With a certain amount of annoyance and a certain amount of pleasure, I am facing the necessity to go and renew my acquaintance with one of the oldest books I’ve ever cited, the Marca Hispanica of Bishop Pierre de Marca. It is most likely that you’ve heard of neither the man nor the book, and the last person I tried to explain it to said, “you could do a thesis on that by itself!” So I don’t know, maybe someone would want to, maybe it’s just interesting, I think it is anyway. (Edit: if by chance someone actually is interested in this as a topic, please note the comments by Charles de Vries below which contend strongly, and justly, for the idea that this is properly a tale of three scholars, the third being Jeroni Pujades, on whose earlier work de Marca seems to have extensively (and silently) rested and whose manuscripts he may have appropriated, delaying publication of Pujades’s work by two hundred years…)
Pierre de Marca was a latecomer to the priesthood, having until the age of 47 been a Béarn lawyer and political climber, but in 1641 this political climbing, along with a reasonable amount of theological learning which made seen him writing pro-government Catholic propaganda in the local battles against the Protestants in his area, saw him offered a bishopric (Couserans, in Gascony) by Louis XIII on the advice of Cardinal Richelieu, so he took orders fairly rapidly thereafter. Until the papacy had received confirmation of his abjuration of some earlier things that he’d written, however, which happened in 1648, he wasn’t allowed to take up the see, and he therefore spent the years from 1641 to 1651 as governor of recently-captured Catalonia, which is, as far as I’m concerned, where the story really starts.
Although he went on to greater things in the service of the French crown, his learning, which was not small, and his readiness to turn his pen to state propaganda, made him a recourse when the French crown needed its position in Catalonia, which was heavily disputed in this era, affirmed in text. From this stemmed the book I’m actually writing about here, the Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniae, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum.1
The MH, as I usually have to abbreviate it, is a very complicated book. It is big; it is also a genuine and serious piece of scholarship, and gathers a great deal of material and information that we might not otherwise have about how Catalonia’s history was remembered in the seventeeth century. On the other hand, it also makes a very strong thesis to the effect that the line of the Counts of Barcelona, and therefore the Kings of Aragón right up to the point at which he was writing (because of the marriage of Ramon Berenguer IV of Barcelona to Petronilla the heiress of Aragón in 1137 and subsequent dual succession of their son Alfons(o)), were usurpers who had displaced the rightful heir from a higher branch of the family in the early tenth century. He didn’t actually say “and therefore the French should be allowed to kick them out because it’s no more than they deserve” but it could certainly have been put into the service of such an argument. That factoid is actually false, but it’s been very durable, a minor-league Catalan equivalent of the blood libel that wasn’t corrected in print until the work of Prosper de Bofarull in 1836,2 and still lurks around for many years thereafter. For this reason, if you FWSE for Sunifred of Barcelona, you find a lot of confused genealogists unable to settle whether this person should be identified as Marquis Sunyer of Barcelona or Count Sunifred of Besalú, the correct answer being ‘neither: he was Count of Cerdanya and you are all one hundred and seventy years out of date’. The argument was sufficiently influential that even now, the archive of the counts of Barcelona in the Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó (in Barcelona, and of which Bofarull was archivist when he wrote), which has for centuries indexed its documents by count, still has a whole swathe filed under the name of this Sunifred who never ruled there. This is, as much as anyone’s, de Marca’s fault (and it was sufficiently established practice in Bofarull’s day that he felt unable to change it). It is however impossible to discern whether de Marca really thought it was the case, for the documents are genuinely confusing, or had come up with it as a spin for his king. This is one thing any thesis about his work would have to aim to disentangle.
The problems don’t end there, though, and nor does the utility of the book, because it was not published in de Marca’s lifetime. The work was in fact finished twenty-four years after de Marca’s death, by his erstwhile secretary Étienne Baluze, a name that many medievalists who study France will recognise as a prolific editor and copyist of medieval documents and legislation. In fact, about half of the book as it stands is Baluze’s work, as not only did he go through the text cleaning it up and correcting it from his own considerable knowledge and collection of documents, but he also supplied a vast number of appendices and interesting related texts, so that the book as it stands contains the oldest edition of the Gesta Comitum Barcinonensium, the Barcelona house’s dynastic history, several other narrative texts, and about six hundred charters. Now bad things have happened to Catalan archives since Baluze got his copies of these documents made, most of all the Spanish Civil War but not just that by a long chalk. In particular, de Marca and Baluze made great focuses on the monasteries of Santa Maria de Ripoll and Sant Pere de Rodes; the former lost its entire archive in a fire in 1835, and the latter lost its cartulary, which was all that remained of the medieval archive by then, in the Civil War, so everything in the MH from these houses is known from nothing earlier. There are plenty of other lost documents here preserved too, including a goodly chunk of the Frankish legislation covering the area, which as it showed a ‘French’ king making law for the province, fitted de Marca’s purposes very well.3
So it’s an invaluable resource, and so rich that whenever I hunt through my notes on it I find myself being distracted by something that would have been really useful to remember, but which I didn’t realise was important at the time, and this is why I have to go back to it this time. On the other hand its editorial agendas make it very difficult to use unchecked and may well mean that a lot of stuff we would have liked to have was discarded, and it left the history of the area badly bent for two centuries. It’s been reprinted in Barcelona twice in the last fifty years and also translated entirely into Catalan, yet it gets a big part of their history screwed up in a pro-French direction, something which the northern Catalans don’t really want to hear. A proper research project on it would follow citation patterns, see who’d found it useful, who refuted it and who listened. I myself just use it for the unique documents, and also the general bibliophiliac experience of messing with quarto hard parchment bindings held together with canvas tape half an inch broad, or tooled brown leather (the Cambridge University Library has two copies of the book), but the wish to try and clarify it from its two authors’ different aims and do some quite necessary criticism on it is never completely absent.
1. P. de Marca, Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniae, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum, ed. É. Baluze (Paris 1688; repr. Barcelona 1972, 1989), transl. J. Icart as Marca Hispànica, o País de la Frontera Hispanica: versió catalana (Barcelona 1965).
2. P. de Bofarull y Mascaró, Los Condes de Barcelona Vindicados, y Cronología y Genealogía de los Reyes de España considerados como Soberianos Independientes de su Marca (Barcelona 1836; repr. 1990), 2 vols.
3. On the other hand, once Spain itself became the enemy of Catalonia under Franco, these ties were once more locally celebrated, and it is probably for this reason that the Frankish royal documents were the first things published in Ramon d’Abadal’s monumental Catalunya Carolíngia series: R. d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolíngis a Catalunya, Institut d’Estudis Catalans: Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica II & III (Barcelona 1926-1950, 1952), 2 vols.