Emotions Kings were surprisingly human
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