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Wilfred the Hairy: Medieval Count of Barcelona

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Wilfred the Hairy's statue in Plaza de Oriente, Madrid, Spain. It was created in the 1700's by Carmona.

Wilfred the Hairy's statue in Plaza de Oriente, Madrid, Spain. It was created in the 1700's by Carmona.

"...[h]e was hairy in places not normally so in men..."

— The Gesta Comitum Barcinonensium et Regnum Aragoniae

Guifré el Pilòs, Wilfred the Hairy

Catalonia's hero Guifré el Pilòs, Wilfred the Hairy (sometimes spelled Wifred), was born in 840 A.D. in Prades, which today lies in the L'Occatanie region of Southern France.

Legend has it that he was of the Gothic bloodline—the Visigoths founded France in 507A.D.—and that he was the son of Wilfred of Arriaount. When his father was murdered, Wilfred was said to have slain the killer to avenge his death.

Two French monks researched Wilfred's lineage and established that he was, in truth, the eldest son of Sunifred I, Count of Barcelona and several other counties. Sunifred's wife, Ermasende, was Wilfred's mother. This made Wilfred a member of the Bellonid Dynasty who were loyal to King Charles the Bald of West Francia. Charles was hirsute, and his sobriquet was ironic.

Charles was engaged in a civil war with his siblings about which of them was the rightful heir of King Louis the Pious, who died in 840.

Catalonia evolved from the time of Wilfred the Hairy's rule. This map shows the area between the 8th-12th centuries.

Catalonia evolved from the time of Wilfred the Hairy's rule. This map shows the area between the 8th-12th centuries.

Wilfred, Count of Toulouse and Empuries

When Wilfred's father Sunifred and uncle Sunyer died in suspicious circumstances in 848, Wilfred became ruler of a substantial amount of territory as the Count of Toulouse and Empuries.

Most of Sunifred's other counties were awarded to Solomon I, who became Count of Urgell, and to William of Septimania, who succeeded as Count of Barcelona.

In these violent times, succession was not automatically from father to son; the king decided it. Wilfred established hereditary heirs as a rule in the late 800s as the Carolingian monarchs of France lost their power over the counts they appointed.

In 870, King Charles II (still nicknamed "bald") made Wilfred the Count of Urgell and the Count of Cerdanya. In 1878 the counties of Barcelona, Besalu and Girona were added to his domains.

Catalonia in today's Spain.

Catalonia in today's Spain.

Wilfred the Hairy Creates Catalonia

Wilfred the Hairy established Catalonia with the unification of these counties and numerous others that he was awarded or subsumed into his counties. He was determined to populate areas between the counties that had been deserted in the years of civil war.

He persuaded the people residing in the heavily populated mountainous areas to relocate to his newly resurrected County of Ausona further south. This county shared a fragile border with the Muslim territories.

The flag of Catalonia is yellow with four red stripes, which according to legend, are symbolic of the four lines of battle-wounded Wilfred's blood that the French king drew onto a golden shield as he awarded it to his loyal knight during the power struggle between the Carolingians and Robertians.

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In 885, Wilfred appointed a viscount to rule over the county of Ausana in his name. Manresa was subjected to attention from King Odo of the Robertians but remained under Wilfred's rule.

Wilfred's Wife and Children

Wilfred the Hairy married Guinidilda, a granddaughter of King Charles the Bald. Their union produced ten children.

  • Emma
  • Wilfred II Borrel
  • Sunifred II
  • Sunyer
  • Miro II
  • Rodolpho
  • Riquilla
  • Ermesinde
  • Cixilona
  • Guindilda (this last child was suspected not to have been fathered by Wilfred)
King Charles the Bald of France, the Carolingian ruler who rewarded Wilfred the Hairy well for his loyalty on the battlefield.

King Charles the Bald of France, the Carolingian ruler who rewarded Wilfred the Hairy well for his loyalty on the battlefield.

Christianity Versus Islam

Wilfred and his brothers remained loyal to the Carolingians until 888. They elected not to take up arms for either side. France and its monarchs were increasingly less important to Wilfred.

Wilfred's land acquisitions and church building projects to spread Christianity had not gone unnoticed by the Muslims, who saw him as a credible threat. In 897, Moorish leader Isma'il ibn Musa ibn Qasawi fortified Lleida, which Wilfred duly and disastrously attacked. The Moors confidently marched towards Barcelona but did not win it.

A legend exists about Wilfried the Hairy slaying a dragon that the Moors had taken into his territories. It had been terrorising his people and animals around Barcelona. Was the ancient tale about St. George and the Dragon from five hundred years earlier rewritten to increase Wilfred's glory in his homeland?

Wilfred died in battle on 11th August 897. His extensive lands were split between his sons. His eldest and youngest sons ruled over Barcelona, Girona and Ausona. Cerdanya and Conflent fell under the rule of his son Miro (II), and Urgell was awarded to Sunifred (II).

Wilfred the Hairy depicted in a 15th century book Genealogia dels reis d'Aragó.

Wilfred the Hairy depicted in a 15th century book Genealogia dels reis d'Aragó.

King Ferdinand II of Aragon, Count of Barcelona

A time jump into the 15th century sees the Moors losing significant amounts of their lands. The union between King Ferdinand II of Aragon, Valencia, Sardinia, Majorca, Navarre, Naples and Sicily, Duke of Neopatria and Athens, Count of Barcelona and Isabella of Castille and Leon established joint rule over a vast swathe of Spain.

Ferdinand and Isabella are regarded as the first monarchs of Spain as we would recognise it today. Their youngest daughter Catherine of Aragon married the Tudor King Henry VIII in 1509, and before him, his elder brother Arthur, Prince of Wales, in 1501. She was the mother of Queen Mary I, who married King Philip II (Felipe) of Spain, who sent the Spanish Armada to torment Elizabeth I in 1588.

Modern Catalonia is fiercely independent. Learn more about that here: https://www.britannica.com/place/Catalonia

The flag of Catalonia.

The flag of Catalonia.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle

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