Squarely opposed to religious concepts which had dominated Christian thinking for centuries . . .
Cinctorres (Valencia) 1705
ONE OF THE FEW consolations for the persecuted ought, perhaps, to be that their travails can come to an end with their end; there would appear to be little suffering that can be meted out to someone once their flesh has melded into smoke and ashes. And yet, while descent from a convicted heretic had long been social death in Iberia, the absence of ‘heretical classes’ following the expulsion of the moriscos gave the question of ancestry a new importance in Spain.
From this point on, the impact of the Inquisition was to be most visible on a social level, in a different register to the great persecutions of the late 15th and the 16th centuries. One of the principal arenas for this was the obsession with what was called limpieza de sangre – purity of blood. This fixation spread also to Portugal, making Iberia a unique case of a society with racialist legislation in early modern Europe. Yet the new laws did not foster feelings of well-being; instead, a sense of decline set in accompanied by the increasing vigilance over the descendants of the conversos and the moriscos.
And so, back to Cinctorres. Earlier we saw how, in this remote town in the Valenciano hinterland in the 1530s, the teacher Miguel Costa was accused of Lutheranism and burnt to death at an auto in Valencia.*1 In the early 1700s Costa’s distant descendants, or alleged descendants, found that they could not be rid of their ancestor. He plagued them like a recurring bout of ague.
In 1705 an extraordinary legal petition was made by one Antonio Costa in an attempt to rid himself of this disease. Costa described in desperate terms the problems which he was facing in Cinctorres:
Many years ago his father [also called] Antonio Costa applied to become a familiar of the Inquisition of Valencia. And with the Inquisition having ordered inquiries to be made regarding the purity of his ancestry, he died before having achieved his aim. And even though since his father’s death Antonio Costa [the younger] has several times written to the Tribunal [of the Inquisition], offering to pay whatever costs might be necessary to conclude this inquiry . . . he has never received a reply; the result has been that such scandal and defamation has fallen upon his family, which used to be among the noblest of the district [of Cinctorres], that they have become unmarriageable, as two of his children are finding to their cost today.1
The more one examines the case, the more surreal it seems. Antonio Costa the Elder*2 had submitted his original petition to become an inquisitorial official on 4 February 1671, fully thirty-four years before his son’s protest. The problems which he had run into derived from the widespread suspicion that he was descended from the Miguel Costa ‘relaxed’ by the Inquisition in 1536. Thus the problems of Antonio Costa the Younger stemmed directly from one dubious case of Lutheranism brought 170 years before.
It is worth trying to imagine the atmosphere in the Costa household of the early 18th century. Spain was in decline and increasingly cut off. In the middle of the 17th century goods had still been being taken to Madrid on donkeys and mules, rather than by cart as in France.2 In rural areas many villages had been abandoned; other were isolated and underpopulated, often over a day’s journey from one another.3 Yet the growing hardships did not prevent a reputation for arrogance, as there was ‘no one [in Spain] who does not think themselves to be a hundred times more important than they are’.4
In the Costa household such arrogance was of course tempered by the bad reputation which the family bloodline possessed. The Costas must have hated their wretched namesakes who had been punished by the Inquisition so many years before. The family entered a world of isolation and suspicion, and all for the sake of people whom they would never meet, who had been dead for almost two centuries and who may or may not have been ancestors of theirs.
The Cinctorres case dragged on. The archives of the Inquisition of Valencia were mined and the trial of Miguel Costa from 1536 was appended to the petition of Antonio the Elder. Expense sheets from the Tribunal of Valencia were produced from 1533, 1536, 1544, 1572, 1606 and 1666. The problem that Costa faced was that many of the witnesses in the initial inquiry into his lineage declared that he was descended from conversos. Eventually, after twelve years of bureaucratic yo-yos, he wrote a letter on 20 April 1684 saying that he suspected that some witnesses thought him descended from the brothers Bartolomé and Miguel whose sanbenitos hung in the church of Morella.
Antonio the Elder was nothing if not methodical. In order to prove that he was not descended from these Lutheran heretics, he included in his deposition the marriage vows of those whom he claimed as his ancestors. He denied he was related to Bartolomé and Miguel at all. What a ridiculous suggestion! Instead, he was descended from Antonio Costa, the son of Vicente Costa and Barbara Moliner, who had married in 1533. Antonio had been born in 1539, and had married Barbara Polo of Cinctorres in 1572. The marriage certificates of these ancestors were also included in an exhaustive legal deposition which ran to several hundred pages.
