LAS SIETE PARTIDAS
of Alfonso X el Sabio

(Translated by Samual P. Scott, introduction by Charles Lobingier, New Tork: Commerce Clearing House, 1931.)                   sample laws     Link to English version of Laws concerning Jews.


Las Siete Partidas constitute one of the outstanding landmarks of Spanish, and indeed of world law, and occupy a unique place in its evolution. For they stand midway between the Forum Judicum of the 7th century and the Civil Code of the 19th, being about six hundred years after the former and before the latter. For about three and a half centuries following its promulgation the Forum Judicum remained the sole compilation of general laws in Spain. There were, of course, the local fueros and some of these afford great interest, notably those of Aragon whose Fueros de Sobrarbe, composed, supposedly, before the eleventh century, have been called the Magna Charta of the Aragonese nobles. The general opinion of modern historians, however, considers as purely fabulous this pretended primitive political charter.

Toward the end of the tenth century the Conde de Castilla, Don Sancho García, inaugurated the preparation of a new code which ultimately became known as the Fuero Viejo. Additions to it were made at the Cortes of Nájera ln l176 and it continued to have a certain force until nearly the middle of the fourteenth century. It waa probably composed in Latin and, in its final form, consisted of five books loosely arranged and without logical accumulation of contents. Book III contained some provisions regarding proof and procedure, but the work seems to have been designed primarily to meet the peculiar conditions prevailing in Castile and to adjust the relations between its king and the nobility; and its force appears never to have extended beyond the territory of that kingdom and Leon. This necessarily left the Forum Judicum operative in other parts of Spain with consequent lack of uniformity

The thirteenth century was one of general advance for the Spanish Christian kingdoms and law shared in the reaults. The surrender of Sevilla to Fernando III in 1248 left that monarch leisure to conslder the internal afrairs of his dominions and among other evils which confronted him were the diversity and confusion of the lavs. To remedy these he oonceived a comprehensive scheme of codification which was actually initiated by commencing the preparation of a new work entitled the Setenario. But before this or any other part of his plan could be carried into effect he died.

The son and successor of San Fernando was Alfonso I, commonly known as "el sabio," because of his attainments in science and letters. Almost immediately upon his accession he took up his father's legal project and his reign was marked by a succession of works culminating in the Partidas. The work is supposed to have been completed in 1263-"seven books in seven years." At first it was known as Libro (or Fuero) de las Leyes, and it was not until the following century that it came to be called Las Partidas or Leyes de Partidas.

With regard to the compilers of this famous work, the historian Altamira says: "The redaction of the Partidas was the work of several jurists whose names are not cited in the text, and was done under the supervision, and subject (how much cannot be determined) to the active intervention of Alfonso, who was himself an author of zeal." Alfonso's part seems to have been less perfunctory than Justinian's-more like that of Napoleon or possibly Hammurabi.

The expansion of Spain in the sixteenth century had the effect of extending the Partidas to the Spanish colonies in the Western hemisphere as well as in Africa and Asia. Such extension gave the Partidas the widest territorial force ever enjoyed by any law book. For Justinian's Pandects were practically confined to the Eastern Empire, until long after Rome's rule ended in the west. But in Spanish America, as well as in the Philippines, the Partidas were and are the common basic law. Nor has their force been limited, in the Western hemisphere, to Spanish America. In a considerable group of jurisdictions now under the sovereighnty of the United Spates, civilized law began with the Partidas. In Louisiana, as late as 1924, the Supreme Court devoted the major part of an opinion to the law of the Partidas. Likewise in the territory acquired from Mexico, the Spanish law remained in force in Texas until 1840, and the Partidas are frequently cited in the early supreme court reports of that state. In California the Spanish law continued for a decade longer and there, too, the Partidas were often invoked by the early judges. That their extension to Spanish colonies was no mere formality will appear from even a casual inspection of the Supreme Court Reports of the Philippines. The series did not commence until 1902, yet in nearly every volume there are citations of the Partidas, while as regards at least one important subject-divorce-that collection long contained the only law in force.

Laws governing community property in the United States, originally in force in certain states and now extended to all, are derived from the Partidas.

