. . . if the corrupted boy did not denounce what had happened within a day of being raped, he would be burnt for it.
Cape Verde 1548–1563
SOME TIME AROUND April 1548 Luis de Carvajal y la Cueva arrived from Portugal on the Cape Verde Islands off the west coast of Africa.1 *1 He was then only nine years old.2 To many of the islanders Luis’s arrival would have seemed odd. This rosary of mountains rising sheer from the sea was not a place for boys. What was he doing there? Surely he would be one of the first to fall victim to Cape Verde’s annual round of fevers.
Thousands of miles away from Europe, life on the islands was tough. The main island of Santiago lay 300 miles west of the coast of Africa; its capital, Ribeira Grande, was ‘richer in money than in virtue’, as the Bishop of Bahia put it four years later.3 Ribeira Grande was a notorious breeding ground for fevers.*2 Some blamed this on the Africans for ‘corrupting the air as it is [corrupted] in their land’.4 Each year, the rainy season between August and October would claim the lives of many settlers, so that as the Italian traveller Francesco Carletti put it some years later, ‘the Portuguese men and women always appear to be staggering through the streets at each step, and have a colour so pallid or, to say it better so yellow, that they seem more dead than alive’.5 And yet this was to be the Carvajal child’s new home: the major African slaving port throughout the 16th century, where ships were ‘constantly arriving with goods from many countries’ to exchange for the black ivory6 and where the sea was always a brilliant guard, the walls of the island prison withdrawing into its blue impenetrability.
In fact there was a simple explanation for Luis’s presence. For he was the son of Gaspar de Carvajal and Catalina de Leão, and the nephew of Álvaro and Jorge de Leão, who were still languishing then in the inquisitorial jails in Évora.*3 The young boy was on the run. He had had a tortuous journey.
With his uncles’ incarceration in Évora hanging over the family, Luis had been taken by his father from Portugal to Spain. It cannot have been a coincidence that this took place in the second half of 1547, just after Pope Paul III had granted full powers to the Portuguese Inquisition.*4 Fearing that the first years of the Portuguese Inquisition would visit the same excesses on the conversos as they had experienced after the installation of the Inquisition in Spain, Gaspar de Carvajal was looking for a secure future for his young son.
First they had travelled to Sahagún, in Spain. Here they had visited the abbot of the monastery, who was a relative of theirs. But then Gaspar had fallen ill in Salamanca and Luis had tended to him. Gaspar had tried to get back to Portugal, but he had died in Benavente before reaching the border.7
The young Luis was now in serious danger. His father was dead and his mother’s family were incarcerated in Évora. Unaware that Álvaro and Jorge de Leão would be released by the Inquisition as part of the general amnesty, Luis’s relatives must have feared that their imprisonment would lead to a chain of arrests that would destroy the family. Luis’s uncle, Duarte de Leão – the brother of Álvaro and Jorge – was the factor of the Casa da Guiné in Lisbon, the major administrative body dealing with Portugal’s African trade. This meant that he was in charge of buying and selling slaves and for the accounts. Duarte had spent time in Guiné and knew many people there.8 He came to Benavente to collect the orphan Luis and took him to Lisbon.9
Lisbon was then the most African city in Europe. It was the perfect introduction to the sort of life to be found in Cape Verde, for in 1551 it was estimated that there were 9,950 slaves in the city, one in ten of the population.10 African slaves were auctioned at the Pelourinho Velho – the old pillory – a square where criminals were punished.11 The luckier slaves were bought by masters who fitted them out in livery and sent them to spend their days wandering the narrow cobbled streets attending to household business; those who were less fortunate had to carry their owners in litters up and down the cluster of hills overlooking the Tejo river and the flatlands on the south side of the estuary.12
The Casa da Guiné where Duarte de Leão worked was located on the waterfront, near the Mina stores, which were piled high with North African cloths, carpets, copper saucepans, trays and rosaries made of glass which would be taken to Africa to trade for gold and slaves.13 Just round the corner was the slave house.14 It was here that the Africans who had recently arrived on slave ships were kept in two large rooms and fed a daily ration of rice, biscuit and olive oil as they waited to be auctioned off.15 If they died in the slave house their bodies were carried to a pit by St Catherine’s Gate and dumped there in a mass grave. This was a harsh fate, but better than being left to rot where they had fallen, which had been the practice until 1515.16
In contrast to the manacled slaves were the many Africans to be found nearby at the docks, working as stevedores handling the sacks of charcoal and straw which were brought to the city, the charcoal being used for fires and the straw for bedding, floors and stables.17 African women, meanwhile, tended to be found elsewhere in the city, working as water carriers or washerwomen. Some of them sold rice pudding, couscous and chickpeas in the squares and by the dockside from pots which they carried on their heads; but the less fortunate cleared rubbish and excrement from the wealthier homes of the city, carrying away the excrement in canastras, wicker baskets with lids concealing basins inside.18
Luis spent three months in Lisbon. At this time there were relatively few Africans living in the remote towns of Portugal’s interior which he knew, places such as Mogadouro, so this was his introduction to the people and customs that he would meet in Cape Verde.19 Duarte had big plans for his young nephew, for once Luis had arrived in Ribeira Grande he would be trained up by his uncle so that later he could be installed as treasurer and accountant.20 First, however, Luis had to experience at first hand the reality of slavery in order to see how the business operated.
