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On the trail of the Remences

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On the trail of the Remences

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17 Elements of the PROPOSALS IN THIS TOWN
Follow the trace of Francesc de Verntallat, the peasant leader who revolted against the abusive mals usos (feudal obligations) to which the peasantry was subjected to by their feudal lords.

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This route will take us 500 years back in time, when many Catalan peasants subject to slavery conditions and feudal obligations, known as mals usos, revolted against this situation, founding a union and taking the arms against the feudal lord. We will explain this story and visit the spots related to one of the best known and loved peasant leader, Francesc de Verntallat. Francesc de Verntallat (1428-1499) was born in a masia – a type of rural construction common to the Catalan Countries, which often has a family farming – in La Vall d’en Bas, where this route will start. Near the masia, we will find other elements which are connected to the origins of Verntallat, descendant of the Puigpardines family. Next to the village of El Mallol, and continuing within the limits of La Vall d’en Bas, there is the church, the castle of Puigpardines and the farmhouse mas Toralles, once the home of Puigpardines family. Verntallat became the leader of the most radical peasants in the fight against the abusive mals usos (feudal obligations) and the humiliations to which the peasants were subjected by the feudal lords. The feudal lords excessively controlled the peasants and their families, which could not abandon the mas (farmhouse) if the lord did not agree to free them. Apart from being physically abused, the peasants also had to pay abusive taxes to be able to work the land of the lord. At this point in time, Verntallat became the leading figure of the uprising and was followed by the peasants demanding justice and freedom. He managed to build a small army which allowed him to control most of the territory of the comarca of La Garrotxa and Guilleries, from where he planned incursions to attack other places in Catalonia. Verntallat’s army quickly grew in number and he created a system which allowed the volunteers to be stable. The peasants who joined Verntallat’s cause had the help of other peasants who stayed in the villages working the land, with the promise to take care of their crops while the war was on. This solidarity system allowed Verntallat and the Remences to keep fighting for many years, become stronger and, eventually, end up winning the war. Apart from this stability system, another key factor in the Remences victory was the alliance with King John II. The king had a dispute with his son Charles, prince of Viana. The General Council, an organization that favoured Charles, threatened John II and wanted to occupy his land. Therefore, John II was exiled to Aragon and, during his absence, he left the reign to his wife, the regent Queen Joana Enríquez, who managed to win the respect and sympathy of the peasants by abolishing the abusive mals usos during her regency. When the Queen suffered a siege in Girona, Verntallat and his men went down to the city to help her and their alliance became stronger, a positive factor for Verntallat. The Queen, grateful, appointed him royal captain. This fact conveyed the formal leadership of Verntallat. From then on, his followers were called verntallats. That same year, Verntallat became royal captain. In 1463, he took the castle of Hostoles and fortified it. When we go up to La Garrotxa through the comarca of La Selva, there are some visible remains on a hill. This is the castle of Hostoles, which Vicens Vives, historian and writer, described as “the most notable mountain fortress of the Remença resistance”. The castle of Hostoles, in fact, was the centre of the Remença power during the period in which the revolt took place. After its fortification, it was turned into a very safe spot, which could not be taken by assault. The same happened with the castles of Puig-Alder and Colltort, which stood on the frontier between the counties of Besalú and Girona. The castle of Hostoles is a geographical landmark in many ways. It is located between the villages of Les Planes d’Hostoles and Sant Feliu de Pallerols. In Les Planes d’Hostoles we can find the hermitage of Sant Salvador, where the castle of Puig-Alder would later be built. Its geographical location helps us to understand the military advantage the land had to offer. On the other side of the road that goes to Girona, Les Planes d’Hostoles and Sant Feliu de Pallerols, there is the church of Sant Pere Sacosta. There are references which show that in the 13th century the farmhouses of this area were subjected to the mals usos. In Les Planes we can also find the home of the Jonquer family, very prominent in that time. In Sant Feliu de Pallerols we can visit the mill Molí de la Conqueta, a flour mill first mentioned in the 12th century. It is important to highlight that, while the war continued, everything remained