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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Including some which had no consulado


it had a monopoly of the American

trade, which also necessitated the sending to that city of goods from the other parts of Spain and from foreign countries for trans-shipment overseas. Mercantile transactions on a great scale, involving the modern forms of credit and the establishment of branch houses in all parts of the world, were a natural outgrowth of Seville's great volume of trade. The wealth of the city continued until well into the seventeenth century. The transfer of the _Casa de Contrataci?n_ (which handled Spain's commerce with the Americas) from Seville to C?diz occasioned a decline of the former and a corresponding prosperity of the latter. Possibly next in importance to Seville in mercantile affairs was the inland city of Medina del Campo, site of the greatest of Spanish fairs and, except for the east coast provinces, the contractual centre of the entire kingdom. Purchases, sales, and exchanges of goods entering or leaving the various ports of Spain were usually arranged there. Numerous other cities shared with Seville and Medina del Campo in the commercial activity of the sixteenth century, even those of the east coast, although the forces which had occasioned their decline in preceding eras were still operative and were to renew their effects before the sixteenth century had much more than passed the halfway mark. The Mediterranean trade of Spain remained largely in the hands of the Catalans, however. North European commerce, of which that with Flanders was the most important, was shared generally
by Spain's Atlantic ports, although those of the north coast had in this case a natural advantage.

[Sidenote: The _consulados_ and other mercantile machinery.]

The inevitable result of the commercial activity of the sixteenth century was the development of a mercantile machinery to handle the trade. This occurred, in Spain, on the basis of institutions already in existence, the _consulados_, merchants' exchange buildings (_lonjas_), and fairs. To the earlier _consulados_ of Valencia (1283), Barcelona (1347), Saragossa (1391), Burgos (1494), and Bilbao (1511) there were added those of Seville (1543) and Madrid (1632). Although the _consulados_ of the ports differed in some respects from those of the interior the same principles applied to both,--so much so, that the ordinances of the _consulado_ of Burgos were the model for that of Bilbao. The _consulado_ of Burgos served as the type, indeed, upon which the ordinances of many of the later _consulados_ were founded, wherefore its description may suffice for all. Strictly speaking, the _consulado_ was only the tribunal of the body of merchants, who together formed the _universidad_, or association, for purposes of trade, although the term _consulado_ came eventually to include both. Many cities lacked the tribunal, but did possess the _universidad_ of merchants. The tribunal, or _consulado_, of Burgos exercised jurisdiction in mercantile cases, and also had charge of such important matters as maritime insurance, charter-parties, and the patronage of certain pious foundations. The _universidad_ met annually to elect the officers of the _consulado_,--a prior, two consuls, and a treasurer. The jurisdiction of the _consulado_ as a court was not limited to cases arising in Burgos, but extended to other towns and cities for many miles around it. There was an appeal in criminal cases to the _corregidor_ of Burgos, but in civil cases the _consulado_ was independent of both the royal and the municipal courts. The _consulado_ of Madrid introduced some novelties, principal among which was its close attachment to the national bureaucracy through the intervention in its affairs of the _Consejo Real_. Various cities founded merchants' exchange buildings, including some which had no _consulado_. As for the fairs, the great importance of Medina del Campo has already been mentioned. Two fairs a year, in May and October, were held at that city, on which occasions merchants, bankers, and brokers from all parts of the world gathered there. By the end of the sixteenth century the fairs of Medina del Campo were already in a state of decline, and they received a death-blow when by royal mandate Burgos replaced Medina del Campo as the contractual centre of Spain. Burgos did not greatly profit, however, for the general mercantile decadence had begun to affect all commercial institutions in the country. Mercantile machinery survived after the period of prosperity had passed, and thus it was only to be expected that a central institution should at length be founded. Such was the case, for the _Junta de Comercio y Moneda_ (Junta, or Council, of Commerce and Coinage) came into existence in 1679. During the remainder of this era it was of slight consequence, however.


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