King João II of Portugal O Príncipe Perfeito and the Jews ( ) - PDF

Sefarad (Sef ) Vol. 69:1, enero-junio 2009 págs ISSN King João II of Portugal O Príncipe Perfeito and the Jews ( ) François Soyer * University of Southampton King João II ( )

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Sefarad (Sef ) Vol. 69:1, enero-junio 2009 págs ISSN King João II of Portugal O Príncipe Perfeito and the Jews ( ) François Soyer * University of Southampton King João II ( ) is chiefly remembered in Portuguese historiography as the first modern King of Portugal and a monarch who vigorously worked to restore the status of the Portuguese Crown, weakened during the reign of his father Afonso V ( ). In Jewish historiography, however, João II has become infamous for his persecution of the Jews who came to Portugal after their expulsion from Castile in 1492 as well as his order to seize Jewish children from their parents so that they could be converted to Christianity and sent to colonize the Island of São Tomé. Using Hebrew, Spanish and Portuguese sources, this article examines in detail the nature of the relations that existed between João II and the Jews, both those who were natives of Portugal as well as the Jewish exiles from Castile. Keywords: Portugal; João II; Jews; Castile; Expulsion; Conversion; Slavery. El rey João II de Portugal «o príncipe perfeito» y los judíos. El rey João II es recordado en la historiografía portuguesa principalmente como el primer rey «moderno» de Portugal, y un monarca que trabajó enérgicamente para restaurar el estatus de la Corona, debilitada durante el reinado de su padre Afonso V ( ). Sin embargo, la historiografía judía ha construido una imagen del rey como infame por su persecución de los judíos expulsos llegados de Castilla en 1492, así como por la orden de sustracción de niños judíos a sus progenitores para usarlos en la colonización de la isla de São Tomé. Mediante el uso de fuentes hebreas, hispánicas y portuguesas, este artículo examina de forma detallada la naturaleza de las relaciones existentes entre João II y los judíos, tanto de los que eran nativos de Portugal, como de los castellanos exiliados. Palabras clave: Portugal; João II; judíos; Castilla; expulsión; conversión; esclavitud. King João II of Portugal, who reigned over the Portuguese from 1481 until 1495, has enjoyed a rather positive posthumous reputation in Portugal and in Portuguese historiography. Already during his lifetime, João II was dubbed the perfect prince (O Príncipe Perfeito) by his admirers. King João is considered to be the first modern king of Portugal and his reign is now chiefly * 76 françois soyer remembered because of the important political transformations in Portugal that it witnessed. The Portuguese monarch successfully restored the authority of the Crown, which had been weakened under his father Afonso V ( ), and established his authority in the face of aristocratic opposition headed by the powerful Duke of Bragança. Furthermore, João II funded reconnaissance expeditions by Portuguese seamen in the 1480s that reached the mouth of the Congo River and sailed beyond the Cape of Good Hope. He thus played a major part in laying the foundations of the overseas empire that would bring great prosperity to Portugal in the sixteenth century and propel the country to the forefront of European politics. 1 In Jewish historiography, however, the ruthlessness of King João II has earned him considerable infamy. A central element of this reputation has been João II s treatment of the thousands of Jews who were expelled from the neighbouring kingdoms of Castile and Aragón in 1492 and who came to Portugal. King João has become particularly notorious because of his enslavement of a number of these Castilian Jews as well as his decision to deport Jewish children seized from their parents to the inhospitable island of São Tomé in the Gulf of Guinea. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the Portuguese sovereign gained the reputation both in contemporary Jewish accounts and in the work of modern historians of a callous tyrant who pitilessly persecuted the Jews; resorting to cruel methods in order to extort funds from the Castilian Jews and coercing many of them to convert to Christianity. By way of illustration, Isaac Abravanel ( ), one of the foremost Jews at the Portuguese Court until his exile in 1483, used the epithets tyrannical, deceitful and iniquitous to describe João II in his work. 2 Likewise, the Cretan Rabbi Elijah Capsali (c ), who interviewed many Iberian Jews, presents João II in his famous chronicle as an inveterate enemy of the Jews and describes the monarch as a repulsive and wicked king. In his work, Capsali went to the extreme of including an extraordinary paragraph in which God punished João II for his cruelty towards the Jews by sending an avenging angel to slay him and thus avenge his Jewish victims. 