Catalan Independence 1640
“If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us! But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives us is a lantern on the stern which shines only on the waves behind.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
Immediately to the northeast of Montjuïc, at the southernmost point of the walled city, stands Les Drassanes, the Barcelona Royal Shipyard. The oldest part of this Gothic civil structure was built during the reign of Peter the Great, eldest son of James the Conqueror, in the late thirteenth century. Initially adjacent to the marshy ground in Raval and outside the medieval city limits, it became incorporated within the expanded city walls during the fourteenth century. Later extended and modified several times over subsequent centuries, it served a long and distinguished history as a key Mediterranean shipbuilding centre and naval arsenal.
In 1640, this shipyard and the rocky beach running five hundred metres southwest from it to the cliffs of Montjuïc provide the backdrop for high drama culminating in a spark that ignites a war. On the afternoon of Thursday 7 June, a group of men can be seen emerging from the ramparts protecting the southwest wall of the shipyard. They struggle across the stony terrain of the riera mouth draining the low ground between the city and Montjuïc, and begin to hurry along the shoreline. Shots are being fired at them from the direction of the shipyard, and it is clear that they are in desperate straits.
The group quickly begins to spread out, as some of the more agile individuals make the most of their physical advantage to dissociate themselves from the stragglers behind. Some of those first to reach the water’s edge, such as Don Ramon de Sagarriga i Argençola, who is still in his late twenties, strip off and swim for their lives. Finding shelter in a cave eroded into the Montjuïc sedimentary succession, Sagarriga and several others are able to avoid capture. More senior members of the group, such as Don Miquel d’Alentorn i de Salbà, until recently President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, are unable to attempt anything as agile, and just flee across the rocky beach as best they can. Last of all, and clearly in great danger, stumbles a fat man helped by two servants and a local potter named Dalmau Prats. Not far behind, and fast chasing them down, a small group of armed men are moving in on their prey.
The June mid-afternoon sun burns down upon the scene as it turns increasingly ugly. With shots ringing from behind them, the fat man tries to head for shelter behind a sandstone boulder. He is outraged at the ignominy of it all, as well as terrified for his life. Dalmau de Queralt i de Codina, Count of Santa Coloma, Viceroy of Catalonia, being chased across the beach like a common criminal! It is all proving too much for him and, sweating profusely with the heat and his obesity, trembling with fear, exhaustion, anger and shame, he collapses on the beach, flat on his back. Just yesterday he had written to Count-Duke Don Gaspar de Guzmán y Pimentel Ribera y Velasco de Tovar, Count of Olivares, Duke of San Lúcar la Mayor, chief minister to King Philip IV and Grandee of Spain, a man of immense power who is referred to more simply as “Olivares”. In his letter Santa Coloma predicted accurately that the following day, Corpus Christi, his life will be on the line. He promised Olivares that he will “run the course with a brave heart”, but on Drassanes beach his run has come to an end.
Prats looks vainly for a small boat in order to make their escape, but it is too late: their persecutors arrive to rob them of all they have. More men now catch up with the group, several of them dressed as agricultural harvest reapers (segadors in Catalan), and someone recognizes to his surprise that one of the detainees is a servant of the Viceroy. The Viceroy! One of the reapers, realizing that they had unexpectedly discovered the most powerful, and in the eyes of many, the most wanted man in Catalonia, immediately offers the Viceroy his protection. His respect is not shared by all his colleagues, however, and a sailor, not feeling the need for democratic debate, draws his knife and stabs Santa Coloma in the belly. The violence having been initiated, one of the others dressed as a reaper finishes the job by stabbing the Viceroy repeatedly.
Santa Coloma’s body is left lying on the beach for the rest of the afternoon, as the news spreads through the city and events escalate into full blown, uncontrolled rioting. For four more days crowds roam the streets, attacking at will, and focusing on targets owned by royal officials and judges connected to the hated Royal Government in Madrid. One man, Josep Vincens, is reported boasting that he is responsible for the murder of the Viceroy. Another reaper, Joan Vert, who hails from El Prat, is accused of selling jewellery stolen from the Viceroy. But any effort to bring those responsible for crime during the general breakdown of law and order is hopeless. The only judge with enough cojones for attempting the job, a man named Miquel Carreras, is intimidated by the mob and forced to run for his life.
