Revolt of the Catalans Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The revolt of the Catalans revealed political dissension within Spain, resulting in the secession of Catalonia until 1652. The rebellion confirmed the decline of Spain.

Summary of Event

Since the reign of Philip III (1598-1621), the defense of Spanish interests in Europe and overseas was more than Castile could bear alone. Long years of fighting Habsburg wars in central Europe had depleted the Spanish treasury, despite gold and silver shipments from America. These shipments were beginning to fall off as English raiders made incursions into Spanish America. Spain had not had a balanced budget for almost a century. Yet the Spanish government had not been able to make the Aragonese principalities (including Catalonia) share part of the expenses. It was not Castilian prejudice but fiscal and military emergencies that caused the central government in Castile to tap the resources of non-Castilian provinces. [kw]Revolt of the Catalans (May, 1640-Jan. 23, 1641) [kw]Catalans, Revolt of the (May, 1640-Jan. 23, 1641) Government and politics;May, 1640-Jan. 23, 1641: Revolt of the Catalans[1350] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;May, 1640-Jan. 23, 1641: Revolt of the Catalans[1350] Spain;May, 1640-Jan. 23, 1641: Revolt of the Catalans[1350] Portugal;May, 1640-Jan. 23, 1641: Revolt of the Catalans[1350] Catalans, Revolt of the (1640)

Although aware of these problems, the new king, Philip IV Philip IV (king of Spain);Olivares and , continued his father’s policy of turning over affairs of government to a court favorite (privado) and occupying himself with the social duties of the monarchy. The new favorite and chief minister was the count-duke of Olivares Olivares, count-duke of . Unlike his predecessors, Olivares was conscientious and worked hard. He heeded the suggestions of arbitristas (reform writers) such as Fernández Navarrete Navarrete, Fernández that there should be a just and proportionate adjustment of taxation Taxation;Spain Spain;Taxation in the provinces and that the center ought not to bear all responsibilities of revenue. A champion not of Castile but of Spain, Olivares sought to create a unified integrated monarchy, and hence attempted two reforms: First, he wanted equitably distributed taxation throughout the country to produce revenue; second, he wanted to abolish all regional privileges to achieve administrative reform. These reforms, if implemented, would rejuvenate Spain economically as well as militarily

Olivares’s plans attacked the privileges and sentiments of the principality of Catalonia in the kingdom of Aragon. Once the thriving center of maritime trade in the peninsula, Catalonia and its capital city, Barcelona, had been declining since the middle of the fifteenth century. The Catalans had exacted a series of concessions from the Crown dating back to the fourteenth century, the most important of which was the privilege of taxing themselves and voting subsidies to the Crown only if they wanted to do so. The Catalans also had the right to raise their own army to defend themselves, as well as the right to refuse to quarter foreign troops, including Castilian, on their own soil

Throughout the 1630’, Olivares tried to persuade the Catalans to surrender their concessions, offering them positions within Castilian officialdom to make up for their lost privileges. The Catalan Cortes (parliament) voted small subsidies to the Crown but denied Olivares the major gains he sought. The financial problem became even more acute after Spain’s international involvement following the outbreak of war with France in 1635. Taxes in Castile were raised arbitrarily, new loans made, the currency devalued, and offices sold. By 1637, Spain’s annual expenditure doubled its income. The war itself went badly in both the Holy Roman Empire and the Netherlands. In 1638, the French invaded the Spanish Basque country and besieged Fuenterrabia. The relief force that drove them out included contingents from all major Spanish provinces except Catalonia

Determined to get the Catalans to contribute to the war effort, Olivares decided to route the campaign of 1639 directly through Catalonia. Though the Catalans participated in sizable numbers, they suffered heavy casualties in their bid to relieve the border fortress of Salcés from French occupation. Thoroughly exhausted and weakened, the Catalans were in no mood to fight. It was necessary for Olivares to send Castilian troops to hold the frontier against the French. These forces were billeted among the Catalans, and further subsidies were demanded. The greatest discontent was among the peasantry; their crops had failed, they had lost men in battles, and then they were forced to billet “foreign” troops. By May of 1640, the north Catalan countryside was in revolt as peasants attacked Spanish troops throughout the district

By June, the harvester rebels had moved into Barcelona, where they mobilized the segadors (farm laborers) into a revolutionary mob and murdered royal officials, including the viceroy, the count of Santa Coloma Santa Coloma, count of , who had been acting under orders from Madrid. Pau Claris Claris, Pau , canon of Urgell, member of the Diputació (standing committee of the Catalan Cortes), and a leader of resistance to Madrid, took over control of the city. Olivares dispatched troops from the frontier to Barcelona to end the revolt, meanwhile offering the Catalans certain concessions. Claris, caught between the mob and the Castilian army, took the only course available. On January 23, 1641, he declared the independence of Catalonia from Spain and placed it under allegiance to King Louis XIII Louis XIII;Catalonia and of France, now hailed as the count of Barcelona.

