Spain has a titled nobility, fully recognised and regulated by the State, and a large untitled nobility, that currently has no official recognition and has been in a ‘legal limbo’ since the enactment of the Constitution of 1837 and previous and subsequent laws that abolished the privileges of the nobility and dismantled the legal machinery necessary to prove noble status. An attempt in the 1980s to have the status of untitled nobility recognised by a court of law was dismissed by the Supreme Court as being a question irrelevant to the modern State. Nevertheless, there are a number of bodies of considerable antiquity closely linked to the Crown whose membership is exclusively noble, both titled and untitled. Proofs of untitled nobility necessarily have to refer back to documentary evidence from before 1837.
The titled nobility has its own representative organ, the Diputación de la Grandeza (founded 1815), that also acts as an advisory body to the Ministry of Justice in questions of succession to –and rehabilitation of– titles. Titles are still granted by the Crown.
The untitled nobility is made up of caballeros (a rather vague concept in Spain) and hidalgos. Catalonia has its own hierarchy comprising ciudadanos or burgueses honrados, caballeros del Principado and nobles del Principado. Hidalgos in Aragon were known as infanzones (although in the Province of Álava francos infanzones were non-nobles). Note that in the Middle Ages there were noble caballeros hijosdalgo and non-noble caballeros villanos (also known as pardos or de cuantía).
The nobility as a whole has never had a representative organisation. Nobles ceased to be summoned to Parliament in Castile in the first half of the 16th century, as they had more or less taken over the representation of the cities instead, and in any case had a virtual monopoly on all offices of State.
Salient characteristics of the Spanish nobility are its relatively large size by the standards of other European countries (except perhaps Poland), a very significant divergence in wealth and standard of living between the richer and poorer extremes and a markedly uneven geographical distribution, with a very heavy concentration –mainly of poorer nobles– in the northern provinces and along the Pyrenees.
In the present day, this numerically very large nobility has ‘active’ and ‘inactive’ components. The large ‘inactive’ element is either unaware of or uninterested in its noble past. The small ‘active’ element is corporately grouped in a number of bodies, many locally based and of varying degrees of exclusivity. Overlaps in membership are relatively common. Among the most prestigious of these organisations are the four ‘Military Orders’ (that no longer have a ‘military’ character) of Santiago (founded 1170), Calatrava (1158), Alcántara (1177) and Montesa (1317), the five Reales Maestranzas de Caballería of Sevilla (1670), Ronda (1572), Granada (1686), Valencia (1690) and Zaragoza (1819) and the Real Cuerpo de la Nobleza de Madrid (1782).
The Historical Background
While not specifically mentioning the nobility, Spain’s constitution of 1837 effectively put an end to it as an estate of the realm with distinct corporate rights. Articles 4, 5 and 6 stipulated that all Spaniards were to be subject to a common code of law, be eligible for all public appointments depending on merit and ability, be called upon to defend their country when necessary and be obliged to pay taxes in proportion to their wealth1. These articles either abolished all the main privileges enjoyed until then by the noble estate, including exemption from certain forms of taxation and from compulsory enlistment and billeting of troops, or extended them to the population at large, as in the case of access to civil and military office2.
Article 47, however, provided that the king would have the authority to award honours and distinctions of all classes in accordance with the law. Titles continued to be officially recognised and granted, with a substantial body of legislation being devoted to them up to the present day. Although abolished by the Republican Constitution of 19313, titles were again recognised and, indeed, awarded in relative profusion following the referendum of 1948 by which Spain regained its status as a kingdom, although the throne remained vacant until the accession of don Juan Carlos Ⅰ after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975.
The demise of the nobility as a separate estate of the realm had begun with the events following the Napoleonic invasion of Spain in 1808. The convening of a patriot assembly in Cádiz in 1810 led to the proclamation of a constitution in 1812 whose provisions were only in force in 1812-13 and 1820-234 but which foreshadowed those of its successor in 1837.
