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Antoine Roullet
Olivier Spina
Nathalie Szczech

II. Tensions et résiliences : dynamiques des communautés

Jewish Jews and Catholic Jews

Confessionalization and Portuguese New Christians in Early modern Rouen

Gayle K. Brunelle

Texte intégral

  • 1 N. Muchnik, «Du catholicisme des judéoconvers»; G. K. Brunelle, «Migration and religious identity».
  • 2 Cisneros was around fifty at the time, and had spent the 1620s in Douai, where he joined the Discal (...)

1In his quest to complete his naturalization as a French citizen, merchant Diego Oliveira in January of 1633 asked a Spanish priest residing in Rouen named Diego Cisneros for the certification of Catholicity necessary to persuade Rouen’s Chambre des comptes to validate the letters of naturalization Oliveira had obtained from the French crown. Unbeknownst to Oliveira, however, Cisneros was a self-appointed apologist for Catholic New Christians, and had come to Rouen expressly to take up their cause and to counter the growth of crypto-Jewish practices in the city under the patronage of the Jewish community of Amsterdam1. Cisneros knew that Oliveira and a substantial portion of the other Portuguese merchants in Rouen were crytpo-Jews, converts to Catholicism who had reverted to Jewish practices in the privacy of their homes. He also knew that some of the leaders of the Rouennais crypto-Jews, most notably Antonio Rodrigues Lamego, were organizing a secret Jewish community in Rouen along the lines of that in Bordeaux, and with the assistance of Jewish religious leaders sent from Amsterdam for this purpose. These crypto-Jewish activities caused great consternation among the Catholic New Christians whom Cisneros rallied to his cause. Cisneros wasted no time in denouncing Oliveira to the Rouennais ecclesiastical authorities, although his unorthodox career meant that he enjoyed little credit with them2.

  • 3 Ibid., pp. 289-297.
  • 4 N. Broens, Monarquía y capital, pp. 47-48; I. S. Révah, «Autobiographie d’un marrane», pp. 67 sqq.

2Ironically, a New Christian struggling to negotiate a Catholic identity in Spain precipitated the outbreak of a much more serious conflict in Rouen that pitted crypto-Jews and Catholics within the New Christian community against each other3. In 1631 a Portuguese New Christian merchant named Antonio de Fonseca resided in Rouen. He had several sons, one of whom, Felipe de Fonseca, held from the Spanish crown the license for the monopoly of raw latex from Senegal and Guinea to Castile. Almost all of this latex ended up in Rouen, where it was sold to French cloth makers. Felipe’s brother Gerónimo participated in this monopoly as well, and was also one of the most important exporters of Spanish wool to France. Gerónimo resided in Madrid, although he spent considerable time in Rouen, enough so that his name appeared on the list denouncing judaizers in that city. Felipe and Gerónimo had a third brother, Juan, a cleric, who in 1633 resided in Rouen with their father. Previously, however, Juan had been arrested by the Spanish Inquisition. While undergoing torture, he made incriminating statements about the family that resulted in the condemnation in absentia of his father and the confiscation of Antonio’s wealth and possessions within reach of the Inquisition in Spain. Gerónimo, the member of the family charged with the «Spanish end» of the family’s commerce, was extremely concerned about the stain on the whole family’s reputation resulting from Juan’s allegations, which threatened their hard-won and costly latex monopoly. Determined to clear the family name, Gerónimo offered a deal to the Inquisition. He would pay part of the cost of sending a familiar of the Inquisition to France to investigate Juan’s statements, which Gerónimo claimed would be shown to be baseless4. This was a dangerous gamble, and why Gerónimo took it we cannot be sure. But Gerónimo, whether he realized it nor not, was playing with fire.

3The union of the Spanish and Portuguese thrones in 1580 allowed Portuguese New Christians, many of whose forebears had moved from Spain to Portugal to escape the Spanish Inquisition, to migrate to Spain, both to flee the now more severe Portuguese Inquisition, but especially to take advantage of the burgeoning economic opportunities participation in the Spanish economy offered. During the first two decades of the seventeenth century, until the expiration of the Twelve Years’ Truce (1609-1621) between Spain and the Dutch, Portuguese New Christians were able to construct a dense and highly profitable network of trade linking their communities in the Low Countries to those in Spain. The expiration of the truce in 1621, however, and the ensuing closure of Spanish ports to Dutch vessels, did nothing to reduce the demand in Spain or the Indies for Dutch goods. New Christians became dependent on France and Germany, as places of transit to smuggle goods into and wealth out of the Iberian world.

  • 5 For an example of how such a network spiriting crypto-Jews and their assets out of Iberian territor (...)

4The Spanish crown and the Inquisition were well aware of these developments and although willing at times to tolerate them due to the great need in Spain for Dutch goods, including arms, they were also concerned to ensure that the New Christians were not acting against Spain’s interests. This meant that the Spanish crown and the Spanish Inquisition sought to track closely the movements and activities of Portuguese citizens suspected of religious heterodoxy. The Inquisition was particularly concerned with those New Christians who were powerful asentistas bankrolling the Spanish crown, and merchants involved in the Indies and trans-Pyrenees trade, because it suspected, correctly, that more than a few of them were profiting from contraband and otherwise finding means of enriching themselves at the Spanish crown’s expense. Moreover, the hostilities between Spain and the Low Countries, and those imminent between Spain and France, made the Inquisition especially concerned with the whereabouts, activities and wealth of the expatriate New Christians. The Inquisition also feared that some New Christians outside of the Iberian Peninsula were using their resources to assist their fellows still in Spain and Portugal to move themselves, their families, and their funds, out of the «lands of idolatry» to safer havens abroad where they could live openly as Jews. This not only endangered the souls of the New Christians lured into adopting Judaism, but also kept the wealth of such people out of the reach of the Inquisition and the Spanish government5.

