. . . he swore that if she did not return to God and the Virgin, he would kill her himself . . .
ON 12 SEPTEMBER 1572 the ten members of the newly inaugurated Tribunal of the Inquisition of Mexico arrived on the coast at Veracruz. Chief among them was Inquisitor Pedro Moya de Contreras. As soon as he arrived Contreras appointed the members of the inquisitorial infrastructure. He established commissaries in every town where there was a bishop, not only in Mexico but also in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. By 1600 no important settlement of the captaincy of Guatemala would be without its inquisitorial commissary.1
Already in 1572 the first cases were pending; it was as if some had been itching for the opportunity to condemn. The Genoese Niccolo Boeto was in jail in Nicaragua for erroneously interpreting what God had prohibited to Adam in paradise. And in León in northern Mexico Hernando Sánchez was arrested for declaring that ‘simple fornication was not a sin, provided that you paid for it’.2 Criticism and opprobrium were so much easier to develop than love. Thus the export of the Inquisition’s peculiar brand of terror and hypocrisy had begun.
Though the Inquisition had been active in Mexico before, this had been under the auspices of the bishops – the old episcopal Inquisition – and without the infrastructure and powers of the new tribunals which had spread across Spain after 1478. On top of thecases of the Amerindians,*1 some foreign Protestants had been tried by these earlier authorities. One of the biggest cases had been in 1559, when the Englishman Robert Thomson had been arrested for Lutheranism and forced to do penance in the cathedral of Mexico City with an Italian.
The ceremony had been held in the presence of five or six thousand people, some of whom had come from a hundred miles away to see them, cresting the passes that led to the city and seeing the whitewashed glare of the colonial city below. The audience had come having been told, as Thomson said, that ‘wee were hereticques, infidels, and people that did despise God, and his workes, and that wee had bene more like devils than men’.3 Strangely, though, when Thomson and the Italian entered the church, ‘the women and children beganne to cry out, and made such a noise that it was strange to see and heare, saying, that they never saw goodlier men in all their lives, and that it was not possible that there could be in us so much evill as was reported’.4 Cases like that of Thomson made the authorities feel that a growing threat was posed by Protestant enemies (‘pirates’) in the New World. This feeling, combined with the atmosphere that had accompanied the autos in Valladolid and Seville in 1559, led to the foundation of the tribunals in Lima, Peru in 1569 and Mexico in 1571.
Reaching Mexico City, the inquisitorial staff found several thousand Spanish households and 300,000 Indians in the suburbs.5 On arrival, Contreras and his assistants concentrated on the Protestants. Inquisitor Contreras knew all about the castaways of the pirate Hawkins who had been captured by Luis de Carvajal and sent to Mexico City in chains in 1568.*2 Some of them had been arrested on the authority of the Inquisition even before Contreras’s arrival and one, Robert Barrett, had been sent back to Seville where he was burnt at an auto in 1573.6 These Englishmen made a very easy first target, particularly since, as one of them, Miles Phillips, pointed out, the inquisitors ‘had perfect knowledge and intelligence that many of us were become very rich’.7
Within a few months of the tribunal’s installation, the English who had settled throughout Mexico after their abandonment by Hawkins were summoned to Mexico City. Dozens were arrested and thrown into jail in solitary confinement, where they stayed for 18 months. All of them were tortured three months before the final judgements were pronounced.8 The night before the auto, Phillips said, ‘[the inquisitorial authorities] were so busied in putting on their coats [sanbenitos] about us, and bringing us out into a large yard, and placing and pointing us in what order we should go to the scaffold or place of judgment upon the morrow, that they did not suffer us to sleep the whole night long’.9
The auto began early. Each morning twenty to thirty canoes would enter the city on a canal bringing apples, pears, pomegranates, quinces and tortillas, fodder for the horses, lime and brick for building, and coal and wood for fires.10 Today, however, there were no canoes. The motionless crowd lent drama and legitimacy to the ritual of punishment and condemnation.
At the auto a small number of prisoners were executed and the rest lashed before beginning their penances of imprisonment or the galleys.*3 Phillips was one of those sentenced to imprisonment in a monastery, and here he found the monks very courteous, as ‘many of the Spaniards and Friers themselves do utterly abhorre and mislike of that cruell Inquisition, and would as they durst bewaile our miseries and comfort us the best they could, although they stood in such feare of that divelish Inquisition, that they durst not let the left hand know what the right doth’.11
Miles Phillips’s sense of general opposition in Mexico to the Inquisition is confirmed by the account of the earlier arrest of his compatriot Thomson, who had said that many of the Spaniards who lived in the New World were opposed to the new body.12 Unlike in Spain, people in Mexico had not been brought up to respect the Inquisition. They feared the control which it might come to exert over their daily activities. There was a general sense that this oppressive institution was an enemy of the freedom which was taken as a birthright in America.
