Patrician IV: Rise Of A Dynasty
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Patrician IV: Rise of a Dynasty
As a result of a genuine explosion in historiographical studies on the subject over the last two decades, the various European nobilities can now be considered to have been studied in some depth. A general tendency to be noted in the above-mentioned works relates to the idea highlighted by various researchers seeking to attenuate the early modernisation of noble values, who have taken the French case, in particular, as their benchmark. It should be stressed immediately that none of the descriptions just quoted can be applied to the kingdom of Portugal, to which almost no reference is made in these texts. On the one hand, the noble groups were constantly increasing in number, which seems to have run contrary to the general trend in eighteenth-century Europe. On the other hand, the high nobility of the Portuguese court did not grow, instead remaining extremely stable and crystallising from the mid-seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth century, contrary to what was happening in the neighbouring monarchies. Finally, the central core of family values, expressed in the discipline of the aristocratic house, an essential secular aspect of the "ethos" of the fidalgo (nobleman), was maintained until the end of the eighteenth century. The extremely closed society of the court of the new Portuguese dynasty of the Braganças only promoted a very limited spread of a cosmopolitan culture within its circles.
2. Size and Hierarchies of Portuguese Nobilities The first of the above-mentioned developments, or, in other words, the broadening of the threshold of the nobility, with an ever greater number of individuals achieving this social rank and a consequent devaluation of the respective status, was the result not only of legal and institutional considerations, but also of diversified forms of social logic. The upper social category in fifteenth-century Portugal was the fidalguia (nobility), corresponding perhaps to 1% of the population (cf. Marques, 1963-1969). It is clear that those who belonged to the Braço da Nobreza (representatives of the nobility in parliament) in the Cortes (parliament) were summoned by royal charter (and not elected) and that only those with titles were called to attend, i.e. landlords with jurisdiction over their estates, governor-generals and dignitaries with a letter of council and not the group of noblemen as a whole. Furthermore, it does not seem that the denomination “of the nobility” was commonly used to designate the above-mentioned Braço before the sixteenth century. However, the legacy of the fifteenth century continued to be this fidalguia, identified with all their descendants recognised in the books of mediaeval lineages, although this rank was already clearly differentiated internally. Over the course of the modern period, the fidalgo identity was to be inexorably destroyed in favour of a plurality of classificatory features, giving rise to a greater and more complex stratification. The first factor affecting the evolution of the nobility consisted of the manner in which the concept of civil or political nobility was adopted in legal literature and in the everyday practice of institutions (in contrast to natural nobility) (cf. Monteiro 1987, 15-51), arising, it would seem, from the singular and somewhat belated manner in which Portuguese jurists integrated the category of "nobility" from European common law (cf. Hespanha 1993: 27-42). António Rodrigues, D. Manuel’s King of Arms, refers expressly to this category of the civil or political nobility, explaining that this status could be acquired in “two ways, either by giving someone an office of such a kind that it brings dignity with it or by words that state how the prince considers the person to be reputable” (Rodrigues 1931:43). Already in the first half of the seventeenth century, one of the greatest Portuguese jurists of his time stated that “fidalgos is the word, and more general title, by which we refer to the nobility”, but he then added that “there are, however, other people of greater, equal and lesser status, who enjoy greater and equal privileges (...) [paying heed] only to the dignity, position or occupation in which they are involved” (Ribeiro 1730: 122, 141-142). The adoption of this concept could not avoid coming up against certain restrictions, but gradually it was to become established in the practice of many institutions in a process that reached its peak at the end of the eighteenth century, not only contributing to the distinction between the nobility and the fidalguia (a more restricted concept), but also leading to the effective “banalisation” of the frontiers of the Portuguese nobility, which became the most blurred in Europe. This broadening of the threshold of the nobility, established by the legislation of the monarchy, was also effectively