  • 6 N. Muchnik, «Du catholicisme des judéoconvers», p. 280.
  • 7 Diego de Cisneros, 1637, British Library (BL), Egerton Manuscripts 343; Archives nationales de Fran (...)

5Thus the Inquisition seized the opportunity to launch an investigation, which turned out to be far more extensive than Gerónimo had bargained for. Juan Bautista Villadiego, a secretary of the Inquisition of Seville, was commissioned to investigate the New Christians of France6. He left Madrid in 1632 and crossed the border to southwest France, where even though the Comte de Grammont had him briefly arrested as a suspected spy (he was freed for lack of evidence), he managed thoroughly to investigate the New Christian communities of Saint-Esprit-les-Bayonne and Saint-Jean-de-Luz before making his way to Rouen, where he arrived January 9, 1633. In Rouen, Villadiego, in good inquisitorial fashion, immediately called upon faithful Catholic New Christians to denounce the crypto-Judaizers in their midst. A leader of the Catholic faction, António da Costa de Paz, obliged and produced a list of the prominent leaders of the crypto-Jewish faction of the New Christian community in Rouen. Diego de Cisneros, who had been making little headway on his own convincing the Rouennais authorities to act on the judaizing he claimed was pervasive among the Portuguese, ratified the accuracy of Costa de Paz’s list. Hence the collaboration between Cisneros and Villadiego was born7.

  • 8 The most thorough examination of the incident based on primary sources can be found in N. Broens, M (...)
  • 9 N. Broens, Monarquía y capital, pp. 57-58.

6The ecclesiastical and municipal authorities in Rouen took Villadiego’s accusations more seriously than they did those of Cisneros, even though they also suspected Villadiego of espionage on behalf of Spain. Once Villadiego and Cisneros had successfully rallied the Catholics among Rouen’s Portuguese community to add their voices to his in denouncing the judaizers in their midst, Pierre d’Acarie, Bishop of Tarse and Vicar General of the Archbishopric of Rouen, with the full support of the municipal government, arrested Oliveira, since it was illegal to practice Judaism in France. Acarie then turned the case over to the Parlement of Normandy, which launched an investigation. Villadiego and Cisneros meanwhile roused their supporters among the Catholic New Christians, most of whom were kin and/or business associates of the accused crypto-judaizers. These Catholics, at least twelve in number, made further denunciations encompassing in all thirty-six of the most prominent Portuguese merchants in Rouen and their families. The denunciations, arrests, and confiscations of the merchandise and precious business papers of several of the accused New Christians, and the threat of more to come, precipitated a firestorm among the Portuguese in Rouen, and even led some of them to emigrate from the city to the safer havens of London, Bordeaux and Amsterdam8. The economic ripples reached further still, to Spain and Antwerp, with which Rouen’s Portuguese maintained close commercial and financial ties9.

  • 10 J. Faur, «Four Classes of Conversos», p. 114.
  • 11 N. Broens, Monarquía y capital, p. 47.

7The situation should not have taken the Portuguese in Rouen wholly by surprise. There clearly was no love lost between the third or so of the Portuguese who adopted an ardent Catholic assimilationist stance and the other two-thirds who were either active judaizers or ambivalent in their religious leanings and it likely was very difficult for the two groups to live together as one community in Rouen, a problem that as José Faur has pointed out, dogged New Christian communities wherever they were established10. Tension likewise had been building between the Portuguese community and the natives of Rouen for decades, ever since the Portuguese began to arrive in Rouen in significant numbers. Economic competition for Rouen’s trade with the Iberian world was the basis for the discord, but the developing conflict between France and Spain contributed to its rise as well. Even though France was officially a Catholic country, the willingness of the crown to counter Spanish power by any means necessary, including offering assistance to Protestants in Germany, England and the Low Countries and to offer shelter to New Christians, meant that many people in France expected open warfare to break out between France and Spain, as indeed it did in the 1630s11. Despite the fact that many of them or their ancestors had fled to France from Portugal or Spain because of religious persecution, the Portuguese in Rouen found themselves in the ironic position of being suspected of secretly aiding the Spanish cause through espionage or contraband trade, even while also under suspicion of reverting to Judaism, which would have made them enemies in the eyes of the Spanish crown.

  • 12 Archives départementales de la Seine-Maritime (ADSM), Parlement, Registres secrets, 1 B 164, 18 Jan (...)
  • 13 Bibliothèque municipale de Rouen, ms. G 48, «Registre de la Chambre des Comptes de Normandie Pour N (...)

8Even more ironic, it was not long before Father Cisneros found himself under arrest in Rouen as well, when Oliveira, who vehemently defended his Christian orthodoxy —despite being rumored to be circumcised—, countered Cisneros’ charges by accusing him of spying for Spain. Oliveira was not far off in this charge, because Cisneros was in fact allied with a representative of the Spanish Inquisition in Rouen, Villadiego, although unlike Villadiego, Cisneros had no relationship with the Spanish authorities or the Inquisition. Soon Villadiego was also in prison, accused of espionage along with Cisneros. The situation escalated during the first six months of 1633, and several other Portuguese merchants charged with practicing Judaism joined Oliveira in the dungeons of the ecclesiastical court, and at least thirty-six of the hundred or so Portuguese merchants residing in Rouen fell under suspicion of religious heterodoxy12. The survival of the Portuguese colony in Rouen was in jeopardy as a result, even though many of its members were naturalized French citizens13.

  • 14 I. S. Révah, «Autobiographie d’un marrane», p. 73 gives both lists.