(A sample of laws from the Siete Partidas)

Part I, Title I, Law xi: What the Law-Maker Should Be

Part I, Title I, Law xx: For What Reason Men Cannot Escape the Operation of the Laws by Saying That They Were Ignorant of Them

Part II, Title I, Law x: What the Word Tyrant Means, and How a Tyrant Makes Use of His Power in a Kingdom, After He Has Obtained Possession of It

Part II, Title X, Law i: What the Word People Means

Part II, Title XXI, Law iv: Knights Should Possess Four Chief Virtues

Part II, Title XXI, Law xiii: What Duties a Squire Should Perform Before he Recieves the Order of Knighthood

Part II, Title XXXI, Law ii: In What Place a School Should be Established, and How the Masters and Pupils Should Be Secure

Part IV, Title I, Law x: Parents Cannot Betroth Their Daughters When They Are Not Present and Do Not Give Their Consent

Part IV, Title XI, Law vii: Donations and Dowries, Made in Consideration of Marriage, Should Remain Under Control of the Husband, to Be Kept and Taken Care of

Part IV, Title XI, Law xvii: Concerning Separate Property Belonging to the Wife, Which is Not Given as Dowry, and Which is Called in Latin, Paraphernalia.

Part V, Title VIII, Law xxvi: Inn-Keepers, and Keepers of Lodging Houses, and Sailors Are Obliged to Pay the Owners for Property of Which They Have Charge When It Is Lost in Their Houses or Their Ships

*      *      *      *      *      *

Part I, Title I, Law xi: What the Law-Maker Should Be
The law-maker should love God and keep Him before his eyes when he makes the laws, in order that they may be just and perfect. He should moreover love justice and the common benefit of all. He should be learned, in order to know how to distinguish right from wrong, and he should not be ashamed to change and amend his laws, whenever he thinks or a reason given him, that he should do so; for it is especially just that he who has to set others right and correct them should know how to do this in his own case, whenever he is wrong.

Part I, Title I, Law xx: For What Reason Men Cannot Escape the Operation of the Laws by Saying That They Were Ignorant of Them
No one can escape the penalties of the laws by saying that he did not know of them, for, since men have to be preserved by them by receiving as well as doing justice, it is reasonable that they should know them and read them, either by acquiring their meaning from those who have read them, or by hearing them discussed in some other way without reading; for men have excuses for many things which happen in this world; but they cannot excuse themeselves from sending others in their places to assert their rights in court; and if they should have no one to send, they should communicate with some of their friends who may happen to be in the place where they are to be judged by the laws, that they too may represent them and argue their cases for them, and they must give them authority to do so. And since by themselves, or by their representatives, or by means of letters, they are able to defend themselves, they cannot avoid doing so by saying that they did not know the laws, and if they should offer such a reason as this it will not avail them.

Part II, Title I, Law X: What the Word Tyrant Means, and How a Tyrant Makes Use of this Power in a Kingdom, After He Has Obtained Possession of it.
A tyrant means a lord who has obtained possession of some kingdom, or country, by force, fraud, or treason. Persons of this kind are of such a character, that after they have obtained thorough control of a country, they prefer to act for their own advantage, although it may result I injury to the country, rather than for the common benefit of all, because they always live in the expectation of losing it. And in order that they might execute their desires more freely, the ancient sages declared that they always employed their power against the people, by means of three kinds of artifice. The first is, that persons of this kind always exert themselves to keep those under their dominion ignorant and timid, because, when they are such, they will not dare to rise up against them, oppose their wishes. The second is, that they promote disaffection among the people so that they do not trust one another, for while they live in such discord, they will not dare to utter any speech against the king, fearing that neither faith nor secrecy will be kept among them. The third is, that they endeavor to make them poor, and employ them in such great labors that they can never finish them; for the reason that they may always have so much to consider in their own misfortunes, that they will never have the heart to think of committing any act against the government of the tyrant.

