Crashing in the Fast Lane: Juan de Torres, Charles V, and the Inquisition of Cuenca

Friday, January 4, 2013: 2:50 PM
Evergreen Room (Sheraton New Orleans)
Sara T. Nalle, William Paterson University
The 1492 Edict of Expulsion led to the creation of a second wave of converts from Judaism who opted to stay in Spain and adjust to life as Christians.  For some years I have been researching these conversos and their families.  Some continued life as before, practicing traditionally “Jewish” occupations and even dabbling in crypto-Judaizing.  Others, however, decided to assimilate by intermarrying with Old Christians, entering into professions that were typically “Old Christian,” or engaging in aggressive social climbing.  Juan de Torres was a particularly successful social climber– exchanging his apothecary’s mortar and pestle for a sword and buckler, as a soldier he rose high in the service of Emperor Charles V.  But, on a short trip home to his wife while he was in Spain on the emperor’s business, he ran straight into the arms of the Inquisition of Cuenca, which was at that time ruthlessly prosecuting the conversos of Sigüenza for crypto-Judaizing.  Juan was arrested on charges of Judaizing, which he vigorously denied.  Despite his high connections, in 1538 he, his wife, and his brother were burned at the stake for Judaizing.   Juan’s life demonstrates in rather stark terms the limits of assimilation for the 1492 generation of conversos.  After the 1391 pogroms, with no institutional or legal limits set on them, the first wave of Jewish converts had advanced rapidly into the highest levels of Spanish government and society.  In the sixteenth century, the second wave of converts found conditions radically changed, and some who managed to rise above their station in life, as did Juan de Torres, paid dearly for their success.