3 Some of the foremost modern historians 1 M. Mendonça, D. João II : um percurso humano e político nas origens da modernidade em Portugal (Lisboa 1989). For a more recent biography, see L. Adão da Fonseca, D. João II (Lisboa 2007). See also, J. Serrão and A. H. de Oliveira Marques, Nova História de Portugal. Vol. V: Portugal do Renascimento à Crise Dinástica (Lisboa 1998), B. Z. Netanyahu, Don Isaac Abravanel: A Statesman and Philosopher (Philadelphia 1972), p. 26, footnote E. Capsali, Seder Eliyahu Zuta, ed. A. Shmuelevitz, S. Simonsohn and M. Benayahu (Jerusalem 1975), vol. 1, pp. 229 and 232. In the paragraph devoted to the death of João II, Capsali Sefarad, vol. 69:1, enero-junio 2009, págs ISSN king joão ii of portugal o príncipe perfeito and the jews ( ) 77 of Portuguese Jewry, including Meyer Kayserling, Anita Novinsky and Yosef H. Yerushalmi, have continued to present João II as a cruel monarch who not only mercilessly harassed the Jewish exiles from Castile by forcing them to pay vast sums to enter Portugal, but also betrayed them by preventing their exit from his kingdom in order to force them either to convert to Christianity or become his slaves. 4 The events that took place in Portugal during the reign of João II have to a large extent been overlooked by modern historians of Sephardic Jewry. This neglect can be explained by the fact that their attention has focused more on the terrible tragedy that befell the Portuguese Jews a few years later. A little over a year after the death of João II, his successor Manuel I ( ) issued an edict of expulsion and ultimately decreed the forced conversion of practically the whole Jewish population of Portugal in March-April This article will endeavour to find answers to two problematic questions. Firstly, was João II s treatment of the Castilian refugees motivated by anti-jewish sentiments or rather by ruthless expediency? Secondly, is it possible to draw a distinction between the Portuguese monarch s attitude and policies towards the Castilian exiles of 1492 and those that he adopted in relation to those Jews who were natives of Portugal? The nature of the relations that existed between João II and the Jews, whether natives of Portugal or Castilian exiles, will be examined not only by comparing the evidence contained in Portuguese and Jewish narrative sources but also in the light of unedited documentary evidence preserved in various Portuguese archives. João II and the Portuguese Jews: Our Property It is important to draw a sharp distinction between João II s treatment of the native Jewish population of Portugal and the Jewish refugees who arrived from Castile in There is little evidence that João II s policies towards his Jewish quotes heavily from the Bible, including Jeremiah 51:9; 2 Kings 5:12; Numbers 22:22; Psalms 35:6; and Judges 5:27. 4 M. Kayserling, História dos Judeus em Portugal (São Paulo 1971), ; A. Novinsky, Juifs et nouveaux chrétiens du Portugal, in Les juifs d Espagne. Histoire d une diaspora , ed. H. Méchoulan (Paris 1992), For the views of Y. H. Yerushalmi, see his introduction to Samuel Usque s Consolaçam ás Tribulaçoens de Israel, ed. by Y. H. Yerushalmi and J. V. de Pina Martins (Lisboa 1989), vol. 1, p Maria J. Ferro Tavares, Judaismo e Inquisição. Estudos (Lisboa 1987), chapter 1, pp and F. Soyer, The Persecution of the Jews and Muslims of Portugal. King Manuel I and the End of Religious Tolerance (1496-7) (Leiden 2007). 6 On the native Jewish population of medieval Portugal, see Maria J. Ferro Tavares, Os Judeus em Portugal no Século xiv (Lisboa ), and ead. Os Judeus em Portugal no Século xv (Lisboa ). Sefarad, 69:1, enero-junio 2009, págs ISSN 78 françois soyer subjects deviated in any way from those of his father Afonso V or his grandfather Duarte ( ) during the period that spans from his accession in 1481 to his death in As in the rest of the Iberian Peninsula, Portuguese Jews were direct subordinates of the Crown, to whom their physical persons and possessions were legally deemed to belong. The Jewish communities depended in turn on the Crown for their protection and in return were saddled by a heavy fiscal burden paid directly to the royal treasury or camara. In his letters, João II described the Portuguese Jews as cousa nosa ( our property; see following paragraph). This particular relationship between the Crown and its Jewish subjects, fittingly described as cameral servitude by David Abulafia, was a boon for a monarch whose chief concern was to strengthen royal authority and power within Portugal. 7 In the neighbouring kingdom of Castile, relations between the Crown and its Jewish subjects had been poisoned by the existence of large numbers of conversos, the descendants of Jews who had converted to Christianity in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. It was suspicion of contacts between Jews and conversos, who were widely suspected of apostasy by the rest of the Christian population, that had ultimately led to the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews from Castile and Aragón in In Portugal, however, the situation was markedly different. The tide of anti-jewish violence that had engulfed the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the fourteenth century spared the Jews of Portugal and the result was therefore that no population of conversos existed in that kingdom. 