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João de Pina Cabral
Antónia Pedroso de Lima

Part III. House and Heir

8. Family, Power and Property: Ascendancy and Decline of a Rural Elite1

José Manuel Sobral

Texte intégral

Concepts and Objectives

  • 1 The documentary sources for this article are identified in thse author's book, Trajectos. O Présent (...)

1I begin this chapter with a brief definition of some of the main concepts used in it. In using the term 'family', I am referring to domestic groups that succeed each other in time as representatives of a given continuous family line. When dealing with succession the term 'family' will assume another sense as well: that of a more or less broad group of persons who identify themselves as relatives and share a memory of a common ancestry.

2Concerning the concept of 'power' I will draw on some of the ideas that belong to the established traditions of social thought-for example, the Marxist idea of power, in which power derives from structural relations, such as class power (the capacity to control people and material goods as a result of ownership of the means of production) and state power (the latter seen as an instrument of class domination). Another important influence is the Weberian conception of power, as expressed in his theory of stratification, which has a number of points of similarity with the Marxist idea, among them the idea of power as being intrinsic to social inequality, even though he also puts an emphasis on individual action-the capability of imposing one's will regardless of the resistance that may be encountered. In Weber's system of stratification, the basic groupings - 'classes', 'status groups' and 'parties' - are seen as forms through which power is widely diffused in the community (Abercrombie et al. 1994; Lukes 1978; and Weber 1922). I also took into account two more recent contributions to the study of power, those of Anthony Giddens and above all Pierre Bourdieu. While Giddens defines 'allocative resources' – property – and 'authoritative resources' – authority - as sources of power/domination, Bourdieu provides a more diversified analysis in which the social classes are characterized by the distribution of various different forms of capital-the economic, the cultural, the social, and the symbolic-and the various ways in which these relate to each other (Giddens 1979; Bourdieu 1979, 1984a). To simplify somewhat, economic capital is that which derives, for example, from property or income derived from the carrying on of an occupational activity; cultural capital is that which derives from possession of (high-level) education, as well as of knowledge that goes beyond the world of formal education; social capital is that which is inherent in the value of one's (personal or family) social position; and symbolic capital is any property or quality that is acknowledged or recognized by others (Bourdieu 1994). This chapter will show how all these forms of power are to be found in the history of the families of a local property-owning elite.

3I define the term 'property' as a set of rights that people have over things. Property rights imply relations between people, in that they define who is, and who is not, permitted to have access to resources. That control over property confers power over others. In summary, the perspective I adopt here is similar to that of Hann, who states: 'the word "property" is best seen as directing attention to a vast field of cultural as well social relations, to the symbolic as well as the material contexts within which things are recognised and personal as well as, collective identities made' (Hann 1998: 5). The identities I am considering here are both the family and the individual identities, as well as the elite group itself.

4The power that is derived from property is to be found at the heart of the family. It is held by the older generations and, either formally or informally, is controlled by someone of the male gender (a father, for example). This determines the relationship between family members. Property may also be a form of power exercised by the family in its local social space, and may form the basis for the acquisition or consolidation of other forms of power, such as political power. Or it may represent the success and confirmation of certain social strategies.

5In carrying out the research on which this chapter is based, I took into account all these forms of power that are inherent in the idea of property. This is precisely because one of my core objectives was to study the socalled process of social reproduction in the linkages between family and society (Fortes 1958; J. Goody 1976; Bourdieu 1994). I have tried to analyse the ways in which members of each family succeed each other and how property rights (namely those over land and buildings) are handed down from one generation to the next. I also aim to study how succession and the transfer of rights are dependent on social position. The trajectories and strategies of these families are examined over time.

6Thus, I have sought to establish how the distribution of property rights within the family relates to situations of inequality within it, how those same rights affect matrimonial choices, and what role family inheritance practices play in the production and perpetuation of the relationship between family and property.

  • 2 The term ancien régime refers here to the state under the absolutist monarchy and to a society in w (...)

7I will focus on a local power elite and its evolution, from the end of the ancien régime to the present day.2 In fact, the history of that elite is an excellent observation post for looking at the 'internal' and 'external' dimensions of the relationship between family, power and property and the linkages between them. By 'internal dimensions' I mean the ways in which resources - particularly property - are distributed within the family. By 'external dimensions' I mean those that are brought in from outside the family. These include two aspects. Firstly, those that derive from matrimonial alliances, strengthening the social and economic position of families, mainly by compensating for the fragmentation of wealth that occurs as generations succeed each other. Secondly, those that have their origin in non-economic spheres, like political events, which may consolidate the family's power, benefit it socially, and even bring economic advantages.

