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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Sidenote Submissiveness of the Castilian Cortes


[Sidenote:

Submissiveness of the Castilian _Cortes_.]

[Sidenote: Comparative independence of the other _Cortes_.]

Nowhere was the absolutism of the kings more manifest than in their dealings with the Castilian _Cortes_. The principal functions of this body had always been to grant or withhold subsidies and to make petitions, which the kings might, or might not, enact into law. In this period the deputies were so submissive that they never failed to grant the required subsidy, despite the exhaustion of the country, while their petitions received scant attention. Under the circumstances, since the grant of a subsidy by the representatives of the towns was now the only reason for calling a _Cortes_, the nobles and the clergy were not always summoned. Charles I encountered some resistance of the _Cortes_ in the early part of his reign, but in later years the kings experienced no serious difficulty. The deputies themselves lost interest, and not infrequently sold their privilege of attendance to some individual who might even be a non-resident of the town he was to represent. The kings procured the right to appoint many of the deputies, or else issued orders to the towns, directing them how to instruct their delegates, and also gave pensions to the deputies, thus insuring the expression of their own will in the meetings of the _Cortes_. It is not strange that the _Cortes_ was called frequently,--forty-four times down to 1665.

In 1665 the function of granting subsidies was given directly to the towns,--with the result that no _Cortes_ was held in the entire reign of Charles II. The various other _Cortes_ of the peninsula were more fortunate than that of Castile. Those of the kingdom of Aragon (Aragon proper, Catalonia, and Valencia) had always participated more than that of Castile in legislation, and had been more prone to voice their grievances. The calling of a _Cortes_ in these regions involved difficulties, especially in Valencia, where the king was obliged to be present, in order to constitute a legal meeting. The need for funds was such, however, that a number of _Cortes_ were summoned,--seventeen in Aragon, thirteen in Catalonia, fourteen in Valencia, and seventy-three in Navarre,--but the kings did not obtain a great deal from them. Often the delegates refused to make a grant, or else gave so little that it hardly covered the expenses of the king's journey to the place of meeting. No effort was made to join these bodies with that of Castile to form a national _Cortes_; the force of particularism was as yet too strong to attempt it.

[Sidenote: Subservience of the towns to the royal will.]

Just as in the case of the Castilian _Cortes_, so also in that of the towns, the absolutism of the kings made itself felt to a marked degree, for the way had been prepared in previous reigns, and in this instance the royal authority was equally as noteworthy in Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, and Majorca as in Castile. This was brought about principally through the decline of the towns in political spirit, a movement which had been going on since the fourteenth century. As a result the _ayuntamientos_ had usurped the powers which formerly belonged to the general assembly of citizens, and now their functions became absorbed more and more by the kings through their officials in the towns, such as the _corregidores_ and others. So great was the authority of the kings that they were able to make a profit for the treasury by the sale in perpetuity of local offices, and when the evils which resulted became too pronounced they gave orders abolishing all such positions acquired before 1630. Furthermore, all local legislation of an important character had to receive the sanction of the _Consejo Real_. Much the same local officials as in the past administered the affairs of the municipalities, and the methods of their acquisition of office continued to be diverse, being in some towns by election, in others by lot, in still others by inheritance, and in yet others by royal appointment; but in all of the large royal towns (_realengos_) the king's authority was paramount. In fine, local autonomy was virtually dead, although the forms of the period when the towns were a virile political factor still persisted. In two classes of municipalities the royal victory was not complete. One was that of the small villages, where the system of the medieval _villa_, or _concejo_, obtained, but since these units were of small consequence the retention of their earlier liberties had little or no effect on the general situation. The other was that of the seigniorial towns, most of them in Aragon, Catalonia, and Navarre, where the struggles of past eras, of the citizens against the lords, were repeated in this.


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