9Our story has a happy ending, of sorts. Unlike what might very well have happened had it taken place in early seventeenth-century Spain, there was no auto-da-fe —in fact, no one died at all— and in the end everyone was released from prison, the worse for the wear, and somewhat poorer, but by no means bankrupted. It took over six months for the situation to get ironed out, and at first it appeared as though the struggle would result in a victory for the Catholics rather than the crypto-Jews. Oliveira responded to Cisneros’ allegations with fervent denials and counter-accusations that Cisneros and Villadiego were really Spanish spies, and Acarie, attempting at first to appear even-handed, threw both Oliveira and Cisneros into the dungeons of the ecclesiastical prison. By January 19, however, the Parlement of Normandy evoked the case to its own jurisdiction, and ordered Villadiego’s arrest as well. Pierre d’Acarie obeyed, but then had published in all the parishes of Rouen a letter of his own demanding that others with knowledge of judaizing confess what they knew under the threat of excommunication. Twelve members of Rouen’s Catholic New Christian network, no doubt sensing a heaven-sent opportunity to bolster their own reputations for fidelity to Catholicism in the eyes of the French and the Inquisition alike while perhaps fatally damaging those of their crypto-Jewish rivals, responded with an extensive deposition, including a list of the members of the judaizing community that contained thirty-six names in all14.

  • 15 Ibid., pp. 72-74.

10In time-honored fashion, the New Christians accused of judaizing next sought protection from the crown. On January 27 the royal council evoked the affair to its own jurisdiction, the three prisoners were duly transferred from the ecclesiastical to the royal prison, and all of the documents accumulated so far in the affair —and there would be many more before it was over— were brought to the royal clerks. The municipal government protested loudly, but to no avail, at this infringement of its jurisdiction, as did the Parlement, which resisted moving the prisoners until the crown sent a lieutenant in the army to Rouen to enforce the order. Meanwhile, in Paris, a new Garde des sceaux, Pierre Séguier, was appointed. He in turn ordered the arrest of three of the other principal accused judaizers, and sent two commissioners to Rouen to investigate. These commissioners published on March 9 a «safeguard» for the witnesses against the accused, from which we discover their identity. They exonerated Cisneros and Villadiego, who were subsequently released. Cardinal Richelieu, evidently skeptical in their regard, accorded both Spaniards a safe conduct to return to Spain and politely but firmly suggested they quickly make use of it. Acarie brought Cisneros back to Rouen in triumph in his own carriage to cheering crowds in the streets, and it appeared as though the municipality and the Catholic faction of the New Christians were on the verge of complete victory, and the crypto-judaizers of defeat15.

11The latter, however, riposted in two forms. First, they attempted to turn the tables on their accusers by publishing a counter denunciation against them, claiming that it was in fact the so-called «Catholics» who were the real crypto-Jews, whose motivation was a desire to spy for and otherwise serve the king of Spain while also denuding those they accused falsely of judaizing of their wealth in the Iberian peninsula, including the coveted latex trade with Africa. Although Cecil Roth finds this response cheeky but ultimately ridiculous, in fact a number of the members of the Catholic party had indeed run afoul of the Inquisition, including the doctor Paulo de Lena, who in the 1640s became a Catholic missionary to New Christians in Amsterdam, Domingo da Fonseca, Paulo Saraiva, and Alvaro da Costa de Paz. All had vehemently maintained their innocence even under torture, but that had not stopped them from being condemned in some cases and obliged to abjure crimes they insisted they had not committed. Fonseca and Lena in fact barely escaped being burned at the stake, and still had to don the fogo revolto at their auto-da-fé, the robe with flames pointing downward that those condemned of heresy or other crimes against the faith but who avoided the death penalty were forced to wear.

  • 16 J. Israel, Diasporas within a Diaspora, pp. 332 sqq.; I. S. Révah, «Les jésuites portugais contre l (...)
  • 17 Diego de Cisneros, 1637, BL, Egerton Manuscripts 343; ANF, E110/B, Conseil du roi, Minutes d’arrêts (...)

12Hence the strategy of the New Christians accused of judaizing in Rouen was in fact very clever. Everyone knew that the Inquisition at times arrested innocent Catholics. In fact, this was the basis for the advocates of New Christians in Spain and elsewhere, including the Jesuits, to agitate for revoking the laws related to limpieza de sangre, because such blanket ethnic persecution against all New Christians punished those who wished to live as good Catholics and undermined their motivation to remain faithful16. Cisneros insisted in his own deposition to the Spanish Inquisition detailing the affair in Rouen that this was his motivation for hunting down crypto-Jews who corrupted and sullied the reputations of innocent Catholic New Christians. The problem was in sorting out who was really falsely accused, and who was really innocent, especially as many New Christians were themselves unsure. Hence the New Christians in Rouen offered the French crown a plausible excuse for exonerating them —with either side accusing the other, who could tell who were the «real» judaizers and who were not17?

  • 18 N. Muchnik, «Du catholicisme des judéoconvers», pp. 290 sqq.; C. Roth, «Les marranes à Rouen», pp.  (...)

13The accused New Christians, again in a time-honored strategy, also resorted to offering the French crown a large «gift» of 260,000 livres to be used in «charitable works» at the discretion of Cardinal Richelieu (I.S. Révah claims Richelieu used it to fund the construction of the military hospital at Bicêtre). The New Christians likely had a supporter at court in the form of Richelieu’s confidant, Alphonse López, who may himself have been of New Christian background. Soon after the offer of the «gift» was made and accepted, the crown reversed the ruling of its two commissioners and exonerated the Portuguese accused of judaizing, declaring the accusations against them essentially baseless (thus ignoring outright substantial evidence to the contrary) and declaring them good Catholics and loyal naturalized French citizens. It took several reiterations of crown commands, however, to persuade Rouen’s Parlement to honor the royal will and authorize the release of the Portuguese18.

  • 19 J. Israel, Diasporas within a Diaspora, p. 256; I. S. Révah, «Autobiographie d’un marrane», pp. 80- (...)

