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Spanish Legal Documents (15th – 19th Centuries): Laws and Statutes; Notarial Instruments

The following post was written in collaboration with Dante Figueroa, Senior Legal Information Analyst at the Law Library of Congress.

Today we bring you another big update from our Spanish Legal Documents series. For more on the history of this collection, as well as our ongoing efforts to present the full collection online, see our previous posts describing the Briefs, Canon Law and Opinions & Judgments categories.

Royal Order of April 2, 1767 issued by King Carlos III approving the deportation from the country and seizure of properties of the religious order of the Jesuits.

Our fourth published category is Laws & Statutes, which consists of 547 royal decrees, ordinances, and local regulations issued by kings and lords, such as those concerning the organization and function of agencies and the appointment of officials. A large proportion of these issuances concern the kingdoms of Aragon and Catalonia.

Coinciding with this larger update, we are also announcing the release of our fifth—and smallest—category, Notarial Instruments. These 13 documents consist of certifications extracted from notarial records concerning wills, donations, agreements on debts, freedom of prisoners, collection of taxes, and weighing of grains.

The royal orders in the Laws & Statutes category cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from the spread of contagious diseases, to the regulation of firearms and a prohibition against private duels, to declarations of war against foreign nations, to the simple production and consumption of olive oil.

While most of the orders imposed regulations or restrictions, or might be considered otherwise punitive, some provided an extension or declaration of rights, such as the one extending the right of free trade to Buenos Aires, Chile and Perú, or one granting certain rights to tenants facing eviction.

One particularly well-documented episode in this category is described in a series of orders relating to Spain’s expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767. In a defining moment of his domestic legacy, Charles III of Spain followed a pattern already enacted by Portugal (1759) and France (1764), and ordered the deportation of Jesuits from the Spanish Empire as well as the seizure of their properties. According to the King’s instructions, the Count of Aranda was given the power to implement the expulsion order, which was to be made expeditiously and by surprise. The order also provides a list of houses, educational institutions, and residences of the Jesuits to be confiscated and placed under the protection of the King.

While much has been written about the events leading up to the Jesuit suppression in Spain, and some historians differ [access by subscription database] in their explanations, a common historical account is that their expulsion was closely associated with a popular uprising that took place in Madrid in 1766 in response to an order restricting the length of men’s capes and the breadth of their sombreros. The revolt became known as the Esquilache Riots, named after the King’s minister who became associated with the order. Charles III, who had been forced to flee Madrid for his own security, was convinced by the Count of Aranda of the Jesuits’ role in the uprising and used this as a pretext for their suppression.

Royal Order of March 25, 1766 regulating the manner of dressing in the Kingdom of Spain. It also regulates the price of bread, bacon, oil and soap.

The above document from the collection, dated March 25, 1766 and issued in the midst of the uprising, cancels the dress restrictions and price increases, reestablishing citizens’ permission to wear long capes and rounded hats without penalty. The order also lowers the price of bread and oil and sets price caps for bread, bacon and soap; and orders the dismissal of the King’s minister, the Marquis of Esquilache.

By early 1767, however, the Jesuits’ role as scapegoats for the disturbance was made apparent by the subsequent actions taken by the King and the Extraordinary Council that he appointed to investigate the uprising. While the suppression of the Jesuits continued throughout Europe in the late 18th century, one document in our collection suggests that the King’s successor, Charles IV, formally allowed Spanish Jesuits to return to Spain roughly 31 years later, on March 14, 1798, provided that they return only to their relatives’ houses or to convents, and never to any royal-linked facility or venue.

We look forward to bringing you more illuminating stories from this collection with every new release. Stay tuned for updates as we bring your our sixth and final category in the coming months.

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