• Portuguese New Christians among the Local Elites in Seventeenth-Century Cartagena de Indias

    To show that the conversos’ ability to become an integral and influential part of local society did not depend on their inner, private religious and ethnic identities but rather on external factors, the present article analyzes the case of the New Christians in colonial Cartagena de Indias (in today’s Colombia) based on testimonies found in Inquisition archives. The peculiarity of Cartagena de Indias, in contrast to other important cities in the Hispanic colonies, relied on the fact that it was a small city with a relatively small Caucasian population, and its economic life depended almost exclusively on commercial activity. The thesis defended in this article argues that if commerce was central to life in Cartagena de Indias, and the Portuguese New Christians predominated both demographically and in the field of trade, clearly their influence on various aspects of local society had to be significant. The article presents specific examples that show the Portuguese impact in the city in different spheres of society, including the social, political, economic, and philanthropic.

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  • The Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam and the Language of Liberty

    The exceptional freedoms granted to the Portuguese Jews who began settling in the Netherlands at the very end of the sixteenth century are well known, not only to scholars but to the wider educated public. This article addresses a development scholars have not, however, examined: how Portuguese Jews in the Netherlands came to grasp their new freedoms as an expression of universal political values (rather than mere largesse), and—most significantly—to identify with those values. This requires understanding the essentially religious and ethnocentric meaning of “freedom” in traditional Jewish discourse, where it is presented not as a good in itself but as an instrumental good, in that it facilitated the Jewish people’s proper service of God. Members of the communal elite who had immigrated from Portugal and Spain would have been familiar with the terms liberdade and libertad as abstractions of Iberian political philosophy with no practical significance. But in Amsterdam they would have become familiar with an idea of liberty as a universal right in matters of conscience that pertained to all subjects of a realm, and with an early form of civil religion that embedded the concept of liberty in a uniquely Dutch religiopolitical discourse. A close look at texts generated by Portuguese Jews in seventeenth-century Amsterdam reveals how members of the communal elite came to embrace (at least publicly) a concept of liberty in its universal political meaning, conflating it with a traditional Jewish narrative in a way that dovetailed with the emerging Dutch national narrative.

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  • Moriscos in Sicily in the Years of the Expulsion (1609–1614)

    Based primarily on documentary evidence gathered at the Archivo General de Simancas, this essay outlines the history of some of those Moriscos who settled in Sicily between 1609 and 1614, in the aftermath of their expulsion from Spain. The article addresses the question of their numbers, their origin, their socioeconomic profile, and their religious identity, and tries to reconstruct the position of the viceregal chancellery of Sicily when confronted with the phenomenon of Moriscos reaching the territories under its jurisdiction. It argues that the Morisco problem in Sicily was tackled in a way that differed substantially from the way it was approached in the mother country. However, the viceroy’s seemingly more lenient attitude and his ambiguous behavior toward Moriscos appear to have been linked to the benefits some of them could provide him rather than to any real sympathy with their plight, and this only insofar as Moriscos allowed to reside on the island were confined to small numbers and to at least outwardly practicing Christians and that their presence did not entail a direct confrontation with the local Inquisition.

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  • Mercantilism, Statebuilding, and Social Reform: The Government of the Marquis of Pombal and the Abolition of the Distinction between New and Old Christians

    The 1773 law abolishing the distinction between New and Old Christians put an end to an extremely resilient foundation for discrimination that had been embedded in the Portuguese social order for more than two centuries. Although the New Christian community had long been eroded by emigration, statutes of blood purity still upheld that discrimination. The Marquis of Pombal, the powerful secretary of state, was atypically cautious in suppressing such an entrenched social barrier, only taking the decision to do so after a full institutional procedure. The decision is associated with both the government’s regalist offensive, which aimed at the church’s subordination, and with a set of measures designed to give the Crown a monopoly over the legitimate system of social classification. Among such measures, the onslaught on a clique of aristocratic families and their pretensions to blood purity in 1768 is most revealing, as it represents a positive claim to that monopoly.

    Suppressing the distinction served to reinforce state power in other ways. Although a reformer, Pombal based his policies on the principles of seventeenth-century mercantilism and raison d’état. To end foreign ascendancy over Portuguese colonial trade and secure the Portuguese monopoly of that trade, he had to eliminate contraband, which could be partly accomplished by abolishing the discrimination against the Jews, who would otherwise, Pombal felt, be contraband’s most redoubtable agents. It would also facilitate the promotion of a group of merchants who could run the trade with the colonies. In this way they would no longer be concerned about their profession being associated with a reviled ethnic ancestry, and they could be more confident of their respectability. The abolition of the distinction between New and Old Christians was thus an instrument of statebuilding through social reform.

     

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  • Emancipating the Chuetas: From Enlightened Despotism to Radical Liberalism

    The article analyzes two attempts to emancipate the Chuetas in Spain: the enlightened (1773–1789) and the liberal (1810–1840). The Chuetas, a pious Christian group reputed to be descendants of Jews, lived secluded and discriminated against in the city of Palma, Majorca, because of their Jewish origin. In February 1773 the Chuetas decided to appeal directly to the king for the rights enjoyed by the other inhabitants of Palma’s third estate. The appeal triggered a dispute between supporters and opponents that exposed the rift existing in Spanish society between enlightened reformers and conservatives interested in maintaining the status quo at all cost.

    The result was unsatisfactory for the Chuetas, whose emancipation was only partial and conditioned by the economic interests of the absolutist state. Only the resurgence of Spanish liberalism would bring some hope to the Chuetas. The liberals, who aspired to completely demolish the hierarchal structure of the old regime, building on its ruins a classless society composed of Spanish citizens, were not in favor of any status, privileged or unprivileged, that would divide the citizens of the new liberal Spanish state. Only thus would all the Chuetas receive complete legal emancipation.

    These two attempts, however, failed to achieve their goal because of the tenacious refusal of the Old Christian population of Palma to consider the Chuetas as their equals. The solution to the problem was to be reached only in the twentieth century.

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  • Crypto-Judaism in Post-Pombaline Portugal: Legal and Social Remnants

    One of the most difficult topics to study regarding the history of the Portuguese New Christians is the decline in the number of Judaism cases tried by the Inquisition. Related to that issue, the alleged end of crypto-Judaism in Portugal is also polemical, since both in and outside of the academic world, twentieth-century “Marranos” are said to have maintained not only a specific identity but also habits and ceremonies. The objective of this paper is to contribute to the understanding of how the descendants of Jews forcibly converted in 1497 were seen and treated in both daily life and during the exceptional experience of a trial for heresy after the Pombaline reforms. This study is based on two previously unnoticed cases of Judaism tried by the Portuguese Inquisition after the apparently in-depth institutional reforms took place between 1765 and 1774.

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