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Among the least-known political entities of medieval Europe—forget Livonia, Wallachia and Great Moravia!—are the Crown of Aragon and the Sardinian Judicatures (Giudicati in Italian).
The Crown of Aragon was a sea-faring confederation united by allegiance to the King of Aragon; at its greatest expanse (in the 1400s), it included a large portion of eastern Spain, the Balearic islands, the islands of Corsica and Sardinia, the Kingdom of Naples (including Sicily) and part of Greece (map, right).
The Sardinian Judicatures (or kritarchies) were four independent states that divided the island of Sardinia among them between the 800s and the 1400s. (A kritarchy is rule by judges; it is, for example, the word used to refer to the rule in ancient Israel by Biblical judges such as Samson, Gideon and the judge/prophetess, Deborah.) The origins of the Guidicati are not exactly clear except that they were apparently residual Byzantine political districts on Sardinia, units that then became independent as Byzantine power faded from that area in the face of Islamic expansion in the Mediterranean in the 800s. Nor is it clear just how the Sardinian judge-rulers were chosen. Depending on the period and judicature you are talking about, at least some were chosen by a council of law and even if a particular choice then developed into a hereditary kritarchy, the judges still ruled at the pleasure of a council. At no time could you say that the judges were “kings,” at least not in the absolute sense of "divine right," nor was the territory their personal property as it was in the case of many European monarchies.
These two strange entities
were linked when the Judicatures were eventually
conquered by the Crown of Aragon in the same wave of
Aragonese expansion that also took the Kingdom of
Naples in the mid-1400s. (The Crown of Aragon had made
an early move on Italy at the time of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282
when it took over the island of Sicily from the
Angevin French, relegating the French to the mainland.
The Aragonese then followed onto the mainland where
they took over the entire Kingdom of Naples in 1442.)
One of the Sardinian
judicatures was Arborea, in the southwestern portion
of the island, with the capital at Oristano. The most
interesting judge-ruler in the history of Sardinia was
(1347-1404) who ruled from 1383 until her death. She was one of the last and
most powerful of the Sardinian judges before most of
the island was gobbled up by the Aragonese. She is
connected to Naples in that her land was conquered and
incorporated into the Aragon kingdom of Naples and
then, with the rest of the island, into the Spanish
vice-realm of Naples.
Statue of Eleonora in Oristano
Eleanor was born in Catalonia; she was the daughter of the judge/ruler of Arborea. Her brother became the new hereditary judge in 1376 but was killed in 1383, at which time Eleanor took over as regent for her infant son. For the next four years she led Arborea in battles with the Crown of Aragon, which claimed the island. She was very successful for a time and retook much of the entire island; she had aims at uniting all of Sardinia.
After her death, the decline of the Judicature of Arborea was inexorable. A mere five years after Eleanor died, Arborea lost a major battle to the Aragonese at Sanluri (in southwestern Sardinia). Arborean rulers failed to organise a successful resistance and then simply sold the judicature to the Crown of Aragon in 1420. Subsequent resistance to the Crown of Aragon and its successor state, Spain (after the union of Aragon and Castille in 1469), was unsuccessful. The last Sardinian rebellion against the new rulers was at the Battle of Macomer (modern Magomadas), near the west coast in north-central Sardinia, in 1478. The rebellion failed and, thereafter, all of Sardinia was part of the new Spanish Empire.
Eleanor wrote a
constitution, the Carta de Logu (Charter of Law), which came into
force in April 1395. Historians of jurisprudence
consider the charter significant in the history of
constitutional law, certainly more enlightened than
the laws of other countries at the time; it covered
both civil and criminal matters and was progressive in
the penalty for most civil violations was simply a
fine. As well, the property rights of women were
Like an earlier ruler, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, Eleanor, too, was interested in ornithology, and she legislated protection of a species of falcon. That bird, Falco eleonorae, was named after her.
Eleonora d’Arborea is remembered in Sardinia as the island “heroine,” who fought the good fight—but lost. She is mentioned in nostalgic verses in the Sardinian language when they talk about lost Sardinian independence. If the game of history had played out differently, she would have been the “mother of her nation.”