In 1469, Isabel, the sister of King Henry IV of Castile, married Ferdinand, the son of John II of Aragon. By 1479 they ruled Castile and Aragon together and aimed to strengthen the Spanish church by using the Inquisition to find those practicing Judaism.. On March 31, 1492 the Edict of Expulsion was issued when they decided the Inquisition had not achieved its aims. They claimed that prior attempts to stop Christians from returning to their Jewish roots had failed. They were given four months to sell their property and leave the country. Expulsion was stated to be the only way to guarantee Jews would not influence Spanish Christians.
Even though the root causes of expulsions between countries differed, the end result was the same. The rulers profited in the short run as debts were cancelled and property lost. Jewish merchants, officially or not, soon returned to countries where their financial contributions were seen as invaluable to the economy. Quick return did not apply to Spain where hundreds of years passed before Jews were allowed to return
Torquemada a pious Dominican monk was the confessor to Princess Isabella, the heiress of Castile. She was crowned in 1473 and he became Spain's Inquisitor General a decade later. In his fifteen years as head of the Spanish Inquisition it grew from a single tribunal in Seville to a network of two dozen “Holy Offices” that created panic and terror.
Spain was unified with the capture of Granada from the Muslims in 1492. Catholicism was seen as the only religion allowed to implement the countries religious zeal. The Jews had different beliefs and would have to be expelled. The official reason given was that the Jews encouraged the Conversos (Jews who had converted to Christianity) to persist in their Jewishness and so would not allow them to become good Christians.
Passing the Edict of Expulsion was unusual as two of Isabella and Ferdinands most trusted senior advisors were Jewish – Abraham Senior (1410-1512) and Isaac Abrabanel (1437-1508).
Abraham Senior was the Court rabbi of Castile, and royal tax-farmer-in-chief who brought about the marriage of the Infanta (later, Queen) Isabella to Ferdinand of Aragon and later (1473) reconciled Isabella and her brother, Henry IV. of Castile. In token of her gratitude she gave him a life pension of 100,000 maravedis.
He was very interested in his persecuted coreligionists.. For example, through him the Castilian Jews raised a large sum to ransom Jews taken prisoners at the capture of Malaga.
On hearing of the Edict of Expulsion he went with Isaac Abrabanel to implore the Queen to spare them. After the expulsion he and his son were baptized in Valladolid, the King and Queen and the Primate of Spain acted as sponsors and he assumed the name Ferrad [Fernando] Perez Coronel. Possibly his age (82) accounted for this action. His son David Senior Coronel was also distinguished
Isaac Abrabanel, a Portuguese Jewish statesman, banker, and scholar, born in Lisbon and educated in rabbinical and Latin learning. In 1471 he succeeded his father Judah as treasurer to Alfonso V. On the succession of John II in 1481 he was expelled from the royal court and migrated to Spain and entered the service of Ferdinand and Isabella as Finance Minister (1484-92) to whom he lent money to finance the war against Granada.
A repeated story is that as Finance Minister he offered the King and Queen a vast sum if they would not sign the Edict of Expulsion. Torquemeda, listening behind a door feared they were wavering and burst in holding a crucifix over his head crying “Behold the saviour whom the wicked Judas sold for thirty pieces of silver. If you approve this deed then sell him for a great sum.” Frightened the Royal couple signed the order.
HOW MANY JEWS WERE EXPELLED?
How many Jews were expelled is disputed. For example Martin Gilbert in ‘The Illustrated Atlas of Jewish Civilisation’ estimates that there were 230,000 in Spain. Of these 50,000 were baptised and remained, 20,000 died on their way to their future country and 160,000 settled elsewhwere. Max Dimont in ‘Jews, God and History p228’ estimates that 150,000 Jews were in Spain. Of these 50,000 were baptised and remained, 10,000 died en route so 90,000 emigrated. This saw the creation of a new diaspora (settlement) in Europe, Turkey, North Africa and (eventually) America. The Expulsion from Spain as seen by a Jew in Italy’ is quoted by Sharon Keller in ‘The Jews in Literature and Art’ pp106-9 (Kohrmann, 1992)’.
