Chapter 16: The Nueva Planta Decree
In the days after the fall of Barcelona on September 11th 1714, the military terrorism that had characterised the siege continued unabated. Of a population in Barcelona of a little over 30,000, contemporary chroniclers talk of makeshift prisons full to bursting with over 4,000 detainees. The atmosphere of intimidation, surveillance and betrayal was claustrophobic.
Felipe V had vowed to turn Barcelona into a cemetery. Hundreds were executed and their bodies thrown into open graves next to the churches of Santa Maria del Mar and Sant Pere de les Puel.les. The best-known public execution was that of General Josep Moragues and his chief officers. Their severed heads were displayed in a cage on the Portal de Mar city gate until 1727 as a reminder to anyone considering rising up against Bourbon military rule again.
Many more fled the country. it is estimated that around 30,000 Catalan refugees escaped to Italy or Austria. After the end of the war, the population of Catalonia as a whole probably numbered a little over half a million.
Military rule was immediately established in Barcelona. The suppression of Catalan institutions was effected quickly and forcefully. Just five days the surrender, the Castilian Intendent José Patiño informed the remaining deputies and councillors that the arrival of the royal army had put an end to their authority. At the same time, a military contingent of around 28,000 men occupied the Principality. The local population were forced to provide lodgings and pay tributes, which left many villages in a state of absolute poverty in the years following the war.
Unlike Aragon and Valencia, whose laws and constitutions were immediately revoked after occupation in 1707, the Castilians took their time in introducing the Nueva Planta Decree in Catalonia. Between September 1714 and the introduction of the decree in January 1716, royal power was administered by the Governor General or Intendent José Patiño.
The introduction of the Nueva Planta de la Real Audiencia del Principado de Cataluña in January 1716 included 59 articles and established the basis for Castilian occupation of Catalonia. The royal representative in the Principality would be the Captain General supported by an Audience of ten civil and five criminal ministers.
The territory was also reorganised into 12 corregimientos with capitals in Barcelona, Mataró, Girona, Vic, Puigcerdà, Talarn, Lleida, Tortosa, Tarragona, Vilafranca, Cevera and Manresa. This Castilian system replaced the traditional Catalan local government organisation of 15 vegueries and 8 sotsvegueries. The corregidores and their deputies, the tenientes or lieutenants, were appointed from the occupying army. The new governers also controlled military barracks in each of the capitals.
The objective of the Nueva Planta was to confirm Felipe V as absolute monarch of Catalonia with the right to make and revoke laws. As the future Justice Secretary José Rodrigo said at the time, “All this persuades me that Your Majesty’s royal intention in this decree is to declare first your absolute sovereignty and without any restriction in the Principality of Catalonia and to establish a universal government”.
Rodrigo went on to complain that “because Your Majesty established laws with the consent of those vassals and didn’t revoke without it. They had deputies who were like procurators and defenders of the Principality and, being administrators and having at hand the main tribute that they called the Generalitat, they found themselves as heads of the Principality and owners of the money, with which their obedience to the king was, one could say, voluntary.” Castilians clearly resented the traditional Catalan privileges and financial autonomy embodied by the Generalitat.
The decrees were the culmination of 90 years of Castilian attempts to impose absolute rule on Catalonia and the rest of the Crown of Aragon, a process that had begun under the Count-Duke Olivares and his Union of Arms. The previous pactist system had evolved throughout medieval times when, as the County of Barcelona gained ascendancy over the other Catalan counties, the leading prince, the Count of Barcelona, could only rule the Principality with the agreement of the rest of the nobility.
This contrasted with the Castilian model because the highest authority in the land was neither the king nor the court but the king and court together. Over the centuries the Corts Catalanes had retained their importance and the king still needed their permission on major decisions but other institutions had evolved. The Diputació del General or the Generalitat and the Consell de Cent, which were bound within the legal framework of the Usatges de Barcelona, were two of the most advanced political institutions in Europe.
To get an idea of the relationship between the monarch and his government, take a look at the two statues that adorn the front of Barcelona’s City Council building, La Casa de la Ciutat. Jaume I was the king considered responsible for introducing the system of government and Joan Fivaller was the city councillor who reminded Fernando I that despite being king, according to Catalan law, he was still obliged to pay his taxes to the city council.
Catalonia’s legal and political system was consistent with those developing in other European countries, such as England or Holland, at the time. Like other early democratic systems, it was a result of Catalonia’s mercantile tradition and reflected the importance of the merchant bourgeoisie and skilled tradesmen. The Catalan ruling class was not limited to the nobility and the clergy.
The sudden imposition of absolute monarchy, where the king could impose and revoke laws at will, was an anachronism. It clearly showed how different Catalan and Castilian political values were. As the Castilian magistrate Melchor de Macanaz wrote at the time, “Because of the rebellion and conquest of Catalonia … all its charters and privileges have been revoked and there is no more law, charter or privilege other than the will of the king.”
The Bourbon victory had a profound effect on how taxes were paid to the Royal Treasury. The organisation that administered the royal finances in Catalonia was the Superintendencia, a military and financial body headed by José Patiño since the beginning of the siege in 1713. After the defeat, the Superintendencia absorbed all previous autochthonous organisations as well as all the funds of both the Diputació del General and the Consell de Cent.
A new contributory system called the cadastre was introduced. In December 1715 José Patiño approved its introduction and the following October the general norms were published. Melchor de Macanaz saw the cadastre as ‘a tribute of vassalage’ through which the Catalan rebels would be subjugated and “all would recognise a superior being on earth. In fact, it’s nothing more than a sign of vassalage and a recognition of Your Majesty.”