The nature of the justice wielded by the new institution in Mexico was shown by these first trials of English Protestants. One prisoner, William Collins from Oxford, explained how he had planned to become a priest before the destruction of the Catholic churches and monasteries under Henry VIII, and that after the death of Mary Tudor and the accession of Elizabeth he had been arrested as a Catholic sympathizer in London.13 Collins described in detail the lack of Catholic ritual in England and the hatred of the pope, holding that mass, communion and confession were ‘so abominable . . . that he dared not recount them’.14 It was apparent from his statements that he had no fondness for the Protestant religion yet the inquisitorial prosecutor then used Collins’s own confession to formulate sixty-eight charges against him, many of which did not refer to Collins himself but to events in England which he had been forced to witness. Collins was lashed and sentenced to ten years in the galleys.15
Another of those tried at this time was David Alexander from South Looe in Cornwall. Alexander was only nineteen in 1573, and had been just thirteen when he set sail with Hawkins for Africa and the New World. Something of the extraordinary shock that awaited him on this voyage is revealed by his declaration that when he embarked he had thought ‘that the Protestant faith of England was believed and kept throughout the whole world’ and that ‘he [did not] know that there was any other faith [in existence]’.16As he travelled through Africa and America, such naivety must have given way to the feeling that he was entering something like a dream, where the unimaginable was true and all that was certain slipped away.
Like the other English castaways, Alexander was punished in the auto. He spent three years in a monastery before being released in 1577, when he was told not to leave Mexico without the permission of the Inquisition. When, in February 1585, he tried to set sail for China from Acapulco, he was arrested and brought to the Inquisition wearing ‘iridescent shoes of taffeta with silk and gold straps that seemed to have been made through alchemy (sic), a hat with feathers, a rifle and a sword, and a flask’. Alexander, still only thirty years old, said that he thought that as he was going to serve God and Philip II the punishment could be waived. The inquisitors thought differently; they stripped him of his finery and ordered him never to leave the kingdom again.17
This export of the Inquisition to Mexico (and Peru) represented an attempt by Philip II to turn the Spanish institution into a power across the world. It was a decision that would change life for some in Mexico, but in order for the institution to develop the same reputation as its counterpart in Spain, a case of similar proportions was needed to that of Archbishop Carranza – one which would make it clear that no one was free from suspicion and would feed the culture of fear. Such a case was not long in coming.
WHILE THE INQUISITION was establishing itself in America, an old friend was busy making his fortune. The dramatic events which had accompanied Luis de Carvajal’s arrival in the colony had made him a close confidant of the most powerful man in Mexico.*4He was Viceroy Martín Enríquez’s trusted tamer of the north. Few among the Spaniards knew what this fastness was really like, but Carvajal had begun to reduce it. It was no longer such a fearful emptiness. It would be brought under control.
In 1576 Enríquez delegated Luis to crush the Indians of Huasteca in the north. The expedition was successful, and the kingdom of Nuevo León was founded. In 1578 Luis returned to Spain for his wife and family, and also to seek some sort of reward. Who would inflict such suffering on themselves in so many penurious expeditions, without the prospect of some recompense for burning desire? On the recommendation of Viceroy Enríquez, Philip II decided to make Carvajal the kingdom’s first governor. The decree was signed on 14 June 1579.18
Carvajal’s transformation from inquisitorial fugitive to colonial governor is unique in the history of the New World. He must have been an attractive personality to others in power. One cannot doubt that at the same time he was a ruthless enemy to those who crossed him. The two attributes went together in lawless spaces like Nuevo León, in the crowded ships crossing the Atlantic and in the vegetation that entombed the ruins among the jungles of the Mexican coast.
Thus when Carvajal arrived with the other colonists in Nuevo León, kindness and sympathy were not qualities to the fore. He and the other colonists hunted the Indians ‘like hares’. As if in reflection of his life in west Africa, Carvajal sent them on as slaves to Mexico City and mining centres.19 The doomed men were chained together in groups of up to a thousand, and once in the mines were forced to work without pay on starvation rations.20 Punishments meted out to the powerless in Mexico included castration, the dropping of pork fat or pitch melted over a candle onto the victim’s skin, cutting off an ear, hand or leg, and hanging.21 The transference of persecution that Luis had learnt in Lisbon and Cape Verde would be continued in Mexico.
Once chosen as the first governor of Nuevo León in Spain, Luis had set about finding colonists for his new fiefdom. He travelled to Medina del Campo and the home of his sister Francisca, whose husband Francisco Rodríguez de Matos traded at the great fairs. Francisca had nine children, the sisters Anica, Catalina, Isabel, Leonor and Mariana, and the brothers Balthasar, Gaspar, Miguelico and Luis, who would become known as Luis the Younger to distinguish him from his uncle.*5 22 Luis promised that Luis the Younger would succeed him in Nuevo León and that Balthasar could be the treasurer there, and the family decided to leave with their illustrious relation for the New World.23
The Carvajals left Medina del Campo and after twenty days reached Seville, where they stayed at the house of Luis and his wife Doña Guiomar. Like many wives of adventurers in America, Guiomar had stayed in Spain while her husband made his fortune in the New World. However, she had decided not to come with him this time either, for while Luis was a devoted Catholic, Guiomar kept some of the ancestral Jewish rites. In Seville she taught these to Isabel, the sister of Luis the Younger, and asked her to tell Luis in Mexico to keep the Mosaic laws. ‘I don’t dare say that to him’, Guiomar told Isabel, ‘because I’m afraid that he would kill me’.24
The new colonists crossed the ocean. Most of the Carvajals fell ill on the Atlantic, and Luis the Younger was almost dead when they reached Veracruz.25 The governor took them to Tampico to recuperate. The whole family was still accustoming itself to the different climate and atmosphere of America and, struggling to accommodate themselves to the new, they fell back on the family tradition of Judaism.
