Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/387

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good government. It differed from that of Castile in its more aristocratic theory and more democratic, or rather oligarchic, practice. The free population was divided into four Estates,—the clergy, the greater nobility, the petty nobility, and the citizens or commons. Each of these Orders was represented in parliament. The numbers of their deputies varied; in 1518 we find the clergy with fifteen; the greater nobles (ricos homes) with twenty-seven; the petty nobility (infanzones) with thirty-six; and the commons with thirty-six. The parliament thus formed had far greater power than that of Castile. Custom demanded that it should meet every two years, and that the King should attend all its sessions. Absolute unanimity was required to give validity to its decisions. It exacted confirmation of liberties before swearing allegiance, and redress of grievances before voting supply. So exorbitant did its claim seem to the Castilian Isabel, as to cause her to declare that she would rather conquer the country than suffer the affronts of its parliament. When parliament was not sitting, its place was taken by a permanent commission of two members of each Estate, which jealously watched over the public liberties and the administration of the public moneys. Below the four Estates stood the serfs of the Crown and of the nobles, who formed the majority of the population. They were little more than chattels, without legal or political privileges.

The Justicia was originally an arbiter between King and the nobles. He afterwards came to be regarded as the personification and guardian of the liberties of the Aragonese. He was appointed by the Crown, but after the middle of the fifteenth century held office for life. His powers consisted of the right of manifestation, or removal of an accused person to his own custody until the decision of his case by the proper Court; and of that of granting Jirmas, or protection of the property of litigants until sentence was given. The office ofjusticia, the importance of which has been greatly exaggerated, was similar to that of "inspector of wrongs" among the Arabs. The municipal liberties were of high significance. Some communities had the right of owning vassals and administering public revenues, as well as that of jurisdiction. The municipalities elected their magistrates, generally by lot; but privileges differed locally, and in some districts the powers of the nobles were almost unlimited.

The constitution of Catalonia bore traces of the ancient and close connexion of this principality with France, and formed the most complete type of feudalism south of the Pyrenees. As such it resembled that of Aragon more closely than that of Castile. The preponderance of the nobles was very great, though the three Estates were represented in parliament. The vassals remained in a condition of the harshest serfdom, until it was ameliorated by John II in his struggle with the nobles (1460-72). The "evil customs" under which they groaned were finally swept away by King Ferdinand (1481).