14Meanwhile, the members of the Catholic faction, horrified to have the tables turned on them, published a counter-petition insisting on their innocence of the charges against them that was submitted to the royal council, which ignored it. The municipal government was furious at the dismissal of the charges —exactly the outcome it had feared when the case was sent to the royal council— and in response refused to allow the accused judaizers to reassume their accustomed role as leaders of the Portuguese «nation» in Rouen at the meeting of the Rouennais merchants to elect the new judges and councilors of the merchant’s court, the juridiction consulaire, in the city. The Catholic Portuguese participated instead. They might not be able to supplant the influence and status of their rivals in Spain, but they still hoped to accomplish this in Rouen, although the role reversal does not seem to have endured more than a few years, in part because so many of the Catholics left the city for Spain in the company of Villadiego and Cisneros. Tensions between the two factions remained high in Rouen for months, however, although all that emerged in public was a few episodes of shouted insults and fisticuffs in the streets19.

  • 20 ADSM, Tabellionage de Rouen, 2E, 1/1152: 2, 9, 13, 16 and 20 January 1640; 7, 9, 16 (3 contracts), (...)
  • 21 N. Muchnik, «Du catholicisme des judéoconvers», pp. 291-293; I. S. Révah, «Autobiographie d’un marr (...)

15Although some of the Portuguese ultimately fled to Amsterdam because of the arrests, which also brought to an end the rather open adherence to Jewish practices among some of the crypto-Jews in Rouen, the Portuguese community there continued to exist and be commercially active well into the 1650s20. Two of the accused judaizers, one of whom, Étienne (David) de Ajes, had previously formally converted to Judaism in Amsterdam, decided in August, even after having been officially exonerated of all crypto-Jewish activities in Rouen, to be «reconciled» with the Catholic Church anyway. The ceremony, which was another effort on the part of the municipal elite and the Catholic faction to assert the righteousness of their cause despite the royal perfidy, took place in the cathedral after wending its way there from the home of António da Fonseca in a public procession. Pierre d’Acarie was the presiding priest21. Most of the rest of the crypto-Jews remained in peace, however, living alongside members of the Catholic faction much as they had done before. Declining prospects for trade, more than fear of religious persecution, led to the exodus of most of the Portuguese from Rouen by 1700. Moreover, the firm crown support of the Portuguese in this case helped to foster the emergence of a large crypto-Jewish community in Bordeaux. Despite the setback in Rouen, crypto-Jews elsewhere in France who wanted to build true Jewish communities, and especially in Bordeaux and Bayonne, perceived that as long as they were careful to declare their loyalty to the crown and the Catholic Church, and to pay their taxes and bring commercial prosperity to the cities in which they resided, the crown would be reluctant to expel them for religious reasons alone.

  • 22 ADSM, Tabellionage de Rouen, 2E 1/1111, 7 March 1633; N. Muchnik, «Du catholicisme des judéoconvers (...)
  • 23 ADSM, Tabellionage de Rouen, 2E 1/1111, 7 March 1633.

16The arrests of 1633 had enormous ramifications for the unity and coherence of the Portuguese community in Rouen. The arrests brought to the surface deep divisions among the Portuguese that were at least as much about strategies for survival and assimilation as they were about religious differences. For although the larger portion of the Portuguese community quickly rallied around their imprisoned compatriots, raised money for them, and successfully petitioned the crown to evoke the case to the royal courts, a substantial minority of the Portuguese took the other side22. As well as denouncing the «judaizers» to the Rouennais authorities, they opposed the efforts of the Portuguese «nation» in Rouen to raise money on Oliveira’s behalf to pay his legal expenses, and even signed a notarized declaration to this effect, which they had registered in the official Tabellionage, or notarial registry, of Rouen23. Even when they had lost, the Catholic New Christians took pains to publicize the continuing staunch support they received from the municipal authorities. This was a public struggle, carried out in the public eye, over social identity, how each faction would be perceived, and to enhance its own members’ standing at the expense of its enemies in the eyes not only of local observers but also of the French and Spanish crowns.


  • 24 Besides the well known successes of the earliest Spanish arrivals in Rouen, the Civille, Saldaigne (...)
  • 25 J. Israel, «Jews and Crypto-Jews», pp. 3-4 and 7-8; A. Sutcliffe, «Jewish History», pp. 19-20, 27-2 (...)
  • 26 Diego de Cisneros, 1637, BL, Egerton Manuscripts 343.

17The Catholic Portuguese dissenters in Rouen who wrote to the king disavowing their arrested brethren opted for this strategy as much because of its economic, and social potential as for their personal adherence to the Catholic faith. Their decision to break ranks with the leadership of the Portuguese «nation» in Rouen and thus distinguish themselves from those of their community whose adherence to Judaism had come to light was a conscious choice to opt for assimilation into Catholic religion and society24. Most of the Portuguese Catholic New Christians in France ardently desired to return to the Iberian world, where their strongest ties in the form of commercial and kinship networks, financial investments of all kinds, and cultural affinity lay25. Evidence for this can be found in the speed with which they rallied around the representatives of Spanish Catholicism and the Inquisition —Cisneros and Villadiego— and the fact that when «push came to shove» at least twelve of the Catholics and their families, over sixty people in all and around a fifth of the entire New Christian community in Rouen, returned to Spain with Villadiego where they joined their voices to his in denouncing judaizing New Christians abroad26.

18Regardless of their personal religious beliefs, the problem the Portuguese crypto-Jews faced, and especially those who sought to assimilate and rise in Catholic society, whether in France or in Spain, was intense pressure from both the Jewish side, in the form of fellow Jews who insisted that salvation lay in casting off the «veil of Catholicism », and the Catholic camp, which also insisted that they choose in favor of Catholicism once and for all and in so doing break their ties to fellow New Christians whose commitment to the Catholic religion was less firm.

  • 27 J. Contreras, «Family and Patronage», pp. 127-145; J. Israel, Diasporas within a Diaspora, pp. 247 (...)
  • 28 Perhaps the best description of these struggles over strategies and identities can be found in Y. K(...)
  • 29 The best discussion of the role of New Christians in financing the Spanish government remains J. C. (...)

