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The Long Journey of Gracia Mendes

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Marianna D. Birnbaum

Chapter 4. Gracia in Venice

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1Brussels, Aix-la-Chapelle, and Lyons were the stations that, one by one, led the widows and their entourage to the Alps, which they had to cross to reach Italy. In order to avoid the usual trade routes via Augsburg, they probably passed through Milan where a small converso community was known to give assistance to such travelers. Gracia and Brianda arrived in Venice, “La Serenissima,” early in 1546.

2Venice had an ancient Jewish community, both German and Oriental, and a large New Christian settlement made up of those who arrived in the late fifteenth and in the first decades of the sixteenth century. The relationship among Venetians and Jews, however, was not as harmonious as many scholars have claimed. Early Jewish immigration brought about anti-Jewish legislation. For instance, as early as 945, Jews were forbidden to use Venetian boats. In 1424, during the late Middle Ages, Jews were forbidden to own real estate and, lawmakers forbade Jews to have sexual relations with Christians. Jewish dance and music schools were banned in 1443, and so was gambling in 1457, and then again in 1506. Yet, by 1464, legislation concerned with Jews’ settling in “La Serenissima” acknowledges a Jewish presence. The year 1480 witnessed an auto-da-fé, the burning of three Jews who allegedly had been involved in the ritual murder case in Trent of 1475. Still, emotions must have quieted down. In 1492, there is mention of a Jewish “congregation.” In 1496, most probably as an anti-Judaic response to increasing, post-Expulsion emigration, Jews were ordered to wear yellow hats (in 1500, without any explanation, the legislation mandated red hats instead of yellow). Therefore, it is no accident that in 1497, the first guidelines appeared on how to identify “Marranos,” and what degree of Jewish consanguinity constituted a real Jew.

3In 1503 and 1511, respectively, various attempts were made to expel the New Christians. It is, however, important to remember that while Judaism was not in itself a heresy, New Christians who returned to Judaism were considered the worst of apostates.

  • 1 See Roberto Bonfil, Tra due mondi: Cultura ebraica e cultura christiana nel Medieoevo (Naples, 199 (...)

4A change of attitude appears in 1516, with the establishment of the“Ghetto Nuovo.”1 As the Jews began to live within the walls of the ghetto, they achieved a quasi-permanence. In the years 1528–29, the Scuola Grand Tedesca, the first synagogue, is opened in the Ghetto.

  • 2 Quoted by Cecil Roth, AHistory of the Marranos (New York, 1974), p. 67. For a general description, (...)

5There was security in that new type of segregation. It carried a virtual entitlement that also brought about a change in Jewish mentality, owing to their sedentary, urbanized lives. Jews saw Christians as the “others,” just as they themselves had been considered the “others” by the Christian world. While viewed with contempt, local and foreign Jews participated fully in Venice’s daily life. Earlier, northern merchants had used local Jews from the “Fondaco” to represent them in their commercial affairs vis-à-vis Christian traders. That kind of inconsistency extended to other activities. Jewish and converted physicians were sought after, even while their licenses were periodically revoked, only to be granted again. “There are many Portuguese Jews with their red hats in the Ghetto who in Portugal were Christian priests,” alleged a Venetian ecclesiastic before the local tribunal.2

6Levantine Jews began settling in Venice mostly after the Turkish war of 1537–40. They usually stayed in the Ghetto Vecchio (established in 1541) where they received first a 4-month, and some years later, a 24-month permit to stay. By 1550, Jewish moneylenders too were permitted to settle, for a limited time.

  • 3 He is not the same as Duarte Gomes, as Roth (p. 293) believed.

7There was lively, if not always friendly, interchange between Christians and Jews in Venice during that time. For example, in 1567, Salomon Usque (Salusque Lusitano, 1530–96) translated Petrarch into Spanish and dedicated the work to Alessandro Farnese, Prince of Parma. He wrote the play Esther (co-authored with Lorenzo Gracian), which was performed in the ghetto theater in Venice.3

8Until the Renaissance, few Jews were interested in the worldview of the surrounding Christian communities. But as Christian culture turned toward the antique world, and to such sources as the Bible in Hebrew, Jews in the ghettoes became a readily available fountain of information. Many humanists visited the ghettos and even participated in Talmud studies. This was especially true for Venice where the local scholars carried on dialogues with Jewish sages and rabbis. The philosophy of Plato, spread by refugees from Constantinople, reflected a tolerance vis-à-vis all religions, and the universal features connecting religions were also investigated by some Jewish scholars. New Jewish confraternities inquired into religious concepts and opened up to modern ideas. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino, and Franceso Zozi (the latter an expert on things Jewish) even appeared before the Senate, discussing some common issues. Also, local humanists used the library-collections of Jews.

  • 4 Marino Sanuto is mainly known for his diaries, chronicling the years 1496– 1533. His Diarii, compr (...)

9According to his diary of April 3, 1531, Mario Sanuto, the Venetian statesman and chronicler, in the company of other Christians, participated in performances in the ghetto much before Usque’s piece was shown. Sanuto writes that “in geto fu fato tra zudei una bellissima comedia, ne vi pote’ intrar alcun cristiano di ordine di Cai di X, et la compitano a hore 8 di notte.”4

  • 5 For more on this, see Robert C. Melzi, “Ebrei e Marrani in Italia in la Commedia Rinascimentale,” (...)
  • 6 Melzi, pp. 317–25.

10The characterization and depiction of Jews and “Marranos” in contemporary Italian comedies, which abound with stereotypes from all walks of life, provide insight into the prevalent attitudes toward Jews. In theatrical performances the word “ebreo” was always an insult, and a “Marrano” invariably symbolized dishonesty and duplicity. Jewish or converso bankers usually appeared in the plots in connection with “a poor young nobleman,” who, owing to the stinginess of his father, must put himself at their mercy.5 However, within the genre, the story of Jewish anguish also surfaces. The anonymous Comedia sine Nomine, printed in Florence at Giundis in 1574, relates the danger-filled flight of a “Marrano” family from Barcelona to Florence, revealing also much about the conditions of that city-state.6

  • 7 Cf. such plays as Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Among the l (...)