On the voyage from Seville the Carvajals had been befriended by a Portuguese doctor, Antonio de Morales, whose father-in-law had been burnt by the Inquisition in Lisbon for Judaizing. Morales and his wife Blanca had discussed Jewish rites with Luis’s sister Francisca and with Isabel. This came to seem providential when, shortly after reaching Tampico, Balthasar and Luis the Younger were caught out in a hurricane. The two brothers were sleeping in a shack. Worried it would be destroyed they got out just before the building was blown to pieces. The rain was so thick that they could not see the path in front of them. Lightning illuminated the darkness in flashes, confusing them even more. But somehow the brothers made their way back to the house where the rest of the family were staying. Believing that this ‘miracle’ confirmed that they had made the right religious choice, the family began concertedly to Judaize.26
Already, before leaving for Mexico, Francisco Rodríguez de Matos had taught his wife Francisca and their oldest son Balthasar to Judaize. In Tampico Isabel joined them, and Francisco later taught Luis the Younger to Judaize in Mexico City.27 The family kept many of the Jewish festivals and the sabbath.28 When one of the children, Leonor, married the rich mine owner Jorge de Almeida, Francisca and her children Isabel, Balthasar and Luis the Younger all went to join them. They kept the Jewish rites there,29 praying fervently in an orchard on the Jewish Sabbath, preventing their servants from working on Saturdays and trying to convert them as well.30
Yet there was one man who did not fit into this picture of ideological sedition: the veteran of Cape Verde and Mexico, the governor himself. After arriving in Tampico Isabel had followed the instructions of Luis’s wife Guiomar. One afternoon she invited her uncle to come with her into a room as she wished to ask him a great favour. Once they were alone, she got him to swear that he would never repeat what was said there. Then she told him that he was making an error in keeping the law of Christ. The governor rose in a fury ‘covering his ears, and told her that she was a disgrace to her whole family, and when she asked him to listen, he swore that if she did not return to God and the Virgin, he would kill her himself’.31 He rushed out of the room and went to tell his sister Francisca that she should kill or strangle her daughter. Francisca replied that Isabel had only been trying to help him.32
The governor did not want this sort of help. He disowned the family but adopted Luis the Younger, who had yet to be converted by his father in Mexico City. Uncle and nephew toured the towns of the north. They enslaved Indians and set up those flyblown camps smelling of dead animals in the desert. One day, in 1583, the governor said to his nephew, ‘Do you realize that your father lives in the Law of Moses?’ and Luis the Younger burst into tears and said, ‘It’s a great sin’. Having spent his entire life escaping from the Inquisition, the governor was pleased by this answer. He had yet to realize that it was this very nephew who would prove the most intractable heretic of all when confronted by the inquisitors of Mexico.
Cartagena, Goa, Lima and Mexico 1543–1609
IN 1994, AS THE Mozambique civil war came to an end, Mozambique Island offered an unexpected window onto the past. The island is a sliver of land barely a mile wide by a few hundred metres across. Here the houses press close together in the manner of a medina. History runs deep. The Islamic heritage of this furthest reach of the Swahili coast was evident in the only building of any height, the mosque with its tower and green domes. A few hundred metres away was the cathedral, in the heart of a warren of lanes. To the side of the cathedral a small sign for the Museu de Arte Antiga brought one up to an old sacristy where priceless relics of the Portuguese empire were found. Here lay tapestries and icons from Goa, images of devotion that had somehow survived the crossing of the Indian Ocean and the years of civil war. Now all was abandonment. The objects were left almost uncared for in this reliquary of an empire and a dream that had died.
Few visitors would have expected to find these connections between Goa and Mozambique, hinting at the vast reach that Portuguese power had once had. Yet in the heyday of the Inquisition in the middle of the 16th century the Portuguese had developed anextraordinary web of international influence. In Africa they had important trading settlements in Cape Verde and Guiné, Sierra Leone, Kongo, São Tomé and along the coasts of modern Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya; they controlled trading posts at Hormuz in Arabia, at Goa and in many parts of western India, at Macao in China, and in the Malacca Islands, from where they traded with China and Japan. Spain, meanwhile, had at least nominal control of most of Central and South America, with the exception of the Brazilian coast, which was also in Portuguese hands; the Spanish had also established a trading station at Manila in the Philippines.
The Iberian countries were thus the first to have anything like what could be called global empires. Little of this was visible on Mozambique Island in 1994, amid the ruins of the old fort, pockmarked with explosions and overgrown by elephant grass. The only hotel was a relic of the 20th-century Portuguese colonial regime, full of grand rooms where doors banged in the wind and the plumbing system had packed up. Seawater served to flush the toilets, and the swimming pool was full of algae. The sea itself stretched out in a drab grey back to the mainland, where two fishermen said that they had been unable to catch anything for three days; during the cold war the Russians had come with industrial trawlers and fished the seas empty. A sense of desolation gripped what had once been a centre for trade and imperial power; the way in which that power had spread across the world before being eroded to nothingness was difficult to grasp.
