In Creating Conversos, Roger Louis Martínez-Dávila skillfully unravels the complex story of Jews who converted to Catholicism in Spain between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, migrated to colonial Mexico and Bolivia during the conquest of the Americas, and assumed prominent church and government positions. Rather than acting as alienated and marginalized subjects, the conversos were able to craft new identities and strategies not just for survival but for prospering in the most adverse circumstances. Martínez-Dávila provides an extensive, elaborately detailed case study of the Carvajal–Santa María clan from its beginnings in late fourteenth-century Castile. By tracing the family ties and intermarriages of the Jewish rabbinic ha-Levi lineage of Burgos, Spain (which became the converso Santa María clan) with the Old Christian Carvajal line of Plasencia, Spain, Martínez-Dávila demonstrates the family's changing identity, and how the monolithic notions of ethnic and religious disposition were broken down by the group and negotiated anew as they transformed themselves from marginal into mainstream characters at the center of the economies of power in the world they inhabited. They succeeded in rising to the pinnacles of power within the church hierarchy in Spain, even to the point of contesting the succession to the papacy and overseeing the Inquisitorial investigation and execution of extended family members, including Luis de Carvajal "The Younger" and most of his immediate family during the 1590s in Mexico City. Martinez-Dávila offers a rich panorama of the many forces that shaped the emergence of modern Spain, including tax policies, rivalries among the nobility, and ecclesiastical politics. The extensive genealogical research enriches the historical reconstruction, filling in gaps and illuminating contradictions in standard contemporary narratives. His text is strengthened by many family trees that assist the reader as the threads of political and social relationships are carefully disentangled.
Abbreviations of Archives and Libraries
2. Crisis and Impetus
5. Turmoil and Struggle
6. Memory and Religion
7. Success and Loyalty
8. Complications from the Past Invade Their Future
Roger Louis Martínez-Dávila is associate professor of history at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, and is a UC3M CONEX-Marie Curie Fellow at the Universidad de Carlos III de Madrid.
"Roger Louis Martínez-Dávila's book, Creating Conversos, addresses subjects that might have seemed well-worn—the Carvajal and Santa-Maria families, and even the question of converso genealogy generally—and brings them together in original, creative, and compelling ways. Martínez-Dávila uses impressive archival work to demonstrate complex linkages among a small cluster of Old and New Christian families across the expanse of the Spanish empire. In the process he helps us rethink the creative strategies that conversos employed to integrate themselves into Spanish Christian society." —Gretchen Starr-LeBeau, co-editor of Judging Faith, Punishing Sin: Inquisitions and Consistories in the Early Modern World
"Roger Martínez-Dávila shows how since the end of the fourteenth century conversos have proved to be resilient, ingenious, and resourceful people that could adapt with astonishing intelligence and ease to difficult social, religious, and political situations, regardless of where they found themselves. The study, which posits the existence of cooperation and collaboration between conversos and Old Christians, will doubtless be of great interest to academics working in Hispanic studies, early modern European and American history, religious studies, anthropology, ethnography, and political science." —E. Michael Gerli, Commonweal Professor of Spanish, University of Virginia
“Roger Louis Martínez-Dávila skillfully unravels the complex story of Jews who converted to Catholicism in Spain during the 14th-16th centuries, migrated to colonial Mexico and Bolivia during the conquest of the Americas, and assumed prominent church and government positions. . . . The extensive genealogical research enriches the historical reconstruction, filling in gaps and illuminating contradictions in standard contemporary narratives. His text is strengthened by many family trees that assist the reader as the threads of political and social relationships are carefully disentangled.”—HaLadpid
"Creating Conversos represents an important contribution to medieval Spanish social and religious history. Its discussion of two extended and interrelated families, the Old Christian noble family of the Carvajals and the New Christian converso family of the ha-Levi/Santa Marías, breaks new ground in the exploration of the highly contested topic of the identity of the conversos in Spain in late medieval and early modern times. Through an exhaustive use of archival material, genealogical research, and, to a lesser degree, artistic representation, Martínez explores a topic that, by its very nature, defies easy explanation.” —Jane Gerber, professor emeritas, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
“By tracing the family tie and intermarriages of the Jewish rabbinic ha-Levi lineage of Burgos, Spain (which became the converso Santa María clan) with the Old Christian Carvajal line of Plasencia, Spain, Martínez-Dávila demonstrates the family’s changing identity, and how the monolithic notion of ethnic and religious disposition were broken down by the group and negotiated anew as they transformed themselves from marginal into mainstream characters at the center of the economies of power in the world the inhabited.” —Communique
"Martínez-Dávila’s work is perhaps the most comprehensive and insightful study of an important converso family to date." —David Gitlitz, author of Secrecy and Deceit: the Religion of the Crypto-Jews
One of the first indications that Plasencia was culturally and politically evolving under the leadership of the Carvajal–Santa María family confederation was the advancement of collective community action. In many respects, the cultural mixing that the confederated families embraced would enhance communal solidarity. The family confederation did not confine its initiatives to the church alone, as it also promoted new collaborations between the knight-dominated city council and the cathedral chapter. In earlier years, the two distinct groups had found cooperation tenuous in light of disagreements over church taxes. Yet, over the course of two days in 1428, the Carvajal and Santa María clans and their extended family relations overcame these previous impediments to cooperation by promoting a communal identity and righteousness. Together, they steered the city council and the cathedral through a revenue-collaboration arrangement, as well as through a potentially explosive dispute over wine and taxes. Their success in leading these specific Plasencia city-church negotiations is particularly noteworthy because in other Castilian communities, such as Ávila and Ciudad Real, similar community issues often turned into tense jurisdictional battles.