Things have been spinning out of control for some time. Philip IV and Olivares have got Spain enmeshed in one conflict after another, the latest starting with the humiliation of a failed attempt to invade France from the Catalan border (Battle of Leucata, 1637). In these days the northeastern border between Spain and France lies in Roussillon, on the other side of the Pyrenees. A focal point for military adventure there is the fortress of Salses, a magnificent defensive structure built around 1500 under the reign of King Ferdinand II and designed to protect this far corner of Catalonia from French invasion. On 19 July 1639 the French capture the fortress after a forty-day siege.
The Spanish response is not long in coming, with the arrival six weeks later of a large army, which includes many Catalans and which lays counter-siege. On 2 November, after several days of torrential rain, the French unsuccessfully attempt to lift this counter-siege in a bloody and hard-fought battle. Adopting a high profile during the fight is Carlo Andrea Caracciolo, Second Marquis of Torrecuso, who distinguishes himself for his foresight and bravery and earns a personal letter of thanks and admiration from Olivares.
On 29 November, however, the glory attached to Torrecuso dissipates suddenly in a violent argument with the Viceroy Santa Coloma which almost degenerates into armed combat, and leaves Torrecuso and his son, Carlo María Caracciolo, languishing in the Perpinyà citadel. Meanwhile the French still trapped inside the Salses fortress are finally starved into surrender on 6 January 1640. The Spanish victory, led by Felipe Espinola, with Santa Coloma as second in command, has however left around ten thousand of their own men dead or deserted, and there is great tension and even open fighting between Catalan and non-Catalan (that is mostly Castilian, Neopolitan, Dutch, and Irish) elements of the Spanish army. The Catalans, unwillingly placed in the military front line and not treated with the respect they know they deserve, are being forced to defend their territory at terrible cost, both in lives and resources.
It is decided to winter most of the infantry units (known as tercios) elsewhere in Catalonia, with many of the non-Catalan troops ordered to move west, closer to Aragon and Valencia. The reality of this means much traffic along a limited number of serviceable roads so that the same villages repeatedly suffer the burden of supporting royal troops. The Catalan constitution requires each village home to give a billeted soldier a basic minimum: water, salt and vinegar, a bed, a light, a table. The hard-pressed Catalan peasants are not legally required to feed the troops, but Madrid expects them to. Olivares is a fervent centralist who demands obedience to the King across the global reach of the Spanish empire, and he despises local nationalists. “I am no nacional” he hisses, “that is something for children”. Of course the bloody peasants will feed his army.
Reflecting the disdain of Olivares for the constitutional rights of the Catalans and their perceived lack of support for the King, there is consequently little love lost between the army and their disrespectful hosts. Discontented soldiers, war-toughened by fighting and looting on the battlefields of Flanders and Italy, tend towards violence. On 1 February, for example, a tercio of Neopolitan soldiers commanded by Captain Spatafora, furious at local resistance to their unwelcome presence, break into the fortified residence of the elderly nobleman Antoni de Fluvià-Torrelles i Llordat at Santa María de Palautordera, in the valley route connecting Barcelona and Girona. De Fluvià (and, according to some accounts, his family) does not survive the incident, reportedly being murdered in his own chapel. Bishop Manrique of Barcelona excommunicates the troops responsible for this outbreak of collateral damage and complains to Madrid, but finds little sympathy from Olivares and the King.
Things come to a head in spring during the return of the soldiers towards the Roussillon front. At this time Catalonia is under the threat of yet another drought and supplies are becoming increasingly scarce. Resistance from villagers to having troops led by the commander Juan de Arce imposed upon them produces violent disagreement at Santa Coloma de Farners, a hamlet twenty kilometres southwest of Girona.
The Viceroy responds by sending his sheriff to impose the law forcefully. The sheriff, Joan Miquel Montrodon, is not highly skilled in conflict management and is killed on 30 April, reportedly holed up in the local inn which is burnt down by furious villagers.
