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A sixteenth-century French depiction of a hidalgo in the Spanish colonies.

An hidalgo or fidalgo is a member of the Spanishmarker 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.


Since at least the twelfth century, the words fijo dalgo (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 Aragonmarker 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 [f] became silent giving rise to the modern pronunciation and spelling, hidalgo. (See, History of the Spanish language.)

The term is a calque of the Arabic expressions which used ibn ("son") or bint ("daughter") and an noun to describe someone. It should be noted that although the word algo generally means "something," in this expression the word specifically denotes "riches" or "wealth"; therefore, it was originally a a synonym of "noble" or ricohombre (literally a "rich man") in the Spanish of the period, although 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. Similarly there is no evidence for another popular folk etymology that the term is a corruption for hijo de godo


The hidalguía has its origins in fighting men of the Reconquista. By the tenth century the term infanzón appears in Asturian-Leonesemarker 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. 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. Only by the mid-twelfth century did the ranks of the knights began 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.

As surnames evolved in the first centuries of the second millennium, hidalgos, or those that aspired to the rank, adopted the use of the particle de in their surnames in a formula that distinguished what was still a true patronymic by the addition of their place or city of origin. So, for example, the eleventh-century infanzón, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, the famous Cid Campeador of history and literature, modified his patronymic Díaz—"son of Diego"—with his family's hometownmarker. This formula survived for several centuries as can be evidenced in the names of many of the sixteenth-century conquistadorsBernal Díaz del Castillo, Vasco Núñez de Balboa— who were from hidalgo families or claimed the status due to their services to the crown.

Types of hidalgos

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. When challenged, an hidalgo de sangre may obtain a judicial sentence validates 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).

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 Biscay were all born hidalgos, giving them access to military and administrative careers. Unlike other hidalgos who refused manual work as contrary to their honour (as seen in Lazarillo de Tormes), Biscayne universal gentry extended to the lowliest native worker.

Hidalgos de bragueta ("fly hidalgoes") obtained tax exemption for having seven sons in legal matrimony.

In Asturiasmarker, Cantabriamarker 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") 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 state. Attempts were made to reform the title and by the early nineteenth century it had entirely disappeared, along with the social class it had originally signified.

Hidalgos in literature

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.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


  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. 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.
  5. Also quoted in
  6. hidalgo at the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.
  7. Suárez Fernández, 144


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