The Cortes

The precursor to the Cortes was the curia regis, a council which debated matters of importance and advised the monarch in the decision-making process. There were two types of curia, the ordinary council, where issues of lesser importance or concerning palace justice were discussed, and the extraordinary council, which debated matters relating to coronations, heirs, administration and in general, affairs of importance and interest to the Kingdom. It was in these representative assemblies that the origins of the Cortes are located, and more specifically, in the Curia of 1188 held in the cloisters of the Basilica of San Isidoro, at which Alfonso IX invited city representatives to participate. As a consequence, all social classes attained representation.

It is suspected that city lawyers were present at previous councils held during the reigns of Alfonso VII and Fernando II. However, no documentary evidence for this assertion exists, and the oldest reliable reference available is from 1188, the year in which Alfonso IX acceded to the León throne.


The invitation he extended to the urban classes to participate in the 1188 Curia was a consequence of the increasing importance that urban groups had acquired due to their influence on the economy of the time. Led by artisans and merchants, the urban classes had played an extremely important role in reactivating commerce and it had become impossible to ignore them. Citizen representation included the inhabitants of royal estates, whilst other town councils where represented by their lord, whether a lay person or a cleric.

detalleclaustrosanisidoroThe role of the mediaeval Cortes was not only consultative, as it also constituted an instrument of royal control. Based on the matters they debated, the monarch made important decisions, such as establishing new taxes or changing the value of the money, or any other matter of significance.

Underlying the existence of the Cortes was Alfonso IX’s aim of establishing a judicial framework which would consolidate the monarchical model. Such a legal system would include the rights and prerogatives of the king, in addition to restoring social and political order. In summary, the aim was to institute judicial procedures which would guarantee transparency and objectivity.

The Plenary Curia, or Cortes, of 1188 was the first to be held in Europe, anticipating those of England (in 1215), Germany (in 1232) and France (in 1302). The relevance of this date resides in the fact that it implies that the Kingdom of León was the cradle of the Western parliamentary and democratic system, understood in terms of the time and place where this happened, in the heart of a feudal state.

Judicial initiatives continued throughout the following years of his reign, embodied in the constitution of 1194, ratified by the Cortes of Benavente in 1202 where the tribute named after the coinage was agreed. These Cortes were followed by another in León in 1208 and the Cortes of Benavente in 1228. Such assemblies, in which citizens participated, were maintained after the death of Alfonso IX.

Following the death of the last León King, his son and heir, Fernando III of León and Castile, convened a Cortes in Benavente in 1230 to discuss the union of León and Castile and address those aspects which would guarantee a solid and lasting union between the two kingdoms.



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Photo Gallery

Monasterio de Santo Domingo de Silos. Burgos Colegiata. Toro. Zamora Catedral. Zamora El Legado de un Reino. Palacio Conde Luna El Legado de un Reino. Palacio Conde Luna Indumentaria-medieval. Carnicerías Monedas. Museo de León. León Palacio del Conde Luna. León Fachada Palacio del Conde Luna Castillo. Zamora