VIEW OF THE CASTILIAN MONARCHY BEFORE THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY.
Early History and Constitution of Castile.--Invasion of the Arabs.--Slow Reconquest of the Country.--Religious Enthusiasm of the Spaniards.-- Influence of their Minstrelsy.--Their Chivalry.--Castilian Towns.-- Cortes.--Its Powers.--Its Boldness.--Wealth of the Cities.--The Nobility. --Their Privileges and Wealth.--Knights.--Clergy.--Poverty of the Crown.-- Limited Extent of the Prerogative. For several hundred years after the great Saracen invasion in the beginning of the eighth century, Spain was broken up into a number of small but independent states, divided in their interests, and often in deadly hostility with one another. It was inhabited by races, the most dissimilar in their origin, religion, and government, the least important of which has exerted a sensible influence on the character and institutions of its present inhabitants. At the close of the fifteenth century, these various races were blended into one great nation, under one common rule. Its territorial limits were widely extended by discovery and conquest. Its domestic institutions, and even its literature, were moulded into the form, which, to a considerable extent, they have maintained to the present day. It is the object of the present narrative to exhibit the period in which these momentous results were effected,--the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. By the middle of the fifteenth century, the number of states, into which the country had been divided, was reduced to four; Castile, Aragon, Navarre, and the Moorish kingdom of Granada. The last, comprised within nearly the same limits as the modern province of that name, was all that remained to the Moslems of their once vast possessions in the Peninsula. Its concentrated population gave it a degree of strength altogether disproportioned to the extent of its territory; and the profuse magnificence of its court, which rivalled that of the ancient caliphs, was supported by the labors of a sober, industrious people, under whom agriculture and several of the mechanic arts had reached a degree of excellence, probably unequalled in any other part of Europe during the Middle Ages. The little kingdom of Navarre, embosomed within the Pyrenees, had often attracted the avarice of neighboring and more powerful states. But, since their selfish schemes operated as a mutual check upon each other, Navarre still continued to maintain her independence, when all the smaller states in the Peninsula had been absorbed in the gradually increasing dominion of Castile and Aragon. This latter kingdom comprehended the province of that name, together with Catalonia and Valencia. Under its auspicious climate and free political institutions, its inhabitants displayed an uncommon share of intellectual and moral energy. Its long line of coast opened the way to an extensive and flourishing commerce; and its enterprising navy indemnified the nation for the scantiness of its territory at home, by the important foreign conquests of Sardinia, Sicily, Naples, and the Balearic Isles. The remaining provinces of Leon, Biscay, the Asturias, Galicia, Old and New Castile, Estremadura, Murcia, and Andalusia, fell to the crown of Castile, which, thus extending its sway over an unbroken line of country --This text refers to the
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