By the 1540s, the slave trade was already a moral circle constantly in the process of being squared. Ships sailed from the Cape Verde Islands to the coast of Senegal with horses; they sold the horses to the Serer people of the coast and returned with slaves in the very same ships, the first step in the process whereby humans became equated with animals.21 From Cape Verde the ships sailed to America or Lisbon, where the slaves were met by people like Luis, who quickly learnt how to continue the process of degradation. Under his uncle’s tutelage the young Luis learnt to log the slaves and check their health before registering them for sale, accompanying the administrators out to the ships to examine teeth and limbs and forcing the slaves to perform physical exercises, noting down any deformities or unusual markings so that the slaves could be identified.22
Such dehumanizing on arrival set the tone for much of the African experience in Portugal. In 1576 the Inquisition would receive a denunciation from Domingos Gomez, a black resident of Lisbon, of two of his fellows, Fernão Callado and Antonio Rodrigues. Gomez had seen them both naked with Callado carrying a cross on his back and Rodrigues whipping it.23 Slavery created abuses which human beings might redirect through new outbursts of aggression, and such an atmosphere would not be irrelevant to the world of Luis.
With the inquisitorial cloud hanging over his uncles and the death of his father, fear was a condition of this child’s existence. In Lisbon Luis learnt to see how this condition might be transferred to others. This was a process of some urgency, for Luis’s relatives knew that for decades the people they lived among had received psychological conditioning for unleashing persecution on conversos like them.
FOR DUARTE DE LEÃO, his status in the Casa da Guiné offered a breathing space. Moreover, for conversos such as Leão and his nephew Luis a whole new continent of possibilities had been opened up by Columbus. Threatened by the Inquisition in a place they had called home for centuries, many conversos felt they had no option but to flee into the unknown.
Columbus’s first voyage to the New World had in fact involved at least five conversos.24 One of them, Rodrigo de Triana, had been the first sailor to spy land, and another, Luis de Torres, the first to set foot in America.25 The emerald waters of the Caribbean were soon cluttered with Spanish ships bringing settlers, seedlings, livestock. The rich equatorial earth smelled of even more life, and death, than usual. Tempers frayed; scapegoats were needed. As early as 1506 the bishop of Puerto Rico complained that ‘Hebrew’ merchants were flooding the island.26 The complaint was repeated by his counterpart in Cuba in 1510, and by then the proctors of the Spanish colonists were complaining that Jewish teachings were corrupting the natives.27 Certainly, the name of the main port of Cuba might have given rise to suspicion, as the three consonants of Habana, if transliterated into Hebrew, produced – Ha B’Nei – the tribe.
This converso diaspora was rapidly to encompass the whole world. The Inquisition and forced conversions created dangers in Iberia, but there were other places in which to seek sanctuary. Looking to the east, there were many conversos in Goa, Ceylon and India by 1520.28 In America the story was the same. By around 1550 roughly one in five of the European population of Mexico City was converso.29 By 1570 there was twice the proportion of conversos to Old Christians in Peru as there was in Spain,30 and they were so numerous in Brazil that they occupied many of the official posts in spite of royal prohibitions.31 One converso from the important Aboab family,32 Francisco de Vitoria, was even made the first bishop of Tucumán in Argentina in 1581,33 and they were generally well represented in the Spanish American Church,34 making a mockery of the supposed heresy for which they had been persecuted in Portugal and Spain.
It is tempting to see this converso flight across the Atlantic as a romantic escape, but this was a brutal episode in history. In the Caribbean the military force which had accomplished the reconquest of Spain and the installation of the Inquisition was now directed at a new target: the Amerindians. Caribbean women were routinely raped by overseers while their husbands dug for gold in the mines. Newborn children were stripped from their mothers’ arms and smashed against rocks or thrown to be eaten by dogs. Men tied hand and foot lay under the beds on which Spaniards slept with their wives. The hands, noses, tongues and breasts of the Amerindians were frequently mutilated or simply hacked off.35
One of the major currents running through history is fear, something about which historical documents – and historians – tend to remain silent, since few people are brave enough to write about their fears. Yet persecutions tend to arise from a constellation of different currents of fear. Conversos had been subjected to the Inquisition and forced conversion; in the New World the dangers which faced them in Iberia might be transferred to others. As ‘whites’ in an environment where persecution was becoming racially directed they could be emancipated. While it is disturbing that this was a condition of the lessening of their persecution, it is only human that they should have escaped to a place where there were readier targets than they for aggression;36 possibly more disquieting is the realization that both the aggression channelled through the Inquisition and the sudden expansion of empire to America were two sides of the same coin.
