Los Migueletes: Catalan Soldiers and the Negotiation of Identities and Power
in Eighteenth-Century Spain and New Spain

An M.A. thesis in Latin American & Iberian Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara (2010)

by Jeremy O. Simer

While much historical literature addresses the consolidation of Bourbon power in Catalonia in the eighteenth century, and the “Bourbon reforms” in New Spain (colonial Mexico), few studies consider the relationship between the two. This thesis seeks to explain how Catalonia went from being a vanquished state following the War of Spanish Succession (1700-1715), to the cradle of Spanish colonizers a few decades later, when many Catalan military officers and companies of “mountain fusiliers” joined campaigns to subdue and control many parts of New Spain.

Los Migueletes explores the intersecting formations of the state, the military, and ethnic identities in early modern Catalonia and New Spain, with a focus on the agency of Catalans in both spheres. Popular opposition to the military draft in Catalonia perennially forced the monarchy to amend or abandon its plans. Unable to completely disarm or destroy the Pyrenean bandit-mercenaries known as miquelets or “mountain fusiliers,” the state slowly incorporated them into its armed forces. They maintained their own leadership structures, language, tactics, and uniforms, even as they became increasingly incorporated into the regular army, giving rise to a Catalan military identity closely associated with the state. These discussions, based largely on secondary sources, form the first two chapters.

A third chapter analyzes a recruitment drive for the Royal Artillery, in the corregimiento of Girona during the spring and summer of 1762. Based on royal and municipal officials’ correspondence in the Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat de Girona, it shows that the this effort was carried out largely by Catalan officials at the local level, and that potential recruits and their fellow townspeople demonstrated varying degrees of compliance with and resistance to monarchy’s demand for “volunteers.”

A chapter on “The Catalan ‘Temperament’” considers heated debates in public and official spheres following the 1773 riots in Barcelona against a military draft known as a quinta. These debates included Castilian officials’ assertions that Catalans were inherently disloyal, and Catalans’ retorts that they wished to serve the crown, but voluntarily. The chapter draws from letters exchanged by city and royal officials, guilds, merchants, and from an anonymous ballad.

The fifth and final chapter follows the trajectory of the Compañía Franca de Voluntarios de Cataluña, or Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia, from its formation in Barcelona in 1767 to its assignments in New Spain, through the end of the century. It argues that the historical memory of inter-Iberian conflicts, and debates regarding Catalans’ character, continued throughout the company’s assignments. While military service fostered Catalans’ assimilation into a “Spanish” identity, at the same time it allowed the maintenance – and evolution – of one that was distinctly Catalan.