Barcelona’s Council During the Catalan Civil War (1462-1472): the Conflict’s Management Through Municipal Deliberations


Laura Miquel Milian est doctorante à l’Institució Milà i Fontanals – CSIC de Barcelona, sous la co-direction de Pere Verdés and Pere Orti. Thème de recherche : Construire les communautés en temps de guerre au travers du discours public.


(version de travail / draft)


  1. General Context

1.a. Barcelona’s medieval council: its structure and running

Barcelona’s council was born in the second half of the 13th century. Since then, its structure changed frequently until the end of the Middle Ages, mainly because of its dirigents pursuit of an institution that was representative, yet functional and useful to their own interests. By the time the Catalan Civil War began, in 1462, the council’s last modification had been done less than ten years before, and it had been quite a radical one.[1] From then until the end of the century, Barcelona’s municipal government remained as follows: at the top were five counselors, consellers, who were in charge of most of the city’s public management and were elected each year. They were not alone, though, as they frequently sought the assistance of the Consell de Cent, or Council of One Hundred, the governmental institution formed then by 128 men who, again, changed every year. However, having to reunite frequently so many people was not practical, that resulting on the creation of a Tentenari, or Council of Thirty, formed in 1462 by 32 of the men of the Consell de Cent. The members of this smaller council changed every three months.

The three institutions, that is, the consellers and the two consells, had their members organised according to their social origins. Thus, during the years of the war they were divided in four groups: honorable citizens, merchants, artists and artisans.[2] Even though they were theoretically equal, the honorable citizens had some precedence, since two of the five consellers were always among them.

1.b. Municipal sources

There are no records of the decisions made by the five consellers by themselves, but in the archives are kept the memories of the meetings held by both the Consell de Cent and the Consell de Trenta. From 1433 until 1714, when at the end of the War of Spanish Succession the Consell was abolished, a scribe was in charge of writing down all the deliberations resulted from the Consells‘ meetings. Each day he indicated who took part in the meeting,[3] the subjects that were addressed and which had been the Consell‘s decisions.

These deliberations’ registers are just a tiny bit of the municipal sources held in Barcelona’s archive. The frenetic activity of the late middle ages’ Consell can be found in other series, which will be briefly commented later. It is thanks to all of them that we can get such an insight into the way the Consell worked during the 15th century.

  1. The Catalan Civil War

2.a. Brief history of the war

During that century probably no other period was as hectic as the Catalan Civil War.[4] King John II of Aragon had inherited his brother’s throne in 1458. With it came a rather unpleasant present: the situation in Catalonia, and in Barcelona in particular, had been tense for some years, and John found himself in the middle of a problem which seemed to have a difficult, if not impossible, solution. The death in 1461 of his eldest son, Charles, Prince of Viana, who the Catalan institutions had adopted as some kind of champion, and with whom his father had a rather complicated relationship, made things only worse. By the first half of 1462 it was becoming obvious that war was inevitable, and it finally broke out in June, when king John was declared enemic de la terra, enemy of the land. Therefore, while Valencia, Aragon and Majorca remained faithful to John, Catalonia had, according to its leaders, no rightful king.

But this kingless situation could not last long, and so it quickly began the search for a new king, preferably one that was powerful enough to help the rebels in their battles. There were three of them. The first was Henry IV, king of Castile, who accepted being lord of the Principality of Catalonia in August 1462. However, changes in his allegiances’ policy made him refuse his newest title in 1463. That same year the crown was offered to Peter, Constable of Portugal, who travelled to Catalonia in order to supervise the military operations that were being made. His death only two and a half years later, in June 1466, made necessary to look for a new sovereign. This time the chosen one was René of Anjou, who sent his son, and after his death his grandson, to command in his name until the end of the war, in 1472.

