The Politics behind the 1640s Trials Leading to the Gran Auto De Fé in 1649: Heterodoxy or Political Persecution?

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 1:30 PM
Madison Room B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Rafaela Acevedo-Field, Whitworth University
This paper will examine the political context under which the Inquisition operated in the decade leading up to the auto de fé of 1649. Over the course of that decade the majority of those accused were charged with secretly practicing Judaism. Historian Stanley Hordes has examined the possible economic motivation the tribunal may have had to proceed with the nearly 200 trials against members of a merchant class whose property was to be confiscated. Yet, the political context was extremely crucial in determining who was investigated and prosecuted. Most of those prosecuted were of Portuguese descent. The trials followed the Portuguese rebellion of 1640 which separated the Spanish and Portuguese crowns after having been under Spanish control since 1580. In Mexico, church and state authorities became suspicious of Portuguese inhabitants of the colony and the viceroy himself who happened to be of Portuguese descent and who was suspicious of harboring Portuguese loyalties. After 1642, the viceroy was deposed and the prosecution of Portuguese merchants by the Holy Office of the Inquisition began in earnest. However, besides the political context, territorial church politics also shaped the outcome of these trials. A competing relationship developed between member of the tribunal and the renowned archbishop of Mexico and later bishop of Puebla, Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, so that by the beginning of 1649 the auto de fé was a competing event with the dedication of the cathedral of Puebla. Thus, this paper will argue that the prosecutions that took place over the course of the 1640s were as much about crypto-Jewish heresy as they were about Spanish church and state politics.
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