What plague could destroy a state more than this matter has destroyed the conscience of our Spain?


The extraordinary role of the concept of honor in pre-modern societies, especially in terms of its relation to blood, has repeatedly attracted attention. In simple terms, “honor” represents the values of a society as represented in the conduct of individuals, but the contentious point is whether individuals observe the code of honor correctly. In a pre-modern society the notion of honor was often a cover for imposing certain preferences of power (superiority of noble blood, of free men over slaves, of Christians over Jews) and of gender (superiority of men over women). Notions of honor, blood and race can be found in all civilizations, including those of Christian Europe, where myths were deliberately fostered in order to demonstrate—one example, among many—that the aristocracy were descended from “pure” races such as the Franks (in France and Germany) and the Goths (in Spain).1 True eminence, many Europeans liked to think, came from blood and heredity, not from effort and improvement.

In Christian society, honor had been earned not simply by personal integrity (in the case of women, their virginity) but also by demonstrating that one had achieved distinction, especially in battle. In time the respected ideals of society—valor, virility, piety, honest wealth—became the basis of “honor” and “reputation.” At its simplest level in the village, “honor” was the opinion held of one by neighbors, and to compromise one’s honor—by crime, by sexual misconduct—brought disgrace. At the apex of the social pyramid a noble was in danger of compromising his honor in many ways, but society allowed him several avenues of defense, because he had broader obligations to his kin, his dependants and sometimes his community. The violent methods of protecting honor—assassinating a seducer, dueling with someone who had uttered an insult—were punishable by law, though in many cases the law gave way to public opinion and let the perpetrator go free.

Much of the concern for honor found its way into printed treatises and dramatic works, and eventually came to influence scholars of literature, as well as historians, who felt that honor—and its attendant violence—was a particular attribute of Mediterranean culture.2 People who lived in the Mediterranean, they argued, followed different moral codes from those in the rest of Europe. Specialists in Spanish literature, influenced by what they knew about the popularity of “honor” theatre in seventeenth-century Castile, went further and suggested that the belief in honor was “a unique and defining element of Spanish culture.”3 Others built on these premises to suggest that the concern for honor and pure blood was first developed by the Inquisition in its fight against the Jews and eventually became a dominant obsession of the Hispanic mind. The Inquisition, indeed, was seen as a key element in generating the concern for blood purity.

Spaniards, of course, had no monopoly of the notion of honor, nor any extraordinary attachment to its blood (that is, racist) characteristics.4 In late medieval Spain, outsiders and people of another race, even if they were not Christian but had status, could enjoy full respect. There is ample evidence of Jews and Muslims of the elite being treated on equal terms by Christians; and Christian writers accepted this equality without hesitation. Intermarriage between Christians and non-Christians could even be contemplated with pride. By the fifteenth century, however, the deterioration in the sociopolitical position of Jews and Muslims had significantly affected their position in the system of values, while the view that Old Christians possessed honor through the mere fact of not being tainted by Semitic blood was growing. “Though poor,” says Sancho Panza in the seventeenth century in Quixote, “I am an Old Christian, and owe nothing to anybody.” Sancho’s pride was that he had no Jewish blood. Some literature specialists argued that Jews themselves were originally responsible for this divisive distinction between Jews and Christians on the basis of blood.5 Whatever the origins of the idea, many Christians began to feel that their status or honor was best preserved by avoiding intercultural marriages. This jarred with the notorious fact that the principal families of Aragon and Castile, and even the royal family, could trace their descent through conversos. Old Christian Spain would collapse, some felt, if this process went on. Now, it seemed, was the time to stop Jewish infiltration. The consequent beginnings of a stress on racial purity gave rise to the idea of limpieza de sangre (purity of blood).

The idea was not new. Unofficial attempts to marginalize Christians of Jewish or Muslim origin had occurred at least since the early decades of the fifteenth century. In Barcelona in 1436 the city banned persons of converso origin from acting as notaries within its jurisdiction. In Catalonia and Valencia that same year complaints were made to the pope that conversos were being excluded from office. In Castile the town of Villena obtained a royal privilege in February 1446 to exclude conversos from residence. By contrast, in Lleida in 1437 the converso brokers fought successfully against attempts to exclude them from civic office.6 These measures reflected wide variations in practice, which depended on specific local conditions and conflicts.

The discriminatory measures of the middle and late century, by contrast, had a wider significance. In Castile in the 1440s and 1460s, and the crown of Aragon in the 1460s, the instability of royal power provoked disorder and rebellion. In Castile the king’s unpopular chief minister, Alvaro de Luna, was of converso origin. Jews and conversos supported him and as a result earned the hostility of the minister’s enemies. The most prominent of these was the chief magistrate of Toledo, Pero Sarmiento, who in June 1449 used his position to push through a municipal law (the Sentencia-Estatuto) excluding people of converso origin from office in Toledo. The excuse given for the law was that conversos had through their nefarious activities been responsible for recent serious street riots. Disturbances were repeated in a handful of Castilian cities in the following years. The same situation occurred in the civil wars in Aragon, when King Juan II received the support of both Jews and conversos. His opponents accordingly directed their attacks at these minorities.

Later, in 1472, Juan II stated uncompromisingly that he had “verified the fidelity of the conversos to his cause and his person, and had promoted them to the highest offices in his court.”7 In both Castile and Aragon during these years of turmoil, many measures were taken against minorities by opponents of the crown. Though obviously motivated by some element of anti-Jewish feeling, they did not necessarily represent the nature of popular opinion. Nor do they suggest that the position of Jews and conversos was worsening. After the return of peaceful conditions, in both realms the crown tried to revoke anti-converso measures.

The troubles in Toledo, however, touched such important issues of principle that an immediate controversy was aroused.8 One of the first attacks on the Sentencia-Estatuto was made by the distinguished legist Alfonso Díaz de Montalvo, who emphasized the common traditions and inheritance of Jews and Christians, and pointed out that a baptized Jew was no different from a baptized Gentile. The Mother of God, he said, and all the apostles had been Jews. Those self-styled Christians who had drawn up the Sentencia were moved by material greed and were wolves disguised as sheep in the flock of Christ. At the same time the converso royal secretary Fernan Díaz de Toledo drew up a memorandum (Instrucción)9 for his friend Lope de Barrientos, bishop of Cuenca and the king’s chancellor. In this remarkable document, which openly defended his people, the secretary listed the Jewish origins of the chief families of Castile. On the basis of the memorandum, Barrientos (who was not a converso) wrote a passionate defense of the conversos.10Another distinguished intervention came from the Dominican cardinal Juan de Torquemada, who was of distant converso origin, in his Treatise against Midianites and Ishmaelites (1449).11 The most important refutation of the Sentencia came from the pen of the bishop of Burgos, Alonso de Cartagena, son of the converso Pablo de Santa María, his predecessor in the see. Holder of many high offices of state, in 1434 he led the Spanish delegation to the Church council at Basel, where in a famous speech he defended the international standing of Spain. In his Defence of Christian Unity (1449–50), he argued that the Catholic Church was properly the home of the Jews, and that Gentiles were the outsiders who had been invited in. His moderate arguments were continued by the superior of the Jeronimites, Alonso de Oropesa, who in 1465 completed his Light to Enlighten the Gentiles, which stressed the need for unity in the Church, and outlined the rightful place held in it by Jews.12

The objections raised by these writers, and reflected in the hostility to the Sentencia-Estatuto shown both by the pope and the archbishop of Toledo, may not have exercised much influence on opinion, for it was not an age of printed books or of numerous readers. However, the decades of tranquility in Castile after the Sarmiento riots demonstrate clearly that there was no triumph whatever of moves in favor of racial discrimination. It is a consideration to keep in mind when considering the role of the Inquisition. At the same time there may have been a growing consciousness of the importance of lineage: it has been suggested that the various conflicts of the period were instrumental in encouraging leaders of different religions to affirm their own identity by marking themselves off from each other.13

From the 1480s, when the Inquisition began its activities, it profiled the role of conversos and undoubtedly gave an impetus to the spread of discrimination, whose impact was—we should be careful to note—felt not in Spain as a whole but principally in central and southern Castile. The social antagonism of which Castilians had long been aware was now heightened by the spectacle of scores of “judaizers” being found guilty of heretical practices and sent to the stake. True religion, it seemed, must be protected by the exclusion of conversos from positions of importance. In 1483 a papal bull ordered that episcopal inquisitors should be Old Christians. In the same year the Castilian military orders of Alcántara and Calatrava adopted rules excluding all descendants of Muslims andJews. A handful of religious bodies—and no more than a handful—began to insert discriminatory clauses into their statutes.