In addition to all this, tyrants always endeavor to despoil the powerful, and put the wise to death; always forbid brotherhoods and associations in their dominions; and constantly manage to be informed of what is said or done in the country, trusting more for counsel and protection to strangers, because they serve them voluntarily, than to natives who have to perform service through compulsion. We also decree that although a person may have obtained the sovereignty of a kingdom by any of the methods mentioned in the preceding law, if he should make a bad use of his power in any of the ways above stated in this law, people can denounce him as a tyrant, and his government which was lawful, will become wrongful; as Aristotle stated in the book which treats of the government of cities and kingdoms.

Part II, Title X, I: What the Word People Means
Some persons think that by the word people is meant the common people, as, for instance, mechanics, and laborers, but this is not the case, for, in ancient times, in Babylon, Troy, and Rome, which were famous cities, all these matters were regulated in a reasonable way, and a suitable name was given to everything. There the union of all men together, those of superior, middle, and inferior rank, was called the people; for all are necessary, and none can be excepted, for the reason that they are obliged to assist one another in order to live properly and be protected and supported.

Part II, Title XXI, Law iv: Knights Should Possess Four Chief Virtues
Excellent qualities which men naturally possess are called good habits, and are styled virtutes in Latin, and of these four are superior, namely, prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice. Although every man should desire to be good, and endeavor to acquire these virtues, not only the preachers whom we have mentioned, but others as well, whose duty it is to maintain the country by means of their labors and exertions; among them, there are none, to whom this is more becoming than to the defenders, for the reason that it is their duty to protect the Church, the monarchs, and all others. Prudence will enable them to do this to advantage, and without injury; fortitude will cause them to be firm and not irresolute in what they do; moderation will induce them to perform their duties as they should, and not be guilty of excess; and justice will enable them to act according to the right. For this reason the ancients, by way of commemoration, caused arms of four kinds to be made for the knights; first, such as they clothe themselves with, and wear; second, those with which they gird themselves; third, those which they bear in front of them; fourth, those with which they strike; And although these are of many forms, nevertheless they are designed for two purposes; blows, which are called weapons. And because the defenders did not ordinarily possess these weapons, and, even though they had them, might not always be able to carry them, the ancients deemed it proper to contrive one which should be emblematic of all these, and this is the sword. For, as the arms which men put on for the purpose of defense indicate prudence, which is a virtue that protects them from all evils which can come upon them through their own fault; so the hilt of a sword which a man holds in his grasp, is also suggestive of this, for as long as he holds it, he has the power to raise or lower it, or strike with it, or abandon it; and as the arms which a man carries before him to defend himself, denote fortitude, which is a virtue that renders him steadfast in the midst of dangers which may come upon him, so all the fortitude of the sword lies in its pommel, for to it is attached the hilt, the guard, and the blade.

And, as the armor which a man girds on is intermediate between that with which he is clothed and the weapons with which he strikes, and thus resembles the virtue of moderation between things which are excessive and those which are less than they should be; with great similarity to this, the guard is placed between the handle and the blade of the sword. Moreover, as the arms which a man holds ready to strike with, whenever it is advisable, symbolize justice, which includes right and equality; so the blade of the sword which is straight and sharp, and cuts the same with both edges, represents the same thing. On account of all this the ancients ordained that noble defenders should always wear the sword, and that by means of it and with no other weapon they should receive the honor of knighthood, in order that they might always be reminded of these four virtues which they should possess: for, without them, they could not perfectly maintain the condition of defense for which they were appointed.

Part II, Title XXI, Law xiii: What Duties a Squire Should Perform Before He Receives the Order of Knighthood
Cleanliness makes all things that are visible look well, just as elegance makes them appear graceful, each in its own way. Hence the ancients deemed it proper that knights should be created without any suspicion of blemish. For, as they should practice purity among themselves and it ought to be manifested in their good qualities and their habits, as we have stated; they should also display it externally in their clothing, and in the arms which they bear. For although their calling is rude and bloody, as it is concerned with wounds and death; nevertheless, their minds should not refuse to be naturally pleased with things which are beautiful and elegant, and especially when they wear them; for the reason that, on the one hand, they confer joy and comfort upon them, and, on the other, it induces them to perform intrepid deeds of arms, since that they are aware that they will be better known on this account, and that all persons will pay more attention to what they do; therefore cleanliness and elegance are not impediments to the bravery and ferocity which they ought to possess. Moreover, as we stated above, their external appearance indicates the condition of their minds, and, for this reason, the ancients directed that a squire should be of noble descent; that the day before he received the order of knighthood he should keep watch; and that on the day when he received it, in the afternoon, the squires should bathe him and wash his head along with his hands, and place him in the best bed that they could find, and then it was the duty of the knights to dress him in the best garments they had.

