A little of Catalan History: Treaty of the Pyrenees; 350th anniversary of the partition of Catalonia between Spain and France

A little of Catalan History: Treaty of the Pyrenees; 350th anniversary of the partition of Catalonia between Spain and France


The Treaty of the Pyrenees -or Peace of the Pyrenees- was signed on November 7, 1659, by the representatives of Philippe IV of Castile and III of Aragon, Luis de Haro and Pedro Coloma, and the representatives of Luis XIV of France, Cardinal Mazzarin and Hugues de Lionne, on the Pheasants Island (Bidasoa River, at the limits of the Northern Basque country), and ended the conflict of the Thirty Years War. One of the consequences of this Treaty was the transfer of the county of Rousillon and part of the Cerdanya to France.

Philip IV negotiated this Treaty without consultation to the Catalan Court nor the affected. In fact, he hid it from them, and did not officially inform Catalan institutions until the Courts in 1702. The affected territories conspired for years to reunite again with the Principality, and the Catalan authorities resisted to accept partition, that was not effective until 1720.

The Catalan territory was divided against the will of the Catalan institutions, against the Oath for the Islands, from which the territories of the former Kingdom of Majorca could not be separated from the territories of the Crown of Aragon, by the will of the Hispanic monarchy to hand over the territories of the North of Catalonia in exchange for keeping the possessions in Flanders. Differently from Gibraltar or Minorca, handed over to England in 1713 by the Treaty of Utrecht, not one Spanish government has reclaimed the devolution of the Northern Catalan territories handed over in the Treaty of the Pyrenees. Usually this Treaty is considered a part of the Treaties of Westphalia, from which it is considered a consequence.


France entered the Thirty Years War after the Spanish victories against the revolted Dutch, in 1620, and against the Swedish at Nördlingen in 1634. In 1640, France started interfering in the Spanish politics, positioning in favour of Catalonia during the Reaper's War, while Spain gave them support during the Fronde in 1648. In the negotiations of the Peace of Westphalia, in 1648, France won the territories of the Alsace and Lorena and cut the access of Spain to Holland from Austria. This caused the War between Spain and France. After 10 years, France –allied to England- won the battle of the Dunes, in 1658, and peace was signed in 1659.

The negotiations

During the negotiations to delimit the border, Luis de Haro, Philip IV's representative, tried to preserve the counties of the Rousillon and Cerdanya for the Crown. French negotiators presented a line for the border very favourable to their interests, while the Castilian representatives, ignoring the characteristics and customs of these territories and the illegality of the separation -Oath for the Islands-, preferred to defend the positions in Flanders before keeping territorial unity in The Principality.

The fact that the skilful negotiators chosen by Louis XIV, Cardinal Jules Mazzarin, Pèire de Marca, Plessis de Besançon and Ramon Trobat had great knowledge of the land and history of Catalonia, unlike the negotiators chosen by the Spanish monarch, while holding the talks behind the Catalan government backs, had a very negative influence in the results of the Treaty for Spain. Mazzarin defended, as indicates in a letter still kept, speaking about Monts, “j'ay fait expliquer que ce sont ceux qui separent de toutte ancianneté des Gaules d'avec les Espagnes”, “… the Pyrenees separated the Gaul from Spain since ancient times”, skilful historical vaguish that fed Spanish vanity, keen on building her own History, but that created to successive problems of definition that had to be resolved in successive Treaties.

The Treaty that established that, from the County of Cerdanya, thirty-three towns had to be handed over to France. These were defined in 1660, at the Conference of Ceret and at the definitive Treaty of Llívia, under which the new border between the territories of the two crowns was drawn and were the Philip IV’s representatives got to retain Llívia with the argument that it was a “village” and not a “town” –see the note about Llívia and the extract of the text.

In total, French crown won the territories of the County of Rosselló –that included the Vallespir, Conflent and Capcir- and half of the Cerdanya; Artois, Luxembourg and Flanders. The border with the Spanish crown was fixed following the Pyrenees only in part, except the “village” of Llívia. If the line of the Pyrenees had to be followed, by the Corberes, all the Northern Catalonia had not passed to France. In return, the French returned the Charolais and the conquests of Italy to Spain.

The Treaty previewed the marriage between Louis XIV of France and Maria Theresa of Austria, daughter to Philip IV of Castile. Maria Theresa had to renounce to her successor rights to the Spanish throne, in exchange for an economical compensation that had to form part of the dowry. This compensation was never paid and was one of the factors that concluded in the Spanish Succession War, 1702.

Consequences to Catalonia

Catalonia was a very important piece in the chequer of the international politics since the Reaper’s War. She has demonstrated largely her capacity to destabilize Spanish monarchy. Catalonia had the disgrace to be the hinge between the two great powers of the time.

The territories of the Northern Catalonia annexed to France with the Treaty (Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir, half Cerdanya and Capcir) have reminded under French dominie since then.

The Treaty included to preserve all Catalan institutions Northern from the Pyrenees, but this part was not respected by the French King Louis XIV –the simple-. A year later from the signature, Catalan institutions were dissolved –Generalitat, consulates, etc- despite the Treaty said to conserve them.

A Royal Decree, on April 2nd 1700, to be applied from May 1st of that year, prohibited the use of Catalan language in official acts of any kind. From then, French is still the only official language and the only one that is being used in the public education. Recently, France has modified her Constitution, including in the 2nd article “la langue de la République est le français”, the language of the Republic is French. This article is often used to negate grants or to refuse the presence of the Catalan language in the bureaucracy.

After the Treaty of the Pyrenees, there are the following years of war: 1667-68, 1673-78, 1680-84, 1689-97. In all those periods, the Treaty of the Pyrenees has no effect. The very Cerdanya passed from one hand to the other in numerous occasions. There, the Church border did not coincide with the real border until 1802. Thirty-three towns of French Cerdanya still belonged to the Bishop of Urgell.

The nearest weekend to November 7th has become, every year, the date chosen for Catalans to demonstrate in Perpinyà, in favour of Catalonia and the Catalan language.


“Having convened within the negotiation that began in Madrid in 1656, about the foundation of which is this Treaty, that the Pyrenees mountains, that commonly have always been held by division between the Spains and the Gauls, were from here and always the division of the same kingdoms too”.

Article 42:

“Has been convened and accorded that the Mr King Chr will remain possessing and will effectively enjoy all the County and vegueries of the Roussillon, and the County and vegueria of Conflent, and that to Mr Catholic King has to remain the County of Cerdanya and all the Principality of Cataloina […]; well understood that if there were places of such County of Conflent only, not Roussillon, that would be found to be within such mount Pyrenees, in the Spanish part, would remain to the Catholic Majesty; as well as if there are places and the vegueria of Cerdanya only, that would be within said mountains, will remain to Majesty chris”.


Èrika Serna i Coba, "Aproximació a l'estudi del Tractat dels Pirineus: les conferències de Figueres (1660-1666)", Annals de l'Institut d'Estudis Empordanesos, 21 (1988), 111-134.

Published in Catalan in www.radiocatalunya.ca.

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