For Portuguese conversos such as Duarte de Leão and his young nephew, these undercurrents shaped their behaviour. The adventures of Luis de Carvajal would be paradigmatic of the sorts of extraordinary escape which many conversos managed to carry off in these years. With the army of heretics which the authorities believed to be at large in Portugal and the Inquisition only recently installed, it was difficult to imagine the persecuting institution being exported to somewhere as remote as Cape Verde.
Surely everything was in their favour. Duarte de Leão, with his control over many of the administrative posts in Ribeira Grande, could try to ensure that rabble-rousers were kept away, while Luis could at last begin to rebuild his life, his childhood. Here he wouldbe free from persecution, and could grow up in an atmosphere of some security. Fear no longer needed to be the first reflex. This, at any rate, was the plan.
A closer look, however, might have disabused Luis of his sense of safety. The harbour of Ribeira Grande was narrow, guarded by rocks to the east. On a clear day the anchorages revealed the summit of Fogo, the neighbouring island, an active volcanic cone sitting like a fiery medieval God, judging his wayward flock. At times the clouds of ash drifting from Fogo across the ocean concealed the brilliant tropical sun, intimating in their fire and darkness the sadness of what was to follow.
CAPE VERDE IN 1548 was at the peak of its wealth.37 There were 500 households in Ribeira Grande, with many of the homes built of stone and whitewashed in Portuguese style.38 With the continuing settlement of the New World, the demand for slaves was growing all the time and most of the ships came to Cape Verde. Of the 252 ships which legally exported slaves across the Atlantic between 1544 and 1550, 247 went to the Cape Verde Islands.39 The slaves were brought down from the cool highlands of Santiago, where they had been taught the rudiments of Christianity in the villas of their rich owners,40 and sold from the stone pillory in the main square of Ribeira Grande. Free blacks rowed the unfortunates out to sea and the ocean-going prisons that awaited them; here the women were often put on deck and the men in the hold, so that the women did not goad the men into rebellion.41
Such a history is difficult to imagine today. Ribeira Grande is known as Cidade Velha – the old city – and is a sleepy village of beach bars and sandy streets drifting up towards the rocky valley. The river which brought the settlement here in the first place has dried up, but the valley retains sweeps of green beneath the ochre desert above. The cathedral stands in ruins, pored over by archaeologists from the nearby modern capital, Praia. But the slave pillory remains in the oblique square by the beach, a reminder of what went before and a memento of the world that Luis knew.
Luis’s experiences in Lisbon had prepared him for some of what he saw when he arrived at Ribeira Grande. Yet whereas Africans in Lisbon were but a sizeable minority, in Cape Verde it was Europeans who were few and far between. Most people had adopted African customs, and the Portuguese settlers married African women by preference.42 Some sent slaves away from the city, inland along the valley whose sides were covered with groves of orange, lime, lemon and fig trees.43 The slaves made for the bone-dry plateau that rose up towards the mountains and their collars of cloud. Here they caught monkeys, who were taught how to dance and perform tricks. Said the Italian Carletti, ‘I have seen some of [the monkeys] learn to stay on a corner of the table at which people eat, each with a candle in its hand, giving light to the people eating and showing a certain extraordinary shrewdness in not letting drops fall on the table’.44
As in Lisbon, Luis’s role in Ribeira Grande revolved around the slave trade. As he became older, he took on greater responsibilities. The houses of the so-called factory were near the pillory on the square. There, once he had learned to be accountant and royal treasurer, it was Luis’s task to charge the appropriate taxes to merchants taking slaves across the Atlantic. Luis and the ships’ captains signed a joint declaration as to the numbers of slaves being shipped and their origins: whether they had come straight from the African mainland, been purchased by the factory itself for the king of Portugal or come from the interior of Santiago.45
Once the slaves had been bought, they were kept in two rooms, one for the men and one for the women.