Brief Description of the Local Social Space and its Origins

8The setting of this study is a rural parish in the Beira Alta region, in the district of Viseu in central Portugal. This area today has a population of about 1,300 inhabitants spread over three villages. The main local activity, agriculture, is broadly speaking divided into two main sectors: one is a diversified form of agriculture primarily aimed at family subsistence and only secondarily producing a surplus to be sold to market, such as potatoes and wine; the second is a market-oriented sector that basically produces wine, fruit, and olive oil and practises pig-breeding.

9To simplify matters we can state that these types of agricultural activity are in a direct relationship with the strongly asymmetrical distribution of property. There are a fair number of families - around one-third - that do not own any property at all. Another one-third own property of 0.5 hectares or less. Only 8 per cent own land between 0.5 and 1 hectares in extent. There is an intermediate sector made up of ten families whose properties are between 10 and 20 hectares in size. Of the remainder, there are five families that own land ranging from 35 to over 130 hectares in extent. Ownership of modern technology is also typically concentrated in these large landowners.

10The parish is situated approximately in the centre of the Dão demarcated wine region (Regido Demarcada do Dão), one of the most important wine-producing areas in Portugal. It has good road links, is close to a main railway line, and has for a long time been part of the international market: for example, parish council records show that the area was already exporting corn and wine to Brazil in the first half of the nineteenth century.

11It was not just the products that travelled. The local elites also travelled - to Lisbon or to Coimbra University, as did workers and small landowners, who went first to Brazil and then later to the United States, from at least since the second half of the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century more and more of the members of these latter groups went abroad, as emigration to the rest of Western Europe increased. Emigration is a clear reflection of the asymmetrical nature of property distribution and of the inadequacy of resources in the local economy. Even today, a large part of the income of local families does not derive from the primary sector, but from the salaries that members receive either from work in the construction sector in Portugal or from working abroad as emigrants (together with income from domestic work in the case of women). Salaried workers and small landowners - chiefly males under 50 years of age - are today above all part-time farmers: very often the farming work is left to the women of the family. Agriculture has declined in importance in the local economy, as it has in the whole country. This is one of the key elements in the progressive weakening of the position of the old local elite we are studying here and its loss of influence.

  • 3 The donatários were the local lords, members of aristocratic families - a position that could be ha (...)
  • 4 The Misericórdias were fraternities whose aim was to dispense Christian charity. They were generall (...)

12Many of the structural features of the local social space today-such as the unequal distribution of property - were already visible to some extent at the end of the sixteenth century. At that time, an aristocratic family became established in the region as the lords of the município (donatários)3 and of two other neighbouring municípios. They established an entail. In 1597 they built a wall that laid down the boundaries of a quinta (a farm) here. Today that farm still has more or less the same boundaries, covering a little over 70 hectares. Under the system of emphyteusis, with over 300 long-term leases, they also had control over a large part of the income from the cultivation of land in the município. In 1609 they built a vast manor house, unparalleled in the region, and in 1637 they founded the local Misericórdia (charitable foundation),4 which they endowed in perpetuity. In the seventeenth century (probably), we find two more entailments being established here, though these are of lesser significance, and yet another at the beginning of the following century. In other words, the uneven structure of property ownership associated with the presence of families from the major or minor aristocracy was already at that time a key feature of the local social space and of its network of social relations. Within these families there were other powers beyond those that derived from property ownership. The lords of the manor and first superintendents of the Misericórdia were for a time the governors of the region. Other families that owned rights to entails, but which were much less important, provided members of the local Câmara or town council (a political and administrative organ of a município, which is a grouping of various parishes).

13Property distribution in this region did not change substantially after the end of the ancien régime. The rights of the only family from the grand aristocracy established in the parish remained intact, even though the family no longer lived there from the seventeeth century onwards. In other regions of Portugal, the Liberal regime disentailed the ecclesiastical property and sold the property of the religious and military orders, the income from which had gone, by royal grant, to the grand aristocracy. In this particular region, however, there was no significant transfer of property ownership. At the beginning of the second half of the nineteenth century the main local property-owners were still the same families of the two seventeenth-century entails (together with the grand aristocratic family mentioned previously) - Their representatives today still occupy a position at the top of the social hierarchy.