This sort of bureaucratic farrago was normal by the second half of the 17th century. It was vital for everyone from the greatest lord to his poorest peasant to be able to prove their ancestry going back six, seven, eight generations and more, so that they and their family would not become pariahs. If pure ancestry could not be proved, then it would have to be invented. But even when people went to the sort of trouble and expense that Antonio the Elder had in 1684, success was not guaranteed; twenty-one years later, as we have seen from the petition of his son, the matter had not been resolved, and the final ruling was not issued until 1713, 176 years after Miguel Costa had been ‘relaxed’ at an auto in the noble and elegant city of Valencia.
Purity of ancestry was one of the murkier faces of the Inquisition’s hydra. It was not something that caused death directly but, just like the minor penances which we observed in the last chapter, it could ruin families. The obsession with limpieza de sangrebecame a way of isolating members of society. Once the moriscos had been expelled, this became a highly effective way of continuing to punish invented enemies from an increasingly distant and legendary past.
The legacy of the doctrine of purity of blood for Iberian society remains controversial. But holding the almost 800 carefully handwritten pages of the purity investigations of Antonio the Younger in one’s hands, it is clear that this was an idea, a mania, which came to obsess individuals and the social kaleidoscope of which they were a part. Under this doctrine, children paid for the sins of their fathers in this generation, the next and the next. Not for nothing have some historians seen limpieza de sangre as the seed of the modern idea of racism.5
WHAT WAS THE MENTALITY from which these ideas sprang? Iberia in the 15th century feels under siege: towns are barricaded within their walls; the streets are narrow and closed off to all but a sliver of blue sky above. From the urban strongholds the world beyond is unseen. This world has been won from the Muslim enemy only after years of struggle and loss. The yellowing countryside is a zone of fear.
The resident of 15th-century Iberia asks: How can these fears of ours be managed before they destroy us? The answer is to project them onto others. Rationalizations of these fears look for qualities which separate and qualities which unite. Those conversos are different because of their Jewish forebears, their bloodline. Thus a race is invented where this faith had always been a religion, where the great Jewish sage born in medieval Iberia, Maimonides, had once written that people of all nations were able to be Jews.6 A pathology of race is devised – something which modern scientists tell us does not exist, even though we must all behave as if it does.7 And it is precisely because this is an irrational pathology that it has the capacity to endure for so long.
The idea of purity of blood had emerged during the riots against the conversos in Toledo in 1449. In those febrile days the conversos were accused by the ringleader of the violence, Pero de Sarmiento, of maintaining Jewish rites and of oppressing Christians. Thenceforth in Toledo no one was to be able to hold public office if they could not prove their cleanliness of blood – that is, an absence of Jewish ancestry.*3 Thus it was that the religious failings of the conversos were first carried over into a racialist doctrine.8
That this idea of inherent racial impurity was radically new is shown by the fact that the Toledano statute of purity of blood was attacked at once. Pope Nicholas V issued a bull in 1451 condemning the statute and ordering that all genuine Christians, whether descended from Gentiles or Jews, be allowed to hold official posts.9 The bishop of Cuenca, Lope de Barrientos, wrote a condemnation and several important theologians issued rebuttals of the principles of the statute.10 The reality was that, as one leading scholar has put it, the statute of Toledo was ‘squarely opposed to religious concepts which had dominated Christian thinking for centuries’.11
Yet all the same the idea managed to gain a toehold from which it could expand over the coming centuries. Pope Nicholas V’s bull was ignored. In 1473 the Old Christians of Cordoba formed a brotherhood banning those of ‘impure’ lineage.12 In 1482 the stonemasons of Toledo banned the discussion of trade secrets with any conversos, and the town of Guipúzcoa banned conversos from living and marrying among them.13
Soon, the toehold had become a foothold. In 1486 a statute of purity was adopted by the Jeronymite religious order.14 In 1489 the Dominicans followed suit. So, in 1525, did the Franciscans.15 Then in 1547 the archbishop of Toledo, Juan Martínez Silíceo, pushed through a statute barring all conversos from membership of the council of Toledo’s cathedral. This was highly controversial and provoked condemnations from the University of Alcalá and the archdeacons of Guadalajara and Talavera. It was initially resisted byPhilip II – then regent, not king of Spain – but in 1555 a statute was passed confirming purity of blood as essential for entry to any office in Spain, and the following year the statute of Toledo’s cathedral was confirmed.16
It is worth pausing, amid this headlong rush towards a pathology, to consider the language with which these statutes were introduced. In his enthusiastic championing of the statute in Toledo’s cathedral Archbishop Silíceo compared conversos to horses:
If the horse trader is offered an imperfect horse, even as a gift, he won’t accept it in his herd, because what is most important to him is the race of the animal. This is his principal preoccupation, even if he thinks that the horse is of a noble race. However, when one deals with the dark race of the conversos, there are those who wish to admit them into the best posts of the Church even when their lips are still wet with the perversions of their ancestors.17
Here are some of the characteristic tactics of modern racism, which first began to develop in the 16th century along with the Atlantic slave trade.18 There is the dehumanization of the conversos by associating them with animals, and the idea of an innate flaw in their make-up which can be transmitted from generation to generation.19 Thus had the end of tolerance which had accompanied the rise of the Inquisition also helped to usher in a new form of intolerance.
