Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Running to Portugal

The Inquisition in Portigal [source]
When the Alhambra Decree gave Jews the choice of converting to Christianity or leaving the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, tens of thousands—there are no accurate estimates; they vary between 130,000 and 800,000—began the search for a new home. Fortunately, shelter was closer than expected for some.

Portugal had experienced an on-again/off-again anti-Semitism. Many Jews who fled to Portugal wound up being persecuted or imprisoned under King John II (1455 - 1495), but King Alfonso V (1432 - 1481) had appointed a Jew as his treasurer. His successor, King Manuel I, was a very religious man, building religious buildings and trying to round up a Crusade against the Turks, but he was friendly to the Jews and released them from prison. Things seemed to be looking up.

Manuel had ambitions, however, that put his future at odds with his past as a tolerant ruler. Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon had a daughter, the Infanta Isabella. Through her parents, she was the heir to Castile and Aragon. A marriage between Manuel and Isabella would unite most of the Iberian Peninsula, and their children would rule a large part of Europe and be allied to even more of Europe.*

Ferdinand and Isabella, however, would never allow their daughter to marry the monarch of a land that allowed Jews. A contract was written up for the marriage; one of its stipulations was that the Jews of Portugal would no longer be tolerated. Four years after the Edict of Expulsion sent Jews migrating to Portugal, Portugal in 1496 decreed that all Jews had to convert to Christianity or leave Portugal by October of 1497. (This edict applied to Muslims as well.)

The tide had turned for Jews in Portugal. Thousands fled to Amsterdam, Constantinople, France and Morocco; even to the New World. Not all left, which led to the Lisbon Massacre in 1506, when up to 2000 Jews (or people perceived to be Jews) were tortured and burned at the stake by a Catholic mob. Thirty years later, the Inquisition came to Portugal, creating more risks for anyone not seen to adhere strictly to Roman Catholicism.

If the Jews were supposed to be expelled, how was it that the Lisbon Massacre seemed like a good idea? That would be because there was a third, unofficial option between expulsion and conversion. We will look at the Marranos tomorrow.

*Her sister was Catherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII's first wife.

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