The fuero or territorial law is the legal ordinance by which the Lordship of Bizkaia was governed. It was equivalent to a general law that encompassed different types of regulations and was, at the same time, constitutional law and a code of civil and criminal procedure. It originally emerged from the framework of traditions and customs that became deeply rooted among the people of Bizkaia with the passage of time.
The territorial law took written form in 1452 in the Old Fuero and in 1526 in the New Fuero.
The Territorial Law
The Territorial Law, therefore, arises out of the will of the people.
The fuero includes such fundamental statements as the fact that all Biscayans were freemen. Expressed in Act 16 of Section I of the New Fuero, the situation as freemen established the civil equality between citizens and residents of Bizkaia with such obvious consequences as the prohibition of being submitted to torture or to the exemption from taxation:
That all the natives, inhabitants and residents of thisLordship of Bizkaia (...) were known to be freemen and enjoyed all the privileges offreemen.
In the same way, military service was subject to certain conditions. Biscayans were obliged to follow the Lord only to the Malato Tree, situated in Luyando; if they chose to continue beyond this limit, as the freeman they were, they had the right to be paid wages.
Legend of the Malato tree
The mythical first Lord of Bizkaia, Jaun Zuria, leading the Biscayans, defeated the Leonese army under the command of Ordoño II in the battle of Padura. During the ensuing retreat, the Leonese were pursued up to a site called Luyando, where an oak tree stood. At this point, and noticing Ordoño II the Bad was breathless and exhausted, Jaun Zuria let him go on the condition that he should never return, and thrusting his sword into the oak, he proclaimed that the pursuit should continue no further. Since then, that tree is called Malato, or sick from the blows and wounds it sustained.
yr, cada, y quando el Señor de Vizcaya los llamasse sin sueldo alguno, por cosas, que a su servicio los mandasse llamar: pero esto fasta el arbol Malato, que es en Lujaondo: pero si el Señor con su Señoría les madasse yr allende del dicho lugar, su Señoría les debe madar pagar el sueldo de dos mese, si vuieren yr aquen los puertos, para allede los.
The foral pass
The acts of the Ruling Powers were controlled by the Foral Pass. This consisted of a mechanism to control the power of the Lord and acted as a way to put a brake on possible arbitrary actions and guaranteed that laws were respected by the rulers. In this manner, any resolution of the Lord that was against the Fuero of Bizkaia was invalidated.
The abolition of the foral system
The Second Carlist War (1872-1876) put an end to a long period of tension between the territorial institutions and successive governments in Madrid. The defeat of the Carlist forces was used as a magnificent pretext for the total abolition of the foral system, which for a long time had been progressively undermined. The Act passed on 21 July 1876 meant the consummation of the divestment of the Fueros and, therefore, the disappearance of the General Assemblies and of the Territorial Governments as the ruling bodies of the policies of the territories of Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Araba. Navarre had already lost its political power with the so-called Agreed Law of 16 August 1841, which reduced its powers to those of a decentralised administration, removing all those sovereign items which were in conflict with the constitutional regime.