Siete Partidas, Spanish Notary Laws, 1265

Siete Partidas Spanish Notary Laws 1265Siete Partidas, Spanish Notary Laws, 1265

The legal code known as the Siete Partidas (Seven Divisions of Law) was compiled in 1265 by jurists under the direction of Don Alfonso X the Wise (el Sabio), (1221-1284), King of Castile and León.

The Siete Partidas is a text of civil law based on the Roman law of Justinian, canon law, maritime law, Visigothic law, and feudal laws, with some influences from the Islamic law of Islamic Spain.

Alfonso was called “El Sabio” (“the Wise”) for his love of learning.  He employed Christian, Muslim, and Jewish scholars as his royal scriptorium to translate works of the law, science, astronomy, history. literature, and philosophy from Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew into Castilian vernacular.

This made the knowledge more accessible to the government, scholars, and the people. It was the beginning of the Renaissance period in Spain.  Alfonso ruled Castile from the capital in Toledo, which became a center of learning with a large library.

King Alfonso X Castile Leon Siete PartidasThe Siete Partidas provided a universal justice system designed to replace local laws. But, due to resistance among the Castilian nobility, it was not initially accepted. Existing local laws or fueros were still followed for many years. The Siete Partidas was only used for legal matters under the exclusive jurisdiction of the king.

The work is considered the most important law code of the Middle Ages and a major accomplishment of Alfonso X.

His marble relief portrait hangs in the gallery at the U.S. Congress House of Representatives.

map Castile Aragon 1500

Ferdinand and Isabella

In 1469, the Catholic Monarchs, Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon, married to begin the unification of Spain. By that time, the Siete Partidas was accepted as common law by the people.

After eight centuries of occupation, the final phase of the gradual Reconquest (Reconquista) to oust the Muslims was complete in 1492, and the Moors no longer ruled the emirate of Granada in the south. The Catholic Monarchs achieved their goal to have “One Faith, One Crown, One Law”.

map New Spain 1794Columbus and the Conquistadors who followed brought the Siete Partidas to the New World. The code was used for several centuries in Spanish territories, including colonies in Latin America and New Spain.

Spanish notary sketch Castellano 1850Siete Partidas, Seven Books of Law

The seven divisions or books of the Siete Partidas are divided into a total of 182 articles composed of 2802 laws. The books are:
1. Canon Law, General Law
2. Government and Administration
3. Justice Administration, Lawyers
4. Marriage and Family
5. Commercial Law, Maritime Law
6. Wills and Estates
7. Criminal Law

Part 3 includes laws describing the role, duties, and powers of royal notaries, public notaries, and seal keepers.

King’s Sealed Letter of Authority for Notary

“Know all persons who see this letter, that We, Don Alfonso, by the grace of God King of Castile, etc., hereby appoint Velasco Juanez, Notary Public of Segovia, and having sworn him to perform the duties of his office well and faithfully, not only with regard to the contracts which men make with one another, but also concerning wills, and the transactions arising in lawsuits which he has to reduce to writing in the presence of the court; as well as all other matters relating to this office; and, moreover, above all things in the world, to protect our service and our sovereignty.

And we invest him with this public office along with a writing case and a pen, and also we confer authority upon him to make use of said office in a public manner.
And we command that whatever instruments he may draw up hereafter in public practice, shall be valid and accepted throughout our entire dominions, as those made by the hand of a notary public should be; and in order that no doubt may arise in the matter we have given him this letter, sealed with our waxen seal.”

Cordoba notary Juan de Slava signature seal 1530Notary’s Rubric and Signo

On appointment to the notarial office, each notary received his own unique seal-like insignia called a signo, usually in the form of a square or star, embellished with a unique pattern.

To finalize a document, the notary’s authenticating marks included his signature, his distinctive flourish or rubric (a practiced flourish), and his signo.  The notary marks attested that a document was duly witnessed.

The signo, or official sign of the notary, as well as the rubrica of the private individual, were so important that they may be considered as integral parts of the signature itself.

They possess their distinctive characteristics, and, if omitted, could invalidate a document, or cast suspicion upon the genuineness of the alleged manual sign of a witness or testator.

It was still a time of general illiteracy when few laymen could read and write. They relied on educated public notaries to write documents.

Notary Laws in Siete Partidas, Part 3

There are 16 notary laws in Title 19 of Part 3, simplified below.  Notaries are also mentioned in other sections of the law.

