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Hidalgo and Pechero in Castile

The deep conservatism of Castilian life militated against the attempts of reformers to regenerate the kingdom through transformed social values.

In 1492, after seven centuries of sporadic crusade on the frontier of Christendom, Castile brought the Reconquista of Spain from the Moors to a triumphant conclusion. First under the Catholic Kings and then under the Habsburg Emperor, Charles V, and his son, Philip II, the values of a frontier and crusading society spilled over into a century and a half of discovery and conquest in the New World and into the defence of Catholic Christendom against heretic, Jew and Turk in the Old. The myth of the Reconquista became the myth of the Monarquia Hispanica. The social values generated by the one first underpinned and then undermined the other. With the end of religious crusades in Europe and the beginning of economic, social and political crusades in the eighteenth century, a new ethos had to be found for Spain and a new set of social values.

Formal descriptions of society in Spain from the Middle Ages through to the eighteenth century were set, as they were everywhere in the West, within the framework of a tripartite structure. Those parts were spoken of usually as 'estados', sometimes as 'brazos' (members), very occasionally as 'clases'. The language reflected three models of society coexisting in contemporary beliefs: the medieval concept of a society ordered by functions (oratores, defensores, laboratores); the organic concept of society as a corpus mysticum; and the Aristotelian concept of a society ordered by quality, power and wealth (mayores/ricos – greater/rich, medianos – middling, menores/pobres – lesser/poor).

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