Although titles and the king’s authority to grant them have been ultimately safeguarded, none of Spain’s constitutions (1812, Royal Statute of 1834, 1837, 1845, 1869, 1876, 1931, the Fundamental Laws of the Franco regime and 1978) have made any reference to the untitled nobility, thereby relegating it to the legal limbo in which it remains to this day.
The ancien régime’s legal framework was dismantled by a number of laws and decrees enacted over the years: the chancillerías, and with them the legal machinery necessary to prove nobility, were abolished by a decree of February 2nd 1834 and substituted by territorial courts of law; local censuses, intended for tax purposes and qualifying inhabitants as noble or non-noble, were discontinued; and proof of nobility was no longer required for any practical purpose.
From 1837, and excluding the two republican periods5 (1873-74 and 1931-39), an individual’s noble status has only been publicly manifested in Spain by the legal possession of a title or by membership of one of the four military orders of knighthood or other officially recognised noble corporations (for further details see below). The proofs of nobility required to join the latter, other than a title or the previous membership of a forebear, had necessarily to refer back to events or circumstances before 1837, and this is still the case today6. Two relatively recent attempts to have untitled nobility confirmed by a court of law failed to correct this situation7. One, dating back to 1984, was a collusive action whose aim was to obtain a ruling that the plaintiff was a caballero del Principado de Cataluña and that this specifically Catalan category of nobility was in no way inferior and in all things equal to that of hidalgo of Castile. Although successful in first instance, the case was apparently not put to any further test8.
The other attempt to achieve legal recognition was initiated in 1982 and reached the Supreme Court in 19889. The case was dismissed with a well-reasoned summing-up:
‘The present case does not concern a better right to the use, possession and enjoyment of a title of nobility… In the present day a court of law has the exalted mission of “effectively safeguarding the exercise of all persons’ rights and legitimate interests”, but in no way of endorsing a “moral satisfaction”, which is worthy of all respect but totally lacking any legal grounds in our time… With the abolition of their privileges and exemptions, the hidalgos ceased to constitute a social class10 and such a quality was reduced to an historical remembrance of no significance in law… The hypothetical assumption that the plaintiff is a descendant of those who in the ancien régime enjoyed the legal status of hidalgos, with the obligations and privileges at that time inherent in such a quality, is a matter that our current legal system neither contemplates nor regulates, being therefore irrelevant to the law. In consequence, the plaintiff lacks the right to apply to the court for the desired declaration of hidalguía.’
Not surprisingly, these attempts came after a ruling by the Constitutional Court in 1982. In a legal dispute over the possession of the title of Marqués de Cartagena, the Court had ruled against a claimant with a better genealogical right to the title11. The reason was that the grant, dated 1799, required that succession to the title should follow the stipulations of a mayorazgo or entail created in 1733 which specified that the holder should marry a person of notorious nobility. The Court decided the requirement was neither unconstitutional nor discriminatory. Although some have chosen to understand that the sentence thereby implicitly recognises the existence of an untitled nobility, the truth is that the holder whose rights were upheld was married to the daughter of a count, while the sentence explicitly said that in this particular case ‘nobility’ should be understood to mean the ‘possession of a title of nobility’12.
The likelihood of a competent authority ever bringing some order to this state of uncertainty is nil. The only conclusion to be drawn is that the existence of an untitled nobility will be dependent on a State that is neither able nor willing to determine whether one of its citizens is in possession of such a status.
This leads to the question of how non-nobles have acquired nobility after 1837. Given the legal void, nobility since then can only be acquired by the granting of, succession to or rehabilitation of a title of nobility (or through the marriage of a non-noble woman to a nobleman, titled or otherwise, or of a non-noble man to a titled noblewoman)13.
It has been suggested, not altogether disinterestedly, that the award of certain decorations, such as the Order of Isabel La Católica, or even academic distinction still confer nobility. However, these are rather strained interpretations of what are merely legal loopholes.