11It is important to note that while prejudice ran rampant against “contemporary” Jews, characters clearly based on Biblical Jews received admiration and respect. In short, Old Testament Jews were revered, whereas actual Jewish or New Christian residents were reviled. (This is also true for England, where the population was not supposed to have known Jews until Cromwell’s rule, and where the audience created their image of the Jew more from literature than from experience or memory.7)

  • 8 Processi del S. Ufficio di Venezia contro ebrei e giudaizzanti (1548–1560): Cura di Pier Cesare Io (...)

12When on July 23, 1550, a new edict of expulsion was promulgated in Venice, ordering the conversos to leave within two months, the French ambassador, de Morvilliers, explained that “peggio che gli hebrei perche non sono ne christiani ne giudei.”8 In retrospect, it seems that the edict caused more panic than created a real turning point in Venetian policy. It is imperative to remember that attempts to expel the conversos were actually torpedoed by Christian merchants. It became clear that if local magistrates and merchants wanted to trade with the Levant, they had to consider the Jewish and converso businessmen and traders, who both held central positions in the Eastern Mediterranean and enjoyed the support of the Porte.

  • 9 Allegedly, at the time of the 1550 Venetian edict of expulsion, João asked the Senate to give them (...)

13In 1552, the Jewish community in Venice included 902 members, who were permitted to practice their faith in relative freedom. The first publication of the Talmud in Venice is dated to 1551, but even in 1553, the work was still publicly burned. The liberal attitude was over. The fear, however, of Protestantism (especially of Anabaptism) contributed to the burnings of Jewish holy books in Venice and in a number of other Italian city-states. A papal bull of 1555, Cum nimis absurdum, segregated and confined all Jews to the ghetto.9

14The Mendes widows must have arrived in Venice before July 1546, because it was from there they sent 18,000 écus to João to facilitate the negotiations he was conducting with Charles V. On their way to Venice, Gracia and her sister spent a short time in Lyons, the silk capital of Europe, where, it seems, Gracia discussed a loan with King Francis I and informed herself about the Mendes enterprises, set up there earlier by her nephew. Almost two years later, on his way to Venice, João stopped in Lyons and revisited his and Gracia’s business partners.

  • 10 Consiglio X, Secrete filza 9, cc.n.n. 21 marzo 1544 e 22 marzo 1544, quoted in Processi, 30.

15The sisters received a safe conduct from the Council of Ten on March 22, 1544, which permitted them to settle in Venice: “Le Mendes ottenero fin dal 22 marzo del 1544 un salvacondotta del Consiglio dei Dieci che garantira a loro e al loro seguito per un massimo di trenta persone … salve, libere et secure si le persone com gli beni e trattate alla stregna degli altri abitanti della città.”10 By the time the Mendes widows settled in Venice, most Jews were living in the Ghetto, whereas the Rialto area was the domain of the New Christians.

  • 11 Pullan, AShip with Two Rudders, p. 72.

16Arriving from Antwerp, with a furious emperor left behind, Gracia and Brianda lived a luxurious but endangered existence as New Christian ladies under the sharp eyes of the Inquisition. The clergy did not trust the New Christians any more than it trusted the Jews, about whom Cardinal Priuli said, “The fraudulent treachery of the Jews must be feared more because these are domestic enemies who can have dealings with every simple and unaware person.”11

  • 12 Relazioni degli ambasciatori veneti al Senato, ed. E. Albieri (Florence, 1839), 1.211, as quoted b (...)

17A few years later, another statement pointedly expresses Venetian sentiments regarding the New Christians in general and targets the Mendes family in particular: “All those who descend from Jewish fathers are called New-Christians. In the time of King Don Emanuel they were forced to become Christians. From them, for the most part, come the people in Italy, we call Marranos. The towns of Italy are full of them, and the rascal Joaõ Miquez comes from this accursed and fickle people.”12

  • 13 Stephanos Antoniou Xanthoudides, “Venetian Crete,” Crete, Past and Present, ed. Michael Nicholas E (...)

18The Inquisition, revived in Venice in the 1540s, was redesigned to accommodate three different powers engaged in stamping out heresy. The nuncio, the Inquisitor, and his deputies represented the central authority within the Church; the patriarch of Venice (and his vicar) held the authority of the diocese; and three nobles upheld the State’s interest. The collaboration between the Inquisition and the State is shown by the fact that the nuncio and his colleagues accepted the lay assistenti. In the eyes of the Orthodox, the Venetians themselves were not overly committed to their religion. “Semo Veneziani e poi Christiani” was the saying among the Greek refugees who had settled in Venice.13 Perhaps that was an additional reason for the Church to involve laymen in the Inquisitional work. Those three sets of authorities, otherwise competitors, of whom the laymen displayed the most fervor, collaborated against the heretics.

CONDITIONS IN FERRARA AND MANTUA

  • 14 Werner L. Gundersheimer, Ferrara: The Style of a Renaissance Despotism (Princeton, 1973), pp. 124– (...)
  • 15 Pullan, The Jews of Europe and the Inquisition of Venice, 1560–1670, p. 168.

19Whereas Venice merely tolerated Jews, Ferrara and Mantua were even hospitable. There are indications that Jews resided in Ferrara as early as 1088, but the first documentary evidence of legal immunities granted to Jews in the Este territories is dated 1275.14 A Jewish cemetery existed since 1452, and Jews were generally not harassed in Ferrara. The court frequently tempered and curtailed anti-Judaic preaching, although banking services the Jews provided to the dukes here were probably the same as where they had received no protection. In 1492, Spanish Jews found asylum in Ferrara and even set up a synagogue. In 1538, asylum was extended to New Christians from Portugal, and in 1540, to those from Milan. In Ferrara, explicit privileges were granted to Spanish and Portuguese Jews. Venice “was a place were they paused and dissembled, living still as Christians, but slowly winding up their affairs in Europe and building up new and profitable connections within Jewry.”15 Therefore, a transfer from Venice to Ferrara would be logical and attractive, and a step on the way to the Levant.

  • 16 Roth, p. 81. There are no records quoted in Roth’s work on earlier transfer of money.

