‘The Heroine of Peralada‘, a painting by Antoni Caba (1864), represents the legend of Na Mercadera of Peralada during the Aragonese Crusade (1285). Is it really a legend or is the story true?
It is 1285 and the region of the Empordà with its cornfields and the Pyrenees as a background, is everything but idyllic. The life of a farmer’s family is hard, and because of its strategic position near France the area often is the scenery of tension and battles.
The mercenary and chronicler Ramon Muntaner, born at Peralada in the Alt Empordà, recorded his life and adventures as a commander of the Catalan Company. In one of the best known episodes he tells the story of a townswoman whom he personally knows: people call her Na Mercadera (the Merchant). He describes her as a strong, tall and resolute woman who does not let herself be bullied, not even by noblemen. She is determined to lead a normal life, what is more: she aims to make the most of the situation. This results in what Muntaner in his Chronicle calles a ‘marvellous fact’.
War and siege
In those days Catalonia was involved in a crusade against the Crown of Aragon instigated by the new Pope Martí IV after the House of Anjou had been thrown out of Sicily by its inhabitants with the help of Pere III of Aragon, the ‘Great’, against the Pope’s wishes. One of the many incidents during this conflict took place in Peralada, where king Pere had taken up his general quarters while the French enemy forces had besieged the town.
Of course this blockade makes daily life of the inhabitants nearly impossible. For example, they cannot safely work their plots that are situated in the outskirts of the town. But Na Mercadera is determined to give it a try. She dresses up like a man, and armed with a spear, a sword and a shield, she leaves the village to harvest the cabbages she needs.