As a matter of curiosity, the stillborn Estatuto Nobiliario of 1927-29 proposed the recognition of hereditary nobility, retroactively from 1837, to the following:
‘Grantees by creation or rehabilitation of titles of the rank of grandee14, marquis, count, viscount and baron; knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece; the prime minister and ministers of the Crown; the presidents of the two chambers of parliament; knights awarded the Collar of the Orders of Carlos Ⅲ or Isabel La Católica; Generals in the armed forces; knights grand cross of the Order of San Fernando; members of the Council of State or, previously, of the Councils of Castile, Aragon, the Indies, Italy, Portugal, Flanders and the Inquisition; presidents, judges and prosecutors of the Supreme Court; ambassadors and ministers plenipotentiary of the 1st class; officers of the armed forces awarded the Cruz Laureada of the Order of San Fernando; dames of the Order of María Luisa; brothers and sisters of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic church; and senators for life’.The Estatuto also proposed recognising personal non-hereditary nobility to the following:
The president and councillors of the Treasury; archbishops and bishops; grantees by creation or rehabilitation of foreign titles, if personally authorised to make use of them in Spain; knights grand cross of all civil and military orders and holders of the Medalla de Oro al Trabajo; auditors, assessors, abbreviators and prosecutors of the Rota; presidents of the territorial courts; vicars general of the armed forces, provisors and vicars general of archdioceses and dioceses; soldiers and non-commissioned officers of the armed forces awarded the Cruz Laureada of the Order of San Fernando; chancellors of universities; and presidents of the five Royal Spanish Academies15.
The Estatuto, the first attempt in 100 years to attempt to regulate –for better or worse– the nobility as a whole, was never enacted and came to nothing in the turbulent years that led to the proclamation of the Second Republic in 1931.
The Titled Nobility
Legally recognised titles are listed in the Guía Oficial de Grandezas y Títulos del Reino, published on an irregular basis by the Ministry of Justice, and in the unofficial Elenco de Títulos y Grandezas de España, published annually by Editorial Hidalguía since 1968. According to the 2004 edition of the Elenco there are currently 154 dukedoms (all of which have the title of grandee attached), six titles of grandee unattached to another title (but currently held by four marquises and two counts), four personal grandeeships, four grandeeships attached to foreign titles, 1,376 marquisates (141 of which have the title of grandee attached), 947 titles of count (104 grandees), 139 of viscount (two grandees), 165 of baron (two grandees), six of señor (three grandees) and three offices of dignity (Admiral and Adelantado Mayor of the Indies, Admiral of Aragon and Marshall of Alcalá del Valle). Some individuals hold more than one title, the best known example being the Duchess of Alba, who is in possession of 43 titles. Additionally, authorisation for their personal use in Spain has been granted to the following foreign titles: 16 titles of marquis (15 Pontifical and one from San Marino), 10 of count (eight Pontifical and two French) and four of baron (three Italian and one Pontifical).
Titles of nobility in Spain are perpetual, inalienable and linked to a specific bloodline, while all incidents relating to them are subject to Royal assent. A Spanish title of nobility can be acquired by:
- Creation. According to Article 62f of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, the King has the authority to award ‘honours and distinctions in accordance with the Law’. Over 30 titles have been granted by King Juan Carlos Ⅰ since his accession to the throne in 1975.
- Succession. See below.
- Cession. The holder of a title can pass it on to his immediate successor or to another in the line of succession (with the prior notarial consent of those with a better right and the explicit acceptance of the recipient), subject to Royal assent. In the latter case, only those who have explicitly renounced lose their rights, not their descendants or others with a better claim.
- Distribution. An individual with two or more titles can distribute them among his children or other direct descendants, subject to Royal assent, under the following conditions: assignation of the main title to the immediate successor and compliance with the stipulations of the original grant. This effectively alters the line of succession of the titles involved.
- Rehabilitation. A claimant can petition the King for the ‘rehabilitation’ (as a matter of grace) of a title that has been vacant for no more than 40 years subject to his legitimate consanguinity with the original grantee and the last legal possessor (within the 6th civil degree) and the allegation of sufficient merit (Royal Decree 222/1988).
- Designation as successor. The grantee of a title who has no direct descendants can petition the King for authorisation to designate a successor.