The university college (Colegio Mayor) of San Bartolomé in Salamanca was the first institution in Spain to adopt a statute of exclusion. It did this at the time of the anti-converso hysteria that accompanied the founding of the Inquisition, around 1482.14 At the same date the influential Spanish college of San Clemente in Bologna (Italy), at which some Castilians studied, began excluding “those who fled from Seville [in 1480] because they were not Old Christians.”15 The San Clemente exclusion had, we should stress, important features. It was directed only against those suspected of heresy, from one region alone, and did not apply to all conversos. Conversos therefore continued to attend the college tranquilly. The murder of Pedro Arbués in 1485 changed all this. Arbués had graduated from the college only ten years before, and was highly regarded there. The result was a statute, formally adopted in 1488, excluding all conversos from entry.16 The Colegio of Santa Cruz at Valladolid had a statute as part of its foundation rules in 1488. Other Valladolid colleges took no action for decades. That of San Ildefonso, founded by Cisneros in 1486, had no statutes against conversos, but after the cardinal’s death the college adopted one in 1519. When he founded the great Dominican friary of St. Thomas Aquinas in Avila, Torquemada applied to the pope in 1496 for a decree excluding all descendants of Jews.

None of these moves had any great significance. The colleges were small elite bodies that did not affect open access to the university. The number of institutions that practiced exclusion continued to be extremely small, and restricted to central Castile. It was not until 1531, over thirty years later, that any other Dominican foundation followed Torquemada’s lead. Persecution of judaizers was by then trailing off, and there was evidently no obsession about excluding people because of their origins. The first cathedral chapter in Castile to adopt a limpieza statute was that of Badajoz in 1511. This was thirty years after the foundation of the Inquisition, and clearly not related to that event. The cathedral chapter of Seville in 1515 adopted one on the initiative of its archbishop, the inquisitor Diego de Deza. Decades passed, and few institutions seemed intent on exclusion. Over twenty years later, in 1537, the university of Seville, originally founded by a converso, adopted a statute of blood purity after someone carefully blotted out of the original charter the clause making the university open to all.17

Those years up to around 1530 had been the period of most intense persecution of conversos by the Holy Office, yet as we can see there was no great pressure to introduce into public life measures in favor of purity of blood (limpieza). The Inquisition, certainly, made no move in that direction. Discrimination of some sort was being practiced sporadically in parts of Spain at least a century before the Holy Office came into existence, and the tribunal’s own exclusion rules did not refer to questions of blood but only to offenses. It is important to understand the distinction. From the beginning, it was laid down in Torquemada’s instruction issued at Seville in November 1484 that

the children and grandchildren of those condemned [by the Inquisition] may not hold or possess public offices, or posts, or honors, or be promoted to holy orders, or be judges, mayors, constables, magistrates, jurors, stewards, officials of weights and measures, merchants, notaries, public clerks, lawyers, attorneys, secretaries, accountants, treasurers, physicians, surgeons, shopkeepers, brokers, changers, weight inspectors, collectors, tax-farmers, or holders of any other similar public office.18

The exclusion was a temporary punishment for heresy, and not based on race. This idea was upheld by the Catholic Monarchs, who issued two decrees in 1501 forbidding the children of those condemned by the tribunal to hold any post of honor or to be notaries, public clerks, physicians or surgeons in Castile. We know of course that the decrees were seldom observed. It was a period when laws and regulations evaporated into thin air, and everyone felt free to ignore the list of exclusions. The crucial issue (too frequently forgotten) is that neither the state law nor the Inquisition rule applied to people of Jewish origin in general, but only to those who had been made to do penitence in some way.

From the very beginning of the discriminatory process, then, there was a clear ambivalence in what really happened. There may have been rancor against people of Jewish origin, but the very few institutions that discriminated usually limited themselves to penalizing families suspected of heresy. And even then the process of excluding conversos was not put into effect systematically. In the Spanish College at Bologna young men of known Jewish origin continued to enter without serious problems. The students even elected a converso rector in 1492, four years after conversos were theoretically refused entry.19 In Seville cathedral the rules were repeatedly infringed, and in 1523 the canons had to petition the crown to confirm the validity of their decree of 1515. The statute, however, continued to be unobserved for generations more, as some of the canons complained with feeling to the government in 1586.20

The relative liberality of the Jeronimite order, shown in the writings of Alonso de Oropesa, superior of the order from 1457 and reelected for four successive terms, appears to have attracted judaizers to become members. The problem appeared to be so grave that a special commission of “inquisition,” along the lines of the medieval French one and two decades before the birth of the subsequent Spanish one, was set up at the mother house at Guadalupe in 1462.21 Officials resisted pressure to discriminate against conversos, but in 1485 another scandal broke out when it was alleged that a friar, Diego de Marchena, had been accepted as a member though he had never been baptized, and had continued to practice Judaism (or so it was alleged, citing events of eighteen years before!) within the protection of the monastery.22 A special investigation by the order censured 21 out of the 130 friars for alleged Jewish activities; one of the accused was sentenced to be confined, and Marchena was tortured and handed over to the authorities to be burnt as a heretic.23

The chapter meeting of the order in 1486 adopted a statute excluding conversos.24 It was a move that had little support in Castile, and the statute was later revoked after a special appeal by Ferdinand and Isabella. The trend towards exclusion was unfortunately reinforced by the discovery that year of a nest of judaizers in another Jeronimite monastery, that of La Sisla in Toledo. The prior, Garcia de Zapata, used to say when elevating the Host at mass, “Up, little Peter, and let the people look at you,” and when in confession would allegedly turn his back on the penitent. The Inquisition of Toledo burnt him and four other monks of the monastery in 1486–87. The result was that in 1493 the order passed a rule (approved by the pope in 1495) that “non recipiantur conversi.” In 1552 the exclusion was extended to all those of Muslim origin.

Other religious orders were, as it happens, extremely reluctant to follow the Jeronimite example. Not until over thirty years later, in 1525, did the Franciscans adopt a statute of limpieza, doing so against strong internal opposition. The Dominicans began some form of discrimination from as early as 1489, and a limpieza statute was apparently adopted by them in Aragon. In practice, exclusion never became official policy in either order, and decisions were not observed or were countermanded.25 It is obvious from what we have seen that the existence and growth of discrimination cannot in any way be presented as a triumph of ideas of limpieza in Spain, though a handful of scholars have enthusiastically insisted on it in the face of all the evidence.26 The idea of blood purity as a demiurge of Hispanic society is a tantalizing one that has launched several literary essays, but has little historical evidence to support it.27 Let us reconsider some of the evidence.

The Sarmiento statute had been firmly rebutted by the highest authorities in Church and state in Castile, and never took effect in its hometown, Toledo. In the same way, subsequent expressions of racialism in Spain were regularly contested. Anti-Semitism continued to exist, but the zeal for statutes was very strictly confined to a handful of institutions in a limited number of regions. Over and beyond institutions, ordinary people from all walks of life practiced discrimination only if it fell in with their other social preferences; otherwise, for generations and without conflict they made friendships, married, went shopping and lived with neighbors who may or may not have had different racial antecedents.

