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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Sidenote The absolutist ideal of Alfonso X


The absolutist ideal of Alfonso X.]

The great representative of absolutism was Alfonso X, not that he invented the idea or was the first to attempt its achievement, but because he formulated the program more clearly than any of his predecessors, embodying it in his legislation, and because he received the first shock in defence of these principles. He enacted that the legislative, judicial, and military powers and the right to coin money were fundamental, inalienable rights of the king, who could not give them away for a period longer than his own life, and declared that the lords could not exercise any judicial or other sovereign powers on their estates except those which had been granted to them by the king, or which they had enjoyed by immemorial custom. His laws also prescribed certain forms of etiquette which should be employed in treating with the king, establishing the ceremonial which has always served as such a prop for monarchy. The divine origin of royal power was asserted. Independence of the Holy Roman Emperors was specifically proclaimed, but a measure of subjection to the pope was admitted. The absolutism of Alfonso X did not pretend, even in principle, that the king might exercise arbitrary or tyrannical authority; Alfonso declared that the king was bound to observe the law and deal justly with the people, acting as their guardian and administrator, and granting them certain rights to inspect his conduct. Those who wrongly possessed

themselves of the royal power, or made bad use of it, were declared to be tyrants and not legitimate kings. The people, on the other hand, owed respect, obedience, and loyalty to the legitimate king, and even a species of guardianship to prevent his non-fulfilment of obligations. Alfonso X was not able to sustain his principles in open conflict, but they remained as the ideal of future kings, even though some of them were modified by the legislation of later reigns; thus Alfonso XI declared that sovereign rights might be acquired from the crown by prescription, except the taxing power and high justice (or the hearing of cases on appeal), and that the kings could alienate any of their sovereign powers except those of high justice, coinage, and war.

[Sidenote: Establishment of hereditary succession and development of court officialdom.]

Two fundamental results of the centralizing, absolutist policy of the kings were the final establishment of hereditary succession and the development of consultive and other bodies about the king, the forerunners of modern bureaucracy. The former has already been referred to. Alfonso himself was the first to break his own law in this respect, but after his reign the principle was definitely recognized. The pomp and ceremonial of royalty increased the number of officials whose principal functions were those of adding splendor to the court,--such, for example, as the king's cup-bearer, butler, and chamberlain. Great nobles also sent their sons to court to be educated under the protection and with the favor of the king, and these young men formed a special royal guard. In addition there began to be an infinity of servants, notaries, doctors, and others occupying posts of a less ornamental character. The most important novelty of the period was the development of the _Consejo Real_.

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