- Court ruling. The holder of a title can be taken to court by a claimant with a better genealogical right. Having submitted the ruling to the Ministry of Justice, a successful claimant receives Letters of Succession to the title.
Succession to a Spanish title of nobility (case (b) above) is never automatic, but is subject to an administrative procedure, Royal assent and the payment of a tax on succession. On the death of the holder, the title can be claimed by:
- His immediate successor within the term of one year.
- The next in line in the second year.
- Any other legitimate claimant in the third year, subsequent to which the title can only be obtained by rehabilitation (see (e) above).
In cases (2) and (3), the rights of those with a better genealogical claim are always protected and can be established in a court of law (see (g) above). Succession is by primogeniture and determined by the stipulations of the original grant. Male preference (despite having been declared compatible with the Constitution by the Constitutional Court on July 3rd 1997) has –by a political decision, embodied in Royal Decree 33/2006– now been abolished for all successions occurring after July 27th 200516.
Rehabilitations, however, pose a number of problems. The possibility of forgery and fraud require especial vigilance. Firm action was recently taken against a large number of suspect titles, rehabilitated or in process of rehabilitation and whose genealogical proofs had been tampered with17. Nevertheless, there are still more than reasonable doubts about others, all of which are rehabilitations, authorisations to use foreign titles or recognitions of Carlist titles, including Peralta (Escrivá de Balaguer, formerly Escrivá or Escriba)18, Gavín (Fuertes de Gilbert, formerly Fuertes)19, Albo (originally Villanueva, now Albo)20, Lises (Ortiz de la Renta, formerly Ortiz)21, Tejada (Coronel de Palma)22, Villarreal (Martínez de Villarreal)23 and a few others.
While the titled nobility has retained its legal status for the past two centuries, its power and influence is much diminished. The abolition of the seigneurial regime and of mayorazgos or entails, along with the imposition of partible inheritance and land reform led to the break-up of many large landed properties. In some cases the process was accelerated by profligacy and a lack of business sense.
In any case, many of the newly rich financiers, industrialists and merchants who received titles had been born into the untitled nobility, including Muguiro, Caballero, Urquijo, Ybarra and Calderón; others, such as the Mora family (subsequently Condes de Mora and Marqueses de Casa Riera, ancestors of Queen Fabiola of Belgium) and José Salamanca Mayol (Marqués de Salamanca), were not. A measure of political influence was regained with the constitution of 1876, which stipulated that Grandees were to be senators by right24. The privilege lasted until the republican constitution of 1931.
The Civil War (1936-1939), in which according to the latest assessment 140 members of the titled nobility were assassinated and a further 30 died in action, resulted in the downfall of the Second Republic. Later, following a referendum in 1948, Spain became a monarchy again and the decrees that abolished titles of nobility were repealed.
The granting of titles was resumed immediately after the restoration of nobiliary legislation in 1948. As Head of State General Franco’s first awards naturally went to political and military personalities of the triumphant Nationalist forces.
Since the accession of King Juan Carlos Ⅰ titles have been granted to politicians, businessmen (Juan Antonio Samaranch, Marqués de Samaranch), academics, writers (Camilo José Cela, Marqués de Iria Flavia), musicians (the concert guitarist Andrés Segovia, Marqués de Salobreña, and the composer Joaquín Rodrigo, Marqués de los Jardines de Aranjuez), painters (Salvador Dalí, Marqués de Dalí de Puboll) and sports personalities (Vicente del Bosque, Marqués de Del Bosque).
Members of the titled nobility active in politics include the Conservatives Esperanza Aguirre Gil de Biedma (married to the Conde de Murillo), Soledad Becerril (married to the Marqués de Salvatierra), the sisters Loyola and Ana de Palacio (daughters of the Marqués de Matonte), Íñigo Méndez de Vigo y Montojo (Barón de Claret) and Pío García-Escudero Márquez (Conde de Badarán). On the left are Joaquín Almunia Amman (grandson of the Marqués de Almunia)25, secretary-general of the Socialist Party and candidate in the 2000 general elections, the Communist Nicolás Sartorius Alvarez de las Asturias-Bohórquez (son of the Conde de San Luis) and the Socialist José María Barreda Fontes (descended from the Marqués de Casa Treviño Gotor), former president of the regional government of Castilla-La Mancha.