News of the crisis quickly reaches the nearby village of Riudarenes, where the commander Leonardo de Moles is likewise suffering refusal of the villagers to do anything other than the bare minimum for his stationed (Neopolitan) troops. De Moles’ Neopolitan tercio, over one thousand strong, already has a reputation for looting, and so the villagers have preemptively stashed their belongings in the church and locked it. The next day, 1 May, on their way out of the village, the Neopolitans take their revenge by breaking into the church, sacking the possessions inside, and setting it alight. Unfortunately for the soldiers this act of desecration is witnessed by two priests who bring the charred remains of the Holy Sacrament to Girona where general outrage is followed, on 14 May, by a solemn excommunication of de Moles and his men.
Mayhem 1640. For the rest of the month there is increasing conflict between soldiers and the Catalan peasants. The response of the Viceroy is not conciliatory, and he orders his commanders Ramon de Calders and Juan de Garay to attack both Riudarenes and Santa Coloma de Farners as punishment for what he perceives to be their ungrateful insubordination. For their part, the armed peasants engage in guerrilla fighting with the troops, egged on by many of the local clergy. By now many are convinced that they are fighting for the defence of their Catalan homeland and God against foreign sacrilegious heretics fighting for the King of Castile. A potent force within the rebel peasants is that of migrant workers, preparing to reap the early grain harvest. Such men, the segadors, live roughly and are not always the most law-abiding of citizens. Many segadors join the rebellion with enthusiasm, already angered by the prospect of a poor, drought-afflicted harvest further damaged by troop movements within the territory.
The troops sent into Catalonia by now feel themselves fully under siege from the people they were supposed to be defending. On the 21st of the month there is a tremendous fracas in Barcelona itself where over five hundred infantrymen and cavalry have made it as far as the city port, from where they intend to escape the rebellion. They are not made welcome, with shots being fired as the troops board the galleys. Horses are left abandoned on the shore as some men fall or jump into the sea and are drowned.
The next day, at around ten in the morning, with some troops still holed up in the Drassanes shipyard, a mass of over one thousand peasants, some of them well-armed, enter the city via the New Gate. There is no stopping them, especially as they have the support of many citizens within the city itself where there is considerable discontent with the way the local government is handling matters with respect to Madrid. The peasants head directly for the city prison where they demand the release of Francesc de Tamarit i de Rifà, the man in charge of the Catalan military. Tamarit, a city council deputy, had been elected to his position on 22 July two years earlier, along with Pau Claris i Casademunt (a priest placed in charge of ecclesiastical matters) and Josep Miquel Quintana (chosen as Royal Deputy). This trio is to find itself in the centre of trouble in the ensuing “Reaper’s War” (La Guerra de los Segadors).
Tamarit is a popular man. Sent by the Viceroy Santa Coloma to fight in the Seige of Salses, he returned triumphantly to Barcelona as a war hero. His problem now is that he is a vigorous defender of Catalan rights, and with the Catalan villages taking a stand against the stationing of government troops, Tamarit understands their point of view. For this he receives the extreme displeasure of Count Duke Olivares in Madrid, who orders Santa Coloma to throw Tamarit in jail. On 18 March the deputy is duly incarcerated inside a tower in the original walls of Roman Barcino, an act that only serves to inflame the local population still further, explaining why the peasant army arriving two months later is actually welcomed by many in the city.
To keep the peace there is nothing Santa Coloma can do but accept the release of Tamarit. Flushed with their success, the peasants are persuaded by the urgings of the bishops of Barcelona, Urgell, and Vic (the latter two being Catalan and the former Castilian but nevertheless popular with the locals) to maintain their self-control and demonstrate their Catalan virtues by leaving the city voluntarily and without violence. “Long live the Holy Mother Church and the King Our Lord!” they cry, and the Viceroy and city elite are much relieved.
