Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: February 2015

Chapter Six - Elite Women


The marriage arrangements of the wealthy are usually such shameful [economic] pacts that they should take place in the Consulado [Merchant’s Guild] because of their economic content, than in the church because of their religious content. Instead of the desires and compatibility of the bride and groom, the first thing that is looked at is money.

Although elite women were by definition a small, select group, they played important social and cultural roles and were intimately involved in the transmission of status and property and elite strategies of survival and recruitment. Honor, on both the personal and family levels, was of central concern to the elite and those who hoped to join its ranks. In the eyes of the elite, honor was linked to social standing and to virtue. To be honorable, the Hispanic social code called for women to be pure and sexually beyond reproach, publicly discreet, and timid in their behavior. A woman who failed to fulfill these norms was shameless. Her conduct defiled not only her own honor but also that of her husband and her family. This code linked the protection of a woman’s honor to that of her kin and their present and future claim to an exalted social position and required that women be watched over by men.

Because the ideal elite woman was to be virginal before marriage and chaste afterward, her sexuality, activities, and education were closely supervised. Elite girls were brought up out of the public’s sight, and left their homes only to go to mass. They were raised to respect and defer to their parents, especially their fathers. Their parents stressed the Hispanic honor code, which tied female sexual behavior and woman’s virginity to her family’s honor. A young woman was also taught to have her family’s economic and dynastic interests at heart. These standards of behavior affected every elite woman in colonial Latin America for she was a woman, part of a family, and a member of the local elite.

Pescador, Juan Javier, De bautizados a fieles difuntos (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1992), 224
Brading, David A., Miners and Merchants in Bourbon Mexico, 1763–1810 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 306
de Thompson, María [Mariquita] Sánchez, Recuerdos de Buenos Aires Virreynal (Buenos Aires: ENE Editorial, 1953), 59–60
Schwartz, Stuart B., Sovereignty and Society in Colonial Brazil: The High Court of Bahia and Its Judges, 1609–1751 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 339
Ferry, Robert J., The Colonial Elite of Early Caracas: Formation and Crisis, 1567–1767 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 223–235
Nazzari, Muriel, Disappearance of the Dowry: Women, Families, and Social Change in São Paulo, Brazil, 1600–1900 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), 30–31
Frézier, Amadeo, Relación del viaje por el mar del sur (1717) (Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1982), 223
de Pons, François Joseph, Travels in Parts of South America during the Years 1801, 1802, 1803 and 1804 Containing a Description of Captain-Generalship of Carraccas (London: Richard Phillips, 1806), 102
Miller, Robert Ryal, trans. and ed., Chronicle of Colonial Lima: The Diary of Josephe and Francisco Mugaburu, 1640–1697 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1975), 133
Lockhart, James and Otte, Enrique, trans. and eds., Letters and Peoples of the Spanish Indies: Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 127
Couturier, Edith, The Letters of the Countess of Miravalle and the Question of Colonial Women’s Biography (unpublished paper, 1994), 20
Ardanaz, Daisy Rípodas, Un ilustrado cristiano en la magistratura indiana: Antonio Porlier, Marqués de Bajamar: Viaje de Cádiz a Potosí (1758–1759) (Buenos Aires: Prhisco-Conicet, 1992), 61
Ardanaz, Daisy Rípodas, “Una salteña, ‘fiscala’ del Consejo de Indias: Doña María Josefa de Asteguieta (1745–1779),” Boletín del Instituto San Felipe y Santiago de Estudios Históricos de Saltay, 41 (1992), 52