As we can see, prejudice based on racial notions developed rapidly in Spain alongside the rise of the Inquisition in the late 15th century. This was no coincidence. While the Inquisition attempted to prove the incompatibility of conversos with the Christian religion, the racialist statutes of purity represented an attempt to show the incompatibility of the conversos with the emerging Spanish nation. These were different and mutually contradictory projects, since religion had never had anything to do with race. Yet this would not prevent the Inquisition from adopting the new discriminatory doctrine.
By the end of the 16th century the statutes had touched every aspect of life in Spain. The last religious order to impose a statute of purity was the Jesuits, who delayed until 1593.20 This tardiness occurred because many key figures in the early history of the order were themselves conversos, including the second Jesuit general, Diego Laínez.21 Yet when in 1622 the Italian Jesuit Francesco Sacchini wrote a history of the order and mentioned Laínez’s Jewish ancestry, he was staggered to find opposition in Spain. The Jesuits demanded the removal of the offending paragraph. Why was it, Sacchini wrote, that descent from Jews was a stain only in Spain?22
As this example shows, over the phenomenon’s long history the concern with purity of blood was to remain purely Iberian and had nothing to do with Catholicism. The Inquisition’s adoption of some of the policies and language of this ideology in Portugal and Spain was therefore, fundamentally in contravention of Catholic doctrine. It was proof, again, that these were institutions whose persecution originated in political and social forces and not in the religious ideals
of the Catholic Church.23
So, although from a theological perspective the Inquisition ought to have had no truck with the idea of purity of blood, the institution did not see it like that. After its inauguration in Spain in the 1480s the Inquisition encouraged the ideal of purity by excluding from public office and individual authority anyone who had been condemned as a converso.24 In the 16th and 17th centuries the Inquisitions of Portugal and Spain were the key public institutions consolidating the concept of purity of blood.25 When in 1586 the Jesuits had still not instituted their statute of purity, Inquisitors Pablo Hernández and Doctor Salcedo wrote to the Jesuit General Claudio Acquaviva to express their disquiet at the number of conversos in the order.26
The pivotal role of the Inquisition in propagating the idea of purity by this time is revealed by the trial records of Toledo. Thus in 1587 alone the tribunal of Toledo convicted eight people for falsifying genealogical information in inquiries on purity of blood.27 In one of these cases the archives of the Inquisition were used to prove that the lawyer Antonio de Olvera was the great-grandson of someone who had been reconciled by the Inquisition in Toledo. In another Gerónimo de Villareal, who was trying to place his daughter in a convent where there was a requirement of purity of blood, was found to be the great-great grandson of four people who had been ‘relaxed’.28
Thus while it had not been the Inquisition which had imposed the idea of purity at first, it was quick to adopt it and profit from it.29 Here, in these cases from Toledo, we see another reason why the Inquisition was so hated and feared. Even distant descendants of penitents were barred simply from trying to enter convents (and be good Christians), or from becoming public notaries.30 Moreover, as the generations passed and family connections grew ever more complex, so did the possibility of the discovery of some tenuous connection with an earlier heretic. There was no one who could be sure that they could not be ruined by an inquiry into their purity of blood.
