Cuban nobility

The 19th century Spanish Empire saw much of its power weakened by its rival countries (Great Britain and France), it also saw many of its colonies in America being influenced by the republican ideologies of the recently independent United States. In an effort to strengthen its holdings, the Spanish Crown decided to grant titles of nobility to much of the colonial aristocracy. This bestowing of royal grace made the recipients loyal to the Crown, and more assimilated to the Iberian titled nobility. No other Spanish colony received as many grants of noble titles as Cuba, jewel of the Spanish Empire.

The Cuban aristocracy had always attempted to create a second Paris or Madrid in its main cities of Havana, Matanzas and Santiago de Cuba. Elegant, rich decorated manors, governmental buildings, opera houses, play houses, palaces, etc. covered the streets of the capital. The Spanish Crown was not the only entity to award titles of nobility, the Catholic Church made use of its authority to also award titles in the island. Families, through marriage and inheritance, also bore European titles, such as those from France, Italy (including the former Kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies) as well as Germany.

The non-Royal titles issued in Cuba follow the Spanish designation and resembled those of continental Europe. They were those of: Duke (Duque), Marquis (Marqués), Count (Conde), Viscount (Vizconde), Baron (Barón), Lord (Señor) - in that line of importance and social standing. The title of Grandee of Spain was usually annexed to another noble title but may also be bestowed on a person without a traditional noble title, in the last case the person would have Grandee of Spain written after his name; all Grandees are addressed as Excellency, the title being equal to that of a Duke and all Dukes are Grandees. Titles bestowed often had the name of a place in Cuba (e.g. Marqués de Pinar del Rio, Conde de Yumurí), the surname of the family (e.g. Marqués de Azpesteguia, Conde de Casa (house) Montalvo) or in remembrance of some Royal favor or deed (e.g. Marqués de la Gratitud, Marqués de la Real Proclamación), .

After the revolution of 1898, many of these nobles stayed in the island, or moved to other former Spanish colonies, such as Puerto Rico; some returned to Spain. Although the new Republic of Cuba did not give itself the power to create and bestow new titles of nobility, it did not interfere with the already established tradition. Many families who possessed noble titles continued to use them, and the public respected their historical meaning and social position. This all changed when Castro's revolution took control of the island; soon the Communist government moved against these nobles, forcing many to return to Spain or into exile in the United States. The last titled nobleman to live in Cuba, Don Ignacio Ponce de León y Ponce de León, Marqués de Aguas Claras and Count de Casa Ponce de León y Maroto died in La Habana in 1973.


Source: New York Times, 5 April 1903

List of noble titles bestowed by Spanish Monarchs or inherited by Cubans

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