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Introducing Spanish Legal Documents (15th – 19th Centuries): Opinions and Judgments

The following is a guest post by Stephen Mayeaux, Legal Information Specialist in the Digital Resources Division at the Law Library of Congress. 

Sentence of December 31, 1862 issued by the Second Criminal Chamber of the Royal Audiencia of the city of Barcelona, concerning criminal charges against Claudio Feliú Fontanills for impersonating a deceased person known as Claudio Fontanellas Sala.

The Law Library of Congress is proud to share the first of six subsections that comprise our Spanish Legal Documents collection (also known as the “Hispanic Legal Documents” collection, and often discussed alongside our “Miscellaneous Hispanic Documents” collections. For an explanation of the different formats and origins of these related collections, see our most recent post on this topic.

Purchased by the Library in 1941, the Spanish Legal Documents were primarily issued in individual sections, which varied from one to six folios. The majority of the documents were printed using handset type on handmade paper, which is in exceptionally good condition, and a small portion of the collection consists of manuscripts. The purchase order was described as “a collection of covenants of judicial contests between people, noble men and civil and religious institutions in Spain – Reales Cédulas –Pragmáticas Reales of the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries.”

The legal documents remained in the Law Library for over 40 years after purchase before the funds were made available to organize, index, and microfilm them in 1983 and 1984. At that time, the documents were divided into six categories:
• Briefs
• Canon Law
• Notarial Instruments
Opinions & Judgments
• Laws & Statutes
• Miscellaneous

The microfilmed documents were digitized in 2017, and much of the post-digitization work has involved assigning specific metadata elements, such as language, region, and subject headings to almost 2,500 unique items.

While the remaining five subsections are still awaiting final cataloging updates, we wanted to begin sharing the collection as each part becomes available online, with the goal of displaying the full collection in the very near future.

Which brings us to our first published subsection: Opinions & Judgments. These are comprised of decisions rendered by the king’s courts, opinions by the attorneys of the king, as well as local courts’ judgments concerning a variety of cases and subjects. Most prominent are inheritance and estate, dowry, and titles of nobility cases. Other cases offer a little more to satisfy our taste for 18th century palace intrigue and scandal. European historians familiar with the Távora affair might recognize the case described in the manuscript below, in which the 8th Duke of Aveiro was stripped of his title, convicted, and executed for his role in an assassination attempt against King Joseph I of Portugal.

Resolution by the Royal Council sentencing José Mascareñas, Duke of Abeyro [Aveiro], and others for their conspiracy to assassinate the King of Portugal. [January 12, 1759].

Stay tuned for additional updates as we make more subsections available online, and in the meantime, please take a look at previous blog posts by the many interns, junior fellows, and staff members who have helped bring these unique and rare collections to life.

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