Naturally, the rapid rise of Iberian power in the 16th century had not been achieved through kind words. Where violence had begun at home, it did not take long for it to find its way abroad. In the Spanish takeover of America violence was integral to the process of conquest but in Asia, where Portugal established centres of power but did not conquer large areas, a different outlet was required for the violence which in the late 15th century had been targeted at the conversos. Thus the organized spread of the Inquisition to the overseas colonies of Spain and Portugal began not in America, but in India; Philip II’s establishment of the Inquisition in America was a development of an existing Portuguese structure.
Goa had been conquered for Portugal in 1510 by Afonso de Albuquerque, who took advantage of local divisions and resentment of the shah of Bijapur to gain control of this port on the west coast of India.33 Goa’s importance lay in the fact that it was a centre for the import of horses into the region. With the new strongholds in Sofala in Mozambique, Hormuz and Cochin in south India, a chain of forts had thus been created which would make the Portuguese vital middlemen in the trade of the Indian Ocean, where their zone of control was known as the Estado da Índia.34
Goa became the seat of the Portuguese viceroys in Asia in 1530. Here the pepper trade was controlled, and there were links to Portuguese factories in other parts of India such as Bengal, Coromandel and Gujarat, as well as to places further afield.35 From Goa, Portuguese traders conducted operations in Macao and Nagasaki, acting as middlemen between China and Japan; Macao was made a town in its own right in 1583, and traded with the Philippines and Japan, meaning that Portuguese enterprise and settlement now straddled Asia.36
The way in which this isolated fringe of the European continent achieved global influence in the space of less than a century is one of the stranger stories in history. Portugal had never shown any sign of such ambition before in its brief trajectory as a nation, and had been defined most by its struggles to achieve independence from Spain. But once the last in a succession of conflicts with the Castilians was won by King John I in 1385, Portugal’s achievement was to project its violence outward in its explorations rather than inward through factionalism. The first stage was John I’s conquest of Ceuta in Morocco in 1415; this led to further exploration along the African coast under John’s son Henry the Navigator, and eventually to the entrepôts of Asia.
Goa was central to Portugal’s expansion and by the early 17th century a city of extraordinary wealth. The viceroy resided in an elaborate palace with two large patios: from the first a stone stairway led to a large room, where murals were painted on the walls of all the fleets which had ever sailed from Portugal to Goa, giving the names of the ships and their captains, and even recording those ships which had been lost at sea. Beyond the palace was the town, filled with a bewildering number of craftsmen: carpenters, Masons, blacksmiths and shipbuilders, all working in houses built of oyster shells and sand.
Goa was renowned as an extraordinarily cosmopolitan city. The Portuguese were undisputed masters and the nobility would usually deign to be seen only on horseback, the harnesses of their mounts made of silk inlaid with gold, silver and pearls, and imported from Bengal, China and Persia. The wealth of the city, said the French traveller Pyrard de Laval, came largely from the work of the slaves, many of whom were brought from Mozambique and other parts of Africa.37 In these exchanges lay the origins of those tapestries which one could see so many years later in east Africa.
Such rapid growth could only be achieved by working with the local people. Having exploited divisions between Hindus and Muslims to capture Goa in the first place, the Portuguese maintained the indigenous system of labour organization and taxation until the end of the 16th century. Soldiers from Goa and Malabar served in the Portuguese army across the Estado da Índia to 1600, and Hindu mercenary captains were well known and respected until the middle of the 16th century.38 In this process of interdependence, bigotry could have little place. However as the home of the viceroyalty, Goa was also to become the centre of missionary operations in Asia; its role as the ‘Rome of the Orient’ was to map out a future for it where the Inquisition would play a part.39
Gradually, intolerance grew. On 30 June 1541 an order was issued to destroy all Hindu temples on Goa, and the following year the property of those temples was transferred into the hands of the religious orders.40 By the end of the decade a special tax was being levied on mosques in the towns of Bardes and Salsette. Between 1558 and 1561, under Viceroy Constantino de Braganca, roughly 900 temples were destroyed. By this time around one-fifth of Goa’s population had converted to Christianity, as Christians were preferred to Hindus for all the best jobs. The exclusion of these new others was gathering pace, in parallel with the exclusion of the recognized others at home, the conversos. Thus it did not take long before steps were taken to establish the Inquisition.41
The first inquisitorial punishment in Goa occurred as early as 1543, just seven years after the initial establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal, when the converso Jeronimo Dias was burnt alive.42 As yet, however, there was no official tribunal, and the Jesuit missionaries, then spreading through Asia under their charismatic head Francis Xavier, felt this to be a conspicuous lack. During the ten years he spent in the Orient from 1542 to 1552 Xavier baptized a minimum of 30,000 people and travelled to China, Japan, Cochin and Malacca preaching the gospel; in the midst of such zeal the presence of conversos and moriscos – in spite of various decrees banning New Christians from going to Asia from Portugal – seemed a considerable handicap.43
Thus in April 1545 and May 1546 Francis, who would later be made a saint, wrote to King John III and urged the establishment of an Inquisition in Goa.44 Eventually, in April 1560, its first inquisitors, Aleixo Dias Falcão and Francisco Marques Botelho, set sail from Portugal.45 Crucial in this extension of the inquisitorial remit from Europe to Asia was that the new king of Portugal, Sebastian, was just three years old when he inherited the throne in 1557; the regent was John III’s brother Henry, the inquisitor-general of Portugal.