20Many Jews who had moved to Ferrara visited Venice for business. It seems, however, that for a while, Gracia and Brianda did the reverse: They were living in Venice as Christians and traveling to Ferrara on business. Even if “already a great part of the family property had been transferred” to Turkey, it would have taken at least a couple of years to prepare such a move.16 Therefore, the time span from August, 1549 to August, 1552, when Gracia finally left for the Ottoman Empire, seems quite reasonable.

  • 17 That is how her name appears later in the protocols of Odoardo Gomes’s trial. Processi, p. 226.
  • 18 The Mendes brothers’ Jewish name, Bemvenist (Benvenist) appeared on the women’s safe conduct recei (...)

21In Venice, Gracia used the name “Beatrice de Luna.”17 It is possible that the prominent Mendes business name in conjunction with the notoriety incurred by their flight from Antwerp influenced the widows’ decision to revert to their maiden names. In her correspondence with Ragusa, both local officials and her own agents refer to Gracia as “Beatrice [or Beatrix] de Luna.” This might explain why she kept the name Luna even after she left Venice and was on her way to Constantinople via Ragusa. One may assume that “de Luna” was the name Gracia used in her “Christian context” and that she retained it in her “Balkan” dealings, even after she had declared herself a Jew and began to refer to herself as Gracia Mendes or Gracia Nasi.18

  • 19 Roth, pp. 178–80.

22The Mendes family’s business contacts remained international even after the two women left Antwerp. While living in Venice, Gracia also actively engaged in trade that included Florence, probably through the mer-chant, Luca degli Albizzi, with whom she had corresponded.19 Albizzi was known to act as middleman for Levantine Jews. In La Serenissima, Gracia was also involved with the Priuli family. At the time when Antonio Priuli went bankrupt and had to close his bank, his son Girolamo owed Gracia 30,000 scudi.

A SISTERS’ QUARREL

23Gracia’s slow and careful preparations for a final relocation to Turkey were interrupted by the fateful clash with Brianda. The quarrel over money hastened Gracia’s decision to leave Venice and had grave consequences for both women. In Venice, Brianda decided that she finally wanted to administer her own and her daughter’s assets. Her sister’s guardianship was an old sore, festering since the opening of Diogo’s will in Antwerp. It is possible that Gracia’s secret plan to move to Constantinople gave special urgency to Brianda’s demands. Although not enjoying good health, Brianda led a pleasant and satisfying existence in Venice, and she was not eager to follow her sister in a new, uncertain venture. While Brianda wanted autonomy regarding her share of the inheritance, Gracia wanted to transfer their assets and move to Turkey. That disagreement aggravated the conflict between them.

  • 20 Kaufmann treats Brianda’s case. Kaufmann, David. “Die Vertreibung Der Marranen aus Venedig im Jahr (...)

24Unexpectedly, Brianda took a dangerous path. Hoping to recover the guardianship of her daughter from Gracia, she chose to exploit anti-Jewish sentiments and denounced her sister officially as a secret judaizer planning to leave for Turkey.20 Brianda’s accusation led to Gracia’s arrest and an embargo placed on their assets. In this connection, a problem remains unresolved: Why would the Inquisition imprison Gracia when the usual punishment for suspicious or scandalous foreigners was to withdraw safe conduct, as happened later to Brianda, who had enjoyed the same safe conduct as her older sister? Most probably the reason was again the family’s wealth that the Venetian government hoped to confiscate. Gracia’s imprisonment must have set an unusual precedent. Brianda too must have aroused suspicion, since both her daughter and Gracia’s were forcibly placed in a convent by the papal legate.

  • 21 Norman Rosenblatt, “Joseph Nasi: Court Favorite of Selim II,” diss., University of Pennsylvania, p (...)

25Meanwhile, Brianda tried to move her Venetian assets to Lyons “or some other French commercial center.”21 In order to make sure that Gracia could not interfere there either, Brianda hired a Christian agent through whom Gracia was denounced in France. While she managed to have Gracia’s possessions placed under embargo in Lyons, Brianda’s tactics backfired. The agent turned rapacious and denounced Brianda as well, claiming that she too was a judaizer. Accordingly, Brianda’s money was also sequestered. Again, various governments and the Church cooperated in an attempt to confiscate the widows’ fortunes under the pretext of defending the Faith.

26Needless to say, the relationship between the sisters worsened under those pressures, and their case went to court. For all practical purposes, Gracia lost. Two separate verdicts were brought in the case of the inheritance: one by the tribune charged with judging civil cases among resident foreigners (“Giudici al forestieri”); the other by the court. Both sentences (one promulgated on September 15, 1547; the other on December 15, 1548) were brought against Gracia. She was ordered to deposit half of the family fortune at the Zecca—the public treasury of Venice—until her niece and ward, Brianda’s daughter, reached her eighteenth birthday (a decision that made Gracia la Chica one of the best matches in Europe!). Meanwhile Brianda demanded her own share. In response, Gracia dispatched her agents to guard their foreign assets in Lyons and elsewhere, and asked those towns to disregard the verdicts against her.

27Unable to do business in Venice, Gracia secretly moved to Ferrara with Reyna. There, Ercole II Este, as had his grandfather and father as well as his wife, Renée of France, the daughter of Francis I, welcomed Jews and con-versos.

28Most probably, even earlier, but clearly in Venice, a discreet reversion to Judaism took place in Gracia’s life. Hence it was logical that in Venice, in her need for protection, Gracia turned to Turkey. It is possible, however, that her immediate dangers were economic rather than personal. A treaty of 1524 decreed that Ottoman subjects were entitled to trade—that is, to transport goods between Venice and the Balkans. Such an opportunity would not have been overlooked by such an astute businesswoman as Gracia was. That treaty also implied that if Gracia moved to Turkey, she could safeguard her wealth by transporting it with her.

  • 22 Pullan, The Jews of Europe and the Inquisition of Venice, 1560–1670, p. 179.
  • 23 A reference made to the two women on July 2, 1545. See Rosenblatt, p. 12.