It follows that there is no reason whatever to present the concern for blood purity as a sort of mania that had taken hold of Spaniards and that, by extension, formed part of the cultural package they took with them to the American colonies.28 The idea of an obsession continues all the same to inspire some works of scholarship, in which wholly fictitious premises about blood purity inform otherwise valid research.29 Problems of race in the New World, it would be fair to stress, developed in special circumstances brought about by the colonial regime,30 and ideas favoring cultural discrimination did not have Spain as their only origin. Colonial settlers of all nations, including Britain31 and France32 and not just Spain, had prejudices about racial and blood purity.

As it happened, in Spain any attempt to introduce limpieza rules in the half century after the foundation of the Inquisition always encountered bitter opposition. The statute of 1488 in San Clemente in Bologna likewise led to a decade of disturbances, including the murder of the college’s rector in 1493.33 Conversos may with reason be identified as the leaders of the opposition. Nevertheless, when we look closer at some of the cases, unexpected questions arise which cast in doubt the opinion that Spain was somehow in the grip of a racialist frenzy. Why did so few public institutions adopt statutes? Why did they take so long to do so? Why, above all, did the Inquisition not exclude conversos? And why, once certain bodies adopted statutes, did they not observe them?

We shall return to these questions in a moment. They need to be considered in the light of the famous exclusion statute adopted by Toledo cathedral in 1547.34

An attempt was made unsuccessfully in 1536 to introduce a statute of limpieza into the chapter. The new archbishop in 1546, Juan Martinez Siliceo, did not mean to fail. Born of humble peasant stock, Siliceo had struggled upwards to carve out a brilliant career for himself. He had studied for six years at the university of Paris and later taught there for three. Called home to teach at Salamanca, he soon attracted enough attention to be appointed tutor to Charles V’s son, Philip, a post he held for ten years. When the see of Toledo fell vacant in 1546 he was appointed to it. The new archbishop was preoccupied with more than just his freshly won dignity. He had been haunted all his life by the shadow of his humble origins, and drew his pride from the fact that his parents had been Old Christians.

One hundred years after the statute of Pero Sarmiento in the very same city of Toledo, Siliceo decided to revive a controversy that was long since dead. In his new post he felt in no mood to compromise with converso Christians whose racial antecedents were in his mind the principal threat to a secure and unsullied Church. When, therefore, in September 1546 he discovered that the pope had just appointed a converso, Dr. Fernando Jiménez, to a vacant canonry in the cathedral, and that the new incumbent’s father had once been condemned by the Inquisition as a judaizer, he refused to accept the appointment. Siliceo wrote to the pope protesting against his candidate, and sounding a warning that the first church in Spain was now in danger of becoming a “new synagogue.” The pope withdrew his man, but Siliceo thought this was not enough and proceeded to draw up a statute to exclude all conversos from office in the cathedral. A chapter meeting was hurriedly convoked on 23 July 1547, and with ten dissentient votes against twenty-four, a statute of limpieza was pushed through.

The voting figures show that not all the canons had been present at the meeting. An immediate protest was raised by the archdeacons of Guadalajara and Talavera, Pero González de Mendoza and Alvaro de Mendoza, both sons of the powerful duke of Infantado, and both Old Christians. Condemning the injustice and impropriety of the statute, they criticized the archbishop for not calling all the dignitaries of the cathedral to his meeting, and also threatened to appeal to the pope. The controversy that followed gives us an invaluable summary of the views both of opponents and of supporters of the limpieza statutes.

According to the explanatory document drawn up by Siliceo,35 the policy of limpieza was now practiced in Spain by the military orders, by university colleges and by religious orders. The existence of a converso danger was proved by the fact that the Lutheran heretics of Germany were nearly all descendants of Jews. Nearer home, “the archbishop has found that not only the majority but nearly all the parish priests of his archdiocese with a care of souls . . . are descendants of Jews.” Moreover, conversos were not content with controlling the wealth of Spain. They were now trying to dominate the Church. The size of the danger was shown by the fact that in the last fifty years over fifty thousand conversos had been burnt and made to do penitence by the Inquisition, yet they still continued to flourish. To emphasize this argument, the archbishop declared that of the ten who had voted against his statute, no fewer than nine were of Jewish origin, five of them coming from the prolific converso family to which Fray García de Zapata belonged.

Apart from untruths and exaggerations, Siliceo was not giving the whole picture. It is true that among the most hostile to the statute were the dean of the cathedral, Diego de Castilla, and the humanist Juan de Vergara, both conversos; but at least six other canons who shared their hostility were Old Christians. What distinguished these canons (two of whom were, as we know, of the noble house of Mendoza) and the dean was their irrefutably aristocratic lineage, in contrast to Siliceo, who was of humble origin. In the protest drawn up by the dissentient clergy36 the complaint was made that, first, the statute was against canon law; second, it was against the laws of the kingdom; third, it contradicted Holy Scripture; fourth, it was against natural reason; and, fifth, it defamed “many noble and leading people of these realms.” The sting lay in the fifth article. As Siliceo and his opponents well knew, few members of the nobility had not been tainted with converso blood. By promoting a limpieza statute, therefore, the archbishop was obviously claiming for his own class a racial purity that the tainted nobility could not boast.

There was immediate highly placed opposition to the statute outside the cathedral. The city council of Toledo protested energetically against the measure, which (they said) threatened to bring back the civil wars of the Comunidades to the city. Previous archbishops, they added, had refused to exclude conversos, and Cardinal Tavera in 1536 had ordered no action on a proposal to introduce a statute that year. If the present statute were allowed to proceed, it would arouse “hatreds and long-standing enmities.” The councilors knew of what they spoke. Their petition, addressed to Prince Philip early in August 1547, managed to secure approval in the city council only after a heated debate.

The prince, then ruling Spain in his father’s absence, was deeply concerned. He sent a special judge to Toledo to look at the situation on the spot. He also asked the president of the council of Castile, the highest court in the land, to send him an opinion from both the judicial and the Church point of view. The council of Castile gave its legal verdict on 25 August. “The statute,” they ruled, “is unjust and scandalous and putting it into effect would cause many problems.” They recommended that the prince order it to be suspended for the moment. To obtain a Church point of view, the president of the council, who happened also to be bishop of Sigüenza, called a meeting of his clergy. They ruled that “the statute in its present harsh form raises grave problems, and putting it into effect would cause even more.” It should be suspended until further consultation.37

The prince accordingly suspended the statute in mid-September 1547, and referred the matter to Charles V in Germany. Siliceo was furious. At the end of September he protested to his former pupil against the suspension, “decreed without hearing us.” For the moment, he was silenced. The statute was condemned by the University of Alcalá as a source of “discord sown by the devil.” Toledo had a long history of conflict involving conversos, and officials were concerned to soothe passions.

Not till nine years later was the statute allowed to proceed. The pope issued a formal approval in 1555, and in August 1556 the royal council ratified it.38 Philip II was absent in the Netherlands and took no part in the decision, nor is there reason to believe that he had changed his mind on the matter. A statement that I once mistakenly attributed to him, to the effect that “all the heresies that have occurred in Germany and France have been sown by descendants of Jews, as we have seen and still see daily in Spain,” was not his but comes from a letter to him from Siliceo.39 There is of course clear evidence that there were some anti-Semitic views among his advisers. It is less well known that substantial elite opinion, in Castile as well as in the government, opposed such views. Philip’s biographer Cabrera de Córdoba, in referring to the Siliceo statute as “detested by those who decide the principles of good government,” reported that the Cortes had an “undying hatred” of the measure.40 His statements are a reflection of the impressive opposition, within the very heart of Castile, to the notion of limpieza.41

Confirmation of the Toledo statute in 1556 came only a few months before Siliceo’s death the following year. As we shall see, the confirmation was a pure formality and the statute was consistently ignored. The see of Toledo soon had serious problems of its own, with the suspension of its new archbishop, Carranza (see chapter 8), on a charge of heresy. By mid-century, above all thanks to the new alarm over Lutheranism, concern for limpieza was put on the back burner and exclusion statutes came to a virtual stop.42The only notable exception was the Inquisition, which decided at last—one hundred years after its foundation—to enforce limpieza in the recruitment of its officials through a royal order of December 1572.

