Hidalgo (nobility)

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A sixteenth-century French depiction of a hidalgo in the Spanish colonies
Heraldic Crown of Hispanic Hidalgos.svg

An hidalgo (Spanish: [iˈðalɣo]) or fidalgo (Portuguese: [fiˈðaɫɣu], Galician: [fiˈðalɣo]) is a member of the Spanish and Portuguese nobility. In popular usage it has come to mean the non-titled nobility. Hidalgos were exempt from paying taxes, but did not necessarily own real property. The feminine is hidalga in Spanish and fidalga in Portuguese and Galician.


Since at least the twelfth century, the words fijo d'algo (often literally translated as "son of something"), or its common contraction, fidalgo, was used in the Kingdoms of Castile and Portugal to refer to the nobility. In Portugal the cognate remained fidalgo, although these "nobles" had a somewhat different status from the Spanish hidalgos. In the Kingdom of Aragon, the counterpart of the Castilian hidalgos were called infanzones (singular: infanzón). With the changes in Spanish pronunciation that occurred in the late Middle Ages, the sound represented by the letter f was lost, giving rise to the modern pronunciation and spelling, hidalgo.[1] (see History of the Spanish language).

Although the word algo generally means "something", in this expression, the word specifically denotes "riches" or "wealth"; therefore, it was originally a synonym of "noble" or ricohombre (literally a "rich man") in the Spanish of the period. With time, it colloquially came to mean the lower-ranking gentry (the untitled, lower strata of the nobility who were exempt from paying taxes). The Leyes de Partidas, assert that the word originally derives from itálico, that is, a man with full Roman citizenship, but this is discounted by modern etymologists and historians.

There is no evidence for another popular folk etymology that the term is a corruption for hijo de godo.[2][3] All nobles were called Godos (Goths) in the Kingdoms of Leon, Galicia, Portugal and Castile, as descendants of those from the Visigothic Kingdom of Toledo.[4] This was regardless of the titles that became more numerous after the 1200s.[5] It still is in common use in some regions, and has a pejorative connotation from the lower rural folk point of view.[6]

The condition of "nobles" as freemen without land wealth, but with the rights to wear arms and be exempted from paying taxes in compensation to their military service on call, was known among the previous Visigoths states. It was still in force by the law Fuero Juzgo. The Goths used the term as well the term Vesi, the "good men". The hidalgo byname from it, "sons of the good ones" was used alternatively with the toponymical other, "sons of La Montaña" as a continued instance of its use and meaning in Old Castile.


The hidalguía has its origins in fighting men of the Reconquista. By the tenth century the term infanzón appears in Asturian-Leonese documents as a synonym for the Spanish and Medieval Latin terms caballero and miles (both, "knight"). These infanzones were vassals of the great magnates and prelates and ran their estates for them as petty nobility. In these first centuries it was still possible to become a miles simply by being able to provide, and afford the costs of, mounted military service.[7]

Only by the mid-twelfth century did the ranks of the knights begin to be—in theory—closed by lineage. In the frontier towns that were created as the Christian kingdoms pushed into Muslim land, the caballeros, and not the magnates who often were far away, came to dominate politics, society and cultural patronage. From their ranks were also drawn the representatives of the towns and cities when the cortes were convened by kings. It was in the twelfth century that this class, along with the upper nobility, began to be referred to as hidalgos.[8]


Hidalgos de sangre (by virtue of lineage) are "those for whom there is no memory of its origin and there is no knowledge of any document mentioning a royal grant, which obscurity is universally praised even more than those noblemen who know otherwise their origin", or in other words, an immemorial noble.[9] When challenged, an hidalgo de sangre may obtain a judicial sentence validating his nobility from the Royal Chancillería of Valladolid or Granada, if he can prove that it has been accepted local society and custom. In this case, the resulting legal document that verifies his nobility is called a carta ejecutoria de hidalguia (letters patent of nobility).[10][11]

To qualify as an hidalgo solariego ("ancestral hidalgo"), one had to prove that all four of one's grandparents were hidalgos. Hidalgos solariegos were regarded as the most noble and treated with the most respect. One could also receive the title as a reward for meritorious acts, or by joining an hermandad. The natives of the Basque Country were all born hidalgos, giving them access to military and administrative careers.[12] Unlike other hidalgos who refused manual work as contrary to their honour (as seen in Lazarillo de Tormes), Basque universal gentry extended to the lowliest native worker.

Hidalgo de bragueta[13] ("fly-of-the-trousers hidalgo") obtained tax exemption for having seven sons in legal matrimony.

In Asturias, Cantabria and other regions of Spain every seven years the King ordered the creation of padrones ("registers") where the population was classified either as hidalgos nobles, and therefore, exempt from taxation due to their military status or pecheros (from an archaic verb, pechar, "to pay")[14] who composed the estado llano ("lower ranks") and were excluded from military service and had to pay taxes. These padrones constitute nowadays a rich source of information about population genealogy and distribution as well as proof of nobility in certain cases.

Over the years the title lost its significance, especially in Spain. Kings routinely awarded the title in exchange for personal favors. By the time of the reign of the House of Bourbon, over half a million people enjoyed tax exemptions, putting tremendous strain on the royal state which wasn't calling their services to arms but relied more in professional armies and costly mercenaries.

Attempts were made to reform the title and by the early nineteenth century with the forced levies to military service of all citizens by Universal Conscription without any minimum requirements of nobility or pay or loyalty by honour but by coercion on desertion, it had entirely disappeared, along with the social class it had originally signified and most of its centuries old developed code of honour in the nation social culture.