29In Venice, for the same reason (as well as for fear of being returned to Antwerp), Gracia had insisted on calling herself a Portuguese subject. Beccadelli, then papal nuncio, was appalled by “the damage to Christianity, if such a fortune, made among us, was borne off into the hands of the infidels.”22 The nuncio correctly gauged the true sentiments of the Christian leaders: whenever they pursued the Mendes fortune, the Christian states gave their enterprise a religious character. Henri II, Charles V, and the Venetian Inquisition all shared the same goal: the fortune of “the heirs of Francis and Diogo Mendes.”23

30Gracia probably approached the sultan indirectly and in great secrecy. Therefore, an envoy’s arrival to assist her move generated intense speculations. The appearance of Sı-nan “Chaus” (Chaus was the title of a messenger in the Ottoman army), inopportunely timed, harmed rather than helped Gracia’s case. Allegedly, she tried to forestall his arrival and even sent messages to that effect to Constantinople; but the envoy was already on his way.

  • 24 Roth, p. 57.

31The Mendes family was used to arranging their affairs less publicly: they always found a way to buy their privileges through business or bribery, but always privately and secretly. This time they did not succeed. Probably at the behest of Moses Hamon, first physician of the sultan, the “Grand Turk” declared that the Mendes sisters were his subjects and, under his protection. Most likely, this was not the first time the sultan had heard about Gracia or even about her wish to emigrate. It is equally plausible that Hamon had made it clear that moving the Mendes fortune to Turkey would be of great benefit to the country’s trade and economy.24

  • 25 The letter is dated July 12, 1549. See Roth, p. 58.
  • 26 Based on the same dispatch, quoted above, Gracia and Reyna departed for Ferrara, some months befor (...)

32According to de Morvilliers, the ambassador of Venice, the Turkish envoy had one charge only: to conduct Gracia and her daughter to Constantinople.25 For whatever reason Sı-nan Chaus had come to Venice, Gracia and Reyna were no longer there, having moved to Ferrara. Their move must have been close to flight because their safe-conduct from Ferrara (which as a matter of fact also included Brianda) is dated from February 12, 1550 only.26 At that point, Brianda refused to join her sister either in Ferrara or on her journey to Constantinople.

  • 27 Remarkably, in Venice, and later also in Constantinople, Brianda was referred to as “Madonna Brian (...)

33As long as he was there, Sīnan Chaus offered to mediate between the sisters. On June 12, 1552, there was an agreement drawn before the notary Paolo Leoncini, at which Nicolas de Molino, a procurator of San Marco, represented Gracia, whereas Andrea Contartini spoke for Brianda. The sisters signed the agreement (Brianda did so in the name of her daughter). A few days later the document was ratified by the Senate. One hundred thousand gold ducats were deposited at the Zecca, set aside for Gracia junior, expiring on March 29, 1553. This date is remarkable as it is much before the girl’s eighteenth birthday, which occurred in 1558. Brianda received 18,123.5 Italian gold écus for her dowry, and the interest it had accrued, for the education of her daughter, as long as she was still a minor. In return, Brianda was to terminate all demands against her sister, against João Miques, and their agents in Lyons, as well as in Paris, Venice, and Florence. She also had to acknowledge that Gracia and her daughter were free to move wherever they wished.27

THE ALLEGED KIDNAPPING

  • 28 Processi, p. 31.

34In addition to the court case, a most improbable interlude played out among the members of the family, an event that belongs to farce. According to records, in January 1553, João kidnapped or lured away Gracia la Chica, the thirteen-year-old daughter of Brianda. After a Catholic wedding, performed in secret, the two ran away, allegedly planning to reach Rome.28

35A more probable scenario of the kidnapping story unfolds as follows: Gracia as well as her factors, Agostino Enriques and Odoardo Gomes, whom Diogo appointed as co-executors, were against Gracia the younger’s staying in Venice and marrying any other than a New Christian. A young Venetian aristocrat had already appeared to court the girl. Gracia’s agents first tried to convince Brianda to move to Turkey and pressured her to make up her mind. They also tried to annul an agreement whereby Gracia la Chica would receive her dowry of 100,000 ducats after her fifteenth (!) birthday. Finally, they hoped to have her wedding to the Venetian fop postponed; but before that was negotiated, João decided to kidnap the girl, and “con consensu della donzella,” escaped on a barge toward Ferrara.

36The couple and their accessories had to cross the papal state. They were arrested in Faenza and taken to Ravenna. There at the hearing, João claimed that the marriage had been consummated. Thanks to his connections, João and his brother, who had accompanied the couple, ultimately remained free. The groom immediately fled, abandoning the young bride in the village inn, guarded by the local authority.

  • 29 Paul Grunebaum-Ballin, Joseph Naci, duc de Naxos (Paris, 1968), p. 53.

37The Venetian nobles were furious when they heard the news. On January 21, 1553, posters appeared in squares, and notices were hung on public buildings to inform the entire city about the kidnapping of the girl and the names of the culprits. On the next day, the courier of the Signoria arrived with a papal authorization to deliver the kidnapper and his victim, abducted from a “desperate mother.” Details of the scandal circulated in Venice, in all of Italy, and in France. On March 15, the Council of Ten met officially and opened the case “contra João Miquez Portugais absent mais legitiment cité.”29 João and his fellow defendants were sentenced to death in absentia; at the same time, the Council promised a generous reward for those who helped capture the fugitives.

  • 30 Minutes of the trial involving the Nasi family were found in the Venetian archives for 1553. They (...)

38A reward of 2,000 ducats was offered for João’s capture, 1,500 for the proof of his death, and a 200-ducat annual pension for life to his captor or killer. Since João was out of reach of the Council, a ruling was passed to cover the eventuality that he would not be caught: he was banned forever from Venice, if ever he returned, he was to be hanged between the two columns of San Marco. A second reward of 2,000 ducats was offered for the apprehension of his brother, Bernardo (Samuel) Miques, charged with abetting his crime. Rodrigo Núñes, an agent of Brianda, was also sentenced in absentia to the gallows, allegedly, for helping the kidnappers. He was to be hanged, decapitated, and quartered. The same reward of 2,000 ducats was offered to anyone leading the Council to his hiding place. Less important offenders, such as Aleandro Calado and Fernando Rodriguez, were ordered to pay 500 ducats each. The penalties, as well as the rewards, were to be taken from the money confiscated from the defendant and his family.30

  • 31 Grunebaum-Ballin, pp. 52–53, passim.

