Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Nine Houses Of Mallorca's Nobility

There is an expression in Mallorquí that refers to someone who acts as though he or she is above his or her station; has airs and graces. It goes something like: "that one thinks he (or she) is from the nine houses".

From the time that Jaume I and the Aragonese-Catalan forces conquered Mallorca in the thirteenth century, the island was dominated by noble families who were supporters of the king. There were blood ties among these families who, by the early eighteenth century, were themselves dominated by an elite - the nine houses.

The names of these families are still present in Mallorca, although it's fair to say that they are not among the most common names: they wouldn't be because of their noble pasts. The nine were and are: Berga, Cotoner, Dameto, Salas, Sureda, Sureda de Santmartí, Togores, Verí and Zaforteza. They had alternative names or titles that reflected their status. Hence the Sureda de Santmartí were the Marquises of Vilafranca, the Togores were the Counts of Ayamans and the Barons of Lloseta, the Dameto were the Marquises of Bellpuig. In the case of the Cotoner, I recently wrote about the origin of the shield of Mallorca's newest municipality - Ariany. The shield contains the image of a cotton plant. Cotoner means cotton maker. The Cotoner were the Marquises of Ariany.

Blood ties or not, the Mallorcan nobility was constantly in disagreement, but in the early eighteenth century any disagreement was set aside. The Marquis of Vivot (Sureda) was to talk about "ties of common blood rather than ideas". The marquis had been on what was the losing side in the War of the Spanish Succession. Or put it this way, he was a supporter of the Habsburgs and their claim to the throne. Most of the elite had backed the winning cause - that of Felipe V, the first Bourbon king of Spain.

The consequences of the war were far-reaching for Mallorca. They still inform a great deal of political and social debate and argument today. Felipe set out the Nueva Planta decrees. The Crown of Aragon, of which Mallorca was a part, was dismantled. Castile and Castilian were to impose hegemony over Catalonia and the old crown and over the Catalan language.

Juan Vázquez de Acuña y Bejarano was another member of the nobility - the Spanish nobility rather than Mallorca's. His title was the Marquis de Casa Fuerte. Following the end of the war, he became the governor and captain general of Mallorca; he was to hold the post for five years from 1717 to 1722. Casa Fuerte's principal task was to establish the requirements of the Nueva Planta. This meant ensuring that there was no uprising. One means of lessening the likelihood of any insurrection against what is still dubbed by some in Mallorca as the "Bourbon imposition" was to get the key noble families onside. It was Casa Fuerte who proposed what was to be an extraordinary alliance of the wealthiest and most powerful families on the island - the nine houses, "ses nou (sometimes written as nous) cases".

Last September, ahead of the Catalonia referendum, the PSOE socialist party in Catalonia was branded with an insult. The party was said to be a traitor to the nation (that of Catalonia). The word used was "botiflers". The origin of this word - one theory anyway - is that it came from the French beauté fleur, a reference to the Fleur de Lis emblem of the Bourbons. Whatever the origin, the word took a different course. It is also said to be where "botifarres" came from; botifarres as in the sausages.

The botiflers were those principal noble families, the supporters of the Bourbon cause. Those families, Casa Fuerte reckoned, would be able to keep the less powerful nobility in check: ones who had been more inclined to back the Habsburgs during the war. The nobility as a whole had its economic interests to look after, and so the alliance grew. By the end of the eighteenth century the elite was classified according to its superiority. One name not in the original nine was among the six most superior of all - this was Despuig, the Counts of Montenegro and Montoro.

Among the nobility that was classified as less superior was the "second class without titles". They weren't marquises, counts or barons; they were just important and quite powerful. Who do we find in this list? Well, for example, there was Armengol. And in a "third class without titles" there was Barceló.

The noble classes saw their power and influence erode. The names still endure, and in some instances it would seem as if that old power and influence has moved in a different direction.

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