894), in which are many references to authorities.