39There are many details in this affair that defy reason. One of them is a letter, dated March 18, 1553, written to the emperor. In it, reference is made to Brianda who declared that, although she wanted to stay in Venice and live as a good Christian, she would hesitate to give her daughter’s hand in marriage to João Miques, that great gentleman, “mucho hidalgo y rico y que esta ciudad vivia de cabalerro,” or to the son of a Venetian patrician. This information is included in a long communication of Ambassador Dominique de Gaztelù. Gaztelù also seems to have known that the young Gracia’s wedding was celebrated and consummated in Ravenna and that the young bride pleaded with the Count of Rome to have her wedding accepted as valid. Perceptively, Gaztelù noted that the Council of Ten had refused to wait for the young woman’s interrogation to end, as much in haste to seize her dowry, as in moral outrage.31

  • 32 Processi, p. 32.

40Meanwhile, João Miques, who allegedly stayed in Rome until 1553, kept petitioning the pope to validate his marriage. In 1565, the Venetians refer to his already being in Turkey at the time of his banishment. However, the process against João and the family Mendes continued until 1555.32 It grew even more convoluted when Tristaõ da Costa, Brianda’s agent, accused Duarte (Odoardo) Gomes and Agostino Enriquez, Gracia’s agents, of judaizing.

  • 33 They hoped that by this gesture their trustworthiness would increase in the eyes of their interrog (...)

41Owing to their connection with many areas of Venetian life, Duarte (Odoardo) Gomes, a sometime physician of Gracia, who handled much of her business dealings in Venice, and his partner, Agostino Enriques, heard that they were the subjects of secret inquiries by the Holy Office. Taking the initiative, they presented themselves before the Inquisition in order to proclaim their innocence.33

INQUISITION BY PROXY

  • 34 Nicolau Eimeri, Directorium inquisitorium. A helpful text to familiarize the modern reader with th (...)

42The process of the Inquisition required that directions be given in Latin (this was usually followed), describing the particulars related to the defendant and to the witnesses. Distinctions were made to identify information given voluntarily as opposed to that derived from responses to questions. Trivia were also recorded: e.g., when did sweat break out on the forehead of the interrogated, or what curses were uttered during the proceedings?34

  • 35 From the confession of Duarte (Odoardo) Gomes [Gomez]. Processi, 231: 190–2.
  • 36 Pullan, The Jews of Europe, p. 125. No matter how absurd, such accusations were extremely dangerou (...)

43Gomes produced his own witnesses to testify to his observant Christianity. (The names of the two defendants in the Protocols appear as Odoardo Gomez and Augustinus Enriches.) Witnesses were called from various citystates. Among them, “doctor Fernando Mendez” of Florence, described as “auditor de Rota <nome> e christiano Porthogese,” gave testimony in Gomes’s favor.35 Another of the pro-Gomes witnesses claimed that Odoardo had lit a candle before the image of the Virgin on holidays and on Saturdays.36

  • 37 Processi, 230:151–55.

44Enriquez produced witnesses from Ferrara who swore that in his home he had “pictures of the Savior, Mary and other Christian paintings.” We learn that Gomes had three brothers, one of whom, Thomaso, was an agent of Gracia, and also functioned as Ferraran ambassador to Venice (as of July 2, 1550). However, at the time of Gomes’s trial, all three brothers were living in Constantinople under their Hebrew names: Abraham, Ioseffo, and Iona.37

  • 38 Processi, April 8, 1555, 230:154.

45It was recorded in the Protocols that Gomes and Enriquez lived “contra’ de Santa Maria Formosa al ponte del Anzelo,” and it was reported to the Inquisition that Jews had been seen visiting their lodgings. In connection with the interrogation, it was stated that before Gracia’s leaving Venice, her family lived in a “Gritti palace” (not the one that is so well known today). They were referred to as “spagnoli mercanti,” showing that although the family claimed Portuguese citizenship, the Inquisition was aware of their Spanish-Jewish ancestry. In the popular vernacular of the period, “mercanti” was another word for Jews.38

  • 39 Processi, 229: 245r–145v.

46On August 3, 1555, in the course of the interrogations, Gomes declared that his father Gonsalvo, although born a Jew, had been a convert. A humanist and allegedly a trained rabbi, Gomes claimed to have studied in Salamanca. He earned his “baccelierato in artibus et philosophia,” and received his doctoral title in the Lisbon cathedral in 1534. He stated that on the day of the interrogation, he was forty-five years, a month, and a day old.39 During the process, Enriquez lay sick in Ferrara and was not questioned in person. Gomes and Enriquez were first called to the Inquisition in 1555 and acquitted by the secular criminal court of the Quarantia in 1557.

47Settled safely in Turkey, Gracia did not let herself be intimidated, even by proxy. In June 1555, Tristan (Tristão) da Costa was denounced to the Officio della Heresia as a judaizer. Since he was not just Brianda’s factor but also her confidant, the pair believed that Agostino Enriquez and Odoardo Gomes were his denouncers.

COSTA’S DEFENSE

48Costa was arrested and forced to appear before the Inquisition and the Council of Ten. At 58, he presented himself “clothed in a foreign garb with a long gray beard.” He stated that he was born in Viana, Portugal, and his father’s name was Odoardo da Costa. When asked what his Hebrew name was, he responded, “Isaac.” He affirmed that he had studied in Salamanca. According to his testimony, he was baptized at the age of two, but he had been circumcised as an infant. His father and his brother were forced into baptism. His mother died unbaptized, when he was still a toddler. Tristão admitted never having attended Mass. He claimed that he had been married for 17 years to a “Marrano” woman, Francesca Perera. They had five children, three sons and two daughters, all baptized, but all his children had Jewish names, in addition to their Christian ones. Costa did not deny that his sons had been circumcised, but he claimed that the ritual had been arranged by his wife and had been performed while he was away from home. Costa further admitted to his having married according to both Christian and Jewish rites. He conceded that he left Portugal only after he was able to sell his assets. To the question: “What was more important, your religion or your goods?” he responded: “Religion, but I have to live off my assets.”

  • 40 Processi, 227:84.
  • 41 Other documents show that in Venice, Gracia lived in the Confinio San Paolo whereas Brianda lived (...)