19Yet such a choice could profoundly endanger their livelihoods. The foundation of any durable commercial success the Portuguese diaspora in France might achieve, like that of all diasporas, would lie ultimately in the ability of its members to act as brokers —commercial brokers, financial brokers, and crosscultural brokers— in the open and clandestine trade between northern Europe, including France, and Iberian commercial networks27. Only through cultivating a deliberately ambiguous public identity could their brokerage succeed, therefore, except in locations such as Amsterdam, where they could safely practice Judaism and still trade simultaneously with the Dutch and with the rest of the world. Even there, however, there was a price for adopting a firm Jewish identity, because they became reliant for trading partners on relatives and friends who remained in the «lands of idolatry» and maintained more fluid identities, and upon whom they still had to depend in order to extract inheritances and debts due them from within the Iberian world28. Ambiguous religious identities thus served the Portuguese New Christians far better than firm ones. Prior to 1650, however, when forced to choose, a Catholic identity was a more prudent choice than a Jewish one for those settled in France, especially if they hoped to move funds between Spain and elsewhere in Europe, or invest in asientos and the many other Spanish or French royal monopolies and tax farms available to wealthy merchants seeking lucrative and stable investments29.


  • 30 Diego de Cisneros, 1637, BL, Egerton Manuscripts 343, fo 249.

20There is no doubt that many of the Portuguese New Christians in France harbored crypto-Jewish beliefs and that a portion of them quietly practiced Judaism, some more openly than others. But many others were sincere Catholics, did not identify themselves as Jews, and indeed viewed the religious accusations against them as a slander made all the more frustrating because the religious beliefs and activities of some of their fellow Iberians made the accusations that much more plausible. This was the core of the argument Villadiego and Cisneros made in their reports to the Spanish Inquisition about their exploits in France. At the outset of his relation, Cisneros explained that the reason he felt impelled to involve himself in the affairs of New Christians was due to the «miserable state in which the Christian Hebrews are at present, and have been for many years, and the horrible calumnies and oppressions they have suffered and are suffering as a result of the calumnies and maliciousness of the perfidious members of their nation ». This Hebrew «nation », Cisneros explained, could be divided into two «bands », «those who received and believe in the faith and law of our Lord Jesus Christ », and «those non-believers and rebels, who obstinately cling to the Law of Moses and his traditions ». The latter, who Cisneros labeled «judaizing Hebrews », «make it their profession to persecute the Christian Hebrews and in this consists the perfection of Judaism », as also was the «persecution against the Church the greatest approbation and perfection of Judaism ». Cisneros’ goal was to learn as much as possible about the «state of affairs» of the Jews in Europe, both of the «new Jews» and of the «good Christians », in order to find the best means to «conserve and augment the good and reduce and extirpate the bad»30.

  • 31 Ibid., fo 1.

21Cisneros, whose report is filled with almost mystical passages and quotations from scripture, could perhaps be dismissed as a rather eccentric crackpot who seems to have believed that the scriptural prophecies regarding the ultimate conversions of the Jews, and concomitant second coming of Christ, could only be fulfilled if the «Judaizing Hebrews» could be stopped from harassing the «Christian Jews» and seducing the latter away from Christianity. Listen, however, to the words of Juan Bautista de Villadiego, priest and secretary of the Inquisition of Seville, in his account, «Information of the licenciado Juan Bautista de Villadiego, secretary of the Holy Office of the Inquisition of Seville for the Portuguese Catholics of the Hebrew Nation, who have gone to France against the Judaizers of the same nation to the Illustrious and Reverend Señor Don Fr. Antonio de Sotomayor ». Villadiego begins his story thusly: «In order to destroy the credit due to the Portuguese Catholics of the Hebrew nation who come from France, with the permission and surety of your Holy Inquisition and of the Council, the malice of the Judaizers who reside in this Court tries to persuade [you of] three things. The first, that there is neither cause nor reason that one should believe that those [Catholic New Christians] who have come [to testify] before this court [the Inquisition] are Catholics, and those against whom they testify are not, because they all, the ones and the others, are descended from the same nation ». The Catholics to whom Villadiego was referring were those from France who had returned to Spain with him, and who testified against the crypto-Jews before the Inquisition. His report was designed to bolster their credibility, under attack from some at court whom he labels «judaizers », (by which he means the New Christian lobby at court) although it is likely that some of the Inquisition’s detractors were Catholic supporters of the New Christians, such as the Jesuits. The critics of the New Christians who returned from France with Villadiego argued that the testimony of the returnees should be dismissed because there was no more reason to give credence to their testimony than to that of those whom they were accusing of judaizing, especially as some of those who returned had themselves been condemned by the Inquisition of Portugal for the very same crime31. Thus those New Christians whom Villadiego’s witnesses were accusing of judaizing were trying to turn the tables on the Catholic party by casting doubt on their orthodoxy.

  • 32 Ibid., fo 3.

22By the same token, Villadiego asserted that when he began his voyage to France, he was persuaded, as was everyone else, including the administrators of the Inquisition, that all of the Portuguese abroad were «Judaizing Jews ». The Padre fray Martin de Abbas, Abbot of the Convent of the Discalced Franciscans in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a native of that town, corrected Villadiego of that error, however, and solemnly assured him that «although there were many bad Portuguese residing in France, there were also some who were very good, and very zealous Catholics ». These Catholic New Christians had fled Spain because of their fear of the Inquisition, and due to the opprobrium in which they were held because they belonged to the same nation as the judaizers. His own experiences confirmed for Villadiego the truth of this observation, as for example in Rouen when it was the «judaizing Jews» who accused Villadiego of espionage and tried to have him killed, whereas it was the «good and Catholic Christian» members of the Portuguese community who helped and defended him. Thus it was imperative to sort out the good «Catholic Jews» to defend them from the bad «Jewish Jews»32.

  • 33 Ibid., fos 252ro-vo.
  • 34 Ibid., fos 249-257.

