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The 15th Century

By the beginning of the 15th Century, the Crown of Aragon was both powerful and successful. Apart from Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands, it owned southern Italy and Sicily and had control over Sardinia and Corsica. Traders from Mallorca were sailing as far north as England and as far east as Constantinople. However, Palma suffered badly in 1403 when a flash flood killed 5,000 people and destroyed 1,500 homes.

Mallorca's economy was also in trouble because it could not pay off its debts, never mind administer the island's needs. The Counsell continued selling pensions to pay off creditors and bills but when they could not raise funds in 1425, it postponed annuity payments for six years. However, most of the 425 pension owners were also landowners and some were arrested for withholding collected taxes in lieu of payment.

mallorca in the 14th Century
The Crown of Aragon spread across the Mediterranean.

King Ferdinand I 'the Just': (1412-1416)

The death of Prince Martin in 1409 and King Martin in 1410 resulted in a struggle for the Crown of Aragon and while Catalonia and Mallorca favoured James of Urgell, Aragon and Valencia favoured Ferdinand of Antequera. Ferdinand was chosen at the Compromise of Caspe in 1412 but Mallorca was not invited to vote.

mallorca in the 14th Century
Alfonso the Magnanimous.

Alfonso V of Aragon, the Magnanimous (1416-1458)

Mallorca's fortunes changed for the better when Alphonse V introduced a law that foreign ships had to stop at the island en route to and from North Africa. It introduced new trade to the island and the Merchants Association commissioned Guillem Sagrera to start building a new Market Hall in 1426; it took 21 years to complete.

Mallorca's economy problems placed new pressures on the Jewish community and in 1435 they had to be baptised in mass conversions. They also had to pay large amounts of money to the Church and sign over their properties in the Calle Major district as part of the 'conversion' process; their two synagogues were converted to churches. Many Jews emigrated rather than convert while those who were left behind suffered discrimination through the ages; they were also called 'New Christians', or Xuetes, a slang word for pork fat. Check out the Inquisition webpage to find out more.

Plague ravaged Mallorca over the winter of 1439/40 and it was followed by droughts in 1449 and 1450. While the poor got poorer, the rich got richer and but the increase in Mallorca's wealth increased competition between the Counsell and the landowners who were known as forans . When taxes were raised to support Alfonso's war in Naples, landowners were ordered to present their ownership papers. The Counsell knew there were no papers because King Jaime the Conqueror had handed out the lands to the barons who had served in the conquest of 1229. They in turn had bought and sold them as they pleased.

The Counsell's bailiffs were attacked in Manacor and Petra and on 27 July 1450 Simon Ballester led 2,000 angry landowners to Palma's locked gates. They only withdrew after the Governor promised to petition the King for lower taxes. Alfonso's refused and fined the landowners for their troubles. Two leaders of the revolt were arrested in Binissalem, and then hanged, drawn and quartered for treason in Palma.

Following another standoff in front of the city gates over 5,000 landowners descended on the capital in May 1451. Supporters inside the city planned to open the gates but the plot was betrayed and their leaders were executed. The King sent the Count of Prades to Palma to settle the troubles but once again the landowners left feeling betrayed.

In August 1,000 troops arrived from Naples, reinforcing the 2,000 strong army in Palma, while the landowners collected at Inca and erected barricades. They drove Ballester and the landowners from Inca and cornered their rearguard in Sencelles. 80 landowners were killed while another 80 prisoners were left hanging from trees as a warning; 200 more landowners were hunted down and executed while another 300 left the Island, fearing for their lives. While the revolt had been crushed, Mallorca's problems were not over. The King wanted all back taxes paid and fined the surviving landowners an extortionate amount of money.

A rise in emigration and a fall in immigration reduced the island's population to only 41,000. With insufficient labour to farm the land, the island was increasingly reliant on wheat imports; it was a dangerous situation to be in.

mallorca in the 14th Century
The forans went to war when Palma sent out their bailiffs.
mallorca in the 14th Century
John the Faithless.

King John II of Aragon 'the Faithless' (1458-1479)

Alphonse's son Ferdinand became the King of Naples while his brother was crowned King John II of Aragon. John also faced a landowners' rebellion in the Barcelona area and the Viceroy of Palma was called in to hunt down 100 of them and execute them as an example in 1463. When Menorca came out in favour of the Catalans, Mallorcan troops were sent to the island to put Ciutadella under siege; the Mallorcan fleet also stopped a Catalan fleet from lifting the siege.

The militia at this time was 9,000 strong and a knight commanded the units in and around each town. When lookouts raised the alarm they gathered to meet the invader and in 1466 they defeated Catalan troops put ashore by a squadron of ships.

Aragon was also at war with France but it lost territories along the Pyrenees in 1463 and both Barcelona and Mahon in 1472. This ongoing war disrupted Mallorca's trade and new merchant ships that could sail directly from Italy to Valencia reduced the island's trade. A serious epidemic in 1475 only added to the islanders' misery.

The nobility preferred to fund the public debt and live off the interest because it was safer than investing in trade and industry. As debts increased, so did taxes, leaving the island in a spiral of debt, a spiral that favoured the rich. The only silver lining on Mallorca's grey cloud was the island's booming textile industry.

Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile (1479-1516)

Ferdinand and Isabella had married in 1469 under an agreement that they would share power and when John died ten years later the Crowns of Castile and Aragon were united under the name Spain which had its root in the Roman name Hispania.

Isabella demanded the complete Christianisation of Spain and in 1482 the crusade against the last Moorish stronghold, al-Andalus. The combined armies of Aragon and Castile conquered the towns of Granada and the last Moorish Kingdom finally surrendered in November 1491. After 800 years, the Reconquest of what is now Spain was complete.

The military conquest was complete but the religious one was just beginning and the Inquisitor General, Tomàs de Torquemada, demanded the expulsion or conversion of all Jews from Spain. Around 40,000 left the country while a similar number converted. Check out the Inquisition webpage to find out more.

mallorca in the 14th Century
Ferdinand and Isabella.
mallorca in the 14th Century
Christopher Colombus.

In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella gave Christopher Columbus the backing to explore the Atlantic in search of the New World. He discovered Cuba and Santa Domingo, marking the start of European exploration of the Americas; he would make another three voyages. While it is generally accepted that Columbus was from Genoa, some believe he was known as Cristobal Colon and either had one or even two Mallorcan parents. But while the discovery of the New Americas and the prospect of a Spanish Empire was exciting, a serious epidemic in 1493 completed a difficult century for Mallorca.

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