Many of the males showed a certain delicacy of their own, tying up the member with a ribbon or other grassy threads and pulling it back between their thighs, thus concealing it so that one could not tell whether they were males or females. And others covered it up by putting it into the horn of some animal or a seashell. Still others so filled it with rings of bone or of woven grass that it was both covered and decorated. And others painted it or, to say it better, daubed it with some mixture so as to make it red or yellow or green.46
Though Luis had been sent thousands of miles from home for a better life, he was not alone. Another uncle of his, Francisco Jorge – like Álvaro and Jorge de Leão a brother of Duarte de Leão and of Luis’s mother Catalina – had taken the same option. Francisco Jorge was the factor on the African mainland and had a house in the settlement of Buguendo on the River São Domingos (in the modern country of Guinea-Bissau).47 Here Jorge traded with the African peoples for slaves, who were then shipped over to Santiago to be exported to the New World. Other relatives of Luis and Jorge were also brought over to Africa through Leão, so that the family as a whole could benefit from the new opportunity.48 For this close-knit group from a distant corner of the Portuguese hills, west Africa had become a refuge from the Inquisition.
Buguendo and Cape Verde may have seemed remote, but already the Inquisition was beginning to export its idea of persecution. In 1546, two years before Luis’s arrival in Cape Verde, complaints had reached Portugal urging the installation of a tribunal in this outpost of the empire. Members of the elite in Santiago had written to the Inquisition in Évora claiming ‘the Holy Inquisition has so much to do in this little corner of earth that it would be immoral to delay installing it’.49 They denounced the customs house in Ribeira Grande as a hotbed of heretics, claiming that its officials had granted safe passage to a fugitive from the Inquisition whose father and brother had been burnt in Lisbon. When things had got too hot for the refugee in Ribeira Grande, the officials had sent him to the African coast for safety.50 What was worse, they said, was that for as long as twenty years up to 200 conversos had been living on the African coast, performing the Mosaic rites and also the religious rituals of the cultures of Guiné.51
Five years later the Portuguese Inquisition finally took note of the complaints. In 1551 the Tribunal of Lisbon was extended to cover Portugal’s Atlantic colonies, taking responsibility for the islands of the Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde and São Tomé, for Angola and Guiné on the African mainland, and for Brazil.52 The decree reveals the inquisitorial turn of mind in its coming-of-age. The fully fledged Portuguese Inquisition was still just four years’ old and the fact that an office on Lisbon’s Rossio was seen as the best place to oversee the religious belief of colonies in Africa and America shows just how rampant the fantasies of control had become.
Nonetheless, the decree had immediate effects in Cape Verde. The inquisitors nominated a visitor to investigate the conversos on the islands that same year.53 In the 150 years that followed the Inquisition would never be entirely absent. By 1700 a total of 442 denunciations had been sent from the two main Cape Verdean islands of Santiago and Fogo.54 This works out at roughly three per year, which in such a remote place where the population did not exceed 10,000 (of whom at most around 800 were ever European)55shows how enduring and pervasive the Inquisition became. Even these desolate specks of rock in the Atlantic – so remote that as João Rodriguez Freire, one of the accused, put it in 1629, they ‘are not even found on mapa mundi’56 – were not passed over. And even if the Inquisition could not actually bring home the heretics from Africa, it kept a watchful eye. As late as 1672 the inquisitor-general sent officials to wait at the port of Lisbon for two men from Cape Verde known to inquisitors, who were seized before they could land and thrown into the inquisitorial jail.57
THE SPREAD OF the Inquisition to the Cape Verde islands in the 1550s was not a first for Iberian colonies. A few decades earlier the well-known presence of conversos in the New World had led to some forays by the Inquisition as early as the 1520s into the highlands of Mexico. Here, two converso conquistadors, Hernando de Alonso and Gonzalo de Morales, had been burnt at the stake in Mexico City in 1528, the first victims of the Inquisition in America.58
It may seem strange that representatives of inquisitorial authority should have given so much thought to the actions of conversos in Mexico at this time. Vicious factional power struggles were convulsing the conquistadors and the Amerindian population was dying in the mines. But the moral justification of the conquest was religious, and thus preserving the purity of the faith was essential.
In Mexico persecution had spread rapidly from the conversos to the Amerindians. By 1530 cases were being mounted against Amerindians in Mexico for worshipping idols, killing hens every twenty days and spraying their blood in the fire, and permitting marriages according to pre-Hispanic rites.59 This process culminated in a trial presided over by the episcopal inquisitor bishop Juan de Zumárraga of Mexico against Don Carlos Chichimecatecuhtli, the chief of Texcoco, an important town near Mexico City. Chichimecatecuhtli was tried and burnt in 1539 for promoting local religions;60 however, of equal relevance was his hostility to the Spanish conquest, as he was reported to have said, ‘I will have you know that my father and my grandfathers were both great prophets and they could see many things in the past and those yet to come and they never said anything about this . . . Who are these people who undo and perturb us, and live off us and break our backs?’61
Chichimecatecuhtli’s burning at the stake was intended as exemplary, but considering the atrocities inflicted on the Amerindians in those years its impact may not have been as severe as all that. Moreover, the local authorities felt that it was an overly harsh way to treat the Indians, whose status was still being decided in Spanish law, and this case eventually led to Zumárraga being stood down as chief inquisitor in 1543.
