They once helped conquer an empire on which the sun never set but now members of the Spanish aristocracy are engaging in a more prosaic struggle over whether their titles should be inherited by women.
A group of grandees and other nobles have rebelled against a recent change in Spain’s law, which prevents a son from claiming the family title if he has an elder sister. They are demanding the country’s constitutional court strike the law down as it may allow some women to claim titles retroactively, taking them from brothers or uncles who currently hold them.
They claim the law was tailor-made to suit a group of powerful women, including the designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, who claimed titles held by male relatives. Ruiz de la Prada claims the title of Marquess of Castelldosrius from an uncle who received it from his elder brother — skipping Ruiz de La Prada’s now deceased mother.
“The law should not be retroactive. There will be fights in all the noble families because of this,” said Miguel Temboury of the Spanish Nobles Association, a recently created conservative faction within Spain’s 2,500-strong nobility.
They say Ruiz de la Prada and her partner, El Mundo newspaper editor Pedro J Ramirez, used their influence with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s socialist government to make the law retroactive.
Under the terms of the new law those like Ruiz de la Prada, who had already brought legal cases against current holders of titles, are able to pursue their claims.
Ruiz de la Prada denied that she and Ramirez had pushed the government into changing the law.
“I wish I did have that much influence with the prime minister,” she said. “One of the best things he has done has been to pursue equality.”
Ramirez also denied pressing the government.
“I might have commented on this informally to politicians, but it was the mummified old aristocrats who actually held formal meetings with political parties to try to stop the law being changed,” she said.
The new law was introduced after Spain’s highest courts ruled in favor of male primogeniture, despite attempts by a group of about 20 women to have it banned for contravening sex equality laws.
Zapatero’s party brokered a cross-party agreement to change the law two years ago. A number of court cases are being fought between siblings for the family title.
“My elder sister and elder brother have fought,” said Temboury, whose family are Counts of Labajos and Las Infantas.
He estimated that more than 1,000 families have to face the fact that sons who thought they would inherit titles would now see them go to older sisters.