• 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).

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • “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.

  • 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.

  • “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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.


  • 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.