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The Mexican nobility includes elite indigenous families from the pre-hispanic era; indigenous elites recognized as nobles in the colonial era (1521–1821); and hereditary nobles and economic elites who acquired noble titles in the colonial era; and the First Mexican Empire (1821–23), immediately after independence from Spain, and the Second Mexican Empire 1862–67. While some titles were granted in Mexico itself, other families brought with them their old titles from Europe.
Some Mexicans acquired, by marriage to titled foreigners or through outright purchase, titles of nobility from European countries excluding Vatican. These were primarily Italian and German titles, such as the Duque de Rausenbach and the famed Marqués de San Basilio, who wed the rich Béistegui heiress in belle époque France. By the late 19th century, a few Mexican families saw their titles ascend into the grandeza, such as the dukedom of Regla (Romero de Terreros family).
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Mexican nobility — both titled and untitled — consisted of approximately 1.5% of Mexico’s population, or approximately 200,000 individuals. Signers of the Mexican Declaration of Independence included: the Marqués de San Juan de Rayas, the Marqués de Salvatierra, the Marqués de Salinas del Río Pisuerga, the Conde de Santa María de Regla, the Marqués de la Cadena, the Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo, among others.
After titles of nobility were abolished in 1824 (and again in 1857), many nobles appended "ex-" to their titles and continued to use them. Failure to renew titles in Spain—and to pay taxes due on the renewal—led to some families' loss of their distinctions. Fewer than two dozen families continue to renew their titles into the present.
Historically, some Mexican noble families married into European nobility and some of these unions have produced figures such as Rainier III, Prince of Monaco and Elena Poniatowska, who was a descendent of a brother of Stanislaw August Poniatowski the last King of Poland. Other families who have married into European nobility include the Gutiérrez de Estradas, and the Itúrbides: the Head of the Imperial House of Mexico in exile, Maximilian von Götzen-Itúrbide, is married to a member of the Venetian and Croatian nobility.
Most aristocrats remained on the sidelines of the court of the Second Empire. Some, like the Romero de Terreros family, went into official mourning and exiled themselves to their haciendas—or abroad—rather than accept positions at court that would have compromised their fortunes. A few backed the liberals, such as the 2nd Barón de Caserta, who donated funds to arm liberal guerrillas in Jalisco.
The Aztecs and other Indigenous peoples in Mexico had a system of hereditary aristocracy in place when the Spanish arrived in Mexico. The Spaniards respected this system and added to it, resulting in many unions between Aztec and Spanish nobility. Descendents of the elites of pre-Columbian Mexico who received these distinctions included the heirs of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II; That family became known as the Condes de Moctezuma, and later, the Duques of Moctezuma de Tultengo. The holders of the title, who still reside in Spain, became part of the Spanish nobility in 1766 when they received a grandeza. A branch of their family, on the female side, continued to receive an annual payment from the Mexican government in the amount of some 500 gold ducats until 1938, as part of a contract signed in the 16th century granting Mexico City access to water and lumber on family property.
Some families of pure Amerindian ancestry, such as the Mixtec Villagómez family, were among the richest landowners in New Spain after the conquest of the Aztec empire. Despite being part of the colonial elite after the conquest, the Villagómez retained their Mixtec identity, speaking the Mixtec language and keeping a collection of Mixtec codices.
Titles in Viceregal Mexico and the First Mexican Empire
Families who received a título de Castilla during the colonial period were the first to be granted European noble titles in New Spain (Mexico). One of the first was the Spanish noble Conquistador Hernán Cortés, who was granted the title of Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca. Cortés's first wife was Dona Catalina Marcaida Jaurez, and the marriage was an important political alliance while he was in Cuba. His second marriage was to a noblewoman. Approximately 130 titles were held by Spaniards born or resident in New Spain. Main centers of population included Mexico City, Puebla, Querétaro, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Guadalajara, and Morelia (Valladolid).