  1. Types of Notaries.
    A notary is a man skilled in writing.  Judicial notaries draw up privileges, royal ordinances, and judicial decisions of the king. Notaries public draw up bills of sale, purchases, contracts, and agreements. A record of past events is preserved in their registers, memoranda, and the documents they draw up.
  2. Notary Qualifications.
    Notaries of the Court of the King should be faithful, reliable, and intelligent, with sufficient knowledge to write and comprehend documents properly.  They should possess all good qualities of officers of the court and the palace of the king.  Notaries public must be freemen, Christians of good reputation and discretion to keep secrets in documents they are directed to write, except where they injure the king or the kingdom. They shall be local residents so they may know the men they serve. They should be laymen, because making false papers may involve the penalty of death or loss of limb, which is not suitable for a priest, and if they commit any offense deserving death or other punishment, the king can inflict it on them.
  3. Who May Appoint Notaries.
    The duty to appoint notaries belongs to an emperor or king, as they are part of the government, responsible for the preservation and genuineness of the ordinances issued by the Court and by cities and towns, and as public witnesses in suits. Those with the power to appoint judges in their districts can also appoint court notaries. The king may delegate authority to appoint notaries to a council whose instruments should be accepted throughout the kingdom.
  4. Notary Exams.
    The king examines candidates for notaries of his court for their knowledge of writing, and good character, ascertained from members in his household. For public notaries, the king ascertains qualifications from reliable local men where the candidates live, and from any other persons who can best provide information. The notaries of the court of the king, should swear to draw up all documents faithfully without loss of time, and not consider love, hate, fear, shame, entreaty, or any gift which may influence them; and to keep the secrets of the king and protect his sovereignty, and his person, family, and property.  Public notaries of cities and towns should swear that they will also protect the king, his sovereignty, and everything appertaining to him; and keep secure the advantage and honor of his councils, and that they will draw up instruments faithfully, as the notaries of the king in drawing up royal ordinances.
  5. Duties of Royal Notaries.
    When ordered by the king to draw up any documents in secret, notaries shall not show them to anyone, except to persons ordered by the king, or to a chancellor, a notary, a judge, or a sealer. No words should be inserted in judicial decrees which indicate partiality.  No words may be inserted in documents to falsely extend privileges confirmed by the king.  Letters that the king orders notaries to draw up regarding a hearing or decision should not express that the arguments of both parties will not be heard. Notaries may not change or substitute the form in which they are ordered to draw up papers, and the form must be worded in the proper manner.
  6. Drawing Up Letters Relating to Simple Justice.
    The king or his judges may order letters of simple justice to be drawn up by reason of the complaints of persons seeking justice. Notaries should be careful to insert in them a statement where the complainant obtained the letter, that those to whom he goes should do as instructed in the letter.
  7. Notaries Should Write Out Everything in Full, and Not Use Abbreviations.
    Notaries should write out everything in full, and not make use of abbreviations in the privileges and ordinances which they draw up concerning the special matters mentioned in this law, in order to avoid mistakes or disputes in their writings. Documents using abbreviations are not valid, and the notary shall be required to make good any loss or injury suffered by a party on this account.
  8. Advantages of Making Records.
    Notaries of the palace of the king, appointed to record documents in books called registers, are designated recorders. A register is a book to record the ordinances and privileges granted. It is a useful record in case the original document is lost, defaced, illegible, or erased, to remove all doubts concerning suspicious documents. Another advantage is where a fraudulent paper is given which should not be granted, it can be disproved by means of the record. Recorders should write documents faithfully, without adding or removing anything. They should not show their records except to a notary or a sealer, or to someone else by order of the king or the court. Recorders should sign their registers every month to confirm the transactions and to be ascertained at the end of the year.
  9. Duties of Public Notaries.
    Notaries public of cities and towns are required to keep a book as a register, to record memoranda of all documents as ordered by a judge, or as the parties agree, and, in their presence direct them to draw any paper. Then they should draw up the required documents, in proper form, without changing anything that was entered in the register. They must give the paper to the party as entitled and record it in the register, to prove its contents in case the document is lost or any doubt arises concerning it. Every city and town shall keep another register, where all the accounts of the revenues of its council shall be recorded, to ascertain their amounts; in case the king demands a statement of how revenues were expended.
  10. Notary Should Rewrite a Lost Document.
    If a man loses a document in his possession, prepared by a notary, he should return to the notary for a duplicate. The notary should draw up a copy from the register, worded the same as the original, and give it to the party to whom it belongs. But, if an instrument relates to a debt owed, a notary should not rewrite it, or deliver it on his own responsibility, because it may have been requested for purposes of fraud after the debt had been paid or released. Debt matters must go before a judge, for verification under oath of the debt amount owed or paid.
  11. How a Notary Should Draw Up a Debt Instrument the Second Time.
    When a debtor fails to appear before a judge when summoned, because a creditor has lost the original document, the creditor shall take an oath and swear that he has not been paid. Then the notary should rewrite the paper and deliver it to him, noting on it that the debtor failed to appear to oppose the instrument. If a debtor does appear before a judge and denies that he owes the debt; the judge should give him time to prove that he has paid the debt. If the debtor cannot provide proof, the judge should take the oath of the creditor and order the notary to draw it up a second time and deliver it to him. However, if the debtor proves that he has made the payment, or that the creditor has released him from the debt, then the instrument demanded by the creditor should not be rewritten.
  12. When a Notary Should Renew an Old Document.
    A notary should renew a paper that has been damaged and cannot be read, unless it is erased in any suspicious part, or effaced, or has a tear or scrape that does not affect the writing.  If it relates to a debt, the debtor should appear before a judge, if he wishes to say anything against the allegations or the renewal of the instrument. If the debtor cannot prove that the debt has been paid or released, the judge should order the notary to renew it according to his register.
    If the instrument is related to a gift, purchase, exchange, or any other matter where several copies could not injure another party, and it is not torn in the handwriting, or canceled, erased, or mutilated in a suspicious part, then the notary can draw it up again, without an order of the judge, by comparing it with the register.
    If mutilation or cancellation is in a suspicious place, it shall not be believed in court, or renewed, except where there is proof that someone else caused said mutilation or cancellation accidentally, or by violence, or without consent. The notary public who renews a paper should write in the place where he subscribes his name the reason why he was obliged to renew it.
  13. Compensation of Royal Notaries of the King’s Palace for Preparing Privileges and Ordinances on Leather Parchment.
    Royal Notaries who draw up papers in the Court of the King shall be rewarded and favored by the king for their labor, for each privilege drawn shall receive one maravedi for his sign, and the same for each writing; and for a document with a leaden seal which contains no sign, half a maravedi; and for an open document, sealed with wax, impressed with the great seal, half a maravedi.
  14. How Public Notaries Should Be Protected and Honored.
    Public notaries should be protected and honored, for they occupy a position for the common benefit of all. The Second Book describes how notaries of the Court of the King should be honored and protected. Whoever treats a notary with dishonor, or wounds one of them shall pay twice as much as he would have had to pay if the party did not hold this position, as directed by these laws in the Title concerning Penalties. Any person who kills a notary shall be put to death, unless he gives a lawful reason for doing so, as stated in the Title concerning Homicides.
  15. Compensation of Public Notaries of Cities and Towns for Drawing Papers.
    Public notaries of cities and towns should receive compensation for the labor which they perform in drawing up papers. For an instrument relating to property worth more than a thousand maravedis, he shall receive four sueldos. Where the property is under a thousand maravedis, down to a hundred maravedis, two sueldos; and for all under a hundred maravedis one sueldo. For papers drawn up for bequests, marriage contracts, partitions, or enfranchisements, six sueldos for each one.
    For an instrument drawn up for Jews, concerning debts which men owe them, they are entitled to receive for each one valued above a thousand maravedis; or under that amount, half of the amounts stated above, with reference to papers drawn up for Christians.
    For bills of sale or purchase, or documents relating to the other matters for Jews or for Moors, they should give for each one of these as much as Christians do. Payment for privileges and documents shall be in the best money current in the country which is not gold or silver.
  16. Punishment for Notaries Who Commit Forgery.
    If a royal notary belonging to the Court of the King commits forgery in any ordinance or privilege he shall be put to death. If he intentionally reveals a secret, which the king ordered him to keep, to any man whose acts may injure the king, he should inflict punishment as he thinks he deserves.
    If a public notary of a city or town should draw up a forged paper, or commit any forgery in court, his hand shall be cut off, and he shall be considered infamous, so that he cannot be a witness, or be honored while he lives.

