Historical background: Sardinia in the XIIth century.

At first a Phoenician colony, then a Roman one, invaded by the Vandals before being included to the Byzantine Empire in 534, Sardinia was invaded by the Saracens at the beginning of the VIIIth century. But, after seventy years of dominion, the Arabs were repelled by popular rebellions and could not set foot on the island again before 1015, led by Mujahid El Amiri. A short-termed conquest as, in 1017, the latter abandoned the island, threatened by the Pisan and Genoese fleets sent by Rome. The Ligurian and Tuscan cities' interfering rapidly became a protectorate, then domination. The conflicts of influence between Genoa and Pisa lasted for several centuries, in spite of the Popes' interventions, the Imperial interference and finally the Aragonese domination furthered by Rome at the end of the XIIIth century.

The power of the two Italian cities which shared the island was established on a novel local political organization, as early as the middle of the IXth century. The island was divided into four independent regions, called Judicates: Torres (or Logudoro), Gallura, Arborea and Cagliari, under the authority of kings called "judges", elected at the Sardinian parliament. Each judicate was divided into several administrative and jurisdictional districts called curatories, managed by curators appointed or simply confirmed by the judges. After the takeover by Genoa and Pisa, Arborea remained the only independent judicate.

The Sardinian political organisation, in the hands of the rival Italian cities, lasted until the arrival of the Aragonese, who replaced it with their own feudal system. It was in this unstable context that the Malaspinas, allied to the Genoese families, the Dorias among others, settled on the island, where they stayed for about a century and a half.

The Sardinian judicates


The Malaspinas and Sardinia in the XIIth and XIIIth centuries

It is still difficult to say exactly when the Malaspinas arrived in Sardinia. Indeed, it has not been possible to prove their joining the expeditions against the Saracens in the XIIth century and the consecutive sharing of the island between Pisa and the different Tuscan and Ligurian families in 1051. The chronicles of the XIVth century pointing those facts would in fact mirror their demands over the Aragonese.

The first documented contacts between the Malaspinas and the Sardinian judges actually date back to the second half of the XIIth century. They were related in particular to the negotiations between the City of Genoa, the Empire and Barisone, judge of Arborea, for the crowning of the latter as "King of Sardinia". It seems that Obizzo Il Grande was sent on the island by the Emperor Frederick I in 1164 to escort Barisone to Genoa. A few years later, Moroello, one of Obizzo's sons, supported Genoa against Pisa in the fight for the supremacy in Sardinia, maybe in the aim of joining the local political scene. In 1185, Moroello gave his daughter Adelasia to the marquess Guglielmo de Pallodi (Parodi), descendant of the House of the Massa-Corsicas, grand-son of Alberto "Corso", and who had taken over the Judicate of Cagliari.  Adelasia's brother, Guglielmo, eventually became an ally of his namesake brother-in-law, marquess of Massa, when the latter attacked the Judicate of Gallura in 1198. Guglielmo Malaspina was then put at the head of the Judicate and established as husband of ladonnikela Elena, heiress to the throne.

This union was part of a clever politico-matrimonial strategy: by gaining the rights over the Judicate of Gallura, the Malaspinas were laying the foundations of a Tyrrhenian domination over Eastern Liguria, Corsica and Sardinia. Yet, on Innocent III's request, the marquess of Malaspina had Guglielmo Malaspina de la Gallura withdrawn in 1203, and the matrimonial pacts with Elena were cancelled, putting an end to the expansionist plans. Adelasia, who had two daughters with Guglielmo, Agnese and Benedetta, died around 1206.

Yet Guglielmo Malaspina went on moving around the court of Cagliari: in June 1214, he attended a donation act by Bendetta and Barisone, judges of Cagliari, to the Ligurian monastery of S. Venerio del Tino. A few years later, in 1220, the seriously-ill marquess decided to leave the island and he died in Genoa a short time afterwards.

Guglielmo de Massa, main political ally in Sardinia, died in 1214. Yet the wedding of Agnese (daughter of Guglielmo and Adelasia) with the judge of Torres, Mariano II, celebrated around 1200, allowed the Malaspinas to set foot in this Judicate. Mariano II gave his legitimate daughter her grandmother's name, Adelasia. Moreover, Corrado Malaspina, bastard of Federico Malaspina de Villafranca, got married to a bastard of Mariano II's, Urica. But Corrado died without any legitimate heir.