With the introduction of the Inquisition, Goa changed. The number of churches grew so that by the early 17th century there was ‘not a square or crossroads where one cannot be seen’.46 All of them were sumptuously built and furnished with reliquaries of silver, gold and pearls.47 The Inquisition was said to be worse here than in Portugal;48 while the number of trials in Goa would be similar to those conducted by the Portuguese tribunals, the Catholic population was far smaller.49 As in Portugal, the Inquisition concentrated at first on conversos, with a curious correlation being noticed between the wealth of a converso and the fact of their arrest by the inquisitors.50 Burnings were frequent: seven died in 1574, and four more in 1585.51 In the nine autos between 1571 and 1580, not fewer than sixty-five people died,52 although the burnings became more sporadic in the years to follow.
The converso population of Goa dispersed. Many fled to China, Malacca and Cochin, where they could live in greater freedom,53 yet even there they were not always safe. Five were captured in Cochin in 1575.54 Residents from Malacca and Mozambique were also arrested.55 Several inquisitorial visits were made to Cochin in the 16th century, and in 1613 the Portuguese King Phillip II*6 asked the inquisitors of Goa to investigate the mines of Munhumutapa in modern Zimbabwe.56 By the end of the 16th century there were commissaries of the Inquisition in such far-flung places as Macau and Timor.57
One should not pretend that all or even the majority of people were affected in these outposts. But nor should one deny that this undoubtedly represents the first global spread of a persecuting institution. This was a mournful legacy to set alongside the heroics of the Portuguese navigators of the deep.
ONE NEEDS TO STOP to consider the enormity of this process. In 1492 Spain was still a divided nation with enemies at home, while Portuguese navigators had yet to round the Cape of Good Hope. With the loss of Constantinople, the world beyond the North African coast had become a spectral silence for Christians. And then, within the lifetime of a single human being, all had changed: the world had been explored and persecution had kept pace, the violent flipside to the wonder of discovery.
By the 1570s there were courts of the Inquisition in Goa, Mexico and Peru. In 1609 another tribunal would be added at Cartagena de las Indias in Colombia. Just as the inquisitors in Goa and Mexico set to work as soon as they arrived, in Peru the jail was so full by 1575 – just six years after the tribunal was founded – that there was nowhere to put the prisoners.58 Cases followed in areas which had no tribunal, such as Buenos Aires. Here the old conquistador of Chile Francisco de Aguirre was tried between 1571 and 1575 for blasphemies and lack of reverence for the Church.59 Just as in Spain, anyone could be a target in the Spanish colonies. Early cases in Peru concentrated on issues such as the bigamy of Old Christians and not the faithlessness of conversos or moriscos.60
Unlike the Inquisition in Goa, which was the bloodiest and most prolific of all the Portuguese tribunals, the Inquisition in America was more moderate than its counterpart in Spain. Only around 100 people would be ‘relaxed’ throughout its existence, and the vast bulk of its cases would consist of soliciting priests, bigamists and the like.61 The total number of cases in the American tribunals probably did not exceed 3,000, a small number in comparison to Iberia and Goa.62 Yet though trials may have been comparatively few, one must bear in mind that there was a tiny population of Spaniards and their African slaves who fell under inquisitorial jurisdiction; Mexico City, the capital of the viceroyalty, had only a few thousand households of Spaniards in the late 16th century.
In fact, the reach of the Inquisition in the Spanish empire was considerable. In the viceroyalty of Peru people were arrested in towns thousands of miles from Lima, such as Santa Cruz de la Sierra63 and Potosí64 in Bolivia, and Quito65 in Ecuador. Before the foundation of the tribunal of Cartagena in 1609 defendants were even brought from Bogotá to Lima to be tried.66 After the foundation of the Cartagena Inquisition, people were regularly arrested and taken there from Panama.67 Meanwhile, attempts were made to found a tribunal in Buenos Aires in the 1620s,68 and the tribunal of Mexico even tried defendants from the distant Philippines across the Pacific Ocean69 – for which it was responsible – and corresponded with Portuguese inquisitors about the people it had arrested in Manila.70
The reality was that every town in Spanish America was affected by the foundation of the Inquisition. Inquisitorial familiars and commissaries lived even in places far from the centres of the tribunal.71 They were known to keep watch and to be capable of exerting their influence on a whim. Thus although arrest and punishment did not always take place, surveillance existed.
The fundamental difference between Spain and the New World for the Inquisition was that a different form of social control needed to be exerted. In Spain the dominance of the traditional faith was not in question, and perceived internal blemishes on its purity byconversos, moriscos and Protestants were therefore the most worrying threats. In the New World an entirely novel society was being built, and the Inquisition intended to ensure that, to a broad degree, this conformed to its values. The problem was not just the mixture of European and Amerindian, but also the influx of Africans, who in Lima claimed that they could uncover criminals on ‘Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays’72 and in Cartagena openly admitted to having sex with the devil and revelling in his warm semen.73 In this situation the Inquisition was there not only as a bulwark against heresy but as a standard of correct values in a sea of perceived devilry.74
The difficulty with the Inquisition’s project was that the success of the Iberian powers in their empire-building had come about in part because of their origins as countries of mixed faiths. This cosmopolitanism had given the Iberians a considerable advantage in dealing with peoples in Africa, America and Asia, and contributed to their achievements as both conquerors and middlemen. By destroying this cosmopolitanism and what passed for tolerance at home through the Inquisition, Spain and Portugal stifled the ability of their representatives to act across borders; thus, over time, the mindset of the Inquisition and its export to the empire would hamper the ability of that empire to engage with different peoples and realities, and contribute to its collapse.
