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buber.net > Basque > History > Our Fueros
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Our Fueros

by Xabier Ormaetxea

The other day, somebody wrote about the FUEROS, saying that the Basques served in the Spanish Navy. That simply is not true. In July 1666, there was a problem of officers of the Spanish Navy, when needing sailors, closing the Basque ports and asking the fishermen and sailors to enrole in the Navy or pay a special tax. The Government of Bizkaia protested to the king "because this servivce (The navy) is volounteer and not obligatory". In March 1674, The Government of Bizkaia made another protest: "The sailors are not obliged to go to the Navy if they don't want to, because it is a volounteer act..."


Our ancestors made a great mistake calling our ancestral laws Fueros. Many counties, cities, regions etc. had also Fueros, but we cannot compare our Fueros with these others. Why? The Fueros in Spain (Fuero de Logronio, de Jaca, etc...) are concessions that the King, as sovereign, made to cities, countiess etc. They are really privileges, because their existence depends on the king's will. He can give them, he can take them away, and the king gave them to favour the population of a zone.

But who made our Fueros? Not the king or the Lord. They were made by the Basque parliaments, and the Lord, to be acepted as Lord had to promise under the tree to respect and to fullfil them. Only after that did the Juntas accept the Lord. Lets go with some examples:

.- In the time of Juan II of Castila, the treasurer of the king goes to Bizkaia to collect the rents that the Fueros recognized to the Lord. The Junta General answer that, as Juan II has not promissed under the tree, he is not Lord of Bizkaia and he had no rights. As Juan II is at this time a minor, his mother Catalina, Regent queen, promises in his name.

.- Time of the King Enrique IV (1471). He promises under the Oak, but he takes many actions against the Fueros. So the Junta General decides to remove him as Lord, and to name as their new Lord his sister Isabel (years after, she becomes the Catholic Queen). Enrique IV sends an army to conquer Bizkaia. The people of Bizkaia stop their internal civil war, form a Basque army, and destroy the Spanish army in the glorious battle of Mungia (1471,April 27).

The spanish historian Mosen Diego de Valera (1412-1488) in his book "Memorial de diversas hazanias" says "..e como los vizcainos tengan antiguas leyes e costumbres que puedan desnaturarse del Rey si atentase quebrantarlas, y el Condestable ay quisiese algunas cosas facer contra sus leyes e costumbres, los vizcainos fueron dello mu mal contentos , e pensaron buscar su remedio"

.- In 1815, with Fenando VII, French ideas enter Spain, and the king and his Prime minister Godoy begin planning to incorporate the Basque Country into the Kingdom. A Special Comission is formed called Junta de Abusos, and they make an inform: "...Que hay de comun con las demas provincias de Espana? Nada absolutamente. Las leyes distintas, el Gobierno, todo suyo, las contribuciones, ningunas, el comercio, sin reglamentos y todo franco....etc....Como de esta suerte pueden considerarse una parte integrante de la monarquia espaniola, si no estan sujetos ni a sus leyes, ni a sus cargas, ni a sus obligaciones..?" The solution proposed is clear: abolish our rights.

.- In 1351, August 1st. A peace treaty is signed between Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and England (Eduard III of England and the representants of Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa). In this treaty there are also representatives of Castilla, but in the treaty it is made clear that the King of England signs the treaty with the representants of Castilla, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa. The treaty says that it is signed between "Gentz d'Engleterre y Gascoine....gentz le dit roy de Castell ou del countee de Vizcay". In the treaty, each article makes the distinction between the people of Castila and the People of Biskay" (The term Biskai included the Gipuzkoans).

.- In 1482, a treaty is signed between Gipuzkoa and Eduard IV of England. This treaty of peace is for 10 years and says that if the Kingdoms of England and Castilla enter into war, it will not effect the relations between England and Gipuzkoa.

.- In the treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Viene (1725) between the kings of Spain and England it says that this treaty does not effect the ports of Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa because they are not under the Castilian Laws.

.- In 1794 Gipuzkoa signs a treaty of neutrality with France.

.- In 1491 the Catholic kings send a letter to all the representants of their consulates in Brugge and in this letter they clarified Bizkaia as a "separated nation".

Now let's continue with the Carlists wars. There are a lot of Spanish historians (and of course many Basques among them) that deny the fact that these Wars were national ones. They try to demonstrate that the problems with the Fueros were minor, and the main focus of the wars was the fight between the "Old Regime" and the New one born after the French Revolution; that the most revealing fact that explains the problem is a question of burguesy and peasents and so on (see the article of Mila, with the theories of Paco Letamendia). Well, I cannot deny the importance of all those things, but I think that the main problem was the national one. Here is some support:

LATAILLADE was an agent of the French Government in the XIX. He lived for some years in Donostia and he wrote some interesting informs to his Government during the First Carlist War, making proposals to put an end to the Conflict. He thought (the same as our great Chaho) that the Carlist wars were a war to mantain the Foral regime, and that the mediation of France was necessary to put end to the war because it could be a danger for the border.

