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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

That the Consejo Real acquired real stability


_The Consejo Real._]

The kings had long been surrounded by a body of nobles and prelates called the _Consejo Real_, or Royal Council, which advised them in matters of government, or sat as the _Cort_, or supreme court, in appeals from lower jurisdictions, but its membership and functions had not been very clearly established, for it dealt indiscriminately with any subject upon which the king might want advice. One important reform was the introduction of representatives of the popular element in this body. Different kings, from Sancho IV on, decreed that a certain number of the council should be "good men,"--or members of the untitled, secular class,--although the practice did not become fixed. A law of Juan I in 1385 provided that the council should be composed of twelve men, of whom four should be plebeians. Two years later it was required that the last-named should be _letrados_,--that is, men learned in the law,--and shortly afterward they began to be called _oidores_ (hearers of cases). Juan II divided the council into two bodies, one of government, the other of justice. It was not until the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, however, that the _Consejo Real_ acquired real stability.

[Sidenote: The hierarchy of officialdom.]

There were important developments, too, in the general administrative and judicial hierarchy, although with a mixture of the two functions. The hierarchy

of officialdom, from the lowest grade to the highest, with especial regard to comparative judicial authority, ran from the _alcaldes_ of the towns through _merinos mayores_ or the _adelantados_, the _alcalde del rey_ (royal _alcalde_) of the court, and the _adelantado mayor_ (or chief justice of Castile) to the king himself. In some jurisdictions cases in first instance came before _alcaldes del rey_ (different from the above-named) with an appeal to _merinos menores_[43] and _merinos mayores_, or directly to the latter, and thence upward. The _merinos menores_ limited themselves to jurisdiction in certain criminal cases. The _merinos mayores_ were, like the _adelantados_, governors of large districts as well as judges in cases of appeal, for which latter purpose they were assisted by men acquainted with the law. They took the place of many of the former _adelantados_. The _adelantado mayor_ also had administrative functions, as the superior of the _merinos_ and other officials below him. Alfonso X employed the old term, _cort_, in the new and more restricted sense of a royal judicial tribunal which acted for the king. In later reigns this came to be known as the _chanciller?a_ (chancery), or _audiencia_,[44]--which latter name was eventually transmitted to the Americas for bodies exercising similar functions.

[Sidenote: Diversity of jurisdictions and tendencies toward centralization.]

Despite appearances, uniformity and order in the administrative and judicial organization were far from being completely established. Not only was there a great variety of jurisdictions, but there was also a great diversity in the law, for one region would differ radically from another. The towns, nobles, clergy, universities, and the great corporation of stock-raisers (the _Mesta_) all had officials of their own and exemption from royal jurisdiction. At the same time, great _hermandades_, or leagues of cities, were formed for the maintenance of public security against highwaymen or other disturbing elements, since royal activity in this

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