The Inquisitions of both Portugal and Spain were central in the fostering of this social condition. On 3 February 1548 Cardinal Henry, brother of John III and the first inquisitor-general of Portugal, wrote a letter in which he cited St Paul’s dictum, ‘Modicum fermenti totam massam corrumpit’ – A tiny drop can corrupt the whole – and, wrote Henry, this would be enough not only ‘to corrupt the conversos . . . but also many of the Old Christians’.31 The same quotation would be cited in a book on purity of blood written by Juan Escobar de Corro in 1632.32 That such ideas had themselves thoroughly stained the inquisitorial hierarchy was revealed by a letter of the Spanish inquisitor-general Gaspar de Quiroga dated 1577, in which he cited the adage ‘Commixti sont inter gentes, et didicerunt opera ejus’ – If people are mixed their works collapse33 – a view which in itself reveals the hypocrisy and self-deception of the doctrine since Quiroga himself probably had converso great-grandparents.34
The feelings of the Church hierarchy rapidly became those of the wider population. A Portuguese saying of the 17th century had it that ‘Blood without guilt is enough, and guilt itself is in the blood’.35 This obsession with the sins of past generations was not merely an early manifestation of modern racist mentality,36 it also symbolized a coming psychological crisis in Iberian society. A disproportionate obsession with purity is seen by some as symptomatic of dangerous psychological or social conflicts.37 The desire was to wash out bloodstains which had become invisible to all but those who were unable to forget them, and their own guilt in their creation.
WHILE PSYCHOLOGICALLY While psychologically Iberian society was proud to think of itself as becoming cleaner and cleaner, physically the reality was somewhat different. From Madrid to Lisbon and Murcia to Coimbra, in order to be known as a good Catholic it was important to stink.
One witness gave a detailed description of the Islamic conduct of the morisca Maria de Mendoza in the region of Cuenca:
One workday, after the evening mealtime, this witness saw the said Maria de Mendoca collect a pitcher of water from the fountain in the orchard . . . and take it up to the highest rooms in the house near the chimneypots, since that day they had prepared jams up there and left a lantern. And after seeing her carry up this pitcher of water, about an hour later this witness went up to the space near the chimneypots and found the door of the room closed; thereupon the witness opened it and put their head round the door and saw that the said Maria was as stark naked as her mother had been the day she was born, and that she was barefoot even though it was summertime, in June or July, and that she was kneeling down and washing her hair.38
One may read this passage many times, struggling to locate the heresy, unless one knows that, incredible as it seems today, washing was indeed seen as heretical. In a society governed by doctrines of purity, moriscos were frequently denounced for washing. This was seen as suspicious because of the ritual ablutions prescribed by the Islamic faith. When challenged their defence was that they had ‘only’ been cleaning themselves.39
Ablutions and simple bodily cleanliness rapidly became indistinguishable; one could not, after all, smell the difference. A morisco of Granada, Bermudez de Pedraza, was denounced for washing ‘even though it was December’.40 In Valencia in 1603 themoriscoFrancisco Mancana confessed to having moistened a piece of cloth and washed his face, neck and genitals with it, but denied that this was a ceremony.41 The extent of Iberia’s stench was revealed by the denunciation of a scandalized Old Christian of San Clemente near Cuenca, who recounted how ‘it was not only the morisco custom to wash themselves when they got married and when they died but also many times during the year’.42 One must of course recall that washing was a much rarer phenomenon in 16th century Europe than it is today, but even then the consequences of such views of cleanliness were unusually fetid.
Thus the emphasis on purity, on cleanliness of blood, was purely metaphorical. Its status as an irrational obsession is surely revealed by this curious dichotomy between an ideology of cleanliness and the pong of reality. The fear of genuine cleanliness – and perhaps the unconscious awareness that the ideal was a fantasy – was perfectly expressed by the horror of washing and by the fact that this extended to the smallest social gesture. The French cleric Bartolomé Joly noted in the early 17th century that people never washed their hands in Spain before eating.43
Just as the heresies of its converso and morisco enemies had been largely invented, so of course was this myth of the impurity of their blood. It was in fact precisely in the 16th century, after most conversos had disappeared from Spain, that the obsession with impurity exploded.44 For a time it found expression also through concerns with the moriscos, with the children of moriscos and Old Christians treated as impure.45 But after the expulsion of the moriscos, the persecution of impure blood was increasingly the persecution of something that, like the windmills of Don Quixote, existed only in a fevered imagination.
AS THIS HOSTILITY towards bodily cleanliness shows, there are many different types and styles of purity. For some moriscos the Old Christian concept of purity probably seemed strange, given the emphasis of the Islamic faith on ritual ablutions. And while in Spain pathologies concerning purity of blood were directed at both the Jewish and the Muslim ‘stain’, in Portugal it was just the descendants of the conversos who were associated with impurity. Unlike Spain, Portugal had never had a morisco ‘problem’. This, combined with the later onslaught of the Inquisition, meant that the conversos remained there the target of both the Portuguese Inquisition and of the new racialist doctrines.