After they had cleansed his body in this way they were required to do as much for his soul by conduction him to the church, where he was obliged to endure hardship by watching and praying to God to pardon his sins, and guide him to act for the best in the order which he desired to receive, so that he could defend his religion, and do other things which were proper; and that he might protect and defend him from danger and adversity and whatever opposition he might encounter. He should bear in mind that God has authority over all things, and can manifest it whoever He desires to do so, and that this is especially the case with regard to deeds of arms; for in his hand are life and death, the power to give and to take, and he can cause the weak to be strong and the strong to be weak. When he has made this prayer, he must remain upon his knees as long as he can endure it, while all the others stand; for the vigils of knights were not instituted as games, or for any other purpose but that they and the others present may ask God to preserve, direct, and assist them, as men who are entering upon a career of death.

Part II, Title XXXI, Law ii: In What Place a School Should be Established, and How the Masters and Pupils Should Be Secure
The town where it is desired to establish a school should have pure air and beautiful environs, in order that the masters who teach the sciences and the pupils who learn them, may live there in health, and rest and take pleasure in the evening, when their eyes have become weary with study. It should, moreover, be well provided with bread and wine, and good lodging houses, in which the pupils can live and pass their time without great expense. We declare that the citizens of the town where a school is situated, should carefully protect its masters and pupils and everything belonging to them, and that no one should arrest or hinder the messengers who come to them from their homes, on account of any debt that their parents, or any others of the countries where they are natives, may owe. We also declare that no wrong, dishonor, or violence should be shown them on account of any emnity or grudge which any man may entertain against the said pupils or their messengers, and all their property, be secure and free from molestation, while going to the schools, while there, and while returning to their homes, and we grant them this security in all the towns of our dominions.

Whoever violates this law, by taking their property by force, or by robbing them, shall pay four times the value of what is stolen, and where anyone wounds, dishonors, or kills any of them, he shall be punished without mercy, as a man who violates our truce, and the security which we have granted. And if the judges before whom a complaint of this kind is made are negligent in rendering the parties justice, as above stated, they shall pay the amount aforesaid out of their own property, and be dismissed from office as infamous persons. Where they act in a malicious manner toward the pupils, refusing to punish those who dishonored, wounded, or killed them, then the officers who acted in this manner shall themselves be punished according to the will of the king.

Part IV, Title I, Law x: Parents Cannot Betroth Their Daughters When They Are Not Present and Do Not Give Their Consent
Where one man promises another to take one of his daughters as his wife, such words do not constitute a betrothal, because none of the daughters was present, and does not specifically consent to take the party as her husband, any more than he does her as his wife, for just as matrimony cannot be contracted by one person alone, neither can a betrothal be so contracted. In matrimony it is necessary for those who desire to contract it to be present and each one must accept the other, or there must be two others who do this by their direction, and if a father swears or promises a party who has sworn to him that he would take that one of his daughters which he would give him as his wife, and afterwards none of his daughters gives her consent, or is willing to accept the party to whom the father had sworn, he cannot, for this reason, compel any of them absolutely to do this, although he has a right to reprove them, in order to obtain their permission. If, however, the party to whom the father wishes to marry one of his daughters was a desirable person, and the daughter would do well to marry him, although he cannot compel her to perform what he promised, he can disinherit her, for the reason that she was not grateful to her father for the benefit he desired to confer upon her, and caused him sorrow through her disobedience. And this is understood if thereafter she should marry another against her father's will or commit carnal sin.

