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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Sidenote Advance of the seigniorial towns


The army and navy.]

The principal military fact of the era was the increase in the number of troops sustained by the king, but in other respects there was no fundamental difference from the preceding period. Technically there were advances in the art of war,--such as the development of a greater variety in the branches of the service and the introduction of powder,--but except for cannon of not very great utility the use of firearms did not become general. Complete armor came in with the white companies. The royal navy, initiated by Ferdinand III, was continued throughout the era, and this was a period of brilliant victories against the Moslems in the Mediterranean and the English in the north; on one occasion the Castilian admiral, Pero Ni?o, ravaged the English coast. No results of note seem to have proceeded from these victories, however.

[Sidenote: Greatness and decline of the towns in political authority.]

[Sidenote: Advance of the seigniorial towns.]

This was the most flourishing epoch in the history of the free Castilian towns: their numbers and political importance increased; they received new privileges; and they made their presence felt in national affairs through their representatives in the _Cortes_. The most extreme example of municipal independence was provided by the towns of the north coast, which recognized the sovereignty

of the Castilian king, but in fact governed themselves, even intervening in foreign affairs through the agency of their league. In the interior the towns were less independent politically and administratively, and in the fourteenth century their authority began to wane. The entry of royal judges into the towns has already been mentioned. In administration the kings were also able at length to exercise influence. This came about as a result of a number of political changes, such as the substitution of a life term in office for one of a period of years, the usurpation by the _ayuntamiento_ (or body of municipal officials) of powers formerly exercised by the general assembly, the limitation of the right to hold office to the _caballeros_ or to specified families, the disturbances at times of election, and the corruption which occasionally manifested itself in municipal administration. In the interests of internal peace the towns themselves often sought intervention by the kings, who did not fail to profit by the situation. Under Alfonso XI some towns began to be ruled by officials appointed by the king, and that monarch also created the post of _corregidor_,[46] a royal agent placed in many towns to watch the course of local affairs and represent the king, acting with the local _alcaldes_. The _corregidores_ gradually acquired considerable influence, thereby reducing the power of the popularly elected officials. Internal municipal strife continued, but now the great families fought, not for the favor of the electorate, but for that of the king, since this had become the surer route to public office. The greater towns or cities suffered through the breaking away of the villages and rural districts which had formerly been subordinate to them. These villages were desirous of local autonomy, because the municipalities on which they depended were wont to exploit them or to exclude them from a share in government. The kings granted their petitions, thus weakening the greater towns, even if they did extend the institution of chartered municipalities. It should be said, however, that this decline of the towns, with the incidents accompanying it, was not uniform, for a number of them still retained their earlier liberties, including popular election, at the end of the period. In the seigniorial towns, especially those under ecclesiastical domination, there were frequent struggles with a view to reducing the lord's intervention in local affairs, and these ended almost everywhere in a victory for the towns, which won a right to name their own officers and to possess much the same degree of liberty enjoyed by the royal towns. Here, too, the kings intervened, not only through the practice of judicial appeals to the royal courts, but also in other ways, even with armed forces, in order to reduce the power of the lords. The victory of the seigniorial towns lessened the power of the lords to an appreciable extent; the struggles of the lords with the kings were thenceforth maintained only through combinations of nobles, often with Mud?jar levies, joined at times by some of the towns.

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