Roussillon - Encyclopedia

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ROUSSILLON, one of the old provinces of France. It now forms the greater part of the department of Pyrenees Orientales. It was bounded S. by the Pyrenees, W. by the county of Foix, N. by Languedoc and E. by the Mediterranean. The province derived its name from a small place near Perpignan, the capital, called Ruscino (Rosceliona, Castel Rossello), where the Gallic chieftains met to consider Hannibal's request for a conference. The district formed part of the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis from 121 B.C. to A.D. 462, when it was ceded with the rest of Septimania to Theodoric II., king of the Visigoths. His successor, Amalaric, on his defeat by Clovis in 531 retired to Spain, leaving a governor in Septimania. In 719 the Saracens crossed the Pyrenees, and Septimania was held by them until their defeat by Pippin in 756. On the invasion of Spain by Charlemagne in 778 he found the borderlands wasted by the Saracenic wars, and the inhabitants hiding among the mountains. He accordingly made grants of land to Visigothic refugees from Spain, and founded several monasteries, round which the people gathered for protection. In 79 2 the Saracens again invaded France, but were repulsed by Louis, king of Aquitaine, whose rule extended over all Catalonia as far as Barcelona. The different portions of his kingdom in time grew into allodial fiefs, and in 893 Suniaire II. became the first hereditary count of Roussillon. But his rule only extended over the eastern part of what became the later province. The western part, or Cerdagne, was ruled in 900 by Miron as first 'count, and one of his grandsons, Bernard, was the first hereditary count of the middle portion, or Besalu. In 'III RaymondBerenger III., count of Barcelona, inherited the fief of Besalu, to which was added in 1117 that of Cerdagne; and in 1172 his grandson, Alfonso II., king of Aragon, united Roussillon to his other states on the death of the last count, Gerard II. The counts of Roussillon, Cerdagne and Besalu were not sufficiently powerful to indulge in any wars of ambition. Their energies had been devoted to furthering the welfare of their people. Under the Aragonese monarchs the progress of the united province still continued, and Collioure, the port of Perpignan, became a centre of Mediterranean trade. But the country was destined to pay the penalty of its position on the frontiers of France and Spain in the long struggle for ascendancy between these two powers. By the treaty of Corbeil (1258) Louis IX. surrendered the sovereignty of Roussillon and the ancient countship of Barcelona to Aragon, and from that time until the 17th century the province ceased to belong to France. James I. of Aragon had wrested the Balearic Isles from the Moors and left them with Roussillon to his son James (1276),(1276), with the title of king of Majorca. The consequent disputes of this monarch with his brother Pedro III. of Aragon were not lost sight of by Philip III. of France in his quarrel with the latter about the crown of the Two Sicilies. Philip espoused James's cause and led his army into Spain, but retreating died at Perpignan in 1285. James then became reconciled to his brother, and in 1311 was succeeded by his son Sancho, who founded the cathedral of Perpignan shortly before his death in 1324. His successor James II. refused to do homage to Philip VI. of France for the seigniory of Montpellier, and applied to Pedro IV. of Aragon for aid. Pedro not only refused it, but on various pretexts declared war against him, and seized Majorca and Roussillon in 1344. The province was now again united to Aragon, and enjoyed peace until 1462. In this year the disputes between John II. and his son about the crown of Navarre gave Louis XI. of France an excuse to support John against his subjects, who had risen in revolt. Louis turned traitor, and the province having been pawned to him for 300,000 crowns, was occupied by the French troops until 1493, when Charles VIII. restored it to Ferdinand and Isabella. During the war between France and Spain (1496-98) the people suffered equally from the Spanish garrisons and the French invaders. But dislike of the Spaniards was soon effaced in the pride of sharing in the glory of Charles V., and in 1542, when Perpignan was besieged by the dauphin, the Roussillonnais remained true to their allegiance. Afterwards the decay of Spain was France's opportunity, and on the revolt of the Catalans against the Castilians in 1641, Louis XIII. espoused the cause of the former, and the treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 secured Roussillon to the French crown.


Privileges et titres relatifs aux franchises, institutions et proprietes communales du Roussillon et de la Cerdagne depuis le Xl e siecle jusqu'en 1600 (1878); Auguste Brutails, Etude sur la condition des populations rurales du Roussillon au moyen age (1891). See also the publications of the Societe agricole, scientifique et litteraire des Pyrenees Orientales (1834 fol.).

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