The titled nobility has its own representative body in the Diputación Permanente y Consejo de la Grandeza de España, which was established in 1819 and whose latest statutes –approved by King Juan Carlos– date from 199926. This relatively favourable institutional situation of the titled nobility, with a more or less well-oiled mechanism for its official recognition and transmission, contrasts with the state of legal indefinition –and lack of any legal machinery for recognition– of the untitled nobility, whether hidalgos in the Crown of Castile, infanzones in Navarre and Aragon, ciudadanos honrados, burgueses honrados, caballeros del Principado or nobles del Principado in Catalonia, or any other regional variation.
It should be noted that neither señor/señora (except as a specific title: eg, señor de Sonseca, ‘Lord of Sonseca’), señorita or don/doña have any nobiliary significance and are merely standard forms of address. Although there are specific cases in which they can be used, styles such as Excelentísimo Señor and Ilustrísimo Señor are frequently self-adopted by status seekers. Likewise, coats of Arms have generally been adopted by prescription and most armorial proofs are based on usage. In practice there is currently no control over the use of Arms and no mechanism for their recognition.
The Untitled Nobility
Perhaps because of the Spanish nobility’s large size and lack of differentiating features, it became easier than in other countries to assume that the nobility was limited to the titled nobility. Even those who should know better have endorsed this view. Journalists often produce statements on the lines of: ‘that reduced circle of two thousand families that constitutes the Spanish nobility’27.
Despite the abundant heraldry on display in towns and villages throughout the country, Arms have never been in universal use by the Spanish nobility, while in the present day control of armorial bearings is, in practice, non-existent. Neither do surnames, unless distinct and well known, provide any clue as to whether a family is noble or not. Contrary to popular opinion, the particule has never been proof or even an indication of nobility28. Similarly to non-nobles, many noble families bear simple patronymics such as Gutiérrez, López and Fernández.
The Spanish nobility’s enormous size is borne out by the census of 1797, which gave a figure of 400,000 adult male nobles in a total population of around 10 million. Apart from its size, a further particularity was the nobility’s lopsided geographical distribution, with very large concentrations in the present-day regions of Cantabria, Asturias and the northern part of Castile-León, to say nothing of the anomalous situation in the Basque provinces of Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa, where the entire indigenous population was considered noble. At that time, many nobles lived in relative poverty and obscurity, distinguished from their non-noble neighbours primarily by the enjoyment of privileges which were being steadily eroded by the creation of the increasingly meritocratic society favoured by the Bourbon kings and their reforming ministers and which was especially hard on the poorer sections of the nobility. Loss of nobility usually occurred when a nobleman settled at a new place of residence and was unable or unwilling to go to the expense of proving his nobility in the royal chancelleries.
More than a century and a half after the disappearance of the nobility as an estate, most of its descendants are largely ignorant of their heritage or indifferent to it. The vast majority of nobles have forgotten or ‘chosen to forget’ their noble origin. Large-scale emigration from the countryside to cities in the 19th and 20th centuries has weakened the links with the past even further.
Unsuspected by many, and sometimes even unknown to themselves, prominent individuals in the 19th and 20th centuries were born into the nobility: Niceto Alcalá Zamora, president of the Second Republic29, General Francisco Franco, head of state from 1938 to 197530, Indalecio Prieto, president of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and several times a Minister during the Second Republic31, Felipe González, former Socialist prime minister32, the poet and playwright Federico García Lorca33, the renegade Communist aviator Ignacio Hidalgo de Cisneros and the Conservative politician Federico Trillo-Figueroa.
Fortunately, despite this bleak picture following the proclamation of the 1837 constitution of an untitled nobility ignorant of its condition or, at the very least, uninterested, certain noble corporations have remained in existence or have been revived.
