From WikiPOBia

Revision as of 05:46, 16 January 2009 by LadyShelley (Talk | contribs)
Jump to: navigation, search

Catalonia is currently an Autonomous Community in the north-eastern corner of Spain. As an independent, recognizable entity, Catalonia has a long history which started around the eight century when the Franks repelled the Moorish invasion and the small counties left in the no-mans land between the Franks and the Moors started to grow into a common culture, with their own language (still in use nowadays) and customs, centered around the city of Barcelona. By marrying into the family of the Kings of Aragon, a later Count of Barcelona started using the title of Aragon, which eventually fell on Ferdinand II who married Isabella of Castille, forming what would became Spain. However, that Catalonia is not what Jack Aubrey or Stephen Maturin would have had in mind. Catalonia would have meant different things to each.

Jack Aubrey's Catalonia

Jack would have seen Catalonia from the sea, the name itself or the politics of the region would have meant very little to him. Any point in its coast could be reached in about a day from Port Mahon. The Pyrenees cut the region in two, an impassable barrier to road traffic in the winter months, a tough road in the best of times. That meant that a lot of the supplies for Napoleon's army in Spain had to go by sea. With the large ports blockaded by the ships of the Royal Navy, there was still a large number of small vessels for the Sophie to take. A regular coastal trading boat could carry the equivalent of 5 to 10 oxcarts and with a local, knowledgeable crew, it could sail close to the coast, ready to find refuge in any cove or in the shallow waters were a larger ship could not venture.

The coast where the Pyrenees sink into the Mediterranean Sea is rough with many coves carved in the high cliffs. The remains of lookout towers are still there today at the highest points along the coast. They had been there since Roman times. In warlike times, the local people would have a lookout to watch for any approach by a possible hostile vessels, whether British ships of war or pirates. they would signal the nearby boats to seek refuge and the townspeople to be ready to defend the town. Smugglers also used those same coves until the border between the countries of the European Union were opened and the coves are still used by traffickers crossing from Northern Africa or from ships well off-shore.

Flat country lies on each side of the Pyrenees, the coast on the French side has many salt water lagoons, the main cities are well inland, where the terrain is solid. Collioure lies right on the boundary between the salt marshes and the steep mountain roads, the high walls of the old fort still reach the edge of the water, one of the towers is now the bell tower of the church and, further inland, the shape of a more modern star-shaped fort, still in use by the French Army, can all be clearly seen in this view in Google Maps. The coast to the north, now a series of well developed beach side towns, was mostly wasteland in those days with briny water not good for crops, shallow water not good for sailing, with only the occasional high ground for a few houses around a church. Boats sailing that stretch of the coast had little chance of finding any protection, most of the rivers are too shallow to enter.

Sète further north along the coast, was a very important port for the small trading vessels carrying the supplies for the army. The Canal du Midi, crossing all of France from the Bay of Biscay, passing through major cities as Bordeaux, Toulouse, Carcassonne and Beziers ends in the lagoon with access to the Mediterranean at that point. this was the exit for all the produce of the large, well irrigated region inland and many industrial cities. In between Sète and Collioure, there are few places to take cover and no support to be expected from inland defenses.

On the Spanish side, Llançá is the first good place to land a cargo, the small fort, now gone, on the tip that now protects the marina provided a good, though not very strong defense. The road inland to Figueres was quite easy on the beasts and open all year round though it was an easy place to be ambushed.

The best port, though, would be Roses, on the other side of the Cap de Creus. Sailing around Cap de Creus is dangerous, the wind is often strong and the coast quite unforgiving. The satellite picture shows plenty of boats which is normal nowadays when you can lower the sails and escape the lee-shore on motor power. Still, wrecks and fatalities still occur to this day. The map shows very few place names because few places are accessible. The easternmost tip has a lighthouse nowadays and is where The Light at the Edge of the World was filmed. Port Lligat, near Cadaqués, is where Salvador Dalí used to live.

Roses had been a good port since Greek times. The Trinidad fort, briefly held by [Thomas Cochrane|Lord Cochrane] in 1808 and now being rebuilt to house a museum, after the French blew it up when they had to abandon it, used to provide a very good defense, perched high over the eastern end of the port, the city itself, down in the valley is well protected on the other end by a star-shaped fort. There, a wide, flat and easy road goes inland to Figueres and from there you can go south to Girona, Barcelona and Tarragona, the big cities of the Catalonian provinces, the last two are major ports and all are well defended. The road continues to the rest of Spain.

Catalonia traditionally ended in the River Ebro, a natural boundary. The delta of the Ebro river has always spilled into the sea, but coastal defenses had made that profile more extreme, a clearly defined triangular wedge with straight borders. Before the defenses had been built, maps created at different times showed it with different shapes. Without local knowledge, a ship would not have ventured through the always shifting sand banks of the delta. The river is navigable up to and past Saragossa.

