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Peter III of Aragon

Peter III
A croat minted at Barcelona, bearing the image of Peter and the words Petrus Dei gracia rex (Peter by the grace of God king) and civitas Barcenona (city of Barelona)
King of Aragon and Valencia
Count of Barcelona
Reign 27 July 1276 – 2 November 1285
Coronation November 1276 (Zaragoza)
Predecessor James I
Successor Alfonso III
King of Sicily
Reign 4 September 1282 – 2 November 1285
Coronation 9 November 1282 (Palermo)
Predecessor Charles I
Successor James I
Consort Constance of Sicily
Issue Alfonso III, King of Aragon
James II, King of Aragon
Elisabeth, Queen of Portugal
Frederick II, King of Sicily
Yolanda, Duchess of Calabria
House House of Barcelona
Father James I of Aragon
Mother Violant of Hungary
Born c. 1239
Died 2 November 1285 (aged 45–46)
Vilafranca del Penedès
Burial Santes Creus
Religion Roman Catholicism

Peter the Great (Catalan: Pere el Gran, Aragonese: Pero lo Gran; 1239, in Valencia – 2 November 1285) was the King of Aragon (as Peter III) of Valencia (as Peter I), and Count of Barcelona (as Peter II) from 1276 to his death. He conquered Sicily and became its king in 1282, pressing the claim of his wife, Constance. He was one of the greatest of medieval Aragonese monarchs.


  • Youth and succession 1
  • Early rebellions 2
  • Wars abroad 3
    • Africa 3.1
    • Italy 3.2
  • Later domestic unrest 4
  • Aragonese Crusade 5
  • Troubadour works 6
  • Death and legacy 7
  • Ancestry 8
  • Notes 9
  • Bibliography 10

Youth and succession

Peter was the eldest son of James I of Aragon and his second wife Violant of Hungary. Among (opportunistic) betrothals of his youth, in or before 1260 he was betrothed with the youngest daughter of Emperor Theodoros II of Nicaea, named Eudokia Laskaraina (c1248-c1311) which contract however dissolved after Eudokia's brother lost the imperial throne (in 1261) and Eudokia was instead married to the Count of Tenda. On 13 June 1262, he married Constance, daughter and heiress of Manfred of Sicily. During his youth and early adulthood, Peter gained a great deal of military experience in his father's wars of the Reconquista against the Moors.[1]

On James' death, the lands of the Crown of Aragon were divided, with Aragon and Valencia, along with the most of the Catalan counties, going to the eldest son, Peter, while the Balearic Islands (constituted as the Kingdom of Majorca), the Catalan counties of Rousillon-Vallespir, Conflent and Capcir alongside the territories in the Languedoc (lordship of Montpellier), went to the second son, James. Peter and Constance were crowned in Zaragoza (the capital of the Aragonese Kingdom) in November by the archbishop of Tarragona. At this ceremony, Peter renounced all feudal obligations to the papacy which his grandfather Peter II had incurred.

Early rebellions

Peter's first act as king was to complete the pacification of his Valencian territory, an action which had been underway on his father's death.

However, a revolt soon broke out in Catalonia, led by the viscount of Cardona and abetted by Roger-Bernard III of Foix, Arnold Roger I of Pallars Sobirà, and Ermengol X of Urgell.[1] The rebels had grown a hatred for Peter in response to the severity of his dealings with them in the days of his father. Now, as king, they opposed him for not summoning the Catalan corts, or assembly, and confirming its privileges.

At the same time, a succession crisis continued in the County of Urgell. When Count Álvaro died in 1268, the families of his two wives, Constance, a daughter of Pedro Moncada of Béarn, and Cecilia, a daughter of Roger-Bernard II of Foix, began a long fight over the inheritance of his county. Meanwhile, a good portion of the county had been repossessed by James and thus inherited by Peter. In 1278, Armengol X, Álvaro's eldest son, succeeded in recovering most of his lost patrimony and came to an agreement with Peter whereby he recognised the latter as his suzerain.[1]

In 1280, Peter defeated the stewing rebellion led by Roger-Berengar III after besieging the rebels in Balaguer for a month. Most of the rebel leaders were imprisoned in Lleida until 1281, while Roger-Bernard was imprisoned until 1284.