The largest number of noble titles were created in the eighteenth century under the Spanish Bourbon monarchs and the influx of foreign nobles to Mexico. Leading noble families active in 17th, 18th, and 19th century politics, economy, clergy, arts and culture included:
- De la LLamosa, Gómez de Cervantes, Romero de Terreros, de la Cámara or Cámara, Rincón-Gallardo, Romay, Riverol, Pérez Gálvez, Rul, Vivanco, La Canal, Cañedo, Fernández de Jáuregui, Obando, Fernández de Córdoba, Gómez de Parada, Lara, Pérez de Salazar, Ruiz de Velasco, Valdivieso, De Haro y Tamariz, Fagoaga, Echeverz, Dávalos de Bracamonte, Peón, Gutiérrez-Altamirano, Castañiza, Gómez de la Cortina, Urrutia, Velasco, Moncada, Diez de Sollano, de Busto y Moya, Reynoso y Manso de Zúñiga, Capetillo, Villaseñor-Cervantes, Villaseñor-Jasso, López de Zárate, Caserta, Trebuesto, Ruiz de Esparza, García de Teruel, Espinosa de los Monteros, Vizcarra, Rábago, Sardaneta, Martínez del Río, Ozta, Azcárate y Ledesma, de la Torre-Ledesma, Molina Flores,Vera Martinez y Cazarez, Samaniego del Castillo, Lemus, Mier, De la Maza, González de Betolaza, López de Peralta, Diez-Gutiérrez, Flores-Alatorre, Cosío, Rivadeneyra, de la Cotera, de la Campa y Cos, Rodríguez Sáenz de Pedroso, Padilla, Rivascacho, Villar-Villamil, Rodríguez Rico, Sánchez de Tagle, Báez de Benavides, Cabrero, Hurtado de Mendoza, López-Portillo, García Pimentel, Meade, Sánchez-Saráchaga, Sainz Trápaga, Villaurrutia, Errazu, Escandón, Yturbe, Heredia de la Pierre, Beovide, Sánchez de Aldana, Yermo, Béistegui, Zubaran-Capmany and Sánchez-Navarro, among others.
At independence, a few princely dignities were accorded the Imperial family's relations and three titles of nobility — the latter already under application with the Spanish government — were recognized by the Congress of the First Mexican Empire, such as the Marqués de Samaniego del Castillo. Knighthoods were also created, most notably, of Guadalupe. Throughout the 19th century others received pontifical titles of nobility, and through loopholes in Spanish law, had these titles recognized as títulos de Castilla; these are known as títulos negros and include the titles of the marqués de Barrón, conde de Subervielle, conde del Valle (Fernández del Valle family), duquesa de Mier, and others. Many of these families were part of the hidalgo class. Some families, after Mexican Independence, received títulos de Castilla from the Spanish monarch directly, such as the duque de Regla and the duquesa de Prim, or indirectly, through marriage to individuals holding these titles, such as the duque de Castroterreño or the Escandón family members who subsequently became duques de Montellano, marqueses de Villavieja.
First Republic and the Second Mexican Empire
Some families received titles of nobility from the Congress of the First Empire. After the fall of the First Empire, the imperial family resided in Italy, and later, in the United States. Afterwards, during the Second Mexican Empire, under Maximilian I of Mexico of the House of Habsburg, the nobility was resurgent. While knightly orders were re-established, no new titles of nobility were granted.
Some of the families granted titles during the first Empire were the Itúrbides—whose Basque ancestors had been ennobled by King Juan II of Aragon—Samaniego del Castillos, and the Marquis de la Cadena.
List of titles of nobility in Mexico
- Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca (1529); Hernán Cortés and descendants
- Marqués de Salinas de Río Pisuerga (1609); Altamirano de Velasco, Cervantes
- Conde de Santiago de Calimaya (1616); Altamirano de Velasco, Cervantes
- Marqués de Villamayor de las Ibernías (1617); Pacheco
- Conde de Valle de Orizaba (1627); Rincón Gallardo
- Conde de Moctezuma (1627) G.E.; Moctezuma de la Cueva
- Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo (1683); Echevers
- Conde de Miraflores (1689); Garrastegui
- Marqués de Villar del Águila (1689); Urrutia
- Conde de Miravalle (1690); Dávalos Bracamonte
- Marqués de Santa Fe de Guardiola (1691); López de Peralta, Cervantes
- Marqués de Altamira (1704); Sánchez de Tagle
- Marqués de Sierra Nevada (1708) ; Ruiz de Tagle
- Marqués de Salvatierra (1708); Cervantes
- Duque de Atrisco (1708); G.E.; Sarmiento, Romay-Sotomayor
- Conde de Ledesma de la Fuente (1710)
- Marqués de Villa Hermosa de Alfaro (1711); Rincón-Gallardo
- Conde de San Mateo de Valparaíso (1727); Landa y Escandón
- Marqués de Acapulco (1728); de la Cerda
- Marqués de San Clemente (1730); Busto
- Marqués de las Salinas (1733); Pérez de Tagle
- Conde de Revillagigedo (1749); Revillagigedo
- Marqués de Rivascacho (1764); Cervantes
- Conde de Regla (1768); Romero de Terreros, Rincón Gallardo
- Marqués del Apartado (1772); Fagoaga, Campero
- Conde de la Presa de Jalpa (1775); Cervantes
- Marqués de San Cristóbal (1777); Romero de Terreros, Rincón Gallardo
- Marqués de San Francisco (1777); Romero de Terreros
- Conde de Pérez Gálvez (1805); Pérez-Gálvez
- Marqués de Guadalupe Gallardo (1810); Rincón-Gallardo
- Marqués de Yermo (1810); Gabriel de Yermo and descendants (with the right to chose denomination)
- Conde de Heras-Soto (1811); Heras Soto, García Pimentel
During the Porfiriato, members of the Mexican aristocracy were very active in politics. Prince Agustín de Iturbide y Green, Maximilian's adopted son, was prompted by reactionaries into making public pronouncements against Díaz, who promptly exiled him after he served a brief sentence given him by a martial court. Don Agustín died in exile in the United States, where he was a Spanish professor at Georgetown University. Members of the Rincón Gallardo, Fagoaga, and Pimentel families (marqués de Guadalupe, marqués del Apartado and conde de Heras Soto) were active in Mexico City government, the ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Senate, the armed forces, and the Academia de la Lengua or the Sociedad de Geografía e Historia. Many journeyed and lived abroad, often doing so in Paris, London, and Madrid. Most men studied at the Jesuit-run British public school, Stonyhurst College. By marriage into such French families as the Polignacs and Villenueves, a number of persons of Mexican descent were noble.
