Obsession With Honor in Late 15th Century Spain

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During late fifteenth century Spain, honor was desired by people of all classes and honor could even be earned by commoners through war and fighting in battles. The chance to elevate one’s status became an obsession and everyone, even nobles, wanted to have/maintain a high status in society. Mark A. Burkholder used Bartolomé Bennassar’s statement that the Spaniards, “value[d] honor so greatly that most will choose death rather than tarnish it” (Burkholder 18). This point was made quite obvious in the actions of the people particularly to the lowerclassmen since they were more desperate to rise in status.

Living a life with little or no honor was thought of as the worst fate that if death was the only way to keep honor, people would go through great and dangerous lengths to ‘keep’ it. Even woman wanted to claim honor, they abided by society’s every rule if they had been ambitious to rise socially, men would go fight in war or even go as far to buying these titles from the church to earn their nobility status. Even during the colonization of Latin American land would the people fight for a sense of power, “they do not know how to relax and enjoy life” (Burkholder 18).

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The obsession with honor had completely taken over people’s lives as they tried to live up to and recreate a noble’s life usually by spending their limited money on creating the appearance of belonging to a higher class. These people were blinded by their want for honor that they did not even realize they were being taken advantage of by society and controlled by those in high class.

In Boyer’s “Honor among Plebeians” he brings up the concept that honor was built from three parts; reputation, character and the more subtle one, rights and human worth. He starts off with the most common understanding of honor where he explains that, “Reputation was the social self, the persona of lineage/family, position, influence, wealth, and connections” (Boyer 156). This idea of ‘persona’ that was explained was the face of honor, the first thought of nobility yet it was only skimming the surface level of the definition of honor however it had also become the main object of desire for the plebeians. It appeared as if honor truly only existed in the public’s eye to flaunt and give off a noble illusion to the rest of the community. Boyer even used Lope de Vega’s words that the plebeians are aware of their competition for honor and how their goal was to own it.

After reputation he explained the more personal level of honor which was character, and its focus was more on being the family patriarch and loyalty (Boyer 156). Boyer shared this idea with Lyman Johnson’s work and showed how the fight for honor played a huge impact on the society, honor stepped into the topic of rights because one would be defined by their honor and therefore recognized as solely their status which is why it was so important to be deemed important. With both character and reputation came the subtle but majorly biased piece of honor, worth which, “was not always self-evident” (Boyer 156).

Plebeians had to go through tough times for being deemed less worthy than someone else which is why they had become so desperate to improve their status, character and reputation appeared to be the key to an escape from the slurs and mistreatment they received from higher classmen and from their lack of worth in a society that valued race. This image of honor that had implemented itself into society had the people figuratively entranced to chase after this idea of not only a better life with more rights but also worth.

With the idea of rights came the involvement of the court systems in Latin America in trials where a person of lower class would file against a person of higher class. Although the cases did not tend to end in favor of the lower class, the mere fact that these lowerclassmen took a ‘superior’ to court was radical for the time period. Boyer delves into a particular case that showed how the importance of having the correct status and skin color could sway order; the case of Maris Negra in 1633. Maria Negra was a black female slave which was considered to be one of the lower level classes and despite that she was, “‘Christian’ and ‘wife’ therefore implied that she had rights” (Boyer 161). Maria Negra had her rights despite belonging to a lower class because she had abided through society’s regulations.

Unknowingly, Maria Negra had submitted into society and was being controlled by its laws while she had only done so knowing it would give her some power and leverage in the biased system. She “clung to a place in her society as a Christian woman baptized and married by the holy mother church” (Boyer 161). Maria Negra’s control goes by unnoticed because of the ‘exchange’ of power; society gives her some power in their hierarchy but she is the one who has to follow the Spanish society in order to keep her limited power so by using the lowerclassmen thirst for power, the higher classmen were the ones with control over the lower classmen.

Like that, Maria executed her rights and went to court to stand up for her slave husband who had gotten brutally beaten by his master, a baker, and Maria feared for the future. Sadly, society expectations did not agree to her statement and people were more likely to believe in a slave needing discipline than a baker going berserk and so she did not get much justice. This court case brought of interesting factors of slave rights and how reputation played a role in society’s decisions. Keeping order in the hierarchy was more important than the truth and it showed how the court played paternal function in Latin America.

In 1532, the Spanish were in Peru’s northern coast and they had begun their plan to not only conquest the Andes but also colonize the land (Silverblatt 109). Their methods of Spanish rule in conquering varied from the Inca because they had brought their thirst for hierarchy to the new land. With the plan to colonize the Andes they saw, “the opportunities to accumulate great wealth; and the economic institutions imposed on the colonies reflected the need of the Spanish economy to amass profit” (Silverblatt 110). The Spanish (along with curacas) were then entitled to nobility with elite status and take the land which was a change from the way the Inca ruled over the Andes.

The Spanish had the idea of private ownership of land to increase their wealth since back in Spain, land and wealth were the key to ranking higher in status and while that was a foreign idea for the Andeans they too had to learn and adapt to the Spaniards way or lose. Indigenous women started marrying Spaniards and even abided to their rule for any chance to claim land, power and honor. The Andes’ Spanish colonization became a harsh survival of the fittest ordeal were woman married to secure their place in society during the changing times.

The Spanish had come into their land and claimed it as their own, and suddenly they had to manage a way to control all the ‘indies’ and similarly to Maria Negra, “Doña Paula had acquired prestige and had assumed the characteristics of one who entered the top echelon of the caste society: crossing the barrier of caste, the wife Doña Paula became ‘honorable’ and a ‘woman of quality’” (Silverblatt 119). By giving power for following the new laws of the land the Spaniards were taking control of the indigenous people who decided they wanted honor in Spanish rule

Even though it is most true that honor was desperately wanted by all, in Spain and during the colonization for Latin America. It is vital to look at Latin American resources because they show how honor was simply used as a way to have control over lowerclassmen or the non-elites. Whether it be in Spain or Peru, the Spanish rules and regulations had the everyone roped in on their idea of honor and nobility, with small guarantees to power there were always those who submitted and gave into in exchange for the power they were promised. The lower classmen from any inferior race or gender had to fight twice as hard for any worth in society that explained why they succumbed to the deals of the powerful and why it was easier to gain control through them this way. They did not feel as if they were being used instead they felt like they could fit into the public.

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Obsession With Honor in Late 15th Century Spain. (2023, Feb 17). Retrieved from


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