My question is whether the percentage of nobility migrating from Spain to Latin America is higher than the percentage of nobility migrating from Pan-European nations to the USA and Canada. The time frame for my question is the formative years for Latin America, and the formative years for the United States and Canada.

Defining "nobility" is challenging. One way that I am looking at this is through the lens of whether or not families can trace their family tree back to Europe and then possibly to great European figures. The assumption is that nobility take greater pains to do this, and can do this more easily. And conversely, the impoverished have a harder time doing this.

In the various forms of media, we see various clichés. We see European migrants entering Ellis Island penniless (and likely sans-family-tree). And then we see Spanish conquistadors and their noble wives. Basically, in the media, we tend to not really see the face of impoverished Spanish migrants moving to Latin America for a new start and because they have no better option. It's just not a cliché we see a lot in the media.

Were the Spanish migrants to Latin America filled with more nobility? Were the Pan-European migrants to USA and Canada comprised, to a greater degree, of "huddled masses"? This seems like a difficult question, and I'm not sure what resources could be used to approximate an answer.

  • I'd guess the percentages are very low to 0 for both areas. Nobles have wealth and influence in the old country. They don't need to move permanently to a new shore with its risks, and loss of contact with the old lands. Middle class folk looking to get rich, or poor looking to get by are better bets for early immigration.
    – Oldcat
    Oct 28, 2015 at 23:01
  • I can trace my family, through multiple lines, back to early Virginia (mother) and New England (father), and there is nary a noble between the two families. We can even trace the English back as far as 1400 in a few cases, but never anything more than a knighthood is found. My Swiss ancestors lived in the tiny village of Kallnach from 1654 (when the records begin) until they emigrated in 1818 - no nobles there either. Probably the nobility is further back ... I had a friend descended from Charlemagne, or so his grandfather said! Jul 30, 2016 at 1:35
  • Before comparing nobility rates between colonies, I would want to know how they compared between states in Europe. Jun 3, 2019 at 18:18

1 Answer 1


Your question is an interesting one, but difficult to ascertain. It is estimated that around 8% of the Spanish population are descended from nobility, but this does not mean that they all held titles like those of Duke or Marquis; for a large percentage of nobility in regions like Pais Vasco, Navarra and Cantabria were untitled nobility or Hidalgos (the equivalent of Esquire or Knight, depending on the interpretation of the author who does the translation).

Under this assumption (which has not been studied much), the percentage of Spanish “nobility” migrating to the Western Hemisphere would be greater than assumed. These Hidalgos were not wealthy but their nobility exempted them from paying taxes, though they worked as laborers or farmhands without losing their nobility.

This changed in 1836 in Spain when the Constitution prohibited all the benefits Hidalguía carried with it, and in Latin America when the former Spanish colonies adopted Republican constitutions that made public displays of a family’s nobility useless. Mexico expelled all Spaniards in 1827 & 1833. The exiles left for Cuba (a Spanish colony until 1898) or Spain, which also made the territory unwelcome for Spaniards (and Spanish nobility) until the 1870s.

If you want to know about titled nobles that settled in Mexico after the independence, it would be hard to find much information on that, though you could look in to Madame Calderon de la Barca’s memoir of her stay in Mexico as the wife of the Spanish ambassador.

In the city where I live (Puebla, Mexico), there are still two or three families that claim nobility extending to the colonial period (1521-1821); there are however people who descend from Basques or Cantabrians who arrived in the 19th century who can claim descent from nobility through their hidalgo ancestors.

Here are links to some works on hidalguía in Spain and the Western Hemisphere:

La Hidalguía en el Pueblo Cantabro
Peruvian Hidalgos before independence

  • In England knighthood is an honor; as such it is not hereditary, and it does not make one a noble. Perhaps this is different from the Spanish custom. Jul 30, 2016 at 1:29
  • @PeterDiehr, In England, it was much more likely that the untitled children of the nobility would be awarded knighthoods than commoners. So the chances that any given knight was descended from nobility would have been very high. Jul 30, 2016 at 9:09

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