In view of the frequent misapprehension that Spain had been taken over by a racialist mania, the year 1572 is a good point at which to stop and look at the available evidence. Anti-Semitism would continue to prevail throughout Castilian society, as it did in many other regions of Europe, but the relevant question is: to what extent was it backed up by statutes of blood purity? The “statute communities,” as they were called, were at this period limited to the six university Colegios Mayores; some religious orders (Jeronimites, Dominicans and Franciscans); the Inquisition; and some cathedrals (Badajoz, Córdoba, Jaén, León, Osma, Oviedo, Seville, Sigüenza, Toledo and Valencia). Virtually only one non-religious sector was affected: the medieval military orders (the Order of Santiago adopted one as late as 1555), and their administrative organ the council of Orders. Private legal arrangements, such as property entails (mayorazgos), might also lay down conditions of limpieza. A sprinkling of town councils and confraternities, mainly in Castile, also had rules calling for exclusion.

Though limited in number, some of these bodies were of crucial importance. From the sixteenth century, entry into a Colegio Mayor became the essential stepping-stone to a career in the higher echelons of both Church and state in Castile.43 If conversos were excluded, they would find the upper level of professions closed to them. In the same way the encomiendas of the military orders were one of the most desirable ways of attaining noble status, so that decisions about limpieza by the council of Orders were critical. Exclusion from the military orders would be a severe blow to the social pretensions of a converso family. The panorama, evidently, looked bleak for people of Jewish origin.

The real picture was far more complex. First, the very small number of institutions with statutes (less than a sixth of Spain’s sees, for example) refutes any idea of a limpieza mania sweeping the country. Time and again, other bodies cited this fact in defense of their own refusal to follow the trend. The statutes, moreover, existed almost exclusively in Castile. In Catalonia, for example, limpieza rules were unknown before the period of the Counter-Reformation, when they crept in together with the other baggage of Castilian ecclesiastics.44 Even in Castile, they were rarely found in city councils, despite considerable pressure in favor from anti-converso factions. In brief, the statutes were never part of the public law of Spain and never featured in any body of public law. Their validity was restricted only to those private institutions that had them.

Second, they were always controversial and were never widely accepted. In Rome Pope Paul IV approved the Toledo statute, but he did it out of policy and not principle. The same pope in 1565 refused to approve a new statute for the cathedral of Seville and condemned discrimination as contrary to canon law and ecclesiastical order. His successor, Pius V, was a consistent enemy of the statutes. In Spain a continual debate, directed largely against the statutes, was unleashed. The tide of controversy was stemmed by the Inquisition, which in 1572 tried to forbid any writings either for or against the statutes.

Third, even where statutes existed Spaniards found it possible to impose them with a typical laxity that in many cases undermined their existence. Philip II was no exception. When he felt it necessary, he appointed converso Church dignitaries even if it contravened a statute. In some dioceses the rules were regularly bypassed. In Toledo in 1557, one year after the government confirmed the famous statute, a converso was appointed as canon of the cathedral.45 In the see of Sigüenza in 1567 the bishop decided to ignore the statute in existence when making appointments.46 In 1589 Philip II appointed a priest of known converso origin, Gabriel Márquez, to be his chaplain in the same cathedral of Sigüenza. When it was pointed out that the statute forbade this, Philip suspended the appointment but ordered that the statute be looked into.47 In the Inquisition itself, the rules were often disregarded, and clergy of known converso origin were employed as assessors.48 In the late century familiars were often (cases are documented in Murcia and Barcelona) appointed without any proofs at all, though there continued to be exceptional efforts in some cases.49

Despite the prohibitions in the military orders, known conversos were accepted. In 1552 Prince Philip, then regent of Spain, appointed his friend Ruy Gómez (not a converso) as president of the military order of Calatrava. Ruy Gómez remarked confidentially to a friend that the current president of the order of Alcántara “is a New Christian.”50 When king, Philip continued to tolerate conversos in the military orders. He bestowed a knighthood of Santiago on a famous Flanders war veteran, but knowing that this contravened the rules he ordered that no inquiry be made into his genealogy.51 The few city councils with statutes seem not to have paid attention to the rules except when it served their purpose. Toledo city in 1566 adopted a statute that was (exceptionally) approved by the government. Despite it, converso families like the Franco, Villareal, Herrera and Ramírez continued freely throughout the period to occupy posts.52 Philip subsequently refused to approve limpieza statutes for other cities. In Cuenca, which had a long history of antagonism to conversos, converso families during the late sixteenth century in fact occupied 50 percent of the posts on the city council.53 A leading judge of the time, Castillo de Bobadilla, observed that conversos in Castile had free access to municipal posts; and another jurist, Pedro Núñez de Avendaño, commented that conversos were sometimes in theory excluded from “public offices, although in practice they are freely admitted.”54 The gap was vast between adoption of statutes and their implementation.

Fourth, where statutes existed, those who wished to avoid them did so by bribes or by fraudulent proofs. Rich conversos, complained some members of the Cortes of Madrid in 1551, “obtain sanction from Your Majesty through bribes, and in this the state is much prejudiced.”55 Bribes persisted at every level, but it was the false proofs that emerged as the biggest preoccupation. False proofs implied corruption and scandal. It was this, possibly more than any other single aspect, which excited elite opposition to the statutes. Men of undocumented origins could rise to the highest offices in the land (a case in point was Philip II’s own private secretary Mateo Vázquez de Leca)56 if the right money was paid.

Throughout these years, then, there was a profound ambivalence about the implementation of exclusion. It had been the practice in the early years of the Inquisition to “rehabilitate”57 conversos accused of lesser offenses. Those who had completed their penitences and paid a sum of money could obtain from the Inquisition a certificate restoring their former status. Since they had not been judged guilty of heresy, they did not incur any major penalties. It meant—despite a commonly held opinion to the contrary—that mere punishment by the inquisitors did not necessarily prejudice one’s career. The practice coincided with an accepted principle of canon law.

Conversos, whether or not made to do penitence by the Inquisition, might in principle be excluded from many important bodies; in practice, they were capable of acceding to most public offices in Spain. In 1522 the Inquisition stipulated that the universities of Salamanca and Valladolid should not grant degrees to conversos. But in 1537 Charles V decreed that in colleges where New Christians were being excluded, “the constitutions of founders be respected.”58 Throughout the period, conversos can be found both as students and as professors in the major universities. The situation in the non-Castilian regions was no different. The father of the Murcian humanist Francisco de Cascales was burnt at the stake as an alleged judaizer in 1564. Cascales opportunely exiled himself from the city. In 1601, however, he returned to Murcia and was appointed to the chair of grammar there. Everybody knew about his origins but no questions were asked.59

A central figure in controversies at Salamanca University during the 1570s, Martín Martínez de Cantalapiedra, was a known converso who had been appointed to the chair of Hebrew there in 1559. The same university had not hesitated, a generation before (in 1531), to appoint the converso Pablo Coronel (a relative of Abraham Seneor) as professor of Hebrew. Although discrimination of some sort may have been practiced at Salamanca, the university was always opposed to formal exclusion. When in 1562 the rector proposed introducing a limpieza statute, the university assembly voted that “before introducing it we should consider carefully the many types of problems that might arise.” Finally, “it was resolved that for the time being it should not be introduced.” When another attempt was made to introduce a statute in 1566, Philip II himself stepped in to prohibit it.60 Six years later, the Inquisition instructed the university to drop further discussion of the issue.

