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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

1700 1808 Sidenote Social characteristics of the era

style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER XXXIV


[Sidenote: Social characteristics of the era.]

FUNDAMENTALLY, there was no change in the classes of Spanish society in this period as regards their legal and social standing, except in the case of the rural population of Aragon. One of the characteristic notes of the era was a certain democratic sentiment of a philanthropic kind, exhibiting itself vaguely in a desire for the well-being of mankind, and practically in the social, economic, and intellectual betterment of the masses, without any attempt being made to improve their juridical position. This ideal, which was not confined to Spain, became more and more widespread with the increase in influence of the French encyclopedists, and got to be a fad of high society, being encouraged by the kings themselves. Many of its manifestations will be taken up later in dealing with economic institutions, but the sentimental discussion of the ideal may be remarked upon here; this at length went so far as to result in the formulation of political doctrines of a democratic character, but they were not yet translated into law. Such social reforms as were made came for the most part in the last three reigns of the era, especially in that of Charles III.

[Sidenote: Pride, wealth, and privileges of the nobles.]

justify;">[Sidenote: Real decline of their power.]

The description of the nobility in the period of the House of Austria might almost be repeated for this era. The nobles had long since lost their political power, but the wealth of the grandees and the privileges and the prestige of all ranks of the nobility were so great that this class was a more important factor in Spanish life than it is today. Pride of noble rank continued to be almost an obsession, despite the attempts to check it; with a view to diminishing petitions for the recognition of rights of _hidalgu?a_, a law was passed in 1758 calling for the payment of a large sum of money when the petitioner's title dated back to the fourth or fifth grandfather. On the other hand, the kings were responsible for acts which tended to encourage the eagerness for noble rank. Ferdinand VI officially recognized that the people of Vizcaya were all of _hidalgo_ rank; Charles III created the order which bears his name, and Charles IV founded that of the "noble ladies of Mar?a Luisa"; various societies of nobles for equestrian exercises, in imitation of the military orders, were formed, and they were given certain privileges in criminal jurisdiction. To be sure, the grant of these honors was a source of revenue to the state. The recognition of the privileged character of the nobles was manifest, even in the case of the more degraded members of that class;

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