49Costa refused to give a direct answer to the question whether he was a Jew or a Christian. He, however, stated that he did not pray in Hebrew or participate in Jewish ceremonies. He also claimed that he never pretended to be a Christian while in Venice. “Nobody asked,” he contended. He asserted that he had never taken an oath at a contractual occasion; thus never borne false witness. As to his residence in Venice, Costa gave the house of Brianda “on San Marcula, in the home of the Gritti.” It was duly recorded that he lived in the house of “Brianda de luna marrana.”40 Since Gomes in his testimony claimed that in Venice he had lived in Gracia’s house and gave the same place as his address, the two sisters must have shared a household.41

50Not so much the answers to the questions as the questions themselves have to be scrutinized. They reflect the attitude of the Inquisition and the Holy Office’s assumption as to what constituted judaizing. The interrogation to which Gracia’s and Brianda’s agents were exposed sheds light upon alleged crypto-Jewish practices—not necessarily theirs, but others’. Tristão da Costa’s testimony makes it clear that the Inquisition had a lively interest in Brianda’s affairs and tried to entrap her through her agent.

  • 42 Processi, 228:81–98.
  • 43 Ibid.

51Asked how Brianda lived, he responded, “As a Christian.” While Costa admitted to eat only meat bought at the Jewish butcher, he stated that Brianda did not shop there, but owing to her health problems, was permitted by a special dispensation from her confessor to eat meat even on Fridays and during Lent. He claimed that he ate only fish and eggs in Brianda’s household. When pressured further, however, Costa admitted that Brianda knew that he was living openly as a Jew in Ferrara, using his father’s name, Abraham Habibi. Thus, in Ferrara, when acting as Brianda’s factor, he was known as Isaac Habibi. The main charge against Costa was that wherever he went, he changed his religious affiliation.42 During that period of the questioning, Costa admitted that except for his time in Ferrara he had lived “outside a Christian, inside a Jew.”43

  • 44 Ibid.

52To the question whether he knew why he had been arrested, Costa responded that he assumed that his enemies—Enriquez, Gomes, Hyeronymas Vaes, Emmanuel Fregoso, and an Austrian, called Pancho—had denounced him. According to Costa, they all came from Ferrara to have him banished from Venice as a Jew, thus forcing Brianda to move to Turkey. By that statement Costa intimated that the men acted on Gracia’s behest. He informed his interrogators that his denouncers had lived earlier as Christians but now lived as Jews in Ferrara. “That’s what they say throughout the Rialto,” he added, but he refused to name names.44

53The interrogation was suspended until July 15, when, unexpectedly, Costa changed his earlier statements and claimed that it must have been the Molino family that had denounced him because of a sugar and pepper deal and other commodities that belonged to Beatrice de Luna. He suggested that Gracia’s entire entourage was out to get him and Brianda. Nothing is known about that alleged pepper deal. Costa might have dreamt it up for the interrogators. He believed, however, that his accusers wanted to separate him from Brianda, and by pressing her for the money deposited at the Zecca, to force Brianda to leave for Turkey. Indeed, Costa’s unshakable loyalty to Brianda might have worried the rest of the family. His intimate knowledge of Brianda’s private problems proved that Tristão was more than her agent: he was Brianda’s trusted friend, if not more.

54Throughout his interrogation, Costa remained protective of Brianda and emphatically asserted that in her home everyone lived a Christian life, participated in prayer, and ate differently than he. The council’s questions regarding Brianda were precisely the ones asked those suspected of judaizing: Did she have Christian images in her house? Costa responded in the affirmative, and mentioned the image of the Virgin. He confirmed that Brianda’s entire household knelt in prayer when it rang for Ave Maria, stating that he himself had seen them kneel. To the question whether Brianda had Mass said in her home, Costa responded that he assumed so, although he had not witnessed it. He added that he knew that her father confessor was a Spaniard. The details of his testimony show that Costa was very careful not to perjure himself, while he tried his best to keep Brianda out of danger. Costa also stated that in the home of Brianda, and whenever in Venice, he always wore Christian clothing.

BRIANDA BEFORE THE INQUISITION

  • 45 Grunebaum-Ballin renders the French translation of the Italian in extenso. See Grunebaum-Ballin, p (...)
  • 46 See also, Pullan, The Jews, pp. 213–4.

55When later interrogated in person, Brianda bitterly complained about her sister and offered 10,000 ducats to free Costa.45 Sometime between August 21 and 23, 1555, Brianda indeed obtained Costa’s freedom with the stipulation that he leave Venice within fifteen days, never to return.46

56Prior to the judgment, Gracia la Chica, also testified. At that juncture, she categorically stated that she wanted to live a Christian life and enter a convent. Mother and daughter were admonished by the inquisitors to remain good Christians, and as proof of her credibility, Brianda was notified that her assets, seized and kept at the Zecca, were again at her disposal.

57However, on August 23, Brianda and her daughter appeared separately before the head of the Council. Brianda bemoaned her fate, claiming that she lost the peace she had been seeking when she came to live in Venice. Unsolicited, she suddenly confessed to belonging to those who had been forcibly baptized (!), and that in her heart she had remained a Jew. Independently, Gracia la Chica announced that she wanted to follow her mother’s religion and also live as a Jew.

  • 47 Letter of the Venetian ambassador to France, September 13, 1555, cited in Grunebaum-Ballin, p. 63.

58When Brianda and her daughter declared their intention to openly confess to Judaism (“l’Ebraismo”), the Council and the Doge decided that the women had to leave Venice “entro brevo tempo,” which was then determined to be a period of one month. Petitioning for an extension to take care of her affairs, Brianda declared her willingness to move into the Ghetto until she could leave Venice. The Council, which earlier had released her assets and was embarrassed by that misguided judgment, remained inflexible. Immediately informed about the happenings, Pope Paul IV received the news of Brianda’s expulsion “with great pleasure.”47 It seems that even the French king’s intervention was rejected. Nevertheless, the women were still in Venice as of January 1556. Ferrara again offered Brianda asylum since on December 23, 1555, Ercole II confirmed on Portuguese and Spanish Jews all privileges granted by Pope Paul III and Pope Julius III to their co-religionists in Ancona. Shortly thereafter, Brianda and her daughter indeed moved to Ferrara.

