Emo­tions Kings were sur­pris­ingly hu­man

BBC History Magazine - - Medieval Kingship - Rowena Cock­ett is study­ing for a PhD in medieval stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Ex­eter, with a fo­cus on medieval Ibe­ria

Al­though James’s an­gry out­bursts and harsh pun­ish­ments have led some to view him as vin­dic­tive and cruel, his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of­fers a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. Through it we can see a man who was emo­tion­ally af­fected by events, par­tic­u­larly by any­thing he per­ceived as be­trayal.

When his nobles wished to ac­cept pay­ment to leave Bor­ri­ana, James took great of­fence, writ­ing: “They were very hard and cruel words for me to hear… And we could not help cry­ing be­cause of the great evil that we saw they would do us, be­cause they pre­ferred to have the goods of the king of Va­len­cia, than to guard our hon­our.” Sim­i­larly, he saw the Mus­lim re­volts as a per­sonal be­trayal, lament­ing: “Though we had done good to them, they al­ways looked to do us harm and trick us.”

The au­to­bi­og­ra­phy re­veals a deep fear of peo­ple con­spir­ing against him. Af­ter hear­ing that the nobles planned to aban­don the vil­lage of Puig, which had been seized from Mus­lim forces, James gave an in­ti­mate de­scrip­tion of his anx­i­ety, writ­ing: “Even though it was then Jan­uary and it was very cold, dur­ing the night we tossed and turned on the bed more than 100 times… and we sweated as if we were in a bath.”

One could ar­gue that the rea­son James felt so wounded by these ‘be­tray­als’ was that he felt such great af­fec­tion for those around him. He cared deeply for his fam­ily, shared great com­rade­ship with his men – at­tend­ing to their wounds and bar­ter­ing for the re­lease of their cap­tured rel­a­tives – and even voiced pity for the de­feated Mus­lims.

To fully un­der­stand the man be­hind the crown, James’s ruth­less­ness must be seen in this emo­tional con­text. He re­acted an­grily and some­times vi­o­lently to be­trayal, but inside he also felt hurt. Like ev­ery hu­man be­ing, he ex­pe­ri­enced fear and wor­ried about his rep­u­ta­tion, the in­ten­tions of oth­ers and the fate of his soul.

As a re­sult, his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy shows us both the im­age James wished to project of him­self – a pow­er­ful king con­quer­ing lands in the name of God – and his hu­man vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. Ul­ti­mately, James was an or­di­nary man try­ing to shoul­der the re­spon­si­bil­ity of be­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary king.

Mus­lim troops shown dur­ing the bat­tle for Ma­jorca. James I’s at­ti­tude to Mus­lims was con­flicted: he tried to ex­pel them from his lands, but also ex­pressed pity for them

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