Around 1902, Don Ricardo Ortega y Pérez Gallardo, Mexico’s unofficial King of Arms, commenced work on a project to prepare an encyclopedic history of Mexico's aristocracy. The resulting Historia genealógica de las familias más antiguas de México (Genealogical History of the Oldest Families of Mexico), an Almanach de Gotha of sorts, listed the histories of a select group of families residing in Mexico who held Habsburg, Bourbon, Mexican, and Pontifical titles or patents of nobility, entails, and knighthoods; it also listed notables who had accepted honors from foreign sovereigns and republics.
After the revolution, the nobility migrated to Mexico City in large numbers; many entered the professional and educated classes. The Mexican Academy of Genealogy and Heraldry has operated since 1921, creating a journal and publishing important family genealogies. A number found employment in the diplomatic service, arts and letters, public relations, and transnational corporations. A number of European nobles, bankrupted by the wars, resettled and intermarried in Mexico from the 1940s on, including the King of Romania. Art history and antiquities attracted many, such as the Marqués de San Francisco, don Manuel Romero de Terreros, among others. Monarchists organized masses for the repose of Maximilian well into the 20th century at the Church of La Profesa, and were kept under surveillance by the Ministry of the Interior. During Charles de Gaulle's state visit to Mexico, many turned out for the receptions. Many of them greeted the arrival of the Royal Family in 1977 — the first such visit in Mexico's history — and purportedly feuded over the order of precedence at receptions. Pontifical orders of knighthood, as well as independent orders, such as Malta, have chapters in Mexico. The most numerous is the Orden del Santo Sepulcro de Jerusalén with nearly 200 members organized into three chapters (Chihuahua, Guadalajara, and Mexico City).
Current legal status of nobility in Mexico
The Political Constitution of Mexico expressly prohibits the state from recognizing (or granting) any titles of nobility since 1917. Therefore, noble titles do not legally exist in Mexico. The same law prohibits Mexicans from accepting foreign distinctions without permission from the Congress of the Union.
- First Mexican Empire
- Second Mexican Empire
- Mexican heraldry
- Mexican Academy of Genealogy and Heraldry
- House of Iturbide
- de la Cámara
- Martínez del Río
- Villagómez family
- Nutini, The Wages of Conquest, 183-189.
- Doris M. Ladd, The Mexican Nobility at Independence, 1780-1826, Appendix.
- "ARTICLE 12 - The United Mexican States do not grant titles of nobility or hereditary prerogatives and honors, nor give effect to those provided by any other country." Taken from the current official text at http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/1.pdf
- Ladd, Doris M., The Mexican Nobility at Independence, 1780-1826. Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas, 1976.
- Lopez De La Cadena, Alberto Homero, http://www.cryptojews.com/Our_Secret_Heritage.htm
- Fernández de Recas, Guillermo S. Cacicazgos y Nobiliario Indígena de la Nueva España' (Indian Chiefs and Nobility of New Spain). México, D.F.: Instituto Bibliográfico Mexicano, 1961. (FHL book 972 F3f.)
- Macias-González, Victor M. "The Mexican Aristocracy in the Porfirian Foreign Service." Book Manuscript Summary, available online at: http://www.lclark.edu/~tepo/Papers/macias.pdf
- Muñoz Altea, Fernando. Blasones y Apellidos (Coats of Arms and Noble surnames). México: Joaquín Porrúa, S.A. de C.V., 1987. (FHL book 972 D6m.)
- Ortega y Pérez Gallardo, Ricardo. Historia Genealógica de las Familias más Antiguas de México (Genealogical History of the Oldest Families of Mexico). Austin, Texas: Golightly-Payne-Coon Company, 1957. (FHL films 0283555–0283556.)