Just eight days later another Catalan church is burnt down by Government troops, this time the sacrilegious act taking place at Montiró. This is a small settlement in northeast Catalonia a few kilometres from the Gulf of Roses coast and it is the home of Josep de Margarit i de Biure, a key figure in the Catalan militias harassing the Castilian troops. The soldiers who sack Montiró are the same ones who, under the command of Juan de Arce, were involved in the trouble at Santa Coloma de Farners a month earlier. Since that time Arce’s tercio has been making its way up the Catalan coast through hostile territory towards the Roussillon battlefield. Even there they will find that they are not welcome because, before they arrive, a riot against the Spanish troops breaks out on 4 of June in Perpinyà, the second biggest city in Catalonia and now controlled by local rebels.
On the same day, news of the original church burning at Riudarenes first reaches the clerics in Barcelona, courtesy of a delegation of canons from Girona. As the news spreads through the Catalan capital, and the bishops prepare a formal letter of complaint to the Viceroy, unrest breaks out down by the seafront, with local people trying to block the docking of galleys commanded by the Marquis of Villafranca. The sense of crisis is compounded two days later when news about the Montiró church burning arrives. To provide tinder for the perfect conflagration, the next day is Corpus Christi, one of the most important feast days celebrated annually in Barcelona, and the agitated city is reaching a state of high tension bordering on delirium.
Bloody Corpus, 1640. Early in the morning of 7 June 1640 several hundred peasants re-enter the city in a rage. Included among them are self-styled Avengers of the Body of Christ and they demand justice and retribution for the church burnings. Anyone implicated in bringing non-Catalan government troops into Catalonia is targeted as a traitor, especially the hated Royal Audiencia judges and, of course, the Viceroy and his officials.
Violence reportedly first flares outside the house of the sheriff Monrodon previously murdered in Santa Coloma de Farners, and a segador is fatally stabbed. Soon afterwards, another segador is dead, this time shot down in the Plaça de Sant Francesc near the Viceroy´s palace outside the dockyard. Despite pleadings for calm from the Bishop of Barcelona, the furious crowd is now baying for blood. Wood taken from a nearby bakery is being stacked against the palace when a group of Minorite friars emerge from the Monastery of Sant Francesc and place an image of Christ on the woodpile. The surge towards violent chaos seems to have been averted, or at least delayed, just as the city councillors arrive on the scene to add their efforts to disperse the crowd and offer the Viceroy a military guard.
But there is no way that some of the rioters are going to leave the city as if nothing has happened. A new group, reportedly two or three hundred strong, breaks loose and begins an attack on the residence of Gabriel Berart, a Royal Audiencia judge. The judge manages to escape and find shelter in the nearby Convent of the Barefoot Carmelites, but his house is sacked and everything burnt. It is by now around 14.00, with the temperature steadily rising as a fine collection of carriages owned by the Marquis of Villafranca is added to the bonfire outside Berart’s house. The next house, this time belonging to another royal minister, Guerau de Guardiola, is targeted for destruction.
At this point the city councillors again have some success in calming matters, convincing the mob to leave the city through Saint Anthony´s Gate, only to have their plans thwarted by a new incident. This time one of Villafranca’s servants is unwise enough to shoot at the threatening mob, reigniting their ire. With all thought of leaving the city now firmly out of the mind of the crowd, Villafranca’s servants are chased into a nearby convent where at least five are murdered. With violence breeding yet more violence, the search is widened to include other convents, leading to the capture and immediate killing of Judge Gabriel Berart. His great grandson, Gaspar de Berart i de Cortada, will fight as a Captain in the Catalan army against the Spanish King in 1714.
The Viceroy decides, or is persuaded, to leave his residence and head for the Drassanes shipyard in order to escape the city on board a Genoese galley that had arrived off Barcelona earlier in the day. He has the chance to do this but at the last minute is persuaded to wait for the city councillors, to preserve at least a little decorum in what is clearly deteriorating into a total loss of control in the city. But the councillors are fully occupied trying to deal with the attacks on Villafranca´s residence, and instead the mob is first to arrive at Drassanes, looking furiously for more of Villafranca’s servants. As they spill into the dockyard, panic breaks out among the group of nobility and high clerics who had been with the Viceroy and they scatter, leaving only a small group loyal and brave enough to try and protect him.
