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William Robertson

A View of the Progress of Society in Europe from the Subversion of the Roman Empire to the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century (1769)

Section III (pp. 120-139)

Note editoriali

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Section III (pp. 106-119)
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[120] The resentment which these outrages excited was so violent, and the power of the malecontent nobles was still so formidable, that to these may be ascribed, in a great degree, the ease and rapidity with which Charles VIII conquered the kingdom of Naples (7).

The event that gave rise to the violent contests concerning the succession to the crown of Naples and Sicily, which brought so many calamities upon these kingdoms, happened in the thirteenth century. Upon the death of the emperor Frederic II, Manfred, his natural son, aspiring to the Neapolitan throne, murdered his brother, the emperor Conrad [1254] (if we may believe contemporary historians), and by that crime obtained possession of it (8). The popes, from their implacable enmity to the house of Swabia, not only refused to recognise Manfred’s title, but endeavoured to excite against him some rival capable of wresting the sceptre out of his hand. Charles, count of Anjou, the brother of St. Louis, king of France, undertook this; and he received from the popes the investiture of the kingdom of Naples and Sicily as a fief held of the holy see. The count of Anjou’s efforts were crowned with success; Manfred fell in battle; and he took possession of the vacant throne. But soon after, Charles sullied the glory which he had acquired, by the injustice and cruelty with which he put to death, by the hands of the executioner, Conradin, the last prince of the house of Swabia, and the rightful heir of the Neapolitan crown. That gallant young prince asserted his title, to the last, with a courage worthy of a better fate. On the scaffold, he declared Peter, at that time prince, and soon after king of Aragon, who had married Manfred’s only daughter, his heir; and throwing his glove among the people, he entreated that it might be carried to Peter, as the symbol by which he conveyed all his rights to him (9). The desire of [121] avenging the insult offered to royalty, by the death of Conradin, concurred with his own ambition, in prompting Peter to take arms in support of the title which he had acquired. From that period, during almost two centuries, the houses of Aragon and Anjou contended for the crown of Naples. Amidst a succession of revolutions more rapid, as well as of crimes more atrocious, than what occur in the history of almost any other kingdom, monarchs, sometimes of the Aragonese line, and sometimes of the Angevin, were seated on the throne. At length the princes of the house of Aragon obtained [1434] such firm possession of this long-disputed inheritance, that they transmitted it quietly to a bastard branch of their family (10).

The race of the Angevin kings, however, was not extinct; nor had they relinquished their title to the Neapolitan crown. The count of Maine and Provence, the heir of this family, conveyed all his rights and pretensions to Louis XI. and to his successors. Charles VIII., as I have already related, crossed the Alps at the head of a powerful army [1494], in order to prosecute his claim with a degree of vigour far superior to that which the princes from whom he derived it had been capable of exerting. The rapid progress of his arms in Italy, as well as the short time during which he enjoyed the fruits of his success, have already been mentioned, and are well known. Frederic, the heir of the illegitimate branch of the Aragonese family, soon recovered the throne of which Charles had dispossessed him. Louis XII. and Ferdinand of Aragon united against this prince, whom both, though for different reasons, considered as an usurper, and agreed to divide his dominions between them [1501]. Frederic, unable to resist the combined monarchs, each of whom was far his superior in power, resigned his sceptre. Louis and Ferdinand, though they had concurred in making the conquest, differed about the division of it; and from allies became enemies. But [122] Gonsalvo de Cordova, partly by the exertion of such military talents as gave him a just title to the appellation of the Great Captain, which the Spanish historians have bestowed upon him; and partly by such shameless and frequent violations of the most solemn engagements, as leave an indelible stain on his memory; stripped the French of all that they possessed in the Neapolitan dominions, and secured the peaceable possession of them to his master. These, together with his other kingdoms, Ferdinand transmitted to his grandson Charles V., whose right to possess them, if not altogether incontrovertible, seems, at least, to be as well founded as that which the kings of France set up in opposition to it (11).

