Although the major fascination for most historians in studying the medieval Iberian Peninsula lies in its wondrous complexity, there has long existed the temptation to describe its history in simpler terms, particularly for those who are rather more concerned with present politics than the reality of the past. If, however, the history of medieval Spain is viewed merely as one long conflict between Christians and Muslims, then one is faced with the awkward fact that Christians and Muslims often allied with one another against their coreligionaries. If one might thus be inclined to conclude that religion did not much matter to many people and subsequently appeal to the materialism of mercenaries and merchants against the fervor of imams and monks, the former groups often have a habit of throwing a spanner into the works by exhibiting disquieting signs of belief and principle. Hussein Fancy’s The Mercenary Mediterranean is an erudite and elegant study that looks at one such group, the jenets, who played a not insignificant role in the Aragonese army in the later thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Muslim cavalry, whom the author convincingly identifies with the Marinid Ghuzah who had first crossed to Granada in the early 1260s, had initially been enemies of the Crown of Aragon but were then recruited by Peter III (1276–1285) in his moment of desperation when facing French invasion in 1284. There was an obvious military advantage for Peter and his successors in the use of the jenets, in that they were light cavalry who could undertake lightning raids and be effective against heavy cavalry. They were well remunerated (unlike the Christian soldiers, they did not have to give one-fifth of their spoils to the Crown), and some achieved positions of note at court and acted as ambassadors. As military elite, the jenets, the author argues, shared with Aragonese Christian rulers and knights chivalric values and a certain esprit de corps that had little to do with religion. And yet the jenets, it would appear, did not fight for the Crown except against the Crown’s Christian opponents (which some Muslim jurists at least would allow them to do), and when they were called upon to do otherwise, under James II in 1304, this was their breaking point with the Crown, since they would not support the Aragonese king against Granada. Curiously, although the jenets appear regularly in the archival sources (which Fancy handles very skillfully) from the 1280s, in October 1265, the future Peter III was already paying the expenses of jenets, particularly for clothing, in a way which suggests that there were significant numbers of them in his service. Although the author does not argue this, in the circumstances of the second half of 1265, given that (then Prince) Peter undertook a series of major raids and played a leading part in the recovery of Murcia at that moment, it would seem unlikely (unless Peter was intending to use them against the recalcitrant Aragonese nobles!) that these jenets would have only been employed against Christians. Since much of the material of James I’s registers remains unpublished, it is possible that further information may come to light concerning these men, but it does seem at least possible that they were a separate group with separate intentions from those who came later. It seems plausible, as the author suggests, that these early jenets appeared in the wake of Prince Peter’s 1262 marriage to Constance, the daughter of Manfred, and in some manner their presence mimicked the use of Muslim soldiers by the Hohenstaufen. This would not be unusual, and thirty years earlier Queen Yolanda’s Hungarian entourage had certainly added no end of color to the Aragonese court. But it requires something of a leap of faith on our part to see the jenets then and subsequently as part of an elaborate and coherent plan by the Aragonese rulers to claim the imperial title, especially when the author insists that “Aragonese royal power succeeded through deflection and indecision” (112). Anyway, the imperial title was surely not seriously in the mind of James I (much as he would have delighted in sending his Castilian son-in-law over the edge!) when he arranged the marriage of Peter and Constance back in 1260. Nor does James I appear to have been vying with Louis IX so soon after Corbeil (James I arranged the marriage of his daughter Isabella to Louis’s heir, Prince Philip, at the same time). Both James and Peter gave assurances to Louis and the pope that they would not help Manfred, and indeed they did not help Manfred then or at Benevento, even though, contrary to what is stated by the author, the Crown of Aragon’s problems with Charles of Anjou did not by any means start as late as 1266. I think this section of the work could still be revisited and that, given the profound influence that the development of the Roman law did play in the history of the Crown in the thirteenth century, a more convincing argument could perhaps be advanced. The author’s main point, however, is that neither the actions of the Aragonese rulers nor indeed those of the jenets can be described in simple terms, and the collaboration between the two sides and the strategic choices that they made “were neither opposed to something called religion nor reducible to it” (151). Fancy has put forward a deeply learned and beautifully woven argument, in a thought-provoking and discomforting study that constitutes a major contribution to the history of medieval Spain. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.
The American Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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