The Wheel of Fortune

– Sancho Panza’s inheritance story

Sancho Panza, the illiterate farmer who had become don Quijote’s squire in his adventures, had been married for a long time to a woman named Teresa Cascajo and had a daughter, Marísancha, aged seventeen. All the other children had died at birth or short time afterwards, and she was his only heir… – well, if she had what to inherit or if daughters counted. And none of these conditions were valid. But upon Don Quijote’s death, when his will got read, they discovered that the old knight errant had actually left a piece of land from his property to Marisancha Panza y Cascajo, to be her dowry,… on condition that she married a hidalgo. This was a difficult condition to meet….

All the remaining land and the manor had been left to Don Quijote’s niece, Antonia Quijano, who was nineteen at that time, with the unwritten hope that with such a dowry she’d find a husband. However, some other provisions were made for the future, on condition that said Marisancha and her unknown yet husband had sons, if they sent their sons to school.

This was not exactly a fortune, but for Sancho Panza was a Godsent gift. The wheel of fortune had finally stopped his way, after he had followed and protected his lord in mad quests. His daughter didn’t have much dowry anyway, since he was a poor farmer, a tenant not owning even the land he was working. The land she was owning now was larger than the one Sancho’s family was working, and it meant that she would have something to bring to a new family. He was the last in his line to be a commoner, illiterate and poor farmer.

Actually, it was an advantage in being a hidalgo. They were gentry, revered as such, holding on to the privileges and honours of the nobility even if they had no fortune to back the title up, and exempt from paying taxes. While a commoner couldn’t access to military and administrative careers, they could, and even the poorest of them refused manual work as contrary to their honour. This meant a pretty wife with a dowry might attract some….

So, Sancho started to seek for a young hidalgo to marry her. He had no illusions that a hidalgo de sangre, with an untainted lineage for several centuries, would get interested in her, no matter that she was young, pretty, healthy, hardworking and with some dowry. But he knew that there were other two types of hidalgos who might: either a Biscayan man who was interested in owning land, after his ancestors had lost it, or a young man who had at least six legitimate brothers – the so called sons of hidalgos de bragueta (“fly-of-the-trousers hidalgo“), who, by default, were the poorest gentry.

Jose Maria Zamorra was, indeed, the youngest son of such a hidalgo de bragueta, born under the Andalucian sun. He had to seek the carreer of army since young, but he couldn’t get the deserved promotions for being too poor, as he couldn’t afford the required expenses for a commission and for the related equipment. But he was a hidalgo and a lancer sergeant deployed in the area….

It wasn’t easy to arrange the marriage, for several reasons. First of all, Antonia Quijano had all the interest in the world that it didn’t happen, and she tried to start rumours about Marisancha being a lazy slut. Secondly, it took a while for don Jose Maria Zamorra, who was twenty five at that time, to get persuaded that he wanted to get married.

But, with Sancho Panza’s determination and with the girl’s good looks, things were arranged. The young sergeant convinced himself that the rumours hadn’t been true. The girl might have been rather naive and easy to charm, but weren’t most of them? However, she was no slut, and he got the proof that she had been a maiden. Well, the proof was obvious enough for her father and the priest too, so a shotgun wedding happened in haste.

Actually, Don Jose Maria Zamorra mused, the deal he had got into wasn’t too bad. Marisancha had been only his, she had some dowry, and she wouldn’t ask him to leave the Army for her. She would be the one to stay at home and run the farm, while he was fighting for the glory of the crown of Castilla. He smiled and accepted the bride with whom he had just consummated the wedding night in what peasants called “putting the cart before the oxes“. Well, not the first, nor the last man to start his married life before the priest’s blessing… He wouldn’t mind a son (or more, if he was anything like his father) looking like both of them, he thought vainly.

…After a little more than one year, that son came, and he was christened Jose Santiago. Then, a daughter, called Maria Teresa. The next son of the family was named Alonso, after Don Quijote, and the other Juan Antonio. There might have been some more who lived, who knows… The grandparents were happy to help with raising them, and to offer their help in the estate management while the head of the Zamorra family was away.

Upon late Don Quijote’s will, the boys were sent to school, and all of them showed interest in knights’ stories. Maria Teresa and her mother, Marisancha, learnt to write and to calculate at the same time with the boys, and it helped in the management of the land.

Marisancha was a healthy and industrious woman, and her husband didn’t spent recklessly his pay, neither his wife’s dowry. The war prizes he brought home after campaigns were invested in the land, instead of thinking about paying his dues for a promotion. He knew that after the wars, when his army carreer would end, it was there he was bound to retire.

First, the investment was not in extending, but in cultivating the land properly and hiring work hands. Upon old Sancho Panza’s advice, Marisancha chose to plant first a vineyard, since it was a good wine area, then cereals. Sheep and goats were added to the inventory afterwards, as being good for creating more wealth. The wheel of fortune seemed to remain on their side as long as old Sancho Panza and his son-in-law, Jose Maria Zamorra, lived.

Jose Santiago was more like his father than like his mother. He favoured the career in the Army, and when he enlisted, as he had studied with the monks before, he got the rank of alferez, flag bearer. His life was linked to the Army’s itineration, and he never returned to La Mancha, finding his fortune elsewhere.

Alonso was the one in love with the land – not that Juanto wouldn’t. The land got split between them two, as their older brother had given up his claims in their favour, and they did, at their turn, what their father had done: they married girls who had a better dowry than their pedigree. As for their sister, Maria Teresa, she got married to a miller, in order to keep the processing of the crops in the family, as her being a hidalgo‘s daughter counted less than her dowry.

Life isn’t, though, only sunshine and rainbows. There had been drought, there had been storms affecting crops in other years, and there had been wars, when enemies or even allied armies set camp in La Mancha, depleting resources. The family wealth couldn’t last forever, and the wheel of fortune, ultimately, turned to other lucky sods.

But if you, Spanish citizen or one from the former Colonies, can calculate your ancestry back to many generations ago, you might find out with surprise that Sancho Panza and his daughter Marisancha had been at the root of your genealogy tree, and you are the offspring of a hidalgo of long time ago.


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