the same on the rear. People continued producing food to feed the peasants fighting in the front. Nowadays, the mill is a municipal property and it can be visited. Near Santa Pau we can find the castle of Colltort, from where we can already see the volcanic zone of La Garrotxa. Along this route we will also find out a couple of elements that are not linked to the Remença conflict, but are definitely worth a visit. The first one is the old washing place called Els Rentadors de la Pinya, in La Vall d’en Bas. They are a living proof of the hard work that washing the clothes implied back in those times, although they were also places where people gathered and enjoyed. The second one is El Firal (fairground) of Sant Feliu de Pallerols, where we will stop and enjoy the quietness in the village square. Between 1463 and 1469, the war slowly progressed with victories and defeats on both sides. Finally, the Remences lost the control of Besalú and Olot, and Verntallat went back to hide in the mountains around the castle of Hostoles. From there, in 1470 the Remences progressed, at a numerical disadvantage, up to Girona, where they lay siege to. In 1471 the city surrendered to Verntallat, who had the support of Finestres, an area in the west part of the castle of Hostoles. The land located within the municipal borders of Sant Aniol de Finestres had a vital strategic importance in many armed conflicts in the history of Catalonia. The fact of being a mountainous region difficult to access, near Olot, Banyoles and Girona, turned it into the perfect shelter for outlaws. A great proof of this is the chapel of Finestres, which also played a very important role in the Third Carlist War. Closer to the villages, we can find the churches of Sant Esteve de Llémena and Sant Aniol de Finestres. Back to Verntallat, still in 1471, Olot was also a victim of the siege laid by the Remences. On 28th October 1472 the Catalan Civil War finished with the victory of the royalists with the help of the Remences. The latter ones hoped the King would abolish the mals usos after the contribution of the peasants in the victory, but it was not like this, and a period of confusion began. Years later, the conflict started again, but this time the Second War of the Remences was started by Pere Joan Sala, a friend of Verntallat. After some victories near Barcelona, he was captured and publicly executed in Barcelona. Verntallat did not take part in this war. Instead, he negotiated and got nearly everything he wanted. He ended up securing, through an agreement known as The Sentence of Guadalupe, the abolition of the tax and the feudal abuses and injustices. This did not happen in many European countries until the 18th century. After the sentence, Verntallat stayed in the court and had contact with important figures such as Cristòfor Colom. Later, he retired in Sant Feliu de Pallerols, where he lived in the farmhouse mas Claperols, near Sant Miquel de Pineda, and also in the fortified house he had in the centre of the town, where he died around the year 1499. Nowadays, we can find a statue built in his honour. In the comarca we can also find many elements which remind us of him: schools, streets and shops show that Verntallat is still loved in these lands. Along this route we have gone through the life of Francesc de Verntallat and we have discovered one of the first organized social revolts that won in Europe. We have also seen the Remences uprising and the history of the towns and mountains located in the south of the comarca of La Garrotxa.
Along this route we will visit different villages and mountains of the comarca of La Garrotxa. People have lived in La Garrotxa since thousands of years ago. In the Medieval Ages, six or seven hundred years ago, most peasants did not live in very good conditions. They were very poor, had to work hard every day and quite often they had nothing to eat. They could not do whatever they wanted, because they and their children were subjected to their lord for life. They suffered severe punishments and obligations, a situation which, nowadays, is hard to imagine. These peasants were called Remences. The Remences, tired of this situation, and led by Francesc de Verntallat, revolted against their lords in 1462, and fought in the war until 1472. During the war they became stronger in the mountains between Sant Aniol de Finestres and Sant Feliu de Pallerols or Les Planes d’Hostoles. Here in these mountains there are many castles where the Remences stayed, not only during the war, but also afterwards. We can walk around this territory often unknown. We will discover Puigpardines, the place where Verntallat’s family came from and where we can find the houses which saw him be born and die. Verntallat did not take part in the Second War of the Remences. Instead, he remained in the castle of Hostoles and became stronger. After the war, he ended up making peace in exchange for the ending of the privileges lords had. Today we remember Francesc de Verntallat as a noble which helped the peasants to fight for their freedom and dignity. From then on, their life was still hard, but the conditions had improved forever.