The plan to leave by boat is finally thwarted when one of the attackers has the foresight to climb to a cannon protecting the dock and force an officer, Francesc Barra, to fire towards the Genoan ship, which retreats and is held at bay. Now there is no easy escape for the Viceroy, and his remaining group makes their way towards the ramparts protecting the southwest wall of the shipyard. Emerging from the fortified dockyard, they struggle across the stony terrain of the riera mouth draining the low ground between the city and Montjuïc, and begin to hurry along the shoreline……
The rioting in Barcelona finally ends on 11 June, after five days of urban pandemonium in which a horrified Miguel Parets likens Barcelona to having become the stage for the Last Judgement. The angry violence having exhausted itself in the capital city, the focus shifts to Perpinyà where, also on 11 June, Juan de Arce and his men finally arrive only to find the city still in the hands of the rebellious townsfolk, who refuse the soldiers entry. A tense stalemate is broken by de Arce who decides to do what he does best: attack and destroy. His bombardment starts on 14 June, and the city is successfully stormed two days later. Once inside and in control, de Arce specifically targets his revenge at the clergy, whom he holds largely responsible for the Catalan insurgence, and religious buildings are not spared the burnings and looting. It is a shocking, self-destructive twist to the spiral of bloodshed unleashed in Roussillon by Olivares’ confident decision to open a war front on the Catalan border.
Back in Barcelona things have quietened down, but a siege mentality is developing as the Catalan capital considers its precarious position between the Spanish, the French, and the countryside in revolt. A new Viceroy of Catalonia is appointed, this time Enrique de Aragón Folc de Cardona y Córdoba who is no stranger to the job and, as Miquel Parets had noted during the previous years of drought, no great friend of the poor. Cardona is, however, a very rich and powerful member of the nobility, and has the support of many higher clerics and merchants. He immediately travels to Perpinyà to find a solution to the insurgence there, taking with him his two Catalan bishops, Pau Duran and Ramon de Sentmenat. He needs to find a way of stopping the conflict between Catalan and Castilian soldiers, and he decides to try and placate the locals by incarcerating some of the offending culprits, such as Leonardo de Moles, the officer responsible for the church burning in Riudarenes.
The new Viceroy’s biggest problem however is his health, which is rapidly deteriorating, after reportedly being bled by leeches forty-two times already that year in order to relieve pain from gout. His only solution to the political crisis in Perpinyà is his own death, on 22 July at 51 years old, leaving Catalonia once again without an appointed head of state. In Roussillon, the new officer in charge is Juan de Garay Otañez y Rada, a general in his mid-fifties who has been promoted in the army slower than he thought should have been the case, gaining in the long process a reputation for his gruff, sour character. Garay immediately orders the stationing of all his troops inside the city, commenting acidly that “this isn’t the time for messing about”. Neither, it can reasonably be argued, is it the time for such an undiplomatic character to be placed in command. He proposes a simple military solution to the problems in Catalonia, planning a direct assault on Barcelona to put a firm end to the rebellion. This attack is agreed upon in August and scheduled for 20 September. But more time is needed, the French are massing on the border, and Garay is forced to remain in Roussillon through the autumn. He is then ordered to sail instead for Tarragona to join a large army of Spanish troops expected to arrive there in December on their way to retaking Barcelona.
Meanwhile, the Spanish King Philip IV, whilst organizing his plans for the military recapture of control in Catalonia, nevertheless continues with the correct administrative procedure and appoints the greatly harassed Bishop of Barcelona, Garcí Gil Manrique, as replacement Viceroy. Bishop Manrique humbly accepts the position on 2 August. He is a widely respected man who has governed the see throughout the difficult years since the death of Bishop Joan Sentís i Sunyer in 1632, but making him both Bishop of the Barcelona people and Viceroy to the King creates a conflict of interest that he is unable to resolve.
There is by now anyway little law and order for the new Viceroy to control, with judges afraid to make an appearance, and looting, extortion and murders having become commonplace. Furthermore, his religious authority is undermined by the popularity of Pau Claris, who has both charisma and righteousness on his side, as the King still appears reluctant to act against his own troops responsible for the sacrilegious desecrations in Catalonia earlier in the year. Claris is to assume an increasingly high profile role in the Catalan revolt, whereas Manrique is to lose his job as Viceroy that year.