The first of these initiatives involved the Cathedral of Plasencia’s lease of its portion of the portazgo, or royal taxes assessed on goods passing through the city’s gates and its periphery, to the city council. In Plasencia, as in other cities in the kingdom, residents were subject to multiple forms of annual taxation. The most important of these were church taxes on goods and livestock (diezmos), royal sales taxes (alcalaba), and portazgo. In Plasencia, the portazgo was assessed on a wide assortment of items. Among the named items subject to the toll tax were livestock, honey, olive oil, vinegar, herbs, chestnuts and other nuts, fruit, cheese, butchered meats, bacon, salted fish, linen, wool, cloth, iron and iron objects, timber, and glazed tile.
The mayor and bishop did not necessarily lead the sensitive business lease negotiations between the city council and the cathedral; instead men from the community’s new leading families often conducted these affairs. Acting on behalf of the city council, Dr. Garci López de Carvajal negotiated and finalized the city’s lease of one-third of the church’s portazgo collections for 1,600 maravedis with his extended family member and counterpart, Gonzalo Gutiérrez de la Calleja, who was the treasurer of the Cathedral of Plasencia. As a de facto member of the cathedral who had directly benefited from Bishop Santa María’s favor and patronage, Garci López had a favorable opinion and affinity for the Cathedral of Plasencia.
Adding his voice to the acceptance of this agreement was the elder knight and councilman, Gutierre Gutiérrez de Trejo, who had familial relations with both the Santa María and Carvajal families. His presence and his expressed approval of the city-church partnership was evidence of an astonishing transformation of knight-churchmen relations. Less than thirty years earlier, Bishop Pedro Fernández de Soria had personally written to King Enrique II to complain about Gutierre Gutiérrez’s recalcitrance and failure to pay diezmos in 1396.
The Carvajal family proved that the knights and the cathedral could coexist and thrive together, as the clan’s own members had set aside their past conflicts with the church and now secured canonships and other cathedral benefits. Because several local families participated in both the city council and cathedral chapter, the portazgo contract was more than an institutional agreement; it was also an interfamilial accord. To some extent the medieval Old Christian identities of “those that pray” and “those that fight” began to fuse into a more complex existence as churchmen and knights worked toward a new collective good for the city, which was dependent on the converso families’ integration.
The many family members surrounding Gutierre Gutiérrez likely helped spur and gain his acquiescence to the agreement. After all, the Carvajal family hailed from similar knight stock but now had integrated with converso churchmen. Garci López’s father, grandfather, and brother, Diego García de Béjarano, were all knights. These men, especially Diego García, who had his own brush with excommunication by Bishop Arias de Balboa, remembered and understood the Plasencia knights’ troubled past with the church. From the perspective of Gutierre Gutiérrez, the new leadership of the Cathedral of Plasencia, led by his extended relations, must have appeared less threatening and potentially a long-term partner.
Personal family relationships also likely influenced Gutierre Gutiérrez because two of his sons married daughters of Diego González de Carvajal. Luis de Trejo married Sevilla López de Carvajal, and Pedro de Trejo married Estefania González de Carvajal. The proximity of these relations could only have further helped convince Gutierre Gutiérrez that the portazgo lease was favorable for all parties to the agreement.
The final member of the city council’s leaders negotiating the arrangement with the church was Alfonso Fernández de Logroño. Like the Carvajal clan, his family had a close association with the church. Pedro Fernández de Logroño, who was related to Fernández de Logroño, served as a prebendary in the cathedral chapter. Thus the relationship between the three city councilmen and Treasurer Gonzalo Gutiérrez likely helped them to advance the portazgo agreement. These families, especially the family confederation, were part of a restoration of church and city relations that had not existed since 1385, the last year the two parties had consented to a similar portazgo contract.