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The Founding of the Archives of the Crown of Aragon (1318)

ACA's Founding Charter

A scattered archive

Throughout medieval Christian Europe in the 11th to the 13th centuries monarchs tended to leave their documents scattered around churches and monasteries that they trusted or where they worshipped, without setting up a central repository. Thus it was with the Crown of Aragon, but with one peculiarity. In one of the states that made up this union, Catalonia, the continuity of Roman Law through Gothic laws meant that during the Early Middle Ages, great importance was given to putting legal events and acts in writing so that they could be referred to later.

From the mid-13th century, with the expansion of the territories ruled by the Crown of Aragon, we start to see a proliferation of references to the monarchs’ documentation and archives. There were repositories of royal documents at the monasteries of Sijena and San Juan de la Peña, in Aragon, and also in Barcelona, at the premises of the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, at the seat of the Templars and in the city’s Royal Palace. In the early 14th century, the documentation produced by the offices of the King had grown substantially in size and complexity.

None of this was very different from what was occurring in other European monarchies. But the contact with Sicily had consequences that were not just political. For some years the second child of Peter III the Great of Aragon, James II the Just (1291-1327) governed the kingdom of Sicily which had developed some of the most advanced administrative and bureaucratic practices of the time and where Emperor Frederick II (I of Sicily) (1194-1250) had implemented early legislative measures relating to the probative value of the documents kept in the archives.

By Order of the King

When on the death of his brother Alfonso (1285-1291), James II returned to take charge of the Iberian kingdoms of the Crown of Aragon, he had, thanks to his experience on Sicily, a very well-defined ideas on the value of documents and their use as a basis for power (both in international relations and in the internal governance of kingdoms). In July 1318 he commanded that various chambers in the Royal Palace of Barcelona, that had been freed up after the Palatine Chapel was extended, be used for his archives. This was the birth of the Archives of the Crown of Aragon, situated in the Plaza del Rey in Barcelona where still today, seven hundred years later, it remains.

We know of the verbal order of King James II from this document of May 1319, which settled the expenses incurred by the building and adaptation works for the archive’s space, located in the antechamber of the Chapel of Saint Agatha. In 1346, King Peter the Ceremonious appointed his scribe Pere Perseya as the first Royal Archivist to actually carry the title, a position that has been held continuously ever since.

Salto de línea (ACA, Real Patrimonio, Maestre Racional ,vol. 627 f. 137v-138r)

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