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Fuero (Spanish: [ˈfweɾo]), Fur (Catalan: [ˈfur]), Foro (Galician: [ˈfɔɾo]) or Foru (Basque: [foɾu]) is a Spanish legal term and concept. The word comes from Latin forum, an open space used as market, tribunal and meeting place. The same Latin root is the origin of the French terms for and foire, and the Portuguese terms foro and foral; all of these words have related, but somewhat different, meanings.

The Spanish term fuero has a wide range of meanings, depending upon its context. It has meant a compilation of laws, especially a local or regional one; a set of laws specific to an identified class or estate (for example fuero militar, comparable to a military code of justice or fuero eclesiástico, specific to the Church). In many of these senses, its equivalent in the Anglo-Saxon world would be the charter.

In the 20th century, Francisco Franco's regime used the term fueros for several of the fundamental laws. The term implied these were not constitutions subject to debate and change by a sovereign people, but bills granted by the only legitimate source of authority, as in feudal times.


Fuero dates back to the feudal era: the lord could concede or acknowledge a fuero to certain groups or communities, most notably the Roman Catholic Church, the military, and certain regions that fell under the same monarchy as Castile or, later, Spain, but were not fully integrated into those countries.

The relations among fueros, other bodies of law (including the role of precedent), and sovereignty is a contentious one that influences government and law in the present day. The various Basque provinces generally regarded their fueros as tantamount to a constitution, a view that was accepted by some others, including President of the United States John Adams. He cited the Biscayan fueros as a precedent for the United States Constitution. (Adams, A defense…, 1786)[1] This view regards fueros as granting or acknowledging rights. In the contrasting view, fueros were privileges granted by a monarch.

In practice, distinct fueros for specific classes, estates, towns, or regions usually arose out of feudal power politics, and (depending on one's point of view) were wrested from the monarch in exchange for the general acknowledgment of his or her authority, were granted by the monarch to reward loyal subjection, or (especially in the case of towns or regions) simply acknowledged distinct legal traditions.

In medieval Castilian law, the king could assign privileges to certain groups. The classic example is the Roman Catholic Church; the clergy did not pay taxes to the state, enjoyed the income via tithes of local landholding, and were not subject to the civil courts: church-operated ecclesiastical courts tried churchmen for criminal offenses. Another example was the powerful Mesta organization, composed of wealthy sheepherders, who were granted vast grazing rights in Andalusia after that land was "reconquered" from the Muslims (see Reconquista). Lyle N. McAlister writes in Spain and Portugal in the New World that the Mesta's fuero helped impede the economic development of southern Spain, creating the pressure that encouraged Spaniards to emigrate to the New World.[2]

Aristocratic fueros

During the Reconquista, the feudal lords granted fueros to some villas and cities, to encourage the colonization of the frontier and of commercial routes. These laws regulated the governance and the penal, process and civil aspects of the places. Often the fueros already codified for one place were granted to another, with small changes, instead of crafting a new redaction from scratch.

List of aristocratic fueros

Basque and Pyrenean fueros

In contemporary Spanish usage, the word fueros most often refers to the historic and contemporary fueros or charters of certain regions, especially of the Basque regions.

The whole central and western Pyrenean region was inhabited by the Basques in the early middle ages within the Duchy of Vasconia. The Basques and by the turn of the first millenium, as Romance language replaced Basque, the Pyrenean peoples, governed themselves by an autochthonous set of rules with an ever increasing imprint of Roman, Gothic and Frankish laws. Typically their laws, issued from regional traditions and practices, were kept and transmitted orally. In the Basque language regions the fact of not belonging to a Latin-Romance tradition preserved the specific laws longer than in other Pyrenean regions. The Navarrese law developed along less feudal lines than those of surrounding realms.

In 1234 when the first foreign king, the French Theobald I of Champagne arrived, he did not know Navarrese common law and appointed a commission to write it; that was the first written fuero. The accession of French lineages to the throne of Navarre brought a relationship between the king and the kingdom alien to the Basques, and the resulting disagreements were a major factor of the 13th century uprisings and clashes between different factions and communities. The loyalty of the Basques (the Navarri) to the king was conditioned on his upholding the traditions and customs of the kingdom.