The ‘Corporate’ Nobility
What is informally known as the ‘corporate’ nobility remains the only true public expression of the untitled nobility.
Primacy must go to the five maestranzas de caballería of Ronda (founded 1573), Seville (1670), Granada (1686), Valencia (1690) and Zaragoza (1819), originally established to train the local nobility in horsemanship, and to the Real Cuerpo Colegiado de Caballeros Hijosdalgo de la Nobleza de Madrid, which is still formally under the tutelage of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (as successor to the Ministry of State).
The four military orders of knighthood (Santiago, Calatrava, Alcántara and Montesa –the first three established in the 12th century and the last in the 14th–) have traditionally been the summit of the corporate nobility but are now in a somewhat uncertain position.
The military orders became moribund after the Republic and the Civil War. By 1970 the Order of Calatrava had only a handful of professed and novice knights. They were subsequently revived as private associations, without their previous status as religious- military orders. Some degree of recognition was afforded by the King’s appointment of his first cousin the Infante don Carlos, Duke of Calabria, as president of the Council of Orders34.
The 19th and 20th centuries saw the revival of some ancient corporations of nobility that had become defunct and the creation of entirely new organisations thanks to the perseverance of local enthusiasts. Their adherence to nobiliary legislation is variable and some openly include non-nobles. The Catalan nobility is represented by the Real Cuerpo de la Nobleza Catalana (founded in 1880 but based on more ancient precedents) and the Real Estamento Militar de Gerona (established in 1928). The Balearic Islands have the Unión de la Nobleza de Mallorca (1955). The Real Hermandad del Santo Cáliz (1917) operates in Valencia and the Real Cofradía de Nobles de Nuestra Señora del Portillo (1941) is active in Zaragoza. Castile has the Real Hermandad de Infanzones de Illescas (1925), the Cabildo de Caballeros y Escuderos de Cuenca (1966) and the Junta de Nobles Linajes de Segovia (1980). The latter was re-established with the support of the Count of Barcelona (the present King’s father), who was born in the old summer palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso in the province of Segovia.
The drawback of all these corporations is that they are not representative of the nobility as a whole. Most of them either have entry requirements that far exceed the simple possession of nobility in the male line or are of a predominantly local character. Furthermore, their criteria are dependent on the whims of their governing bodies, frequently colonised by individuals who apply highly dubious criteria, either out of ignorance or self-interest (in order to trade favours).
In response to this situation, the Asociación de Hidalgos a Fuero de España was created in 1954 with the aim of ‘uniting the nobility of blood, both titled and untitled, of privilege and of office for social, charitable and cultural purposes’. Unfortunately, it has been neither successful in attracting as large a membership as it could have nor has it adhered to the legal and historical rules for determining nobility, frequently applying quite fantastic criteria for membership. Around 30% of its historical membership is non-noble and its criteria have not improved over time. Furthermore, its integrity has been severely compromised by its leadership, which includes individuals with fraudulent credentials.
There are a number of doubtful enterprises from a nobiliary point of view, such as the Hermandad de Caballeros y Damas Mozárabes de Toledo (1966), the Cofradía de Caballeros Cubicularios de San Ildefonso y San Atilano (1967), the Real Capítulo Noble de Caballeros de la Merced (1974), the Cuerpo Colegiado de la Nobleza de Asturias (1989) and the Maestranza de Caballería de San Fernando (1999).
Forming a class apart are the large number of absurd enterprises catering for the gullible and ranging from the ridiculous to the grotesque, including both domestic buffoons (Lascorz/Láscaris-Comneno, Vasallo/Vasallo-Paleólogo, Grau-Rifé/Moctezuma, Moscardó de Puntarenas y Boriquen, etc) and the Spanish ventures of international fantasists or tricksters (Order of Saint Lazarus, Brimeyer/Anjou-Bourbon-Condé, Macarthy Mór, Cuneo-Osorio/Cantabria, Templars, Lafosse/Albany, etc). Recent manifestations include the Capítulo de Caballeros del Antiguo Reino de la Corona de Aragón and the Asociación Internacional de Hidalgos y Nobles.