Curiosity

A legend says that Francesc de Verntallat was a fierce warrior with an untameable character and also a great strategist. One day, he was wandering around the woods with his men when, suddenly, something unnerved him. He took his sword and, all at once, he cut an alder in half. Since then he was known as Francesc de Verntallat.

Additional data

Recommendation: To taste the local gastronomy of La Garrotxa. Its slogan is “from the land to the stoves”, as its cuisine is based on fresh products from the land, the vegetable gardens and the woods.

More information

The feudal system and the abusive mals usos: The feudal system was established in Catalonia, as well as in the rest of Europe, at the beginning of the 11th century. It was a time in which the local powers took the lands and the castles from the central power, represented in Catalonia by the weak county of Barcelona. Ramon Berenguer I, Count of Barcelona, gave back the power to the nobility. In exchange for it, he wanted the local powers to admit having stolen properties and the total submission of the peasantry to their lords. The mals usos were a series of feudal obligations and humiliations to which the peasants were subjected by the nobility. The peasants and all their children belonged to the noble and could not abandon the farmhouse where they worked without his permission. They were called Remences. However, the mals usos went even further. The peasants were expected to dedicate some days of work exclusively to their lord, as well as pay abusive taxes. They could also lose their personal estate if there was a fire or case of adultery and, in some extreme cases, the lord had the famous dret de cuixa – a right allowing feudal lords to have sexual relations with subordinate women.

The demographic crisis of the 14th and 15th centuries: Since throughout the Medieval Ages there was an important economic growth, feudal lords promoted the construction of farmhouses, which many peasant families occupied. In the 14th century, there was an important demographic decline as a result of the plagues which devastated the country, and many farmhouses were abandoned (masos rònecs). However, the feudal lords did not want to give up their profits, so they raised taxes to the few peasants left and they put the mals usos in practise even more harshly, to avoid losing their incomes, which provoked many tensions between the peasantry and the nobility. As a result of this, during the second half of the 15th century, peasants were allowed to have meetings and a very important Remença union was created.

The War of the Remences: The Wars of the Remences broke out in the second half of the 15th century. In fact, the First War of the Remences took place at the same time as the Catalan Civil War, which confronted King John II and the institutions of the country: Generalitat and Consell de Cent. These institutions were favoured by the nobles and their feudal system. Contrarily, John II was supported by the Remences. In February 1462 several Remença uprisings took place, mainly in the valleys of Hostoles and Bas. In Santa Pau and Castellfollit de la Roca, they were lead by Francesc de Verntallat. This territory became a perfect shelter also used during the Catalan Civil War, which ended in 1472. Although John II finally won the war, the mals usos were not abolished and, therefore, the peasants were confused. However, he gave a special status to the area controlled by the Remences in the mountains. When John II died and Ferdinand II (Ferdinand the Catholic) things did not improve, since the King favoured the nobles. Then, Francesc de Verntallat, who controlled a great part of the territory in La Garrotxa, Ripollès and Osona, opted to use the judicial and diplomatic avenues to achieve his goals, whereas the rest of the Remences decided to fight. This is known as the Second War of the Remences. This second war was led by Pere Joan Sala, who came from Sant Martí de Llémena, a village in Gironès. Although it was especially supported by the peasants in the comarques of Osona and Vallès, it only lasted a few months and it finally ended with the defeat of the Remences. In 1485, their leader was executed in Barcelona. The Sentence of Guadalupe: Verntallat’s judicial and political actions had a reward. In November 1485 the Remences signed an agreement with the king in Amer, a town of the comarca of La Selva. It was a statement of good intentions and an agreement to put down arms and give back the castles to their lords. Just a year later, in November 1786, in Guadalupe’s monastery, in Extremadura, the Sentence of Guadalupe was signed. This way, the abusive mals usos and the slavery conditions the peasants had to live with disappeared. Although this event of our history may not be widely known, it is extremely significant, especially because the Remença peasants in France, for example, did not get the same rights until the French Revolution in 1789. Basically, the War of the Remences was a social revolution which, as the famous historian Vicens Vives said, had a great impact on the development of our country. Francesc de Verntallat: We do not know many details about the life of Francesc de Verntallat. He might have come from the Puigpardines family, an important family in La Garrotxa. Although he might have not been the heir, this fact could have freed him from being a Remença peasant. However, his wife could have been subjected to the feudal obligations. Verntallat was born in El Mallol, in La Vall d’en Bas. Although he was a noble, he apparently had to work the land. He led the Remença revolution in La Garrotxa and, thanks to him, the Remença peasants and King John II came to an agreement, since Verntallat saved the Queen Joana Enríquez, when she was being besieged in Girona by the forces of the Generalitat. John II won the Catalan Civil War. Hence, Verntallat was appointed viscount of Hostoles. Although he did not take part in the Second War of the Remences, he still controlled a great part of the mountains, as well as the strategic castles. All of this, added to the fact that he was good at politics, helped him to develop The Sentence of Guadalupe and, consequently, abolish the mals usos. He stayed in the court of the Catholic Monarchs and spent his last days in Sant Feliu de Pallerols. People in La Garrotxa still remember him, because he fought for the freedom and the dignity of the Remença peasants.