adopted by the social actors. From the end of the sixteenth century, the homens-bons ('good men') who governed the municipalities, for example, became entitled as “the local nobility” (Coelho and Magalhães 1986: 43), although they did, however, elect others to act as their representatives in the Braço do Povo in parliament. As part of a process of group mobility, the wholesale traders were expressly ennobled by the legislation introduced by the Marquês de Pombal (1770). At the end of the Old Regime, nobility was recognised as a tacit condition that was acquired by “living nobly” or “through the law of nobility” by performing ennobling functions (such as belonging to the group of high-ranking army officers or orderly officers, the magistracy, or simply to a municipal council, etc.) or, in a negative sense, by not performing mechanical tasks. The previously described category was effectively to be found expressed in many different institutional practices in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. One of these was to gain access to the habits of a knight of the military orders of Avis, Christ or St. James (cf. Olival 1988, Olival 2001, Pedreira 1992 and Pedreira 1996), the profusion of whose members were frequently referred to with some irony over the centuries. The Order of Malta, on the contrary, escaped such a situation, for in this order what was required was to be a member of the “fidalguia de linhagem e armas” (fidalguia of lineage and arms) and not just of the simple nobility (cf. Versos 1997). It should be added that the “broadening of the nobility” was further favoured by other circumstances. One of these was the way in which access to the royal charters granting coats of arms was processed (Cf. Franco 1989). There was also the fact that, under Portuguese law, simple nobility and fidalguia were transmitted by both the male and female side of the family, as well as there being no control over the use of surnames, both of which situations were predisposed to an expansion of the nobility. Even the registers that afforded access to the different categories of fidalgos in the royal household showed a considerable openness in the final phase of the Old Regime, and the point was reached whereby the status was attributed to anyone who contributed to public loans. Overall, the dimensions mentioned earlier in a very summary form conferred a clear singularity on the Portuguese hierarchy of nobles, which may now be briefly described in the final phase of the Old Regime. At the base was a vast and imprecise category of “simple nobility” and the knights who wore habits, which included all those who had licentiateships and bachelor’s degrees, high-ranking army officers, militias and orderlies, wholesale traders, judges and councillors from an indeterminate number of towns and cities, and a large section of the restricted group of public servants. In short, all those who “lived nobly”. They enjoyed a fluid status, only invoked for certain effects and perhaps covering between 6% and 8% of male adults, and for which reason considered themselves to be socially disqualified, leading to a huge demand for other distinctions, namely for the habits of the knights of the military orders (for which proof of nobility was required, but not of fidalguia). Above this was an intermediate category of several thousand fidalgos, comprising a majority of “fidalgos with coats of arms” and “fidalgos with lineage” (whose ancestors had received the royal charter granting the coat of arms that was displayed on the front of their houses), with a very unequal geographical distribution, as well as several hundred fidalgos from the royal household and high-court judges. Finally, there was the “prime nobility of the realm”, almost all of whom were resident at the court, consisting of roughly a hundred and fifty lords, commanders and holders of positions at the palace, at the apex of which category were to be found the fifty or so houses of the grandees (titles of count, marquis and duke) of the realm. In fact, the other aspect of the equation in which the Portuguese case seems to contradict the European tendency is in the shrinking and later redefinition of the top of the nobiliary pyramid. Several factors contributed quite closely to this outcome, but the decisive event was the definitive establishment of the court of the new Bragança dynasty in Lisbon after 1640. At the end of the seventeenth century, in general, when one speaks of the fidalguia as a group, one first of all refers to the high court nobility, which to a large extent was already confused with the group of titled persons (just as in the Spanish monarchy; cf. Dominguez Ortiz 1973: 73, Dominguez Ortiz 1976: 349, Atienza 1987: 1-70). The fundamental moment in the definitive formation of the titled elite in the modern age was to be found in the last decades of the dual monarchy (1580-1640), when Portugal was ruled by Spanish