The Aztecs and other Indigenous peoples in Mexico had a system of hereditary aristocracy in place when the Spanish arrived in Mexico. The Spaniards respected this system and added to it, resulting in many unions between Aztec and Spanish nobility. Descendents of the elites of pre-Columbian Mexico who received these distinctions included the heirs of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II; That family became known as the Condes de Moctezuma, and later, the Duques of Moctezuma de Tultengo. The holders of the title, who still reside in Spain, became part of the Spanish nobility in 1766 when they received a grandeza. A branch of their family, on the female side, continued to receive an annual payment from the Mexican government in the amount of some 500 gold ducats until 1938, as part of a contract signed in the 16th century granting Mexico City access to water and lumber on family property.
Some families of pure Amerindian ancestry, such as the Mixtec Villagómez family, were among the richest landowners in New Spain after the conquest of the Aztec empire. Despite being part of the colonial elite after the conquest, the Villagómez retained their Mixtec identity, speaking the Mixtec language and keeping a collection of Mixtec codices.
Numerous other Indigenous elites collaborated with the conquest, earning noble titles and privileges. Most notably, all the Tlaxcallans, who resettled into northern Mexico, became hidalgos.
Families who received a título de Castilla during the colonial period were the first to be granted European noble titles in New Spain (Mexico). One of the first was the Spanish noble Conquistador Hernán Cortés, who was granted the title of Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca. Cortés's first wife was Doña Catalina Marcaida Jaurez, and the marriage was an important political alliance while he was in Cuba. His second marriage was to a noblewoman. Approximately 130 titles were held by Spaniards born or resident in New Spain. Main centers of population included Mexico City, Puebla, Querétaro, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Guadalajara, and Morelia (Valladolid).
The largest number of noble titles were created in the eighteenth century under the Spanish Bourbon monarchs and the influx of foreign nobles to Mexico. Leading noble families active in 17th, 18th, and 19th century politics, economy, clergy, arts and culture included:
De la LLamosa, Gómez de Cervantes, Romero de Terreros, de la Cámara or Cámara, Rincón-Gallardo, Romay, Riverol, Pérez Gálvez, Rul, Vivanco, La Canal, Cañedo, Fernández de Jáuregui, Obando, Fernández de Córdoba, Gómez de Parada, Lara, Lorenz de Rada, Pérez de Salazar, Ruiz de Velasco, Valdivieso, De Haro y Tamariz, Fagoaga, Echeverz, Dávalos de Bracamonte, Peón, Gutiérrez-Altamirano, Castañiza, Gómez de la Cortina, Urrutia, Velasco, Moncada, Diez de Sollano, de Busto y Moya, Reynoso y Manso de Zúñiga, Capetillo, Villaseñor-Cervantes, Villaseñor-Jasso, López de Zárate, Camino, Caserta, Trebuesto, Ruiz de Esparza, García de Teruel, Espinosa de los Monteros, Vizcarra, Rábago, Sardaneta, Martínez del Río, Ozta, Azcárate y Ledesma, de la Torre Ledesma, Molina Flores,Vera Martinez y Cazarez, Samaniego del Castillo, Lemus, Mier, De la Maza, González de Betolaza, López de Peralta, Diez-Gutiérrez, Flores-Alatorre, Cosío, Rivadeneyra, de la Cotera, de la Campa y Cos, Rodríguez Sáenz de Pedroso, Padilla, Rivascacho, Villar-Villamil, Rodríguez Rico, Sánchez de Tagle, Báez de Benavides, Cabrero, Hurtado de Mendoza, López-Portillo, García Pimentel, Meade, Sánchez-Saráchaga, Sainz Trápaga, Villaurrutia, Errazu, Escandón, Heredia de la Pierre, Beovide, Alvarez de Medina, Sánchez de Aldana, Yermo, de Yturbe, de Béistegui, de Rivera, Zubaran-Capmany and Sánchez-Navarro, among others.
