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Roussillon (Catalan Rosselló) is one of the historical Catalan Countries corresponding roughly to the present-day southern French département of Pyrénées-Orientales (Eastern Pyrenees). It is also called French Catalonia, but only a minority (40%) of its inhabitants now speak Catalan and only 60% understand the language.
The former province derived its name from a small fortified place near Perpignan called Ruscino (Rosceliona, Castel Rossello), where the chieftains of Gaul met to consider Hannibal's request for a conference. The district formed part of the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis from 121 BC to 462 AD, when it was ceded with the rest of Septimania to the Visigoth Theodoric II. His successor, Amalaric, on his defeat by Clovis in 531 retired to Spain, leaving a governor in Septimania. In 719 the Saracens crossed the Pyrenees, and Septimania was held by them until their defeat by Pippin in 756. On the invasion of Spain by Charlemagne in 778 he found the borderlands wasted by the Saracenic wars, and the inhabitants hiding among the mountains. He accordingly made grants of land to Visigothic refugees from Spain, and founded several monasteries, round which the people gathered for protection. In 792 the Saracens again invaded France, but were repulsed by Louis, king of Aquitaine, whose rule extended over all Catalonia as far as Barcelona. The different portions of his kingdom in time grew into allodial fiefs, and in 893 Suniaire II. became the first hereditary count of Roussillon. But his rule only extended over the eastern part of what became the later province. The western part, the Cerdagne, was ruled in 900 by Miron as first count, and one of his grandsons, Bernard, was the first hereditary count of the middle portion, or Bsalu.
In 1111 Raymond Berenger III, Count of Barcelona, inherited the fief of Besalú, to which was added in 1117 that of Cerdagne; and in 1172 his grandson, Alfonso II of Aragon, united Roussillon to his other territories on the death of the last count, Gerard II. The counts of Roussillon, Cerdagne and Bsalu were not sufficiently powerful to indulge in any wars of ambition. Their energies had been devoted to furthering the welfare of their people. Under the Aragonese monarchs the progress of the united province still continued, and Collioure, the port of Perpignan, became a centre of Mediterranean trade.
But the country was destined to pay the penalty of its position on the frontiers of France and Spain in the long struggle for ascendancy between these two powers. By the treaty of Corbeil (1258) Louis IX of France surrendered the sovereignty of Roussillon and the ancient countship of Barcelona to Aragon, and from that time until the 17th century the province ceased to belong to France. James I of Aragon had wrested the Balearic Isles from the Moors and left them with Roussillon to his son James (1276), with the title of king of Majorca. The consequent disputes of this monarch with his brother Pedro III. of Aragon were not lost sight of by Philip Ill, of France in his quarrel with the latter about the crown of the Two Sicilies. Philip espoused Jamess cause and led his army into Spain, but retreating died at Perpignan in 1285. James then became reconciled to his brother, and in 1311 was succeeded by his son Sancho, who founded the cathedral of Perpignan shortly before his death in 1324. His successor James II. refused to do homage to Philip VI. of France for the seigniory of Montpellier, and applied to Pedro IV of Aragon for aid. Pedro not only refused it, but on various pretexts declared war against him, and seized Majorca and Roussillon in 1344. The province was now again united to Aragon, and enjoyed peace until 1462. In this year the disputes between John II. and his son about the crown of Navarre gave Louis XI. of France an excuse to support John against his subjects, who had risen in revolt. Louis turned traitor, and the province having been pawned to him for 300,000 crowns, was occupied by the French troops until 1493, when Charles VIII. restored it to Ferdinand and Isabella. During the war between France and Spain (1496-98) the people suffered equally from the Spanish garrisons and the French invaders. But dislike of the Spaniards was soon effaced in the pride of sharing in the glory of Charles V., and in 1542, when Perpignan was besieged by the dauphin, the Roussillonnais remained true to their allegiance. Afterwards the decay of Spain was Frances opportunity, and on the revolt of the Catalans against the Castilians in 1641, Louis XIII. espoused the cause of the former, and the treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 secured Roussillon to the French crown.
One of the counties ruled by the count of Barcelona since 872, Roussillon (along with the rest of Catalonia), it entered the kingdom of Aragon from 1137, when the Count of Barcelona became the King of Aragón. From 1276 until 1344 Roussillon's principal city Perpignan was the capital of the kingdom of Majorca. Part of the kingdom of Spain from 1479, Roussillon was occupied by France in 1642 and ceded by Spain in the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659).
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