« AnteriorContinuar »
confiscations, disgraced by more permanent exclusions, or stained with more noble blood, than the success of the pretended father of his country. Their predecessors, though guilty of occasional acts of violence, * had in general respected the legal forms of their free republic; the Medici made all their government conducive to hereditary monarchy.' From the moment this family of profligate hypocrites obtained the supreme authority, the character of Florence was as much changed as that of Rome by the dominion of the Caesars. The external politics of the State became low and selfish. To secure their own power was the sole object of its new rulers. The republic had been the constant enemy of the Visconti. The Medici became the friends and allies of the Sporzas. The degradation of individuals followed the decline of public principle in the State; and Florence sunk into that abyss of infamy and corruption, from which it has never since emerged.
Mr Hallam seems to have considered the annals of the Visigoths as unworthy his attention; and to this prepossession we must ascribe the mistakes and omissions, into which he has fallen, in his account of Castile. He tells us, for instance, that Roderic of Toledo, 'one of the earliest Spanish historians,' flourished in the beginning of the 13th century. But, if he had taken the same trouble with the history of Spain, which he has bestowed on the transactions of France, he would have known, that there is a regular succession of Spanish chronicles, and some of them curious and valuable, from Idatius in the 6th century, to the annals of Compostella, and the Latin chronicle of Alonso Vllth in the 12th. He would also have avoided a mistake in his chapter on ecclesiastical usurpations, where he relates the deposal of ' one Wamba, a King of the Visigoths in Spain,' as the first instance of the deposition of a sovereign Prince, by authority of the Church. If he had consulted the Spanish historians, he would have found, that Wamba, being supposed on the point of death, had received the tonsure as a preparation for a better world; and that having submitted to this ceremony, he was rendered incapable of resuming the sceptre by a previous law of the 6th council of Toledo, which enacted, that no person sub religionis habilu detonsus should wear the crown. The successor of Wamba was suspected of having caused his illness, by administering to him certain poisonous drugs; and it was even said, that when Wamba submitted to the tonsure, he was unconscious of what was done to him. It might have been a question, therefore, whether the transaction was not fraudulent, and on that ground Wamba might have reclaimed the crown, if he had been so disposed; but there can be no doubt, that by the existing law, supposing him to Jiave been fairly tonsured, he was no longer capable of holding 'he sceptre. Wamba abdicated, or was deposed in 680. The law, by which he was excluded, had been passed in 638, in a council composed, as usual, of Bishops and Palatines. These are not the only mistakes into which Mr Hallam has been led by his contempt of the Spanish historians. He represents Ferdinand I. of Leon and Castile, as 'master of the whole Hispano-Gothic monarchy.' But, so far from this being true, there were at that time independent Spanish Kings in Navarre, Sobrarbe and Arragon; and, so far from ' a cessation of hostilities between the Christian States,' enabling the latter to direct their united force against the Moors, there was a sanguinary contest between Ferdinand and his brother Garcia, King of Navarre, in which the latter lost his life, and a considerable part of his dominions.
In this part of his book, Mr Hallam has made excellent use of the valuable works of Marina, of which we gave some account in our former Numbers. He has not scrupled, however, to dissent from that author, when he thinks him in the wrong. Marina, led away by the popular humour prevalent at Cadiz when he published his book, has exerted himself to prove, that after the 13th century, the nobility and clergy ceased to be constituent parts of the Cortes. Mr Hallam combats this opinion as highly improbable, and contrary to the general spirit of the mixed monarchies of Europe. 'The exclusion of the prelates and nobility from the Cortes, can hardly have been defensible on any constitutional rule, and must, one would imagine, have affected the legality of those few assemblies where it occurred.' This reasoning is plausible, and not entirely to be rejected; but Mr Hallam is not aware of certain peculiarities in the constitution of Castile, which makes it less applicable to that State, than to any other monarchy founded on the free principles brought from the woods of Germany by our ancestors.
The supreme legislative power in Castile was vested in the king, with advice and consent of his subjects; but there seems to have been no fixed or certain rule to determine the class or description of persons, with whose advice and consent he was to exercise this authority. We find, in fact, the greatest possible irregularity in the composition as well as in the forms of proceeding of the legislative assemblies of that kingdom. In early times, after a recital of the persons present in Cortes, the laws are said to have been enacted by the king dc universorum consensu; * or con consejo e con acuerdo of the princes of the
* In 1208.