At independence, a few princely dignities were accorded the Imperial family's relations and three titles of nobility — the latter already under application with the Spanish government — were recognized by the Congress of the First Mexican Empire, such as the Marqués de Samaniego del Castillo. Knighthoods were also created, most notably, of Guadalupe. Throughout the 19th century others received pontifical titles of nobility, and through loopholes in Spanish law, had these titles recognized as títulos de Castilla; these are known as títulos negros and include the titles of the marqués de Barrón, conde de Subervielle, conde del Valle (Fernández del Valle family), duquesa de Mier, and others. Many of these families were part of the hidalgo class. Some families, after Mexican Independence, received títulos de Castilla from the Spanish monarch directly, such as the duque de Regla and the duquesa de Prim, or indirectly, through marriage to individuals holding these titles, such as the duque de Castroterreño or the Escandón family members who subsequently became duques de Montellano, marqueses de Villavieja.
Some families received titles of nobility from the Congress of the First Empire. After the fall of the First Empire, the imperial family resided in Italy, and later, in the United States. Afterwards, during the Second Mexican Empire, under Maximilian I of Mexico of the House of Habsburg, the nobility was resurgent. While knightly orders were re-established, no new titles of nobility were granted.
Some of the families granted titles during the first Empire were the Itúrbides—whose Basque ancestors had been ennobled by King Juan II of Aragon—Samaniego del Castillos, and the Marquis de la Cadena.Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca (1529); Hernán Cortés and descendants
Marqués de Salinas de Río Pisuerga (1609); Altamirano de Velasco, Cervantes
Conde de Santiago de Calimaya (1616); Altamirano de Velasco, Cervantes
Marqués de Villamayor de las Ibernías (1617); Pacheco
Conde de Valle de Orizaba (1627); Rincón Gallardo
Conde de Moctezuma (1627) G.E.; Moctezuma de la Cueva
Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo (1683); Echevers
Conde de Miraflores (1689); Garrastegui
Marqués de la Villa de Villar del Águila (1689); Urrutia
Conde de Miravalle (1690); Dávalos Bracamonte
Marqués de Santa Fe de Guardiola (1691); López de Peralta, Cervantes
Marqués de Altamira (1704); Sánchez de Tagle
Marqués de las Torres de Rada (1704); Lorenz de Rada
Marqués de Sierra Nevada (1708) ; Ruiz de Tagle
Marqués de Salvatierra (1708); Cervantes
Duque de Atrisco (1708); G.E.; Sarmiento, Romay-Sotomayor
Conde de Ledesma de la Fuente (1710)
Marqués de Villa Hermosa de Alfaro (1711); Rincón-Gallardo
Conde de San Mateo de Valparaíso (1727); Landa y Escandón
Marqués de Acapulco (1728); de la Cerda
Marqués de San Clemente (1730); Busto
Marqués de las Salinas (1733); Pérez de Tagle
Conde de Revillagigedo (1749); Revillagigedo
Marqués de Rivascacho (1764); Cervantes
Conde de Regla (1768); Romero de Terreros, Rincón Gallardo
Marqués del Apartado (1772); Fagoaga, Campero
Conde de la Presa de Jalpa (1775); Cervantes
Marqués de San Cristóbal (1777); Romero de Terreros, Rincón Gallardo
Marqués de San Francisco (1777); Romero de Terreros
Conde de Pérez Gálvez (1805); Pérez-Gálvez
Marqués de Guadalupe Gallardo (1810); Rincón-Gallardo
Marqués de Yermo (1810); Gabriel de Yermo and descendants (with the right to choose denomination)
Conde de Heras-Soto (1811); Heras Soto, García Pimentel
During the Porfiriato, members of the Mexican aristocracy were very active in politics. Prince Agustín de Iturbide y Green, Maximilian's adopted son, was prompted by reactionaries into making public pronouncements against Díaz, who promptly exiled him after he served a brief sentence given him by a martial court. Don Agustín died in exile in the United States, where he was a Spanish professor at Georgetown University. Members of the Rincón Gallardo, Fagoaga, and Pimentel families (marqués de Guadalupe, marqués del Apartado and conde de Heras Soto) were active in Mexico City government, the ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Senate, the armed forces, and the Academia de la Lengua or the Sociedad de Geografía e Historia. Many journeyed and lived abroad, often doing so in Paris, London, and Madrid. Most men studied at the Jesuit-run British public school, Stonyhurst College. By marriage into such French families as the Polignacs and de Villeneuves, a number of persons of Mexican descent were noble.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Mexican nobility — both titled and untitled — consisted of approximately 1.5% of Mexico's population, or approximately 200,000 individuals. Signers of the Mexican Declaration of Independence included: the Marqués de San Juan de Rayas, the Marqués de Salvatierra, the Marqués de Salinas del Río Pisuerga, the Conde de Santa María de Regla, the Marqués de la Cadena, the Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo, among others.