In spite of Zumárraga’s fate, these events had shown the Portuguese inquisitors how readily the institution could be transferred. With the dispatch of the inquisitorial visitor to the islands in 1551, it became clear that Cape Verde was one of the testing grounds for such a transfer. In these early years the Inquisition was perhaps seen by some as of special relevance because of the islands’ role in the slave trade. Here the authorities followed Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas in asserting that one part of mankind had been set aside by nature to be slaves in the service of masters, and that such slaves depended on their masters to exercise choices for them.62 There were natural slaves and natural masters; the condition of slavery benefited both.
With the moral justifications for the slave trade founded on such painfully thin ideas, the purity of the faith was particularly acute somewhere like Cape Verde. But Luis was of course up to his neck in this world, and as the 1550s progressed and he became an active player in the system, such justifications of man’s inhumanity to man doubtless appealed. They allowed wealth and power to come with the sanction of God. The ideology was winning, and in Cape Verde, where the role of the conversos in Portugal had been transferred to others, Luis felt that he was on the right side. But the ideology went with the Inquisition, and this would, in the long run, be his undoing.
TROUBLE BEGAN IN 1562. On Christmas Eve some young conversos gathered at the house of Luis’s uncle Francisco Jorge in Buguendo. They wore masks and costumes and sent word round the town for people to come and watch. Buguendo was a large African town with around forty-five resident Europeans.63 When Jorge’s house was full, a ‘very ugly’ converso called Mestre Diogo appeared. The scandal had begun.64
Diogo was dressed as a woman. Cloths were piled up on his head as if he were about to go to the well to draw water. He squatted down on his haunches on the earthen floor of the house and began to cry out that his name was Mary and that he was in the throes of labour. The farce gathered pace, with some calling out, ‘Mary’s given birth! Mary’s given birth!’ Some people asked if she had really given birth, and others replied that indeed she had, to ‘our Saviour who is going to save us’. ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ ‘A boy, a boy!’ ‘Where did she give birth?’ ‘In Bethlehem!’ ‘No, right here in Guinea, in Buguendo’.65
Their experiences in Spain and Portugal meant that mockery of Christian doctrines was commonplace among many conversos, particularly once they escaped Iberia. Nonetheless, mockery was rarely as brazen or as provocative as this nativity scene in Buguendo, and anywhere other than Africa the conversos would have expected to pay dearly.
In addition to theological sedition, the farce of Mestre Diogo posed another challenge to the Inquisition: transvestism also broke taboos in a way which was highly threatening. Cross-dressing was a feature of life in the 16th century, and not infrequently people appeared before the Inquisition because of it. In 1581 Manoel Pires confessed in Évora that a few months before he had met a person dressed in woman’s clothes who seemed like a woman. It was dark and he did not ask too many questions, especially when she began to make advances. As they were about to make love the woman took his penis and proposed anal sex instead; it was only when Pires persisted with his original plan and she resisted strongly that he realized that the woman was in fact a man.66 As a loyal Christian Pires had come to confess, since the ‘evil sin of sodomy’ as it was known was punished by the Inquisition, in extreme cases with burning at the stake.*5
Occasionally, transvestites themselves were punished by inquisitors. In 1556, just a few years before these events in Buguendo, a slave called Antonio had arrived in the islands of the Azores from Benin, a powerful city-state in what is now Nigeria. Refusing to wear the clothes given him by his master Paulo Manriques, Antonio took to dressing like a woman, wearing a white waistcoat buttoned at the front and tightly wrapped cloths on his head. He was then placed among the female slaves, working as a prostitute called Vitoria. Antonio/Vitoria paraded making knowing winks like a woman, while removing his hat and bowing like a man. The combination was a great success, and queues of seven or eight men could sometimes be seen waiting to visit him. But the public scandal could not be contained and he was denounced to the Inquisition and shipped back from the Azores to Lisbon. Here Antonio/Vitoria informed the inquisitors that he was in fact a woman with a vagina. Antonio was inspected; no vagina was found, and he was sent to be a galley slave.67
The view which the Inquisition took of this ‘sin’ was a complex one. Homosexual sex was usually an act of mutual consent, but in Africa and the New World things were often more murky, with masters and members of religious orders frequently abusing their male slaves as soon as they had bought them.68 This did not prevent the Inquisition from seeking to try those who had been abused in this way; when an Angolan slave called Joseph was raped by his master João Carvalho de Barros in Bahia (Brazil) in 1703, he was then tried by the Inquisition, convicted, whipped and sentenced to five years in the galleys.69
In inquisitorial jurisprudence the guilt of homosexuality was shared between the partners, even if force was involved.70 People were ‘relaxed’ for being the passive partners in Valencia in 157471 and Goa in 1612.72 While active partners often received the more severe punishment, the attitudes of some in the inquisitorial hierarchy towards homosexuality is illustrated by Diego de Simancas’s views on the matter in his autobiography: ‘I was told in Rome that it was now impossible to remedy or punish the wicked sin [of sodomy] in Italy. I replied that it didn’t seem like that to me, if it was provided (and executed) that if the corrupted boy did not denounce what had happened within a day of being raped, he would be burnt for it’.73
Mestre Diogo’s performance in Buguendo was therefore doubly provocative, sexually and doctrinally. Taboos may exist to be broken, but mocking them at will is a dangerous game. The conversos thought they could get away with it in Africa, but they had reckoned without the bishop of Cape Verde, Francisco da Cruz.
