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  • Were God’s People Destined to be Ruled by a Mortal King? A Judeo-Converso-Christian Tradition

    While the use of Old Testament imagery and biblical tropes was quite common in public representations of medieval monarchies, the ancient Israelite kingship played only a minor role in the new political science—which rested primarily on Aristotelian and juristic languages—that evolved in the late Middle Ages. Moreover, since most Christian readers of the Bible believed that biblical kingship was founded as a sinful act of rebellion against the rule of God (as described in 1 Samuel 8), promonarchical thinkers tended to discard its relevance to scientific political theory, resorting to the principal hermeneutic, legal, and moral divide between the histories of the Old Testament and the Christian realities under the new covenant. This paper seeks to examine one channel through which the “converso phenomena” and the massive entry of Jewish converts to the forming ranks of letrados in the 15th century challenged this division and stimulated new biblical readings that broadened Hebraic-political horizons. Focusing on the biblical commentaries of the famous convert Pablo de Santa Maria (c. 1352–1435), who served at both papal and royal courts, the paper follows his attempt to level the hermeneutical field between biblical monarchy and Christian political theories. As will be demonstrated, these ideas, which echoed the Hebraic traditions that Pablo had mastered as a Jewish scholar, struck a chord with their Christian audience, stimulating a variety of responses among scholars of the following generations, among them Alonso de Cartagena (1384–1456),  Alonso Fernández de Madrigal (c.1410–1455), and Isaac Abravanel (1437–1508).

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  • Don Isaac Abravanel and the Conversos: Wealth, Politics, and Messianism

    The figure and the problem of the converso are often addressed in Abravanel’s works, especially after the 1492 expulsion, as has already been noted and studied by earlier scholars. Yet the link between Abravanel’s theological-political conceptions and his disseminated remarks on converts has not been studied as such. In this article I will try to partially fill this lacuna by studying a few of Abravanel’s important texts on the converts and by highlighting their theological and political background and meaning. Modern historiography has attempted to separate the political dimension of the converso phenomenon apparent in Abravanel’s biblical and messianic commentaries from the theological hermeneutical framework in which it is expressed. The following study focuses on Abravanel’s apologetic use and explanation of the conversos’ fate as it comes to the fore in several passages of his messianic work Mashmia yeshua (Announcer of salvation) of 1498 and of his commentary on Ezekiel of 1504. Abravanel’s messianic apology of Judaism after 1492 developed a certain theological and political meaning of the conversos’s destiny, which pointed at the converso not as a political figure revealing the historicity of the religious community but as a necessary by-product of exile participating in the messianic history of Israel and even revealing the stage it had reached.

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  • The Jewish Precedent in the Spanish Politics of Conversion of Muslims and Moriscos

    The figure and the problem of the converso are often addressed in Abravanel’s works, especially after the 1492 expulsion, as has already been noted and studied by earlier scholars. Yet the link between Abravanel’s theological-political conceptions and his disseminated remarks on converts has not been studied as such. In this article I will try to partially fill this lacuna by studying a few of Abravanel’s important texts on the converts and by highlighting their theological and political background and meaning. Modern historiography has attempted to separate the political dimension of the converso phenomenon apparent in Abravanel’s biblical and messianic commentaries from the theological hermeneutical framework in which it is expressed. The following study focuses on Abravanel’s apologetic use and explanation of the conversos’ fate as it comes to the fore in several passages of his messianic work Mashmia yeshua (Announcer of salvation) of 1498 and of his commentary on Ezekiel of 1504. Abravanel’s messianic apology of Judaism after 1492 developed a certain theological and political meaning of the conversos’s destiny, which pointed at the converso not as a political figure revealing the historicity of the religious community but as a necessary by-product of exile participating in the messianic history of Israel and even revealing the stage it had reached.

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  • Papal Power, the Portuguese Inquisition, and a Consilium of Cardinal Pier Paolo Pariseo

    The traditional picture painted by Alexandre Herculano portrays the interactions between the papacy and King John III of Portugal, which ended in the establishment of the Portuguese Inquisition and the free hand given to it, as the product of cynicism. The vagaries of the papal court certainly intervened. However, by reexamining the tens of papal letters issued concerning the Inquisition’s origins, many of which Herculano may not have seen, one comes to a different conclusion, one reinforced by a consilium (in fact, two that are read as one) by the Bolognese professor of law and eventual cardinal, Pier Paolo Pariseo. Composed at papal request, this consilium insists on pardoning, as the pope wished, those converted in 1497, because coacti fuerunt (they were forced), words that appear in the papal letters as well. The history of forced conversion gives reason to assume both pope and professor were sincerely perturbed. More, both were insistent on reinforcing the idea of papal supremacy in matters mere ecclesiasticum, as well they should have been. For the drama of the Inquisition took place parallel to the great struggle of the pope with Henry VIII of England, who claimed, in so many words, such powers for himself. Moreover, Henry VIII, because he remained theologically a Catholic, was a greater threat in many ways than Luther. Would the Portuguese monarchy, and perhaps others, follow Henry, leaving the pope truly powerless?