There is nothing in the political constitution, or interior government of the duchy of Milan, so remarkable as to require a particular explanation. But as the right of succession to that fertile province was the cause or the pretext of almost all the wars carried on in Italy during the reign of Charles V., it is necessary to trace these disputes to their source, and to inquire into the pretensions of the various competitors.

During the long and fierce contests excited in Italy by the violence of the Guelf and Ghibelline factions, the family of Visconti rose to great eminence among their fellow-citizens of Milan. As the Visconti had adhered uniformly to the Ghibelline or imperial interest, they, by way of recompense received from one emperor the dignity of perpetual vicars of the empire in Italy [1354] (12); they were created by another duke of Milan [1395]; and, together with that title, the possession of the city and its territories was bestowed upon them as an hereditary fief (13). John, king of France, among other expedients for raising money, which the calamities of his reign obliged him to employ, condescended [123] to give one of his daughters in marriage to John Galeazzo Visconti, the first duke of Milan, from whom he had received considerable sums. Valentine Visconti, one of children of this marriage, married her cousin, Louis, duke of Orleans, the only brother of Charles VI. In their marriage-contract, which the pope confirmed, it was stipulated that, upon failure of heirs male in the family of Visconti, the duchy of Milan should descend to the posterity of Valentine and the duke of Orleans. That event took place. In the year one thousand four hundred and forty-seven, Philip Maria, the last prince of the ducal family of Visconti, died. Various competitors claimed the succession. Charles, duke of Orleans, pleaded his right to it, founded on the marriage-contract of his mother, Valentine Visconti. Alfonso, king of Naples, claimed it in consequence of a will made by Philip Maria in his favour. The emperor contended that, upon the extinction of male issue in the family of Visconti, the fief returned to the superior lord, and ought to be re-annexed to the empire. The people of Milan, smitten with the love of liberty which in that age prevailed among the Italian states, declared against the dominion of any master, and established a republican form of government.

But during the struggle among so many competitors, the prize for which they contended was seized by one from whom none of them apprehended any danger. Francis Sforza, the natural son of Jacomuzzo Sforza, whom his courage and abilities had elevated from the rank of a peasant to be one of the most eminent and powerful of the Italian condottieri, having succeeded his father in the command of the adventures who followed his standard, had married a natural daughter of the last duke of Milan. Upon this shadow of a title Francis founded his pretensions to the duchy, which he supported with such talents and valour as placed him at last on the ducal throne. The virtues, as well as abilities, with which he governed, inducing his subjects to forget the defects in his title, he transmitted his [124] dominions quietly to his son, from whom they descended to his grandson. He was murdered by his grand-uncle, Ludovico, surnamed the Moor, who took possession of the duchy; and his right to it was confirmed by the investiture of the emperor Maximilian, in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety-four (14).

Louis XI, who took pleasure in depressing the princes of the blood, and who admired the political abilities of Francis Sforza, would not permit the duke of Orleans to take any step in prosecution of his right to the duchy of Milan. Ludovico the Moor kept up such a close connexion with Charles VIII, that, during the greater part of his reign, the claim of the family of Orleans continued to lie dormant. But when the crown of France devolved on Louis XII., duke of Orleans, he instantly asserted the rights of his family with the ardour which it was natural to expect, and marched at the head of a powerful army to support them. Ludovico Sforza, incapable of contending with such a rival, was stripped of all his dominions in the space of a few days. The king, clad in the ducal robes, entered Milan in triumph; and soon after, Ludovico, having been betrayed by the Swiss in his pay, was sent a prisoner into France, and shut up in the castle of Loches, where he lay unpitied during the remainder of his days. In consequence of one of the singular revolutions which occur so frequently in the history of the Milanese, his son, Maximilian Sforza, was placed on the ducal throne, of which he kept possession during the reign of Louis XII [1512]. But his successor, Francis I, was too high-spirited and enterprising tamely to relinquish his title. As soon as he was seated upon the throne, he prepared to invade the Milanese; and his right of succession to it appears, from this detail, to have been more natural and more just than that of any other competitor.

