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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Made veritable political entities of the villas

with almost as much power in

theory and in fact as the king had in theory over all the land. They raised troops at will, and fought with one another and even against the king; they had judicial authority over most of the cases arising within their lands; and they collected taxes for themselves. The protection which they owed to all on their estates was not very faithfully accorded, but on the contrary they oppressed not only their own dependents but also those of other lords,--a practice which was a fruitful cause of private war. The nobles, too, were veritable highwaymen, robbing travellers, business men, and pilgrims, and contributing more than any other class to the lawlessness of the times. Bishops and abbots occupied a position similar to that of the great nobles. The church had acquired estates through gifts of individuals and grants of the king, and the same rights and duties attached to them as in the case of the nobles. Thus, for example, great churchmen raised troops, which at times they commanded themselves. The royal power was still further limited in fact, because of the necessity of relying upon nobles or churchmen to govern distant lands or to hold other posts of an administrative and even of a judicial nature. The rulers of administrative districts were the counts (_condes_) appointed by the king, and these individuals often gave him considerable trouble,--as witness the uprisings (at length successful) of the counts of Castile. The very necessities of civil strife obliged the kings to yield
privileges to one set of nobles in order to get their aid against another. Nevertheless, great as was the nobles' authority, it was not so excessive as elsewhere in western Europe. Feudalism, the essence of which was the grant of lands in perpetuity with rights of sovereignty attached, in return for which the grantee owed fealty and some form of service, perhaps military, to the grantor, did not exist in its fullness in northwestern Spain. By special grants the king might agree to refrain from exercising his sovereign privileges, but in such cases certain limitations were usually expressed. When judicial authority was conferred on a noble, some attributes were retained,--for example, the trial of crimes of murder and the right of appeal to the royal authority from the cases in seigniorial courts. Again, when the lords made laws for their territories they did so by special grant of the king, who frequently intervened to change the seigniorial statutes or to enact others of his own. The difference from European feudalism, however, was perhaps more juridical than actual.

[Sidenote: Rise of the free towns.]

One element appeared in this period which was to prove a great limitation on seigniorial authority, and was to be an aid to the king in the establishment of internal good order and unity. This was the plebeian town. The most important type of this class was the _villa_, or _concejo_, which originated in the tenth century. The _villas_ were founded on lands conquered by the kings, and were usually in frontier districts exposed to the enemy. On this account special privileges were granted in order to induce people to settle there. Anybody who could contrive to reach a _villa_ was declared free, even if of servile grade before. All citizens were not equal, however; there were varying grades of rank, though all were free. The _villas_ were exempted from many duties to the state,--often from the payment of taxes. They were also withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the counts, and were granted much political authority. Each _villa_ received its own _fuero_, or charter, by a special grant, with the result that there was a great variety in the terms of different charters, although certain of them tended to become the types which were imitated in subsequent grants. As a general rule the government of a _villa_ was in the hands of the assembly of citizens, in which local laws were enacted and judges and administrative officers elected. These rights, added to a long line of exemptions, made veritable political entities of the _villas_, which were independent of all but the king, and were in great measure not subject to him. The _villa_ extended beyond its own walls to include neighboring rural districts as well. The rise of the _villas_ on royal lands compelled the nobility and the clergy to form similar settlements in order to attract people to their territories or to avoid uprisings of their dependents, although these towns did not achieve rights equal to those of the _villas_.

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