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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

The general assembly of Vizcaya


The social and political system in Vizcaya.]

Until its consolidation with the Castilian crown by inheritance in 1370, Vizcaya was a _behetr?a de linaje_ (free town within a family), electing its lord from a determinate family, but both before and after that date there was a marked lack of regional solidarity, for various groups were to a great degree autonomous. There were two principal types of jurisdiction: the seigniorial estates, with the usual incidents found elsewhere; and the indigenous Basque settlements, which pretended to the nobility of their inhabitants, even to the point of refusing to permit foreigners to dwell among them unless they too were of noble rank. The indigenous element was to be found in rural districts, and was ruled by customs, which were written down for the first time in 1452. The patriarchal form of family life continued to exist here, as evidenced by the requirement that lands should return to the family from which they proceeded in case of a failure of direct heirs, and by the right to leave virtually one's entire estate to a single descendant. Custom recognized a right of way over the lands of others, even when enclosed,--which would seem to indicate backwardness in the development of means of communication. In government the king was represented principally by a _corregidor_. The inhabitants of Vizcaya were exempt from any taxes of Castilian origin, but paid certain other contributions to the king, were subject

to both military and naval service, and acknowledged the right of high justice in the royal officials. The general assembly of Vizcaya, like that of ?lava, had a right to inspect royal decrees.

[Sidenote: The social and political system in Guip?zcoa.]

The people of Guip?zcoa claimed to be of noble rank, and this status was legally recognized for most of them by laws enacted before, during, and after this period. Nevertheless the customs of the land itself amounted to a denial of their claim, and the familiar social differences existed, even though the majority of the people were legally nobles. There was a seigniorial class of the usual variety, with dependents in a more or less servile relation. A middle class nobility existed, composed of small proprietors or the industrial laborers and merchants of the towns. This element was very insistent on its noble rank (which indeed carried with it special privileges, such as the exclusive right to hold public office and certain exemptions from taxation), and enacted laws excluding those who were not of noble blood from a right to live in the towns. These laws were not enforced, however, and a popular class grew up, composed of Guipuzcoans whose noble rank was not recognized and of foreigners, many of whom settled in the land. Politically Guip?zcoa was a _behetr?a_ subject alternately to the kings of Navarre and Castile, until in 1200 the overlordship became fixed in the Castilian crown. At first the king was represented by an _adelantado_, who was customarily ruler at the same time of ?lava or of the county of Castile; later a _corregidor_ for Guip?zcoa alone was named, while there were a number of royal _merinos_ as well. There was no other organization for the entire province until the fourteenth century, but each region dealt separately with the royal government. Gradually, through the formation of groups of settlements, a general league and at length a general assembly developed, with much the same powers as the assemblies of ?lava and Vizcaya. The municipalities continued to be the principal centre of regional autonomy, however, especially the more important towns, which protected the lesser settlements through an institution similar to the Catalonian _carreratge_. Like the other Basque provinces Guip?zcoa enjoyed a number of privileges, of which the most prized was the exemption from general taxation, although certain specified tributes were regularly collected. More than once the province rose in arms to resist the imposition of taxes of Castilian origin.

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