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  • Conversos, Finance, and Military Campaigns in the Reign of Ferdinand the Catholic: A View from Sicily

    The present paper examines the role played by high-placed converts in Sicily in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, in order to identify patterns of converso involvement in royal finances and state economy while offering an opportunity for tracing the beginnings of the advantageous relationship between king, court, and conversos. The protagonists of this discussion are Aloysio Sánchez, who acted as banker and treasurer to King Ferdinand the Catholic in Sicily, and the physician Ferrando de Aragona, the leader of the Sicilian “converso community” (universitas neophitorum). Aloysio Sánchez and Ferrando de Aragona were both instrumental in financing the Spanish military campaigns in the Italian south in 1494 and in North Africa in 1510. A better understanding of the roles played by these Sicilian-based conversos can shed light on some of the political and military developments of the last decade of Ferdinand’s reign. Ultimately, this paper argues that the high positions held by certain converts and their close ties to the influential figures of their time helped ensure their survival and continuing prosperity despite accusations of heresy.

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  • The Dutch Occupation and Defense of Brazil: The Question of the Support of Jews and Conversos

    Documents preserved by the Portuguese Inquisition, travelers’ tales, contemporary chronicles, and writings left by local priests provide information concerning the Brazilian conversos. Taken together, the documents permit reconstruction of important aspects of Lusitanian American socioeconomic history. Still, these must be read and used with extreme caution, as the sources always reproduce what the inquisitors wanted to prove: the persistence of Jewish heresy. According to traditional historiographers (among others: Robert Southey, Ignacio Accioli de Cerqueira e Silva and Braz do Amaral, Antonio Domínguez Ortiz, Lucia García Proodian, and Eduardo D’Oliviera França), most of the cristãos-novos (New Christians) in northeastern Brazil had apparently helped the Dutch invaders. This assumption, however, has not been corroborated by the evidence, which shows that only some of the New Christians carried out acts of war on the side of the Dutch in the initial stages of the conquest, during which they served as guides, advisers, translators, and soldiers. It will be shown that the New Christians were not a homogeneous group, nor did they behave as a coherent unit at any time in Brazil’s colonial period. In the years the Dutch occupied parts of northeastern Brazil (1624–1625 and 1630–1654), there were Christians, both Old and New, who sympathized with the invaders. At the same time, many of the New Christians born in Brazil were already integrated into colonial life and society, contributing money, fighting against the Dutch, and taking part in Portugal’s defensive plans. Examples in this updated survey on the topic illustrate that those New and Old Christians who supported either the Dutch or the Portuguese side did so mainly for economic reasons rather than out of political or religious motivations.

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  • Manuel Fernandes Vila Real at the Portuguese Embassy in Paris, 1644-1649: New Documents and Insights

    During the inquisitorial trial that would lead to his execution as a Judaizer, Captain Manuel Fernandes Vila Real (1608–1652) detailed in a long hand-written petition the considerable services he had rendered toward Portugal’s independence as a member of its embassy in Paris during the years of 1641–1649. Vila Real ended his autobiography with the enumeration of his publications on political matters, mentioning an additional two dozen confidential memorandums that he had composed in France during his work at the embassy. The present article reports on the discovery of extensive fragments from these lost manuscripts in a miscellaneous collection of state papers kept by the Portuguese National Archives. Thirty unsigned drafts, totaling more than one hundred pages, can be attributed to Vila Real on the basis of their handwriting. These papers apparently belonged to the estate of Ambassador Dom Vasco Luís da Gama, Marquês de Niza (1612–1676), who used them in his official reports. Vila Real gave his superior, and thereby the Portuguese government, a detailed account and analysis of current European events, accounts of the Fronde uprising in Paris, and suggestions for improving Portugal’s war effort, trade laws, finance, and international image. Though few of these memorandums address the New Christian problem directly, the latter turns out to be inseparable from Vila Real’s diplomatic activity.

