Verónica Zárate Toscano has composed a social and cultural history of major importance. She examines the attitudes and ceremonies related to death described in the testaments of the Mexican nobility between 1750 and 1850. The book is divided into three distinct, unequal, but related parts. The first, and shortest, section describes the history of the testament in European culture. The second provides a systematic consideration of the Mexican nobility until the mid-nineteenth century, with stress on the final hundred years. The final addresses social relations, religious beliefs, and rituals and ceremonies connected to death as expressed in the wills of this exalted social group. Zárate Toscano discovered 303 such testaments, 169 of which date from 1780 to 1820.

The author views these documents as deriving directly from Western tradition. She makes careful use of the writings of European, especially French, historians on wills...

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