Old Christian Moriscos in Early Modern Castile

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 11:40 AM
Columbia 9 (Washington Hilton)
Stephanie M. Cavanaugh, McGill University
Many Moriscos petitioned to be exempt from deportation from the Kingdom of Granada after 1570 and from expulsion from Spain between 1609 and 1614. Among those petitions were claims of Old Christian status. This category referred to Spanish Catholics with purity of blood, “clean of all race of the Moors and the Jews" and not penitents of the Spanish Inquisition. Limpieza de sangre became a requirement for many judicial and government offices after the mid fifteenth century and was central to notions of honour. Blood purity was an idealized and constantly shifting category, and by the mid sixteenth century limpieza statutes identified all New Christians as contaminated by the Jewish or Muslim blood of their forebears. While Morisco claimants to Old Christian titles and privileges could not hide their Muslim ancestry, they could litigate to defend the heritable statuses bestowed upon their forefathers decades earlier. These post-1570 lawsuits were not newly initiated applications for Old Christian status; instead, Morisco claimants were litigating to defend legal titles and privileges already granted by the Crown. I examine interrogatories from lawsuits wherein Moriscos declared themselves to be Old Christians. Among other things, claimants provided evidence of ancestors who were willingly baptized before the conquest of Granada or the 1502 edict of conversion and who were loyal servants of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain. In most cases, these claims were not avowals of religious belief. While not mutually exclusive, the status of Old Christian Morisco was neither synonymous nor co-extensive with professions of sincere Catholicism. Rather, they were formal assertions of honorable lineage and social status that guaranteed legal privileges. I demonstrate their place in a tradition of Morisco legal action and their significance in the dynamic history of identity-making and the politics of belonging in the pre-modern Spanish kingdoms.