No literature remains about the Malaspinas' role and occupation in the Judicate of Torres during the years following Mariano II's death. Further to the latter, followed by Barisone III's short reign, it was Adelasia, daughter of Mariano II, descendant of the Malaspinas and the marquesses of Massa through her mother, who governed, first with Ubaldo Visconti, then with Enzo of Sweden.

After Adelasia's death in 1259, the Judicate of Torres disintegrated progressively. The Judicate of Cagliari met the same fate. According to a chronicle dating back to the end of the XIIIth century, the marquesses “Malispini” would have joined the attack led by the Viscontis, Caprajas and Donoraticos against the judge of Cagliari, in exchange of a few lands in Logudoro (Judicate of Torres) granted by Pisa. Fact which remains uncertain, as no Malaspina is quoted on the judge's official surrender act. Yet the Pisan supremacy over a large portion of Sardinia in the middle of the XIIth century must have led the Malaspinas to become vassals of the Tuscan city. One can imagine that the Malaspinas became vassals of Pisa for some properties gained through Corrado's wedding with Urica, or that they got new lands for the benefit of Pisa in exchange of their help against the judge of Cagliari.

Before 1266, Corrado, who had no male heir, had divided the Sardinian patrimony into three parts, keeping one for himself and allocating the other two to his uncles Manfredi and Moroello. In 1266, the ones entitled to the Sardinian estates were Manfredi, Moroello and Alberto (Corrado l'Antico's son) and Corrado, Opizzino e Tommaso of the Villafranca branch. Even if few literature on the matter remains available, one can presume that the Malaspinas' power was well established, as, in 1268, Manfredi and Moroello took the liberty of sending a delegation to Clement IV in order to ask him for the pontifical vicary in Sardinia. Yet the Pope refused, declaring that he did not own Sardinia “in pace”.

Over this period, the Malaspinas got closer to Genoa. For proof the setting-up of matrimonial links with the Fieschis, Spinolas and Dorias. The alliance with Genoa became obvious when Moroello got involved in the fight against Pisa. Despite their victory by the side of Genoa, the Malaspinas still had to confront Pisa and their ally, the judge of Arborea. In 1297, a Malaspina probably joined an expedition against the judge of Arborea, led by Nino Visconti.

At the turn of the XIVth century, the Malaspinas' possessions on the island were in the hands of Moroello the young of Giovagallo, Franceschino of Mulazzo and Tommaso and Opizzino of Villafranca. In 1296, in spite of the division and the ramification of the family, Moroello, Franceschino and Opizzo made donation to the survivor of their continental and insular belongings.

Even if we have proof of the lordship of the Malaspinas over some parts of Sardinia during that period, the exact limits of their territories remain uncertain, except for some estates at Sassari, the temporary acquisition of Castelgenovese, Casteldoria and the curatory (administrative subdivision of a judicate) of Anglona. The owning of Bosa and Osilo, Urica's dowry, can be traced back to 1031. And one has to add the joined curatories of Planargia and Montes.

During those first years of the XIVth century, there was an acceleration of the conquest of territories, probably due to the impending arrival of King James II of Aragon: Pope Boniface VIII had donated him Sardinia in 1297, and he was expected to formally grant the new territories. This situation may have been the reason for a conflict against the city of Sassari, ruled by a Genoese podestà, which controlled a large area between the Dorias' and the Malaspinas' estates, both of them willing to expand their influence. Defeated at first, the Sassaresis managed to regain control of the territory, with the exceptions of castles which stayed in their enemies' hands. They eventually asked for Genoa's assistance. As for the Malaspinas, they dealt with James II of Aragon, who considered Bosa, its castle and its harbour, as well as Osilo, as strategic points for the overtaking of the island.The Malaspina marquesses were finally helped by the Aragonese in exchange of the signing of a vassalage contract. Thanks to the financial contributions of Lucca and Florence and to the Aragonese help, Corradin (Corrado) Malaspina organised an army of about a hundred horsemen and two hundred infantrymen.