  • 5 For Simmel a 'point of rotation' is an object of interest that is fixe space (a building, a church, (...)

14Before proceeding any further, I would like to dwell for a moment on the issue of the relationship between space and power. First, it should be remembered that, in the case we are studyng, power emanates from the ownership of landed property itself - for it was around the land and its owners that most of the village life revolved, whether the people were workers or tenant farmers (rendeiros). So the large estates were genuine points of rotation5 in local life. The whole territory was affected by the structure of property ownership, and the large estate delimited and defined the very form of local villages: the centres of the villages were occupied in large measure by the houses and properties that bordered on the large estates, which meant that there was a concentration of older houses in a relatively small area and that the more recent houses were built on the periphery.

  • 6 At least, this is how it appears to those who are ignorant of the houses' origins, because their hi (...)
  • 7 Symbolic domination, according to Bourdieu, is that form of domination that is exercised by way of (...)

15To adopt Bourdieu's terms, the fact of being a property-owner is in itself prestigious and is a form of symbolic capital. In our own day, the estates of the elite-land and houses-are the reference points for two types of discourse that point to different values, but that have in common the fact that they elevate the status of those who own them. The first type of discourse values the modernity (productive specialization, use of modern technology, etc.) of their estates; the second type of discourse, which is the prevalent form of discourse about property-ownership and wealth, sees in the houses of the landed property-owning elite examples of something that has preserved the antique and the authentic (and has good taste). They are examples of tradition and of a past that lends prestige. This is a process that has been observed in many other contexts (Shils 1981; Loewenthal 1993, 1998).6 In summary, for most of the population, economic domination went hand in hand with symbolic domination-and for a long time with political domination as well.7

16I have described very briefly some of the dimensions of the local social space in order to show how it both produces and is a part of the relations of power (cf. Lefebvre 1974). I think that Anthony Giddens's notion of locale encapsulates very well the overall assessment I have made here of the spatial dimensions of power, as it denotes 'contexts of interaction, including the physical aspects of the context - its architecture - in which systemic aspects of interaction and social relations are concentrated' (Giddens 1985: 12-13). At the same time, it enables us to understand some of the significance of property ownership for the local elite, apart from its purely economic aspects.

Elite, Family, Property and Power

17The fundamental basis of the local elite's power is still today landed property, although the degree of power varies according to family. In some cases the land in question was purchased centuries ago; in other cases, the ownership or consolidation of ownership dates from the nineteenth century. Four of the five families of today's large landowners had ancestors who were in a similar position when the Liberal Revolution took place in the 1830s. According to data from internal tax revenue sources, the largest landowner was the Casa do Paço, which was owned by the heirs of the lords of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Their local assets were administered by a general receiver of rents. Everything leads us to believe that this grand aristocracy family of absentee landlords did not directly exercise any power in local life at the end of the ancien régime - in that they controlled neither the governing body of the município nor the militia (Ordenanças) in the years immediately preceding the Liberal victory in 1834. By contrast, the two owners of entails whose rights dated from the seventeenth century were at the top of the local landowning hierarchy, still at a great distance from the grand aristocratic family of Casa do Paço. In 1852-53, the income from the município of this house was some four times greater than those from the other two entailments. However, the grand aristocratic house paid 11 per cent of all taxes raised by the município, which were borne overall by 1,435 taxpayers. But, as they lived locally, the two smaller houses had power in the council of the município, in the local militia, and in the religious fraternities. One of them, an ancestor of the largest landowner in our own time, was Mayor at the beginning of 1834. He was also Commander of the militia and Superintendent of the Misericórdia.

  • 8 The Estado Novo was the name given to the regime of the political dictatorship that ruled Portugal (...)

18Before analysing other families in the local elite, I would like to look at the families of these two owners of smaller entails, who also administered other entailments outside the município. Their political fate was crucially affected by the advent of Liberalism. Although they welcomed the new regime that was established in 1834, it was at this time that they left-or more likely were removed from-their posts in the Câmara, never to return. Their names do not appear in the lists of citizens put forward for council offices in the decade of the 1840s, and yet those lists contained the names of other local notables. At least in the early stages of the Liberal regime this group was not trusted by the authorities of the new regime. However, it should be mentioned in passing that this did not mean that all the small district nobility was anti-Liberal. Curiously, it was only some hundred years later, under the ultra-conservative regime of the Estado Novo8 (1933-1974), that an administrator of one of those landed property entails came back as mayor (Présidente da Câmara). This situation is undoubtedly a reflection of the fact that control over resources, as represented by property-ownership rights, continued to give its holders social prestige a hundred years after the establishment of the Liberal regime.