This important difference between Portugal and Spain was a source of tension, since in 1580 Philip II of Spain had assumed the crown of Portugal as well; such was the inbreeding among the Iberian royal families that he was the next in line to the throne.46Between 1580 and 1640 Portugal and Spain were ruled by what was known as the dual monarchy, although Spain always had the upper hand. The fact that the Portuguese Inquisition was still dealing with the conversos meant that the Portuguese became stereotyped in Spain as Jews. As the saying had it, ‘The Portuguese was born of the Jew’s fart’.47 This meant that in Portugal the Inquisition became increasingly concerned with ridding itself of this image, and thus with preserving the purity of the Old Christian population.
By the early 17th century, as in Spain, notions of purity had run through Portuguese society like a virus. In 1604, Portugal’s conversos had bought a general pardon for any religious failings, but this would only prove a temporary respite and did not lessen their marginalization. While in the late 1580s there had still been attempts by conversos to prevent statutes of purity from becoming generalized, by 1630 those who were ‘unclean’ had been officially barred from academic life, judicial and treasury posts, and the religious and military orders.48
In Portugal, however, conversos were less easy to bar from positions of social prestige than they had been in Spain. They represented an important part of the urban and educated population, and the administration could not function efficiently without them. As over the installation of the Inquisition in Brazil, the Portuguese crown practised realpolitik. Thus in spite of royal decrees passed six times between 1600 and 1640 barring them from public service, ‘people of the Hebrew nation’ were constantly turning up in the most influential of positions.49
So the language of exclusion was pushed further. In 1640, in a published code of inquisitorial practice, the Portuguese Inquisition demanded that its officials be of pure blood.50 Just as in Spain, paranoia spread with the idea of impurity. Anyone with a drop of impure blood was now seen as a New rather than an Old Christian. One inquisitorial document of 1624 referred to 200,000 New Christian families in Portugal, whereas in fact there were only 6,000 New Christians left in the whole country whose ancestors had not intermarried with Old Christians.51 At a council in Tomar in 1628 it was even suggested that the conversos of Portugal, like the moriscos before them in Spain, should be expelled.52
The obsession with purity of blood was not something that would disappear easily from Portuguese society. If one walks through the streets of downtown Lisbon today, it comes across as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe, with the streets off the great Rossio and the trams to and from Belén filled with immigrants from Brazil and Portugal’s former colonies in Africa. Yet in the Portuguese empire in Africa in the 20th century the residues of these ideas of purity had lived on, and those with lighter (‘purer’) skins advanced more quickly up the ranks in the colonies of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau.
If you were to have walked down the streets of Lisbon back in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, when the spread of the ideology of purity began, it would have appeared a very different place. People were not allowed to move from one parish to another in the city without the approval of the local priest.53 There were frequent shortages of bread and meat. Lack of fresh water was a constant problem.54 Fantasists bandied wild superstitions about the place; in 1579, shortly after the death of King Sebastian in Morocco, one visionary declared that he would be reborn as a star in the night sky.55 Royal decrees were shouted by town criers from various points throughout the city.56 On the days of the grand autos, people ran to the streets where the conversos lived and stoned their houses.57
It was in such circumstances of publicly tolerated violence directed at a minority community that persecution and the neurotic idea of cleanliness flourished. Inquisitorial documents began to note down whether a witness or defendant was a half, a quarter, an eighth or even a sixteenth converso.58 In Goa in 1632 the inquisitorial familiar Francisco Pereira was prevented from marrying because his fiancée had Moorish blood;59 this followed the passing of a law in Portugal three years earlier which limited the dowries ofconverso brides in an attempt to discourage mixed marriages between Old and New Christians.60 All this was accompanied by the severest persecutions of conversos by the Inquisition yet. There were so many trials in the district of Coimbra in the early 1620s that in some towns every single converso was arrested.61 Further south, the region around Beja was also devastated; eight people were burnt there in 1619 alone,62 while 240 more were ‘relaxed’ across Portugal between 1620 and 1640 and almost 5,000 were tried.63
The Inquisition’s interest in purity of blood and its targeting of the minority were therefore two sides of the same coin. Persecution tended to precede this guilt complex of purity. Yet as the numbers of genuine members of the minority groups fell, persecution would return to haunt the descendants of the very people who had applauded it when it had begun, those who were tainted merely in one-quarter, one-eighth or one-sixteenth of their bloodline.