Mexico City 1589–1596
THE PROSECUTOR OF the Inquisition in Mexico was a man with an appropriate name. On 18 April 1589 Dr Lobo Guerrero – Doctor Wolf Warrior – issued an order for the arrest of Luis the Younger. The governor of Nuevo León, Luis’s uncle Luis de Carvajal y la Cueva, had already sensationally been arrested and thrown into the inquisitorial jail.
Typically, there was not a little that was political in these arrests. Governor Luis was an enemy of the viceroy of Mexico, Don Luis Suárez de Mendoza. On discovering that Carvajal was of converso blood, Mendoza sensed that this could provide the opportunity to snare him.75 At the same time the arrest of such an important figure would emphasize that no one was above the Inquisition, as the Carranza case had shown in Spain.
The evidence against the family dated back to Christmas 1587 when Luis the Younger’s sister Isabel had talked with a certain Phelipe Núñez from Lisbon, and said clearly that the Christian faith was no good. When Núñez became cross, Isabel told him how her father had said that ‘some ministers would persecute them in this world . . . these are the inquisitors’.76 Then she laughed and said that she had just been testing out the strength of his faith. Núñez was not convinced: on 7 March 1589 he denounced her, and she was arrested on 13 March. The evidence against the family was now all prepared, and Inquisitors Bonilla and Sanctos García were ready to strike.
First, however, Luis the Younger had to be tracked down. He worked with his brother Balthasar as an itinerant trader, roaming the broken hills of the colony selling shoes, cloth, raisins and jam. The two of them had determined to raise enough money to return to Europe to live with the Jews of Italy, and were calling in all their debts before they set sail.77 They must have been a striking sight as they criss-crossed the mule tracks of the empty sierras. The brothers even looked quite similar: Balthasar with his white face and blond beard, wearing a wide-brimmed black hat to shade his long head; Luis the Younger wearing similar shoes and clothes to his brother, with a long face and the beginnings of a beard.
That April Luis the Younger was on his way from his brother-in-law Jorge Almeida’s mines in Tasco to Mexico City. Hearing that his uncle the governor had been arrested by the Inquisition, he went into hiding in Mexico City with Balthasar. The brothers pondered their future. In the colony the outlook was bleak. They determined to try to flee to Cuba, where there was no inquisitorial court. Leaving in disguise, they got as far as the coast at Veracruz, but there their scruples defeated their instincts. They decided that one of them would have to return as their mother Francisca was alone in Mexico City at the mercy of the inquisitors.78
On Monday, 8 May Luis the Younger returned to Mexico City. The colonial capital crouched in the lee of the smoking volcano Popocatepetl, which provided a constant reminder of the violence that underpinned the city’s very existence. Arriving at the house of Francisca, Luis the Younger dined with his mother and sisters. The following evening, the secretary of the Mexican Inquisition Ariás Valdés and the chief bailiff Pedro de Villegas came and hammered at the door of the Carvajal home. Bursting in, they searched the house, and found Luis hiding in a small kitchen; he was bound and some silver coins were confiscated from his pockets, to be used to pay for his rations while he was a prisoner.79
As was usually the case, the inquisitorial trial reached an impasse. The prosecutor summoned Luis the Younger and made accusations against him. These were all denied. But finally, on 7 August, Luis asked for an audience and came in on his knees, beating himself on the chest, and shouting, ‘I have sinned, mercy, mercy! Give mercy to this sinner!’ He was ordered to stand up. He then informed the inquisitors that God had inspired him to confess, and that he had had to fight the devil, who had constantly attempted to dissuade him from telling the truth. Now, with his conscience saved, he freely confessed that his whole family were Judaizers.80
This was of course exactly what the inquisitors wanted to hear and enough to ruin Governor Luis, the new viceroy’s enemy. Although there was no question that the governor was a good Catholic, as Isabel and Luis the Younger made clear in their testimony, it was also clear that he had known of the heresies of his family and had not informed the Inquisition about them. This in itself was a crime, as everyone was obliged to come forward with such information. With this evidence, the inquisitors would be able to get their man.
Governor Luis of course mounted a vigorous defence. He protested that he had not had time to travel the long distance to Mexico City to make the denunciation of his family as he had been involved in the wars against the Indians. He pointed to all his good deeds: his battle campaigns, the towns he had founded, the mines he had discovered, the churches he had built. He refused all contact with his relatives, and asked his nephews Luis the Younger and Balthasar to repay a quantity of salt and wine that he had once lent them.81 None of this was enough to save him.