It is unnecessary to enter into any detail with respect to [125] the form of government in Genoa, Parma, Modena, and the other inferior states of Italy. Their names, indeed, will often occur in the following history. But the power of these states themselves was so inconsiderable, that their fate depended little upon their own efforts; and the frequent revolutions which they underwent were brought about rather by the operations of the princes who attacked or defended them, than by anything peculiar in their internal constitution.

Of the great kingdom on this side of the Alps, Spain is one of the most considerable, and as it was the hereditary domain of Charles V, as well as the chief source of his power and wealth, a distinct knowledge of its political constitution is of capital importance towards understanding the transactions of his reign.

The Vandals and Goths, who overturned the Roman power in Spain, established a form of government in that country, and introduced customs and laws, perfectly similar to those which were established in the rest of Europe by the other victorious tribes which acquired settlements there. For some time society advanced, among the new inhabitants of Spain, by the same steps, and seemed to hold the same course, as in other European nations [712]. To this progress, a sudden stop was put by the invasion of the Saracens or Moors from Africa. The Goths could not withstand the efforts of their enthusiastic valour, which subdued the greatest part of Spain, with the same impetuous rapidity that distinguishes all the operations of their arms. The conquerors introduced into the country in which they settled, the Mahometan religion, the Arabic language, the manners of the East, together with that taste for the arts, and that love of elegance and splendour, which the caliphs had begun to cultivate among their subjects.

Such Gothic nobles as disdained to submit to the Moorish yoke, fled for refuge to the inaccessible mountains of Asturias. There they comforted themselves, with enjoying the exercise [126] of the Christian religion, and with maintaining the authority of their ancient laws. Being joined by many of the boldest and most warlike among their countrymen, they sallied out upon the adjacent settlements of the Moors in small parties; but venturing only upon short excursions at first, they were satisfied with plunder and revenge, without thinking of conquest. By degree their strength increased, their views enlarged, a regular government was established among them, and they began to aim at extending their territories. While they pushed on their attacks with the unremitting ardour excited by zeal for religion, by the desire of vengeance, and by the hope of rescuing their country from oppression; while they conducted their operations with the courage natural to men who had no other occupation but war, and who were strangers to all the arts which corrupt or enfeeble the mind, the Moors gradually lost many of the advantages to which they had been indebted for their first success. They threw off all dependence on the caliphs (15); they neglected to preserve a close connexion with their countrymen in Africa; their empire in Spain was split into many small kingdoms; the arts which they cultivated, together with the luxury to which these gave rise, relaxed, in some measure, the force of their military institutions, and abated the vigour of their warlike spirit. The Moors, however, continued still to be a gallant people, and possessed great resources. According to the magnificent style of the Spanish historians, eight centuries of almost uninterrupted war elapsed, and three thousand seven hundred battles were fought, before the last of the Moorish kingdoms in Spain submitted to the Christian arms [1492].

As the Christians made their conquests upon the Mahometans at various periods, and under different leaders, each formed the territory which he had wrested from the common enemy into an independent state. Spain was divided into almost as many separate kingdoms as it contained [127] provinces; in each city of note a petty monarch established his throne, and assumed all the ensigns of royalty. In a series of Years, however, by the usual events of intermarriages, or succession, or conquest, all these inferior principalities were annexed to the more powerful kingdoms of Castile and of Aragon. At length, by the fortunate marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella [1481], the former the hereditary monarch of Aragon, and the latter raised to the throne of Castile by the affection of her subjects, all the Spanish crowns were united, and descended in the same line.

