Friday, December 19, 2014

The Catalan State. The institutions. ‘Cort General’ and ‘Diputació del General’ (or Generalitat).

On this day, 1359 were held "les Corts" in Cervera, origin of the Catalan Government so called Generalitat.
The judicial pact between the King, the Cort and the traditional principals of law which ruled the political protests, were the origin of the political and institutional history of Catalonia. The Diputació del General was the representing organ of the medieval and modern Catalan state until its abolition in 1714.

The medieval and modern states were constituted from the governing institutions which configured a defined territorial unit. It is a concept of state which is different from the contemporary state and which was not born from a political wish expressed by a popular sovereignty.

All over Europe, throughout the lower Middle Ages, governing entities were instituted which regulated the relationships of the different social classes with the monarch. The Kings were the source of power par excellence, and their environment was principally formed by the directing elite, that is, by the nobility. Therefore, the institutions of the European society of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries answered to the need to articulate the relationship between the King and nobility, by configuring a stately system which was born from the slow evolution of the feudal structure of the states.

The origin of the Diputació del General goes back to 1283, when the Corts convened by Peter II the Great established the constitution ‘Volem, estatuïm’ [We want, we establish], which was the basis of the pact regime or the agreed sovereignty. According to Catalan constitutional law, the only valid laws were those agreed upon between the king and the world classes; the ‘constitutions’ were valid if they were realised under the government’s initiative, and the court chapters could only be valid if they came from the flanks. The three flanks which composed the courts were divided in accordance with class categories: the military flank, the ecclesiastical flank and the royal flank, which was integrated by representatives of the cities and villas that belonged to the monarch’s dominion. Most of the population, farmers, craftsmen and the ‘poble menut’, in accordance with the expression of the time, were excluded from representation. Therefore, it was far from a popular and universal sovereignty.

The Courts could only be convoked by the King, in any city of Catalonia, and he had to personally preside over them. At the same time, the dispositions that were promulgated by the King without the Courts, like privileges, pragmatics or other rules had to be sanctioned at the following meeting. The negotiations between the monarch and the class representatives of the society concluded with the passing of the new legislation by the land’s government and the reparation of the legislative offences which had been committed. Afterwards, the donation was conceded to the monarch as a compensation. This supposed a considerable limit to the royal power; later on it became a definitive break to absolutism and it determined the principality’s political destiny in modern times.

To collect the royal donation, which became increasingly more important, a commission had to be nominated which took charge. This commission was the origin of what later became the Diputació del General which, in the middle of the fourteenth century, during the rule of Peter the Ceremonious, became permanent, coinciding with the growing financial demand of the monarchy. Through the Courts’ different flanks, the Diputació del General was a necessary mechanism to avoid the royal fiscal being confused with the extraordinary, as happened in Castilla or France, where the sovereign’s power was not so limited. Later on it evolved in accordance with the region’s necessities, until becoming a superior governing organ.

After the death of Martin the Humane without a successor, during the period known as Interregnum (1410-1412), and until the Compromise of Caspe and the enthronization of Ferdinand I of Trastámara, the Diputació assumed responsibilities of a political nature which, together with the initial prudence of the king, allowed it to normatively reinforce the rights of Catalonia and publish a compilation of the Catalan Constitutions. In the following Courts of 1413, the King accepted the nomination of the members of parliament without royal intervention. Later, in 1455, the system of ‘insaculació’ was introduced, which consisted in a chance election of members of parliament amongst the nominated candidates.

However, this same increase in political functions, at a time of deep economical crisis during the reign of John II, led to a constant growing tension inside the dialectic between royal power and its limitations in accordance with privileges and constitutions, which ended in a civil war that confronted the Diputació and the King from 1462 until 1472. The triumph of the royal party of Ferdinand II translated into a reform, which made the most of the bad administration and the terrible state of the finances. In this way the monarch introduced control mechanisms, like the Inquisition and the Royal Audience, as well as initiating a reform of the Barcelonan Consell de Cent, in which he introduced the ‘insaculatori’ system, with the double objective of breaking the monopoly of posts, and having more control over the institution.

The Consell de Cent had registered few changes in its functioning since its origins. However, as had happened with the Diputació del General, the lower Middle Ages crisis supposed the confrontation between the monarchy and the radicalization of the agreement positions of the municipal oligarchies.

In the case of the Consell de Cent, a profound social fracture occurred, having a strong opposition to the oligarchic government of the more ennobled honoured citizens. The cities were divided into two parties: the ‘Biga’, which was the oligarchy, and the ‘Busca’, which was initially formed by craftsmen, some honoured citizens, merchants and artists. The monarchies and the ‘buscaires’ [those belonging to the ‘Busca’ party] allied against the urban oligarchy, accomplishing a change in municipal government and the rise to power of the ‘Busca’. The most important reforms of Ferdinand II were the access of honoured citizens and lesser nobility to municipal government, and the use of the method of ‘insaculació’ (election by draw) of the municipal posts, which lasted until its abolishment in 1714.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and especially after the reign of Philip II, there was a period of permanent institutional conflict, born from the absolutist position of the monarchs of the house of Habsburg and the strengthening of the defence of the agreement system by the Diputació del General. The Hispanic monarchy, which was imperial in nature, tended towards the exercise of absolute power and, therefore, to the standardization of the crown’s different states, in order to finance its external politics, which were based upon the constant war conflicts all over Europe.

The rupture between Catalan institutions and the monarchy can be seen with the outbreak of the ‘Guerra dels Segadors’ [Reaper’s War], when the unified Diputació del General and the Consell de Cent decided to confront Philip IV. Both institutions allied against the monarch’s policies, because he did not respect the region’s laws and he had brought the population to revolt and desperation by the abuses of the military lodgings of the army, which had sent the Count Duke of Olivares, to fight against France. Catalonia, led by Pau Claris, agreed to put itself under the sovereignty of France between 1640 and 1652. In contrast, King Louis XIII promised to respect all the liberties and constitutions of the region.

The Diputació del General lost importance for two decades after Philip IV had returned to sovereignty. Later on, in 1697, a new entity appeared, the ‘Conferència dels Tres Comuns’ [Conference of the Three Commons] which, until 1714, and during the War of Succession, gathered a representation of the Consell de Cent, the Diputació del General and the ‘Braç Militar’ [Military Flank] at the most critical moment before two monarchies, those of Spain and France, to the defence of the Constitutions in front of the absolutist push.

The role of the Diputació del General and the Consell de Cent during the War of Succession remained expectant during the first years of the reign of Philip V. In 1705 the Treaty of Geneva was signed, by which England promised to disembark an army in Catalonia, give military support and respect, and create the institutions. In exchange, the Catalans had to back the crowning of Charles III of Hapsburg. The Corts were held in Barcelona in 1705, during which the concessions previously made to Philip V were ratified and the Conference of the Three Commons was recognised. When, in July 1713, the English allies retreated and Catalonia remained alone in front of the Franco-Castilian troops, the Junta de Braços acted as a legitimate government, without a king, and agreed to maintain the resistance against the army of Philip V. After a long and bloody siege lasting thirteen months, the capitulation of Barcelona on September 11th 1714 signified the loss of all its institutions and the implantation of the Nueva Planta Decree.

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