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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Sidenote Power of the Consejo Real


[Sidenote:

Importance of the bureaucracy.]

With the advance both in royal authority and in the scope and extension of government it was inevitable that the new bureaucracy, which had made its appearance in the modern sense under the Catholic Kings, should increase in the number of its officials and in power until it absorbed a great part of the functions which the kings themselves had formerly exercised in person. Aside from the royal secretaries, the governor-generals (during the absence of the king), regents, and members of the various administrative groups there were often individuals without portfolios who exercised great power as private counselors of the king. Some of the members of the _Consejo Real_ were also prominent in this extra-official way. The importance of the royal secretaries, of whom there were always more than one, was notably great in this period. Whenever one of them became the favorite, the others were nevertheless retained, grouping themselves around the one who had the ear of the king. The office of the latter became a universal bureau and secretariat of state (_Secretar?a de Estado y del Despacho Universal_), presiding over the others.

[Sidenote: Power of the _Consejo Real_.]

Meanwhile, the _Consejo Real_ advanced in power, and new councils were added. The most notable reform in the _Consejo Real_ was its division in 1608 into four sections, or _salas_, respectively

of government (_Gobierno_), justice (_Justicia_), "fifteen hundred" (_Mil y quinientos_), and the provinces (_Provincia_). The last three had to do with affairs of justice, while the _Sala de Gobierno_, the most important of the four, was supposed to concern itself mainly with politics and administration. Nevertheless, the variety of functions which had always characterized the _Consejo_ as a whole applied in like manner to each of the _salas_. Thus the _Sala de Gobierno_ handled such widely divergent matters as the extirpation of vice and sin, the economic development of the country, the decision in cases of conflict of laws or jurisdictions, cases of recourse of _fuerza_, the cleaning and improvement of Madrid, questions of peace and war, together with a great number of others. Moreover, many of its functions were judicial in character. Important affairs, especially those on which the king requested advice, were taken up by the _Consejo_ in full (_en pleno_),--that is, by a joint meeting of the four _salas_. While the _Consejo_ had been in origin a purely consultive body, it now acquired the privilege of making suggestions to the king of its own volition and of indicating its objections to any measures he might have taken. It was natural that the decisions, or _autos_, of the _Consejo_ should have great weight, both as affecting matters of justice, and as concerned government and administration in general, since the _Consejo_ might make new laws and annul or dispense with old ones, although of course consulting with the king before publishing its decision. The _autos_ of the _Consejo_ became, therefore, an important source of legislation, and in 1552 it was decided that they should have the same force as the laws of the king himself. Late in the sixteenth century it became customary to call the _Consejo_ the _Consejo de Castilla_ (Council of Castile), by which name, henceforth, it was more generally known.

[Sidenote: Importance of the C?mara.]

In like manner other councils were formed (in addition to those dating from the era of the Catholic Kings) which relieved the monarch of many of his responsibilities. The most important was the _Consejo de la Real C?mara_ (Council of the Royal Chamber), more often called the _C?mara de Castilla_, or simply the _C?mara_. This was founded by Philip II in 1588 to assist him in handling such matters as the kings had always retained for themselves, apart from the _Consejo Real_, such as questions arising in connection with the _patronato real_, or royal patronage, of the church and appointments generally to the various councils, _audiencias_, and other important posts in Castilian administration. Men of the highest character were chosen to compose the _C?mara_, and secrecy as to their discussions was imposed upon them. In 1616 the _C?mara_ advanced a step further, in that certain affairs--such as pardons for crime, authorizations for entailing estates in primogeniture, the naturalization of foreigners, and the removal of civil and political disabilities from individuals subject to them--were left for it to resolve without consulting the king. The king still intervened in the more important matters. Among the new councils of the era were those of finance (_Hacienda_), war (_Guerra_), and indulgences (_Cruzada_), all of Castilian origin.


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