Monday, January 26, 2015

Inside the Austrian monarchy.

In the sixteenth century, the house of Austria ascended to the Spanish thrown. Catalonia struggled to conserve its laws and institutions in front of a markedly absolutist monarchy. The Count Duke of Olivares, who was the legal representative of Philip IV, was especially aggressive with Catalonia by insisting that this region subject itself to the style and laws of Castilla.
In 1516, with the ascension of Charles I to the thrown, who was the grandson of the Catholic Kings, emperor Maximilian of Habsburg and Maria of Burgoyne, lady of Flanders and of the Franc County, the instauration of the house of Austria in Catalonia was inaugurated. The union of the Kingdom of Aragon with Castilla was purely dynastic; that which was common to the different kingdoms was their monarchs, who were known by differing forms of address: of Castilla, of Aragon and counts of Barcelona. The progressive isolation of Catalonia in the international scene commenced with this monarchy composed of diverse states, having its own governing systems and laws.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Catalonia conserved its own laws, privileges and institutions, which is a fact that absolutely limited the royal power. However, it found itself in a very weakened, demographical and economical situation. This was the origin of the permanent conflict between the institutional authorities of Catalonia and the king: on the one hand, the limitation of royal authority and, on the other, the growing demands for subsidies in the Corts.

The recently constituted Consell Suprem d’Aragó [Supreme Council of Aragon] was the bridging organism between the king and his representative in the kingdom, the viceroy. This mechanism of government was the link, which was in permanent tension, between Catalonia and the Hispanic empire. The conflict increased as the royal wish found itself hindered by the laws and institutions of the region.

After a century and a half of penuries, an economical recuperation in the countryside was initiated, where the integration of the abandoned farmhouses and the consequent amplification of the land of the country houses started to bear fruits. Commerce and manufactured goods, mainly textiles, also saw a revival and, in spite of the prohibition to trade directly with America, Catalan traders found alternative ways to do it.

However, the relative prosperity coincided with the diffusion of bandits all over the region. Amongst the bandits there were marginalised farmers and impoverished rural noblemen who gathered in groups affiliated around two major parties: the Nyerros and the Cadells. The real adscription to these two grand parties, however, was not all that clear. The truth is that this phenomenon channelled the economical and social discontentment, in spite of the incipient recuperation, which affected different social classes, privileged and ‘poble menut’.

In parallel, during the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the Generalitat fully acted as the governing organ of the Principality, guarantor of some constitutions and laws in before the monarchs of the house of Austria. With Philip III and Philip IV, the economical difficulties of the monarchy reached their most critical point and it was during the reign of this last monarch that the unease of the Catalans and their institutions finally exploded. One of the principal protagonists of the royal aggressiveness towards Catalonia was the legal representative of Philip IV, the Count Duke of Olivares, who was the author of a centralising policy and of the subjecting of Catalonia to the style and laws of Castilla. The political parameters of the monarch and the count duke were completely different from those of the Catalan institutions.

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