Once rumours of the scandal reached Santiago, Cruz set about gathering witnesses. This was easy, as ‘many people had seen the event and all of them thought it was bad’.74 Mestre Diogo was arrested, taken by ship back to Cape Verde and thrown into the jail in Ribeira Grande. He did not even bother to deny that the event had taken place. He claimed rather that they had merely been ‘dancing’ to honour the birth of Christ.75 This was a weak excuse, and Diogo knew it. Soon enough he was on a boat back to Lisbon, where, like Antonio from Benin before him, he was locked up in the jail of the Inquisition.76
Things soon began to look bleak for Francisco Jorge and his relations. Back in Lisbon Diogo stated that it was Jorge who had called him to his house that Christmas Eve and asked the conversos if they had prepared anything for that night. He said that during the performance that had given such scandal one of those involved had been Antonio Fernandes, Jorge’s nephew (and probably a cousin of Luis).77 In Cape Verde it had also emerged that another of those involved in the show, Antonio Duarte, was also related to Jorge.78 Meanwhile, Francisco da Cruz had mentioned in his dispatch to the inquisitors in Lisbon that Jorge was himself just as suspect of Jewish rites as those mentioned in the accusations.79
While Mestre Diogo was in a very dangerous position, for Luis de Carvajal and the rest of the Jorge circle matters were not yet desperate. But Cape Verde was no longer the safe haven that it once had been. Luis left the islands in 156380 – just as the material for the trial was being put together – as did his uncle Francisco. While Jorge fled to Mexico and became a monk, Luis returned to Europe and moved to Seville.81 It was time to settle down and marry; it was time to escape the inquisitorial shadow of fear that had been following him ever since childhood.
They sailed out on the white seas
Breaking apart a turbulent wave;
They felt the air’s stiffening breeze
Billowing out their sails concave;
The ocean was sealed with white foam,
And the ship’s prows went a-breaking
Those holy maritime waters
Which their Protean force had cut open.82
CAMÕES, THE POET OF the Portuguese discoveries, captured the elation and the terror of the seas for a whole generation. The ocean was a great horror, but also an opportunity. When things went wrong, as they frequently did, passengers had to face their ends as best they could. Robert Thomson, an English merchant from Andover, described the near shipwreck of his vessel off the Mexican coast in 1555, shortly before Luis de Carvajal returned to Iberia:
Our ship being old and weake was so tossed, that she opened at the sterne a [fathom] under water . . . and for feare of sinking we threw and lightned into the sea all the goods we had or could come by: but that would not serve. Then we cut our maine mast and threw all our ordinance into the sea saving one piece . . . [soon] we thought there was no hope of life. And then we began to embrace one another, every man his friend, every wife her husband, and the children their fathers and mothers, committing our soules to Almighty God, thinking never to escape alive . . .83
Thomson and his fellows were rescued by a passing ship, but not everyone was so lucky. Even if the weather did not set about you, there was always the possibility that your enemies would. The traveller Jean de Léry described a French attack on a Spanish ship in 1555. The French sailors ‘did not leave a piece of biscuit or any provisions at all to the poor souls, and what was worse, destroyed their sails and stole their lifeboat . . . so that it would have been better to cast them into the deep than leave them in such a miserable state’.84
Even without pirates, voyages were painfully uncomfortable. During the rainy season sailors’ skin would seethe with boils and sores. Rainstorms would rot the ship’s biscuits. In the dry season the drinking water would fill with maggots so that people had to pinch their noses to drink it.85 It was not for nothing that the sea was often represented as Satan’s domain.86
The danger of capture by French pirates was particularly acute near the waters off Cape Verde, which Luis travelled through as he returned to Spain.87 Yet having passed through all these dangers and escaped the approaching investigations by the Inquisition into his circles in Cape Verde, Luis felt blessed. For the next few years after reaching Seville he led a life of ease.