9 Only the arrival of conversos fleeing the Inquisition established in Castile in 1482 caused tension as the Portuguese Jews feared that anti-converso sentiment would spark attacks against their persons and property. On 20 November 1484, after receiving a petition by the Jews of Lisbon, João was compelled to write a stern letter to the municipal council of Lisbon instructing them to take measure to protect the Jewish community: The Jews of the comuna of this town [of Lisbon] have informed us that ( ) there have been some disturbances and attempts to expel the [Castilian] 7 The taxes paid by certain Jewish communities in Portugal were occasionally granted by the Crown to individuals as rewards. See Soyer, The Persecution of the Jews and Muslims of Portugal, pp , and Tavares, Os Judeus em Portugal no Século xv, pp On the cameral servitude of Jews see D. Abulafia, The servitude of Jews and Muslims in the medieval Mediterranean: Origins and Diffusion, Mélanges de l École Française de Rome. Moyen Âge 112 (2000), , p M. Kriegel, Le prise d une décision: l expulsion de juifs d Espagne en 1492, Revue Historique 260 (1979), See also B. Z. Netanyahu, The Origins of the Spanish Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain (New York 1995). 9 F. Soyer, Was there an Inquisition in Portugal before 1536? Iacobus: revista de estudios jacobeos y medievales (2005), Sefarad, vol. 69:1, enero-junio 2009, págs ISSN king joão ii of portugal o príncipe perfeito and the jews ( ) 79 conversos out [of Lisbon] and that the [Jews of Lisbon] fear that they will suffer some harm themselves for no reason ( ). It is our will that the Jews of that town should be protected and shielded as they are our property. We order you to take care that the Jews [of Lisbon] receive no injury and that you attend as diligently as possible to their safety and defence. If they should receive any harm, we would then be most displeased and would act as we see fit. 10 To tackle the problem posed by the Castilian conversos, João II established a short-lived inquisitorial tribunal and promulgated an edict of expulsion against the conversos on 2 October The Portuguese Jews, however, were not affected in any manner by either of these measures. 11 There can be no denying that during the various parliaments (cortes) that were held during his reign, João II gave his sanction to a number of anti-jewish laws. At the parliament held at Évora in November 1481, for instance, King João ordered Jews not to wear silk but more humble woollen clothes to reflect their inferior social status. Almost a decade later, at a parliament held at Évora between March and June 1490, João II instructed all Jews owning slaves who had converted to Christianity to free them within a set period of time. These measures, however, did not originate with the King himself but were, in fact, demands made by the representatives of the Commons who took advantage of the parliamentary assembly to express their anti-jewish sentiments. João II was therefore occasionally forced to pander to popular anti-judaism in order to secure the goodwill of the representatives of the Commons. It is even difficult to gage whether these laws were ever effectively implemented. In return for ready cash, João II was certainly prepared to grant privileges to various wealthy Jews exempting them from legal restrictions placed on them A comuna dos judeus desa çidade nos emujaron dizer como por o tempo ser tall como se en eessa çidade auer allgũus aluoroços de lamçarem os confesos fora, elles se temiam lhes seer feicto alguũ dano e sem rezam [ ]. E porque çerto nosa vomtade he os judeus desa çidade serem guardados e emparados como cousa nosa que sam, vos encomendamos e mandamos que por nos njsto serujrdes tenhaaes maneira como em cousa algũua grande nem pequena os dictos judeus nom reçebam desagisado algũu e que emtemdaaes e acudaaes com mujta deligançia a todo o que comprir ao bem e defemsam deles, porque seemdolhes feicto allgũu dano averjamos delo desprazer e o semtirjamos como he rezam, cf. H. Baquero Moreno, Reflexos na cidade do Porto da entrada dos conversos em Portugal nos fins do século xv, in his Marginalidade e Conflictos Sociais em Portugal nos séculos xiv e xv (Lisboa 1985), pp and (doc. 1). 11 Rui de Pina, Crónica de D. João II, ed. L. de Albuquerque (Lisboa 1989), p. 61; Soyer, Was there an Inquisition in Portugal before 1536?, pp Maria J. Ferro Tavares O crescimento económico e o antijudaísmo no Portugal medieval, in La Península Ibérica en la era de los descubrimientos Actas III Jornadas Hispano- Portuguesas de Historia Medieval (Sevilla 1997), vol. 2, Also Tavares, Os Judeus em Portugal no Século xv, vol. 1, pp Sefarad, 69:1, enero-junio 2009, págs ISSN 80 françois soyer The King s personal attitude towards his Jewish subjects, however, was not influenced by the anti-jewish prejudice which was increasing amongst the Christian population in Medieval Portugal. King João s pragmatic attitude towards his Jewish subjects can be seen in his reaction to the involvement of Isaac Abravanel, one of the wealthiest and most prominent Jews in Portugal, in the unsuccessful conspiracy of the Duke of Bragança in Even though Abravanel was condemned to death and all his property was declared forfeit, this episode in no way appears to have negatively affected the monarch s ties with the Jewish community. 