The date 11 September 1714 marked the end of the struggle for the Principality and the beginning of an era when secular liberties were lost. At the time, Europe was emerging from one of the biggest wars in its history, the War of the Spanish Succession, in which Catalonia had played a leading role.
The Diada (National Holiday) of Catalonia recalls the defeat and loss of liberties on one day, 11 September, to actively uphold those liberties and resist oppression.
International political context in the 18th century
In 1714, Catalonia was immersed in the War of the Spanish Succession, a struggle for the throne of Spain. In 1700, Charles II died without leaving an heir and two pretenders contended for the Crown: Duke Philip of Bourbon and Archduke Charles of Hapsburg, members of the most powerful dynasties at the time.
Acting against the threat that a possible union of France and Spain under Philip might mean, Great Britain, the Netherlands and the Holy Roman Empire formed a coalition, the Grand Alliance of The Hague, which declared war on the Bourbons in 1702.In Spain the conflict took on the nature of a civil war, as supporters of both pretenders were spread throughout the country: those who backed the Bourbons were mostly under the Crown of Castile (including Castile, Andalusia and the northwest Iberian Peninsula) and those who sided with the Austrians were under the Crown of Aragon (Kingdom of Aragon, Principality of Catalonia, Kingdom of Valencia and Kingdom of Mallorca).
Catalan position in the war
Catalonia was afraid that a monarchy led by the absolutist Philip V would come into conflict with Catalan political organisation, which was of a parliamentary and pact-based nature.Furthermore, the country's merchant class hoped to develop a form of commercial capitalism inspired by the Dutch model, which rested on a republican base. These sectors wanted to use the Catalan constitutional system and institutions, like the Corts, the Generalitat and the Consell de Cent, to carry out their project.
However, Catalonia remained loyal to Philip V until 1705, when hostilities between the parties led to unrest among the population and authorities in the Principality. A group of Catalan leaders signed a treaty with Great Britain in Genoa that ensured respect for Catalan laws in exchange for allowing troops from the Grand Alliance to land on their shores. Once the soldiers had disembarked, the pro-Bourbon leaders were expelled and Archduke Charles, who had already adopted the name Charles III, set up his court in Barcelona.
The Allied thrust did not last long. While they celebrated victories in Europe, they could not manage a solid win in the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, the Bourbons' triumph at the Battle of Almansa on 25 April 1707 led to the conquest of Valencia and Aragon, the suppression of their charters and privileges (furs) and the invasion of Catalonia.
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The Treaty of Utrecht
In 1711 Charles' brother, the Holy Roman Emperor, died without leaving any descendants. Charles left for Vienna to assume the imperial throne and a game of alliances began. A union between the Spanish and Imperial thrones under one person was considered unacceptable. This prospect and the warring powers' financial exhaustion led to peace talks in which Philip V ceded territory and commercial privileges, especially to the British, in exchange for keeping his throne. And he did not forget the offence that the Catalans had committed in his eyes by revolting against him.
Under these conditions, the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in April 1713, which put an end to the war and ignored the liberties of Catalonia, despite the desire of Catalan representatives to make themselves heard in the negotiations. The guarantees of the Treaty of Genoa were gone.
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Treaty of Utrecht
Siege of Barcelona
In June 1713, after the treaty that ended the war with Castile, the Junta de Braços, the highest body convened by the Generalitat and equivalent to a legislative chamber, proclaimed armed resistance against the Bourbons despite the withdrawal of Allied troops and betrayal by Great Britain. The defence of the city was left in the hands of a non-professional force composed of craftsmen and artists, the Coronela, of which Rafael Casanova was the leading commander.
Catalonia had no army, so common people were the ones involved in the defence of Barcelona. This was a consequence of the political model of the city, by which popular sectors also participated in the governing bodies of the Consell de Cent through guilds and craft organisations. The residents issued a call to take up arms to defend their rights. Therefore, admission to the Coronela was seen as a civic duty, inherent in residents' exercise of their political rights. Abandonment by the royal authorities and allied armies meant that the city's resistance fell exclusively upon Catalan institutions, which resorted to mobilising the population, calling for people to defend their Catalan rights and laws.
The final stage of the conflict centred on the siege of Barcelona between July 1713 and September 1714, which captured the attention of the entire continent. The city was defended by the companies created by the guilds under the orders of Antonio Villarroel and Rafael Casanova.
The final assault on the city occurred on 11 September, when Philip V's troops attacked the points where the wall was more damaged, between the bastions of Portal Nou, Santa Clara and Llevant. Casanova led the counter-attack and was wounded. Villarroel counter-attacked in Plaça del Born, but was seriously wounded. In the afternoon, Barcelona surrendered.
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Gaspar Ferran, milician of the Coronela of Barcelona in the company of Argenters
Consequences of the defeat
The defeat of 1714 had consequences that affected everyone. The Nova Planta Decrees, the set of rules promulgated by Philip V after the war to establish absolutism across his domains, abolished the Catalan constitutional system and institutions and submit the lands of the Spanish monarchy to the laws of Castile.
The Catalans lost secular rights such as due process, by which nobody could be imprisoned without the express order of a judge and ensured that everyone had access to the legal system. It also banned people's right to be compensated immediately for damage caused by a public employee, as well as laws regarding the inviolability of the home and of correspondence.
In conclusion, the Nueva Planta Decrees mean that Catalonia lost control over its own economic, fiscal, legal, customs and monetary systems and of a traditionally advanced legislative capacity for its time. The repercussions were even felt in cultural spheres, such as when Castilian became the official and mandatory language used in government and the legal system, and in terms of taxation, since in this aspect the country has never recovered the level of sovereignty it had before the aforementioned decrees.
Furthermore, after the siege, the victors decided to build a fortress to control the population of Barcelona. The construction of the Ciutadella was responsible for more destruction in the most dynamic part of the city, the Ribera district, than the damage caused by the months of siege. The first stone of the Ciutadella was laid on 1 March 1716.
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The Royal Decrees configured the Nueva Planta ('new structure') of the Royal Audience of Catalonia to reduce it to absolutism