Noble, but Not Too Noble: Social Functioning of Hidalgos as a Distinct Subclass in Spain

Ryskamp, George, ”Noble, pero no tan Noble: La búsqueda de la nobleza en las líneas de Melitón González Trejo” Memorias de la XXVI Reunion Americana de Genealogía, (Morelia, Mexico, Oct 2010.) or unpublished English Version: Noble, but Not Too Noble: Social Functioning of Hidalgos as a Distinct Subclass in Spain, 1450-1650.

This article discussed the research process used to disprove the family tradition that Meliton Gonzalez Trejo was a descendant of Spanish nobility. Most parish records seemed to disprove this fact, until a 1792 census listed his great grandfather as a member of the nobility. They were members of the hidalgos, or the lowest of the tree classes of nobility, a symbol of status but no rank, entitling them to tax breaks, the ability to serve office, and other perks. Noble blood was not required for this status, making the class a strange go-between of the elite and everyday workers in Spain.

Admission to the hidalgo class was done on the municipal level, and since it was transmitted along male lines, appeals to prove ones inherited status was done through the local municipality. The person wishing to prove hidalguia filed a petition to appeal a tax assessment. They were required to provide written testimonies from court-appointed witnesses and supporting documents (tax lists in which they did not appear, copies of parish records giving genealogy) before the court awarded them the papers stating their hildalgo status.

Ryskamp found several documents linking the ancestors of the Gonzales Trejo family to persons with hildalgo status, and by connecting several petitions from various family lines through parish registers, were able to mesh the genealogies given in the hidalguias with the baptism and marriage records, as well as relationships stated in notarial records where parish registers were not present. In total, three ancestral families were found with hidalgo status.

He then discusses the rights of hidalgos, their tendency towards intermarriage, and the perspective on women’s place within the class he found through research in marriage dispensations and wills. The research showed that women seemed to maintain control of their property and civil rights, a tendency that is confirmed by much of the literature about hidalgo women at the time. Men of the class were also active participants in the economic and social fields. Family connects were important, shown through frequent intermarriage, marriage witnesses, and godparents. Altogether, the ancestry of Meliton Gonzelez Trejo were of the lesser noble class, but they were industrious and hardworking, showing a class of nobility that still actively participated in all classes of commercial endeavors while maintaining their individual rights and privileges.



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