  • 9 Junta de Paróquia (later on Junta de Freguesia): the Parish Council is the local political and admi (...)

19Despite their removal from public office, these administrators of landed property continued to be influential in the Misericórdia - which, it should be recalled, remained the main financial institution in the area until the twentieth century. They were also predominant in the Confraria do Santíssimo (Fraternity of the Most Holy One), another Catholic institution that was of lesser local significance, and in the Parish Council from 1836 onwards.9 The fact that these families were part of the aristocracy must be seen to explain the particular trajectory that they followed, as well as the strong element of segregation in relation to other landowning families whose history was very different from their own. Besides the position at the top of the social hierarchy that property - ownership gave them, these families had another point in common-the absence of any alliance by marriage with families that were not part of the aristocracy.

20In one of the cases, although the family did not belong to the grand aristocracy, it was related to it, and had been an aristocratic family for many centuries. It owned an entail founded in the fourteenth century, and was part of a network of family relationships that even included among its ancestors members of the Portuguese royal families. It owned a family vault at a local church that was under its patronage, and used the ancient Portuguese royal emblem in its coat of arms. Of the brothers and sisters who reached adulthood in the second half of the nineteenth century - two male and three female, four of whom would live on into the twentieth century - none would get married. They had plenty of wealth in the form of landed property, which included in particular various manorial houses in the region and a manor house with land in northern Portugal. After the Liberal regime abolished all entails, those assets could quite easily have been used as marriage endowments. Whatever the reasons for their celibacy, the maintenance of a link between the family (a blood line and name) and the ownership of property (Saint-Martin 1993) was ensured. In the 1920s, the vast majority of those assets ended up passing down by inheritance to a cousin who was the closest relative in the paternal line. This person, however, was a childless bachelor who, in the 1970s, donated the property he owned to the descendants of the kings of Portugal, thus ending the centuries-old relationship between this particular family and this property.

  • 10 In donating or leaving property in his or her will, a person was entitled to dispose freely of one- (...)

21The other family could not lay claim to such an eminent aristocratic lineage. The entailment was founded by a cleric. Documents from the ancien régime, which grant varying status to people in accordance with their social position, do not give the members of this second family the deferential and pre-eminent treatment accorded to the one just mentioned. In 1868, following the death of the former head of the family, the inheritance was divided. The heirs were three siblings, two brothers and one sister. The way the property was handed down and the paths the members of the family subsequently took are quite different from those taken by the earlier family. The first-born had already married - he would in fact be the only one to get married - and so acquired a title through marriage. The other brother and the sister received property from the estate of their parents. However, under the law of the terço10 the parents had already endowed the first-born as lord and effective successor by leaving him the main house and its surrounding lands. In other words, they had left him the most important spatial components of the family's identity and its most important symbols - in particular the family's house with their coat of arms itself. Ownership of the family property, at the local level, was diluted to some degree, but that which had the most symbolic and material significance for the perpetuation of the family name remained, as was normal in the aristocracy, with the first-born. We can say quite fairly that there was a separation between inheritance and succession, since the assets were divided in the form we have related above, but the first-born son kept his position as the link that provided family continuity leading from the past to the future.

22He then married outside the district into a family of the minor aristocracy, and would see his son consolidate the local position of the family still further again by marriage. He married the daughter of a great capitalist, who had been ennobled but was of humble origins, and who was a shareholder of the Bank of Portugal. His vast economic resources enabled him to marry his daughter into a family that was undeniably weaker in this respect, but that would bring into the overall equation of the marriage alliance the prestige of its ancestry and possibly even the condition of being a former landowning family. Here, as in other contexts, marriage took place between those who had resources, or capital, that could be regarded as having equivalent value (Bourdieu 1980). It was their heir who, in 1876, bought the sixteenth-century farm that was part of the estate of the former grand aristocratic lords. That property today is still in the ownership of the same family, and continues to be the largest property in the district. This has provided that family with prestige, power and influence that have extended right down to our own time. All this is immediately visible in the way the physical space is organized, since that particular estate was next door to the house where the heir of 1816 lived and was annexed (joined) to it, thus enlarging the territory identified with the family. Since the 1950s, this family has also held the Superintendency of the Misericórdia, which, despite being a shadow of its former self as a charitable foundation, continues to be the most prestigious of all local institutions.

