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thirteen century, political structure, western European society


No medieval era was more significant for the creation of royal, clerical, and urban institutions than the thirteenth century as sovereign and pope alike began to form the political structures of western European society in a way that closed many avenues of power to the trustees of societal authority of an earlier period, the nobility. Baronial resistance to the monarchical 'innovations' of the era would eventually direct the course of such state — building towards a fuller partnership between sovereign and subject. Though the best-known examples of such conflicts between custom and law occurred in England with the royal issuance of the Magna Carta in 1215 and the broad-based reform package enforced on the crown during the baronial wars between 1258 and 1266, the same type of institutional war raged across Europe from Sicily too Hungary. No zone was more deeply etched by this struggle than the landlocked, xenophobic, mountain kingdom of Aragon, which between 1265 and 1348 repeatedly went to war to stop the Romanist alterations wrought by Aragon's royal government. Ironically, this institutional brake on the crown, which materialized as a number of seminal laws extorted from the throne between 1283 and 1325, was itself drawn up from a Roman law blueprint. Thus, Aragon's disgruntled barons turned to the corporation as the principal agency of their rebellion. Through this Union, the barony was able to define policy and deal with the crown on an all-but-equal footing. If war loomed, the unionists could marshal their defensive and offensive forces very quickly and then keep men in the field for quite a long time, paying for their maintenance from a war chest collected from all members of the organization. The model taken up by the Aragonese Union, the universitas, was a well-worn fixture of European institutional life by the end of the thirteenth century. What concerns us in this article, however, is not the emergence of the corporation (chronicled so long ago and so well by Gaines Post), but rather the amoeba-like division of one universitas into two. For this remarkable development, we must turn to the history of certain Aragonese hill towns and the small rural settlements that surrounded them.