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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Called the Cort not to be confused with the Cortes


were drawn up without previously

consulting the king. Some of the towns of the north coast were so independent that they joined in the wars between France and England, against the latter. Often the towns changed their own charters without royal permission, although this was not done in open defiance of the king, but, rather, in secret and fraudulently. The privileges of the towns in respect to taxation (although, indeed, they paid the bulk of what the king received from his free, Christian subjects) have already been mentioned.[22] Taxes were also collected within the towns for local purposes. In addition to revenues from direct contributions the towns also imposed obligations of personal service on their citizens, and owned lands which formed perhaps their most important source of wealth. These lands were of two kinds, the _propios_ (estates "belonging to" a municipality and utilized to assist in defraying public expenses), which were worked directly or rented by the town, and the _comunales_, or land common, for the use of all, subject to local regulations. In seigniorial towns, especially in those acknowledging an ecclesiastical lord, great progress was made toward an approximation of the rights enjoyed by the royal towns and cities. They had already gained economic independence, but now wished to attain to political freedom as well. They fought against the lord's practice of arbitrarily choosing their principal magistrates; next, they endeavored to gain for their own assembly the exclusive right of choice;
then they tried to increase the powers of the locally chosen officials as compared with those appointed by the lord; and, all along, they aimed to acquire more authority for their assemblies, or for the council which came to represent them,--for example, the right to fix wages. By the opening of the thirteenth century local autonomy had been gained at Santiago de Compostela, and many other seigniorial towns (both noble and ecclesiastical) had achieved equal, or nearly equal, good fortune.

[Sidenote: The administration of justice.]

Justice belonged fundamentally to the king, but the _alcaldes_ of the towns usually exercised civil jurisdiction, and often criminal as well; in some towns royal _merinos_ or _adelantados_ had charge of criminal jurisdiction. The king might punish local judges, however, even removing them and appointing others, but this power did not in fact enable him to check abuses. Appeals went to the king, who also had the right to try in first instance the serious crimes of murder, assault on a woman, robbery, and others. In such cases the king was assisted in administering justice by a group of men of his own appointment, called the _Cort_ (not to be confused with the _Cortes_), but this body merely advised him, for the decision was left to him. As might be expected in an age of disorder, punishments were atrocious,--such, for example, as mutilation, stoning to death, throwing over a cliff, burning, burial alive, starvation, cooking, stripping off the skin, drowning, and hanging; only the last-named has survived. On the other hand, composition for murder, or the payment of a sum of money, was allowable,--for men were valuable to the state,--although the murderer was not free from the private vengeance of the dead man's family. The so-called "vulgar proofs,"--such as the tests of the hot iron and hot water, and the wager of battle,--besides torture, were employed (as elsewhere in western Europe) as a means for acquiring evidence, but these methods were already being looked upon with disfavor. Real justice was in fact rare; the wealthy, especially if they were nobles, were able to take matters into their own hands or to procure favorable decisions, if affairs should reach the point of litigation.


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