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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Though subject to the Consell


[Sidenote:

Greatness of the city of Barcelona.]

The most accentuated representation of municipal life was to be found in the city of Barcelona. The administrative organization of the preceding era did not change fundamentally, but the power and privileges of the city increased greatly, due to the concessions of the kings. The council of five was at first composed only of _honrats_, or members of the bourgeois aristocracy, but by the year 1455 only two were of this class, a third was a merchant, a fourth an artist, and a fifth an artisan. The classes of lower grade than the _honrats_ were admitted to the _Consell_ in 1387, and by the end of the period the popular element had become preponderant. The five councillors, though subject to the _Consell_, formed an administrative commission for the government of the city. It was also their privilege to advise the king, something which they frequently did, and they were charged with the duty of maintaining the charter rights of the city, a matter to which they attended most zealously, even to the point of war with the king. Through purchase, annexation, royal donations, and the extensive application of the institution of _carreratge_ Barcelona acquired a great part of Catalonia and other portions of the realm; the possession of Elche and other towns in Valencian territory illustrates the far-reaching authority of the great Catalan city. The subject towns had a right to protection and to the privileges and exemptions

of Barcelona, in return for which the latter had more or less complete control of the administration of justice, was supposed to have their co?peration in matters of general interest, and was entitled to contributions of soldiers and the payment of certain tributes. The vast power of Barcelona was not always exercised for the best interests of the state, as in the case of the blow inflicted on the commerce of Valencia, through the influence of Barcelona, whereby no merchandise was allowed to be shipped from that port in foreign vessels. At times, the governing authorities of Barcelona equalled, or even exceeded, the power of the deputation of the _Cortes_ of Catalonia, and sustained disputes with it. On the other hand, Barcelona repeatedly intervened in the struggles of _caballeros_, towns, and social classes to impose peace. The authority of the city was reflected in the pride of its aristocracy, the _honrats_. They enjoyed the right of _riepto_, or duel, the same as members of the nobility, and vigorously protested against measures which seemed to place them on a lower level than any other class of society,--for example, when the order of St. John proposed to admit only the descendants of nobles. Anybody might become an _honrat_ if he combined certain prerequisites, such as wealth, with an election by the council.

[Sidenote: Struggle between absolutism and seigniorial society in Catalonia.]

The same struggle of absolutism against the seigniorial elements appeared in Catalonia as in Castile and Aragon, although the monarchy was more consistently victorious there than elsewhere. The nobles opposed the kings, though somewhat weakly, for they were more concerned with the social problems of the era. The cities and towns, especially Barcelona, also constituted a feudal element which was not always in accord with the king. Although during most of the era there was no armed conflict between these forces, there were a number of symptoms of discontent which at length broke forth in the civil wars of the reign of Juan II. Some of the causes of dissatisfaction were the following: the belief that their Castilian sovereign, Ferdinand I, and his successors had an exaggerated ideal of absolutism; the employment of foreigners in public offices, especially Castilians, by the same monarchs,--a demonstration also of the lack of Spanish national feeling; and the absence of Alfonso V in Italy and his expensive wars there, although the Catalans were as a rule partisans of the policy of Mediterranean expansion. Fundamentally, however, the strife at the end of this period was a conflict between centralized absolute monarchy and decentralization based on charter rights. Neither Juan II nor his predecessors varied the charters or the political organization of the principality, but nevertheless the blow was struck, and the downfall of the sovereign rights of the lords and towns was already at hand.


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