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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Olivares expressed what was at least a desirable ideal


Bad care of cities.]

Cities were badly cared for. Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville were alone in being paved. Uncleanly human practices, despite efforts to check them, led to the accumulation of filth and odors in the streets, and this condition was not remedied, although there were officials charged with the duty of street-cleaning. No city had a lighting system worthy of the name; in Madrid the only street lights were the faintly glimmering candles or lamps which were placed before sacred images. All Europe exhibited the same social defects as those which have just been detailed, but Spain seemed reduced more than other countries to a state of poverty and misery, displaying every manifestation of mortal decay.



[Sidenote: The establishment of absolutism.]

Two outstanding features marked the history of Spanish political institutions in the era of the House of Hapsburg, or Austria: the absolutism of the kings; and the development of a modern bureaucratic machinery. The Hapsburgs did not introduce absolutism into Spain, but, rather, succeeded to a system which the efforts of their predecessors, especially the Catholic Kings, had made possible. Nevertheless, it was in this period that the kings, aided by greater resources than

former Spanish monarchs had possessed, by the prestige of ruling the most extensive and powerful dominions in the world, and by the predominantly royalist ideas of the age, including the theory of divine right, were able for the first time to direct the affairs of state much as they chose. To be sure, they were still supposed to respect the laws and to rule for the good of their subjects, but in practice it was left to them to interpret their own conduct. Instances have already been given of Charles I's infringements of the law,--for example, in his employment of Flemish favorites. He also introduced a system of personal rule, making himself the head and centre of all governmental action. It was Philip II, however, who carried the ideal of personal rule to the greatest extreme. Suspicion and direct intervention in state affairs were the basic principles of his government, wherefore he gave no man his full confidence, but tried to do as much as he could himself. If the methods of Philip II, the most bureaucratic king in history, often had unfortunate results,--for example, in the case of preparing the famous Armada,--those of his successors were far more disastrous. Under Philip III and Philip IV the royal authority was granted to favorites, while the power of Charles II had necessarily to be exercised most of the time by some other than the feeble-minded king himself. Thus these reigns were a period of continual intriguing by different factions for the king's confidence, in order that the victors might rule Spain for their own enrichment.

[Sidenote: Tendencies toward centralization.]

At first sight it would seem that the kings were not successful in their policy of centralization. It was hardly to be expected that the dominions outside the peninsula could be brought under the same system of law and custom as governed in Castile, and the case was much the same as regards Portugal when that kingdom was added to the monarchy. With respect to the rest of the peninsula, however, Olivares expressed what was at least a desirable ideal, when he wished to bring about an amalgamation on the Castilian pattern, both in law and in common sentiment, of the dominions of the crown. Some changes were in fact made which tended to promote legal unification, but in essentials the ancient customs of Navarre, Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, and the Basque provinces were left undisturbed. It is possible that the merger might have been attempted with safety at almost any time before 1640, when Olivares tried it,--quite probably so in the sixteenth century. That it was not undertaken may have been due to the attention given to foreign wars, but in any event the autonomy of the non-Castilian kingdoms of the monarchy was more apparent than real. The nobility and many of the people were intensely royalist, and even when they were not so in principle they supported the kings because, like them, they were profoundly Catholic. Furthermore, the organization representing the old r?gime had declined internally to such an extent that it was a mere shadow of its former self. Centralization had in fact been going on without process of law, and for that very reason it was easy in the next period to make it legally effective.

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