There can be no doubt of the threat that limpieza could represent, as we know from many cases in the documentation. Though it was practiced in only a limited number of institutions, these were so significant that a barrier to status mobility was frequently created. In theory, canon law limited the extent to which the sins of fathers could be visited on their sons and grandsons. Limpieza adopted no such limits. If it were proved that an ancestor on any side of the family had been punished by the Inquisition or was a Muslim or Jew, the descendant could be accounted of impure blood and disabled from the relevant office. Applicants might have to present genealogical proofs of the purity of their lineage. The fraud, perjury, extortion and blackmail that came into existence because of the need to prove limpieza was widely recognized as a moral evil. If candidates could not offer convincing genealogical proofs, comisarios were appointed to visit the localities concerned and take sworn statements from witnesses about the antecedents of the applicant. They examined parish records and collected verbal testimony. In an age when written evidence was rare, the reputation of applicants lay wholly at the mercy of local gossip and hostile neighbors. Bribery became necessary.

If an applicant was refused a post with the Inquisition, the tribunal never gave any reason, with the result that the family of the man became suspected of impurity even if this was not the case. Some applicants had to go through legal processes which might last several years, with all the attendant expenses, before a proper genealogy could be drawn up. Others resorted to perjury to obtain posts, thus involving themselves and their witnesses in heavy fines and infamy when the tribunal discovered their offense. Frequently applicants would be disabled from employment simply by the malicious gossip of enemies, because “common rumor” was allowed as evidence.61 Genealogy became a social weapon.

None of this, however, created an insuperable barrier to entry into the elite or the nobility. Formal barriers, in reality, existed only for entry into the military orders of Castile. To obtain an encomienda in any of these, one had to have one’s lineage checked by the council of Orders in Madrid. This bureaucratic obstacle could be bypassed only if the king himself intervened (as, we have seen, he sometimes did). Otherwise it obviously opened up a hornet’s nest of inquiries and slanders. Entry into the titled nobility, by contrast, was a process unaffected by any limpieza rules. The standard treatise on nobility, the Summa nobilitatis (1553) of Juan Arce de Otalora, affirmed expressly that all converts from Judaism and Islam “may without any discrimination be admitted on equal terms to the rank and immunities of nobility.”62 He pointed out that it was well known that many illustrious persons in Spain were of distant Jewish origin. However, he added, those among the converts who were guilty of heresy could be excluded. The approach coincided fully with that of the Inquisition.

For the Inquisition was indubitably at the center of the picture. Its punishments contributed to bringing shame on the accused, and shame or infamy was beyond doubt the worst punishment imaginable in those times. In the ordinary criminal courts, humiliating punishments that brought public shame (vergüenza) and ridicule were often feared more than the death sentence, since they ruined one’s reputation in the local community and brought disgrace on one’s family and relatives. “Infamy” affected honor, religion and even “race,” in the view of those Spaniards who tried to lump together impurity, infamy and Jewishness. A writer of the time of Philip IV, Juan Escobar de Corro, in his Treatise on the Purity of the Nobility (c. 1632) equated the words “purity” (that is, freedom fromJewish blood) and “honor,” and argued that the stain on an impure lineage was ineffaceable and perpetual.63 This went beyond mere statutes of exclusion and advanced towards unmistakable racialism. “Race and infamy,” it has been pointed out, “were components of a larger complex of social, political and clannish attitudes.”64

Though some lesser punishments in the rules of the Inquisition allowed the accused to apply for “rehabilitation” after the penitence had been performed (see chapter 3), so that no stain of infamy remained, there were also humiliating penalties (such as flogging), which might affect “honor” more enduringly. Perhaps the most demeaning punishment in the Inquisition, however, was being condemned to wear the sanbenito, worn also by accused before they were burnt at the stake. As we have seen (chapter 4), wearing it brought up associations both of shame and of Jewish heresy.

Early in the sixteenth century the practice was begun of hanging up the sanbenitos of offenders after the period for which the garment had to be worn. This practice was standardized by the official Instructions of 1561, which stipulated that “all the sanbenitos of the condemned, living or dead, present or absent, be placed in the churches where they used to live . . . in order that there may be perpetual memory of the infamy of the heretics and their descendants.”65 The declared aim of displaying the garments was therefore to perpetuate the dishonor of condemned persons, so that from generation to generation whole families should be penalized for the sins of their ancestors. Since those accused in the early period were usually punished for judaizing, the ruling clearly identified Jewishness with infamy. It became general practice to replace old and decaying sanbenitos with new ones bearing the names of the same offenders. In the Dominican priory of Santa Catarina in Barcelona, a count made in the year 1600 found that the walls were covered with an enormous accumulation of more than 538 sanbenitos, most apparently dating to the fifteenth century and some totally perished.66

The garments were widely hated not only by the families concerned but also by the districts on which they brought disrepute. The city of Logroño (Navarre) in 1570 successfully petitioned the Suprema to be allowed to remove from its churches the great number of sanbenitos belonging properly to churches in other regions.67 In the rising against the Spanish government in Sicily in 1516, the sanbenitos in the churches were torn down and never replaced. Even clergy participated: in 1603 the parish priest of the Catalan frontier town of Cotlliure (now in France) helped one of his parishioners destroy a sanbenito of his grandfather.68 Wherever there were public disturbances in Hispanic territories, one of the first targets of rioters were the exposed garments.

One of the obvious uses of this system was that family details asked for in job applications could be tested against the evidence of the garments. As matters turned out, in the end it mattered not at all whether a man had been burnt or simply made to do penance in an auto de fe. If his sanbenito survived, his descendants could still suffer public disability. Though the Holy Office clearly helped to perpetuate infamy, from very early on it also tried to restrict the rumor and slander associated with it, and in numerous cases prosecuted those who attempted to defame their neighbors. Ironically, it therefore became an offense, punishable by the Inquisition itself, to call someone a “Jew.” In 1620, for example, Antonio Vergonyós, a familiar and priest of Girona, was banished for a year from his village for slandering a neighbor as a “Jueu.”69

The way in which the Inquisition equated race, heresy and shame was commented on frequently by observers. In the peninsula the tribunal took every care to ensure that sanbenitos be exposed. This was done in many regions until the end of the eighteenth century, and travelers never ceased to comment on them. As late as 1821 a Spanish exile living in England, Blanco White, recalled seeing them when a boy:

There exists among us a distinction over blood [i.e., blood purity] that I believe to be peculiar to Spain. The great mass of our people accepts it so blindly that the most humble laborer considers its lack to be a fount of misery and degradation that he is condemned to transmit to all his posterity. The slightest stain of African, Indian, Moorish or Jewish blood is a blot on the whole family up to the final generation, and not even the passage of years can remove the knowledge of this fact, nor can the obscurity and low origins of those who suffer this disgrace cause it to disappear.70

Was the concern over heresy and purity of race peculiarly Spanish? In an influential essay written nearly a century ago, a French scholar suggested that Spaniards, influenced by the Inquisition, felt heresy (and not simply Jewishness but any deviation from the traditional Catholic norm) to be a “blot” on the purity and honor of the nation. He cited the case of Juan Díaz—a Spanish friend of the reformer Bucer—who was assassinated in Germany by his own brother Alfonso, a Catholic who feared that his brother’s heresy would bring shame on his family and on all Spain.71 To the objection that the incident can hardly be taken as indicative of a national obsession with honor, we must also recognize that some people at the time readily identified heresy with impurity. The violent reaction against the Valladolid Protestants in 1559 was provoked in part by a popular rejection of foreign ideas. “Before that time,” commented one contemporary, “Spain was clean [limpia] of these errors.”72 When the prisoners Carlos de Seso and Fray Domingo de Rojas were being brought back to Valladolid, reported the inquisitor general, “in all the villages through which they passed, crowds of men, women and children came out to see them, calling for them to be burnt. The friar73 was very afraid that his relatives would kill him on the journey.”74 When young Anna Enríquez, daughter of the marquesa of Alcañices and sister-in-law of Francisco Borja, was condemned by the Inquisition in those same weeks to wear a sanbenito for her part in the Protestant group of Valladolid, Borja used his influence to have the sanbenito part of her sentence annulled: the public “honor” of her family was thereby saved.

