Isabella and the Spanish Inquisition - William Thomas Walsh

[excerpts from a mailing list I belong to-stvf]

Isabella and the Spanish Inquisition - William Thomas Walsh

Isabella of Spain

by William Thomas Walsh

London, Sheed & Ward, 1935

{p. 258}        XIV

IN MEDIEVAL Spain the Jews came nearer to building a New Jerusalem than at any time or place since their dispersion after the Crucifixion. Had they succeeded—and several times they came perilously near success—they might conceivably have managed, with Mohammedan aid, to destroy the Christian civilzation of Europe. Their ultimate failure was caused chiefly by the life-work of Isabel.

The date of their first migrations to the peninsula is disputed; but the evidence appears to indicate that they arrived not long after Saint James the Greater first preached the gospel of Christianity in Saragossa in A.D. 42. Some of those expelled from Rome by Claudius may have settled in Spain. Certain it is that they spread through the country very early in the Christian era, and multiplied so rapidly that their presence constituted a serious problem for the Arian (unorthodox Christian) Visigoths. They were not at first persecuted by the Christians; but, after the discovery that they were plotting to bring the Arabs from Africa for the overthrow of the Gothic kingdom, they were condemned to slavery by one of the councils of Toledo. Nevertheless by the beginning of the eighth century they were numerous in all the chief cities, enjoyed power and wealth, and even

{p. 259} obtained through bribery certain privileges denied to Christians.

That they played an important part in bringing the Saracens from Africa in 709 is certain. In the invading army there were many African Jews. Everywhere the Spanish Jews opened the gates of cities to the conquerors, and the Moslems rewarded them by turning over to them the government of Granada, Seville and Cordoba. "Without any love for the soil where they lived, without any of those affections that ennoble a people, and finally without sentiments of generosity," says Amador de los Rios,1 "they aspired only to feed their avarice and to accomplish the ruin of the Goths; taking the opportunity to manifest their rancour, and boasting of the hatreds that they had hoarded up so many centuries." This is a severe indictment, and it would be most unfair to place all the blame for the Mussulman invasion at the door of the Jews. Neither their intrigues nor the Moorish arms could have prevailed, perhaps, if the Christian Visigoth monarchy had not fallen first into heresy and then into decadence. King Witiza led an unsavoury life, published an edict permitting priests to marry, and so far flouted the Christian beliefs of his subjects that he denied the authority of the Pope. His successor, Roderigo, violated the daughter of Count Julian, who thereupon crossed into Africa and joined the Jews in prevailing upon the Moors to conquer Spain. The sons of Witiza, persecuted by Roderigo, also joined the enemy. And at the critical moment of the battle of Jerez de la Frontera, Bishop Oppas, who had a grudge against Roderigo, went over to the Saracens and gave them the victory.

In the new Moslem state the Jews found themselves highly esteemed. It was under the caliphs that they attained the height of their prosperity. They studied and taught in the Arab universities, excelling particularly in astrology and medicine. Through their connections with Asiatic Jews,

{p. 260} they were able to get the best drugs and spices; and through their wealth, acquired chiefly through usury, barter and the huge traffic in slaves, they obtained leisure for the pursuit and diffusion of culture. They expounded the philosophy of Aristotle, which flourished among the Arabs, before the Stagirite was known in Christian Europe.2

In Granada the Jews became so numerous that it was called "the city of the Jews." But the Saracens persecuted them at times. On December 30, 1066, the Moslems of Granada, infuriated by their exploitations, arose against them and slew 4,000. One of the caliphs expelled all Jews from Granada.

The gradual reconquest of the peninsula by the Christians did not at first trouble their marlellous prosperity. When Saint Fernando took Seville in 1224 he gave the Jews four Moorish mosques toconvert into synagogues; he allowed them one of the pleasantest sections for their homes, and imposed no conditions except to refrain from proselytizing among Christians and from insulting the Christian religion.3 The Jews observed neither of these conditions. Yet several of the later kings, usually those of lukewarm faith or those especially in need of money, showed them high favour. Alfonso VIII made one of them his treasurer.

