Starting in the 13th Century, the Spanish monarchy had been concerned about issues of royal succession, particularly with respect to members of the royal family who chose to marry outside of the privileged elite of both Spanish and broader European societies. Determined to maintain the purity or integrity of the royal lineage, a succession of laws were passed over the ensuing centuries intended to address that concern.
While the Catholic Church was actually quite liberal with respect to the freedom of its subjects to marry outside of any particular lineage or socioeconomic class, the Spanish Crown was not so complacent. Spanish concerns with racial and socioeconomic purity that guided royal marital relationships at home were extended to its overseas colonies. One manifestation of those concerns was the royal decree of March 23,1776 known as the Royal Pragmatic (Real Pragmática). A good, and accessible example of this royal decree as it was applied to Spanish colonies in North America was the case of “Don Manuel Valdivieso y Carrión Protests the Marriage of His Daughter to Don Teodoro Jaramillo, a Person of Lower Social Standing,” a description of which is available at the link below. As this document states with regard to the purpose of Royal Pragmatic:
“The Royal Pragmatic sought to protect families from socially “unequal” marriages and thus to preserve the traditional hierarchical social order. It required that children now obtain permission to marry from their father, or in his absence, from their mother, grandparents, or nearest adult relative or guardian. In cases where they married without parental authorization, the law allowed for disinheritance.”
While this case study is specific to the Spanish colony is what is now Ecuador, it is relevant to the decree’s application throughout the Crown’s overseas territories. In this Manuel Valdivieso y Carrión appealed to the Crown for redress of what he considered an unjust development: his daughter’s impending engagement to the son of a family of lower socioeconomic standing. This document, a summarization of depositions and testimonies from individuals involved in the case, clearly indicates that “white” people enjoyed a preferential status, but that socioeconomic status was of equal or greater importance in determining whether a potential suitor was appropriate for one’ offspring. Witness testimony is replete with references to race and socioeconomic status, as in the following description provided by one witness regarding the young man from the “lower” class family who hoped to marry Valdivieso’s daughter:
“. . . that he has also heard that he is the grandchild of a distinguished gentleman. Don Bernardo Aguirre [says] that he knows that the [honorific] Ôdon’ was not given to Teodoro at first, but not because he was ignoble or mean; and he has considered him [Teodoro] a white man, and he has heard he descends from the Jaramillo family, which is reputed to be noble.”
Similarly, another witness’s statement was described in the attached document as follows:
“Don José Murillo [days] that he has considered on Teodoro a white man and of inferior calidad to that of don Manuel. Doña Micaela Castillo [says] that she does not know if don Teodoro is a mean or ignoble man and that she has regarded him as a white and decent man.”
Clearly, race and social class were determinative of the qualifications of individuals to marry into prosperous families. The Royal Pragmatic was intended to ensure that lineage would continue to play a role in the evolution of the Spanish people, and that colonial subjects were equally “protected” from the indignity of witnessing a loved one marry into a family whose socioeconomic status was inferior to one’s own.