However, the role played by these three alternative kings, Henry, Peter and René, was in many ways merely symbolic. The heads of the rebel side were the main institutions of Catalonia, namely the Diputació del General, born as a permanent split of the General Courts, and Barcelona’s Council. A short-lived but equally important institution during this period was the Consell del Principat, a political organ that operated side by side with the Diputació. All of these represented, mostly, an oligarchy that feared that king John’s actions would endanger its interests and even its very identity.

Particularly powerful, in spite of being a local government, was Barcelona’s Council, which had an authority that no one dared to question. Therefore, its decisions were crucial not only for its inhabitants, but also for all those who lived in the whole of Catalonia. Actually, it was Barcelona and its bank the ones in charge of sustaining economically most of the conflict, so it comes as no surprise that its opinions were carefully listened to, even by those who, at least on paper, played a more relevant role in the war’s affairs.

2.b. Commissions for a war

It has already been described how Barcelona’s Council worked and having seen that there can be no doubt about how having to put together at least 32 people to take crucial decisions was not the best strategy in extreme circumstances such as a war was. By doing so the resolution of an urgent matter could easily last weeks or months, and since 1462 no one had time for that. That is why, as it had frequently been done before, since the very beginning of the conflict the Council’s members splitted in a number of commissions that dealt with specific matters, frequently alongside the five consellers. These commissions were normally formed by 4, 8, 12 or 16 people, and they always had all the four classes that formed the Council equally represented.

Their effectiveness, though, was not as high as it should have been, at least in not so important matters. A typical example of this would be the following: the consellers presented some problem to the Consell de Trenta, that concluded that its members lacked the power to decide upon it and, therefore, diverted it towards the Consell de Cent. The Consell de Cent, that due to its elevate number of members met only when strictly necessary, considered that the Consell the Trenta was perfectly able to solve it on its own and gave it the necessary authority to do so. In its next meeting, the Consell de Trenta appointed some of its members to create a committee with the sole purpose of dealing with it. When they were done, they reported back to the Consell de Trenta and, finally, something was done about it.

All these movements can be easily followed in the Deliberations’ registers, although these never contain the committees’ meetings. We can only know their decisions if they are included in their response to the Council.

2.b.i. The Setzena de guerra

During the ten years of war, lots of committees were born. Most of them, though, lasted only for a few weeks and then disappeared. However, there was at least one notable exception. That was the creation, early in 1462, of a 16-people commission that later on was known as the Setzena de guerra, 16th of war.[5] Despite its name, the Setzena did not exist during the whole conflict, but only during certain periods of it. In February 1464, two years after its first creation, the Consell de Cent, in charge of appointing its members, decided that the consellers and the Consell de Trenta could have power enough to deal with anything necessary, and therefore suspended its election.[6]

The Setzena was resurrected three years later, in February 1467, when the Consell de Trenta asked again for it.[7] The reason was that, before the proclamation of a king or, after having done so, before his arrival to the city, it was traditional to have a Setzena to help the Consell de Trenta. Since René of Anjou had already been appointed as the new lord of the Principality, but neither he, nor his son, had set foot on Catalan soil, the Consell de Cent saw no problem in that petition and approved it.[8] This new Setzena was even shorter-lived, though. Three months later, when theoretically it had to be renovated, the Consell de Trenta decided that, given that René’s eldest son was close to Barcelona, there was no need to bother the Consell de Cent with that.[9] Apparently they changed their mind quickly enough, because in July a new Setzena was elected,[10] that remained active until the end of the year.[11]

 2.b.ii. The committee for the subvenció dels cavalls

Another committee that remained active during many years was one formed by eight people, which worked side by side with a six-people-committee of the Diputació. Its unofficial name was comissió de la subvenció dels cavalls or committee of the horses’ subvention, and since 1464, when it was formed, its main purpose was to manage all the issues related to some special taxes that had been created in order to pay soldiers. However, there were times when it was charged with tasks that exceeded its original attributions, like when in 1466 it was commissioned to supervise the sending of some troops to save a town that was being besieged.[12] It would seem as if, when there was no Setzena, this special committee acted as it, although with an essential difference: it always did so together with its Diputació counterpart. It also differed from the Setzena because its members did not change unless it was strictly necessary: in the event of someone’s death or if anyone had been appointed for an important post, for example.