Habsburg kings, during which period roughly forty titled houses were created. The total number of houses reached at that time, increasing from roughly twenty to more than fifty, remained practically stable until the last decade of the eighteenth century, even though roughly 40% of the Portuguese noble houses disappeared with the Restoration of Portuguese independence. In fact, these were quickly replaced, and the frequency of the annual granting of titles reached at that time was only (and greatly) exceeded during the regency of D. João (1792-1816) and his subsequent reign as king. The remarkable stability achieved over a period of roughly a hundred and thirty years after the end of the War of Restoration (1668) finds no parallel in any other period in Portuguese history, and rarely has it been equalled by other European aristocracies. For more than a century, very few noble houses were created or suppressed. The following table therefore suggests to us a very clear chronology: in the somewhat agitated decades of the reign of Filipe IV and the War of Restoration, the extended group of grandees was formed (for until 1790 almost all the titles conferred the status of grandee), followed by a long period of stability. It should also be added that the central core of this group remained extremely stable. At the peak of its crystallisation, in 1750, of the 50 titled houses existing in Portugal, 34 had been ennobled more than 100 years before and 7 dated from as far back as the fifteenth century. In part, these indicators stand in contrast with those known for the other monarchies closest to Portugal. In Spain, titles rose from 144 in 1621 to 528 in 1700 and then to 654 in 1787, passing the one thousand mark in 1800; the growth in the number of grandees was even greater, rising from only 41 in 1627 to 119 in 1787. The English peers, in their turn, rose from 55 in 1603 to 173 in 1700, reaching a figure of 267 in 1800. In Naples, titles rose from 165 in 1599 to 446 in 1672 and 649 in 1750. Generally speaking, the major growth took place mainly in the seventeenth century, just as it did in Portugal; yet, in none of the cases mentioned does one note the crystallisation, closing of ranks and stability that was noted amongst the Portuguese titled nobility between 1668 and 1790 (based on Dewald 1996: 27, Dominguez Ortiz 1973: 73, Dominguez Ortiz 1976: 349, Atienza 1987: 1-70; Cannon 1984: 15). This process corresponded to a concentration of the royal graces and favours and important offices in the hands of the high court nobility. In fact, the best indicator that can express the evolution duly noted is provided to us by the commanderies. In the early seventeenth century, the commanders of the military orders amounted to a quite numerous social category, numbering more than four hundred individuals and houses, even though the few commanders with titles to nobility (counts, marquises and dukes) already accounted for a sizeable part of the aggregate income of the commanderies that were administrated by them. A century and a half later (1755), the number of commanders was reduced to well below a half of this number, and 50 titled houses accounted for roughly two-thirds of the overall income. Up to the final triumph of the liberal revolution (1832-34), the number of commanders only increased slightly, but the commanders entitled to nobility then represented more than half of the total number and now received more than four-fifths of the income (cf. Monteiro 1998). The distribution of the income of the commanderies therefore provides us with an impressive picture of the evolution of the top of the nobiliary pyramid: from the beginning of the seventeenth century onwards, the size of the group declined in quite spectacular fashion, with the longstanding titled houses (almost all of them in the hands of grandees) absorbing most of this income. This unusual result derives from a combination of two types of factors. On the one hand, the Crown made a significant contribution towards the stabilisation of the titled elite, not only restricting the new concessions of titles, but also accepting the rules of succession that were being imposed. The consolidation of the Bragança dynasty therefore largely serves to explain the stabilisation of the group and the almost complete absence of any new admissions to the nobility for more than a century. But this is not in itself a sufficient explanation for everything. In particular, it does not explain the small number of houses that were either suppressed or united until the start of the new boom in the awarding of titles in the 1790s. In fact, within the limits set by the monarchy, the reproduction of the titled elite depended on strategies that were actively developed by the houses composing this elite. More precisely, it depended on the strict discipline of the behaviour followed within the house, which will be discussed in the following section. 041b061a72