Part IV, Title XI, Law vii: Donations and Dowries, Made in Consideration of Marriage, Should Remain Under Control of the Husband, to Be Kept and Taken Care Of.
A husband should place his wife in possession of the gift which he makes her, and the wife should do the same thing with her husband with regard to the dowry she gives; and, although each of them places the other in possession of their respective gifts, nevertheless, the husband should be the master and have control of all the property aforesaid, and be entitled to collect the income of the whole, including what the wife gives, as well as that given by him, for the purpose of supporting himself, his wife, and his family, and to preserve, defend, and protect the marriage well and faithfully. Still, the husband has no right to sell, dispose of, or waste the donation which he gave his wife, or the dowry which he receives from her, as long as the marriage lasts, except where such a gift has been appraised. This should be observed for the following reason, namely: in order that if a separation takes place, the property of each of the parties may be returned to them, free and without encumbrance, to dispose of at their pleasure, or, where the marriage is dissolved by death, that it may descend intact to their heirs.

Part IV, Title XI, Law xvii: Concerning Separate Property Belonging to the Wife, Which is Not Given as Dowry, and Which is Called in Latin, Paraphernalia. (return)
All property and possessions, whether personal or real, which women keep separately for themselves, and do not enter in the account of a dowry, are called in Greek
parapherna, and this derived its name from para, which means, in Greek, the same as near, and pherna which takes the place of dowry, in Greek, the same as things which are joined to, or connected with a dowry. All the articles called, in Greek, parapherna, when they are given by a wife to her husband with the intention that he shall have control of them as long as the marriage lasts, he has the right to keep, just as those which are given him by way of dowry. Where they are not specifically given to the husband, and it was not the intention of the wife that he should have control of them, she always remains their owner; and the same rule applies whenever any doubt arises whether she gave them to her husband or not.

All these things called parapherna, have the same privilege as a dowry has, for just as a husband is responsible to his wife to the full amount of his property, if he disposes of or wastes her dowry, he is also responsible for the parapherna, no matter what may happen to it. And although an obligation of this kind may not be contracted by words, it is understood to be created solely by the act itself. For as soon as the husband receives the dowry and the other property called parapherna, all his property, for this reason, becomes bound to his wife, not only what he has at the time, but also what he may acquire subsequently.

Part V, Title VIII, Law xxvi: Inn-Keepers, and Keepers of Lodging Houses, and Sailors Are Obliged to Pay the Owners for Property of Which They Have Charge When It Is Lost in Their House or Their Ships.
It happens frequently that knights, merchants, or other men who travel, are compelled to lodge in the houses of inn-keepers and in taverns, and have to entrust their property to the charge of those whom they find there, confiding in them without any witnesses, and without any other security; and also those who are forced to travel by sea place their property in ships in the same way, by trusting the sailors; and for the reason that it frequently happens that among these two kinds of men, some are found who are very dishonest, and are guilty of great injury and wickedness towards those who confide in them; hence it is but proper that their criminality should be restrained by punishment. Wherefore, we decree that all property deposited by travelers by land or water in the houses of inn-keepers or tavern-keepers, or in ships which knowledge of the owners of the said inns, taverns, or ships, or parties representing them, shall be taken care of, so that it will not be lost or diminished in value; and if it should be lost through the negligence of said parties, or through any fraud committed by them, or by any fault of theirs, or if anyone accompanying said travelers should steal it, they shall then be obliged to pay the value of said loss or deterioration; for it is but just that since travelers entrust their persons and property to them that they should protect them faithfully, with all their power, so that they may not suffer either wrong or injury.

What we mention in this law is understood to apply to inn-keepers and tavern-keepers, and the owners of ships, who are accustomed to entertain men publicly, receiving from them pay or hire for their service. We decree that the aforesaid persons shall be bound to protect them in the same way if they entertain them through affection, and do not charge them anything, except in certain cases. First, where the party tells his guest before he receives him, that he will take good care of his property, but is not willing to bind himself to pay for it if it is lost. Second, where, before he receives him, he shows him a chest or a house and says to him, "If you desire to remain here, put your property in this house or in this chest, here is the key of it, and take good care of your property." Third, where the property is lost through some unavoidable accident, as, for instance, by fire or inundation; or where a house is demolished; or where it is lost through a ship being damaged; or through the violence of public enemies; for where property is lost in any of the ways aforesaid, which did not happen through the fraud or fault of the parties, they will not then be bound to pay for the same.


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