The Portuguese Conspiracy

In 1640, the Duque de Braganca (King Joao IV) succeeded in throwing off Spanish rule in Portugal. Portuguese settlers were now seen as potential subversives. In Lima, the Inquisition conducted a great auto da fe in which 61 Portuguese Crypto-Jews were arrested in a conspiracy to out Spanish authorities and replace them with Dutch rule.

When news of the rebellion reached Caracas, the governor ordered the expulsion of all Portuguese from the area. Some Conversos including Duarte Castano fled to Cartagena, then Havana, then to Veracruz, and finally to Mexico City.

From 1610 until 1642. the Mexican Inquisition was largely inactive against Judaizing.In July, August, September 1642, the Mexican Inquisition began its operations against Portuguese Crypto-Jews.

Luis Nunez Perez, a Portuguese Converso, was arrested and found to have a copy of the treaty negotiated between King Joao IV and Holland.


Diego Lopez Pacheco y Bobadilla -Duque de Escalona

Diego Lopez Pacheco y Bobadilla was the Portuguese born Viceroy of New Spain. He maintained close ties with Portuguese Conversos.

He had appointed Vaez de Acevedo as purveyor general. He also appointed Juan Torres de Rivera as captain of the infantry. Negotiated loans with Simon Vaez Sevilla and Antonio Mendez Chillon. Contracted Captain Diego Rodriguez and his ship for a mission to Portugal.

His ties put him on a collision course with the King, Bishop Palafox, and the Spanish bureaucracy. On June 9, 1642, Archbishop Palafox was appointed Viceroy and ordered the arrest of Diego Lopez Pacheco.

With Palafox in power, the Holy Office of the Inquisition was ordered into action and the arrest of nearly 100 Portuguese Conversos decreed on the accusation of Judaizing.

The Arrests of 1642

In May of 1642, Blanca Mendez de Rivera and her five daughters were arrested.

Simon Vaez Sevilla attempted to secure the silence of “Las Blancas” by bribery as well as that of his slaves.

On July 12th the Inquisition arrested 7 persons for Judaizing. The next evening, another 30 were arrested. Within a year, 75 Conversos were in custody. By 1647, more than 130 had been arrested. Warrants were issued for many more.

80 of the arrested confessed to observing the Law of Moses. 50% of these confessed during the initial interview. 31% confessed after being subject to torture. Male Crypto-Jews were inspected for circumcision.

  • 7% of those sentenced were burned at the stake.  Thomas Trevino de Sobremonte was burned alive.
  • 71% of those found guilty were reconciled to the Church.
  • Reconciliation included confiscation of their property and exile from the Indies.
  • Another 12% were reconciled but suffered only confiscation of their property or exile.
  • In 1646, 1647, 1648,  and 1649, 212 Judaizers were punished in person or in effigy.

Despite the harsh punishments, many of those reconciled managed to delay or disregard the punishments.

Posted by Rabbi Juan Marcos Bejarano Gutierrez the director of the B’nei Anusim Center for Education. For a more complete review of Iberian Jewish history and the Crypto- Jewish Experience see The Rise of the Inquisition and Secret Jews: The Complex Identity of Crypto-Jews and Crypto-Judaism

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