Except for a short stretch of lowlands immediately to the south of Roses, all the coast of Catalonia was populated and more or less defended, with watchtowers in the higher points and lots of small havens, forts of various sizes, small towns, fishing villages. With good weather and a horizon free of enemy vessels, the local boats would leave early in the morning, always keeping an eye on the horizon for any approaching sails, ready to take hide in any of the innumerable coves. Many of the coves could also hide a not so small ship, as the Sophie found out when encountering the Cacafuego.

There is hardly a place on the coast where you could be unobserved for long. The news of a prowling ship would spread quickly. For a population that has always been harassed by vessels carrying flags of all colors, it didn't much matter which side you were on, even watering from shore would be risky. The best tactic would be to keep moving, always ahead of the news of your presence, leaving the area when the coastal traffic opted to remain sheltered until you are gone and then drop in again at random at another point to start again. Most of the boats, being of little value themselves, would be not valuable as prizes, they would have their cargo taken on board, if valuable, eaten or sunk otherwise and when a larger prize is captured, all the cargo could be shipped to Mahon with a single prize crew. This same routine could well be maintained well beyond Catalonia, along the coast to the south-west and Gibraltar.

None of these activities would significantly alter the course of a war, but just like Cochrane's holding the Trinidad fort for a few weeks forced the French to divert a few thousand troops, the continuous harassment of the coastal traffic precluded its use by the French, forcing all supply lines to run overland over long and poor roads, further exposed to the attacks by the Spanish partisans.

Stephen Maturin's Catalonia

There are two different aspects to his view of Catalonia. As half-Catalonian, there would be the view of en Estève Maturín i Domanova, his name in Catalonian, and also those of the British politico and intelligence agent.

As a Catalonian, Stephen spoke the language as locals still do nowadays (it is a co-official language in the region). He could dance the sardana in the square in front of the Cathedral of Tarragona. The sardana is not a very exciting dance, but it is a communal affair, danced in a circle taken by the hands and provides a sense of belonging. Though slow, the sequence of small steps is complex and it is an immediate giveaway when some foreigner tries to join in. In Stephen's case, joining in the sardana after church announced to the city that he was Catalonian and, thus, made him fully accepted.

Stephen's castle
Stephen's Castle
, right across the border from France, is probably based on the one at Requesens, with its view of the Bay of Rosas
View from Stephen's Castle

As an intelligence agent, Stephen would have understood the difficult situation of Catalonia. The crowns of Castille and Aragon, which included Spanish Catalonia, were held by the descendants of Ferdinand and Isabella, but both Kingdoms remained separate, with different laws and governing bodies. In the War of Spanish Succession, a century before 'our time', Barcelona backed the Hapsburg claimant against the Bourbon one. In 1715, after the fall of Barcelona, King Philip V the first of the Bourbon dynasty annulled all the privileges of Aragon. Many Catalans remain soured by that to this day and some, now as then, want an independent Catalonia spanning both the French and Spanish sides of the border and even including neighboring regions which once had been part of Catalonia.

France had supported the Bourbon claimant who later became king but post-revolutionary France was different. Catalonia, controlled as it had always been by the merchant families of Barcelona in contrast to Castille with its landed nobility, was fertile ground for the liberal ideas brought by the French Revolution. Napoleon had forced the abdication of Ferdinand VII, something Barcelona cheered.

Fortunately for Stephen, Napoleon completely overlooked Catalonia and thought of Spain as a single entity ruled from Madrid, where he placed his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the throne. Only in the last few months of the Peninsular War, when the rest of Spain was lost and with the Duke of Wellington already on French soil, did he make a French department of what little remained under his control on the Spanish side of Catalonia. Had he exploited Catalonia's hatred towards Madrid earlier by creating a separate kingdom within his empire (i.e. by reinstating the Kingdom of Aragon), he might have won Catalonians over. Instead of devoting troops to keep it under Madrid's rule, he would have had an ally.

Britain had supported the Hapsburg claimant in the War of Spanish Succession but little of that support had been felt in Catalonia. Britain meant to stop France from extending its domain into Spain, but it did so by supporting the Dutch and Portuguese, leaving the Catalans on their own, doomed to fail, as they eventually did, with dire consequences for them.

So, although Catalonia guerrillas fought the French just as effectively as in the rest of Spain, mainly due to the heavy handedness of the French troops, the region was full of afrancesados (frenchified), independentists and merchants hurt by British blockade and its attacks on coastal trade. Stephen understood their position, he knew that some afrancesados would have changed their views, as he did himself, since the France where he studied was not that of Napoleon, and both the lands of his Irish and Catalan roots wanted independence. Some independentists thought Napoleon would help them against the rule from Madrid, some were still trying to make their case with the French authorities.

There were many players with many different interests, it was a troubled and complex Catalonia that Stephen had to deal with.

See also

Wikipedia article on Catalonia.

Personal tools