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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Up to 1301 Castile and Le?n had a separate Cortes


[Sidenote:

Great age of the Castilian _Cortes_.]

The institution which most clearly represented the different factors of Castilian political life, but especially that of the municipalities, was the _Cortes_, which grew in importance until the fifteenth century, when it began to show signs of decline. The _Cortes_ was hardly mentioned in the legislation of Alfonso X, for it did not comport well with his theories of absolutism, but the later kings paid it great consideration, seeking the aid of the popular branch against seigniorial anarchy. Its principal function continued to be economic, rather than legislative, through the grants of subsidies by the representatives of the towns. While these were not the only source of royal revenue they were so urgently needed that the _Cortes_ was able to procure legislation from the kings in response to its petitions. The fourteenth century was particularly rich in ordinances of the _Cortes_, especially those arising from the meetings of 1329 (Madrid), 1348 (Alcal?), 1351 (Valladolid), 1366 (Burgos), 1371 (Toro), 1373 (Toro), 1377 (Burgos), 1379 (Burgos), and 1380 (Soria). In most cases the kings did not put the ordinances (which should rather be considered petitions) into effect, wherefore many of them were repeated time and again,--such, for example, as the legislation requested against the Jews, against the granting of Castilian benefices by the pope, against the abuses of royal officials and renters of taxes, and

against the royal donations to the lords. In a number of instances the _Cortes_ got what it asked for, even in cases affecting the king's personal authority, such as a law in 1329 which prohibited the issuing of royal letters, or orders, in blank (whereby the possessor of the letter might insert anybody's name he chose,--a practice which usually served to promote unjust ends, just as in the case of the _lettres de cachet_ in France prior to the French Revolution), and another of 1348 extending the prohibition to letters which the kings were in the habit of granting to individuals empowering them to marry designated persons, with or without the latter's consent. The kings also accepted petitions of a more general character, such as those asking that steps be taken for the suppression of banditry, the specification of the powers of royal officers, the correction of various abuses, the lowering of certain taxes, the regulation of disputes between the stockmen and the farmers, and the reform of judicial procedure. It was also affirmed several times,--in 1348, for example,--that there could be no new tax without a grant of the _Cortes_. The laws of Alfonso X insisted upon the king's sole right to legislate, however, and this principle was maintained by the later kings, for despite the fact that a law of 1387 declared that the ordinances of the _Cortes_ were irrevocable, unless by the act of a _Cortes_ itself, the kings proceeded according to their own pleasure, apparently regarding the concession of 1387 as purely theoretical. The ordinances of the various _Cortes_ appeared without method or plan, and lacked the full force of law, but they demonstrated the enormous activity of this body, and were in fact a basis for much legislation, both at the time and in later years. In organization the _Cortes_ followed the general practices of the preceding era. Among the comparatively few novelties may be mentioned a law of Juan II, fixing the number of representatives from a town as two, and a law of 1351 granting immunity from arrest to members of the _Cortes_ while that body was in session. Up to 1301 Castile and Le?n had a separate _Cortes_, although there were a number of joint meetings before that date. After 1301 there was but a single _Cortes_ for the entire kingdom.


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