Blood, Faith, and Fate: Jews, Conversos, and Old Christians in Early Modern Spain and Colonial Spanish America
Paper presented on 28 October 2011 at the Sixteenth Century Society Conference.
Abstract: The crux of my paper focuses on understanding the breadth of an identity-transforming family partnership and gamble that was initiated during the anti-Jewish pogroms of the 1390s. Hailing initially from Old Christian roots, the Carvajals family of Plasencia, Spain, radically redesigned themselves from lesser knights into ecclesiastical leaders and royal administrators through their intermarriage with the converso Santa María clan. The Santa Marías, better known as the former Ha-Levi rabbinic family of Burgos, facilitated the occupational and social transition of the Carvajals even as religious intolerance mounted against them. These blended families continued to acknowledge their hidden Jewish identity by secretly paying homage to their Sephardic roots—in their family religious endowments and church activities—as well as by vigorously defending the family’s secrets—using their leadership positions in the Catholic Church to quash Inquisition investigations when possible, and if not, participating in the Inquisition’s execution of family members who had jeopardized the survival of the entire clan. This paper unravels long-held historical misconceptions about the identities and interrelations of Castilian families that hailed from Old Christian, Jewish, and converso ancestries. It explores the complex familial, political, patronage, religious, and socio-economic networks that bound these families together. Further, it argues that while expansive anti-Jewish initiatives and culturally destructive blood purity laws had a chilling effect on clan and political collaborations, the transformative impact of interreligious marriage and social alliances created an equally powerful counterweight. Their story reveals that certain Old Christian families chose converso futures even as religious biases and persecution of converso and Jewish communities accelerated in Spain and the New World.
See all of Professor Martinez’s presentation slides at his website.