Seville was capital of the booming trade to and from the New World, and here, in around 1566, Luis married Guiomar de Rivera. Rivera’s father was Miguel Núñez, the factor of slaves for the Portuguese crown on the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo.88 Luis had probably dealt with Núñez from Cape Verde, and the contacts of his father-in-law set him up in life. Luis soon undertook a range of tasks, from shipping wheat to taking command of a fleet off the Dutch coast in the years running up to the rebellion of the United Provinces against Spain.89 But by 1568, around five years after his return from Cape Verde, his eyes were turning towards what was now the great prize for ambitious people in the new global empire: America.
For a converso like Luis, emigration to the Indies was supposed to be impossible. In 1522 Charles V of Spain had banned the emigration of converted Muslims and Jews to the New World without his express permission.90 The decree had little effect, as the law had to be renewed in 1539, 1552, 1559 and 1566.91 Though people seeking passage to the New World were supposed to present proof that their ancestry was not tainted by Muslim or Jewish blood at the Casa de Contratación in Seville by providing certificates of ‘cleanliness’,*6 in practice they got round this through bribery and forgery.
Though ancestry could not be altered in fact, corruption could alter it in appearance. In 1591, twenty-five years after Carvajal first went to the New World, the inquisitorial official Melchior Cano*7penned a long complaint to the Inquisition of Toledo that ‘many investigations have been made here for people going to the Indies, proving that these people are clean when they are not, and even when some of them are grandchildren of people who have been burnt or punished the witnesses have sworn to the contrary’.92Long into the 17th century the problem would continue, with members of well-known converso families like the Gramaxos of Lisbon ‘proving’ their cleanliness in the halls of power in Seville.93
Amid all these strangling regulations, the authorities also turned a blind eye to a few favourites. There were some families who were so powerful that no one dared testify against them,94 and Luis de Carvajal had maneouvred himself into just such a position. Though his uncle Duarte de Leão was coming under increasing attack, accused of smuggling and tax avoidance in places as far afield as Colombia, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo, Leão controlled the lucrative (for the Portuguese crown) contract for supplying slaves to the Indies through the 1560s and was difficult to touch.95 Meanwhile, the illustrious role of Luis’s father-in-law Miguel Núñez in the Spanish colonies meant that he had a secure position in Spain. The fate of his uncles and the problems of Cape Verde seemed a distant memory, and Luis was part of the emerging oligarchy of imperial trade.
So it was that in July 1568, at the age of thirty, Luis de Carvajal was invited to be an admiral in a fleet of eleven ships sailing for the New World with the new viceroy of New Spain (Mexico), Martín de Enríquez.96 He would sail without his wife, Guiomar, something common for men trying to make their fortunes in America at this time. These expeditions were ostentatious affairs, the flagships replete with insignias of office and ornate chests containing royal orders. The decks heaved with ambition, vanity and anticipation. Carvajal’s arrival in such a fleet meant that he would be instantly guaranteed an illustrious position in the New World that most conversos could not imagine for themselves.
Nevertheless, Carvajal’s position brought its own pressures too. As the fleet reached the first Caribbean islands and made for Veracruz on the coast of Mexico, three ragged ships were sighted off the coast of Jamaica. The ships turned tail, and Carvajal ordered that they give chase. They turned out to be English pirate ships which had been illegally trading in hides, and Carvajal sent the men and their cargoes to the Spanish governor.97 But soon even greater adventures were at hand: arriving at Veracruz, it was discovered that the English adventurer John Hawkins had taken control of its port and was fortifying it against the viceroy’s fleet. The empire was being challenged by upstarts from its own backyard.
VERACRUZ WAS a beautiful place. Situated on a river a few miles inland from the Atlantic coast, it was surrounded by forest and orchards of orange, lemon and guava trees. The arbours teemed with parrots, some of them with tails as big as pheasants.98 The town itself had about 300 households. A humid, tropical settlement, in the years before Carvajal arrived it ate up the lives of many of those who arrived there. Usually these were people who did not look after themselves, and ‘would commonly go in the Sunne in the heat of the day, & did eat fruit of the countrey with much disorder, and especially gave themselves to womens company at their first coming; whereupon they were cast into a burning ague [malaria], of the which few escaped’.99 By the 1560s, however, people were only living in Veracruz from the end of August to April, retiring to the lush green hills around Jalapa for the rainy season.100
Veracruz was served by the port of San Juan de Ulúa, about twenty miles down the coast.*8 The beach between the two was littered with mighty trees, roots and all, uprooted by hurricanes in Florida and washed down the Gulf of Mexico.101 San Juan itself was a fortified island sheltering a good harbour where ships tied up and 150 African slaves helped to maintain the facility.102 It was this port that Hawkins had captured and which would now lead to Carvajal’s first showdown in Mexico.
