We often think of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain as the progressive couple who launched Columbus on his trip to discover a western route to the Orient.
You know, she hocked her jewels so that Chris could outfit his ships, hire sailors, and bring home spices and such.
And they did do that.
But we are rarely taught that they, and Isabella in particular, were religious zealots to the Nth degree.
On March 31, 1492, about the time Columbus was sailing the oceans blue, Ferdinand and Isabella were sigining the Alhambra Decree.
Also known as the Edict of Expulsion, the document informed all the Jews in Spain that they were persona non grata.
Ya see, Tomas de Torquemada and his buddies in the already instituted but un-official Spanish Inquisition were steamed that Jews who had been forcibly converted to Catholism were not only secretly practicing their old faith, they were trying to reel ‘conversos’, those who had converted, back into the Hebrew fold.
Isabella, the stronger of the two in the Catholic faith, was none too happy about this.
So, the Alhambra Decree was formed giving the Jews until July 31 of the same year to seriously convert or leave the kingdoms of Castille and Aragon, i.e. Spain.
They were promised “royal protection and security” for their remaining time in Spain, and allowed to take all their possessions. They could take no gold, silver, or minted money!
Nice, Isabella, nice!
I guess she was still paying for Christopher’s ships.
The punishment for any Jew who did not convert or leave by the deadline was death. This of course led many to hit the road, and others to rush to the altar.
The punishment for a non-Jew who sheltered or hid Jews was the confiscation of all belongings and hereditary privileges. So, there were few Corrie Ten Booms to be found in Madrid!
Some historians think that as many as 800,000 left Spain, half of them going to Portugal…only to find things no better there. The Portuguese hated them too, and by royal decree created them Christians…see the King of Portugal needed the expertise of the Jewish population to help in their enormous overseas enterprises. The rest went to Northern Africa, The Netherlands, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
From most accounts, about 50,000 stayed in Spain, converted to Catholicism or pretended to, and lived in fear of Torquemada and his ilk.
But, they were prolific. Over 20% of Spanish men today can be DNA mapped to Sephardic Jews.
I guess they had the last laugh.
And, BTW, the Edict of Expulsion wasn’t offically revoked until 1968!
It’s just another historical event that makes me glad I live in the time and place I do!