  1. The war in the sources

3.a. Deliberations

As it has already been hinted, no study of the Catalan Civil War can be done without consulting Barcelona’s council’s deliberations between 1462 and 1472. These appear in volumes written by the public scribe, a notary, that begin the day the consellers were elected, that is the 30th of November, after a religious invocation. The deliberations are always written in Catalan, and it is only from time to time that expressions in Latin appear. The structure is always the same. First, a title sums up which Consell‘s meeting was and the main topics that were addressed in it. Then begins the text with an indication of the date and the location where the meeting took place, as well as who was in it.[13] After that, one of the consellers starts proposing the subjects that need to be discussed and when all have been presented, the consell‘s conclusions are written down.

It is important to remark that not everything is included in the deliberations. Again, those decisions took by the consellers by themselves, without the assistance of either council, left no trace, and even though it is pretty obvious that no big decision could be made without first consulting it to the councils, this fact has to be taken into account. The same happens with some committees, that had instructions to act without having to refer it to the Council.

A quick view to the deliberations’ registers reveals that the Council met during the war with very variable frequencies: it is equally possible to have meetings seven days in a row as to have none during two weeks.[14] How is that? There are a number of reasons that might explain it. The first one is that the importance of the Diputació and Consell del Principat should not be forgotten. A great part of the war’s decisions were under their control, and even though many of them had to be ratified by Barcelona’s Council, their relationship was not always in the best terms. Actually, there are some periods when it feels as if the Council only met when they had to approve one or more of the Diputació‘s deliberations. Another reason might be that the numerous committees were actually more successful that we would normally give them credit to, therefore lightening considerably the Council’s tasks. Obviously, that could also happen with the consellers. Finally, during certain periods there might have been a real lack of reasons to meet. A war as long as the Catalan Civil War was had calm weeks and even months, when a kind of status quo was kept for a while, and one could easily forget what was happening outside the city walls.

Having said that, during the war deliberations’ registers have a tendency to be precise and concise. In many cases it can be found that an issue is merely announced and resolved, without giving any details about it besides the agents involved. That presumably happens in those issues that are not of such utter importance, whereas in those cases when something specially relevant is being discussed no information is omitted. Thus, in those cases we can find included in the deliberations letters,[15] requests or ordinances,[16] for example.

There were occasions which required a more passionate language, and the notaries in charge of the Deliberations, Joan Ginebret and, after his death, Joan Brujó, were well aware of that. When they had to write about the war, traitors or the members of the Council, their use of grandiloquent and highly descriptive adjectives is quite obvious. That was the transliteration of the kind of language that was being used during a period of crisis, when the Catalan leaders wanted to hear, and, perhaps, even believe, that they were being true to themselves and their homeland. The main point was to change what many, even some members of the Council, thought it was plainly a rebellion, into an act of fidelity towards Catalonia’s rights and its need of a sovereign who respected it.[17] Frequently found sentences such as “the good and most faithful vassals” to define Catalan people proves so.[18] To sum up, through the radicalisation of their everyday discourse the Catalan leaders seeked to alleviate their lack of legitimacy[19].

3.b. Complementary sources

Despite this presentation focuses on council’s deliberations, I would not like to end it without mentioning some other sources that can complete our knowledge of the Catalan Civil War.

3.b.i. Ordinances

 Specially important are the ordinances. These include all the decrees that regulated Barcelona’s life, from money minting to bread sales. In the time of the war are particularly interesting those ordinances that aimed to keep the city’s correct functioning under such extreme circumstances, notably those that targeted the so-called enemies. For example, it is in the ordinances that we can find radical orders such as the ones issued during the first siege of Barcelona, in 1462, banning talks between people on the walls and those outside of them. If anyone heard them, they could throw the offender from up the walls and keep his weapons.[20]

The language used in the ordinances that were published and read out loud through the city is direct and, obviously, very compelling, frequently much more than that found in the deliberations. However, their closeness is still pretty obvious.