23The first-born of this second family was the only one to get married. However, his brother, who received by way of inheritance a substantial legacy, sufficient to build a vast residence, had two daughters whom he recognized as his lawful heirs. Nevertheless, he always accepted playing a subordinate role in relation to his elder brother. His mansion did not display any aristocratic symbol, nor does his family grave, by contrast with the enormous coats of arms and stone-built vaults of his brother. The family has extended down to our own time through the family of the first-born, and to this date no problems of division of the inheritance or of succession have occurred, since there was either only one (legitimate) son or there was no son, so that ownership of the rights and the position was able to pass down to one sole heir (a nephew), who in his turn passed them down to his only daughter.

24Of the four mayors appointed in the turbulent year of 1834 when the Liberal regime was established, three were wealthy landowners from the parish. From 1832 to the present day the property-owning elite of the parish was the sector that supplied the largest number of mayors (13). I think this fact clearly establishes the importance of the local elite in regional politics. It was an elite made up of property-owners, but also included priests and later graduates of Coimbra University. I think I can therefore rightly call it a rural bourgeoisie, to adopt the term advanced by the historian Albert Silbert (1968).

25Let us take a closer look at the trajectories of some of the more important, but not aristocratic, families in this elite sector, which were in the ascendant throughout the nineteenth century thanks to their political efforts. We can best study them by looking at the history of the Casa do Outeiro. The man who runs it today counts among his maternal and paternal ancestors and relatives not only the most important local political leaders, but even some important national leaders. His paternal great-grandfather, a graduate of Coimbra University, was born in this same Casa do Outeiro, became Mayor, district administrator, superintendent of the Misericórdia, several times member of Parliament and vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies. One of his brothers was Portuguese consul in Newcastle. This great-grandfather was not one of the greater local landowners, though he was reasonably wealthy. The fame he achieved in politics-as well as some presumption of being of aristocratic origin-made it possible for his only daughter to marry a rich graduate from a neighbouring parish, of humbler origin, from a family of landowning and money-lending priests, with a fortune acquired on their father's side in Brazil. This couple had already reached the top of the local property-owning hierarchy in the second half of the nineteenth century. The son-in-law, a Law graduate like his father-in-law, took over from him in the political sphere. He was to be one of the local leaders of one of the two major parties at the time (the Progressives), Mayor, Justice of the Peace, superintendent of the Misericórdia, civil governor and one of the founders of the Nelas Agricultural Syndicate, an association of landowning farmers dedicated primarily to defending the interests of the region's wine-growers. This couple had three children-their daughter married and took a country manor donated by a spinster cousin as her dowry, while each of the sons took his own manor and the lands attached to them.

26Their two sons were to pursue a political career. One, an agronomist, was to become Minister of Agriculture and Governor of Angola during the First Republic (1910-26). The other, who graduated as a lawyer and became a magistrate, was also under the same regime Mayor, Governor, and superintendent of the Misericórdia.

27This latter, father of the current manager, was to marry into another family that achieved a prominent position in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. His father-in-law's family was wealthy, but not part of the aristocracy. The father-in-law, Dr Joaquim, was the son of a local trader who lent money and was also Mayor, the nephew of a priest and of other bachelor uncles, owners of agricultural lands who also dealt in money-lending. Their wealth all flowed together into the person of Dr Joaquim, their sole descendant. The wife was the daughter of a rent collector of a grand aristocratic family, the owners of Casa do Paço a wine merchant who was the main private local moneylender and the ancestor of another family of large local landowners. Dr Joaquim became Mayor like his father, superintendent of the Misericórdia, member of Parliament, founder of the Agricultural Syndicate, and local head of another important political party of the time (the Regeneration Party). As in the previous case, this graduate landowner established himself as a landowner and politician. Apart from his son-in-law, Dr Joaquim was to have a son who became an agronomist, and who was also a superintendent of the Misericórdia - and the political enemy of his brother-in-law.