23Cisneros especially emphasizes the «miserable state» of the good Catholics among the Portuguese New Christians, who found themselves «taken for obstinate and incorrigible Jews ». Worse, since the Old Christians believed that none of the New Christians could «hope for salvation in Christ », they made no effort either to convert the bad Catholics among the New Christians or to remedy the «infamy and calamities that the good endured»33. As a result, in order to have access to dignities and honor, and to avoid persecution as judaizing Jews, Christian Jews were forced to try to hide their Jewish origins, which made it even harder to distinguish them from the judaizers, who used similar ruses to rise in society. This in turn made the sincerely Catholic New Christians equally liable to be accused of judaizing, and the reality of the false testimony of the judaizers, who sought always to destroy the Christians of their nation, led to innocent New Christians being arrested, tortured, and condemned for judaizing. Thus the innocent fled Spain and Portugal along with the guilty to escape the Inquisition, and while abroad, were further in danger of having their Catholic faith undermined by their judaizing brethren among whom they had to live. Their faith was real, but constantly menaced by the efforts of the judaizers to subvert or destroy it; they needed protection from knowledgeable and valiant defenders who could take up their cause in Spain, and enlist the Inquisition and the crown to protect instead of harass them, and to ensure that they were allowed to assimilate into Iberian society with the honor they deserved, which would bring great benefits to the Catholic religion and the Spanish crown34.

  • 35 I. S. Révah, «Les jésuites portugais contre l’Inquisition», pp. 29-53.

24Nor were Cisneros’ merely the views of a lone eccentric. Other Catholic thinkers, including the famous Portuguese Jesuit Padre António Vieira, concerned about the deleterious effects of the flight of New Christians and their capital from the Iberian world to Northern Europe and the Ottoman Empire where it was put in the service of the enemies of Catholicism, also sought to reign in the depredations of the Inquisition and argue in favor of allowing the sincere Catholics among the New Christians to return and assimilate. They too were convinced not only that there were many such Catholic New Christians, but that many other New Christians who had fallen into the error of judaizing due to the circumstances of their exile could be brought back to the Catholic faith with the right assistance and encouragement. It was the obstacles that Old Christians put in the road to the assimilation and salvation of the New Christians, at least as much as the latter’s obstinate adherence to Judaism, that augmented the numbers of the judaizers among the New Christians35.

25Catholic assimilationists among the New Christians thus lived in a perpetual «no-win» situation where it was almost impossible for them to negotiate a Christian identity in the face of enormous resistance on the part of Old Christians and Jews alike. No one, least of all the Inquisitors, but the lay Old Christians among whom they lived as well, would take seriously their protestations of sincere Catholicism —nor would their crypto-Jewish or openly Jewish fellow New Christians. As a result, they also resented crypto-Jews for endangering their strenuous efforts to negotiate a Christian identity, and they deeply feared and resented being lumped in with the crypto-Jews, as they were well aware of the danger that such an outcome posed for them, not so much in their ability to live and work in France, as in the possibility of finally returning to the Iberian world, where they still had many friends, kin, and financial investments, and whose culture still formed the core of their identity.

  • 36 I. S. Révah, «Autobiographie d’un marrane», pp. 41-130, pp. 59 sqq.; see also D. Swetschinski, Relu (...)

26According to the historian I.S. Révah, nearly all of the Catholic assimilationists in Rouen who denounced crypto-Jews there had already been in trouble with the Inquisition in Spain or Portugal, and all had maintained their innocence until broken under torture. This helps to explain why some among the Catholic New Christians were willing to denounce crypto-Jews in their communities in France, since many no doubt blamed their travails on the crypto-judaizers, either because the Catholics believed it was the testimony to the Inquisition of crypto-Jews that had led to their false arrests in the Iberian peninsula, or because the activities of the crypto-judaizers in France now left everyone in the Portuguese community vulnerable. Such a blow would fall especially hard because they knew that they, the Catholic New Christians, would again suffer equally with the crypto-Jews as their carefully negotiated identity as Catholics was destroyed in France, just as it had been in Spain and Portugal36.

  • 37 Diego de Cisneros, 1637, BL, Egerton Manuscripts 343; ANF, E110/B, Conseil du roi, Minutes d’arrêts (...)

27It was precisely the desire to prevent this problem, and protect the reputation of the sincerely Catholic New Christians in the Iberian world and abroad that Villadiego, the representative of the Spanish Inquisition in Rouen offered as the reason for his role in the arrests of the crypto-Jews there by the French authorities, and at the instigation of the Spanish Inquisition, in 1632-1633. Cisneros likewise portrayed the events in Rouen as part of a larger struggle for the hearts and souls of the Portuguese New Christians —with himself in a heroic role as protector of and apologist for the Catholics— in the face of forceful proselytizing of the Rouennais New Christians on the part of the Jewish community of Amsterdam. He was not incorrect about the desire of the Amsterdam Jews to «re-judaize» the New Christians in France37. In addition, New Christians were well aware that it was not just their reputation in France that was in danger. The Catholic New Christians knew that the Inquisition kept close track of New Christian communities throughout Europe, as Cisneros’ and Villadiego’s activities in Rouen attest, and would eagerly pounce on any shred of evidence of religious heterodoxy as the inquisitors built their dossiers against them, especially as the inquisitors, like almost all ordinary Catholics throughout Europe, found it difficult to believe that any New Christians were sincere Catholics despite the efforts of apologists like Cisneros, and the Portuguese Jesuits, to convince them otherwise. This explains the willingness of some of Rouen’s Portuguese New Christians to join forces with Cisneros and Villadiego in a public campaign to construct and defend a Catholic identity for themselves in France even at the cost of shattering the solidarity of their community and exposing their divisions to the world.


