Status in Spanish Guatemala in 1542

Status In Spanish Guatemala 1542

by Robert W. Munson

The Elite:

Officers or senior government officials (these would be pure Spanish): It should be noted that there were no government officials of any kind in Santiago until 1542. They would be Hidalgo or above, or common soldiers who had demonstrated great courage, leadership or ability. These were the men who were awarded an Encomienda and with it the responsibilities of a true Poblado, in effect a Godfather in the mafia sense. These men have native women as barraganias (common law wives, not recognized by the church even if they were Christian). They often formed very close bonds with their barragania and their illegitimate offspring, but it was still expected they would also import a proper pure blood Spanish wife.

Upper Middle Class:

Exceptional soldiers who had been awarded a Caballeria or Peonia for their service: These men married upper-class women from the Indian allies of the Spanish: Tlaxcalan, Zapotec, and Mexica, who were regarded as “honorary Spaniards” and treated as such. They used Indians to work their property.

Tlaxcalan nobles and military cacique: Recognized by the Spanish as people of authority and rank. They held the position of lords and captains until about 1600 when they no longer lived alongside Spaniards they had served with in the Conquistas. The newcomers regarded them as merely another Indian.

Bachilleres: A man with a bachelor’s degree from University. In the absence of any formally appointed government officers prior to 1542 these men usually handled civic or secular church affairs and the Crown’s business.

The Middle Class:

Liciendado: A man with an education superior to a Bachilero, most frequently in law.

Bachilleres: A man with a bachelor’s degree from University working in the private sector.

The Artisans: Many came to the New World bringing their Spanish wives with them, or marrying Indian women. If financially successful enough they could develop Poblados of their own. An artisan of any means at all was expected to have a house within the city limits, not even on the outskirts, and as close to the plaza as possible. In addition, artisans of any means were expected to own at least one slave, usually a female house slave. It takes 30 hours per week to grind enough corn into meal to feed an average family, and the female house slave had this arduous chore. Artisans tended to be very clannish and their daughters definitely were expected to marry in their class, if not within their father’s profession, thereby developing a profession based poblada. Guilds (Gremio) were not part of life in the New World at this time.

*Artisans are listed below by rank (highlighted are most common):

Ship Lords (the owners) and ship officers: If financially successful and owners of property. They might have either Spanish or Indian wives. For them the Poblado was a definite aid to survival considering the high attrition rate of ships on this coast.

Mesonera: A woman who runs a tavern and/or rents rooms in her house (usually a widow or wife of a middle-class man who is away a lot of the time).

The Lower Middle Class: ** Listed below

The Lower Class:

The ordinary grunt infantryman who managed to gain some land by marrying an Indian woman with a milpa (comfortable subsistence farm): They would have slaves to actually work the land. Even low-class soldiers regarded manual labor as demeaning.

The Labradors, laborers who had been able to purchase small farms: They were frequently Pobladors of the local Encomendero. They were the Spanish version of the sturdy British yeoman farmer, although many of them were sailors who decided to get a safer and more settled life. They married Indian women and actually worked their      land themselves.

Marineros, the “Men of the Sea”: Except possibly for the Ship Lords (i.e., the owners) the Spanish did not trust men who moved around so much. Ship officers, if financially successful enough, might be regarded as men of the middle class.

The Arieros who ran the pack trains: Valued for their service, and frequently well off financially, they still were viewed as lower class. They married Indian women.

The Asentistas who organized and rented out slaves: In a pre-industrial era where the only source of power were slaves or beasts of burden, the Asentisto was an important man, and could command good financial reward. However, like the Ariero they were still considered to be essential, but lower, class.

The Curtidor (tanners), Tintorero (dyers), Carnicero (meat dealer), Porquero (dealer in pig products) and Mantiquero (lard dealer): All important, financially secure artisans who were looked down upon as lower class because of the stench associated with their trades. Their places of business, by law, had to be outside the city limits.

Criados/as (Professional Servants), Criadoras (wet nurses): These people could conceivably be pure Spanish who had come to the New World with their employer.

The Christianized Maya:

Could be slave or free paid laborers: Examples: Yerbateros (grass cutters), Naborias (servants), Criadoras (wet nurses), Curtidors (tanners), Tintoreros (dyers), Carniceros            (butchers), Porqueros (pig butcher), Mantiqueros (lard maker), Techadores (maker of thatch roofs), Cazadores (professional hunters) and general labor.

Mayan War Captives:

These enslaved and exploited people were used for the worst jobs.

The lower working class in Spain did not migrate. They were tied to the land and could not afford it. The Law of 1609, among a lot of other things, ended the Encomienda system and invalidated the Peonias. Unless the individuals running them had the foresight to either buy other land or buy their own land, they frequently ended up as “peons” on lands they had once been lords of. Artisans and Labradors, because they had to purchase their land in the first place, retained their property. The encomiendas were frequently purchased by middle-class nouveau riche who thus became the upper-class “haciendados”.

In the limited society of frontier Guatemala any pureblood Spanish woman carried the honorific title of Dona, even if she was not of the Hidalgo class.

*Artisans: Middle Class, by Rank:

Gunsmiths (armero)

Chainmail maker (mallero),

Sheild Maker (escudero),

Cannon Gunner (artillero).

Crossbowmen (ballesteros),

Musketeers (arquebuceros),

Silversmiths (platero)

Merchants (mercaderos)

Notary (notario: an escribero licensed by the Crown to verify and validate paper transactions, usually operates out of his home)

Scribe (escribero, a secretary)

Escribente (scrivener, a man who can read and write)

Physician (medico: more education than a Cirujane, but less than a doctor. There are no doctors in Santiago. A medico observes, questions, diagnoses, and formulates a treatment, but he never actually touches a patient)

Apothecary (boticario)

Surgeon (cirujane: he actually touches the body and thus comes in contact with bodily fluids, so he is much lower class than a medico).

Barber/Surgeon (barbero/cirujane: a man who both cuts the body and the hair)

Barber (cuts, shaves & styles hair)

Tailor (sasterero)

Hatmaker (bonetero)

Embroiderer (bordador)

Maker and fitter of stockings (calcetero)

Maker of candy & sweets (confitero)

Shipwright (maestre del astillero: some of these appear to be free North African blacks living in Iztapa)

Locksmith (cerrajero)

Carpenters (carpinteros)

Blacksmiths (herrero: general iron worker; herrador makes and fits horseshoes)

Masons (alfaniles, brick or stone)

Stone cutter/quarrier (cantero)

Maker of rope and string (cordonero)

**Lower Middle Class:

Professional paid servants (criado: butler, gatekeeper, maids, cooks,)

Wet nurse (criadora: probably originally a slave who managed to buy her freedom with her stipend. A free wet nurse could build a dowry and/or buy slaves herself to build a stable of wet nurses she could rent out as an income-producing investment. A prostitute could do the same thing, but there was something of a social stigma attached to using a prostitute wet nurse).

Maker of hardtack (bizcochero)

Embosser on leather (guadamacillero)

Artist, painter (pintore: has limited clientele; church and Encomenderos. Frequently has to work at other employment. Moves from one Encomienda or church to another, often for overhead plus room and board)

Candlemaker (candelero)

Tinker, someone who repairs pots, pans and other metal ware (calderero)

Goatskin wine bag maker (odrero; also bagpipes and fifes)

Musicians (musicos): fife (pifano), trumpet (trompeta), drummer (tambores), sacabuch (16th century trombone)

Inn or tavern keeper (mesonero, if male)

Boatman (barquero): a specialist in small rowed vessels, not an ocean sailor

Peddlers (tratante)

Last revised 18-Aug-22