59The reasons for Brianda’s decision will never be known; it is plausible that she was not only in frail health, but also mentally unstable. Indeed, her mental instability, long recognized by Diogo and Gracia, might have been foremost in her husband’s mind when he composed his will. Whether Brianda suddenly regretted her earlier behavior or was simply too scared to stay alone in Venice remains obscure. Be that as it may, she settled in Ferrara as a Jew and remained there until she and her family were permitted to join Gracia in Constantinople.

  • 48 For more on this subject, see chapter 7 on the Ottoman Empire. Roth’s idea (p. 61) that the entire (...)

60The kidnapping scandal and her testimony at the Inquisition were the two, recorded, public appearances of Gracia la Chica until her betrothal to Bernardo (Samuel) Nasi, João’s younger brother, in Ferrara, in 1558. The two nuptials following the trials—João’s to Reyna in Constantinople, and Gracia junior’s to Samuel in Ferrara—demonstrate that the marriage between João and the then thirteen-year-old girl was either annulled because it took place without the endorsement of her guardian, or simply disregarded since the Mendes family, having openly re-embraced Judaism, would consider a Christian wedding invalid. It is difficult to believe that João’s and Gracia la Chica’s marriage was indeed consummated (practically in the presence of her future husband). Later, in a new constellation, the two young couples would have remained closely-knit family members. Therefore, their story cannot be accepted beyond some remaining doubt, unless the girls had no say in their own lives and were pawns in the hands of their mothers.48 There is no direct information regarding the young Gracia’s life, after her wedding to Samuel at the age of eighteen, with the exception of a copper medal celebrating that event. The story of that medal and the controversy surrounding it are part of the investigation taken up in chapter 5.

Notes

1 See Roberto Bonfil, Tra due mondi: Cultura ebraica e cultura christiana nel Medieoevo (Naples, 1997); ibid., Jewish Life in Renaissance Italy (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1994). Bonfil brings mostly Hebrew and Italian texts under scrutiny. He does not believe that acculturation was necessarily good and isolation bad. The ghetto provided a stable condition.

2 Quoted by Cecil Roth, AHistory of the Marranos (New York, 1974), p. 67. For a general description, see Ibid., AHistory of the Jews in Venice (Philadelphia, 1930), Jewish Communities Series. It contains, however some misinformation about Gracia and her family. For example, Roth (p. 83) claims that “Juan Miquez” arrived in Antwerp with his mother, the widow of the Portuguese king’s physician, sister-in-law of Gracia. The younger son is not mentioned.

3 He is not the same as Duarte Gomes, as Roth (p. 293) believed.

4 Marino Sanuto is mainly known for his diaries, chronicling the years 1496– 1533. His Diarii, comprising 58 volumes, were first published in Venice, 1872–1902.

5 For more on this, see Robert C. Melzi, “Ebrei e Marrani in Italia in la Commedia Rinascimentale,” Sefarad 55.2 (1995): 316. The plot in which the city is the spoiler, ruining the naïve young nobleman, is a topos of Renaissance drama. A typical example is Marin Držić’s Dundo Maroje (1551), playing in Ragusa. See also the relevant section in Peter Burke, The Historical Anthropology of Early Modern Italy (Cambridge, 1987), p. 23, and passim, as well as Il Teatro italiano del Rinascimento (Milan, 1980).

6 Melzi, pp. 317–25.

7 Cf. such plays as Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Among the large number of works dealing with that issue, of the more recent studies, see Peter Berek, “The Renaissance Jew,” Renaissance Quarterly 61.1 (Spring, 1998): 128-62. He contends that “the form in which Jewish characters appear after Marlowe is far more indebted to theater than to history” (p. 131). Jews were officially banished in 1290, during the reign of Edward I. Apparently there were some Jews in England, but they were forced to disguise themselves and their religious beliefs.

8 Processi del S. Ufficio di Venezia contro ebrei e giudaizzanti (1548–1560): Cura di Pier Cesare Ioly Zorrattini (Florence, 1980), p. 29. There is no need to recapitulate the vast literature on the Inquisition, nor shall I enter into the ongoing debate whether statements made under duress should be disregarded by scholars altogether (as in the much-argued contemporary case regarding the potential medical benefits of the experiments performed on inmates in the Nazi death camps). According to Brian Pullan, the collapse of the Priuli bank was directly linked to the decree of expulsion issued against the conversos. See “A Ship with Two Rudders: Righetto Marrano and the Inquisition in Venice,” The Historical Journal 20 (1977): 25–58.

9 Allegedly, at the time of the 1550 Venetian edict of expulsion, João asked the Senate to give them an island where “the Jews” could live: “Ibi ausus com Senatu agere de attribuenda Iudais sede in aliqua insularum Venetius adjacientum.” See Famiano Strada, …Excerpta ex decade prima & secunda Historia de bello belgico… (Oxoniae, 1662), p. 241. See also David Kaufmann, “Die Vertreibung der Marranen aus Venedig im Jahre 1550,” Jewish Quarterly Review 13 (1901): 32-52. As is known, the 1570–73 war against Turkey resulted in a new expulsion of the Jews, but the edict was withdrawn after the peace treaty of 1573.

10 Consiglio X, Secrete filza 9, cc.n.n. 21 marzo 1544 e 22 marzo 1544, quoted in Processi, 30.

11 Pullan, AShip with Two Rudders, p. 72.

12 Relazioni degli ambasciatori veneti al Senato, ed. E. Albieri (Florence, 1839), 1.211, as quoted by Brian Pullan, The Jews and the Inquisition of Venice, 1550–1670 (Oxford, 1983), p. 171.

13 Stephanos Antoniou Xanthoudides, “Venetian Crete,” Crete, Past and Present, ed. Michael Nicholas Elliadi (London, 1933), p. 156. At the same time, many Roman Catholics in Venice considered the Greek Church worse than the synagogue: “pezo che se fussino zudei.” Quoted by Deur Geanakoplos, Byzantine East and Latin West: Two Worlds in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Studies in Ecclesiastical Culture (Oxford, 1976 [1966]), p. 67.

