hidalgo [key] [contraction of Span. hijo de algo=son of something], term designating the lowest degree of Spanish nobility, a rank above the ordinary gentry but below the great lords. The status was granted either directly from the crown (hidalgo de carta) or was inherited through birth (hidalgo de sangre). The term was known as early as the 12th cent.; the prolonged warfare to reconquer Spain from the Moors especially necessitated the continuous expansion of this knightly class. Although it did not have any political importance, the rank gave its members privileges such as use of the title Don and considerable exemption from taxation. The hidalgo is a familiar character in Spanish literature, often being portrayed as a vagabond knight.
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