The Inquisition was intended to frighten all Christians, new or old, into at least external orthodoxy, in the hope that heresy would be blighted in the bud, and that the second or third generation of baptized Jews would forget the Judaism of their ancestors. There was no intent to let baptized Jews leave Spain; when they tried to emigrate, Ferdinand and the Inquisition forbade it. But what of the unbaptized Jews? Some 235,000 of them remained in Christian Spain. How could the religious unity of the nation be effected if these were allowed to practice and profess their faith? Torquemada thought it impossible, and recommended their compulsory conversion or their banishment.
Ferdinand hesitated. He knew the economic value of Hebrew ability in commerce and finance. But he was told that the Jews taunted the Conversos and sought to win them back to Judaism, if only secretly. His physician, Ribas Altas, a baptized Jew, was accused of wearing on a pendant from his neck a golden ball containing a representation of himself in the act of desecrating a crucifix; the charge seems incredible, but the physician was burned (1488).39 Letters were forged in which a Jewish leader in Constantinople advised the head of the Jewish community in Spain to rob and poison Christians as often as possible.40 A Converso was arrested on the charge of having a consecrated wafer in his knapsack; he was tortured again and again until he signed a statement that sixConversos and six Jews had killed a Christian child to use its heart in a magic ceremony designed to cause the death of all Christians and the total destruction of Christianity. The confessions of the tortured man contradicted one another, and no child was reported missing; however, four Jews were burned, two of them after having their flesh torn away with red-hot pincers.41 These and similar accusations may have influenced Ferdinand; in any case they prepared public opinion for the expulsion of all unbaptized Jews from Spain. When Granada surrendered (November 5, 1491), and the industrial and commercial activities of the Moors accrued to Christian Spain, the economic contribution of the unconverted Jews no longer seemed vital. Meanwhile popular fanaticism, inflamed by autos-da-fé and the preaching of the friars, was making social peace impossible unless the government either protected or expelled the Jews.
On March 30, 1492—so crowded a year in Spanish history—Ferdinand and Isabella signed the edict of exile. All unbaptized Jews, of whatever age or condition, were to leave Spain by July 31, and were never to return, on penalty of death. In this brief period they might dispose of their property at whatever price they could obtain. They might take with them movable goods and bills of exchange, but no currency, silver, or gold. Abraham Senior and Isaac Abrabanel offered the sovereigns a large sum to withdraw the edict, but Ferdinand and Isabella refused. No royal accusation was made against the Jews, except their tendency to lure Conversos back to Judaism. A supplementary edict required that taxes to the end of the year should be paid on all Jewish property and sales. Debts due from Christians or Moors were to be collected only at maturity, through such agents as the banished creditors might find, or these claims could be sold at a discount to Christian purchasers. In this enforced precipitancy the property of the Jews passed into Christian hands at a small fraction of its value. A house was sold for an ass, a vineyard for a piece of cloth. Some Jews, in despair, burned down their homes (to collect insurance?); others gave them to the municipality. Synagogues were appropriated by Christians and transformed into churches. Jewish cemeteries were turned into pasturage. In a few months the largest part of the riches of the Spanish Jews, accumulated through centuries, melted away. Approximately 50,000 Jews accepted conversion, and were permitted to remain; over 100,000 left Spain in a prolonged and melancholy exodus.
Before departing they married all their children who were over twelve years of age. The young helped the old, the rich succored the poor. The pilgrimage moved on horses or asses, in carts or on foot. At every turn good Christians—clergy and laity—appealed to the exiles to submit to baptism. The rabbis countered by assuring their followers that God would lead them to the promised land by opening a passage through the sea, as He had done for their fathers of old.42 The emigrants who gathered in Cádiz waited hopefully for the waters to part and let them march dryshod to Africa. Disillusioned, they paid high prices for transport by ship. Storms scattered their fleet of twenty-five vessels; sixteen of these were driven back to Spain, where many desperate Jews accepted baptism as no worse than seasickness. Fifty Jews, shipwrecked near Seville, were imprisoned for two years and then sold as slaves.43 The thousands who sailed from Gibraltar, Málaga, Valencia, or Barcelona found that in all Christendom only Italy was willing to receive them with humanity.
The most convenient goal of the pilgrims was Portugal. A large population of Jews already existed there, and some had risen to wealth and political position under friendly kings. But John II was frightened by the number of Spanish Jews—perhaps 80,000—who poured in. He granted them a stay of eight months, after which they were to leave. Pestilence broke out among them, and spread to the Christians, who demanded their immediate expulsion. John facilitated the departure of the immigrant Jews by providing ships at low cost; but those who confided themselves to these vessels were subjected to robbery and rape; many were cast upon desolate shores and left to die of starvation or to be captured and enslaved by Moors.44 One shipload of 250 Jews, being refused at port after port because pestilence still raged among them, wandered at sea for four months. Biscayan pirates seized one vessel, pillaged the passengers, then drove the ships into Málaga, where the priests and magistrates gave the Jews a choice of baptism or starvation.