The writing for Manrique is already on the wall when, in the same month of August, a Spanish army under the command of Pedro Fajardo-Zúñiga-Requeséns y Pimentel, Marqués de los Vélez, begins to assemble in Zaragoza. Los Vélez, fresh from military successes against the French in the Basque Country, is a man well trusted by the Count Duke Olivares. Another favourite of the Royal Court, the Second Marquis of Torrecuso (who had also distinguished himself fighting in the Basque Country), has by now been released from jail in Perpinyà along with his son, coincidentally on the day that Santa Coloma is killed on Drassanes beach. Torrecuso and son have made peace with the surviving son of Santa Coloma (who unlike his father had managed to escape Barcelona by Genoese galley) and are now ordered to join Los Vélez in Zaragoza. They will be key combatants in the army sent by Olivares to avenge the death of the Viceroy.
Autumnal attempts at reconciling the two sides fade into war fever as positions become entrenched. For one side it is a case of arrogant Castilian might against God-given Catalan right, and for the other side a just castigation for ungrateful, treasonous and dangerous disloyalty to the King of Spain.
On 8 October 1640 the army of Los Vélez moves out of Zaragoza, arriving seventeen days later in Tortosa, a strategic border settlement situated at the deltaic mouth of the River Ebro. An entry into Catalonia from the south has become the obvious route after the city elite in Tortosa declared support for the King on 22 September, openly defying the stand being made in Barcelona. In reply, anyone in Barcelona known to hail from Tortosa is ignominiously dispossessed and sent back from whence they came. The die is further cast when Pau Claris, by now President of the Generalitat, reveals ongoing negotiations with the French, who have promised to defend Catalonia against the Spanish. The choice now is ever starker: allegiance to the Spanish King or to the sacred land of Catalonia, backed by France, with whom Spain is at war.
The unresolved crisis drifts through November. Los Vélez has been appointed the new Viceroy of Catalonia, leaving Bishop Manrique hopelessly disconnected in Barcelona, and the invading army of Spanish, Portuguese, Italians and Irish is of formidable size. There are over 26,000 men and no cause for pessimism. As the troops prepare for full scale invasion from their launching pad in Tortosa, Barcelona makes the unusual decision to re-celebrate Corpus Christi in the light of the debacle earlier in June, and this time all goes according to plan. The festival takes place on the 4th to the 6th of the month and is especially intense, bonding the lay people and the clergy with a fresh determination and conviction that God is on their side.
But elsewhere in Catalonia not everyone is persuaded of the righteousness of Catalan separation and the wisdom of alliance with the French enemy. The bishops of Lleida and Urgell, respectively in the west and north of the territory, for example, support the King, as does a Franciscan monk, Roger de Montbiró, who tries to persuade the citizens in Tarragona not to resist the Castilian advance from the south. Fear begins to reign in the hearts of some Catalans as they face inevitable armed conflict against greatly superior numbers.
Los Vélez unleashes his men on 6 December and they head northeast. After meeting early armed resistance at El Perelló, where the village is sacked, burnt and some of the survivors hung, on 10 December there is a greater conflict at the Coll de Balaguer. A castle has existed here at least since its first mention in 1201, built to defend the natural boundary between the regions of Tortosa and Tarragona. It lies adjacent to the scarp of the El Camp faultline, close to the coast, and its ruins will one day overlook the Vandellòs nuclear power station. Here, in December 1640, a force of around two thousand Catalan rebels is overcome by an apparently invincible Spanish army, which continues following the coast, reaching the town of Cambrils on the 13th of the month.
The Spanish have by now penetrated nearly one hundred kilometres into Catalan territory, and show no sign of being pushed back. At Cambrils the rebels make another stand, but after a short siege Torrecuso, to save wasting valuable time and manpower, convinces Los Vélez to accept the surrender of the town and offer protection to the defenders. In the tense situation immediately after the rendition however, Spanish troops open fire on their rebel prisoners, according to one report after an altercation involving a royal soldier attempting to rob clothes from a rebel. Whatever the cause, no control is successfully exercised by the Spanish officers, and in a short time hundreds of Catalan rebels lie dead on the ground. The butchery is compounded by the actions of Los Vélez who executes three members of the local nobility involved in the defence of the city, reportedly after they too have honourably surrendered.
