Aristocratic Draft-Dodgers in 17th-Century Spain

Fernando Gonzales de Leon discusses why young aristocrats were less than keen to fight for his Most Catholic Majesty.

Historians have long been familiar with the Marxist concept of the trahison de la bourgeoisie, coined to describe the failure of the middle class to shoulder its 'legitimate' social and political functions. But there is another lesser- known phenomenon which we might call the trahison de la aristocratie – the unwillingness of certain European nobilities to accept and play their traditional role in early modern society. The reluctance of the Spanish aristocracy to serve in the military during the reign of Philip IV is a good case in point.

The king's chief minister or valido, don Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, had come to power in 1621 convinced that the decline of Spain was due at least in part to the nobility's neglect of its traditional social functions, that is, military- service. Consequently, he set out to remilitarise the Spanish aristocracy by 'drafting' them into important projects of social reform in early modern Spain. The reasons for its failure have been hitherto presented in economic terms: that the Iberian aristocracy- could not afford to go to war. What follows is an alternative explanation founded on the basic values of early modern aristocratic culture.

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