I only have a Spanish translation of part of his inform, so I will copy it in Spanish:

.- Todos los medios que puede poner en pie el Gobierno de Madrid podrian asegurar momentaneamente la ocupacion del territorio, la obediencia al poder y la sumision aparente de las masas, pero seran insuficientes para desarmar totalmente al pais (Basque Country) y OBLIGARLO A SOMETERSE A LA UNIDAD ESPANIOLA

.- Mientras subsista en las cuatro provincias un hombre valido capaz de accion, y un arbol en pie, susceptible de convertirse en garrote habra lucha en defensa de su SOBERANIA........Los habitantes de las cuatro provincias sublevadas, desde los mas avisados a los mas ignorantes, que caen en la cuenta de los sacrificios que se les quiere imponer en orden al abandono forzoso de sus DERECHOS DE NACIONALIDAD haran siempre la guerra para sostenerlos y defenderlos contra cualquiera que atente contra ellos

.-Describes the political sistem, and the freedoms of the Basque Country, and he affirms that is the more free territory of the earth, that has been always sovereign and independent from the Krone of Spain, And there won't be in many time a Government in Spain, enough strong and inteligent to surrender this people.

He says that the sovereign power of these provinces reside in their "Diputados Generales" (except in Navarre, where the Viceroy has some atributions), legally elected by their inhabitants.

.- In 1793, during the War between Spain and France (War of the Convention), the French army invaded the three Basque Provinces, and the "Diputados Generales" that wanted to save their citizens of the penalities of the war and preserve their nationality and the integrity of their Country, negotiated with the Chief General of the French Army, MONCEY, making a treaty. The French would respect the nationality, properties, laws, rights and neutrality of the Provinces. The Basque militias were disarmed, and the Lord (the king), their ally, unable to protect those great interests, since he is oblished by the pact, is abandoned to his own luck.

.- In this war (1st carlist) the Provinces had sublebated, cause they are afraid to lose their National Rights... Then he spoke about Zumalakarregi " Although he fights under the Flag of D. Carlos, he is, over all, a good Basque"

.-Lataillade proposed the intermediation of France to bring the peace through these points 1.- Las potencias signatarias del tratado de la cuadruple alianza, garantizan al reino de Navarra, al senorio de Bizkaia y a las provincias de Gipuzkoa y Alava, el disfrute de sus fueros como en el pasado, conforme a sus tratados, pactos o convenciones con el Rey de Castilla 2.- Las Diputaciones de las cuatro provincias se ponen de inmediato a la tarea de asegurar el desarme completo de los habitantes y restaurar sus relaciones de paz, amistad y de buena vecindad con su majestad catolica (the queen of Spain). La reina ordena por su parte, la retirada de las tropas de las provincias.

.- The interest of France is the neutrality of the Basque provinces. A well built independence will make the border invulnerable, and in case of war between France and England, France will find in the Basques not enemies but allies.

.- Lataillade, remembering the proposals that GARAT made to Napoleon, in order to create with the Basque Country (north and south) a "pillow-state" between Spain and France.


Now here are some small pieces of verse and popular songs of the Carlist wars. They are taken from the works of Haritschelar and Agirreazkuenaga and of course are dated during the time of the Carlist war (I have respected How they were written).

Euscaldun garbi sendo
prestu ta nobliac
Gorde gure ditubez
Asabeen leguiac
Mutillac orretaco
armetara dira
Zarrac bere nai leuque
gaztiac balira

Orain sei ehun urte
gutxi gora bera
gaztelako reinura
unituak gera
gaztelun zein buru dan
ura guk artzera
Fueroak gordezkero
Egintzan paperan

Disputarikan bada
zeinentzat koroa
erabaki bear da
gaztelan pleitua
errege edo erregina
gure deretxua
beti gorde digula
garbiro fuerua

zertan sartu gerrara
juez inorentzat?
madrilen da tronuba
an koronatzen dena
guztion burutzat
fueroa gordezkero
ona da guretzat

adixkide maiteak
orra klaro gauza:
bakarrikan fueroak
dira gure kausa
aiek defenditzeko
deretxua dauka
probintziko semiak
ori ezin aka

Well I have enough material to write much more, but I think I am boring you. I always have been against any violence, I am strongly against ETA, but the problem of the violence is not a simple one. In this article we can see how the problem of the violence began more than a century ago. The solution is not to simplify things. Of course, to simplify is easier. It is easier to think that some are cruel barbarians asking for fresh blood and it is also easy to think of others as traitors or spanish agents, planning how to destroy our people, or that even others are colaborationists of one or the other group, depending on who is talking.....but things are more complicated. We are faces of the same die and we need to do something together. The real difficult thing is to understand the others. Of course, when I read some notes I am the first to hate the author, and I am the first who needs to learn tolerance....

Best wishes to all of you

Xabier Ormaetxea

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