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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

The northwest followed the Visigothic tradition


Diversity in Christian Spain.]

Christian Spain itself was far from being a unit; rather diversity was the rule. The northwest followed the Visigothic tradition, while the north centre and northeast, especially Navarre and Catalonia, while retaining much of the Visigothic institutions came into frequent contact with French peoples, who gave a new turn to their civilization. Within each section, too, there were many complex differences between one region and another. Hence the institutions of the principal areas may be taken separately.

_Kingdoms of Asturias, Le?n, and Castile_

[Sidenote: Social classes in the Christian northwest.]

Social inequality increased in this period, due to a decline in wealth and to an accentuation of the hazards of life. The higher nobility attained to vast privileges and authority, although less than in other parts of Christian Europe. They were often, but not always, allowed to conquer lands for themselves, rule their own estates with almost absolute authority, leave the king's service for that of another monarch, and be free from taxation. The social prestige of the nobles was weakened, however, through the king's right to grant titles of nobility. The king might also deprive a noble created by himself of his titles and lands. Most of the nobility of the lower grades were in fact retainers of the greater nobles

or of the king, usually rendering military service in return for protection. This state of dependence was called _encomienda_ (commendation),--a term used centuries later to cover the virtual enslavement of the American Indians. Small landed proprietors and free agricultural and industrial laborers placed themselves in similar relations to the great nobles, so that the latter were about the only really free class of the time. These civilian dependents gave produce, tribute, or personal service to the lord. The various grades of servitude, from serfs attached to a piece of land and enjoying at least some of the products of their labor down to individuals held in personal slavery, continued to exist. In general the servile classes advanced in about the same degree that the freemen fell back; many of them came together to form an intermediate class in which some rights--for example, to own property and to change one's habitation freely within the same seigniorial territory--were enjoyed.

[Sidenote: The political system.]

The king's power was complete enough in theory to merit being called absolute, for in him rested supreme legislative, judicial, and administrative authority over the realm as a whole. In fact the royal authority did not extend equally over all the land. On his own properties and usually in conquered regions the king was indeed an absolute monarch, but as concerned the lands of the nobles and the church there were important limitations on his authority. On their estates the nobles enjoyed rights of an economic nature and also those of a sovereign,

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