Concepts of blood and honor could become linked, especially among elite families and institutions that were by nature exclusivist, to notions of the purity of race and religion. Spain was not the only country to contain such ideas, either then or today. It is doubtful, however, if this type of concern for limpieza was widespread. When Philip II’s officials, as we have seen above, employed the heretic hunter Alonso del Canto to procure the return to Spain of select persons,75 concern for purity and honor seems not to have been mentioned at any point as a motive.

As we have seen, the statutes calling for purity of blood were never the law of the land in any corner of Spain, a situation that made it possible for many prominent persons to attack them. However, the fact that there were powerful supporters of the statutes led to continual controversy. The theme was an ongoing source of friction between the Society of Jesus and the Inquisition. We have seen that Ignatius Loyola, when a student at Alcalá in 1527, fell under suspicion because of his strict religious practices. This was the very year that the province of Guipúzcoa made into law an earlier ordinance of 1483, forbidding entry to conversos. At this time Ignatius indignantly denied any knowledge of Judaism, since he was a noble from a province (Guipúzcoa) which had hardly known Jews. Some years later, however, he declared while dining with friends that he would have considered it a divine favor to be descended from Jews. When asked his reason for saying this, he protested, “What! To be related to Christ Our Lord and to Our Lady the glorious Virgin Mary?” On another occasion a fellow Basque who was a friend of his spat when he mentioned the word “Jew.” Ignatius took him aside and said, according to his biographer, “‘Now, Don Pedro de Zárate, be reasonable and listen to me’—And he gave him so many reasons that he all but persuaded him to become a Jew.”76 The incidents show that Ignatius had managed to free himself from one of the major social prejudices prevailing in Spain.

Like its founder, the Society of Jesus refused to associate itself with racialism. When in 1551 the Jesuits opened a college at Alcalá without the permission of Archbishop Siliceo, the latter issued an order forbidding any Jesuit to act as a priest without first being personally examined by him. It was no secret that the reason for this order was Siliceo’s hostility to the presence of converso Christians in the college. Francisco Villanueva, rector of the college, wrote indignantly to Ignatius about this: “It is a great pity that there seems to be nobody willing to leave these poor people anywhere to stay on earth, and I would like to have the energy to become their defender, particularly since one encounters among them more virtue than among the Old Christians and hidalgos.”77

The first provincial of the Jesuits in Spain, Antonio de Araoz, impressed, however, upon Ignatius that Siliceo had promised to visit the order with great favors if it would only adopt a statute of limpieza. He also warned that the good name of the Society in Spain would be harmed by the knowledge that there were New Christians in its ranks. Despite this, Ignatius refused to change his attitude. All through the controversy in Spain about the statutes of limpieza, and up to his death in 1556, he would not allow his order to discriminate against conversos. When conversos did apply to enter its ranks he advised them to join the Company in Italy rather than in Spain. When talking of the limpieza cult he would refer to it as el humor español—“the Spanish whim”; or, more bitingly on one occasion, el humor de la corte y del Rey de España—“the whim of the Spanish king and his court.”

All the superiors of the order after Loyola were firm in their opposition to the statutes. The immediate successor of Ignatius was Diego Laínez, superior from 1558 to 1565. The fact that he was a converso aroused opposition to his election from sectors of the Spanish Church. In a letter to Araoz in 1560 Laínez denounced limpieza as el humor o error nacional (the national whim or error) and demanded total obedience from the Spanish Jesuits. In 1564 a Jesuit wrote from Seville to Laínez, lamenting the divisions within the order based on lineage. “These distinctions do much harm, especially among those who recall that golden time of affection at the beginning.”78 Laínez’s successor was a Spaniard of unimpeachable Old Christian blood—Francisco Borja. On one occasion the prince of Eboli, chief minister of Philip II, asked Borja why his Company allowed conversos in its ranks. Borja pointed out that the king himself employed known conversos:

Why does the king keep in his service X and Y, who are conversos? If His Majesty disregards this in those he places in his household, why should I make an issue about admitting them into the service of that Lord for whom there is no distinction between persons, between Greek and Jew, or barbarian and Scythian?79

By the 1590s, however, the Jesuits in Spain found that recruitment was falling off as the whispering campaign initiated by its enemies succeeded in presenting the Society as a party of Jews. Moreover, by a process of selection, the chief posts in the Spanish province were going to Jesuits who favored exclusion. The result was the success of pressure for a modification to the constitution of the Society, and at the General Congregation held at Rome in December 1593 it was voted to give way to Spanish pressure and exclude conversos from membership in Spain.

The Jesuits, essentially an international order, found themselves being torn apart by the issue.80 Those who were not Spaniards objected to the way in which they were being dragged into provincial Spanish matters. Among the few voices raised in protest from Spain was that of Father Pedro de Ribadeneira.81 Due almost exclusively to his single-handed efforts to keep the Society to the path laid down by Loyola, a reaction to the vote of 1593 took place in the order. It led to a decree in February 1608, by which all conversos who had been Christians for five generations were allowed to enter the Society. The 1608 decree was nominally only a concession, but in practice it involved the complete reversal of the decision of 1593, since most conversos in Spain had in fact been Christians for five generations, as a result of the compulsory conversions of 1492.

Another leading Jesuit, Juan de Mariana, had meanwhile in his treatise De rege (On Kingship) (1599) penned an uncompromising attack on racial discrimination. “The marks of infamy,” he urged, “should not be eternal, and it is necessary to fix a limit beyond which descendants must not pay for the faults of their predecessors.”82 The opposition of the Jesuits was not unique. Though a few other sees followed Toledo in adopting limpieza, the statutes were never universally accepted. Of the sixty cathedrals in Spain, as we have seen, possibly no more than twelve ever had statutes. Many that had them never operated them. Leading clergy penned attacks on the system of discrimination. Melchor Cano appears to have criticized it in a paper of 1550, and another Dominican, Domingo Valtanás, attacked the statutes in a book published in Seville in 1556.83 In Rome, prominent Spaniards spoke openly against limpieza. This persuaded Diego de Simancas, bishop of Zamora, to publish in about 1572 his Defence of the Toledo Statute, possibly the last substantial defense of the doctrines of Siliceo.

As a final example of the way in which many Spaniards rejected blood purity prejudice, we may take the case of the priest Diego Pérez de Valdivia, apostle of the Counter-Reformation in Catalonia. A close disciple of the Andalucian spiritual leader Juan de Avila, he was not only of known converso origin but had the ill fortune to spend months in the cells of the Inquisition of Córdoba, where he was accused, among other things, of stating that conversos were better people than non-conversos, and that “it is a sin to observe the rules of limpieza.”84 None of it affected his career. Freed from confinement, he moved in 1578 to Barcelona, where he worked on the closest terms with the bishop and the Inquisition, and became the city’s most famous preacher.