Spanish historians often claim that the cadastre was a modern tax but this was not the case. The amount collected was based on quotas that reflected the administrative costs of local and central government rather than the population’s wealth. The taxation quota vastly overestimated Catalonia’s capacity to pay, particularly in the years immediately following its introduction. The government had the added cost of paying for the military occupation and Catalans paid extra taxes to finance their own subjugation. In 1718 a quantity of 900,000 duros for the whole of Catalonia was fixed. This was a dreadful strain on the Catalan economy already crippled by a decade of war.
The cadastre was a direct tax imposed in addition to existing taxes and indirect taxes on salt, tobacco, stamps and doors as well as customs and excise duties. All together this amounted to even higher levies for the crown and established the precedent that Catalonia should be the most disproportionately taxed region of Spain.
Catalan civilians were also forced to provide lodgings and food for the occupying troops. Officers were billeted with a family for the duration of their tenure, which could last for years. In the years after the occupation, the military presence was so high that there were not enough beds at the newly constructed barracks so regular soldiers were forced upon civilians as well. It is difficult to imagine the effects of having a foreign soldiers actually living in private family homes. The sense of being under occupation must have been overwhelming.
Nowhere was the situation worse than in Barcelona itself where the Castle on Montjuïc was rebuilt and reinforced. The old shipyards at Drassanes Reials were turned into military barracks. The city walls were also heightened and strengthened. Castilian soldiers famously pointed their rifles inwards to deter the rebellious Barcelonans from rising up against them.
Perhaps no symbol until the Berlin Wall has been hated as much as Felipe V’s city walls were in Barcelona. They restricted and enclosed a city that in 1714 had around 30,000 inhabitants. 140 years later, when Barcelonans began pulling the walls down with their own hands, the population had grown to 187,000. A symbol of military oppression in the early years, by the mid-19th century the walls were restricting the expansion of the city and the area inside became one of the most overcrowded and insanitary slums in Europe.
In early 1716, the demolition of around 15,000 houses in the neighbourhood of La Ribera began. Now better known as El Born, this had been the area that had resisted most vociferously during the siege and the inhabitants of La Ribera were forced to pull down their homes with their hands.
What went up in their place was La Ciutadella, a vast military citadel that covered around 20% of the area of Barcelona enclosing around 150 acres of land. It is hard to say which was the more hated, the walls or the citadel. What is certain is that few cities in history have suffered such an intense and repressive military occupation as Barcelona.
Not only had the Catalan institutions been abolished but any semblance of autonomous civil government was lost after the imposition of the Nueva Planta Decree in 1716. The king’s representative in the Principality was no longer even a viceroy but the military Captain General of Catalonia, who applied violence whenever necessary.
With large parts of Spain occupied by force, the only way of controlling the country was a combination of an absolutist monarchy supported by the army. The involvement of the military in government was to blight Spanish politics for the next 250 years leading to coups known as pronunciamientos in the 19th century and military dictatorships in the 20th. To this day, a certain kind of centralist politician in Spain has yet to embrace the concept of democracy as it is understood in northern European countries.
One of the main objectives of the Nueva Planta Decree was to implant the alien Castilian system of government on Catalonia in order to create a class of administrators faithful to the Crown. Positions were often given to Castilians who were moved to Catalonia to take up their position or to families who had remained loyal to Felipe V throughout the conflict. This favoured an oligarchic system prone to corruption and complaints from the local communities weren’t long in coming.
Towards the end of the 1720s, protests began to mount against the way the town councils were working. Particularly the provision of cereals, unfair distribution of the cadastre and embezzlement of rents and tributes. The complaints against regidores and corregidores were generally coordinated by the guilds. Well-organised politically and socially, these professional bodies advocated the abolition of the foreign system in favour of a local structure administered by the guilds themselves.
Language and Education
Castile has always known that the most effective way to subjugate a people is by replacing the local language with the language of the state. In 1712, even before the end of the war, the ‘Secret Instructions to Corregidores in Catalan Territory’ were drafted saying “You will put more care in introducing the Castilian language to which end you will take the most temperate and unnoticeable measures so that it has its effect.”
In victory, the measures taken were far from temperate and unnoticeable. The Catalan language was officially removed from all bureaucratic and government situations. The Principality’s administrators were Castilians so the only way to get anything done was to speak to them in their own language. The same went for the judiciary system and a whole generation of lawyers and notaries were soon practicing in Castilian. Catalan remained the language of the people. It was spoken in private but was effectively relegated to the status of oral language.
The Catalan language was also officially removed from the education system as Governor José Patiño said in 1715 “Schools shall not allow books in the Catalan language, nor writing or speaking in Catalan on their premises and the doctrine will be Christian and they will learn it in Castilian”. The six Catalan universities were closed and in their place, the regime opened the University of Cervera, a town that had remained loyal to Felipe V throughout the conflict. Lectures were given in Latin and Castilian and its rector is famous for the quote ‘Lejos de nosotros la funesta mania de pensar.’ – ‘Far be it from us the dangerous craze for thought.’
With the removal of the Catalan language from all levels of bureaucracy and administration, it is fair to say that Spain existed as a united territory from 1716 onwards. However, legal and fiscal differences remained. Well into the 19th century, maps show the kingdom divided into “purely constitutional Spain” comprising the Crown of Castile and “assimilated or incorporated Spain”, which was made up of the Crown of Aragon. Spain may have been a single country governed from Madrid but its peoples were certainly not treated equally.