2,279 titled nobles in Spain: do they have special rights and duties to society?

The titles of nobility are distinctions of a merely honorary nature and do not currently carry any economic or fiscal advantage. Spain is a country where noble titles enjoy an existence protected by law, their guardianship corresponding to the Ministry of Justice through the Division of Grace Rights and other Rights. Using a title of nobility is considered a taxable event and as such entails the payment of the Tax on Property Transfers and Documented Legal Acts.

The Constitutional Court has ruled that its current legal regime and the provisions that regulate it, some of them very old, fully comply with the dictates of the Magna Carta and the powers that the Crown has attributed in article 62 f as fons honorum.

Despite the resounding verdict of the Constitutional Court on the full constitutionality of the preference of men over women in the hereditary transmission of most Spanish nobility titles, the legislature decided to promote a reform of the legal regime of titled nobility with the approval of Law 33/2006 on equality of men and women in the order of succession of titles of nobility.

Among the Spanish noble titles we can establish two main categories: the great ones of Spain and the titles without greatness.

From the reign of Charles I

The greatness of Spain is the highest dignity of the Spanish nobility. Its most remote antecedents can be found in the privileged treatment given to the rich-men and great lords with greater patrimonial power in the ceremonies of the Court by Emperor Carlos I in the first years of his reign (second decade of the 16th century). .

There is no certainty, because there is no official document that establishes the greatness as such, about the titled houses that were initial beneficiaries of such distinction. The editor of the newspaper La Vanguardia, Javier de Godó, III Count of Godó, has been the recipient of the last greatness of Spain awarded so far (2008). As of January 1, 2022, there were 418 legally recognized greatnesses in our country, seven personal and 411 charged to other titles, among which – due to immemorial use, not because any legal norm stipulates it – are all the dukedoms.

Titles without grandeur –2,403 on the same date– date back to the middle of the 14th century, when the titles of marquis, count, etc., which already existed in the High Middle Ages, were detached from all governmental and military functions to acquire a strictly honorific sense. They are, in order of formal hierarchy, those of marquis, count, viscount, baron and lord. Outside this typology, three honorary dignities are assimilated by the Ministry of Justice to the titles of nobility: Admiral and Major Advance of the Indies, linked to the Duchy of Veragua, Admiral of Aragon and Marshal of Alcalá del Valle.

There are individuals who hold various noble dignities: there are currently 2,279 the number of people who hold a Spanish noble title. The legislator has established some specificities regarding the recognition of the titles granted by the monarchs of the Carlist dynasty and foreign titles, including pontifical titles. There are fifteen foreign titles whose holders are currently legally authorized to use them in Spain, thirteen pontifical and two French.

where are they represented

The greats and titles are represented in a body called the Permanent Delegation and Council of the Greatness of Spain and Titles of the Kingdom, whose current statutes were approved by Order of October 8, 1999.

As a general rule, titles are perpetual. However, there are life titles that are those that are granted for the enjoyment of a person in life, extinguishing upon his death. Curiously, the last noble title granted by a King of Spain at the time of writing these lines is of this type (Decree 354/2014, of May 13, by which the title of Countess of Gisbert is granted for life to the professor and academic Mrs. María del Carmen Iglesias Cano).

The legal act of creating a title of nobility materializes in two successive provisions: the Royal Foundation Charter, which describes the characteristics of the title and which constitutes its unalterable source, and the Royal Decree of the Council of Ministers that makes it known erga omnes and is published in the Official State Gazette.

In any case, it is the free will of the sovereign that determines the formal rank of the distinction (duchy, marquisate, etc.), its duration (life or perpetual), and even if the concessionaire is exempt from paying taxes in the first or second transmission of the title.

Regarding the denomination, the most frequent thing is that, once the royal decision to grant a new dignity has been adopted, a qualified member of the House of His Majesty makes a discreet inquiry about what the preferences of the winner are.

The sequence of titles

The succession of a nobiliary mercy takes place when, having died the legal possessor of the same, it becomes vacant and its transmission is requested. Such right must be exercised by their heirs before the Ministry of Justice, through the rules and procedures established for it, and within the established time limits. The titles and perpetual titles that have expired due to being vacant for more than five years and have not remained in such a situation for forty or more years can be used again through a procedure known as rehabilitation, in which the last word corresponds exclusively to the king.

Which person is suitable to receive a noble title is debatable. It must be borne in mind that this is an ex gratia act and, although the proposal may also come from the Council of Ministers, the vast majority of the time the initiative comes from the sovereign and it is up to him to point out the candidate who deserves to obtain it. The concession requires the ministerial endorsement but the decision is a personal act of the monarch who, obviously, can seek advice before adopting it.

The characteristic features of the recipients of a noble title have been changing over the centuries. In the early days almost all the ennobled were patricians and great lords. In the 17th century they began to be awarded to those who stood out for their services to the Crown and were awarded to lawyers and high-ranking dignitaries and bureaucrats of the Court. In the 19th century, people who had stood out on the battlefields, in politics, in finance and in diplomacy were honored with them.

The titles that Franco granted, in Congress

With the promulgation on July 27, 1947 of the Law of Succession to the Head of State, Spain became a kingdom without a king and, consequently, Francisco Franco arrogated to himself the prerogative traditionally linked to the Crown of granting and rehabilitating noble titles.

Franco granted as head of state 4 dukedoms, 15 marquisates, 16 counties, a barony and three additional grandees of Spain. An amendment to the project of the so-called Law of Democratic Memory presented by the parliamentary groups of the PSOE and Podemos, currently being processed in the Congress of Deputies, contemplates the cancellation of most of them.

Juan Carlos I, from 1975 until his abdication in 2014, granted 53 titles of nobility: six greatnesses of Spain to join other titles, three dukedoms, 35 marquisates (four with greatness), seven counties (one with greatness; another, actually , a line change clearance), a barony, and a lordship (with grandeur). The number of concessions can be considered discreet if we take into account the almost 40 years of his reign. All but three grants were granted hereditary. Seven of the concessions were granted before the 1978 Constitution entered into force.

Don Juan Carlos incorporated artists, intellectuals, professors, scientists, academics, doctors, financiers, even an athlete –the former coach of the national soccer team, Vicente del Bosque–, into the titled nobility, showing that titles can recognize and make visible the promotion of any person who proves merits to do so, regardless of their socioeconomic origin, profession or personal and ideological convictions. For the emeritus king, "holding a noble title entails greater self-demanding servitudes and assuming a code of social values ​​and the outstanding exercise of the highest ideals that have always characterized those who have served Spain." King Felipe VI has not yet made use of his prerogative of granting titles of nobility.

There is one point that cannot be stressed enough: titles are granted for public use. If someone succeeds or rehabilitates a noble title, and much more if he obtains it for himself directly from the King, he should display it with legitimate pride, trying to be worthy of such high mercy, honoring his ancestors, with total fidelity to the Crown, avoiding wearing it with conceit but without hiding it with absurd modesty.

This article has been published in 'The Conversation'.

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