In spite of persecution now and then, they multiplied and prospered until, toward the end of the thirteenth century, they were a power, almost a state within the State, gradually retarding the reconquest. In Castile alone they paid a poll-tax of 2,561,855 maravedis in 1284.4 As each adult male Jew was taxed three gold maravedis, there must have been 853,951 men alone; hence the total Jewish population may well have been from four to five millions—and this leaves out of account large communities in Aragon and other sections. There are no accurate figures for the total population of Spain, but most of the estimates generally accepted are ridiculously low. More probably there were at least 25,000,000 and perhaps as many as 30,000,000 people in

{p. 261} all the Spanish kingdoms at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Probably a fifth, or even a fourth were Jews—a large minority, and they possessed an influence out of proportion to their numbers. They became so powerful that the laws against blasphemy could not be enforced against them. It was so plain that they were above the law that the Cathari of Leon used to circumcize themselves that they might freely teach a Jews the heresy for which they would be punished as Christians.5

The capital and commerce of the country were largely in their hands, for they were almost the only bankers and money-lenders in an age when usury was forbidden by the Church. In Aragon they generally charged twenty per cent., in Castile thirty-three and one-third percent. During the famine of 1326 the Jewish alhama of Cuenca refused to lend money or wheat for sowing, unless they received forty per cent. interest, and the town council was compelled by the distress of the people to pay it. Carlos III of Navarre paid thirty-five per cent. for a loan of 2,000 florins in 1401, and in 1402 his wife, Queen Leona, paid herJewish physician four florins a month for a loan of seventy florins, giving him her silver plate as security. As the interest on the seventy florins amounted to eighty-four florins after twenty-one months, she protested, and the Jew accepted thirty florins. 6 The citizen with taxes to pay, the farmer with no money to buy seed for his planting, the burgher held for ransom by a turbulent noble, turned in desperation to the Jewish money-lender and became his economic slave.

The government gradually passed into Jewish hands. Though the common people, the debtor class, hated them, the kings and great feudatories protected them, since it was convenient at times to borrow from them. Whenever the Jews made a loan, however, they asked for security, and frequently for some political concession. For example, a Jew would ask the King to "farm out" to him the taxes of

{p. 262} a certain city or district; or the King, in desperate need of funds, would offer the privilege to the highest bidder, and a Jew usually got it. The profit of farming the taxes depended on the amount that the collectors could extort from the people. Isabel's brother Enrique carried the hated policy so far that he gave two of his Jewish tax collectors the power of life and death over the citizens whom they exploited. The Church in vain attempted to prevent the employment of Jews in public offlces. The services they rendered to the monarchs as money-lenders, administrators, physicians and scientists made them indispensable. The people protested; the kings promised relief, but seldom gave it.

Confident and secure, the Jews lived with all the oriental ostentation of which their luxurious nature is capable. They took no particular pains to conceal their contempt for the lesser breeds without the law, who paid them tribute; they overdressed, they lived in grand houses, they entertained lavishly. Alfonso V of Portugal once said to Rabbi Ibn Yachia, "Why do you not stop your people from displaying a magnificence that Christians attribute to thefts committed at their expense? But you need not answer me! I know that nothing but a massacre can cure them of that fatal pride of theirs."

With the reign of Pedro the Cruel in the middle of the fourteenth century, the history of the Jews in Castile enters on a new phase. Pedro, who was intensely hated, was popularly believed to have been a Jewish child, substituted in the cradle for the lawful heiress by Queen Maria, whose husband had threatened to kill her if she did not bear a boy. He was denounced by Pope Urban I as a rebel to the Church, "a fautor of Jews and Moors, a propagator of infidelity, and a slayer of Christians." He gave the Jews complete control of his government. They financed his war with his bastard brother Henry of Trastamara, Isabel's great-greatgrandfather. The Moors also recognized a frend in

{p. 263} Pedro, for 87,000 of them marched from Granada to help him in 1368. When Henry slew him—calling him el fi de puta judio—it was an unlucky day for both Jews and Moors.

As if their wealth and ostentation were not sure sooner or later to cause a repetition of their sad history, there fell on the Israelites a terrible misfortune such as no man could have predicted. All men suffered from it, but the Jews more cruelly than the rest.

The Black Death, which slew at least half the entire population of Europe within two years, was probably the worst catastrophe that had ever befallen Christendom. But the Jews suffered doubly. For they had hardly buried their dead when the populace, half crazed with fear and grief, revived the old cry, "Down with the Jews! The Jews did it! The Jews poisoned the wells!"