Towards the end of 1589 the inquisitors settled on their sentences. Governor Luis de Carvajal y la Cueva was to be reconciled and exiled from the Indies for six years. Luis the younger, Francisca and Isabel were sentenced to four years penance in a monastery; Mariana had to do two years penance, Catalina and Leonor only one year each. Balthasar, who was still in hiding in Mexico City, and Francisca’s dead husband Francisco Rodríguez de Matos – the children’s father – were to be burnt in effigy in the auto of 25 February 1590.82
For the real heretics, Francisca and her children, this represented suffering but not unusual punishment in a world where the Inquisition was so powerful. For Governor Carvajal it was an unbearable humiliation. This man had carved out his own piece of empire. He had spent his life in flight from the fear which the Inquisition had brought to his uncles in Portugal and then Cape Verde. He had attached himself to the forces of the Spanish empire as a means of self-preservation and had prospered, but the empire could always turn its powers of destruction inward, and had destroyed him.
He died shortly after the auto in his prison cell, awaiting exile from the New World in which he had thought to find sanctuary.
WHILE THE INQUISITION was making inroads in Spanish America, things were different for the slice of Portuguese ambition on that continent, Brazil. In Brazil visitors often felt as if they were in some kind of ‘earthly paradise’.83 The sun had the most golden rays of anywhere on earth; the stars were the happiest in the heavens.84 Europeans described it as ‘the best province for human life in the whole of America, fresh and incredibly fertile, delightful and pleasurable to the human eye’.85 Everything was covered ‘in a very high and thick forest, watered by streams in the many beautiful valleys’, and there were enough fish in the rivers and the sea to sustain people without meat at all.86 Such a bountiful place was this Brazil that the indigenous Tupinamba often lived to be 100 or 120 years old.87 Habitually naked and with their lower lip pierced with bone, often seen carrying maracas and with their bodies richly painted, they were thought to be carefree.88 And in beautiful Brazil, unlike Goa and the Spanish tribunals of Cartagena, Lima and Mexico, no official inquisitorial tribunal was ever set up under the Portuguese.
At first this seems anomalous. There are well-documented cases of Judaizing conversos in Brazil from the 1540s onward,89 and by 1553 people who had been accused by the Inquisition had fled to Brazil.90 It was classic territory for an inquisitorial tribunal. However, the reason for this absence was straightforward and cut to the heart of the political function of the Inquisition.
Unlike the great civilizations of the Aztecs in Mexico and the Incas in Peru, Brazil did not offer the Portuguese a hierarchically organized society with the structures already in place for domination. There were, moreover, no great gold and silver mines, unlike in Mexico and Peru. Thus throughout the 16th century the Portuguese empire derived its wealth from the spice trade in Asia, and Brazil was of minor importance.91 It was only as profits from the sugar plantations of Brazil grew that the Portuguese crown turned its attention to its colony in America. In July 1621 the inquisitor-general of Portugal would write to the king that owing to the growing population of Brazil it would be a good idea to have resident officers of the Inquisition there.92 But by then it was too late; the Iberian powers were increasingly under threat from the Dutch and the English, and Portugal would never again have the economic muscle to establish a new tribunal. A policy of realpolitik was required which recognized that arresting wealthy conversos in the Americas was likely to do more harm than good.
The absence of a permanent tribunal in Brazil reveals the extent to which the Inquisition was driven by imperatives in opposition to its supposed purpose. The Inquisition often ran at a loss, which acted as a drain on royal resources;93 this meant that it needed to concentrate its activities where the greatest profits were to be derived. This was why the Spanish were so keen to establish tribunals in America but ignored the Philippines, and why the Portuguese looked first to Goa and ignored Brazil. Thus the Inquisition was prey to the very material values for which it pretended such disdain; in its tortured way it helped to foster them.
However, when the Portuguese authorities realized the potential importance of their Brazilian colony, their attitude began to change. In 1591 the inquisitorial visitor Heitor Furtado de Mendonça was dispatched from Lisbon to the capital of the colony, Bahia, with a wide remit to inquire into the faith there and in Pernambuco. Over the course of the next four years, Mendonça would deal with 285 cases in Bahia and 271 in Pernambuco.94 In Olinda, the capital of Pernambuco, Mendonça even conducted two autos under powers which he had brought from Portugal.95 However his efforts almost bankrupted the Inquisition in Portugal and he was ordered to cut his visit short and not to bother visiting the outposts in Africa which had also been within his remit when he left Lisbon in 1591;96again, financial worries came to the fore in dealing with heresy.
None of the above, however, should be taken as implying that the impact of the Inquisition was negligible in Brazil. After Mendonça’s visit in 1591 hundreds of conversos were denounced for Judaizing through to the middle of the 17th century.97 Although economic problems in Portugal meant that official visits were only made again in 1618 and 1627,98 the Inquisition could rely on its network of commissaries and familiars to supply information and make arrests. It was the conversos in the higher strata of society who tended to be taken, the ones who married into the Portuguese nobility; the poorer conversos, who tended to marry Africans and Indians, were often ignored.99 By the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century, when the discovery of gold in Minas Gerais had made the south of Brazil richer than the north, the Inquisition had transferred most of its attention to the area around Rio de Janeiro;100 Judaizers continued to be sent to Lisbon to be burnt long into the 18th century.101
The extraordinary geographical reach which the Portuguese and Spanish Inquisitions had achieved by the end of the 16th century marks out the Inquisition as different from other waves of persecution which preceded it. Moreover, many of the practices which it was censuring by 1600 were unconnected with its founding purposes, which derived from the mainly imagined organized heresy of the conversos in 15th-century Spain. What had been exported so successfully, and had grown so rapidly, was an idea: the idea of intolerance.