 3.b.ii. Correspondence

 Equally close, although perhaps even more eloquent, is the correspondence sent during the war. Its recipients were many, and included kings and their representatives, other towns’ councils, as well as individuals, such as armies’ captains. The beginning of the war implied an increased diplomatic activity, that was carried out through letters or, provided the matter was eminently important, face-to-face.

Particularly interesting are those letters written during the first months of the war that were addressed to institutions that could help the Catalan cause, like king Ferrante of Naples or the council of Majorca. Those included the best explanations that could be gathered in order to justify the rebellion against king John II, with sentences such as “as you know, the difference between us and the king is only because we want to defend our rights and privileges”.[21]

3.b.iii. Accounts

Finally, few registers can tell us how much Barcelona had to endure during the Catalan Civil War as the accounts’ books do. Besides the preserved regular treasurer’s records, it is particularly compelling a document studied by Jaume Sobrequés that details what destiny had, from 1462 to 1465, the 60.000 pounds that the Council approved to spend exclusively on war’s affairs. The main problem the rebels had during most of the war was their perpetual lack of funds. Therefore, knowing where did the money go and seeing how effective were the funding strategies provides a better understanding of some of the Consell‘s decisions. The collapse of the Taula de Canvi, the municipal bank, in 1468, and the measures taken to revert such an extreme situation by the Council is another key point in the complicated relationship that Barcelona’s government had with its economy during the war.

  1. Conclusions

 The war was responsible of bringing out the best Barcelona’s Council could offer. During those ten years, it became one of the most importants institutions handling the conflict, and its notorious significance can be easily exemplified by the creation of a semi-permament committee as was the Setzena. Barcelona was the main city of Catalonia, and its dirigents were well aware of this. Frequently they justified their preeminent role with a paternalistic discourse, with statements like “the present city represents the mother of said universities”.

Obviously, leading a war was not always an easy task. There were urgent matters that had to be solved as soon as possible, but others, deemed not so worrisome to the Consell members, could linger in the Council for months, thus exasperating those who were affected by them. Moreover, we know that the members of the council had frequently different opinions, sometimes radical ones. However, that can hardly be seen in the deliberations, since normally not even the voting results were written down, and we know of them thanks to the ordinances, for example, or more private documentation. What can be found in the deliberations are disagreements between the Consell and the Diputació or with the king, specially king Peter, but they are always softened. In times so radicalised as the Catalan Civil War were, it was convenient to offer a united view.

To sum up, Barcelona’s council’s deliberations from the period of the Catalan Civil War prove that the Consell was indeed a place where many decisions regarding the conflict were taken, though not the only one. Aware of its limits and flaws, their leaders tried to avoid them by creating committees and giving more power to the consellers, responsible for tackling many problems. Even though those decisions were not noted down in the deliberations, sometimes they can be inferred thanks to other preserved series or later events.

[1] Carme BATLLE i GALLART: La crisis social y económica de Barcelona a mediados del siglo XV, vol. 1, Barcelona, CSIC, 1973, p. 311-321.

[2] In Catalan: ciutadans, mercaders, artistes and menestrals.

[3] He did not indicated their names, but only which council was meeting each time and also anyone who was not part of the Consell and was there in order to ask for something, give advice, etc.

[4] The most important work about the Catalan Civil War is Santiago SOBREQUÉS i VIDAL, Santiago SOBREQUÉS i CALLICÓ, La guerra civil catalana del segle XV, Barcelona, Edicions 62, 1973, 2 volumes. There is also a monograph in English: Alan RYDER, The Wreck of Catalonia. Civil War in the Fifteenth Century, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007.

[5] The Setzena was born in February 1462 (AHCB, 1B.II-14 (1461-1462), f. 74v-75r). Back then, its main purpose was to take care of anything related to the Capitulació de Vilafranca, with the exception of the issues related to chancellery, that were still a prerogative of the Consell de Cent.