The evidence is incontrovertible that zeal for blood purity never formed the dominant ideology of Church and state in early modern Spain,85 though it was persistent enough—above all in Castile—for many prominent Spaniards to speak out against it. Anti-Semitic discrimination could be found everywhere (as in other European societies where people of Jewish origin had a visible public role), but not necessarily in the form of statutes of limpieza, which were few and haphazardly observed. The statutes focused attention, of course, because they became relevant when applying for certain posts and honors in old regime Castile and its colonies. If a member of a family were refused a post because of alleged impurity of blood, it could create a stigma on the rest of his kin. The demand for proofs threatened to expose both humble and elite persons to infamy.

The widespread rejection of blood purity proofs eventually provoked a revolutionary crise de conscience in the very citadel of orthodoxy, the Inquisition.86 From about 1580, when Cardinal Quiroga was inquisitor general, serious doubts about statutes were raised in the Holy Office. “I was in the council of the Inquisition in 1580,” reports a subsequent inquisitor general, Guevara, “and saw this matter proceed very far, with the council resolved to petition the king about it, and putting forward many pressing reasons.” Nothing more seems to have happened until the 1590s, when Philip II himself had second thoughts. The king, reports a later writer, “was very attached to the statutes, but in the last days of his life, when experience had matured, he ordered a big committee to be set up specifically to discuss this matter, and all of them agreed with His Majesty that the statutes should be restricted to one hundred years,” meaning that freedom from the taint of heresy for three generations should make any converso fit for office.

Because of the king’s death, nothing came of the proposal, but the ground was prepared for the great attack on the statutes mounted by the noted Dominican theologian Agustín Salucio, whose Discourse on limpieza, which he had apparently discussed directly with Philip II, was published in 1599.87 Salucio, then aged seventy-six (he died in 1601), felt that “I could not be true to my conscience if I did not speak my opinion on so important a matter.” His book was supported by personal letters from the very highest authorities: the patriarch of Valencia, Juan de Ribera; the archbishop of Burgos; the duke of Lerma.88 Taking his stand on the innumerable abuses committed in the process of limpieza proofs—false testimony, bribery, forgery, lies—Salucio protested that “thescandals and abuses . . . have provoked a secret war against the authority of the statutes.” “It is said,” he commented, “that there is no peace when the state is divided into two factions, as it is now divided almost in half, as in a civil war.” He presented two main objections of principle to the statutes: they had outlived their purpose; and whatever good they achieved was outweighed by the harm. “It would be a great comfort to the assurance of peace in the realm,” he summed up, “to restrict the statutes so that Old Christians and Moriscos and conversos should all come to form one united body, and that all should be Old Christians and in peace.”

The work caused an immediate crisis in the Inquisition. The Suprema overruled the inquisitor general and banned the book. However, deputies to the Cortes had been sent copies of the Discourse by wily old Salucio, and they at once insisted on debating the matter. On 11 February 1600 they presented a memorial to Philip III, petitioning “how important it is to make a decision on this matter, because of the great offenses caused to God every day.” At the same time they set up a committee to report on Salucio’s paper. In a discussion paper sent by the Cortes to the committee, they complained that “in Spain we esteem a common person who is limpio more than a hidalgo who is not limpio.”89 As a result, the memorial continued, there were now two sorts of nobility in Spain, “a greater, which is that of hidalguia; and a lesser, which is that of limpieza, whose members we call Old Christians.” Irrational criteria of purity had also come into existence: swordsmen were reputed limpios and physicians were reputed Jews; people from León and Asturias were called Old Christians and those from Almagro conversos. “All this is so absurd that were we another nation we would call ourselves barbarians who governed themselves without reason, without law, and without God.”

Another evil effect, they said, was that because of rigorous genealogical proofs the state lost eminent subjects who had the talent to become great theologians and jurists but who did not follow these professions because they knew they would not be admitted to any honors. As a result, people of no rank and little learning had risen to high posts in the country, while true and learned nobility had been deprived of the chance to pursue their careers. Discrimination against Jewish blood would only make the conversos become more compact, defensive and dangerous; whereas in France and Italy the lack of discrimination had allowed them to merge peacefully into the community. The natural consequence of limpieza proofs would be that those who were irrefutably limpios (and hence alone capable of holding office) would soon be a tiny minority in the country with the great mass of the people against them, “affronted, discontented and ripe for rebellion.”

In the summer of 1600 the duke of Lerma asked the new inquisitor general, Cardinal Niño de Guevara, to report on Salucio’s book and various other documents. In August Guevara sent the king an astonishing report,90 which contradicted the views of the majority of the Suprema and praised Salucio as “a very learned friar to whom the whole Catholic Church and particularly the Holy See owe a great deal.” The split in the Inquisition was not resolved, and Salucio’s book remained under ban. However, with so many eminent leaders of Church and state hostile to the statutes, the floodgates to public discussion had been opened. In about 1613 a New Christian of Portuguese origin, Diego Sánchez de Vargas, issued in Madrid an attack against the statutes. In 1616 the Madrid magistrate Mateo López Bravo complained in his On the King that for those excluded by the limpieza laws “there remains no way of hope except the sowing of discord.” In 1619 Martín González de Cellorigo, a noted writer on economic matters who was now resident in Toledo and an official of the Inquisition, wrote a Plea for Justice on behalf of the New Christians: it was addressed to the inquisitor general but not actually published.91

In about 1621 an inquisitor, Juan Roco Campofrío, bishop of Zamora and later of Soria, wrote a Discourse92 against the statutes. It is an interesting document, because the great debate had already passed, and he relied on exaggeration in order to present his arguments. According to him, the proofs of limpieza were a source of moral and political scandal in the nation. The stigma of impurity had divided Spain into two constantly warring halves. The outrages and quarrels provoked by the statutes had been responsible for over 90 percent of the civil and criminal trials in Spanish courts. The racialism of the statutes was wrong, for many conversos and Moriscos had been more virtuous than so-called Old Christians, and many of those brought to trial by the Inquisition had in fact been true Christians and not Jews. The great danger, the inquisitor went on, was that the greater part of the population of Spain would soon be branded as impure, and the only remaining guarantee of Old Christian blood would be one’s plebeian origin.

The inquisitor’s tract was only one of the many written on the subject. It was now the period when Spaniards were questioning the mistaken policies of their leaders, and they did not omit the theme of racialism. A censor of the Inquisition, Francisco Murcia de la Llana, in a Discourse of 1624 condemned both the racialism and the xenophobia of his contemporaries:

Look into yourself [he addressed Spain] and consider that no other nation has these statutes, and that Judaism has flourished most where they have existed. Yet if any of your sons marries a Frenchwoman or a Genoan or an Italian you despise his wife as a foreigner. What ignorance! What overwhelming Spanish madness!93

In his famous Conservation of Monarchies (1626) Pedro Fernández de Navarrete also attacked discrimination against conversos and Moriscos, warning that “all realms in which many are excluded from honors run a great risk of coming to ruin.”94

Though Lerma had been opposed to the statutes, he did little to change them. It was otherwise with Olivares, who came to power in 1621 at the accession of Philip IV. Olivares never made a secret of his hostility to limpieza. At his instigation, the Inquisition in 1626 issued perhaps the most remarkable document ever to proceed from the inner portals of the Holy Office.95 Conceding that there were now few or no judaizers in Spain, the Suprema in this 1626 document argued that “it follows that since what gave rise to the statutes has totally ceased, it would be civic and political prudence that at least the rigor of their practice should cease.” Denouncing the widespread perjuries and forgeries involved, the inquisitors said: “nobody can doubt this if he sees what goes on today in every city, town or village, even in the testimonials for familiars in any little hamlet. No one could better inform Your Majesty of this abuse, from direct experience, than the Holy Office.” After analyzing in detail the evils of the system of genealogical proofs, the Suprema went on to argue that Hebrews no less than Gentiles were members of Christ’s Church and that unity of all, without discrimination, was essential. In words that could have been written by Olivares himself, the council of the Inquisition stated that its aspirations were exactly those of Philip IV:

that your several kingdoms should act in conformity and unity for both good and ill, joining together in friendly equality, so that Castile should act with Aragon, and both with Portugal, and all of them with Italy and the other realms, to help and aid each other as though they were one body (fortunate enough to have Your Majesty as head). These considerations, so in keeping with God’s intentions, are in large measure frustrated if there remain such odious divisions and such bloody enmities as those which exist between those held to be limpios, and those held to be stained with the race of Judaism.