From this period, the political constitution of Spain began to assume a regular and uniform appearance; the genius of its government may be delineated, and the progress of its laws and manners may be traced, with certainty. Notwithstanding the singular revolution which the invasion of the Moors occasioned in Spain, and the peculiarity of its fate, in being so long subject to the Mahometan yoke, the customs introduced by the Vandals and Goths had taken such deep root, and were so thoroughly incorporated with the frame of its government, that in every province which the Christians recovered from the Moors, we find the condition of individuals, as well as the political constitution, nearly the same as in other nations of Europe. Lands were held by the same tenure; justice was dispensed in the same form; the same privileges were claimed by the nobility, and the same power exercised by the cortes, or general assembly of the kingdom. Several circumstances contributed to secure this permanence of the feudal institutions in Spain, notwithstanding the conquest of the Moors, which seemed to have overturned them. Such of the Spaniards as preserved their independence adhered to their ancient customs, not only from attachment to them, but out of antipathy to the Moors, to whose ideas concerning property and government these customs were totally repugnant. Even among the Christians, who submitted [128] to the Moorish conquerors, and consented to become their subjects, ancient customs were not entirely abolished. They were permitted to retain their religion, their laws concerning private property, their forms of administering justice, and their mode of levying taxes. The followers of Mahomet are the only enthusiasts who have united the spirit of toleration with zeal for making proselytes, and who, at the same time that they took arms to propagate the doctrine of their prophet, permitted such as would not embrace it to their own tenets, and to practise their own rites. To this peculiarity in the genius of the Mahometan religion, as well as to the desire which the Moors had of reconciling the Christians to their yoke, it was owing that the ancient manners and laws in Spain survived the violent shock of a conquest, and were permitted to subsist, notwithstanding the introduction of a new religion and a new form of government into that country. It is obvious, from all these particulars, that the Christians must have found it extremely easy to re-establish manners and government on their ancient foundations, in those provinces of Spain which they wrested successively from the Moors. A considerable part of the people retained such a fondness for the customs, and such a reverence for the laws of their ancestors, that, wishing to see them completely restored, they were not only willing but eager to resume the former, and to recognise the authority of the latter.

But though the feudal form of government. with all the institutions which characterise it, was thus preserved entire in Castile and Aragon, as well as in all the kingdoms which depended on these crowns, there were certain paculiarities in their political constitutions which distinguish them from those of any other country in Europe. The royal prerogative, extremely limited in every feudal kingdom, was circumscribed in Spain within such narrow bounds as reduced the power of the sovereign almost to nothing. The privileges of the nobility were great in proportion, and extended so [129] far, as to border on absolute independence. The immunities of the cities were likewise greater than in other feudal kingdoms; they possessed considerable influence in the cortes, and they aspired at obtaining more. Such a state of society, in which the political machine was so ill adjusted, and the several members of the legislature so improperly balanced, produced internal disorders in the kingdoms of Spain, which rose beyond the pitch of turbulence and anarchy usual under the feudal government. The whole tenor of the Spanish history confirms the truth of this observation; and when the mutinous spirit, to which the genius of their policy gave birth and vigour, was no longer restrained and overawed by the immediate dread of the Moorish arms, it broke out into frequent insurrections against the government of their princes, as well as more outrageous insults on their dignity, than occur in the annals of any other country. These were accompanied at some times with more liberal sentiments concerning the rights of the people, at other times with more elevated notions concerning the privileges of the nobles, than were common in other nations.

In the principality of Catalonia, which was annexed to the kingdom of Aragon, the impatience of the people to obtain a redress of their grievances having prompted them to take arms against their sovereign, John II [1462], they, by a solemn deed, recalled the oath of allegiance which they had sworn to him, declared him and his posterity to be unworthy of the throne (16), and endeavoured to establish a republican form of government, in order to secure the perpetual enjoyment of that liberty after which they aspired (17). Nearly about the same period, the indignation of the Castilian nobility against the weak and flagitious administration of Henry IV having led them to [130] combine against him, they arrogated, as one of the privileges belonging to their order, the right of trying and passing sentence on their sovereign. That the exercise of this power might be as public and solemn as the pretension to it was bold, they summoned all the nobility of their party to meet at Avila [1465]; a spacious theatre was erected in a plain without the walls of the town; an image representing the king was seated on a throne, clad in royal robes, with a crown on its head, a sceptre in its hand, and the sword of justice by its side. The accusation against the king was read, and the sentence of deposition was pronounced in presence of a numerous assembly.

At the close of the first article of the charge, the archbishop of Toledo advanced and tore the crown from the head of the image; at the close of the second, the Conde de Placentia snatched the sword of justice from its side; at the close of the third, the Conde de Benevente wrested the sceptre from its hand; at the close of the last, Don Diego Lopez de Stuniga tumbled it headlong from the throne. At the same instant Don Alfonso, Henry’s brother, was proclaimed king of Castile and Leon in his stead (18).