Wars abroad


When the Hafsid Emir of Tunisia, Muhammad I al-Mustansir, who had put himself under James the Conqueror, died in 1277, Tunisia threw off the yoke of Aragonese suzerainty.[2] Peter first sent an expedition to Tunis in 1280 under Conrad de Llansa designed to re-establish his suzerainty.[1] In 1281, he himself prepared to lead a fleet of 140 ships with 15,000 men to invade Tunisia on behalf of the governor of Constantine.[3] The fleet landed at Alcoyll in 1282 and the troops began to fortify themselves in. It was these Aragonese troops that received a Sicilian embassy after the Vespers of 30 March asking Peter to take their throne from Charles of Anjou.


Peter's fleet landing at Trapani. The king is depicted directing the landing, second from left in the upper boat, wearing the crown and a red tunic.

Peter was the direct descendant and the heir-general of the Mafalda, daughter of Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia, the Norman conqueror, and his official wife Sigelgaita, daughter of a Lombard prince, Guaimar IV of Salerno. Thus, he stood at the end of the Hauteville succession to Sicily. After the ducal family of Apulia became extinct with William II in 1127, Mafalda's heirs (then counts of Barcelona) apparently became de jure heirs of Guiscard and Sigelgaita: thus Peter was dormantly a claimant to the Norman succession of southern Italy. More directly, he was the heir of Manfred in right of his wife. The Two Sicilies were to be a tenaciously-pursued inheritance for the Aragonese royal house and its heirs for the next five centuries.

The Italian physician John of Procida acted on behalf of Peter in Sicily. John had fled to Aragon after Charles' success at Tagliacozzo. John travelled to Sicily to stir up the discontents in favour of Peter and thence to Constantinople to procure the support of Michael VIII Palaeologus.[4] Michael refused to aid the Aragonese king without papal approval and so John voyaged to Rome and there gained the consent of Pope Nicholas III, who feared the ascent of Charles in the Mezzogiorno.[4] John then returned to Barcelona and the pope promptly died, to be replaced by Simon de Brie, a Frenchman and a staunch ally of Charles. The stage, however, had been set for a conflict.

After receiving an embassy from the people of Palermo at Alcoyll, Peter landed at Trapani on 30 August 1282.[4] He was proclaimed King in Palermo on 4 September. Charles was forced to flee across the Straits of Messina and be content with his "Kingdom of Naples". Simon de Brie as the new Pope Martin IV excommunicated both Peter and the Byzantine emperor for providing Peter III with 60,000 gold pieces to invade Sicily (18 November).[5]

Peter nevertheless pressed his advantage and by February 1283 had taken most of the Calabrian coastline. Charles, perhaps feeling desperate, sent letters to Peter demanding they resolve the conflict by personal combat. The invader accepted and Charles returned to France to arrange the duel. Both kings chose six knights to settle matters of places and dates. A duel was scheduled for 1 June at Bordeaux. A hundred knights would accompany each side and Edward I of England would adjudge the contest; the English king, heeding the pope, however, refused to take part. Peter left John of Procida in charge of Sicily and returned via his own kingdom to Bordeaux, which, evading a suspected French ambush, he entered in disguise. Needless to say, no combat ever took place and Peter returned to find very turbulent Aragon.[6]

While Peter was back, his admiral, Roger of Lauria, was wreaking havoc in Italy. He routed Charles' fleets on the high seas several times and conquered Malta for Aragon.

Later domestic unrest

Peter was dealing with domestic unrest at the time when the French were preparing an invasion. He took Albarracín from the rebellious noble Juan Núñez de Lara, and he renewed the alliance with Sancho IV of Castile and attacked Tudela in an attempt to prevent the king of Navarre, Philip I, the son of the French king, from invading on that front.

Peter held meetings of the cortes at Tarragona and Zaragoza in 1283. He was forced to grant the Privilegio General to the newly formed Union of Aragon.[6] Also in that year, Peter's brother James joined the French and recognised their suzerainty over Montpellier, giving them free passage through the Balearic Islands and Roussillon. In October, Peter began preparing the defences of Catalonia.

In 1284, Pope Martin IV granted the kingdom of Aragon to Charles, Count of Valois, the son of the French king, Philip III the Bold, and great nephew of Charles. Papal sanction was given to a war — crusade — to conquer Aragon on behalf of Charles of Valois.