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  • “The Purity of Blood Privilege for Honors and Positions”: The Spanish Crown and the Ximenes de Aragão Family

    The objective of this article is to analyze the process of ascension of the New Christian Ximenes de Aragão family. To do this, we will separate the text into two parts. First, we will examine the different social strategies used by this family in Portugal and Spain to achieve honor and social distinction, to separate themselves from the other Portuguese New Christians, and to try to integrate into Old Christian society. Second, we will study the main ambition of this family—the privileges of nobility and purity of blood—and the debates regarding this question that took place in the Spanish court, the Council of Portugal, and in different committees.

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  • Papal Bulls and Converso Brokers: New Christian Agents at the Service of the Catholic Monarchy in the Roman Curia (1550-1650)

    This paper analyzes the presence of the New Christian minority within the system of curial agencies, a key structure for the interests of the Catholic monarchy in Rome. It was a stable network of agents that reflected the multiplicity of territories under the sovereignty of the Spanish Habsburgs and worked alongside the Spanish embassy to the Holy See. Factors explaining the significant converso presence and the curial dynamics behind the creation of the system of agencies are examined, illustrating the operation thereof through various case studies, with special attention to Portugal’s agency. A transversal approach is employed in the study of this system, which has been very poorly understood until now.

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  • “Anticonverso” Trends among Converted Jews in Seventeenth-Century Europe

    In the second half of the sixteenth century, and especially during the seventeenth century, the Iberian Peninsula became a magnet for Jews who had never been conversos, or who came of age as Jews. These men, who produced anti-New Christian discourses—as can be seen in some inquisitorial trials or in great intellectual debates—are perhaps best represented by João Baptista d’Este. In some cases New Christians were the major targets of their diatribes, even when their objective was, in an essentialist plan, to reiterate the fallaciousness of the Jews and of Judaism. The pressing question, also reiterated by Old Christians, was the New Christians’ supposed duplicity, often equated with iniquity, from which the new catechumens wished to distance themselves. The proof of the “falsity and ambiguity” of the conversos resorted to examples that were sometimes manufactured from their everyday life and from a “failed” plan to integrate another minority, the Moriscos, though their resounding expulsion became an equally ideal destiny to apply to the New Christians.

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  • Manuel de Gama de Pádua’s Political Networks: Service, Subversion, and the Disruption of the Portuguese Inquisition

    Between 1674 and 1681, the activities of the Portuguese Inquisition were suspended by papal order. But how was it possible that this mighty institution, built by Catholic elites for religious and social discipline and political control, could be so comprehensively disrupted? This article argues that a key factor in motivating this break in Inquisitorial activity was New Christian political activism, and it seeks to explore what “politics” might have meant for such men, in a society that allowed this and other marginal groups no political role. It suggests that the financial and structural needs of the Crown, committed to empire building and pressured by a continuous war for survival during the Portuguese Restoration and subsequent war with Spain (1640­–1668), brought a small group of entrepreneurs to the heart of the state. The article also explores the manner in which one member of this group used this influence for political ends. It seeks to offer new insights into this sort of political activity by viewing it from a cross-cultural perspective, rather than solely from a New Christian ethnic or religious standpoint. It will emphasize mechanisms of coexistence, trust, and cooperation and consider politics as not only an activity of the elites but also as something in which those who were repressed or marginalized engaged. This article forms a part of a wider study of early modern politics, trade, and religion viewed through the prism of the period during which the Portuguese Inquisition was suspended. I will explore the role of one entrepreneur living in Lisbon who was involved in the suspension. This man, Manuel da Gama de Pádua, used the skills, strategies, and connections he had gained in cross-cultural trade as a tool to bring about political change, acting as procurator, or legal representative, of the New Christian community.

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  • The Nação as a Political Entity at the Court of Rome

    This article deals with the manner in which Portuguese New Christians developed into a political entity, eventually becoming tantamount to a national group in the deliberations of the Holy See in the first part of the sixteenth century. This was, in part, accomplished through the efforts of a group of Portuguese conversos who had been present in Rome since the initial concession to Portugal of a tribunal of the Inquisition in 1531. The article considers how these men acted as procurators in a way similar to other such agents who represented the interests of national groups and who maintained a constant presence in Rome for centuries. It demonstrates how they sought to abolish or mitigate the effects of the tribunal in Portugal, seeking reprieves for people accused by the Inquisition or imprisoned in the kingdom and helping to set up safe havens in the Italian peninsula where they could settle.

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