After fifty of them had died, the authorities provided the survivors with bread and water, and bade them sail for Africa.45
When the eight months of grace had expired, John II sold into slavery those Jewish immigrants who still remained in Portugal. Children under fifteen were taken from their parents, and were sent to the St. Thomas Islands to be reared as Christians. As no appeals could move the executors of the decree, some mothers drowned themselves and their children rather than suffer their separation.46 John’s successor, Manuel, gave the Jews a breathing spell: he freed those whom John had enslaved, forbade the preachers to incite the populace against the Jews, and ordered his courts to dismiss as malicious tales all allegations of the murder of Christian children by Jews.47 But meanwhile Manuel courted Isabella, daughter and heiress of Isabella and Ferdinand, and dreamed of uniting both thrones under one bed. The Catholic sovereigns agreed, on condition that Manuel expel from Portugal all unbaptized Jews, native or immigrant. Loving honors above honor, Manuel consented, and ordered all Jews and Moors in his realm to accept baptism or banishment (1496). Finding that only a few preferred baptism, and loath to disrupt the trades and crafts in which the Jews excelled, he ordered all Jewish children under fifteen to be separated from their parents and forcibly baptized. The Catholic clergy opposed this measure, but it was carried out. “I have seen,” reported a bishop, “many children dragged to the font by the hair.”48 Some Jews killed their children, and then themselves, in protest. Manuel grew ferocious; he hindered the departure of Jews, then ordered them to be baptized by force. They were dragged to the churches by the beards of the men and the hair of the women, and many killed themselves on the way. The Portuguese Conversos sent a dispatch to Pope Alexander VI begging his intercession; his reply is unknown; it was probably favorable, for Manuel now (May 1497) granted to all forcibly baptized Jews a moratorium of twenty years, during which they were not to be brought before any tribunal on a charge of adhering to Judaism. But the Christians of Portugal resented the economic competition of the Jews, baptized or not; when one Jew questioned a miracle alleged to have occurred in a Lisbon church, the populace tore him to pieces (1506); for three days massacre ran free; 2,000 Jews were killed; hundreds of them were buried alive. Catholic prelates denounced the outrage, and two Dominican friars who had incited the riot were put to death.49 Otherwise, for a generation, there was almost peace.
From Spain the terrible exodus was complete. But religious unity was not yet achieved: the Moors remained. Granada had been taken, but its Mohammedan population had been guaranteed religious liberty. Archbishop Hernando de Talavera, commissioned to govern Granada, scrupulously observed this compact, and sought to make converts by kindness and justice. Ximenes did not approve such Christianity. He persuaded the Queen that faith need not be kept with infidels, and induced her to decree (1499) that the Moors must become Christians or leave Spain. Going himself to Granada, he overruled Talavera, closed the mosques, made public bonfires of all the Arabic books and manuscripts he could lay his hands on,50 and supervised wholesale compulsory christenings. The Moors washed the holy water from their children as soon as they were out of the priests’ sight. Revolts broke out in the city and the province; they were crushed. By a royal edict of February 12, 1502, all Moslems in Castile and León were given till April 30 to choose between Christianity and exile. The Moors protested that when their forefathers had ruled much of Spain they had given religious liberty, with rare exceptions, to the Christians under their sway,51 but the sovereigns were not moved. Boys under fourteen and girls under twelve were forbidden to leave Spain with their parents, and feudal barons were allowed to retain their Moorish slaves provided these were kept in fetters.52 Thousands departed; the rest accepted baptism more philosophically than the Jews; and as “Moriscos” they took the place of the baptized Jews in suffering the penalties of the Inquisition for relapses into their former faith. During the sixteenth century 3,000,000 superficially converted Moslems left Spain.53 Cardinal Richelieu called the edict of 1502 “the most barbarous in history”;54 but the friar Bleda thought it “the most glorious event in Spain since the time of the Apostles. Now,” he added, “religious unity is secured, and an era of prosperity is certainly about to dawn.”55
Spain lost an incalculable treasure by the exodus of Jewish and Moslem merchants, craftsmen, scholars, physicians, and scientists, and the nations that received them benefited economically and intellectually. Knowing henceforth only one religion, the Spanish people submitted completely to their clergy, and surrendered all right to think except within the limits of the traditional faith. For good or ill, Spain chose to remain medieval, while Europe, by the commercial, typographical, intellectual, and Protestant revolutions, rushed into modernity.