Spanish nobles are persons who possess the legal status of hereditary nobility according to the laws and traditions of the Spanish monarchy. A system of titles and honors of Spain and of the former kingdoms that constitute it comprise the Spanish nobility. Some nobles possess various titles that may be inherited, but the creation and recognition of titles is legally a prerogative of the King of Spain.
Some noble titles and families still exist which have transmitted that status since time immemorial. Some aristocratic families use the nobiliary particle de before their family name. During the rule of General Francisco Franco, some new hereditary titles were conceded to individuals, and the titles granted by the Carlist pretenders were officially recognized.
Despite accession to Spain's throne of Juan Carlos I in 1975, the court of nobles holding positions and offices attached to the royal household was not restored. Noble titleholders are subjected to taxation, whereas under Spain's ancien régime they were exempt. King Juan Carlos resumed conferral of titles to recognize those whose public service, artistic endeavor, personal achievement, philanthropy, etc. are deemed to have benefitted the Spanish nation.
Spanish nobles are classified as either Grandee of Spain (Grandes de España), as titled nobles, or as untitled nobles.
In the past, grandees were divided into first, second, and third classes, but this division has ceased to be relevant in practice while remaining a titular distinction; legally all grandees enjoy the same privileges in modern times. At one time however, each class held special privileges such as: (1) those who spoke to the king and received his reply with their heads covered. (2) those who addressed the king uncovered, but put on their hats to hear his answer. (3) those who awaited the permission of the king before covering themselves.
Additionally, all grandees were addressed by the king as mi Primo (my Cousin), whereas ordinary nobles were only qualified as mi Pariente (my Kinsman).
An individual may hold a grandeeship, whether in possession of a title of nobility or not. Normally, however, each grandeeship is attached to a title. A grandeeship is always attached to the grant of a ducal title. The grant of a grandeeship with any other rank of nobility has always been at the will of the sovereign. Excepting dukes and some very ancient titles of marquises and counts, most Spanish titles of nobility are not attached to grandeeships.
A grandee of any rank outranks a non-grandee, even if that non-grandee's title is of a higher degree, with the exception of official members of the Spanish Royal family who may in fact hold no title at all. Thus, a baron-grandee enjoys higher precedence than a marquis who is not a grandee.
Since 1987 the children of an Infante of Spain, traditionally considered part of the royal family, have been entitled to the rank and style of a grandee but do not hold the legal dignity of grandee unless a grandeza is officially conferred by the sovereign; once the dignity has been officially bestowed, it becomes hereditary.
Some notable titles, which are attached to grandeeships, are: Duke of Alba, Duke of Medinaceli, Duke of Osuna, Duke of Infantado, Duke of Albuquerque, Duke of Nájera, Duke of Frías and Duke of Medina Sidonia, Marquis of Aguilar de Campoo, Marquis of Astorga, Marquis of Santillana, Marquis of Los Vélez, Count of Benavente, Count of Lerín, Count of Olivares, Count of Oñate, and Count of Lemos.
Titles created during the current reign
Since the beginning of his reign in 1975, King Juan Carlos has created new titles for about 51 people (as of April 2011) among others recognizing the merits of politicians and artists. Some of these dignities have been hereditary. Examples include
• Camilo José Cela, author and Nobel laureate, created 1st Marquis of Iria Flavia in 1996
• Vicente del Bosque, football manager, created 1st Marquis of Del Bosque in 2011
• Salvador Dalí, surrealist painter, created 1st Marquis of Dalí de Púbol in 1982
• Carmen Franco y Polo, daughter of dictator Francisco Franco, created 1st Duchess of Franco and Grandee of Spain in 1975
• Joaquín Rodrigo, composer and pianist, created 1st Marquis de los Jardines de Aranjuez in 1991
• Margarita Salas, scientist, created 1st Marquise of Canero in 2008
• Juan Antonio Samaranch, President of the International Olympic Committee, created 1st Marquis of Samaranch and Grandee of Spain in 1991
• José Ángel Sánchez Asiaín, an international banker, created 1st Marquis of Asiaín in 2010
• Andrés Segovia, classical guitarist, created 1st Marquis of Salobreña in 1981
• Adolfo Suárez, Prime Minister, created 1st Duke of Suárez and Grandee of Spain in 1981
• Antoni Tàpies, painter, created 1st Marquis of Tàpies in 2010
• Mario Vargas Llosa, author and Nobel laureate, created 1st Marquis of Vargas Llosa in 2011.
King Juan Carlos also exceptionally confirmed the title of Count of Barcelona, a title historically attached to the Crown, but used as a title of pretence by his father Juan de Borbón during the dynasty's 20th century exile and the subsequent reign of his son.