1 N. Muchnik, «Du catholicisme des judéoconvers»; G. K. Brunelle, «Migration and religious identity».

2 Cisneros was around fifty at the time, and had spent the 1620s in Douai, where he joined the Discalced Carmelite order and lectured at the Spanish university there. His obsession with hunting down crypto-Jews led him to settle in Rouen in 1630 (N. Muchnik, «Du catholicisme des judéoconvers», p. 284).

3 Ibid., pp. 289-297.

4 N. Broens, Monarquía y capital, pp. 47-48; I. S. Révah, «Autobiographie d’un marrane», pp. 67 sqq.

5 For an example of how such a network spiriting crypto-Jews and their assets out of Iberian territory worked, see: D. L. Graizbord, Souls in dispute, pp. 70 sqq.; J. I. Israel, Diasporas within a Diaspora, pp. 6, 17 and 275-277; J. I. Israel, European Jews in the Age of Mercantilism, pp. 82-83 and 116-118; H. Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, pp. 289 sqq; I. Silverblatt, Modern inquisitions, pp. 33-34.

6 N. Muchnik, «Du catholicisme des judéoconvers», p. 280.

7 Diego de Cisneros, 1637, British Library (BL), Egerton Manuscripts 343; Archives nationales de France (ANF), E110/B, Conseil du roi, Minutes d’arrêts en commandement, 3 February, 1633, fos 2ro-vo, 12 February, 1633, fos 150ro-vo, 10 March 1633, fo 321ro; ANF, V/6/90, Consul privé, 14 June 1633, no 34; N. Broens, Monarquía y capital, p. 48; I. S. Révah, «Autobiographie d’un marrane», pp. 67 sqq.

8 The most thorough examination of the incident based on primary sources can be found in N. Broens, Monarquía y capital, pp. 43-66; I. S. Révah, «Autobiographie d’un marrane» and C. Roth, «Les marranes à Rouen». Révah and Roth published portions of the primary sources related to this incident, and Broens recently unearthed additional sources in Spain and Holland.

9 N. Broens, Monarquía y capital, pp. 57-58.

10 J. Faur, «Four Classes of Conversos», p. 114.

11 N. Broens, Monarquía y capital, p. 47.

12 Archives départementales de la Seine-Maritime (ADSM), Parlement, Registres secrets, 1 B 164, 18 January 1633, fo 59vo, 19 January 1633, fos 61ro-vo, 26 January 1633, fos 66vo-67ro, 31 January 1633, fo 71ro, 2 February 1633, fo 73ro, 7 February 1633, fo 78vo, 5 March 1633; ADSM, Tabellionage de Rouen, 2E 1/1111, 12 April 1633; C. Roth, «Les marranes à Rouen», pp. 113-155; For the roots of the Portuguese community in Rouen, see I. S. Revah, «Le premier établissement des marranes portugais».

13 Bibliothèque municipale de Rouen, ms. G 48, «Registre de la Chambre des Comptes de Normandie Pour Noblesse, Légitimation et Naturalitié depuis 1581 jusques en 1653», contains a list of all the naturalizations authorized in Rouen from 1581 through 1653. Some of the Portuguese in Rouen, in 1633, obtained letters of naturalization in other French cities, such as Bordeaux and Nantes. Other naturalizations in Rouen can be found in the records of the Bureau des finances, C 1234-C 1321, 1587-1669.

14 I. S. Révah, «Autobiographie d’un marrane», p. 73 gives both lists.

15 Ibid., pp. 72-74.

16 J. Israel, Diasporas within a Diaspora, pp. 332 sqq.; I. S. Révah, «Les jésuites portugais contre l’Inquisition».

17 Diego de Cisneros, 1637, BL, Egerton Manuscripts 343; ANF, E110/B, Conseil du roi, Minutes d’arrêts en commandement, 3 February 1633, fos 25ro-vo, 12 February 1633, fos 150ro-vo, 10 March 1633, fo 321ro; ANF, V/6/90, Consul privé, 14 June 1633, no 34; I. S. Révah, «Autobiographie d’un marrane», pp. 58 sqq.; C. Roth, «Les marranes à Rouen», pp. 128-129. On the efforts of Lena to shore up the Catholic faith of New Christians in Amsterdam in the face of Jewish pressure, see A. Vieira, Sur les procédés de la Sainte Inquisition, pp. 31-32.

18 N. Muchnik, «Du catholicisme des judéoconvers», pp. 290 sqq.; C. Roth, «Les marranes à Rouen», pp. 130-131.

19 J. Israel, Diasporas within a Diaspora, p. 256; I. S. Révah, «Autobiographie d’un marrane», pp. 80-81.

20 ADSM, Tabellionage de Rouen, 2E, 1/1152: 2, 9, 13, 16 and 20 January 1640; 7, 9, 16 (3 contracts), 18 and 21 February 1640; 8 and 9 March 1640; 18, 26, 24 (2 contracts), 26 and 27 April 1640; 25 and 30 May 1640; 15, 20, 22 and 30 June, 1640; 6 and 14 July 1640; 23 August 1640; 4, 13, 22 and 26 September 1640; 25 October 1640; 2 and 6 November, 1640; ADSM, Juridiction consulaire, 201 BP 328: 8, 11, 13 and 30 August 1635; 7 September 1635; 20 October 1635; 16, 17, 19 and 24 November 1635; 1, 5, 12, 15 and 17 December 1635; 7 January 1636; 2 January 1636; 1 and 16 February 1636; 5 and 10 March 1636; 9 April 1636; 26 May 1636; 9 and 28 July 1636; 8, 9, 11, 20 and 22 August 1636; 201 BP 329: 15 and 22 September 1636; 3, 20 and 24 October 1636; 17 November 1636; 19 December 1636; 9 January 1737; 7 February 1637; 20 and 21 March 1637; 20 and 29 April 1637; 4, 13 and 29 May 1637; 10 June 1637; 17, 24 and 29 July 1637; 201 BP 330: 17 and 27 July 1637; 14 December 1637; 15 and 18 January 1638; 5, 22 and 27 February 1638; 3, 8 and 22 March 1638; 5 May 1638; 2, 4 and 21 June 1638; 7, 16, 23, 24 and 28 July 1638; 4, 22 and 31 August 1638; 16 and 23 September 1638; 31 October 1638; 20 November 1638; 201 BP 331: 4, 13 and 17 September 1638; 20, 29 October 1638; 5 , 6, 15, 22 and 27 November 1638; 5 and 23 February 1639; 18 and 28 March 1639; 15 April 1639; 4 and 23 May 1639; 4 June 1639; 4, 20 and 26 July 1639; 201 BP 332: 19 and 31 August 1639; 7, 10, 17 and 25 September 1639; 8 and 26 October 1639; 9, 14, 16, 18, 21, 23, 26 and 28 November 1639; 23 December 1639; 13 January 1640; 27 February 1640; 3, 12, 14, 21, 23 and 24 March 1640; 4 April 1540; 6, 8, 9, 16, 18, 20 and 30 June 1640; 4, 9, 18, 27 and 28 July 1640; C. Roth, «Les marranes ÀRouen», p. 133. As late as 1669, Anthoine Mendez Dacosta, from the town of Trancoso in Portugal, and his wife and children sought and received letters of naturalization in Rouen (ADSM, Bureau des finances, C 1268, 21 October 1669).