Cartagena de las Indias 1664
ON 11 APRIL 1664 an investigation of purity of blood was launched by the tribunal of the Inquisition in Cartagena de las Indias. It was a legal obligation for all the functionaries of the Inquisition to provide proof of their purity. Yet this investigation by the Colombian tribunal was not into some petitioner for an inquisitorial post, but into the lineage of a certain Ana Salgado de Castro who merely wanted to marry Joseph Deza Calderón, the notary of the Inquisition of Cartagena.64
Salgado de Castro’s family was not, it transpired, one to which inquisitorial jurisprudence was unknown. Her father had been a familiar of the Inquisition in Cartagena, and in order to secure this post inquiries into his ancestry had been made in his home territory of Bayonne – in modern south-west France. Further inquiries had had to be made by the inquisitorial tribunals of Cordoba, Galicia, Seville and Toledo. Each of these inquiries had required separate investigations made in villages of the relevant district, a process which often took years. While Seville had returned its inquiry to the Suprema on 10 September 1647, the information from Galicia had not been received until six years later, on 29 October 1653.
Moreover, this was not the only bureaucratic exercise which Ana Salgado de Castro’s family had precipitated. Her maternal uncle had also been a familiar of the Inquisition in Cartagena, and so had also had to prove his purity of blood. This had merely required investigation in three inquisitorial districts, Cordoba, Seville and Toledo. Bearing in mind the enormous distance which separates Colombia from Spain and the many months which were required for communications to cross the Atlantic, attempting to prove the purity of one’s ancestry was an endeavour which could – as Antonio de Costa the Elder had found even in the parochial environment of Cinctorres – consume a lifetime.
Given that Ana Salgado de Castro’s lineage had already been shown to be pure in both her father’s and her mother’s branches of the family, one might have thought that no further paperwork would be necessary for her merely to marry an official of the Inquisition. This would have been the rational view. But the Inquisition in Portugal and Spain and in their colonies was an organization which imposed a veneer of rationality upon irrational passions. The investigation into Salgado de Castro’s ancestry proceeded implacably. A list of thirteen questions was compiled by the tribunal of Cartagena to be put to witnesses in the districts of Galicia and Seville. Years passed. The whole sorry process had to be revisited again and again if the stains were to be well and truly wrung out, even somewhere as distant from the heart of empire as Cartagena.
By the middle of the 17th century, then, as the use of torture declined in dungeons of inquisitorial jails, it was sublimated in the paperwork which every citizen required to confirm the honour of their lineage. The investigation of one’s ancestry by a clutch of inquisitorial tribunals had become completely normal. When the grandiloquently named Alonso de Medina Merina y Cortés attempted to become a familiar of the Inquisition in Cartagena de las Indias in 1662 investigations were made in Llerena, Seville and Toledo.65 And when Alonso Sánchez Espinosa y Luna applied to be a familiar in Quito in 1670 the purity of both he and his wife Feliciana had to be investigated in the regions of Valladolid and Toledo, and the whole process took a staggering eighteen years.66
The records of this last case betray one of the main reasons both for the growing mania of the Inquisition for purity of blood and why such investigations took so long. After keeping him waiting for eighteen years the inquisitors trespassed further on the patience of Sanchez Espinosa y Luna. He was expected to pay for the tribunal’s ink and paper. Purity of blood was, it turned out, a neat mechanism for ensuring the purity of the finances of the Inquisition.
AT THE HEIGHT of the War of the Spanish Succession, as Britain, France and the Netherlands fought over the corpse of Spanish imperialism and ambition, the friar Antonio Medrano applied to be a calificador of the Inquisition in Mexico – one of the people who assessed the orthodoxy of published books and whether or not they ought to be censored by the Inquisition.
The itemized bill which Medrano had to pay following the requisite investigation into his purity of blood included the following:
Paying for the letter received in Mexico from the Suprema with communications about his genealogy.
Paying for a letter from the district of Cuenca, in Spain, regarding his genealogy.
Paying for the official deed which was written to confirm his genealogy.
Paying for the costs of making a copy of the trial regarding his purity.
Paying for the time and work of officials in the town of Villarobledo in La Mancha for inquiring into his ancestry.
Paying for the work of the inquisitorial notary in exhaustively compiling all of this information.
Paying for the costs of the Inquisition’s paper.
And, most cunningly of all:
Paying for the costs of calculating the bill which was issued when the whole process was completed.67
Such itemized bills were commonplace in these investigations. They reveal the methodical processes of the Inquisition. For example there was a charge per witness interrogated by an inquisitorial official in these proofs of purity (in 1629 it was four reales68). Of course, for the people mired in this belief system such procedures were standard practice and entirely normal. The very fact that from an external standpoint they seem insane reveals that no amount of internal coherency in a belief system can make it objectively true or valid.
