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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Sidenote Beginnings of the Cortes


Beginnings of the _Cortes_.]

[Sidenote: Legislation.]

For centuries the kings had been in the habit of holding councils of nobles or ecclesiastics, or both, although there was a tendency to exclude the churchmen. In 1137 a council of nobles at N?jera was called the _Cortes_. The popular element was first admitted in 1188, at a _Cortes_ held in Le?n,--possibly the first occasion in the history of Europe when representatives of the towns appeared in such an assembly. The first known instance in Castile occurred in 1250. For a number of years, Le?n and Castile, though become a single kingdom, continued to have a separate _Cortes_. The kings called this body whenever they wished, although they often made promises (which they did not fulfil) to set regular intervals. None of the individuals called, whether nobles, ecclesiastics, or representatives of the _villas_ (or towns), had the right to present themselves; that was left to the choice of the king, but the custom gradually became fixed that certain towns should have the privilege of being represented. Each member had one vote, but the number of representatives from the towns differed, without being subject to a general rule. The towns themselves chose who should represent them, but the methods of choice were various. The _Cortes_ was allowed to make petitions to the king, each branch for itself, and to fix the sum of money that it would grant him. It had no true

legislative functions, but the king sought its advice, or its approval for his laws, and its influence was such, that it was able to procure desired legislation. The king presided in person at the opening and closing sessions, and through officials of his own appointment at the other meetings. The king continued to be the principal legislative authority, and the law retained its former diversity and its fundamental basis of privilege; the variety even increased, with the introduction of the new social classes. The _Fuero Juzgo_, which was the common law, applied in but few respects. The kings did something in the way of producing greater juridical similarity, as by making dispositions of a general character at meetings of the _Cortes_, and by using certain municipal charters as types, while Ferdinand III commenced to draw up a uniform code, although he did not live to complete it.

[Sidenote: Political life of the towns.]

Municipal organization retained the essential features of the preceding era, such as the local assembly and the various officials, of whom the most important were the judges. The latter came to be called _alcaldes_ (from an Arabic term meaning "the judges"),--an example of Moslem influence. In many cities, there were representatives of the king, called _merinos_ and other names. Communication with the king was also maintained by the use of messengers, now of the king, now of the city. The actual monarchical authority was so slight that the towns often acted with complete independence. Like the nobles they made forays against the Moslems on their own account, or fought one another, or with very good reason attacked neighboring, lawless nobles. For these wars they often formed leagues, or brotherhoods (_hermandades_), of towns (or occasionally leagues which included some nobles), for which special ordinances

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