28Let us now consider the personal careers of the members of these families. The three entailment families, which owned most of the land at the beginning of the Liberal period, withdrew from the political arena, and one of them did not seem to invest locally in anything other than landownership. By contrast, these newer local dynasties consolidated their position as landowners in other ways - by money-lending, by seeking fame through political activity and by holding public office and, in all likelihood, through networks of captive 'clients' as well. Apart from this, they invested in the acquisition of educational capital - for example, by qualifying in Law at Coimbra. Given their lower starting-point for resource accumulation, the rise of the graduates was only made possible by bringing in other family resources in the form of legacies left to them by unmarried relatives in their wills (both these graduates inherited from two uncles who were priests). The existence of unmarried relatives was a key element in enabling someone to join the elite. Another difference in this sector by comparison with the entailment families was the fact that they tended to marry locally. While the economic position and above all the aristocratic status of the entailment families reduced their available options within the region and meant that they could choose a marriage partner anywhere in the country, these latter families found their partners locally in more than one generation, thus bringing together those with significant educational capital and those who possessed economic capital in their own right, joining, for example, a graduate with no fortune to a wealthy heiress.

29The concern with maintaining the economic and social capital represented by the ownership of property and with perpetuating the family at the top of the social tree to some extent brought the aristocratic and the non-aristocratic segments of the local elite closer together. But there were nevertheless significant differences, which have to do with those elements of their family identity that they prized most highly, as well as with two temporal factors: the specific moment in time that their families were founded, and the duration over time of that recognizable family unit. The members of the aristocratic segment managed to stay at the top after the abolition of entails by employing strategies to overcome possible critical moments when their asset base might have been reduced, for example by dispersal of property through marriage and division of inheritance. Thus they preserved the essential aspects of property-ownership and of family representation in one sole heir. This led them not only to try to counterbalance the division of inheritance, which diluted income, with marriages that would bring in new income, but also to remain celibate in disproportionate measure, as well as refusing to grant any rights to illegitimate children (this would only change with the constitution of 1976).

  • 11 Bourdieu 1961; Flandrin 1976; Lévi-Strauss 1984; Saint-Martin 1993; Monteiro 1995.

30Whereas with one or two partial exceptions, property-owners of nonaristocratic origin started out by not having any illustrious ancestors or genealogy to call upon. The family had acquired prestige in that same generation or shortly before. There were no restrictions on marriage - and in particular on the marriage of female members of the family, perhaps because there was never any problem in finding a suitable marriage partner for daughters. At the beginning of the twentieth century the various heirs of the two graduates I have mentioned were able to establish houses - a label that associates a given family with a given property.11 This was undoubtedly a result of their many activities, particularly in the political field. At a time when agriculture was the main economic activity, to be a landowner was to have the highest and most prestigious social status. The founding of houses in this way, therefore, represented the high point of their local consecration. These houses were handed down to their various heirs, with the one that had belonged originally to their parents remaining always, with its neighbouring lands, for the oldest son. The spatial dimensions of the family's presence and power were also taken into consideration in the way in which they perpetuated their presence in the cemetery founded at the end of the nineteenth century, by means of family vaults or permanent stone graves, which set them apart from ordinary people. Their memory is also a form of capital.

31However, celibacy - and the non-recognition of illegitimate children - also served to keep intact the property of the other two local houses that represent the remaining large landowners today. In their political activity, the members of these families were also much more discreet, even though they held one or two formal offices and exercised some informal influence. One of these families was founded at the beginning of the twentieth century by the brother of a grandmother of the current administrator of the house of Outeiro. Here the property and social position were handed down from an uncle (who refused to recognize his illegitimate only daughter) to a niece. In the next generation, a brother's part was bought out by the first-born. In this way, the descendants of this household managed to preserve the relationship between property, house and a prestige-giving social continuity.

32The other house is of humble and more recent origin (the second half of the nineteenth century), and was established after the successful emigration of its founder to Brazil. The latter had only two children: one remained a bachelor, while the other married. The one who married did not have any children. The bachelor had one child, who was legitimated by the marriage of his parents in articulo mortis. The two brothers kept the property undivided, so it was passed down to the sole descendant. This man married a niece of the wife of his uncle, who was also the heiress to the wife's estate. With these marriages property was acquired elsewhere, and the house was kept in the same family right down to the present day.