Tower of Osilo Castle


The Malaspinas in Aragonese Sardinia

In 1309, to thank them for their help against the Pisans, James II acknowledged Moroello, Corradino and Franceschino as his vassals, and granted them the baronies (curatories) of Osilo, Castelgenovese, Casteldoria and Montevetro, guaranteeing them all criminal and civil jurisdiction, according to the Barcelonian law. Yet, the most important vassal of the island remained Ugone II, judge of Arborea, though in exchange of a 3000-gold-florin-rent. It seems that the Malaspinas, contrarily to the other vassals, owed no rent or military duties.

King James II of Aragon


In 1317, the marquesses gave up the city of Bosa to the judge of Arborea, possibly after James II and judge Mariano moved closer and set up a front on the island against the Tuscan city. A dealing which would have also been based on the need to assure a Malaspinian power, weakened by the deaths of Moroello, Corradino and Franceschino and the youth of their heirs, who were still under age. Literature shows the eventual increase of power of the Villafranca branch through the persons of Federico, Azzone and Giovanni: when, in 1323, the Infante Alfonso started the campaign for the conquest of the “Kingdom of Sardinia and Corsica”, as the pontifical institutions called it, Azzone was the one to swear his oath during the siege of Villa di Chiesa.

Malaspina-owned Castle of Bosa

In spite of the formal agreements, the relations between the Malaspinas and the ones entitled to the Kingdom of Sardinia and Corsica became rapidly conflicting. Maybe because the Catalano-Aragonese did not comply with their allies' jurisdictional prerogatives, the marquesses joined the anti-Aragonese rebellions in northern Sardinia, together with the city of Sassari, yesterday's enemy.The question of Bosa, which the Malaspinas never got back, must have played a major role in this opposition movement. In 1324, Federico Malaspina was arrested by Governor Berenguer Carròs and imprisoned at Sassari jail, from where he escaped to take refuge at Osilo Castle. As the Aragonese besieged the castle for a long time, the marquesses sought the help of their former Pisan enemy. As for the Infante Alfonso, he hurried to grant his faithful vassals portions of territories belonging to the Malaspinas and to the city of Sassari in order to weaken his antagonists.

The Aragonese wearing out strategy seemed to be efficient, as the marquesses and the inhabitants of Sassari finally surrendered to the King of Aragon, through the judge of Arborea. On June 28th, 1326, a peace treaty was signed at Bonaria Castle, near Cagliari.
On that occasion, Federico, one of the four representatives of Sassari, was entrusted all powers by his brothers to put an end to the conflicts regarding their rights over Bosa and the curatories of Planargia and Costavalle. According to the treaty, the Malaspinas had to give up Osilo Castle to the Aragonese. In exchange, all donations and allocations of territories previously granted to the Spanish vassals were cancelled. Back in most of their fiefs, the Malaspinas also demanded to be granted twenty horsemen for three months every year.

In order to seal the treaty for good, Azzone was summoned by the Infante Alfonso to repeat his oath. On August 12th, 1326 at Fraga, the Infante received Azzone's homage. Even if Osilo Castle was eventually given back to the marquesses as perpetual fief, it was at first granted to a Catalan government officer, Guerau de Alos, for an unspecified period, according to the pleasure of the Prince. Yet the Malaspinas got the curatories of Montes and Figulinas, as well as Coros and the harbours of Frigianu and Santa Filitica.

On the point of going back to Sardinia to settle his matters, Azzone finally decided to go to Italy first. Suspected of failing in his duties, the king demanded he be imprisoned in Sardinia until he kept his promise and gave Osilo Castle back. He was eventually released and the agreements were  respected on the whole.

A tower of Coros


But King James II's death on November 2nd, 1327 and the necessity to confirm the vassal contract led to demands concerning the return of Osilo and Bosa Castles, though the latter had been indefinitely granted to the judge Arborea by Alfonso. The unsatisfied demands by the Malaspinas contributed to the strengthening of the anti-Aragonese movements: while supporting a new rebellion at Sassari, the Malaspinas engaged in guerilla and robbery, together with the Dorias. The situation worsened progressively and, in 1332, looking for external assistance and the spreading of the conflict, the marquesses paid their homage to the Emperor Louis IV of  Bavaria and to Antipope Nicholas V. Counting on the one hand on the German disappointment over the loss of Sardinia a few decades earlier and, on the other hand, on the divisions of papacy, former sovereign authority on the island, this strategy did not really lead to the expected results but played a part in the worsening of the situation on the island.

