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Ermessenda of Carcassonne

Title social-status: 
Countess of Barcelona
Biography: 

Ermessenda/Ermessinde of Carcassonne was the daughter of Roger I and Adelaide, count and countess of Carcassonne.  Her brother, Pere, became bishop of Girona. The family was an old comital family, the house of Carcas-Razès, descended from one of Charlemagne’s counts, which achieved new prominence under Roger and Adelaide.  They extended their authority to Razès and Foix, and wielded some influence over Narbonne.  By marrying their daughter Ermessenda to the heir to the county of Barcelona, Ramon Borrell, they were able to exert some influence over Catalonia as well.  Roger could refer to himself as count and marquis in a charter of 984 (see Lewis 342).  Ermessenda married Ramon/Raymond Borrell in 993.  During his lifetime, she was politically active and presided over [judicial] assemblies and tribunals with him or alone; Humphrey 20, lists various such court sessions.  She acted with him in donations, sales, and exchanges of properties, signed and witnessed documents and received homage.Together they supported trade with their Muslim neighbors, although they sometimes fought them, and restored churches and monasteries destroyed by Muslim attacks; Humphrey, 23, cites a will that names Ermessenda as one of the leaders against Muslims in a conflict during 1013.  They revitalized the judicial system by making justice available in their court, intervening in disputes between churchmen and local lords; Lewis, 379-80, says they began a new era for the house of Barcelona.  They asserted some control over castles belonging to marcher lords who had previously ignored comital rights over such fortresses. 

 After Ramon died in 1017/18, Ermessenda continued to act forcefully and seems to have owned castles in her own right and received the homage of their castellans (Lewis, 391-92).  She acted as regent for her son Berenguer Ramon I until his majority in 1023, but even then she continued to wield power.  Her husband’s will left her considerable authority that might have gone to the son, with grants of land and privileges in Barcelona, Osona, Manresa/Minorisa, and Girona, much of it part of her dower.  By Visigothic law, women could manage, donate, or sell their property (Humphrey, citing Bonassie, 130).  Berenguer had to make some agreements with other lords contingent on his getting possessions from his mother, e.g.  LFM #157 (dated 1018-26), “When said Berenguer will have the county of Girona solid from the power of countess Ermessenda, he will give said Ermengaud …” (Et quando habuerit predictus Berengarius Gerundensem comitatum solidum de potestate Ermessindis comitisse, det Berengarius ad Ermengaudum …).  There were conflicts between mother and son; a pledge and oath was recorded by Ermessenda to Berenguer Ramon to end their conflict of 1020-22 (LFM #223).  She had powerful associates and supporters, among them her brother Pere, bishop of Girona, Oliba, bishop of Vic, and the judge Pons Bonfill Marc.  When Berenguer died in 1035, Ermessenda became regent for her grandson, Ramon Berenguer,  until his majority in 1041/1044.  He challenged her authority in 1041, allying himself with rebelling Catalan nobles, and forced her to turn over towers and castles in Girona and swear fidelity to him; they were reconciled in 1043.  But after his [third] marriage with Almodis of La Marche, in 1053, Ermessenda urged the pope to excommunicate them and gathered a coalition to rebel against them.  Ramon and Almodis eventually prevailed, Ramon bought his grandmother’s remaining counties and bishoprics in Girona, Barcelona, and Osona (see LFM #214, June 4, 1057), and she swore fidelity to him.  Then she retired to the castle of Besora where she died nine months later (Kosto, 162).

 Bowman emphasizes Ermessenda’s interest in and use of Visigothic law (“one of the countess’s particular strengths,” 206)  in the disputes she presided over.  In 1036, when Abbot Guitard asked the countess to adjudicate a dispute between the monastery of Sant Cugat and a layman named Dagobert, the countess evaluated his claims, accompanied by her nobles, but without the usual team of judges; she herself assessed the proofs, rejected the document Dagobert offered as false, and awarded possession of the property to the monastery (107).  Kosto mention an assembly held before her in 1020, in which Sant Cugat claimed its rights in an alod, 49.  In an earlier case, just after the death of her husband, she was party to a dispute with a nobleman over an alod which she claimed belonged to her son by an earlier sale; she wanted the dispute to be submitted to a judicial assembly, but her opponent (Count Hug of Empúries)  proposed trial by combat, a suggestion she rejected because it would be contrary to Visigothic law.  When Hug took the property by force, she initiated a standard legal proceeding with a complaint against him, and a court of three judges accepted the testimony of her witnesses and found for her (Kosto, 51, Bowman, 107, 201).  Bowman notes that Ermessenda “most likely learned how to administer justice and how to use the law from her mother, Countess Adelaide” (108): in 1002, in a dispute between the monks of the monastery of Saint-Hilaire and the city’s viscount, Adelaide, in consultation with other members of the court, ruled in favor of the monastery, citing a rule from the Visigothic Code to support her decision.  Ermessenda has also been credited with starting or substantially building up the official comital archives, having a scribe attached directly to the count or countess to make a separate record of any cartularies for a comital collection, that is to keep copies of the documents that went to receivers of donations (Humphrey, 29).  Humphrey also credits Ermessenda’s “astute assembling of some of the most able men in her counties, and the utilization of their considerable talents, that allowed the countess to augment and sustain her power thruout a long and often tumultuous reign” (15).

 Over a century after her death, King Alphonse of Aragon, to prove that certain castra were his, cited a document in which Ermessenda bound the castra of Luzano and Merles to her son Berenguer with many others which are now the king’s; and he showed an oath which count Guifred had made to said countess Ermessenda for the castrum of Luzano and many others:  “Adhuc alio modo probabat dominus rex sua fore castra.  Exhibuit enim quoddam instrumentum, in quo Ermesendis, venerabilis comitissa Barchinonensis, obligaverat filio suo Berengario castra de Luzano et de Merles cum multis aliis castris, que omnia usque in hodiernum diem sunt domini regis.  Preterea, exhibuit quoddam aliud sacramentale quod Guifred comes fecit comitisse Ermesendi dicte super castro de Luzano et aliis multis.”  See LFM 1.235, #225, dated October 25, 1180.

Sources:  

Bowman, Jeffrey A., Shifting Landmarks, Property, Proof and Dispute in Catalonia around the year 1000  (Cornell, 2004) .

Humphrey, Patricia, “Ermessenda of Barcelona: the Status of Her Authority,”  Queens, Regents and Potentates, ed. Theresa M. Vann (Academia, 1993), 15-35.

Kosto, Adam J., Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia (Cambridge, 2001).

Lewis, Archibald R., The Development of Southern French and Catalan Society (University of Texas, 1965).

Documents in Liber Feudorum Maior.