[6] “(…) lo dit Concell de Cent jurats del·liberà e conclós per certs sguarts en lo dit concell recitats no affreturar a present elegir XVIa. Vol, emperò, lo dit conçell, que los honorables consellers e concell ordinari de XXXII haie tanta potestat com ha lo present concell en totes les coses concernents los actes del Principat, segons aquell poder per altres concells de C jurats li és stat donat, lo qual poder stigua en sa pròpria força e valor e en res per no haver-hi XVIa no sia periudicat” (AHCB, 1B.II-16 (1463-1465), f. 104v).

[7]Ítem hi fonch posat com no havent proclamat rey e encare aprés la proclamació fins fou arribat en la present ciutat, lo Consell de Cent acustume elegir una Setzena del XXXII que exia, associant aquella als XXXII qui entrave, la qual XVIa, informada dels affers que se eren tractats en lo Trentenari passat, donaven gran direcció en los affers qui s’havien a tractar en lo dit Concell qui novament entrerà. E jatsia sia feta proclamació de rey e senyor, però aquell ere absent e fins la sua felicíssima venguda covendria al concell de la Deputació fer molts actes e del·liberacions en les quals lo present concell haurà a consentir, e per ço ells, consellers, ho posaven en lo dit e present concell” (AHCB, 1B.II-17 (1465-1467), f. 188r).

[8] AHCB, 1B.II-17 (1465-1467), f. 188v.

[9] AHCB, 1B.II-18 (1467-1469), f. 18v.

[10] AHCB, 1B.II-18 (1467-1469), f. 28v-29r.

[11] In June 1471 a new Setzena was elected, but apparently its only purpose was to deal with the appointment made by René of Anjou of John, his grandson, as his lieutenant.

[12] The town was Sant Pere Pescador, in the Empordà region (AHCB, 1B.II-17 (1465-1467), f. 139r-140r).

[13] Vid. note 3.

[14] That happened, for example, during the second half of 1468, when very few meetings were held.

[15] There are a number of letters of king Peter, for example, like the one from 13/11/1465 that we can find in the deliberation of the Consell de Cent from 15/1/1465 (AHCB, 1B.II-16 (1463-1465), f. 183v-184r); the one from 1/3/1465, which is in the deliberation from 3/3/1465 (AHCB, 1B.II-16 (1463-1465), f. 196r-197v), or the one from 27/5/1465, in the deliberation from 28/5/1465 (AHCB, 1B.II-17 (1465-1467), f. 17v-19r).

[16] Notably, the ones written for the redreç of the Taula de Canvi in February 1468 (AHCB, 1B.II-18 (1467-1469), f. 90r-99r).

[17] Stéphane PÉQUIGNOT, «”La pràticha de aquesta ciutat e principat”. Réflexions sur l’action diplomatique des autorités catalanes à la veille et au début de la guerre civile (1461-1464)», in Gisela NAEGLE (dir.), Frieden schaffen und sich verteidigen im Spätmittelalter / Faire la paix et se défendre à la fin du Moyen Âge, Munich, Oldenbourg, 2012, p. 163-188, p. 183.

[18] AHCB, 1B.II-16 (1463-1465), f. 120r.

[19] S. PÉQUIGNOT, «“La pràticha de aquesta ciutat…”», p. 179.

[20] AHCB, 1B.IV-8, f. 192r.

[21]e com sabeu la differènçia nostre e del dit Rey no és per pus sinó per nosaltres deffencar nostres libertats e privilegis” (AHCB, 1B.VI-23 (1462-1468), f. 7v-8r. 21/7/1462: letter written to Cagliari).

Pour citer cet article : Laura Miquel, « Barcelona’s Council During the Catalan Civil War (1462-1472): the Conflict’s Management Through Municipal Deliberations », in REGIDEL-Registres de délibérations urbains au Moyen Âge, 21/02/2018,

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