Apartat históric - [[Què era què al 1700|Qué era qué en 1700|What was what in 1700]] - Constitucions
Barcelona Cultura
What was what in 1700


These were the highest legislative measures in the Principality and could only be amended by the Courts. They were approved by pacts between the king and the braços, or estates. The Catalan constitutions were compiled on several occasions, in 1494, 1588-1589 and 1704, and, though they contained certain provisions that had fallen into disuse, most were perfectly valid in civil life. These provisions guaranteed, firstly, the collective rights of the Catalan people, preventing interference by the royal authority, and, secondly, a wide range of individual rights and guarantees. These included freedom of residence, the inviolability of domicile and correspondence, habeas corpus, the right not to serve in the royal army except to defend Catalan territory, the right not to be condemned without proof and, above all, the obligation of the

monarch to judge according to such proof, which prevented all arbitrary judgements. These collective and individual rights were enjoyed by a society that was organised around the three estates, founded on privilege and the resolution of conflicting social interests under the premises of Catalan constitutionalism.

Difference between furs (privileges) and constitutions

The constitutions were agreements established by the Courts after negotiations, and could be proposed by either the monarch or the braços (estates). These pacts were, then, the result of a need on both sides: on the one hand, the estates wanted to adapt legislation to present circumstances and demands; on the other, the king sought to obtain the economic contribution from the Principality as approved by the Courts. Accordingly, the constitutions were the legal expression of contractual agreements established between the king and the braços after a period of negotiation. At the Courts of 1701-1702 and 1705-1706, new constitutions were agreed that modernised the functioning of the Catalan institutions, reflecting the socio-economic transformations brought about by the dynamic political situation and the presence of the bourgeoisie in the Commons. Unlike the constitutions, the furs were privileges or concessions granted by the monarch to a territory or town, with no negotiations taking place between the parties. These furs, therefore, had lower status than the constitutions. The approval of new constitutions at the close of each of the Courts confirmed the vitality and dynamism of a political system that had gradually become more open and representative of the interests pursued by the principal economic and social classes in Catalonia.

The Courts of 1705-1706

Archduke Charles convened the Courts for the same reasons as his adversary, Philip V. However, the course of these sessions determined the transformation of Catalan laws, as they were adapted to the demands of the Catalan merchant bourgeoisie. The main agreements reached at the Courts of 1701-1702 were ratified to this purpose. In the economic sphere, certain improvements were achieved, such as an increase in the number of ships that could trade directly with America, exempt from the controls of the Casa de Contractación (“House of Trade”) government agency in Seville. Regarding institutional matters, it was agreed that the Court of Contrafactions should be maintained, and measures were approved to enable greater control to be exercised over royal functionaries in order to prevent the abusive and corrupt practices that regular royal visits only encouraged, to require that officers of the Inquisition in Catalonia should be Catalan nationals and to regulate corn prices in order to prevent speculation. At the political level, it was agreed to reincorporate the counties of Rosselló and Cerdanya, which had been absorbed by France under the terms of the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659), as well as the restitution of Italian territories (Sardinia, Sicily and Naples) to the Crown of Aragon. Another of the principal demands of the Catalan Commons was also granted: the restoration of the right to freely use the method of sortition, whilst the monarch was denied any possibility of intervening with regard to lists of candidates for election. All this meant that those Courts represented a decisive step towards the modernisation of the Catalan institutions, transforming the pact-based tradition into a contractual alternative that offered more guarantees.

The Courts of 1701-1702

Philip V of Castile convened the Courts in order to swear the Catalan constitutions and, in this way, ensure that he was acclaimed as the sovereign. These were the first Courts concluded since 1599, because the previous Courts, in 1626, had not been closed due to confrontation between the braços and the king. Six years later, in 1632, an attempt was made to reconvene them, but disagreement arose once more between the Catalan institutions and the monarch, a conflict that would be one of the causes behind the War of the Reapers (1640-1652). The representatives of the braços accepted the new monarch, Philip V, after it was agreed to resolve the grievances lodged by the Catalan institutions. In the economy, the king granted the Catalans the right to enter the American market with two ships per year, and to create the Companyia Nàutica Mercantil i Universal (“Merchant and Universal Nautical Company”) in the model of the Dutch and English companies engaged in trade with the East and West Indies. Certain modifications to the Catalan political system were also approved, enabling Catalonia to exercise greater control over finances, prevent corruption and facilitate the resolution of disputes between the royal authority and the Catalan institutions. These measures included the establishment of the Court of Contrafactions, on which royal jurists and delegates from the braços were equally represented. This Court settled claims lodged against royal functionaries accused of breaching the constitutions, privileges and rights of Catalonia. Nevertheless, the king wanted to retain his capacity to interfere in the election of members of the Diputació del General (Generalitat) and the Council of One Hundred, and did not agree to restore the right of sortition as the electoral procedure for these institutions, one of the main demands on the Catalan side. The Courts of 1701-1702 signified the restoration of normal relations between the Catalan institutions and the monarchy through the establishment of a mechanism for the control of royal officials.