The most daring leaders of faction would not have ventured on these measures, nor have conducted them with such public ceremony, if the sentiments of the people concerning the royal dignity had not been so formed by the laws and policy to which they were accustomed both in Castile and Catalonia, as prepared them to approve of such extraordinary proceedings, or to acquiesce in them.

In Aragon the form of government was monarchical, but the genius and maxims of it were purely republican. The kings, who were long elective, retained only the shadow of power; the real exercise of it was in the cortes, or parliament of the kingdom. This supreme assembly was composed of four different arms or members: the nobility of the first rank; the equestrian order, or nobility [131] of the second class; the representatives of the cities and towns, whose right to a place in the cortes, if we may give credit to the historians of Aragon, was coeval with the constitution; the ecclesiastical order, composed of the dignitaries of the church, together with the representatives of the inferior clergy (19). No law could pass in this assembly without the assent of every single member who had a right to vote (20). Without the permission of the cortes no tax could be imposed; no war could be declared; no peace could be concluded; no money could be coined; nor could any alteration be made in the current specie (21). The power of reviewing the proceedings of all inferior courts, the privilege of inspecting every department of administration, and the right of redressing all grievances, belonged to the cortes. Nor did those who conceived themselves to be aggrieved address the cortes in the humble tone of supplicants, and petition for redress; they demanded it as the birthright of freemen, and required the guardians of their liberty to decide with respect to the points which they laid before them (22). This sovereign court was held during several centuries every year; but, in consequence of a regulation introduced about the beginning of the fourteenth century, it was convoked from that period only once in two years. After it was assembled, the king had no right to prorogue or dissolve it without its own consent; and the session continued forty days (23).

No satisfied with having erected such formidable barriers against the encroachments of the royal prerogative, nor willing to commit the sole guardianship of their liberties entirely to the vigilance and authority of an assembly similar to the diets, states-general, and parliaments, in which the other feudal nations have placed so much confidence, the Aragonese had recourse to an institution [132] peculiar to themselves, and elected a justiza, or supreme judge. This magistrate, whose office bore some resemblance to that of the ephori in ancient Sparta, acted as the protector of the people and the comptroller of the prince. The person of the justiza was sacred, his power and jurisdiction almost unbounded. He was the supreme interpreter of the laws. Not only inferior judges, but the kings themselves, were bound to consult him in every doubtful case, and to receive his responses with implicit deference (24). An appeal lay to him from the royal judges, as well as from those appointed by the barons within their respective territories. Even when no appeal was made to him, he could interpose by his own authority, prohibit the ordinary judge to proceed, take immediate cognisance of the cause himself, and remove the party accused to the manifestation, or prison of the state, to which no person had access but by his permission. His power was exerted with no less vigour and effect in superintending the administration of government, than in regulating the course of justice. It was the prerogative of the justiza to inspect the conduct of the king. He had a title to review all the royal proclamations and patents, and to declare whether or not they were agreable to law, and ought to be carried into execution. He, by his sole authority, could exclude any of the king’s ministers from the conduct of affairs, and call them to answer for their mal-administration. He himself was accountable to the cortes only for the manner in which he discharged the duties of this high office, and performed functions of the greatest importance that could be committed to a subject (25) [GG].

It is evident, from a bare enumeration of the privileges of Aragonese cortes, as well as of the rights belonging to the justiza, that a very small portion of power [133] remained in the hands of the king. The Aragonese seem to have been solicitous that their monarchs should know and feel this state of impotence to which they were reduced. Even in swearing allegiance to their sovereign, an act which ought naturally to be accompanied with professions of submission and respect, they devised an oath in such a form as to remind him of his dependence on his subjects. "We", said the justiza to the king in the name of his high-spirited barons, "who are each of us as good, and who are altogether more powerful than you, promise obedience to your government, if you maintain our rights and liberties; but if not, not." Conformably to this oath they established it as a fundamental article in their constitution, that if the king should violate their rights and privileges, it was lawful for the people to disclaim him as their sovereign, and to elect another, even though a heathen, in his place (26). The attachment of the Aragonese to this singular constitution of government was extreme, and their respect for it approached to superstitious veneration [HH]. In the preamble to one of their laws they declare, that such was the barrenness of their country, and the poverty of the inhabitants, that, if it were not on account of the liberties by which they were distinguished from other nations, the people would abandon it, and go in quest of a settlement to some more fruitful region (27).

