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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Or caballeros proceeding usually from the towns


[Sidenote:

Social importance of the clergy.]

The personal immunities of the clergy were not only extended, but were also made applicable to a greater number than formerly, and the wealth of the church was increased. Not only priests, but also their servants and the members of the religious orders, including even those of the lay orders, acquired the so-called "benefit of clergy," which exempted them from certain financial obligations to the state and to the towns, and secured them the privilege of being subject judicially to the ecclesiastical courts only. Furthermore, entry into religious orders became so comparatively easy that the number of ecclesiastics proper increased greatly, although many of them continued to be business men, lawyers, administrative officers, and even jugglers and buffoons, frequently leading a licentious life. Similarly, the mendicant orders had lost their early ideals of poverty and self-sacrifice, and besides being lax at times in their mode of life were devoting themselves to the acquisition of wealth, especially by procuring inheritances. These conditions were cited in complaint after complaint of the national _Cortes_, asking the king for their redress. Finally, Henry II issued a law, confirmed by Juan I, that clergymen should contribute to the funds applied on public works, and that lands which had been tributary should continue to pay taxes after their acquisition by the church. These laws seem not to have been complied

with, for the complaints were renewed in later meetings of the _Cortes_; it was charged that the clergymen excommunicated the tax collectors. On the other hand the right of the church to collect the _diezmo_, or tithe (not precisely a tenth), of the produce of lands not their own, a right which had already existed in some jurisdictions, became general. The king profited by this arrangement, since a portion called the royal thirds (_tercias reales_)[36] went to him for expenditure for public charities or pious works, such as the building of churches, although the kings did not always so employ it.[37]

[Sidenote: Advance of the middle class.]

The same causes which had conduced to the development of the middle class in the preceding era were accentuated to procure a corresponding advance in this,--such as the increase in population, the growth of industry, commerce, and agriculture, the freedom of the servile classes, the prominence of the jurisconsults and secondary nobility, or _caballeros_ (proceeding usually from the towns, and living there allied with the middle class against the greater nobles), and the great political importance which the towns acquired. The basis of the middle class was the town, partisan of the centralizing, absolutist tendency of the kings so far as it related to the nobles and clergy, but strenuously insistent on the retention of its own local charter. The middle class had control of production and was the nerve of the state, but was virtually the only element to pay taxes, despite the fact that the great bulk of territorial wealth was in the hands of the nobility and the church. The term "middle class" began to refer more and more clearly to the wealthier, free, but untitled element, for the laboring class became more prominent in the towns, sharing in the charter privileges of their richer neighbors, but with certain limitations on their economic liberty. There was no social conflict of consequence between the two classes, however, for the laborers were not yet very numerous, and the evils of their situation were not so great as they later became, besides which, self-interest united them with the middle class against the nobles and clergy. Such strife as there was between them was of a political, and not of a social, character. The so-called popular element of the _Cortes_ represented the middle class only. The practice of forming leagues (_hermandades_) of towns and _caballeros_ against the abuses of the higher nobility was much indulged in, for it was not safe to rely solely on the king. The victory in the end lay with the towns, although they were far from obtaining their specific aims at this time. Nevertheless, the fourteenth century was characterized by the transformation of society from its earlier basis of chivalry and war, when the scene had been laid in the castles of the country, to the bourgeois life of the towns, devoted to industry and commerce.


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