Thus, Spain’s untitled nobility remains in a legal limbo, which is extremely unlikely to change. In the absence of a regulating body, the criteria for membership of the nobility should therefore be limited to those applicable before 1837 and include:
- The titled nobility (including both male and female titleholders), granted before or after 1837, and its descendants through the legitimate male line.
- The legitimate descendants in the male line of those registered as hereditary nobles before 1837.
- The legitimate descendants in the male line of those granted a privilege of hereditary (not personal) nobility before 1837.
Proof of hereditary nobility should be provided for at least three generations, be valid as to both place and time and not be subject to any evidence to the contrary.
Spanish Names and Arms
Since the Civil Registration Law of 1870 a Spaniard’s name follows the formula: Christian name(s) / first surname (father’s surname) / second surname (mother’s maiden name). Legally, the first and second surnames are joined by the conjunction y, although this is almost universally dispensed with. Married women legally retain their own first and second surnames and ‘Señora de (husband’s first surname)’ is only used for social, but not legal, purposes. There is no such thing as a ‘noble surname’. Contrary to popular belief, the particule is no indication of nobility (except perhaps in Catalonia where, presumably by custom, families raised from the category of ciudadano honrado to the immediately higher caballero del Principado de Cataluña tended to adopt it) and is generally only indicative of geographical provenance. Hence, the Spanish nobility is unidentifiable by name alone, although, of course, there are certain family names that are recognisable on account of their historical importance (eg, Álvarez de Toledo and Pérez de Guzmán). It should also be borne in mind that, historically, Spanish naming practices have been extremely fluid and that it was frequent for daughters and younger sons to adopt different surnames (eg, the maternal or paternal/maternal grandmother’s). Hence, the present-day surnames borne by many noble families do not correspond to their male- line descent (eg, the present-day families of Ramírez de Haro and Pérez de Guzmán are descended in the male line from respectively Sancho Sánchez de Moscoso and Pedro Suárez de Toledo).
Thus, there is no such thing as a ‘noble name’. However, legislation has been introduced (Law 40/1999) allowing the order of the first and second surnames to be reversed (ie, someone named for instance Sanz y Fernández de Córdoba can become Fernández de Córdoba y Sanz, thereby perpetuating the more ‘aristocratic-sounding’ name).
The use of a false title of nobility is no longer an offence (delito) following the derogation of Art. 322 of the Penal Code (Article 637 of the new Penal Code –in force since May 1996– considers the public and improper use of an academic or professional title, decorations or official uniforms a misdemeanour –falta–). It appears that the improper use of someone else’s title could be considered an ‘impersonation’ (usurpación de estado civil), punishable according to Article 401 of the new Penal Code by six months to three years in prison.
Theoretically, inscriptions in the Registries of births, marriages and deaths should include titles of nobility (Royal Decree of 28th June 1915), although in practice this no longer seems usual.
Since 1985 identity cards can no longer include the bearer’s title of nobility. In practice there is no legal protection for a family’s Coat of Arms. Misuse is common. Some noble families do not have Arms and many others have adopted the Arms of another family of the same name (whether related or not). Coats of Arms have generally been adopted by prescription and most armorial proofs are based on usage.
There is no control over the use of Coats of Arms. According to Law 17/2001 (art. 4.1), trademarks ‘distinguish in the market the products or services of one company from those of another’ (art. 5.1a excludes signs that ‘do not constitute a trademark pursuant to art. 4.1’). However, art. 9 stipulates that a ‘name or image that identifies a person different from the petitioner’ cannot be registered. It is unlikely that an individual could prevent a company from using a family Coat of Arms as a trademark. Titles, both real and fictitious, are often used as trademarks and in the case of the former a contract with the bearer is required (as an example, around 13% of the wines sold under the ‘La Mancha’ appellation contrôlée are marketed with names based on titles of nobility).
CILANE Congress, Budapest 2014