« AnteriorContinuar »
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 cleliberated 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in conjunction with any one of the three estates, we find, in the Cortes held at Medina del Campo in 1370, several laws repealed by the king, at the petition of the towns, which had been enacted the preceding year at Toro, with consent of the three Estates, con acuerdo de los perlados, e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 de cline. The practice, introduced by Alonso XI., 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 diminisheil, 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 of 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
ings of the deputies of the towns took place in the interval, till 1538, when they were assembled for the last time at Toledo. On this occasion the three orders met, and deliberated separately; and were not allowed to confer together, notwithstanding the earnest supplications of the nobles to be permitted with the deputies of the towns. The object of the meeting was to obtain a general tax or excise. The clergy were willing to comply with the Emperor's wishes, but the nobles steadily refused their consent; and, after three months had been spent in useless deliberations, Charles at length dissolved them abruptly, and never afterwards called them together. From this time the Cortes of Castile consisted of deputies of the towns only.
We have been led into these details by the difference of opinion between Mr Hallam and Marina. We have not quoted our authorities, because they are the manuscript acts of the Cortes which we have consulted on this point. It appears,
that in Castile, as in most European monarchies, the supreme legislative power was supposed to be vested in the king, but not to be legally exercised without the consent of his subjects. It appears, however, there was no fixed or established usage that determined the particular description of persons, whose consent was necessary to give validity to his legislative acts; and that the practice was exceedingly variable, not only froin one age to another, but in the same age. We have, in the same reign, laws with consent of the whole Cortes, and laws with consent of one branch of the Cortes only. This irregularity led, in the 15th century, to the general practice of summoning no persons to Cortes, except the deputies of the towns, with whose consent and the advice of his council the king made laws and ordinances for the better government of his kingilom. At a still later period, an abuse, which had begun in the reign of John II., was converted into an engine for superseding entirely the legislative control of the Cortes. Pragmaticas were issued by the King in Council, which were declared to have the force of laws, till they should be confirmed in Cortes: Ancí as the power of the Crown increased and the spirit of the people declined, these pragmaticas were at length declared to have the same force as if they had been passed in Cortes. Such has been the state of Spanish legislation since the accession of the house of Bourbon.
The deputies of the towns in Castile were persons of rank and consideration at a very early period, and may, with greater propriety, be compared to the knights of the shires, than to the citizens and burgesses of England. In the thirteenth century, they are styled omes buenos in the acts of the Cortes; but in the fourteenth and succeeding centuries, they call themselves fijos dalgo, cavalleros e escuderos e omes buenos. They had wages from their constituents as in England. In 1525, the deputies of Seville had each four ducats a day. They had, in general, full powers from the cities they represented; but on some occasions, their powers were limited. Each town or city had a single vote; and therefore it was of no consequence how many members it sent to Cortes. In later times, it was usual to chuse two representatives only; but in the early part of Spanish history, we find the number exceedingly variable, and sometimes very great. At the Cortes of Burgos in 1315, many towns were represented by one member only, while Soria sent seven and Avila thirteen. Where the deputies of a town were equally divided in opinion, that town, of course, lost its vote on the question. Contested elections were decided by the Council, notwithstanding several ineffectual attempts of the deputies to bring the decision before themselves. The members of the Council had a right to be present at the deliberations of the Cortes, though this was sometimes disputed; but they had no voice in their decisions. The deputies deliberated with close doors, and took an oath not to reveal what was communicated to them by the king, or what passed in debate among themselves.
Mr Hallam, misled by a passage in the Partidas, denies the existence of territorial jurisdictions in Castile. If he had looked into the ordenamiento of Alcalà, he would have found ample proof to the contrary. The local jurisdictions in Castile, were not feudal; and, in some respects, were a still more imperfect institution. The seignior, or lord of the district, did not hold a court, and try causes with assistance of his vassals, but appointed an alcalde, or' single judge, who had the administration of justice, civil and criminal, in the first instance. These territorial rights of justice, originated, like the charters of corporations, in grants of the Crown; and there was peal from all subordinate tribunals to the King's Courts. The same constitution still subsists in Castile. Every village, or pueblo, is realengo, abadengo or de senorio, according as it is subject to the king, to the church, or to a seignior; and a certain territory, called its jurisdiccion, is annexed to it, within which the alcalde has a right to try all questions, civil or criminal, and even to decide in cases of life and death, but with an appeal to the superior courts. The alcalde is appointed by
the king, or by the seignior, civil or ecclesiastical, of the village, and is commonly taken from a list of three persons, selected by the alcalde of the preceding year.
Certain dues are payable to the lord; but, in general, they are slight, and not exacted with severity; and, in return, the lord is expected to give his assistance to the village, in times of distress or public calamity. In antient times, it was considered an advantage to belong to the king; but latterly it has been deemed a misfortune, the officers of the Crown having been found more rigid in their exactions than those of private lords. The regidores are not judges, as Mr Hallam seems to imagine, but magistrates, who have charge of the police of the streets and markets, and the management of the revenues and common property of the town or village.
After so much time bestowed on Castile, it will be impossible for us to enter at length on the constitution of Arragon. We must therefore content ourselves withi rceommending to our readets the observations of Mr Hallam on this singular form of government. They will find, in particular, an excellent account of the office and functions of the Justiza, and a deserved eulogium on the admirable institutions of the Arragonese, for the protection of individual liberty. It was the boast of Arragon, as it used to be the glory of England, that no stranger could set his foot upon her soil, without enjoying the equal benefit of her laws. Arragon' was, in these ages, the only spot. in Europe, that afforded refuge to the persecuted, and gave security to the oppressed. So fully was this principle established, that it was usual for the kings of Arragon, when they took strangers into their service, to make a private bargain with them. that they should not appeal to the protection of the Justiza. A saying of Alonso IV. shows the different spirit of the government in Arragon and Castile. That prince had taken for his second wife a sister of the king of Castile; and, yielding to her importunities, had, contrary to law, alienated in favour of her song, certain possessions annexed to the Crown. The Valencians remonstrated against these grants; and, declaring they would die sooner than consent to them, threatened to punish the advisers of this illegal transaction. The King excused' himself feebly; but the Queen, who was present at the council, rose in a fury and exclaimed, that her brother, the King of Castile, would not have suffered such language to be used to him, but would have cut off the head of any one who had opposed him with such insolence. On which the King, said, · Queen, our people are free, and not so submissive as the Castilians; they have respect for us as their lord, but we must treat them as our