33The above-mentioned house of Outeiro owes its present survival to the fact that it was not physically divided. It was managed by the first-born son, who was an unmarried accountant, as a legally constituted farming enterprise (corporation). Currently it is he, as the major shareholder, who retains control. He is trying to ensure that his nephews, who own a fourth of the company and live outside the community, do not inherit the ownership of the company. In his view, this would signal the end of the family's position in the local community, in economic and symbolic terms. The various nephews, who are faced with financial difficulties, are not amenable to arguments and strategies employed to maintain the family's ties to the ownership of landed property. Apart from anything else they have never lived in the local community. They belong to other social spheres, and presumably have plans and values that are different from those that have constituted the guiding principles of the local landowning elite over at least the last two centuries. Similar reasons can be found to explain why, during the last twenty years, two of the houses of relatives of the house of Outeiro have disappeared from the local community.

Concluding Remarks

  • 12 In that system, only a small minority of males who had a certain level of income were entitled to v (...)

34My main aim in this chapter was to emphasize how property-ownership was in many aspects the basis for the local power of families belonging to the elite. It should be recalled once again that prestige was bestowed by the mere fact of owning property. The categorization of the various classes of those who were eligible to vote and who were eligible for election to office in the census system introduced by the Liberal regime was in itself an explicit acknowledgement of the political value of being identified as a landowner.12 Later on, that same status was the basis for obtaining academic degrees - in Bourdieu's terminology, increasing one's educational capital. To be identified as a landowner also enabled the person who was so identified to become a philanthropist by means of the Misericórdia, or by contributing to the spread of education, thus cultivating an image of generous Christian charity and of enlightened citizenship. Through property-ownership these people acquired a privileged life-style associated with educated culture and the cultivation of good taste. In our own day their residential buildings stand out as examples of that good taste, and are seen as a part of the local heritage that must be preserved. Landownership was also the basis on which they were able to become the local political leaders par excellence. In summary, property-ownership was a fundamental factor in the accumulation and preservation of various types of capital by the families of the local elite and in cementing their power.

35I would like to conclude by just mentioning briefly once again the relationship between this elite and local political power. That relationship may give us some clues about the changes in the relationship between elite families and property-ownership. For this purpose, it is necessary to take into account the life-paths of the families involved and the impact of the relative decline of agriculture on those life-paths and on their condition as rural landowners.

36The absolute local dominance of these elite families in regional terms came to an end with the founding of the Republic in 1910. Most of them were not sympathetic to the new order, and the new regime brought about open conflict between the two brothers-in-law who supported it, one of them a supporter of the more radical faction, the other a conservative republican. With the Republic came a plebeianization of public office: leaders were sought out from those more humble backgrounds in which they were likely to find greater electoral support. Thus, between 1910 and 1926, only one Law graduate became Mayor, in sharp contrast to the situation that prevailed before 1910. But apart from the specific changes in the political field, the elites also gradually withdrew from the local community. For example, whereas the parents of those who were alive at the time of the Republic had been landowners and graduates, but had not carried on any profession in connection with the Law they had studied, their children entered the professions for which they had received a university education - even though they did hold on to the farms. Little by little, as income from work became significant or indispensable, they stayed more and more away from the local community. The ever-declining importance of agriculture meant that their income from farming declined by comparison to the income that they could earn from other activities. The process is somewhat similar to that in which average property-owners, less well-endowed in terms of land, became involved - they invested their all in the education of their sons from the end of the nineteenth century onwards.

37Under the Estado Novo (1933-1974) there was a total withdrawal from the local community. Various factors came together here. One of them was the fact that the elite actually left the local community. Its members no longer lived there permanently. They left for the capital, where they had jobs. Then there was the decline of the primary sector, which led to a widespread decline in the political importance of landowners. The dictatorship did not require the specific support that some local political boss or other might be able to give it, given the control that it exercised over the whole nation. As the room for electoral competition diminished, so the clienteles associated with competition between political parties declined too, and the elite also withdrew from local public offices, which were directly controlled by the government.

38As their power to act at a supralocal level diminished, so too there was a reduction in the range of favours that the local elite could dispense. Their sponsorship role therefore also declined. Even as employers they lost ground, because the limited modernization of their farms lessened their ability to recruit labour and consequently reduced their power over the contingent of potential salaried workers. At the same time, the number of available workers also declined drastically, as a result of emigration, from the mid-1960s onwards.