blood, prelates, ricos omcs, knights of the military orders, and good men of the towns, and other good men there assembled. f But so early as 1286, in the Cortes of Palencia, there are laws enacted on the petition, and by the advice of the deputies of the towns, without any mention of the nobles and clergy, who appear not to have<bccn convoked on that occasion. At the Cortes of Valladolid, in 1293, various important laws were made on the petition of the deputies of the towns of Leon, con acuerdo of the prelates and nobles summoned to Cortes; and two years afterwards, laws are said to be enacted in Cortes, held at the same place, con otorgamiento of the prelates, nobles, and good men of the towns, though none but the last were in fact consulted. In 1299 and 1325, none appear to have been summoned to Cortes except the deputies of the towns; and laws are made, at their petition, by the king, without any mention of the higher orders. But in 1329 we have a very full meeting of Cortes, attended by the prelates, the masters of the military orders, the ricos omes, infanzones, knights, esquires, and deputies of the towns, to whom the king addressed himself as his natural friends, requesting and commanding them to advise and direct him in the government of his kingdom, which he was desirous to administer and reform by their advice. All the members of this assembly appear to have deliberated together, and to have given their joint opinion on the form of petitions, to which in general the king gave his full assent. The Cortes of Burgos in 1301, those of Valladolid in the same year, the Cortes of Medina del Campo in 1305, and those of Valladolid in 1307, had been composed of the same classes of persons; and laws had been enacted by the advice and consent of the whole assembly. But, notwithstanding these precedents, we find Cor- 1tes at Burgos in 1338, in which many important laws were passed, attended by the nobles alone, the ricos omes, infanzones and knights, and members of the king's council; and in the following year we have Cortes at Madrid, to which none but deputies of the towns appear to have been summoned. In 1348 we have the beginning of a very important innovation, which was afterwards to make a great and fundamental change in the constitution of Castile. The deputies of all the cities and towns were summoned to meet the king in Cortes at Alcala de Henares; but no letters of convocation were sent to the absent nobles or prelates, none of whom appear to have attended this meeting, except those who were about the person of the king. In 1349 the same practice was followed at the Cortes of Leon.
t In 1252 and 1258.
At the accession of Peter the Cruel, we meet with the first clear and well-marked division of the Cortes into three separate estates. That monarch held Cortes at Valladolid in 1351, in which the clergy, nobles, and deputies of the towns, met and deliberated separately, presented their petitions separately to the king, and had separate answers. It is impossible to peruse these petitions, without perceiving, that these three orders, with the king, did not form one indivisible legislature, requiring the common consent of all to the exercise of its authority; but that each, with the king, had complete powers of legislation, so as to form three separate bodies, with different, and often opposite interests and pretensions, of which the king was the common regulator and moderator. In consequence of this legislative power, exercised by the king, in conjunction with any one of the three estates, we find, in the Cortes held at Medina del Campo in 1370, several laws repealed by the king, at the petition of the towns, which had been enacted the preceding year at Toro, with consent of the three Estates, con acuerdo de los jicrlados, e de ricos omes, e procuradores de las cibdades e villas.
Under the three first Princes of the house of Frastamare, who, like our Lancastrian kings, owed their crown to a successful usurpation, the government seems to have been well administered, and the constitutional rights of the subject duly respected. The nobles and the clergy were, in general, summoned to the Cortes; though, on some occasions, none but deputies from the towns appear to have been assembled. Petitions for grievances were, in general, presented in the name of the deputies; but the old practice was still occasionally maintained, of bringing them forward in the name of the whole Cortes; and, in one instance, there was a separate list of grievances presented by the clergy. The petitions were answered by the king, sometimes de proprio motu, or with advice of his council; but, more frequently, with consent of the nobles and prelates. When laws were promulgated, they were said to be enacted by advice of the Cortes; and grants of money were made in the name of the clergy and nobles, as well as of the deputies. The constitution was still irregular; but it seemed fast verging to the same form with our own. The accession of John II. to the throne, the first legitimate prince of the house of Frastamare, in right of Constance of Lancaster, his mother, may be fixed upon as the era from which public liberty began to decline. The practice, introduced by Alonso XL, was revived, of discontinuing letters of convocation to the absent nobles and prelates. None but deputies of towns had writs of summons; and the number of towns, to which writs were sent, was gradually diminished, till they were reduced to seventeen. It was at this period, too, that we hear of the first complaints among the deputies, of interference in elections, on the part of the Crown; sometimes, by naming or designating the deputies to be chosen; and, at other times, by direct acts of bribery. Certain nobles and prelates still attended the Cortes; but they were persons about the Court, who were not likely to oppose any impediment to its designs. The great body of the nobles, occupied with private feuds, or engaged in open or secret combinations against the favourite Don Alvaro de Luna, lost all recollection of their constitutional privileges, and never thought of obtaining redress of grievances, except by arms. The laws promulgated at this period, were made at the petition of the deputies, by advice of the council, or of the prelates and nobles, who happened to be present at the Cortes.
During the reigns of John II. and Henry IV., we have found but one instance of the prelates and nobles assembling on public business; and that meeting resembled more the congress of two hostile powers, than the convocation of a deliberative assembly. It was held at Cabezon, in the open fields, like the meeting of John and his barons at Runnimede. After a conference between Henry IV. and the Marquis of Villena, and other chiefs of the malcontents, it was agreed to appoint a committee of five to reform the State; two on the part of the king, two on the part of'the nobles, and one to have a casting voice in case of need. This committee met at Medina del Campo; and, after much deliberation, prepared a body of ordinances, which were confirmed and promulgated by the royal authority, but not carried into execution in consequence of the disturbances that ensued. The meeting at Cabezon is termed by the king, in the public instrument recording and ratifying its proceedings, the ayuntamiento, which he held with the prelates, ricos omes, and knights of his kingdom. Ayuntamiento was at that time the word usually employed to designate the meeting of Cortes. Among the ordinances made on this occasion, there is one (the 19th) which declares, that no money shall be levied on the subject, without consent of the prelates and nobles, as well as of the deputies of the towns; a proof, that, though seldom exercised, it was still held to be the constitutional right of the two superior orders of the State, to concur in grants ot money to the Crown.
From the congress or ayuntamiento of Cabezon in 1465, there was no convocation of the nobles or clergy till 1527, when they were assembled by the Emperor Charles V., to obtain a supply against the Infidels. This application having been unsuccessful, they were not summoned again to Cortes, though several meet