Ferdinand, King of Aragon and Isabella, Queen of Castile

   Rulers of Spain 1479–1504. Known as the ‘Catholic monarchs’, Ferdinand (1452–1516) and Isabella (1451–1504) married in 1469 and were joint rulers of Spain from 1479. At first their reign was hailed by the Jews as favourable, since they protected Jewish rights and privileges, and employed Jews at the court - including the royal physician and the royal treasurer.
   Yet by such actions, Ferdinand and Isabella were simply seeking to make it clear to nobles and clerical authorities alike that they were the sole rulers in the land. When actions were taken against Jews without their prior approval, or when Jews were useful to them, Ferdinand and Isabella were anxious to protect them. Outside these limits they pursued a Jewish policy aimed at progressive restriction: the activities of Jewish moneylenders in Avila were restricted in 1479; Jews in Toledo were ordered to occupy a separate quarter within two years in 1480; the expulsion of Jews from Seville and Cordoba was approved in 1483, and from Saragossa in 1486.
   Firm in their resolve to eradicate heresy, Ferdinand and Isabella became increasingly aggravated by the Marranos, Jews who had converted to Christianity mainly after the massacres of 1391 and were believed, with some justice, to practise their original faith secretly. In 1478 the rulers requested of the pope that a new Inquisition be authorized. The first auto-da-fé, in which six Marranos were burned, took place in Seville in February 1481. In ten months three hundred more had gone to the stake. In April of the following year the pope rebuked Ferdinand and Isabella, commenting that the trials were motivated ‘not by zeal and concern for the salvation of souls, but by avarice’, as the property of all who were condemned went into the royal coffers. People were condemned on the strength of an anonymous denunciation alone, and confessions extracted under torture were all the proof needed. Headed from 1483 by the fanatical Thomas TORQUEMADA, the Inquisition acted with great savagery against any accused of heresy, many of them Marranos.
   As long as Jews remained in Spain, however, Marranos were able to follow their ancestral faith in secret, as the inquisitors were quick to point out. Spurred largely by religious arguments, but partly by the feeling that the Jews formed an alien element in their increasingly united and nationalist country, the monarchs resolved to expel the Jews from Spain. In the decree proclaimed on 31 March 1492, they stated: ‘In our kingdom there are not a few Judaizing evil Christians who have deviated from our holy Catholic faith, which fact is due chiefly to the intercourse of Jews with Christians…We have therefore resolved to expel all Jews of both sexes forever from the borders of our kingdom.’ In the three months’ grace they were given, the Jews were allowed to sell their immovable property and take all movable possessions with them, but this apparently humane gesture was overturned when, a month later, the Inquisition threatened with excommunication any Christian buyers of their property. Schools and hospitals were seized and synagogues converted into churches and monasteries.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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