39Under the Estado Novo, therefore, changes that had taken place at a more global level were reflected locally, in that the Mayors were no longer the large landowners but rather professionals - doctors or lawyers, for example, who sometimes remained in office for lengthy terms - a clear sign that the role of Mayor had become a bureaucratic one. Being Mayor, moreover, enabled the holder of that office to muster a much wider clientele of people who owed him favours than the clientele he might have obtained from using the limited resource of property-ownership. Local positions also lost some of their attraction for members of families who had held those offices in earlier times. All these factors, but particularly the decline in farm incomes, together with the increasing significance of urban employment made possible by the accumulation of educational capital, led to a decline in the elite's investments in the rural world. By contrast to what had occurred in the previous century, the members of the elite did not buy more property, with the result that in some cases the link between the houses and large-scale landownership was broken. However, it should be said that neither of these cases extended to the aristocratic families.

40With the advent of democracy in 1974, bureaucrats and professionals now compete for public office. None of them come from families that were eminent because they owned large landed estates. The Parish Council is run by small landowners and officials, and even in one exceptional case by an ordinary worker. These people occupy positions that, a century ago, belonged to the large landowners. Today the latter no longer have any important role in local political life-if indeed they have any role at all.


1 The documentary sources for this article are identified in thse author's book, Trajectos. O Présente e o Passado na Vida de uma Freguesia da Beira, Lisbon, ICS, 1999.

2 The term ancien régime refers here to the state under the absolutist monarchy and to a society in which the pinnacle of the social hierarchy was represented by a grand aristocracy (cf. Monteiro, this volume, chapter 8). The ancien régime terminated in Portugal with the onset of the Liberal régime in the civil war that ended in 1834.
This is a very different context from the one in which the expression 'the power elite' was coined - C. Wright Mills used it to describe the connection between the political, economic and military leaders of the USA after the war. The term 'power elite' is here used to denote a concentration of different forms of power, in this case the power that is concentrated in a small number of families. Cf. Mills 1956.

3 The donatários were the local lords, members of aristocratic families - a position that could be handed down from one generation to another, by royal permission - who had a certain number of powers granted to them by royal decree (of a judicial nature, for example). This gave them certain rights over the production and distribution of certain goods, and these rights in turn gave them income from rents.

4 The Misericórdias were fraternities whose aim was to dispense Christian charity. They were generally dedicated to assisting the poor, the old, the widowed and the orphaned. Created by the elites, and having at their disposal sometimes very large amounts of capital that they lent out with interest, they represented for those in charge of them an important source of economic, symbolic (in terms of prestige) and political power.

5 For Simmel a 'point of rotation' is an object of interest that is fixe space (a building, a church, etc.), and that gives rise to certain t; of relations around it. Cf. Simmel 1986 (1908): 661 ff.

6 At least, this is how it appears to those who are ignorant of the houses' origins, because their history contains some surprises (in the twentieth century, houses were rebuilt in order to give them an air of antiquity and a unity of architectural style).

7 Symbolic domination, according to Bourdieu, is that form of domination that is exercised by way of the acceptance of certain postulates, axioms, assumptions, etc., that benefit those who occupy a certain class position. In this particular case that means those who own buildings and artefacts that are associated with good taste and tradition. Cf Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992: 116-49.

8 The Estado Novo was the name given to the regime of the political dictatorship that ruled Portugal from 1933 to 1974. It was strongly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church and by Italian fascism. Its anti-liberal stance was opposed as much to the monarchist-liberal regime (which, broadly speaking, had been in existence from to 183 1910) as to the First Republic (1910-1926) that succeeded it.

9 Junta de Paróquia (later on Junta de Freguesia): the Parish Council is the local political and administrative unit in the Portuguese state. Several parishes make up a municipio, the executive organ of which is the Câmara Municipal - The Municipal Council or 'Town Hall'.

10 In donating or leaving property in his or her will, a person was entitled to dispose freely of one-third (urn terço) of his or her estate. The remaining two-thirds formed part of the légitima (legitimate inhertance) of his or her heirs, and he or she was therefore not able to pose of it freely.

11 Bourdieu 1961; Flandrin 1976; Lévi-Strauss 1984; Saint-Martin 1993; Monteiro 1995.

12 In that system, only a small minority of males who had a certain level of income were entitled to vote.


(Ph.D. Lisbon) is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon. He has published a number of works in the area of the history of ideas in contemporary Portugal, as well as in the social anthropology of rural society in Central Portugal, including Trajectos: o Présente e o Passado na Vida de uma Freguesia da Beira (Lisboa, 1999).

© Etnográfica Press, 2000

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