A few years later, a division appeared among the Malaspinas during the renewal of the vassal contract with the new king of Aragon Peter IV on June 8th, 1336 at Lerida, for which they sent the solicitor Guantino di Alessandria. At that time, Azzone, Federico and Giovanni decided indeed to split the family estates in order to simplify the diplomatic relations with the kings of Aragon. According to an act signed on March 21st, 1339, Giovanni became the only owner of the Sardinian belongings, his two brothers keeping the peninsular fiefs. This sharing did not meet the agreement of the members of the Mulazzo and Giovagallo branches, who had claimed their shares for a long time. Through his General Governor Guillen de Cervellón, the king of Aragon received Giovanni's oath for Osilo Castle and the surrounding villages, the curatories of Montes, Figulinas and Coros, as well as Bosa. He also legitimated Antonio, Giovanni's bastard, as heir to the paternal belongings.


The end of the Malaspinian presence

But the marquess of Villafranca was not a lord of Sardinia for a long time: Giovanni died in 1342-1343. His son Antonio being absent, he bequeathed the Sardinian possessions to King Peter IV. Azzone and Federico gathered troops in Italy with the intention of claiming their share on their brother's legacy. They eventually landed in Sardinia with the help of the Dorias and, after a fierce battle, managed to get back some lands and reconquer Osilo Castle. The Aragonese court decided to counter them through propaganda, trying to prove the illegitimacy of the possessions of the Malaspina and Doria Houses on the island. Apparently, the two families answered back through counter-propaganda in order to confirm the ancientness and the legitimacy of their settlement on the island, which they dated back as far as the eviction of the Saracens in the XIth century. The conflict quickly worsened. Supporting the Dorias, the Malaspinas besieged Sassari. The governor retaliated by sending many troops. The fights caused numerous casualties on both sides. The Aragonese, severely hit, were supported by Pisa and their allies, while the Malaspinas and the Dorias were backed by Genoese reinforcements. Considering the size of the conflict, Clement VI interceded to impose a truce between the belligerents, peace rapidly broken by the Genoese. In spite of a new intervention by his successor Innocent VI, the war spread and reached beyond the island boundaries: apparently, Genoese ships, transporting diplomats come to negotiate with the king of Aragon, attacked the Catalan coasts.

King Peter IV of Aragon


The conflict went on until the end of 1349, when a compromise was endeavoured: in exchange of Osilo and Montes, the Malaspinas would be granted the curatories of Figulinas and Coros as fiefs. In order to seal the agreement for a long time, the king of Aragon used a matrimonial strategy, demanding that a Malaspina accept to marry a lady from the royal House of Aragon. The agreement was signed by Federico Malaspina and Peter IV at Lerida in 1352. The peace was nevertheless rendered impossible by the judge of Arborea's rebellion against the king of Aragon. At first cautiously neutral, the Malaspinas, seeing an opportunity to reconquer their belongings dwindled through the different treaties, would have finally joined Judge Mariano IV. When, as a sign of rupture, the Malaspinas refused to join the first Aragonese parliament (cortès) of Sardinia in 1355, an anti-Malaspina decree was published, aiming at the confiscation of Figulinas and Coros.

In July of that same year, the return of peace between the Arboreas and the Aragonese brought the Malaspinas to resume the negotiations. An umpteenth treaty giving them back Figulinas and Coros eventually diminished the marquesses' influence over Sardinia. Unfortunately for the Malaspinas, the re-opening of hostilities between  Arborea and the Aragonese cancelled the freshly signed agreements. Few documents are available from the following period, until 1365 and the deaths of Federico and Azzone, after forty years of fierce battle for the family belongings. Indefinitely giving up the claims over their Sardinian possessions, the House withdrew to the peninsula, where their territories were threatened by Milan and Florence.