14 Werner L. Gundersheimer, Ferrara: The Style of a Renaissance Despotism (Princeton, 1973), pp. 124–5.

15 Pullan, The Jews of Europe and the Inquisition of Venice, 1560–1670, p. 168.

16 Roth, p. 81. There are no records quoted in Roth’s work on earlier transfer of money.

17 That is how her name appears later in the protocols of Odoardo Gomes’s trial. Processi, p. 226.

18 The Mendes brothers’ Jewish name, Bemvenist (Benvenist) appeared on the women’s safe conduct received from Ferrara.

19 Roth, pp. 178–80.

20 Kaufmann treats Brianda’s case. Kaufmann, David. “Die Vertreibung Der Marranen aus Venedig im Jahre 1550,” Jewish Quarterly Review 13 (1901 (pp. 32–52).

21 Norman Rosenblatt, “Joseph Nasi: Court Favorite of Selim II,” diss., University of Pennsylvania, p. 20.

22 Pullan, The Jews of Europe and the Inquisition of Venice, 1560–1670, p. 179.

23 A reference made to the two women on July 2, 1545. See Rosenblatt, p. 12.

24 Roth, p. 57.

25 The letter is dated July 12, 1549. See Roth, p. 58.

26 Based on the same dispatch, quoted above, Gracia and Reyna departed for Ferrara, some months before the chaus had arrived.

27 Remarkably, in Venice, and later also in Constantinople, Brianda was referred to as “Madonna Brianda,” a title customary for aristocratic ladies who participated in the running of charitable organizations for women. For more on at least one such organization, see Monica Chojnacka, “Women, Charity and Community in Early Modern Venice: The Casa Delle Zitadelle,” Renaissance Quarterly 51.1 (Spring, 1998): 68–91. As a rule, a “Madre” or a “Madonna” lived in the building that housed the women, but it is possible that the title was also conferred upon women who were known as patrons of such establishments, not just for those who were chosen at a young age to be trained for that vocation.

28 Processi, p. 31.

29 Paul Grunebaum-Ballin, Joseph Naci, duc de Naxos (Paris, 1968), p. 53.

30 Minutes of the trial involving the Nasi family were found in the Venetian archives for 1553. They were identified by Constance H. Rose, ”Information on the Life of Joseph Nasi, Duke of Naxos: the Venetian Phase,” The Jewish Quarterly Review, 60 (1969–70): 342–4. The discovery of this fascinating information, unfortunately, led Rose to a very unlikely conclusion: she believes that João actually kidnapped not Gracia the younger but Gracia herself, in a plot to get the older woman out of Venice! The subject of that kidnapping seems to confuse and worry a number of Mendes/Nasi biographers. Roth proposes an even more curious plot: First, he predates the event to the family’s flight from Antwerp to Venice and claims that the protagonists were João and Reyna. He, too, considers their elopement a plot to mislead the authorities, but one carried out with the knowledge and blessing of Gracia. He claims, “Current rumor added spice to the story. It was said that João Miquez and Beatrice’s young daughter had fallen in love, and that he had seized the opportunity to elope with her to Venice, the mother following them in pursuit” (Roth, p. 51, passim). Roth assumes that the story was simply put out to provide a pretext for the family’s sudden disappearance from Antwerp. However, in Roth’s dating, the event would have taken place several years before the kidnapping charges were filed against João (i.e., during January–March, 1553), and with another Mendes daughter as its heroine to boot. A large number of documents were found by scholars, years after Roth’s biography appeared. For the source on which I have based my presentation, see Benjamin Ravid, “Money, Love and Politics in Sixteenth-Century Venice: The Perpetual Banishment and Subsequent Pardon of Joseph Nasi,” Italia Judaica (Rome, 1983), p. 159. Nasi was banished in 1553 and pardoned in 1567.

31 Grunebaum-Ballin, pp. 52–53, passim.

32 Processi, p. 32.

33 They hoped that by this gesture their trustworthiness would increase in the eyes of their interrogators.

34 Nicolau Eimeri, Directorium inquisitorium. A helpful text to familiarize the modern reader with the proceedings is the abridged French translation: Le manuel des inquisiteurs, ed. Luis Sala-Molins, (Paris and The Hague, 1973) (Savoir historique, 8). A Spanish translation by Francisco Martin appeared in Barcelona in 1996.

35 From the confession of Duarte (Odoardo) Gomes [Gomez]. Processi, 231: 190–2.

36 Pullan, The Jews of Europe, p. 125. No matter how absurd, such accusations were extremely dangerous. For example, on June 22, 1486, Nicolaus de Nasis, a freedman in Malta, declared under oath that he secretly witnessed, nine days before Passion Week, how Jews with their heads covered had “tortured a cat, in contempt of the Catholic faith, as if flogging Christ at a column.” See Godfrey Wettinger, The Jews of Malta in the Middle Ages (Malta, 1985), p. 60 (Maltese Studies, 6). It has been suggested that Christopher Marlowe used Joseph Nasi as his model when writing The Jew of Malta, sometime after 1588.

37 Processi, 230:151–55.

38 Processi, April 8, 1555, 230:154.

39 Processi, 229: 245r–145v.

40 Processi, 227:84.

41 Other documents show that in Venice, Gracia lived in the Confinio San Paolo whereas Brianda lived in the Confinio Santa Catarina. See Grunebaum-Ballin, p. 52.

42 Processi, 228:81–98.

43 Ibid.

44 Ibid.

45 Grunebaum-Ballin renders the French translation of the Italian in extenso. See Grunebaum-Ballin, pp. 55–62. (“Consilio Dieci, parti secrete,” recorded on July 27, 1555). Rightly or wrongly, Gracia assumed that da Costa exerted undue influence over Brianda. Based on what followed, it is even conceivable that Brianda confessed to Judaism to be able to follow Odoardo da Costa to Ferrara, or at least, not to remain alone in Venice.

46 See also, Pullan, The Jews, pp. 213–4.

47 Letter of the Venetian ambassador to France, September 13, 1555, cited in Grunebaum-Ballin, p. 63.

48 For more on this subject, see chapter 7 on the Ottoman Empire. Roth’s idea (p. 61) that the entire quarrel and the kidnapping were a scheme by which the sisters plotted to move their fortune out of Christian jurisdiction, seems too far-fetched.

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