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600 years of Charles of Navarre: a kingdom, a king and a prince


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The Conversation

Julia Pavón Benito

Professor of Medieval History and principal investigator of the project 'Creativity and Cultural Heritage' of Institute for Culture and Society, University of Navarra.

Blanca of Navarre, whom the nineteenth-century historicist tradition presents as a character lacking in political experience, was the widow of Martin the Younger of Aragon when she married Juan de Trastámara, the future King John II of Aragon. During her first marriage, between 1402 and 1415, she resided in Sicily, ruling it as a widowed regent from 1409 until her return to Navarre. From her second marriage to Juan (1420, July 10), initially settled in Peñafiel, four children were born, three of whom survived: Carlos, Leonor and Blanca.

The birth of the first-born, on May 29, 1421, brought with it the swearing in of the child as future heir to the kingdom and the constitution of the principality of Viana by his grandfather Charles III in 1423, reinforcing the institutional role of the monarchy, in the style of England, France, Aragon and Castile, following the creation of the principality of Wales (1283), the delphinate of Viennois (1346), the principality of Gerona (1350) and the principality of Asturias (1388).

The infant Charles would be raised in the palaces of Tafalla and Olite, where he would spend his childhood with his sisters. The death of his grandfather, on September 7, 1425, meant that his parents became kings, being Juan a character more at the service of their Castilian than Navarrese interests. His longevity, and the intensity of his activities, being named lieutenant of Aragon and Valencia (1436) by his brother Alfonso, from whom he would inherit the Aragonese kingdom in 1458, would forge the image of a man with sufficient political skill to maneuver over the complex peninsular space of the mid and end of the 15th century.

This historiographic image of strength is thus contrasted with that attributed to his wife, Blanca, and that of his son and successor, the Prince of Viana, whom the romantic report represented as a melancholic young man in love with culture, according to the canvas by José Moreno Carbonero from Malaga, now in the Prado Museum in Madrid (1881). This portrait is in line with that of the Catalan Ramón Tusquets Maignon, entrance of the Prince of Viana in Barcelona (1885) and Vicente Poveda (1887), a painter of Alicante origin, with his oil painting Death of the Prince of Viana, as well as that of the Cordovan Tomás Muñoz Lucena (1888).

An eventful life

The character's eventful life also served as inspiration for José Zorrilla, with Lealtad de una mujer y aventuras de una noche (1840), and for Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda's tragic drama El príncipe de Viana (1844).

The construction of the romantic artistic myth, therefore, gave rise to the forging of two confronted spirits, that of the father and that of the son, based on the reflections of the Tudela scholar José Yanguas y Miranda in Crónica de los Reyes de Navarra, of 1843; speculations that would also be used years later by Georges Nicolas Desdevises du Dezért (1889).

Father, civil war and exile

Blanca, proprietary queen of Navarre, died during a trip to Castile. Her death in Segovia on April 1, 1441 meant that the kingdom fell to her young son, but under the tutelage of his father, who for a little less than a decade deposited the government in Charles as his lieutenant until the outbreak of the Navarrese civil war (1451-1461).

The tangle of activities that were generated during the war and the interest of John II to remove his first-born son from the centers of political decision-making brought about a disconcerting maneuver of the king consisting of disinheriting Charles if the conflict persisted, and depositing the future rights of the crown in his sister Leonor and her husband, Gaston, Count of Foix (December 3, 1455).

The paternal ordago propitiated a new critical status for the prince, who had to "exile" himself for six years in the Parisian, Roman and Neapolitan courts of his uncle King Alfonso V of Aragon, from where he returned to the peninsula (1460) to sign the truces with his father.

The clumsiness of the prince to move on the Hispanic grid, dominated by the versatility of Juan, would turn this first agreement in wet paper decanting a second prison of Carlos (1460) that raised all subject of tensions, as much in Navarre as in Catalonia, where he stayed to reside.

However, Juan's skill sought a new rapprochement with a new treaty, the capitulations of Villafranca del Penedés, signed on June 21, 1461, which again left his appointment as successor unresolved, since they deposited in the Cortes such formal approval; although it recognized him as lieutenant of Catalonia.

Death and worship

Although romantic historiography insists on accusing his stepmother of the possible poisoning and death of the prince of Viana in Barcelona (1461, September 23), there is no evidence to prove it, and after his funeral and burial in the cathedral of Barcelona he would be transferred in 1472 to the royal pantheon of Santa María de Poblet at the express wish of his father.

His disappearance was not only the end of a difficult life, but forged an iconic image from the manuscript of the Letters of Don Fernando de Bolea y Galloz (1480), who was the prince's secretary, and which today is preserved in the Library Services Nacional in Madrid. Charles, standing, dressed in a black tunic and a truncated conical hood, whose head emits a nimbus of sanctity, carries a sword and a royal necklace.

At his feet is the white greyhound, to his right the coat of arms of Navarre-Evreux and Aragon and to his left chestnut branches and fruits, as well as the hermetic trilobate on both sides. The currencies collect the maxims of Patientia opus perfectum habet (Patience has its perfect work), Qui se humiliat exaltabitur (He who humbles himself will be exalted), and Bone foy (Good faith, motto of his Order of the White Hound), corresponding to an image of sanctity with propagandistic purposes of the blessed Charles, who in Catalonia came to receive public worship, opposing the cursed image of his father.

This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original.

The Conversation