In Castile there were not such peculiarities in the form of government as to establish any remarkable distinction between it and that of the other European nations. The executive part of government was committed to the king, but with a prerogative extremely limited. The legislative authority resided in the cortes, which was composed of the nobility, the dignified ecclesiastics, and the representatives of the cities. The assembly of the cortes in Castile was very ancient, and seems to have been almost coeval with the constitution. The members of the three different [134] orders, who had a right of suffrage, met in one place, and deliberated as one collective body, the decisions of which were regulated by the sentiments of the majority. The right of imposing taxes, of enacting laws, and of redressing grievances, belonged to this assembly; and, in order to secure the assent of the king to such statutes and regulations as were deemed salutary or beneficial to the kingdom, it was usual in the cortes to take no step towards granting money, until all business relative to the public welfare was concluded. The representatives of cities seem to have obtained a seat very early in the cortes of Castile, and soon acquired such influence and credit as were very uncommon, at a period when the splendour and pre-eminence of the nobility had eclipsed or depressed all other orders of men. The number of members from cities bore such a proportion to that of the whole collective body, as rendered them extremely respectable in the cortes [I I]. The degree of consideration which they possessed in the state may be estimated by one event. Upon the death of John I. [1390] a council of regency was appointed to govern the kingdom during the minority of his son. It was composed of an equal number of noblemen and of deputies chosen by the cities; the latter were admitted to the same rank, and invested with the same powers, as prelates and grandees of the first order (28). But though the members of communities in Castile were elevated above the condition wherein they were placed in other kingdoms of Europe, though they had attained to such political importance, that even the proud and jealous spirit of the feudal aristocracy could not exclude them from a considerable share in government; yet the nobles, notwithstanding these acquisitions of the commons, continued to assert the privileges of their order, in opposition to the crown, in a tone extremely high. There was not any body of nobility in Europe more distinguished for independence of spirit, [135] haughtiness of deportment, and bold pretensions, than that of Castile. The history of that monarchy affords the most striking examples of the vigilance with which they observed, and of the vigour with which they opposed, every measure of their kings, that tended to encroach on their jurisdiction, to diminish their dignity, or to abridge their power. Even in their ordinary intercourse with their monarchs they preserved such a consciousness of their rank, that the nobles of the first order claimed it as a privilege to be covered in the royal presence, and approached their sovereigns rather as equals than as subjects.

The constitutions of the subordinate monarchies which depended on the crowns of Castile and Aragon, nearly resembled those of the kingdoms to which they were annexed. In all of them the dignity and independence of the nobles were great; the immunities and power of the cities were considerable.

An attentive observation of the singular situation of Spain, as well as the various events which occurred there, from the invasion of the Moors to the union of its kingdom under Ferdinand and Isabella, will discover the causes to which all the peculiarities in its political constitution I have pointed out, ought to be ascribed.

As the provinces of Spain were wrested from the Mahometans gradually and with difficulty, the nobles who followed the standard of any eminent leader in these wars, conquered not for him alone, but for themselves. They claimed a share in the lands which their valour had won from the enemy, and their prosperity and power increased, in proportion as the territory of the prince extended.

During their perpetual wars with the Moors, the monarchs of the several kingdom in Spain depended so much on their nobles, that it became necessary to conciliate their goodwill by successive grants of new honours and privileges. By the time that any prince could establish his dominion in a conquered province, the greater part of the territory [136] was parcelled out by him among his barons, with such jurisdiction and immunities as raised them almost to sovereign power.