Over the next ten days reprisals in the Tarragona area flare between both sides, and with the extreme violence of these events in the uncontrolled red mist of war, any possibility of a negotiated settlement to the conflict evaporates once and for all. Many of those in and around Barcelona become more convinced than ever that they will have to fight to the last, as horrific reports trickle in from the south. Furthermore the French have arrived, in the form of an auxiliary army led by Baron d’Espenan who has already moved south towards Tarragona to help confront the enemy. On 23 December Pau Claris raises the general alarm and openly declares war against the King of Spain.
Discouragingly for the Catalans however, the very next day after Claris has declared war their French ally d’Espenan (presumably having realized what he is up against) pragmatically comes to an agreement with Los Vélez to give up Tarragona without a fight and evacuate most of his troops safely back to France. Having secured Tarragona so easily, Los Vélez now has free rein to move in on Barcelona.
As usual, the easiest route is dictated by the geomorphology. The army initially follows the coast then swings north inland to El Vendrell to follow the broad Penedès Valley separating the seaward (“Littoral”) and landward (“Pre-Littoral”) geological massifs of the Catalan Coastal Ranges. This route, although not the shortest in distance, allows the army to avoid the harsh terrain of the Garraf Hills and offers direct access to Barcelona down the Llobregat Valley after crossing the Devil’s Bridge at Martorell. For their part the Catalan leaders predict correctly that this will be the route chosen by Los Vélez and decide to make a stand at Martorell.
Although the invasion is going according to plan, things are not entirely rosy in the Spanish camp despite their military successes and superiority in numbers. Apart from the usual injuries and illnesses to be expected during a prolonged military campaign, there is the challenge of keeping the army well provisioned in hostile territory during the winter months. The deeper they venture into Catalonia, the more difficult become the logistics, as demonstrated by the harassment received by the Royalist troops from the cavalry of commander Josep de Margarit i Biure, who is posted behind enemy lines and avenging the attack on his home estate of Montiró.
There is also a growing problem with men deserting. In particular Los Vélez has to deal with the repercussions of another Iberian uprising that is simultaneously going on in Portugal. In that same month of December 1640 the Duke of Braganza has risen up against Philip IV and declared the restoration of an independent Portuguese empire. This fact, once known to the Portuguese soldiers, does not endear them towards fighting for the Spanish in what seems to them like a mirror image of what is happening back home. The situation is not helped by the character of the captain commanding the Portuguese tercio, Simon de Mascarenhas. Though son of an important Portuguese general and influential in the Spanish nobility, he is able to gain neither the affection nor the respect of his men. He lacks the experience and maturity to command, and is famously described as someone born to expect the fruit before the flowers, or, in more modern parlance, he is attempting to run before he can walk.
Nevertheless, the Spanish army moves on through the Penedès with little to impede their progress. Regrouping in the town of Vilafranca de Penedès, Los Vélez sets his sights on Martorell and, just beyond it, the key river crossing of The Devil’s Bridge. Here, in the cold of mid-January 1641, the invading army is entering the heartland of Catalonia. Closing in to the north looms the mountainous ridge of Montserrat, its conglomerates rising over one thousand metres above the troops and providing a rallying point for Catalan religious fervour. Immediately to the south climb the impenetrable forested corrugations of the Garraf Hills, infested with wildlife and ending abruptly at precipitous coastal cliffs. Ahead lies the Llobregat Valley and the Catalan Army, under the overall command of Francesc de Tamarit i de Rifà who can count on thousands of men prepared to make a stand to defend their capital city. A compulsory call to arms issued by the Catalan leaders for all men aged between fifteen and sixty-five in surrounding towns and villages has swollen the armed resistance, and there still remain some French infantrymen and cavalry employed in their ranks……
Extract from: Death on Drassanes Beach,
the fifth tale of Barcelona Time Traveller: Twelve Tales by Wes Gibbons