Just as some modern law firms derive great profits from their photocopying charges, so the Inquisition could pay a substantial part of its day-to-day costs by fostering this ideology of purity. Probanzas of purity – as they were known – continued long into the 18th century69 and were a crucial source of the Inquisition’s financial stability, although eventually they did begin to decline in importance.70
This is of course a different thing from saying that the Inquisition was entirely motivated by greed.71 As passion can so often get the better of cold rationality, the Inquisition was frequently in economic difficulties. After the expulsion of the moriscos, one of its main sources of funds in Aragon and Valencia – confiscations and the tax paid by moriscos to the Inquisition – evaporated. In general the Inquisition, as an organ of the state, suffered the same economic vicissitudes as the Spanish crown.72 As decline set in during the 17th century, new sources of income were required, such as charges for increasingly complex investigations of purity.
The problem was that this meant that the Inquisition now sustained itself through meaningless bureaucratic exercises. Although there were various attempts to reform the system, these were stymied. Thus Philip II died before he could implement his idea of only investigating the past hundred years of a person’s ancestry, which was mooted in a panel of inquiry which first convened in 1596.73 A reform of 1623 begun by Philip IV was however accepted: this held that after three positive inquiries no further investigations should be permitted,74 but sixteen years later he had to reiterate the terms of this condition to the Inquisition.75 Attempts to ease purity requirements were ignored by the Inquisition, as is revealed by Philip IV’s letter to the Suprema in 1627 in which he repeated the conditions of 1623 and added that he wanted them to be ‘executed and complied with as they are written, and without your own interpretations’.76
The way in which the idea of purity had come to dominate the institution was shown when in 1633 Philip IV ordered the Council of the Inquisition to create two courts: one for its affairs and another simply for the handling of proofs of genealogy.77 The effect of inquiries into bloodlines had been summarized in Philip IV’s letter to the Suprema of 1627, where he reminded the officials that ‘the best interests of God and my person consist in acting justly, and remedying the costs, annoyances and vexations of my vassals, so that you should look for ways of obtaining information in places which do not foment enmities, factions and force the perjury of witnesses’.78
A chasm was yawning in front of Spanish society, and yet it pressed blindly on, proving the purity of what could not be proven. People argued over who was or was not clean but it all came down to influence, rumour, bitterness. Far from ensuring the integrity of society, the obsession with purity of blood had merely begun the process of dividing it. This would, in the long run, have terrible consequences.
CONCERNS HAVE BEEN raised concerning the purity of the ancestry of a certain Andres de Angulo, applicant for a post in the Inquisition. Extremely serious discoveries have been made regarding his ancestry. Is it not the case that the great-great-great-great-grandfather of Angulo, Fernando Alonsso, was ‘relaxed’ by the Inquisition? Was not the heretic Alonsso nothing less than the great-great-grandfather of Angulo’s grandmother? To put it plainly, Angulo is the ‘grandson of Maria de Nalda Garcon . . . who was the daughter of Pedro de Nalda Garcon, and of Isavvel Martinez de Avenzana and Francisca Gonzalez de Higuera whose parents were Sancho Martinez de Avenzana and Catalina Martinez . . .’79
Plain speaking he may not have been, but the prosecutor was nothing if not rigorous. In order to prove poor Angulo’s lack of purity, he had prised from the Inquisition’s archives an extract of the accusation made against Angulo’s great-great-great-great grandfather Diego Saenz, and included in his deposition an extraordinarily detailed family tree which can still be read today in the reading room of the Archivo Histórico Nacional, where the genealogies of Angulo’s maternal great-grandparents, and of Angulo’s grand-paternal great-great grandparents, and of the grandparents and great-uncles and great-aunts of Angulo’s great-great grandmother can all be examined in the archive’s fastidious quiet by those given to such studies.
Surely it was clear from such a laborious investigation that the said Andres de Angulo was irreparably stained, entirely unsuited to an official post, and deserving of the severest humiliation? Yet when investigations were made in Lardero, and in Navarrete, and inNalda, all witnesses declared the Angulo family to be beyond reproach. The righteous outrage was an invention. The prosecutor’s elaborate paper trail was declared a fiction, and Angulo was awarded his coveted post.
