Disposable alliances: Aragon and Castile during the War of the Two Pedros and beyond
Kagay, Donald J.
Albany State University, Working Paper (2010)
Introduction: If as Clausewitz declared “war is diplomacy by other means,” the very waging of armed conflict itself provides new opportunities for diplomats who, like soldiers, were bound “to serve the preservation and aggrandizement” of their states. While the golden age of such agents who “were sent to lie abroad” for their masters supposedly commenced in the Renaissance, many of the diplomatic forms of the time such as letters of credence and resident ambassadors had already been developed within the Aragonese “empire” of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Even though the activities of ambassadors in a Renaissance age dominated by “personal ambition, rivalry, or resentment” are better known, a similar Machiavellian cant can be seen with that able “administrator of diplomatic intrigue,” Pere III of Aragon (1336-1387). To test the depths of the Aragonese king’s skill as deceptive arbitrator and diplomat, this paper will focus on the period between 1356 and 1378. By tracing the diplomatic developments between Aragon and Castile during this time frame, one is struck not only by the Pere III’s attainments in double-dealing, but also by how deeply the major contenders in the Hundred Years War, France and England, were effected by the political and martial affairs of the “minor” states of Spain.
War broke on the major states of the Iberian Peninsula in the fall of 1356 when Francesc de Perellós, one of Pere III’s privateers who would later become an important Aragonese ambassador, attacked ships of Piacenza, a small Italian city-state allied to Pedro I of Castile (1350-1366/69). Furious at this affront to his royal dignity, the twenty-two-year-old ruler berated his Aragonese counterpart (fifteen years his senior) in a number of letters sent between August and October of 1356. Claiming that Pere had encouraged his people “to commit crimes and dangers in… [his ] lands,” the fuming Castilian sovereign issued a “defiance” (desafio) to his former friend and ally that amounted to an open declaration of war. Pere played the hurt innocent in missives of the same provenance, in which he accused Pedro of declaring war “unjustly and without reason.”
For the next ten years, the two rivals engaged in a bitter frontier conflict and a campaign of propaganda ever bit as rancorous. Viewing Pere as a cowardly supporter of pirates and highwaymen, Pedro repeatedly called for vengeance in the most blatant of terms. Pere maintained the same level of hatred, but did so more cleverly by seldom calling the Castilian ruler by name, but by assigning to him such hateful epithets as “our public enemy,”and “that wicked and false traitor” whom God would “surely put to shame and cover with confusion.”