Straightway, all over Europe, the Israelites were put to the sword. In vain did Pope Clement VI attempt by pleadings and threats of excommunication to stay the fanatics, particularly in Germany. Following the example, as he said, of Calixtus II, Eugenius III, Alexander III, Clement III, Celestine III, Innocent III, Gregory IX, Nicholas III, Honorius IV and Nicholas IV, he denounced the tales attributing the calamity to the Jews as lies, and pointed out that the plague had been just as virulent in lands where no Jews lived. The massacres, however, continued.

In Castile, the Jews escaped the major persecution until the Archdeacon of Ecija, Ferran Martinez, preached against them. In June, 1391 there was a general uprising in Seville; the mob rushed into the juderia, slew 4,000 and compelled the survivors to accept baptism. The furore spread to other cities. The total number of victims has been estimated as high as 50,000, probably, as Lea says, an exaggeration.7

These massacres created a new class of citizens: the Conversos, who were referred to derisively as Marranos. Thirty-

{p. 264} five thousand were converted by the eloquence of Saint Vincent Ferrer, 4,000 being baptized in Toledo in one day. What his sermons and his miracles failed to accomplish, the fear of further atrocities effected. The Jewish population in Isabel's time had shrunk from some 5,000,000 or more to about 200,000.

What had become of the 4,800,000? If the Black Death slew, say 2000,000, another two and a half million, at least, had become New Christians. Some conversions were sincere; more of them were actuated by fear under persecution, or by motives of self-interest. "Their conversion was, however, only external, or feigned; at heart they adhered loyally to their ancestral religion. Though outwardly Christians, they secretly practised the rites of the Jewish faith."8 With the intelligence of their race, they saw that as acknowledged Jews they would be segregated, forced to wear a badge of inferiority and pay a poll-tax, forbidden to have social or business relations with Christians, or to hold offlce in Church or State. But as professing Christians who heard Mass on Sunday, even though they privately attended the synagogue on Saturday, they could hold office, they could follow any career for which their abilities fitted them, they could even intermarry with the noble (but sometimes needy) families of Spain.

By the time of Isabel and Fernando, a great many of the ancient houses of the peninsula had Jewish relatives. Limpia sangre, "clean blood," was a distinction which many claimed but not all had. The de Lunas, the Mendozas, the Guzmans, the Villahermosas, all had Hebrew strains. Certain Jewish traditions have gone so far as to include even the maternal grandmother of King Fernando; but the claim is based upon a misunderstanding, as Zurita and Mariana clearly prove.

What cannot be questioned, however is that Conversos and their kin everywhere controlled businss overnment, taxa-

{p. 265} tion, all that was valuable, just as their ancestors had as Jews. Thus the massacres had only substituted for one problem another and much more intricate one. For as Conversos, the Jews were now capable of doing greater injury to Christianity through their influence upon the Old Christians with whom they mingled.

Even the Catholic Church in Spain was being directed and exploited to an astonishing extent by Jews when Isabel became Queen. As "Christians" they could now become priests, if otherwise eligible. A Jewish "convert" anxious to show his loyalty to his new religion, would dedicate one of his sons to the Church. And in the Church the Jews excelled just as they did in other fields; they mounted the hierarchy so rapidly that in Isabel's reign an impressive number of the bishops were of Jewish descent. Every church, every chapter, every monastery had influential Jewish connections; and in some dioceses Jews collected the ecclesiastical revenues.

To attribute all the corruption in the Church to them, as their enemies did, was of course unfair. Clerical discipline had broken down in other countries where the Jews were few; the Church had had to lower the standard of her priesthood after the Black Death; and the seventy-five years' exile of the Popes at Avignon as prisoners of the French Kings, had paralysed the whole structure. But in Spain there was an additional cause of laxity and immorality, of cynicism and hypocrisy, in the presence of so many priests who did not believe the doctrines they taught.

It is not difficult to understand the indignation of Catholics against priests who made a mockery of the sacraments they pretended to administer. "No man could tell how many priests there were like Andres Gomalz, parish priest of San Martin de Talavera, who, on his trial at Toledo in 1486, confessed that for fourteen years he had been secretly a Jew, that he had no 'intention' when he celebrated Mass,

{p. 266} nor had he granted absolution to the penitents who confessed to him.”9

And there were others like Fray Garcia de Tapate, prior of the Jeronymite monastery of Toledo, who, when he elevated the Host at Mass, used to say, "Get up, little Peter, and let the people look at you," instead of the words of consecration; and who always turned his back on his penitents while he pretended to give them absolution.