At the same time, the kingdoms erected in so many different corners of Spain were of inconsiderable extent. The petty monarch was but little elevated above his nobles. They, feeling themselves to be almost his equals, acted as such; and could not look up to the kings of such limited domains with the same reverence that the sovereigns of the great monarchies in Europe were viewed by their subjects [KK].

While these circumstances concurred in exalting the nobility, and in depressing the royal authority, there were other causes which raised the cities in Spain to consideration and power.

As the open country, during the wars with the Moors, was perpetually exposed to the incursions of the enemy, with whom no peace or truce was so permanent as to prove any lasting security, self-preservation obliged persons of all ranks to fix their residence in places of strength. The castles of the barons, which, in other countries, afforded a commodious retreat from the depredations of banditti, or from the transient violence of any interior commotion, were unable to resist an enemy whose operations were conducted with regular and persevering vigour. Cities, in which great numbers united for their mutual defence, were the only places in which people could reside with any prospect of safety. To this was owing the rapid growth of those cities in Spain of which the Christians recovered possession. All who fled from the Moorish yoke resorted to them, as to an asylum; and in them, the greater part of those who took the field against the Mahometans, established their families.

Several of these cities, during a longer or shorter course of years, were the capitals of little states, and enjoyed all advantages which accelerate the increase of inhabitants in every place that is the seat of government.

[137] From these concurring causes, the number of cities in Spain, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, had become considerable, and they were peopled far beyond the proportion which was common in other parts of Europe, except in Italy and the Low Countries. The Moors had introduced manufactures into those cities, while under their dominion. The Christians, who, by intermixture with them, had learned their arts, continued to cultivate these. Trade, in severalo of the Spanish towns, appears to have been carried on with vigour; and the spirit of commerce continued to preserve the number of their inhabitants, as the sense of danger had first induced them to crowd together.

As the Spanish cities were populous, many of the inhabitants were of as rank superior to those who resided in towns in other countries of Europe. That cause, which contributed chiefly to their population, affected equally persons of every condition, who flocked thither promiscuously, in order to find shelter there, or in hopes of making a stand against the enemy, with greater advantage than in any other station. The persons elected as their representatives in the cortes by the cities, or promoted to offices of trust and dignity in the government of the community, were often, as will appear from transactions which I shall hereafter relate, of such considerable rank in the kingdom, as reflected lustre on their constituents, and on the stations wherein they were placed.

As it was impossible to carry on a continual war against the Moors, without some other military force than that which the barons were obliged to bring into the field, in consequence of the feudal tenures, it became necessary to have some troops, particularly a body of light cavalry, in constant pay. It was one of the privileges of the nobles, that their lands were exempt from the burden of taxes. The charge of supporting the troops requisite for the public safety fell wholly upon the cities; and their kings, being obliged frequently to apply to them for aid, found it necessary to gain [138] their favour by concessions, which not only extended their immunities, but added to their wealth and power.

When the influence of all these circumstances, peculiar to Spain, is added to the general and common causes, which contributed to aggrandize cities in other countries of Europe, this will fully account for the extensive privileges which they acquired, as well as for the extraordinary consideration to which they attained, in all the Spanish kingdoms [LL].

By these exorbitant privileges of the nobility, and this unusual power of the cities in Spain, the royal prerogative was hemmed in on every side, and reduced within very narrow bounds. Sensible of this, and impatient of such restraint, several monarchs endeavoured, at various junctures and by different means, to enlarge their own jurisdiction. Their power, however, or their abilities, were so unequal to the undertaking, that their efforts were attended with little success. But when Ferdinand and Isabella found themselves at the head of the united kingdoms of Spain, and delivered from the danger and interruption of domestic wars, they were not only in a condition to resume, but were able to prosecute with advantage, the schemes for extending the prerogative, which their ancestors had attempted in vain. Ferdinand’s profound sagacity in concerting his measures, his persevering industry in conducting them, and his uncommon address in carrying them into execution, fitted him admirably for an undertaking which required all these talents.

