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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

The Cortes of Aragon met once


[Sidenote:

Democratic manner and philanthropic rule of the Bourbons.]

Nevertheless, the Bourbons were more democratic in their manner than the less autocratic kings of the House of Austria. It is said that Philip V was the first to inaugurate the practice of allowing his higher government officials to be seated while talking business with him, whereas the Hapsburg custom had been to require them to remain on their knees. The kings' advisers now became veritable ministers, with a more frank participation in government than had been the case with the secretaries and favorites of the preceding era. Furthermore, the Bourbons represented the "enlightened despotism," which had so many remarkable manifestations in eighteenth century western Europe. In keeping with this ideal the kings showed marked interest in social, economic, and intellectual reforms of a philanthropic character, without yielding an iota of their political prerogative. A great revolution took place, having a fundamental groundwork of democracy in it (which was to find expression at a later time in the field of politics), but which was accomplished wholly from above. The idea might have been expressed: "Everything _for_ the people, but nothing _by_ them." The only exception to this rule was the royal program whereby the popular element gained an entrance to the _ayuntamientos_, or municipal governing bodies.

[Sidenote: Unimportance of the Cortes and the suppression

of democratic machinery.]

Naturally, all machinery of a democratic character was viewed with suspicion, and such was the case with the _Cortes_. Only at the accession of Luis I was a _Cortes_ called to swear in the new king, although that body was several times asked to acknowledge the princes of Asturias. The _Cortes_ of Castile was summoned four times by Philip V and once each by Charles III and Charles IV, but in two of the meetings under Philip not all of the elements were called, and in the dismissal of the _Cortes_ of Charles IV it was made apparent that the nobles and clergy had no necessary inclusion in that body. Furthermore, the _Cortes_ was called to perform some specific act,--such as the recognition of the princes above-named, the making and later the revocation of the so-called Salic law, and the approval of Philip's renunciation of his rights to the French throne,--after which it was dismissed, without having an opportunity to discuss other matters. When the _Cortes_ of 1789 was retained in session to treat of certain economic questions, some of the deputies formulated petitions concerning affairs of government,--whereupon the authorities hastened to bring the sittings to a close. The _Cortes_ of other regions were equally lacking in importance. The _Cortes_ of Aragon met once, and that of Valencia not at all; both were incorporated into the Castilian _Cortes_ in 1709. The _Cortes_ of Catalonia met twice, but after 1724 it followed the course already taken in the case of Aragon and Valencia, and the same was true of the representatives from Majorca. The _Cortes_ of Navarre continued to meet separately, being called eleven times, but it took no action of conspicuous importance. Nevertheless, the memory of the former power of the _Cortes_ was not dead, and many persons saw in its restoration, possibly with new functions, a means for the reform of the country. In addition to having rendered the _Cortes_ completely innocuous the kings took other steps to check popular intervention in national affairs. It had been the custom for the municipalities to send special commissioners to the capital to negotiate for them with the crown. This practice (which reminds one of the colonial agent of American history) was forbidden by a law of 1715 (repeated in 1804), on the alleged ground of avoiding unnecessary expense to the towns. A law of 1777 allowed the sending of special agents, however, for one purpose,--that of witnessing the births of royal children! Thus did the kings contribute both to the security and to the glamour of royalty.


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