Seal Keepers

Title 20 of Part 3 defines the use of royal seals, private seals, and seal keepers separate from the role of the notary.  Seals were made of metal or stone. To prevent fraud, each city had two seal keepers, appointed by the king, with each keeping one plate of the two-plate seal. This required both seal keepers to meet to apply the complete seal.

Government seals were applied by order of the king, the Chancery, a judge, notary, or city council.  Private individuals could apply their private seals in addition to their signatures to prevent fraud.

1. Siete Partidas, Spanish to English translation, Samuel Parsons Scott, 1931, updated 2001
2. Spanish notary laws article at Brigham Young University (BYU)
3. Suma de notas copiosas muy sustanciales y compendiosas, Hernando Diaz de Valdepenas, 1544, contained sample forms without instructions
4. Pratica Civil, y Criminal, e Instruction de Scrivanos, Gabriel Monterroso y Alvarado, 1563, notary exam study guide, with many sample forms and instructions

Image Credits
1. Alfonso X, marble relief portrait, by Gaetano Cecere, U.S. Congress, House of Representatives gallery, installed 1949
2. map of Castile and Aragon, CC by SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons
3. map of New Spain in 1794, CC by SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons
4. Spanish notary drawing, by Manuel Castellano, circa 1850, Fair Use, National Library of Spain, Madrid
5. notary signature and rubric, Juan de Slava, Cordoba, Castile, 1540, will manuscript, Fair Use, National Library of Spain, Madrid

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