The New Christians, by another irony, became the bitterest persecutors of the poor despised Jews who had clung to the law of Moses at the risk of their lives. The Cortes of 1405, directed by ambitious Conversos, passed new and cruel laws against the people of the juderias. All bonds of Christians held by Jews were declared void; debts due them were reduced one half; they must wear red circles on their clothing except when travelling. The ordinance of Queen Catalina in 1412 forbade them to shave or cut the hair round, to change abodes, to be farmers or collectors of taxes, physicians, surgeons, apothecaries, pedlars, blacksmiths, furriers, carpenters, tailors, barbers, or builders; to carry arms; to hire Christians; to eat with or bathe with Christians. "From the earliest times," says Lea, "the hardest blows endured by Judaism had always been dealt by its apostate children whose training had taught them the weakest points to assail, and whose necessity of self-justification led them to attack these mercilessly." Converted Jews had egged on the mobs in 1391. Conversos would be found high in the council of the Inquisition, directing its activities. Sometimes the Jews avenged themselves on the New Christians by falsely testifying against them before the Inquisition, and getting them burned as heretics. Isabel proceeded against such false witnesses with the utmost rigour. As an example she had eight of them executed, their flesh having been torn first with red-hot pincers.

{p. 267} The Conversos were hated by the Old Christians even more than the Jews were.

{p. 277} Hearing this the two friars issued a proclamation, January 2, 1481, commanding the Marques of Cadiz and other grandes to search their territories, seize all strangers and newcomers, and deliver them within fifteen days at the prison of the Inquisition; also to sequester their property, have it inventoried, and entrust it to reliable persons who should be accountable to the King and Queen. Failure to comply would result in the excommunication of the nobles, forfeiture of rank and property, prosecution by the Inquisition, and the release of their vassals from allegiance and taxes.1

The Marques must have read this pronouncement with some amazement. Five years before he would have torn it in pieces and laughed to scorn the two simple friars who dared take such a tone with men accustomed to address kings on almost equal terms. Five years before two friars would probably not have dared send such a manifesto to Don Rodrigo Ponce de Leon. But times had changed.

The Marques, though married to a daughter of the Converso Juan Pacheco, seized the New Christians and sent them to Seville. When the convent of San Pablo became overcrowded with the prisoners, the Inquisitors moved their headquarters across the river, to the great fortress of Triana. There in the gloomy, damp dungeons below the level of the river lay some of the richest and most influential men and women in Seville. The early Spanish Inquisition was one of the few persecutions in history in which the victims were chiefly millionaires and the common people applauded.

Great post svin
KEEP it UP!!!
I like Walsh. His Characters of the Inquisition impressed me in high school. Walsh raises points many other writers leave out. With that being said... I find some Catholic historians highly amusing. Walsh is among this group. I believe Walsh once wrote a book with the fatuous title, The Thirteenth, Greatest of Centuries. Hilaire Belloc and the more recent Harry Crocker can be lumped into this group as well.  Reading the books these guys put out is like listening to your uncle over coffee after Mass. They're so biased as to question if they're actual historians in the first place. Don't get me wrong, Catholic authors raise worthwhile points. Nevertheless, their lack of objectivity, or even a nod that such a thing exists, makes for entertaining reading.
Objectivity doesn't exist.
Those who claim it r either full of shit or blinded by their own egos.
(02-26-2010, 10:29 AM)devotedknuckles Wrote: Objectivity doesn't exist.
Those who claim it r either full of shit or blinded by their own egos.

I concur.  I especially find amusing those so-called academic historians who claim to be objective because they don't have a "confessional viewpoint" when writing about Church history, especially around the time of the Protestant Revolt.  Someone who is neither a pro-Protestant or pro-Catholic when specifically writing about those two groups probably indicates that he is both anti-Protestant and anti-Catholic.

It's a common fallacy to think that you can be pro-something (e.g. pro-"not subscribing to any form of religious dogma") and not necessarily be contra opposing views.  Thus, there is no neutrality.  There is no objectivity.

To simplify, take a schoolyard fight between to boys over some argument they'd been having. A third, new boy is asked who's side he's on; whom will he fight for? The third boy says "neither", he doesn't think either of them are right. That's the so-called neutrality I see so-called academic historians of today have.  They deceive themselves.

James Joseph Walsh wrote The Thirteenth, Greatest of Centuries.

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