The Kingdom of Navarre, whose origins date back to the 9th century, under the name of Kingdom of Pamplona, has historically been governed by the Fueros, laws based on age-old local customs and enriched by the possible influences of Roman and Visigoth law, and forged during the Middle Ages.
In Navarre, the distribution of power between the seats of government (Monarch, Courts, Cortes - Parliament) and the existence of institutions of control (Cortes - Parliament, Diputación del Reino – Council of the Realm) constituted the theoretical bases for structuring the Kingdom’s policy. The existence of a social organisation based on a class system and characteristic of the ancien régime means that the system prevailing at the time in Navarre cannot in retrospect be deemed “democratic” in current terms. But even if it was not democratic, it was at least constitutional: the subordination of political power to the basic rules of the Kingdom and the creation by the latter of institutions of control was a steadfast commitment for those governing and those governed.
An historical analysis of the self-government of Navarre may be broken down into the following periods: 1) From the 9th century to 1515. Navarre was an independent Kingdom; 2) From 1515 to 1839. Navarre was a Kingdom annexed to the Spanish crown, maintaining its own institutions, except for the Monarchy; 3) 1841-1982. Navarre was a Spanish province, with administrative and fiscal autonomy; and 4) 1982to the present day. In observance of the Constitution of 1978 and the Ley de Reintegración y Amejoramineto del Fuero (the official name given to Navarre’s own statute of autonomy), Navarre is Comunidad Foral, within the framework of Spain’s status as a nation of autonomous communities, with its own democratic institutions and a high degree of self-government.
In each case, the representative institutions were as follows:
1. Independent Kingdom: King, Cortes – Parliament, Royal Council, Supreme Court or Cort General and the Chamber of Comptos.
2. Annexed Kingdom: the same institutions persist, except that the monarch is now the Spanish one, being represented by the Viceroy. Furthermore, the Cortes gain in importance and the Diputación del Reino – Council of the Realm is set up.
3. Spanish province: the provincial council, Diputación Provincial and, subsequently, also the Consejo Foral Administrativo (Administrative Foral Council).
4. Comunidad Foral: the President, the Government and the Parliament.
Session of the Cortes of Navarre.
Old picture of the diputación foral.
The incorporation of Navarre within Castile, following the 1512 defeat, was undertaken on the grounds that Navarre would retain its status as a Kingdom and its own institutions. A viceroy represented the Spanish monarch in Pamplona and the other political institutions were the Consejo Real, the supreme body for the administration of justice, the Corte Mayor, a tribunal of a technical nature, and the Chamber, the Cámara de Comptos, for matters involving the Treasury and Estates.
The transition from a medieval monarchy to one in the Modern Era, along with the physical and psychological remoteness of the monarch with regard to his kingdom, meant that the institution of the Cortes del Reino became especially important in representing the interests of the people of Navarre before the decisions of the King. In proportion, the Cortes of Navarre had a major influence in comparison to the Cortes of other Spanish kingdoms. This largely concerned the financial contributions, or “donativo” delivered to the Crown. The Cortes were responsible for examining each and every one of the crown’s rulings to see whether they contained a grievance or “contrafuero”.
In order to protect themselves against royal injustice, they had two options: the “sobrecarta” and the “publicación” of the laws. The former meant that royal seals had to bear the “sobrecarta” of the Consejo del Reino, upon the hearing of the Diputación del Reino. Nonetheless, given the fact that when passing the laws, the King could introduce amendments to the petition of the Cortes in detriment to the interests of the Kingdom, the Cortes reserved the right of “publicación”, a formality without which the law had no validity.
The most important consequences of Navarre’s incorporation into Castile were: the introduction of a new dynasty, the loss of identity abroad and forgoing the right to declare war and peace. Yet Navarre remained a Kingdom, maintaining all the institutions that pertain to a State: legislative power (Cortes), executive power (shared between the Consejo Real and the Diputación del Reino) and legal power, with supreme authority residing in Navarre.