This was Hawkins’s third visit to the Caribbean. He was a successful privateer largely because his bravado and audacity outstripped his integrity. His usual practice had been to seize slaves in Africa by burning a village here and there, and then trade them in the Caribbean for gold and sugar, claiming to the local authorities that he had to sell the slaves in order to repair his ship after storm damage.103 If this third voyage was unusual, it was only because this time he had bought the slaves rather than kidnapping them.104
While the Portuguese and Spanish authorities deeply resented Hawkins’s intrusion on their domains, local plantation owners and prospectors had less trouble squaring their consciences; African slaves were in high demand for the mines and plantations. On this third visit Hawkins had merrily cut deals with the local authorities in Santa Marta and Cartagena on the Colombian coast, selling slaves and commandeering provisions from farms but leaving some cloth as a sort of payment.105 He had begun his return trip to England on 8 August 1568, with unsold slaves, gold, silver and pearls stowed aboard his flagship, the Jesus of Lubeck. On 12 August, however, a violent hurricane had lashed the ship between Florida and the tip of Cuba, and Hawkins had been forced to return for repairs. En route he had taken three Spanish ships, and placed them at the head of his fleet to make them look like the new viceroy’s flotilla. Arriving at San Juan de Ulúa, Hawkins had been told by the captured Spanish pilots to respond in kind to the firing of a salute so that the ruse was not given away. A welcome party of small sailing ships and boats put out into the harbour, and was staggered to find Hawkins the pirate sailing towards them and taking control of one of the two most important ports in the whole of America.106
This was on 16 September, and the fleet carrying Enríquez and Carvajal arrived the following day. There followed a week of tense negotiations over the windswept island. Hawkins wanted to repair his fleet at minimum cost and demanded the right to trade, something considered illegal by the Spanish. Viceroy Enríquez pretended to agree, and then reneged at the first opportunity, routing Hawkins and his fleet comprehensively so that the only pirate leaders to escape were he and Francis Drake. But the two were separated, and Hawkins was forced to cram all the survivors on board his one remaining ship, HMS Minion, to attempt the 3,000-mile voyage home.107
Soon it became clear that there were not enough provisions to go round. On 8 October the ship touched land near Tampico, 200 miles north of Veracruz. Many of the sailors, realizing that if they all stayed they would end by eating one another, asked to be set ashore to try their luck among the Amerindians. Hawkins agreed, but as the men were about to leave the Minion, wrote one of them, Miles Philips, ‘it was a world to see how suddenly mens minds were altered’. They all begged to stay. Hawkins would have none of it, and they were forced overboard in stormy seas amid a ‘pitifull mone’. When one of the rowing boats could not make land amid the high waves, the bosun John Sanders threw the castaways out into the sea and they swam to shore, two of them drowning.
Over one hundred sailors were left to fend for themselves in the humid coastlands of Mexico. Here the indigenous settlements which once had dotted the terrain had vanished into oblivion. The land was overgrown with forests and creepers. Brutalized Indian refugees from the Spanish empire attacked and killed six of the castaways. The party separated, and one group, led by Anthony Goddard, made its way towards Tampico.108
It was here that Carvajal made his biggest impression. After the excitement of the arrival and the battle with Hawkins, he had been appointed mayor of Tampico. Although many of the Spanish settlers and African slaves were reluctant, Carvajal raised a militia and rounded up the group of seventy-eight men led by Goddard. Acting as magistrate, Carvajal seized all the gold and jewels they had left, took the captives’ testimony, and after three days sent them on the long road through the jungle, cresting barren passes on the old Aztec route into the uplands, until they reached Mexico City in the lee of the smoking volcano Popocatepetl.109
Carvajal had shown himself to be a man swift to act and quickly became a busy colonial figure. As mayor, he was employed in the Tampico area ‘pacifying’ the local Indians. He was also sent by Viceroy Enríquez to the endless vistas of the desert north. He passed the mines of Zacatecas where silver ran beneath the dusty sierra and the bones of those who sought it. He moved on into the emptiness where the nomadic Chichimec Indians lived among the mesquite and the coyotes.110 He built flyblown camps, sheltering beneath the hides of dead animals in the arid wastes of his yearning.
It is fair to assume that in all these adventures he gave little thought to the English captives. Perhaps, though, he came upon some of the expirates among the chancers of the mining towns, where the more adventurous of Hawkins’s castaways had gone to seek their fortunes. Six years later he certainly would have heard that these foreigners, once cast upon his mercy, had been rounded up by the inquisitors in Mexico City. He would have known that they had been tortured and convicted of being Lutherans in a large auto there in 1574.*9 111
As he heard this news, he must have felt a flicker re-emerge of that fear of the Inquisition which he had tried to bury ever since the events of the 1540s in Évora and the 1560s in Cape Verde. But the good news for him seemed to be that it was Protestants who were being targeted. The inquisitorial net was casting wider: in Spain it was the Lutherans and moriscos who were now the main targets, as the Inquisition found itself besieged by increasing numbers of the enemy within.