It is estimated that in 1500 the population of Spain was 5,000,000 (Spain's Demographic Evolution). So, according to Gilbert the Jews accounted for 4.6% of the Spanish population, 1% stayed and 3.6% left for other countries.
See ‘Jewish and Converso Population in Fifteenth Century Spain’ by Norman Roth (2002) for the problems involved in estimating the number of Jews.
THE EFFECT OF EXPULSION ON THE EXPELLED JEWS
Expulsion from Spain led to a major increase in the number of Jews in other countries. How they were received varied. In Portugal this resulted in the Portuguese Inquisition and the movement from Portugal to other countries such as South and then North America, Holland which had become Protestant and from there to England when they were allowed back in the 17th century.
Dimont (p228 in ‘Jews, God and History) say’s ‘throughout, North Africa, Egypt and the Ottoman Empire the Jews enjoyed almost complete religious and economic freedom for several centuries. Though the Turks were looked upon by the Christians as the scourge of Christendom, Turkish policy towards the Jews for many years approximated that of the former Islamic Empire.’
Following the Unification of Spain and Portugal in 1580 about twenty thousand Portuguese New Christians (‘converted’ Jews) left Portugal for Spain as the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions were separate and no extradition provision existed. They would have a 'clean record' and be in one of the largest economies in Europe which was beginning to realise the efect of the 1492 expulsion Even the Spanish Inquisition concentrated on earlier, 'veteran' conversos. This resulted in a ‘Spanish problem’
To gain high office in Spain before about 1650 (?) proof had to be given that your ancestors had been Christians for some generations. (The actual number varied over time and also depended on the office). This was based on the idea that practicing a religion in secret was almost impossible to keep up for more than 2-3 generations. (This foreshadowed the Nazi requirement for the 'Ariernachweis').
Every Christian over twelve (for girls) and fourteen (for boys) was fully accountable to the Inquisition. Heretics and Conversos were the primary targets, but anyone who spoke against the Inquisition fell under suspicion. To help guard against the spread of heresy, Torquemada promoted the burning of non-Catholic literature, especially Jewish Talmuds and Arabic books, after the capture of Granada. Torquemada travelled with 50 mounted guards and 250 armed men to impress and intimidate the population. He died in 1498
The guide for informers to help identify a secret Jew included a long list of habits or characteristics such as the following:
* Put before your neighbour morsels of food such as pork, rabbit and conger eels and if he refuses to eat, he is a Jew.
* Watch with great care everything your neighbour does on Friday. Does he put on fresh linen? Does he light candles at least an hour before honest men do? Does his wife clean the house that day? If you catch him doing those thing, you have a Jew.
As a result people often ate pork and went to church or the cathedral to prove their 'Christian credentials'.
James Michener in ‘The Source’ tells the story of the scholar Tomas de Salamanca. One day his nine year old son burst into the street shouting "my father whipped me. He fasts on Yom Kippur." After investigations lasting seven years sixty three of his close associates were burnt alive. Among them were seventeen nuns who said Jewish prayers in their convent, thirty monks, seven priests and two bishops.
The psychological climate caused by fear of being taken by the Inquisition explains why conversos led secret lives. This is vividly brought to life in books and films about this period. This secrecy still exists. In 2006 while in Belmonte we met someone who had just been made redundant as his employer discovered he was Jewish. He was now moving to Belmonte to be with other Jews. He, and others, said this was due to the growing influence of the Catholic Opus Dei movement in Portugal.
Auto de fe (or auto da fe, or auto da fé in Portuguese, was the medieval Spanish for "act of faith", a ritual of public penance or humiliation of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Spanish Inquisition had decided their punishment. Punishments for those convicted ranged from wearing a special identifying penitential tabard or "sanbenito", imprisonment, to being burnt.
It was the secular state that performed executions, usually for a repeated heresy Obdurate prisoners were burned alive, but if reconciled to the church only strangled at the stake before the faggots were lit. (For more detail go to The Inquisition ).