CORTES, the name of the assembly of representatives of the Spanish nation. These assemblies have been variously constituted in different ages, and in the different kingdoms into which Spain was divided till the time of Ferdinand and Isabella. The cortex of Castile and Leon and those of Aragon were the principal. Considerable obscurity prevails as to the origin and the formation of both. The earliest national assemblies under the Visigothic kings met generally at Toledo ; they consisted chiefly of the dignitaries of the church, and were called councils. After deciding all questions of church discipline, they deliberated upon tem poral affairs, and in this stage of the dis cussion the lay lords or barons took an active part, and the king presented his requests. In the acts of the coun cil of Leon, A.D. 1020, ch. vi., the transition from ecclesiastical to temporal affairs is clearly pointed out:—" Judicato ergo ecclesite judicio, adeptaque justitia. agatur causa regia, delude populorum." In the acts of the council of .laca, 1053, we find that several points of discipline were reformed "with the consent of the nobles and prelates ;" and the signatures are those of the king. the infantes, nine bishops, three abbots, and three magnates ; but it is added in a note that " all the other magnates had subscribed to the same acts.' It is now generally acknow ledged, that in that age, and down to the end of the twelfth century, there was no popular representation from the towns or commons of Castile and Leon in those assemblies. (Marina, Teoria de las Cortes; Sempere, Histoire des Cortes ; Dunham, History of Spain and Portugal.) The people are said to have occasionally at tended these national councils on some solemn occasions, as at the council held at Toledo in 1135, but only as spectators and witnesses, "to see, to hear, and to praise God." By degrees, as the towns rose into importance, and obtained local fueros, or charters, from the kings for their own security, or formed themselves into fraternities for their mutual protec tion against the Moors or against the violence of their own nobles, some of them obtained at last the privilege of sending deputies to the national councils, which were now styled cortes, because, according to some etymologists, they were held at the place where the king had his court. The cortes held at Sala
manca by Ferdinand II., in 1178, con sisted only of the nobility and clergy ; but at the cortes of Leon, A.D. 1188, we first hear that there were present deputies "of towns chosen by lot ;" and in the same year the cortes of Castile assembled at Burgos, where deputies from about fifty towns or villages, the names of which are mentioned, were present. How these places came to obtain this privilege is not known, although it is probable that it was by the king's writ or by charter. The cortes were henceforth composed of three estamentos or states, clergy, lords, and procuradores, or deputies from the enfranchised towns, forming together one chamber, but voting as separate estates. It was a standing rule, that general laws must have in their favour the majority of each estamento. This was the principle of the cortes of the united kingdom of Castile and Leon. The same principle existed in the kingdom of Aragon; only there the cortes were composed of four brazos or estates, namely, the prelates, including the commanders of the military orders, the ricos hombres, or barons, the infanzones, or caballeros, who held their estates of the great barons, and lastly, the universidades, or deputies of the royal towns. These last are first mentioned at the cortes of Monzon, in 1131. The towns and boroughs in Aragon which returned deputies were thirty-one ; but the number of deputies returned by each is not stated by the historians, any more than those for the cortes of Castile. We find the same town returning sometimes a greater, sometimes a smaller number, and at other times none at all, and a small town or village sending more deputies than a large one ; while many considerable towns never returned any, independently of the seignorial towns, which of course had no representative privilege. How all this was made to agree with the man ner of voting, in order to ascertain the opinion of the majority, is not clearly stated. The institutions of the kingdom of Aragon, which have been much ex tolled by some writers, appear to have been better defined than those of Castile, as the Aragonese, with the exception of the peasant serfs of the nobility, certainly enjoyed a greater share of individual liberty than the rest of the Peninsula.