Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/386

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

families. At first the Proctors were merely mandataries commissioned to give certain answers to questions set forth in the royal summons. If further matters were proposed, they were obliged to refer to their electors. No law prescribed the interval at which Cortes should be called; but extraordinary supply was generally voted for three years, and at the end of that time parliament was summoned to vote a fresh supply. When the King was in no need of money and the succession was secured, the intervals were longer; no parliament met between 1482 and 1498. The time, place, number of sessions, and subjects for discussion were fixed by the King. .

Cortes were general or particular, according as the three Estates, or the commons alone, were summoned. The three Orders deliberated separately. General Cortes met to take the oath of allegiance, and to receive confirmation of privileges. When supply was the only business, the commons alone attended. As exempt from taxation, the nobles and clergy finally ceased to attend after 1538. The King swore to maintain the liberties of his subjects only after receiving their oath of allegiance; nor was it till after voting supply that the commons presented their petition demanding redress of grievances, extension of privileges, and fulfilment of promises. The articles of these petitions ranged from the widest reforms to trivial local matters; they were severally granted, refused, or evaded by the King according to his own judgment or the advice of his Council. The only remedy of the Cortes was to refuse or reduce supply on the next occasion. In order to secure their subservience, the Kings sought to usurp the right of nominating Proctors; to dictate an unlimited commission in a prescribed form; to win over the Proctors themselves by bribes; and to impose an oath of secrecy with regard to their deliberations.

The Cortes had no legislative power. Their suggestions, if accepted by the King, at once became law. But the King was the sole lawgiver, and consent of parliament was not necessary to the validity of his decrees.

Besides being lawgiver, the King was the sole fountain of civil and criminal justice. His powers were delegated (1) to his Council, as supreme Court of Appeal; (2) to the alcaldes de corte, a judicial body, part of which held irregular assizes, while part accompanied the royal Court, superseding local tribunals; (3) to the Chancery, or Court of Appeal, of Valladolid (a second for Spain south of the Tagus was founded in 1494 and established at Granada, 1505; in the sixteenth century these audiencias or High Courts superseded the adelantados and merinos); (4) to the corregidores; (5) to municipal judges locally elected under \hejuero. Besides these there existed ecclesiastical Courts partially independent of the Crown.

Since its feudal oligarchy had been broken down (1348) Aragon had enjoyed a constitution capable, under an energetic King, of securing