21 N. Muchnik, «Du catholicisme des judéoconvers», pp. 291-293; I. S. Révah, «Autobiographie d’un marrane», p. 81; C. Roth, «Les marranes à Rouen», p. 131.

22 ADSM, Tabellionage de Rouen, 2E 1/1111, 7 March 1633; N. Muchnik, «Du catholicisme des judéoconvers», pp. 286 sqq.; C. Roth, «Les marranes à Rouen», pp. 125 sqq.

23 ADSM, Tabellionage de Rouen, 2E 1/1111, 7 March 1633.

24 Besides the well known successes of the earliest Spanish arrivals in Rouen, the Civille, Saldaigne [Saldaña] and Quintandoines [Quintandueñas] families, Adrian de Medina, for example, scion of the Medina family in Rouen, held the offices of councilor and secretary in the Chancellery of Rouen, as well as Maître des ports, ponts, et passages. Abdenago de la Palme [Palma] became a Trésorier général in Rouen. The Chalon [Jalon] family was extraordinarily successful as well. In the 1680s brothers François and Louis were both lawyers and councilors in Rouen’s Parlment. Members of the Palma Carillo family from Antwerp also became royal officers and nobles (ADSM, Bureau des finances, C 1234, 14 August 1585; C 1237, 8 May 1598; C 1268, 9 March 1594; C 1275, 22 April 1594; C 1315, 22 February 1644; C 1316, 30 September 1637 (registered with the Bureau 26 August 1651); C 1321, 20 June 1663 (obtained 1659); C 1327, 25 April 1684; C 1327, 16 August 1686; C 1712, March 1627; G. K. Brunelle, «Immigration, Assimilation and Success», pp. 203-219; C. Roth, «Les marranes à Rouen», pp. 114-115).

25 J. Israel, «Jews and Crypto-Jews», pp. 3-4 and 7-8; A. Sutcliffe, «Jewish History», pp. 19-20, 27-28 and 30.

26 Diego de Cisneros, 1637, BL, Egerton Manuscripts 343.

27 J. Contreras, «Family and Patronage», pp. 127-145; J. Israel, Diasporas within a Diaspora, pp. 247 sqq.; see also P. Jeannin, «Les pratiques commerciales», pp. 9-16; Id., Les marchands au xvie siècle; D. Studnicki-Gizbert, A Nation Upon the Ocean Sea, pp. 41-60.

28 Perhaps the best description of these struggles over strategies and identities can be found in Y. Kaplan, From Christianity to Judaism. See also D. Swetschinski, Reluctant Cosmopolitans and N. Wachtel, La foi du souvenir.

29 The best discussion of the role of New Christians in financing the Spanish government remains J. C. Boyajian, Portuguese Bankers, although Melammed asserts that Boyajian tends to understate vastly the extent of crypto-judaism among the New Christian bankers (R. Melammed, A Question of Identity, p. 66).

30 Diego de Cisneros, 1637, BL, Egerton Manuscripts 343, fo 249.

31 Ibid., fo 1.

32 Ibid., fo 3.

33 Ibid., fos 252ro-vo.

34 Ibid., fos 249-257.

35 I. S. Révah, «Les jésuites portugais contre l’Inquisition», pp. 29-53.

36 I. S. Révah, «Autobiographie d’un marrane», pp. 41-130, pp. 59 sqq.; see also D. Swetschinski, Reluctant Cosmopolitans, pp. 80-81, 234 and 252-253.

37 Diego de Cisneros, 1637, BL, Egerton Manuscripts 343; ANF, E110/B, Conseil du roi, Minutes d’arrêts en commandement, 3 February 1633, fos 25ro-vo, 12 February 1633, fos 150ro-vo, 10 March 1633, fo 321ro; ANF, V/6/90, Consul privé, 14 June 1633, no 34; ADSM, Tabellionage de Rouen, 2 Meubles, 2e série, 2E 1/1109, 20 November 1632; 2E 1/1111, 7 March 1633; 2E 1/1111, 15 March 1633; 2E 1/1111, 16 March 1633; 2E 1/1111, 17 March 1633; 2E 1/1111, 9 April 1633; 2E 1/1111, 12 April 1633, 2E 1/1114, 26 September 1633; J. Blamont, Le lion et le moucheron, pp. 54 sqq.; M. Bodian, Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation, p. 132; G. K. Brunelle, «Migration and Religious Identity»; N. Broens, Monarquía y capital, pp. 45 sqq.; J. I. Israel, European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism, pp. 82-83; Y. Kaplan, From Christianity to Judaism, pp. 335-336; Y. H. Yerulshalmi, From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto, pp. 137 and 145.


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