In this favorable climate it was possible for the Committee for Reform (Junta de Reformación) in February 1623 to decree new rules modifying the practice of limpieza. One act (involving three positive proofs of limpieza in any one of the four lines of descent) was enough when applying for office and no others were needed when promoted or changing one’s job. Verbal evidence was not admitted if unsupported by more solid proof, and “rumor” was disallowed. All literature purporting to list the descent of families from Jews, such as the notorious Green Book of Aragon (Libro verde de Aragón), was ordered to be publicly burnt. Although these measures aroused much opposition, they also released a flood of anti-limpieza writings which take their stand with the other literature that makes this reign a time of intellectual crisis in Spanish history. That the problem was appreciated in the highest circles is shown by the report given by one member of the Committee for Reform, who claimed that limpieza was

the cause and origin of a great multitude of sins, perjuries, falsehoods, disputes and lawsuits both civil and criminal. Many of our people, seeing that they are not admitted to the honors and offices of their native land, have absented themselves from these realms and gone to others, in despair at seeing themselves covered with infamy. So much so that I have been told of two eminent gentlemen of these realms who were among the greatest soldiers of our time and who declared on their deathbeds that since they were unable to gain entry into the orders of chivalry they had very often been tempted by the devil to kill themselves or to go over and serve the Turk, and that they knew of some who had done so.96

The reform of February 1623 was ordered to be observed “by all the councils, courts, Colegios Mayores and statute communities.” In fact, it remained a dead letter and was not observed by a single body outside the government and the Inquisition. The latter, not surprisingly, soon ceased to observe the reform. Controversy therefore continued well into the seventeenth century. The inquisitor general in 1623 commissioned a further reasoned attack on the statutes by Diego Serrano de Silva, a member of the Suprema.

From its inception in the 1580s, this impressive and astonishing campaign against the statutes of limpieza was led, at every stage, by inquisitors general and officials of the Inquisition, supported by ministers of state such as Lerma and Olivares. Their view, as events showed, might have been powerful in elite circles but was a minority one within the Holy Office. By the 1630s confusion reigned once again in the limpieza rules. The Suprema by majority vote in 1628 declared that “we are convinced that observance of the statutes of limpieza is both just and praiseworthy.”97 Government ministers were concerned at the problems that would continue to rise in applications for posts and titles. Eventually in 1638 the crown issued yet another decree, reinforcing the reform of 1623.98

The predictable conservatism of the inquisitors was no guide to the state of informed opinion in Castile. As they had done in the sixteenth century, prominent individuals both inside and outside the Holy Office continued to express their disagreement with discrimination based on racial origin.99 In his well-known Five Excellences of the Spaniard (1629), Fray Benito de Peñalosa commented that “when we come to the question of limpieza, there are things much to be lamented. . . . It is something absurd and most prejudicial.” He pleaded for reforms.100 In 1632 a powerful and persuasive argument against limpieza was published by Fernando de Valdés, rector of the Jesuit seminary in Madrid and a consultant for the Inquisition. Basing himself on Salucio’s discourse but going further in his attack on the statutes, Valdés summed up: “Let the final and strongest argument against the statutes be that our republic has lost its respect for them.”101 In 1635 the noted political writer Jerónimo de Zeballos, repeating arguments used by his predecessors, wrote his own Discourse against the practice of limpieza.102

The publication of these works, and indeed the half century or so of open controversy over the question, demonstrates irrefutably that limpieza was never an untouchable theme. Numerous prominent intellectuals from the mid-sixteenth century onwards questioned it and attacked it openly, and it would be irresponsible to deny that they did so. As we have observed above, discrimination by limpieza was never accepted officially in Spanish law, nor in the vast majority of the institutions, churches and municipalities of Spain.103 What did exist very widely, thanks to centuries of coexistence with Jews and conversos, was a pervasive anti-Semitism that might take the form of social prejudice and discrimination, but not within the ambit of any limpieza regulations, for those existed in very few areas. The prejudice hurt most deeply and profoundly, as racial discrimination tends to do, in the sphere of status, rank and promotion. But at no point did it ever become a national obsession.104

On the other hand, it tended to survive precisely because struggles for status are a feature of the human condition. In mid-seventeenth-century Logroño, those who opposed the existing elite on the city council tried to base their campaign on the alleged lack of limpieza among the councilors.105 In personal disputes and rivalries, insults used racial references as the point of attack. “Juan Ruiz de Vergara called another” who was competing for a post in a military order “commoner”; whereupon “the other responded that if he was a commoner Ruiz was a converso.” In another case, “the man called Juan de Clavijo a ‘Jew,’ but not because he was one.”106 The use of the word “Jew” in insults became a commonplace of Spanish discourse, as the documents of Castilian criminal courts show. In 1609, in Yébenes (Toledo) María Prieta called Pedro Hernández a “moro judío ladrón infame” (“dirty Moor Jew crook”), a delightful set of expletives that got her in trouble but clearly did not seriously concern principles of honor or of limpieza.107 The deliberate use of racial insults to discredit enemies and rivals ended only in discrediting limpieza itself. By the late seventeenth century the few remaining statutes were being openly ignored and contravened in every walk of life. In the reign of the last Habsburg, the converso Manuel José Cortizos, whose father was known to have been a practicing Jew, was nevertheless elevated to the rank of marquis; and the Madrid society doctor Diego Zapata continued his career despite being imprisoned twice for judaizing.108

The only exception to this strange mixture of persecution and tolerance occurred in the island of Mallorca, where the converso community suffered from prejudice. As late as the mid-eighteenth century, “although good Catholics, their sons were denied entrance to the higher ranks of the clergy, and their daughters to the religious orders. They were forced to live in a restricted area of the city, and the people calumniated them with the names Hebreos, Judios, Chuetas. Guilds, army, navy and public offices were closed to them.”109 Despite various efforts by the government and some clergy, discrimination continued up to the end of the nineteenth century. In 1858 they were still “refused all public offices and admission to guilds and brotherhoods so that they were confined to trading. They were compelled to marry among themselves, for no one would contract alliances with them nor would the ecclesiastical authorities grant licenses for mixed marriages.”110

Echoes of the statutes continued in Spain through the eighteenth century. In 1751 a government minister, José de Carvajal, thought the treatise of Agustín Salucio so convincing that he ordered a copy of it to be made for himself;111 and the prime minister, the count of Floridablanca, went on record with the statement that the penalties for impurity were unjust because “they punish a man’s sacred action, that is, his conversion to our holy faith, with the same penalty as his greatest crime, that is, apostasy from it.”112Despite such criticisms, the residual practice of anti-Semitism survived the abolition of the Inquisition. So far did purity of blood cease to have any connection with the Jewish problem, however, that in 1788 we find Charles III’s minister Aranda using the phraselimpieza de sangre in the sense of purity from any taint of servile office or trade, so that the synonymous term limpieza de oficios also came into existence by the end of the century.113 Official recognition of its practice ceased with a royal order of 31 January 1835 directed to the Economic Society of Madrid, but up to 1859 it was still necessary for entrance into the corps of officer cadets. The last official act was a law of 16 May 1865 abolishing proofs of purity for marriages and for certain government posts. The removal of legal barriers could not, evidently, wholly efface an attitude rooted in the practice of centuries.

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