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How Wealthy Was the Rizal Family?

The Rizal family’s wealth has always been a point of curiosity: Why were they wealthy? Where did their wealth come from?
IMAGE Wikimedia Commons
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Our history textbooks reveal the Rizal family was counted among the wealthier families in the Philippines in the 19th century.

Historian Ambeth Ocampo describes the clan as “upper class, educated, well-read, and had a view of the world outside Calamba.”

Jose Rizal and his siblings studied at exclusive schools in the country, and the family was among the most respected south of Manila.Their house employed a number of household helpers, not counting those who helped them in the field. They certainly had influence, and held some amount of political power.

The Rizal family’s wealth has always a point of curiosity: Why were they wealthy? Where did their wealth come from? How affluent was the Rizal family? We need to retrace hundreds of years of history to answer these questions.

The Principalia

One of the key reasons the Rizal family was wealthy was because its lineage, both maternal and paternal, can be traced to principalian roots.

The principalia was a class of Filipinos who were considered nobility during the Spanish occupation. The original principalias were the ex-datus, who cooperated with the Spanish in subjugating their former subjects. They were rewarded with government positions as gobernadorcillos (mayor) and cabezas de barangay (town chief). Not everyone could be a member of the principalia, because the status was hereditary – including the government positions they held. They were tasked with collecting tributes and taxes, which they used to enrich their families.

The heads of the family and their eldest sons were exempted from taxes, conscription, and forced labor. When the concept of land ownership was introduced by the Spanish, the principalia took advantage of it by claiming that agricultural land was their private property (when in fact it was their subjects’ lands or public lands), which they then sold to the state. They also reinforced their political power by selling and donating lands to the friars, which became the infamous friar estates.

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Despite Spanish reforms removing the dynastic nature of the offices of the gobernadorcillo and cabeza de barangay and introducing elections, the principalia maintained their influence and power because they were the only ones who were allowed to vote. 

This allowed them to pass down their wealth, influence, and positions in government to their kin, resulting in generations of wealthy Filipinos, including the family of the national hero.

Rizal’s Wealthy Grandparents 

If Rizal was, in contemporary terms, a “rich kid,” his parents were even richer kids. According to the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and records from the Biñan government, Rizal’s paternal grandfather, Juan Mercado, was Biñan’s gobernadorcillo in 1808, 1813, and 1823. His paternal great-grandfather, Francisco Mercado, also held the position in 1783, and also incidentally owned the largest herd of carabaos in all of Biñan.


Rizal’s mother also came from an affluent family. Her father, Lorenzo Alberto Alonso, served as Biñan’s gobernadorcillo in 1844. Her grandfather, Cipriano Alonso, held the position in 1790 and 1802.


Both families belonged to the principalia and were among the most respected in Laguna.

The Rizal Family was Favored by the Friars

Another reason that explains the Rizal family’s affluence was their closeness to a certain friar order in Biñan. Letters between brothers Paciano and Jose Rizal reveal their family’s links to the friar orders.

In one of Ambeth Ocampo’s columns in Inquirer.net, he reveals how Paciano was beseeching Jose to behave and act graciously towards the friars:

“The land in Pansol is improving and much can be expected from it in the future, provided I enjoy good health. The land is good and extensive. This land, which did not cost us anything and was ceded by the Corporation to us in preference to anybody else, deserves to be appreciated a little. We ought to be a little grateful to the Corporation that, without owing us anything, desires the welfare of our family. Undoubtedly you will tell me that I overlook the work involved and the rent paid. I agree with you, but you will also agree with me that these priests have no obligation to give us the Pansol land exclusively, ignoring others who were eagerly soliciting it. It does seem that they are trying to grant our family all the favor within their power to give. Knowing this, it behooves us to refrain from displeasing them in the least with our behavior, in view of the needlessness of our services. If sometime you get to talk to Father Martínez, assure him that these are the sentiments that animate us.”

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The lands Paciano was referring to were the plots of land they leased from the Dominicans, which were granted to them for free despite many other principalias aggressively bidding to lease them. It was from these lands where the Rizal family’s main income was generated. Paciano managed the farmlands, which he planted with rice and sugarcane.

How Wealthy Were the Rizals?

The Rizal family lived in a spacious house with a large basement where animals and produce were kept. They lived comfortably and had no debts. However, despite being branded as affluent, the Rizals were, in reality, an upper-class family who had just enough to send all eleven children to good schools. When Jose Rizal was in Europe, he received allowance only sporadically from Paciano. There were times when Rizal's friends would cover costs for him, including the publishing of his two novels.

By contrast, Pedro Paterno, Rizal’s contemporary, never needed an allowance when he was in Europe. He travelled around Madrid in a personal coach that bore a silver coat of arms he had designed. His personal belongings, such as his bedsheets, stationery, and other items, also bore this silver symbol. Paterno was a truly rich ilustrado who used his power and influence to sway the Spanish and the Americans for his own benefit.

Still, it is clear the Rizals came from a lineage of influential and wealthy principalia, and that their money mainly came from inherited wealth and influence cultivated by their ancestors. They were neither spoiled nor excessively pampered, but lived decently. Hard work and thriftiness were values that were instilled among all Rizal children.

Had they been a little wealthier, perhaps Paciano would not have bothered tilling the land and taking up the cudgels for more oppressed indios, and the national hero would not have bothered writing novels about injustices he had never felt.

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This story originally appeared on Townandcountry.phMinor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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