THE AUTO OF 1590 had achieved all the desired results: Governor Carvajal had been humiliated and had died shortly afterwards, and the Judaizers in his family had confessed their crimes against the faith. After Francisca de Carvajal had served her penance she asked if her son Luis the Younger could be brought to a monastery nearer to the family’s home in the suburb of Tlatelolco. Tlatelolco was largely occupied by Indians, and Francisca said that there was a need for a man in the house. She made her request through Friar Pedro de Oroz, whom the Inquisition had asked to watch over the family. The request was granted, and Luis was transferred to a school for noble Indians’, where he was employed to teach them Latin. He slept at his mother’s house, which was almost opposite.102
As far as Pedro de Oroz was concerned, the Carvajals were model converts and their reconciliation to the Church genuine. They heard mass daily. They confessed and took communion regularly. They wore the appropriate rosaries and scapularies above theirsanbenitos. Images of the Virgin with the baby Jesus were kept in a special room in the house, and before them were placed fresh flowers. The Carvajals prayed fervently in keeping with their supposed Christian faith.103
Yet this was all an elaborate performance for the benefit of Oroz and for the friars who ran the school in Tlatelolco. Their residence in an Indian neighbourhood made it easier for the Carvajals to perform Jewish rituals unobserved. They kept the Passover of 1592 all together, inviting other crypto-Jews of Mexico City to celebrate it with them. Luis believed fervently that the Messiah would come to earth in 1600 and preach to the whole world.104 Their apparent conversion to Christianity was a fabrication to buy time from the Inquisition before the great day of redemption came.
The devotion of the Carvajals to the Jewish faith shows just how far the Inquisition had been counterproductive. Of course some of these crypto-Jews would have felt genuine attachment to their ancestral religion without the persecution which they and their relatives experienced, but the Inquisition was also a significant factor. Where the conversos of Spain had had the potential for genuine integration into Christian life, their marginalization and persecution fed an atmosphere in which heresy was more likely. The same was true in Portugal, where the pogroms of 1506 and the establishment of the Inquisition ensured that many potential genuine converts to Christianity recoiled.
Far from eradicating heresy, persecution was playing a key role in creating it, and ensured that many conversos in Portugal had a genuine attachment to Judaism by the end of the 16th century. It was from these people that the Jewish community in Amsterdam was founded in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the community from which Jews moved to England in the time of Cromwell. Just as some have argued that the collective identity of African-Americans derives from their shared heritage of slavery,105 so, among the conversos, it was perhaps the shared experience of the Inquisition which made them into a cohesive group and pushed many of them towards re-embracing Judaism over a century after some of their ancestors had tried to accept Christianity.
For the Carvajals, however, the double life could not last. In November 1595 the Inquisition began to receive more information about the family. Manuel de Lucena deposed that he had seen Carvajal the Younger, Francisca and Isabel observing the Jewish sabbath and praying in the direction of Jerusalem, as the Jewish faith recommended.106 Luis was again thrown into the inquisitorial jail, but this time the threat was far greater than in 1589. There was no illustrious relative for the Inquisition to crush. If Luis and his siblings were found guilty they were liable to be ‘relaxed’.
At first Luis denied everything, but then his messianic faith got the better of him. He confided to his cellmate, the priest Luis Diaz, his faith in Judaism; Diaz was an inquisitorial spy and the conversations were recorded by inquisitorial officials as evidence against him in February 1596;107 then he began to send messages carved into avocado stones which were uncovered by his jailer and led to his self-incrimination before the inquisitors.*7 This time there was to be no way back. After gruesome torture Luis was sentenced to be ‘relaxed’. He would be joined in his fate by his sisters Isabel and Leonor.
The auto took place on 8 December 1596. The three siblings were paraded through the streets of Mexico City on a horse. Of Luis it was said ‘en route he showed signs of having converted and took a crucifix in his hands’.108 This was enough to spare him the ultimate penalty of being burnt to death, and, together with his sisters, he was garrotted before being burnt in front of the crowds.109
The fate of the siblings seems a long way from the imprisonment of their great-uncles Alvaro and Jorge in Évora; the connections were the fear that permeated life under the Inquisition and the Governor Luis. Yet where his uncle had been an unpleasant man, Luis the Younger was more innocent. He suffered from sexual frustration into his twenties, experiencing wet dreams at night which he exculpated by performing Jewish rites.110 His belief in the holy destiny of his family and that he was living through the ‘last time’ before the coming of the saviour were perhaps redirections of this thwarted and dangerous energy. Yet they were also testament to an era of desperation among a social group that rightly saw itself as persecuted by those more powerful.
In the whitewashed streets of Mexico City demonization had been sanctioned by morality. Yet in the end all that had been created by pursuit of the ‘enemy’ was a vein of fundamentalism which conceived nothing but hatred for the codes of those among whom the pursued had been born.