Castile conquered and annexed Navarre between 1512 and 1521 (up to the summit of the Pyrenees). In order to gain Navarrese loyalty, the Spanish Crown represented by the Aragonese Fernando upheld the kingdom's specific laws (fueros) allowing the region to continue to function under its historic laws,[3]:36–39, 44 while Lower Navarre became increasingly tied to France, a process completed when a Navarrese prince became King Henry IV of France. Despite vowing loyalty to the crown, the Pyrenean Aragonese and Catalans kept their separate specific laws too, the "King of the Spains" represented a crown tying together different realms and peoples, as claimed by the Navarrese diputación and the House of the Commons of Navarre's last trustee [3]:45

Every Biscayne (Basque) was born into the hidalgo (gentry). They were theoretically excluded from torture and the need to serve in the army. (Don Quixote's character, Sancho Panza, remarked humorously that writing and reading and being Biscayne was enough to be secretary to the emperor).

The Castilian kings took an oath to comply with the Basque laws in the different provinces of Álava, Biscay and Gipuzkoa. These provinces and Navarre kept their self-governing bodies and their own parliaments, i.e. the diputaciones and the territorial councils/house of the commons. However, the prevailing Castilian rule prioritized the king's will.[3]:39–43 In addition, the ever more centralizing absolutism, specially after the accession to the throne of the Bourbons, increasingly devalued the region and realm specific laws—Basque provinces and the kingdoms of Navarre and Aragon—sparking uprisings (Matalaz's uprising in Soule 1660,[4]:267 regular Matxinada revolts in the 17-18th centuries) and mounting tensions between the territorial governments and the Spanish central government of Charles III and Charles IV, to the point of considering the House of the Commons of Navarre dangerous to the royal authority and condemning "its spirit of independence and liberties."[5]:716–717

The Aragonese fueros were an obstacle for Philip II when his former secretary Antonio Pérez escaped the death penalty by fleeing to Aragon. The king's only means to enforce the sentence was the Spanish Inquisition, the only cross-kingdom tribunal of his domains. There were frequent conflicts of jurisdiction between the Spanish Inquisition and regional civil authorities and bishops.[6] Pérez escaped to France, but Philip's army invaded Aragon and executed its authorities. In 1714 the Catalan and Aragonese specific laws and self-government were violently suppressed. The Basques managed to retain their specific status for the moment thanks to their siding with the rising Philip V of Spain. In the run-up to the Napoleonic Wars, the relations between the Spanish Crown and the Basque governing institutions were at a breaking point. By the beginning of the War of the Pyrenees, Manuel Godoy took office as Prime Minister in Spain, and went on to take a tough approach on the Basque self-government and specific laws. Both fear and anger spread among the Basques for his uncompromising stance.

The 1789 Revolution brought the rise of the Jacobin nation state—also referred to in a Spanish context as "unitarianism", unrelated to the religion of the same name. Whereas the French Ancien Régime recognized the regional specific laws, the new order did not allow for such autonomy. The jigsaw puzzle of fiefs was rationalized into départements, based on administrative and economic concerns, not tradition. In the French Basque Country, what little remained of self-government was suppressed in 1790 during the French Revolution and the new administrative arrangement,[4]:267 and was followed in 1794 by the massive deportation to the Landes of thousands of residents in the bordering villages of Lapurdi—Sara, Itxassou, etc.[7]:18

Some Basques saw a way forward in the 1807 Bayonne Statute and Dominique-Joseph Garat's project, initially approved by Napoleon, to create a separate Basque state,[7]:19 but the French invasive attitude on the ground and the deadlock of the self-government project led the Basques to find help elsewhere, i.e. Spanish liberals supportive of the fueros or conservative Ferdinand VII. The 1812 Spanish Constitution of Cadiz received no Basque input, ignored the Basque self-government, and was accepted begrudgingly by the Basques, overwhelmed by war events. For example, the 1812 Constitution was signed by Gipuzkoan representatives to a general Castaños wielding the sword, and tellingly the San Sebastián council representatives took an oath to the 1812 Constitution with the smell of smoke still wafting and surrounded by rubble.