Aragonese Crusade

Peter III at Col de Panissars by Mariano Barbasán (1889)

In 1284, the first French armies under King Philip and Count Charles entered Roussillon. They included 16,000 cavalry, 17,000 crossbowmen, and 100,000 infantry, along with 100 ships in south French ports.[7] Though the French had James's support, the local populace rose against them. The city of Elne was valiantly defended by the so-called bâtard de Roussillon ("bastard of Roussillon"), the illegitimate son of Nuño Sánchez, late count of Roussillon (1212–1242). Eventually he was overcome and the cathedral was burnt; the royal forces progressed.

In 1285, Philip entrenched himself before Girona in an attempt to besiege it. The resistance was strong, but the city was taken. Charles was crowned there, but without an actual crown. The French soon experienced a reversal, however, at the hands of Roger de Lauria, back from the Italian theatre of the drawn-out conflict. The French fleet was defeated and destroyed at the Battle of Les Formigues. As well, the French camp was hit hard by an epidemic of dysentery.

Philip himself was afflicted. The heir to the French throne, Philip the Fair, opened negotiations with Peter for free passage for the royal family through the Pyrenees. But the troops were not offered such passage and were decimated at the Battle of the Col de Panissars. The king of France himself died at Perpignan, the capital of James of Majorca, who had fled in fear after being confronted by Peter, and was buried in Narbonne. James was declared a vassal of Peter.

Troubadour works

Peter matched his father in patronage of the arts and literature, but unlike him he was a lover of verse, not prose. He favoured the troubadours, of which he himself was one, and wrote two sirventesos.

The first is in the form of an exchange between Peter and one Peironet, a jongleur. The second forms part of a compilation of five compositions from Bernat d'Auriac, Peter the Great, Pere Salvatge (perhaps the same as Peironet), Roger-Bernard III of Foix, and an anonymous contributor.

As well, the wars with Philip of France and James of Majorca furnished material for new sirventesos and during this period the sirventes was converted into a convenient tool of political propaganda in which each side could, directly or allegorically, present its case and procure sympathy propitious to its cause.

Death and legacy

Peter III portrayed in a fragment of the Giovanni Villani's Nuova Cronica (early fourteenth century)

Peter died by unknown causes at Vilafranca del Penedès on 2 November 1285, in the same year as his royal foe Philip, and was buried in the monastery of Santes Creus.[8] His deathbed absolution occurred after he declared that his conquests had been in the name of his familial claims and never against the claims of the church. His remains are entombed in a porphyrysarcophagus at Santes Creus Monastery.

Peter left Aragon to his eldest son Alfonso III and Sicily to his second son James II. Peter's third son, Frederick III, in succession to his brother James, became regent of Sicily and in due course its king. Peter did not provide for his youngest and bastard son and namesake, Peter (1275 – 25 August 1296), who married Constança Mendes da Silva, daughter of Soeiro Mendes Petite, governor of Santarém in Portugal. This Peter left Spain for Portugal with his sister Elizabeth.

Peter also had two daughters, Elisabeth, who married Denis of Portugal, and Yolanda (1273 – August 1302), who married Robert of Naples.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri sees Peter "singing in accord" (d'ogni valor portó cinta la corda) with his former rival, Charles I of Sicily, outside the gates of Purgatory.



  1. ^ a b c d Chaytor, 97.
  2. ^ Chaytor, 101.
  3. ^ Chaytor, 102.
  4. ^ a b c Chaytor, 103.
  5. ^ J. Harris, Byzantium and The Crusades, 180
  6. ^ a b Harris, 104.
  7. ^ Harris, 106.
  8. ^ El País, news on discovery of mummy of Peter III at Monastery of Santes Creus


  • Runciman, Steven. The Sicilian Vespers. 1958. ISBN 0-521-43774-1
  • Chaytor, H. J. A History of Aragon and Catalonia. London: Methuen, 1933.
Peter III of Aragon
Cadet branch of the House of Barcelona
Born: c. 1239 Died: 2 November 1285
Regnal titles
Preceded by
James I
King of Aragon and Valencia
Count of Barcelona

Succeeded by
Alfonso III
Preceded by
Charles I
King of Sicily
Succeeded by
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