Around 1902, Don Ricardo Ortega y Pérez Gallardo, Mexico's unofficial King of Arms, commenced work on a project to prepare an encyclopedic history of Mexico's aristocracy. The resulting Historia genealógica de las familias más antiguas de México (Genealogical History of the Oldest Families of Mexico), an Almanach de Gotha of sorts, listed the histories of a select group of families residing in Mexico who held Habsburg, Bourbon, Mexican, and Pontifical titles or patents of nobility, entails, and knighthoods; it also listed notables who had accepted honors from foreign sovereigns and republics.
After the revolution, the nobility migrated to Mexico City in large numbers; many entered the professional and educated classes. The Mexican Academy of Genealogy and Heraldry has operated since 1921, creating a journal and publishing important family genealogies. A number found employment in the diplomatic service, arts and letters, public relations, and transnational corporations. A number of European nobles, bankrupted by the wars, resettled and intermarried in Mexico from the 1940s on, including the King of Romania. Art history and antiquities attracted many, such as the Marqués de San Francisco, don Manuel Romero de Terreros, among others. Monarchists organized masses for the repose of Maximilian well into the 20th century at the Church of La Profesa, and were kept under surveillance by the Ministry of the Interior. During Charles de Gaulle's state visit to Mexico, many turned out for the receptions. Many of them greeted the arrival of the Royal Family in 1977 — the first such visit in Mexico's history — and purportedly feuded over the order of precedence at receptions. Pontifical orders of knighthood, as well as independent orders, such as Malta, have chapters in Mexico. The most numerous is the Orden del Santo Sepulcro de Jerusalén with nearly 200 members organized into three chapters (Chihuahua, Guadalajara, and Mexico City).
Some Mexicans acquired, by marriage to titled foreigners or through outright purchase, titles of nobility from European countries excluding Vatican. These were primarily Italian and German titles, such as the Duque de Rausenbach and the Marqués de San Basilio, who wed the rich Béistegui heiress in belle époque France. By the late 19th century, a few Mexican families saw their titles ascend into the grandeza, such as the dukedom of Regla (Romero de Terreros family).
Historically, some Mexican noble families married into European nobility and some of these unions have produced figures such as Rainier III, Prince of Monaco and Elena Poniatowska, who was a descendant of a brother of Stanisław August Poniatowski the last King of Poland. Other families who have married into European nobility include the Gutiérrez de Estradas, and the Itúrbides.
After titles of nobility were abolished in 1824 (and again in 1857), many nobles appended "ex-" to their titles and continued to use them. Failure to renew titles in Spain—and to pay taxes due on the renewal—led to some families' loss of their distinctions. Fewer than two dozen families continue to renew their titles into the present.
The Political Constitution of Mexico expressly prohibits the state from recognizing (or granting) any titles of nobility since 1917. Therefore, noble titles do not legally exist in Mexico. The same law prohibits Mexicans from accepting foreign distinctions without permission from the Congress of the Union.