While the Catalan revolt was going on, the Portuguese took advantage of the confusion and declared their independence from Spain by proclaiming the duke of Braganza as King John IV John IV (king of Portugal) of Portugal Portugal;independence from Spain in Lisbon in December, 1640. A similar movement for independence appeared in Andalusia. Olivares’s usefulness had come to an end. In 1643, the king dismissed him and appointed his nephew Luis de Haro Haro, Luis de as the Crown chief minister. Much less ambitious and more careful than Olivares, Haro simply waited.


By the late 1640’, the Catalans had tired of French rule. They discovered that chief ministers Cardinal de Richelieu Richelieu, Cardinal de;Catalans and and his successor Cardinal Jules Mazarin Mazarin, Jules were more exacting than Olivares. Furthermore, the Catalan nobility had discovered overtones of social rebellion in the uprising and they began to fear for their property. Haro offered to restore Catalan privileges.

In 1652, when Mazarin was occupied with the Wars of the Fronde (1648-1653), Philip sent an army under his illegitimate son John Joseph of Austria John Joseph of Austria to Barcelona. The city surrendered and was restored to Spain on October 13, 1652, accepting the sovereignty of Philip IV, with John as his viceroy, in return for a general amnesty and the king’s promise to preserve the constitutions. The rebellion and separation of Catalonia, along with the loss of Portugal, remained as a striking confirmation of the decline of Spain.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carr, Raymond, ed. Spain: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. A collection of essays on Spanish history. Chapter 6 examines “Vicissitudes of a World Power, 1500-1700.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Elliott, John H. “The Decline of Spain.” In Crisis in Europe, 1560-1660, edited by Trevor Aston. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967. Elliott analyzes the Catalan revolt as the outcome of the economic crisis of 1590-1620 and “the psychological crisis which impelled it (Catalonia) into its final bid for world supremacy.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Elliott, John H. The Revolts of the Catalans: A Study in the Decline of Spain, 1598-1640. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1963. This classic study remains the most authoritative work on the subject. Chapter 16 deals specifically with the revolt, and the six-hundred-page book also analyzes the decline of Spain in the seventeenth century. Elliott is especially useful for a critical assessment of the policies of the count-duke of Olivares.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Elliott, John H. “The Spanish Peninsula, 1598-1648.” In The New Cambridge History of Europe: Decline of Spain and the Thirty Years’ War, 1609-1648/1659, edited by J. P. Cooper. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1970. Through a critical study of the ministerial regimes of the duke of Lerma and of the count-duke of Olivares, Elliott examines the domestic developments and international policies of Spain leading to its involvement in the Thirty Years’ War. He also discusses the revolt of Catalonia and the independence of Portugal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kamen, Henry. Spain, 1469-1714: A Society in Conflict. 2d ed. Harlow, England: Longman, 1991. A good general history of the Golden Age of Spain and its subsequent decline, though rather brief on the revolt.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lynch, John. The Hispanic World in Crisis and Change, 1598-1700. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1992. This is a vastly improved and updated version of Lynch’s much acclaimed Spain Under the Habsburgs. Chapter 5 contains a succinct scholarly analysis of the revolt and its consequences.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Payne, Stanley G. A History of Spain and Portugal. 2 vols. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1973. Volume 1 provides a reliable general history of the Iberian Peninsula from the time of ancient Hispanica to the seventeenth century. Chapter 15, titled “The Seventeenth-Century Decline,” is particularly helpful.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stradling, R. A. Spain’s Struggle for Europe, 1598-1668. London: Hambledon Press, 1994. Stradling focuses on Spanish politics and international relations, emphasizing the leadership abilities of Philip IV and Olivares. Also stresses the survival of the Spanish monarchy, refuting other historians who maintain the seventeenth century was a time of Spanish decline.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Catherine of Braganza; Charles II (of Spain); John of Austria; John IV; Jules Mazarin; Count-Duke of Olivares; Philip III; Philip IV; Cardinal de Richelieu. Catalans, Revolt of the (1640)

Categories: History