While Andrés de Angulo’s ancestry was being libelled, in Ciudad Real*4 Luis de Aguilera, who had applied to be a commissary of the Inquisition, was undergoing a similar experience. In 1669, using his expert knowledge of bloodlines the prosecutor traced Aguilera’s ancestry as far back as 1531 to show that he was not pure of blood; to this was appended a decree of the Reyes Católicos from the 15th century related to some supposed converso ancestors of Aguilera’s, the Loazas.80
Family trees were examined. One was included in the trial records – which ran to 500 pages merely on the question of this comparatively minor official’s ancestry – which proved that seven generations previously one of Aguilera’s ancestors had married a woman of converso descent. As the prosecutor declared, the failure to declare ‘such close’ relationships as those of his ‘maternal ancestors to the sixth generation’ revealed an insupportable impurity.
The case dragged on for ten years. Further inquiries were made in Ciudad Real. Thirty-seven witnesses declared that Aguilera was of pure blood. Eight said that he was not. The Tribunal of the Inquisition of Toledo decided that this was sufficient to bar him from the post, and Aguilera’s life was ruined by the poor marriage allegedly made by his great-great-great-great-grandparents.
There was nothing new about such difficulties. Fifty years earlier, in Ronda, the Inquisition investigated the purity of blood of Don Rodrigo de Ovalle from this hilltop town in Andalusia, where just over three centuries later Franco’s forces would execute Republicans daily during the Spanish Civil War. The inquisitors had little time to consider the terrible abyss beneath Ronda’s crags or the cultivated valleys below. After all, as they said, Rodrigo de Ovalle’s lineage would indeed be ‘of very bad quality if it derived from Ysavel Hernandez the wife of Hernando Diaz of Toledo, the public notary of royal income [in Seville]’. Was it not the case that the terrible Ysavel Hernandez had been reconciled by the Holy Office of the Inquisition the small matter of 123 years before, in 1502?81 Had not her parents Alonso Hernandez and Francisca Sanchez been burnt in statute?
Such damage to the nation’s purity could not be allowed! Was it not a reminder of the fusion of cultures and peoples which lay at the heart of Spanish society?
A RUNDOWN HOTEL in Buenos Aires in 1996: the ageing receptionist embarks upon a political discussion. The good thing about the rule of Pinochet in Chile was that he tidied up the country, getting rid of the rabble-rousers and the no-good do-gooders: limpió –he cleaned it up. It is a shame that the military rulers of Argentina had not shown similar skills in limpieza.
The idea of cleanliness had become a form of purging. In 20th-century South Africa schoolchildren had combs passed through their hair to check for any curls which might betray African ancestors.82 In the southern United States in the 19th century, in that region so close to the Hispanic influence of Mexico, the ‘one-drop’ rule marginalized those thought to have any African slave ancestry at all, even if to the naked eye they appeared white.83 In 17th-century Iberia the evidence of ‘one-drop’ impurity of Jewish or Muslim ancestors lay in the bowels of the Inquisition’s bureaucracy.
Thus did societies learn that the mask of a pure body could be superimposed on an impure soul. Cases of limpieza pursue endless chains across the archives of the Inquisition.84 This is only logical. If the slightest stain going back any number of generations is deemed pernicious, then the greater the number of generations to be checked, the more detailed the investigations must be. The Inquisition was, then, only logical. But its logic was one that strangled with bureaucracy the society which it claimed to be attempting to preserve. The ideology of purity meant that the possibility of heresy did not end with death. Indeed at times even the lineages of dead applicants for official posts were investigated;85 if purity could be proven it was of benefit to their relatives, while if it could not this was something which every citizen needed to know.
What had begun life as the persecution of one caste, the conversos, eventually came to mean that any impurity of ancestry was social death.86 This was true of heretics and even those whose Christian faith was unimpeachable and who had only one distantconverso or morisco ancestor. As the distance from the first heretics grew, so did the numbers of those whose lives could be ruined. The way in which all social groups were eventually affected is clear in the petition of Antonio de Costa the Younger of Cinctorres. As the last code of practice for the Inquisition of Goa put it, ‘mere imprisonment in the inquisitorial jail for any crime whatsoever has come to imply an ineradicable infamy on the person of the imprisoned and on their descendants, even after fulfilling the punishment and penance imposed’.87
Portugal and Spain were of course not unique in their approach to people they considered impure. As the anthropologist Mary Douglas has shown, every society has its ideas about what is or is not clean, and develops techniques for dealing with what it perceives as anomalous. Yet at the same time one of the signs of a healthy society is the failure of such ideas to dominate. Where cleanliness is the principal obsession, neurosis may follow.88 Pity breaks through. For do not the audience of Macbeth feel a stab of compassion for the madness of the cursed king’s wife, condemned to an eternity of guilt as she washes out stains which are for her eyes only?