Interview by Alex Calvo
As Catalonia moves to recover her freedom, violently lost in 1714, she is also working hard to recover her military traditions and values.
Liberty and responsibility are but two sides of the same coin, one cannot exist without the other, and any nation seeking to rejoin the international community as a free and equal member must be ready to do her duty when it comes to contributing to peace and security. One of the aspects of Catalonia’s normalization is the return of the Coronela, her capital’s militia, currently in the shape of a military re-enactment group, with the support of Barcelona City Council.
The “Coronela”: Barcelona City’s Militia. Historically, Barcelona’s city militia was made up of reservists, civilians with military training ready to serve when needed to defend the city. Staffing of the militia was in the hands of the city’s guilds, while responsibility for equipment was shared with the Crown. Each guild provided the personnel for one company, approximately 70 soldiers (average for the period 1706-1713). Other Catalan towns had similar units.
The Coronela expanded during the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), in which it played a key role in the defence of Barcelona. It was restructured into six battalions in mid 1713, with a total of between 5,000 and 6,000 officers, soldiers, and other ranks. It is difficult to say exactly how many members of the Coronela lost their lives in that war, since a sizeable number were transferred to other units and the sources do not always agree, but on 11 September 1714 only 3,200 members of the Coronela were fit for combat, which gives an idea of the scale of the casualties suffered.
One of the key aspects of military re-enactment is the provision of accurate, historically faithful uniforms. The following is a brief interview with Maria Victòria Verderes I Blach, who serves as tailor for the Coronela.
What is the main difficulty involved in tailoring historical uniforms?
The main one is being faithful to their design and function. The reason is that the uniforms were not just designed to cover one’s body, but had other functions. Many served to protect weapons, for example.
Another problem is the difficulty in finding certain items. For example, it is hard nowadays to find stripes of a colour resembling copper, or rusty metal, which were in widespread use at the time. In order to get this hue, we dye materials with copper-colour shoe cream. We also try to make the work of our now-excellent sewing machines inconspicuous. Instead, we hand-sew as much as we can. Whenever possible, we follow patterns we are lucky enough to find, half lost and half buried, in Italian museums and elsewhere, translating their contents to understandable terminology.
Are you happy about your work with La Coronela?
I have spent only a short time with this institution, but I am very proud of being able to contribute with my work, helping a group of people passionate about history, informing the public of deeds that, until now, were long buried and forgotten. Above all, we are motivated by patriotism, a duty towards our country, a country so many times treated unjustly. La Coronela’s goal is to eventually reach 3,000 members, the same number the city guilds used to bring together, united by the same wish: to fight to defend our liberties!
Are you sensing a growing interest in Catalonia’s military heritage, uniforms included?
I can feel a growing interest in our historical heritage, indeed, and not just our military heritage. Interest is growing more widely in all our traditions, be they dances, cuisine, customs, festivals… However, what the Coronela wants to avoid is to be considered part of Catalan folklore, since we are trying to make it what it used to be: a disciplined organization, with military ranks and rules. We want the Coronela to become, in the future, the city’s honorary guard. This would amount to paying homage, 300 years later, to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice defending Catalonia from the overwhelming attack by totalitarian forces.
Note: the figures concerning the Coronela’s order of battle are taken from F. Riart, F. X. Hernandez, and X. Rubio, La Coronela de Barcelona (1705-1714), (Barcelona: Rafael Dalmau Editor, 2010), pp. 70-74
Alex Calvo is an expert in Asian security and defence