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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Difficulties over questions of etiquette


Difficulties over questions of etiquette and of jurisdiction.]

The nobles and the church were the most powerful elements in opposition; even though their authority was but little, as compared with that of earlier years, they were still able to hinder the execution of laws which damaged their interests. Nearly everyone seemed to have an exemption from taxation, or desired it, but the reformers set themselves resolutely against that state of affairs. Their success against the force of vested interests was only fair, for that element was too great to overcome; the very bureaucracy itself displayed a weakness in this particular, for it insisted on the maintenance of a custom which had sprung up that government officials might buy certain articles at a fixed price, whatever the charge to others. This calls to mind the overwhelming evil of graft, which it seemed impossible to eliminate; indeed, high officials were altogether too prone to regard it as a more or less legitimate perquisite, and did not hesitate to accept large gifts of money from foreign diplomats. Difficulties over questions of etiquette, inherent in a centralized bureaucratic government, also stood in the way of the proper execution of the laws. For example, a serious dispute arose in 1745 between the bishop of Murcia and the Inquisition, when the latter claimed that the members of that body should have a better place in church than others. It was at length decided that they should

not. In 1782 the commandant-general of Majorca complained that the wives of the _oidores_ of the _audiencia_ had not called on his wife on the occasion of the king's birthday. He was sustained, and the _regente_ (regent, or president) of the _audiencia_ was imprisoned for a number of months by way of punishment. Several years later the ladies of Palma complained that the wife of the commandant-general was in the habit of going out in the street with an armed escort and demanding a military salute. This time the ladies were upheld, and the escort was prohibited. These are only a few instances out of thousands, and if there was so much stir over such trifling matters it can well be imagined how much more serious the problem was in the case of disputes between officials as to jurisdiction. Official etiquette is an important matter in all countries, but Spaniards have always been insistent on the letter of their rights and very sensitive over the omission of any act to which their position entitles them. Furthermore, these controversies carried in their train vast files of papers, of charges, answers and countercharges, and the evidence of witnesses. These questions had to be resolved, causing great expenditure in both time and money. No country was ever more diligent than Spain in the multiplication of state papers over affairs which ranged from those of vital importance to the most trivial incidents. The historian may have cause to rejoice over the existence of so much material, but the nation suffered,--although it is difficult to see how its contemporary accumulation could have been avoided in an absolutism like that of the Spanish Bourbons.

[Sidenote: Improvement of the army and ineffectual attempts at additional reforms.]

One of the principal objects of the reforms was the rehabilitation of the army and navy so that Spain might be in a better position in international affairs. In the army the volunteer system was employed for a while, but it was effective only in procuring contingents of foreign mercenaries and in filling the ranks of the royal guard. Gradually the idea of the draft came into favor, and it was tried

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