Upper House of Parliament (Senado) of Spain

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  • 0:02 Spanish Senate
  • 0:33 History
  • 2:03 Functions
  • 3:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the upper house of the Spanish Cortes, the Senate. In existence only since the 19th century, the Senate is less powerful than the lower house in the Cortes.

Spanish Senate

The Senate of Ancient Rome is one of the earliest political assemblies in Western history. Though it was far from a body elected by universal male suffrage as is common today, it has had a lasting impact on the political consciousness of Western society in general. This is perhaps best exemplified by the amount of Western states who have named the upper houses of their legislatures after the famed Roman Senate. Spain is no different, and in this lesson, we will explore the history, functioning, and composition of the upper house of the Spanish legislature, the Senate.


The Senate in Spain has only existed since the 19th century. After the Napoleonic Wars in the first two decades of the 19th century, Spain's liberals began clamoring for more legislative power and the introduction of constitutional monarchy. Though its first attempt - the Constitution of 1812 - was quickly suppressed by the monarchy, demands by political activists eventually culminated into the creation of the 1837 Constitution, which turned Spain's legislative body, the Cortes, into a bicameral parliament with a lower house, the Congress, and an upper house, the Senate. In general, the Congress represented the people of Spain, while the Senate largely represented the aristocracy and other conservative elements of the Spanish government, and special requirements were needed in order to sit in the Senate.

The Senate's duties and composition changed several times over the course of the 19th century, as the monarchy wrestled with the liberal elements of the Cortes. The Senate was suspended in 1923 when the military dictator General Primo de Rivera took control of the Spanish government. When his dictatorship came to an end and King Alfonso XIII abdicated, declaring Spain a republic, the new unicameral legislature failed to reinstitute the Senate before the country descended into civil war. Under the ensuing fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, the Senate remained a forgotten body. It was not until the institution of Spain's constitutional monarchy by the 1978 Constitution that the Senate was reborn as a governing body in Spain.


Despite the Senate being considered the 'upper' house of the Spanish Cortes, it is in reality far less powerful than the 'lower' house, the Congress of Deputies. Senators may write and initiate their own legislation, but they must also get agreement on said legislation from the Congress. They are further allowed to propose amendments to any of their own bills and those passed before the Congress. While the Congress also must get agreement from the Senate for their own bills, in the case of any disagreement, it is relatively easy for the Congress to override the wishes of the Senate. Furthermore, the Senate does not possess any administrative oversight powers on the executive branch, which the Congress does have.

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