During the two centuries since the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Era, the level of autonomy for the Basque regions within Spain has varied. The cry for fueros (meaning regional autonomy) was one of the demands of the Carlists of the 19th century, hence the strong support for Carlism from the Basque Country and (especially in the First Carlist War) in Catalonia and Aragón. The Carlist effort to restore absolute monarchy was sustained militarily mainly by those whom fueros had protected from the full weight of absolutism. The defeat of the Carlists in three successive wars resulted in continuing erosion of traditional Basque privileges.

The Carlist land-based small nobility (jauntxo) lost power to the new bourgeoisie, who welcomed the extension of Spanish customs borders from the Ebro to the Pyrenees. The new borders protected the fledging Basque industry from foreign competition and opened the Spanish market, but lost opportunities abroad since customs were imposed on the Pyrenees.

The new class negotiated the Ley Paccionada (in Navarre), which granted some autonomy to the provincial governments within the Spanish state.

Sabino Arana, founder of the Basque Nationalist Party, came from a Carlist background. He rejected the Spanish monarchy and founded Basque nationalism on the basis of Catholicism and fueros (in old Basque, Fueroac; Standard Basque, Foruak; Arana's neologism, Lagi-Zaŕa, "Old law").

The high-water mark of a restoration of Basque autonomy in recent times came under the Second Spanish Republic in the early twentieth century. This led the Basque nationalists to support the left-leaning Republic as ardently as they had earlier supported the right-wing Carlists (note that contemporary Carlists supported Francisco Franco). The defeat of the Republic by the forces of Francisco Franco led, in turn, to a suppression of Basque culture, including banning the public use of the Basque language.

The Franco regime considered Biscay and Guipúzcoa as "traitor provinces" and cancelled their fueros. But, the pro-Franco provinces of Álava and Navarre maintained a degree of autonomy unknown in the rest of Spain, with local telephone companies, provincial limited-bailiwick police forces (miñones in Alava, and Foral Police in Navarre), road works and some taxes to support local government.

The post-Franco Spanish Constitution of 1978 acknowledges "historical rights" and attempts compromise in the old conflict between centralism and federalism by the establishment of autonomous communities (such as Castile and León, Catalonia, Valencia, etc.). The provincial governments (diputación foral) were restored, but many of their powers were transferred to the new government of the Basque Country autonomous community. The provinces still perform tax collection in their respective territories, coordinating with the Basque, Spanish and European governments.

Today, the act regulating the powers of the government of Navarre is the Amejoramiento del Fuero ("Betterment of the Fuero"), and the official name of Navarre is Comunidad Foral de Navarra, "foral" being the adjectival form of fuero.

The fuerismo of the 19th century called for autonomy within Spain. Today, Alavese foralismo strengthens the Alavese identity against what it considers excesses of Basque nationalism.

Private law

While Fueros have disappeared from Spanish administrative law (except for the Basque Country and Navarre), there are remnants of the old laws in family law. When the Civil Code was established in Spain (1888) some parts of it did not run in some regions. In places like Galicia and Catalonia, the marriage contracts and inheritance are still governed by local laws. This has led to peculiar forms of land distribution.

These laws are not uniform. For example, in Biscay, different rules regulate inheritance in the villas, than in the country towns (tierra llana). Modern jurists try to modernize the foral family laws while keeping with their spirit.

List of fueros



  • Llorente, Juan Antonio Noticias históricas de las tres provincias vascongadas. Tomo II, Capitulo I. (1800) Available (in Spanish) online through the Digital Library of the Sancho El Sabio Foundation.
  • "Los Fueros de Navarra: Exposición" - discussion of fueros on the official web site of the Navarrese government (in Spanish).
  • Much of the discussion of the Basque fueros comes from es:Nacionalismo vasco in the Spanish-language World Heritage Encyclopedia; last updated from the version dated 11:44 23 Sep, 2004.
  • La Rioja, in old Castilian or Latin.
  • Real Academia Española.

External links

Template:Americana Poster

  • A digitized version of Amalio Marichalar, Marqués de Biblioteca Nacional Española.
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