13 The same stance is apparent in the rejoinder that João II made to a complaint that the representatives of the Commons assembled in parliament addressed to him in 1490 appealing to the King to stop employing Jews as tax-farmers on behalf of the Crown. The King responded, with no little cynicism, that the experience of lands where Christians had been employed as tax-farmers demonstrated that the exactions committed by the Christians were usually worse than those of Jews. 14 Furthermore, after receiving news of various incidents of violence against Jews in Lisbon that same year, the King wrote once more to the municipal council of the town to firmly order the councillors to ensure that the Jews were not unjustly harassed and later congratulated them for their vigilance. 15 The Portuguese King s relations with his Portuguese Jewish subjects during the three years following the arrival of the Jews expelled from Castile in 1492 until João II s death in October 1495 represent something of a mystery. Surviving documentary evidence for these three years is frustratingly scarce and the absence of any surviving documents produced by the Portuguese royal chancery for the years 1493, 1494 and 1495 is particularly unfortunate. Jeronymus Münzer, a German traveller from Nuremberg who visited Portugal in the fall of 1494, describes a flourishing and prosperous Jewish community in Lisbon commenting that extremely wealthy Jews are found [in Lisbon], nearly all of 13 The death sentence against Abravanel was never in fact carried out as he was able to flee to Castile. See Netanyahu, Don Isaac Abravanel, pp , and also E. Lipiner, Two Portuguese Exiles in Castile (Jerusalem 1997), On the conspiracy of the Duke of Bragança and his partisans see M. Mendonça, A problemática das conspirações contra D. João II, Clio Revista do Centro de História da Universidade de Lisboa 5 ( ), Kayserling, História dos Judeus em Portugal, p. 85; Tavares, O crescimento económico e o antijudaísmo no Portugal medieval; F. Soyer, Muslim Slaves in Medieval Portugal, Al-Qantara 28 (2007), , p Livro das Posturas Antigas, ed. Maria Teresa Campos Rodrigues (Lisboa 1994), pp ; See also Maria J. Ferro Tavares, Revoltas contra os judeus no Portugal Medieval, Revista de História das Ideias 6 (1984), Sefarad, vol. 69:1, enero-junio 2009, págs ISSN king joão ii of portugal o príncipe perfeito and the jews ( ) 81 them tax farmers who work for the Crown and that extremely rich Jews can be found, all of them merchants, who live off the work of their slaves. The German traveller even added, with a note of disapproval, that the Jews of Lisbon were insolent. 16 Münzer was also able to visit the main synagogue of Lisbon on a Saturday in late November 1494 and described in considerable detail a splendidly decorated edifice: The [interior of the synagogue] is sumptuously decorated and has one pulpit that is similar to those found in mosques. [The synagogue] is lit by ten huge candelabra with fifty or sixty candles each, as well as many other lights. The women sit in a separate space from the men, which is lit in a similar manner by numerous lights. 17 Yet, despite this description of a flourishing Jewish community in Lisbon, Münzer goes on to claim that the Jews of Lisbon in 1494 feared an expulsion similar to that in Spain two years previously. According to Münzer, it was publicly known that João II had received threatening letters from Isabel of Castile and Fernando of Aragón in which they asked him to expel the Jews from Portugal as well. 18 The most sensational revelation that Münzer chooses to make, however, is his claim that João II had actually issued an order giving the Portuguese Jews two years to leave the realm. Thus Münzer claims that all Jews were ordered to leave Portugal before the end of It is difficult to know what to make of this astonishing statement with far reaching implications. If it is true, then Manuel I s own edict of expulsion in December 1496 was only implementing a 16 Sunt ditissimi Judei Lisibona et recipiunt tributa regia, que a Rege emerunt. Et insolentes sunt [...]. Reperiuntur hic ditissimi Judei, qui quasi omnes merces vendunt, qui ex solo sclavorum suorum labore vivunt, cf. H. Münzer, Itinerarium Hispanicum, ed. L. Pfandl, Revue Hispanique 48 (1920), 82 and 88. A Spanish translation of Münzer s work is also available, see J. Puyol [transl.], Viaje por España y Portugal en los años 1494 y 1495, BRAH 84 (1924), and O qua
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