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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Was still subject to certain seigniorial rights


monarch, while those of the

second grade might only be called "relatives,"--empty honors, which were much esteemed, however, as symbolic of rank. These groups monopolized all titles such as marquis, duke, count, and prince. Below them were the _caballeros_ and the _hidalgos_. The word _hidalgos_ was employed to designate those nobles of inferior rank without fortune, lands, jurisdiction, or high public office. The desire for the noble rank of _hidalgo_ and the vanity marked by the devising of family shields became a national disease, and resulted in fact in the increase of the _hidalgo_ class. The people of Guip?zcoa claimed that they were all _hidalgos_, and received the royal recognition of their pretension. Measures were taken to check this dangerous exemplification of social pride, but on the other hand the treasury found the sale of rights of _hidalgu?a_ a profitable source of income. In 1541 there were less than 800,000 taxpayers in Castile, but over 100,000 _hidalgos_. The nobles did not at once forget their medieval practices of duelling, private war, plotting, and violence. There were instances of these throughout the era, and in Aragon and Majorca they were almost continuous. Nevertheless, the situation did not become so serious as it had been in the past; it merely represented the deeply rooted force of noble tradition, which objected to any submission to discipline. Both the hierarchy of the nobility, with all its incidents of broad estates, jurisdictions, class pride, and vanity, and the irresponsible
practices of the nobles passed over into the Americas.

[Sidenote: Advance of the plebeian classes through the rise of the merchants and the _letrados_.]

While there were many different categories of free Christian society the essential grades were those of nobles (or members of the clergy) and plebeians. There were many rich merchants of the middle class who aped the nobility in entailing their estates and in luxurious display, and there were learned men who received distinguished honors or exemptions from duties to the state, but in social prestige they could not compare with the lowest _hidalgo_. Many of them became noble by royal favor, and especially was this way open to the learned class of the _letrados_. These men provided lawyers and administrative officers for the state, and, as such, occupied positions which put them on a level, at least in authority, with the nobles. The advance of the merchants and the _letrados_ represented a gain for the plebeian class as a whole, for any free Christian might get to be one or the other and even become ennobled. The economic decline of Spain in the seventeenth century was a severe blow to the merchants, while the _letrados_ were unpopular with nobles and plebeians alike; nevertheless, thoughtful men agreed that the regeneration of the country must come from these two elements.

[Sidenote: Improvement in the legal condition of the masses.]

The masses were poor, as always, but their legal condition, except in Aragon, had been improved. There were many social wars in Aragon throughout the period, but the serfs, unable to act together, could not overcome their oppressors. Something was done by the kings through the incorporation into the crown of seigniorial estates where abuses were most pronounced. The same state of chronic warfare existed in Catalonia, where the rural population, though now freed from serfdom, was still subject to certain seigniorial rights. By the end of the period the victory of the plebeians was clear, and the ties which bound them to the lords were loosened. The social aspects of the civil wars in Castile, Valencia, and Majorca at the outset of the reign of Charles I have already been referred to. These revolts failed, and there were no similar great uprisings of the Christian masses in these regions, but the tendency of the nobility to go to court and the expulsion of the Moriscos were to operate to break down the survivals of seigniorial authority.


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