By some twist of policies but agenda clearly copied from the French state, all hidalgos have been lumped with pecheros (taxable payers) but all citizens have not become hidalgos by any stretch of social rights or privileges but were still forced to pay in both, taxes and blood risks. Both social estates of the realm have become undivided and forced to add to the nation contributions in both manners without exemption, while the titled nobility and royalty kept their former privileges and exemptions.


In literature the hidalgo is usually portrayed as a noble who has lost nearly all of his family's wealth but still held on to the privileges and honours of the nobility. The prototypical fictional hidalgo is Don Quixote, who was given the sobriquet 'the Ingenious Hidalgo' by his creator, Miguel de Cervantes. In the novel Cervantes has Don Quixote satirically present himself as an hidalgo de sangre and aspire to live the life of a knight-errant despite the fact that his economic position does not allow him to truly do so.[15] Don Quixote's possessions allowed to him a meager life devoted to his reading obsession, yet his concept of honour led him to emulate the knights-errant.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Corominas, Joan and José A Pascual (1981). "Hijo" in Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico, Vol. G-Ma (3). Madrid: Editorial Gredos, 359-360. ISBN 84-249-1362-0
  2. ^ Corominas, "Hijo", 359-360; MacKay, Spain in the Middle Ages, 48
  3. ^ For a discussion of the Visigothic nobility see E. A. Thompson, The Goths in Spain, 252-257, and Dietrich Claude, "Freedmen in the Visigothic Kingdom", 159-188
  4. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=6sYEUhiamdIC&lpg=PA162&ots=92R2lwBMCL&dq=somos%20godos%20nobles&pg=PA162#v=onepage&q&f=false
  5. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=6sYEUhiamdIC&lpg=PA162&ots=92R2lwBMCL&dq=somos%20godos%20nobles&pg=PA162#v=onepage&q&f=false
  6. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=6sYEUhiamdIC&lpg=PA162&ots=92R2lwBMCL&dq=somos%20godos%20nobles&pg=PA162#v=onepage&q&f=false
  7. ^ Sánchez-Albornoz, "España y el feudalismo carolingio", 778-787; Suárez Fernández, Historia de España, 141-142; MacKay, Spain in the Middle Ages, 47-50, 56-57, 103-104, 155; and Menéndez Pidal, La España del Cid, 86-88, 544-545.
  8. ^ Sánchez-Albornoz, "España y el feudalismo carolingio", 778-787; Suárez Fernández, Historia de España, 141-142; MacKay, Spain in the Middle Ages, 47-50, 56-57, 103-104, 155; and Menéndez Pidal, La España del Cid, 86-88, 544-545.
  9. ^ Huarte de San Juan, Juan (1989) [1575], Serés, Guillermo, ed., Examen de ingenios para las ciencias (in Spanish), Madrid: Cátedra, ISBN 978-84-376-0872-3  Also quoted in Sánchez Cantón, Francisco Javier, ed. (1948), Floreto de anécdotas y noticias diversas que recopiló un fraile dominico residente en Sevilla a mediados del siglo XVI, Memorial Histórico Español (in Spanish) 48, Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid: Maestre, p. 355, OCLC 5723566 
  10. ^ Ruiz García, Elisa (2006), "La carta ejecutoria de hidalguía: Un espacio gráfico privilegiado", En la España medieval, 1 (in Spanish), Extra: 251–276, ISSN 0214-3038, retrieved 2009-05-30 
  11. ^ Basanta de la Riva, Alfredo (1955), Sala de los Hijosdalgo: Catálogo de todos sus pleitos, expedientes y probanzas (in Spanish), Archivo de la Real Chancillería de Valladolid, Madrid: Ediciones Hidalguía, Instituto Internacional de Genealogía y Heráldica, OCLC 2831583 
  12. ^ Manuel de Larramendi, Corografía de la muy noble y muy leal provincia de Guipúzcoa, Bilbao, 1986, facsimile edition of that from Editorial Ekin, Buenos Aires, 1950. (Also published by Tellechea Idígoras, San Sebastián, 1969.) Quoted in La idea de España entre los vascos de la Edad Moderna, by Jon Arrieta Alberdi, Anales 1997-1998, Real Sociedad Económica Valenciana de Amigos del País.
  13. ^ hidalgo at the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.
  14. ^ Suárez Fernández, 144
  15. ^ Rey Hazas, Antonio, "El 'Quijote' y la picaresca: la figura del hidalgo en el nacimiento de la novela moderna", Edad de Oro (in Spanish) 15: 141–160, retrieved 2009-06-02 


  • Claude, Dietrich (1980), "Freedmen in the Visigothic Kingdom", in Edward James, Visigothic Spain: New Approaches, Oxford University Press, pp. 159–188, ISBN 0-19-822543-1 
  • MacKay, Angus (1977), Spain in the Middle Ages: From Frontier to Empire, 1000-1500, New York: St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-74978-3 
  • Menéndez Pidal, Ramón (1967), La España del Cid (in Spanish) (6th ed.), Madrid: Espasa-Calpe 
  • Sánchez-Albornoz, Claudio (1965), "España y el feudalismo carolingio", Estudios sobre las instituciones medievales españolas, Serie de Historia General (in Spanish), Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, OCLC 951198 
  • Suárez Fernández, Luis (1970), Historia de España: Edad media (in Spanish), Madrid: Editorial Gredos, OCLC 270090 
  • Thompson, E. A (2000) [1969], The Goths in Spain, Oxford: Clarendon Press, ISBN 978-0-19-814271-3 

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