As the overgrown power and high pretensions of the nobility were what the monarchs of Spain felt most sensibly, and bore with the greatest impatience, the great object of Ferdinand’s policy was to reduce these within more moderate bounds. Under various pretexts, sometimes by violence, more frequently in consequence of decrees obtained in the courts of law, he wrested from the barons a great part of the lands which had been granted to them by the inconsiderate bounty of former monarchs, particularly during the [139] feeble and profuse reign of his predecessor, Henry IV. He did not give the entire conduct of affairs to persons of noble birth, who were accustomed to occupy every department of importance in peace or in war, as if it had been a privilege peculiar to their order to be employed as the sole counsellors and ministers of the crown. He often transacted business of great consequence, without their intervention, and bestowed many offices of power and trust on new men, devoted to his interest (29). He introduced a degree of state and dignity into his court, which, being little known in Spain while it remained split into many small kingdoms, taught the nobles to approach their sovereign with more ceremony, and gradually rendered him the object of greater deference and respect.

The annexing the masterships of the three military orders of St. Jago, Calatrava, and Alcantara, to the crown, was another expedient by which Ferdinand greatly augmented the revenue and power of the kings of Spain. These orders were instituted, in imitation of those of the Knights Templars and of St. John of Jerusalem, on purpose to wage perpetual war with the Mahometans, and to protect the pilgrims who visited Compostella, or other places of eminent sanctity in Spain. The zeal and superstition of the ages in which they were founded, prompted persons of every rank to bestow such liberal donations on those holy warriors, that, in a short time, they engrossed a considerable share in the property and wealth of the kingdom. The masterships of these orders came to be stations of the greatest power and opulence to which a Spanish nobleman could be advanced. These high dignities were in the disposal of the knights of the order, and placed the persons on whom they conferred them almost on a level with their sovereign [MM]. Ferdinend, unwilling that the nobility, whom he considered as already too formidable, should derive such additional credit and influence from possessing the government of these wealthy.

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(7) Giannone, book XXVIII, chap. 2, vol. II, p. 414.

(8) Struv. Corp. Hist. Germ. I. 481. Giannone, book XVIII, ch. 5.

(9) Ibid. book XIX, ch. 4, § 2.

(10) Giannone, book XXVI, ch. 2.

(11) Droits des Rois de France au Royaume de Sicile. Mém. de Comin. édit. de Fresnoy, tom. IV, part II., p. 5

(12) Petrarch. Epist. ap. Struv. Corp. I, p. 625

(13) Leibnit. Cod. Jur. Gent. Diplom. vol. I, p. 257

(14) Ripalm. Hist. Mediol. lib. VI, 654, ap. Struv. Corp. I, 930. Du Mont, Corps Diplom. tom. III, p. II, 333, ibid.

(15) Jos. Sim. Assemani Histor. Ital. Scriptores, vol. III, p. 135.

(16) Zurita, Annales de Arag. tom. IV, 113, 115, &c.

(17) Ferrera, Hist. d’Espagne, tom. VII, p. 92. P. Orléans, Révol. d’Espagne, tom. III, p. 155. L.Marinæus Siculus, de Reb. Hispan. apud Schotti Script. Hisp. fol. 429.

(18) Marian. Hist. lib. XXXIII, ch. 9.

(19) Forma de celebrar Cortes en Aragon, por Geron. Marte.

(20) Martel. ibid. p. 2.

(21) Hier. Blanca, Comment. Rer. Aragon. ap. Schot. Script. Hispan. vol. III, p. 750.

(22) Martel. Forma de Celebr. p. 2.

(23) Hier. Blanca, Comment., 763.

(24) Blanca has preserved two responses of the justiza to James II, who reigned towards the close of the thirteenth century, Blanca, 748.

(25) Hier. Blanca, Comment., pp. 747. 755.

(26) Hier. Blanca, Comment., p. 720.

(27) Hier. Blanca, Comment., p. 751.

(28) Marian. Hist. lib. XVIII, c. 15.

(29) Zurita, Annales de Arag., tom. VI, p. 22.

References to Proofs and Illustrations

[GG] Note XXX

[HH] Note XXXI

[I I] Note XXXII



[MM] Note XXXV

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