Sorry! We have moved! The new URL is:

You will be redirected to the new address in five seconds.

If you see this message for more than 5 seconds, please click on the link above!

Social Icons

twitterfacebookgoogle pluslinkedinrss feedemail

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Black Legend

Mendoza Codex showing an Aztec human sacrifice
The Black Legend (Spanish: La Leyenda Negra) refers to a tradition of history writing that demonizes Spain and in particular the Spanish empire, by exaggerating the cruelty and violence with which the Spanish empire treated the indigenous colonial subjects in the colonies and religious and political minorities within their political dominion in Europe such as Protestants and Jews.
The term was coined by Julián Juderías in his 1914 book La leyenda negra y la verdad histórica (The Black Legend and Historical Truth), which sparked a tradition of pro-Spanish history writing, especially within Spain, but also in the Americas. This tradition which describes the Spanish empire as particularly benevolent and interested in the just treatment of its subjects has sometimes been referred to as the "White legend".

The writings of Bartolomé de las Casas, particularly his "A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies" from 1552, have often been described as the first work to contribute to the Black Legend. This work was later published by several groups that were in opposition to the Spanish empire such as the Protestant Walloons, the French Huguenots, the Catalans and in Venice, and also by the upcoming imperial powers England and the Netherlands. For this reason the Black Legend is often seen as a politically motivated attempt to impugn the right of Spain to its colonies and to incite animosity against Spanish rule. Other examples of the Black Legend are said to be found in the negative portrayals of the Spanish Inquisition in both historiographical and artistic depictions. The Black Legend and the nature of Spanish colonization of the Americas, including contributions to civilization in Spain's colonies have also been discussed by Spanish writers, from Góngora's Soledades until the Generation of '98. Inside Spain, the Black Legend has also been used by regionalists of non-Castilian regions of Spain as a political weapon against the central government or Spanish nationalism. Modern historians and some political parties have alleged the existence of a White Legend, an attempt to describe Spain's history in a more positive way, sometimes associated with Spanish nationalistic politics and with Francisco Franco's dictatorial regime. Deriving from the Spanish example, the term is also used in a general way to describe any form of unjustified demonization of a historical person, people or sequence of events.

By the end of the twentieth century history writing has turned to a more neutral depiction of the Spanish Empire which acknowledges the atrocities and violence of colonization without seeing the Spanish empire as more or less evil than other colonial empires, and which acknowledges that the Spanish empire was also the first empire to discuss and works towards the ethical treatment of its subjects, even though often the noble ideas failed to manifest into practice.


The creator of the term, Julián Juderías, described it in 1914 in his book La Leyenda Negra as

the environment created by the fantastic stories about our homeland that have seen the light of publicity in all countries, the grotesque descriptions that have always been made of the character of Spaniards as individuals and collectively, the denial or at least the systematic ignorance of all that is favorable and beautiful in the various manifestations of culture and art, the accusations that in every era have been flung against Spain.

—Julián Juderías, La Leyenda Negra

The second classic work on the topic is Historia de la Leyenda Negra hispanoamericana (1943; History of the Hispanoamerican Black Legend), by Rómulo D. Carbia. While Juderías dealt more with the beginnings of the legend in Europe, the Argentine Carbia concentrated on America. Thus, Carbia gave a broader definition of the concept:

The legend finds its most usual expression, that is, its typical form, in judgments about cruelty, superstition, and political tyranny. They have preferred to see cruelty in the proceedings that were undertaken to implant the Faith in America or defend it in Flanders; superstition, in the supposed opposition by Spain to all spiritual progress and any intellectual activity; and tyranny, in the restrictions that drowned the free lives of Spaniards born in the New World and to which it seemed that they were enslaved indefinitely.
—Rómulo D. Carbia, Historia de la leyenda negra hispano-americana (2004)
After Juderías and Carbia, many other authors have defined and employed the concept.

Philip Wayne Powell, in his book Tree of Hate, also defines the Black Legend:

An image of Spain circulated through late sixteenth-century Europe, borne by means of political and religious propaganda that blackened the characters of Spaniards and their ruler to such an extent that Spain became the symbol of all forces of repression, brutality, religious and political intolerance, and intellectual and artistic backwardness for the next four centuries. Spaniards … have termed this process and the image that resulted from it as ‘The Black Legend,’ la leyenda negra"

—Philip Wayne Powell, Tree of Hate (1985),

One recent author, Fernández Álvarez, has defined a Black Legend more broadly:

"the careful distortion of the history of a nation, perpetrated by its enemies, in order to better fight it. And a distortion as monstrous as possible, with the goal of achieving a specific aim: the moral disqualification of the nation, whose supremacy must be fought in every way possible.

—Alfredo Alvar, La Leyenda Negra (1997:5)


Spanish Inquisition

The gross disregard for human lives allegedly characteristic of the Spanish Inquisition has been one of the main elements of the Black Legend since its origin. Protestant authors such as English historian John Foxe, published the Book of Martyrs in 1554, and the Spanish convert Reginaldo González de Montes, author of Exposición de algunas mañas de la Santa Inquisición Española (Exposition of some methods of the Holy Spanish Inquisition) (1567).

Modern studies of the actual documents of the Spanish Inquisition show that it was no more cruel and bloodthirsty than other legal systems of the time. The popular image of moats, chains, and cries from rooms of torture are imagined exaggerations told by Protestant propagandists who had no first hand information or relied on a few individuals from Spain who had personal religious or political interests to serve by such stories. Torture was used but no worse than in other jurisdictions of the time. Legally, the inquisition only had jurisdiction over Catholics. Thus, a person who had been baptized into the Catholic faith but was found to be secretly practicing Jewish or Muslim customs was considered to be a Catholic culpable of heresy - and punishable under the law. Like similar European policies before and after the fifteenth century, the Alhambra Decree ordered Jews to convert or leave Spain in 1492. In 1502 Muslims were also required to convert or leave. A decree in 1615 expelled the Moriscos.

Spanish colonization of the Americas

The European colonization of the Americas disrupted the civilization of indigenous peoples of the Americas and used African slaves for their plantations in the New world. The Spanish conquered vast areas of North, Central and South America, and like other European powers, were involved in the Atlantic slave trade. However, certain differences in the objectives and motivations of the Spanish Crown in America, as opposed to other European monarchies, are often omitted in historical texts. Such omissions are said to be part of the Black Legend which demonized Spanish colonial activity in the New World.

One of Spain's primary endeavours of colonial expansion was to convert people to Christianity. Kings such as Philip II dedicated large resources to sending missionaries and building churches in America and the Philippines. The Black Legend is said to ignore Spain's missionary efforts, or else to depict the conversion of native peoples under Spanish rule in a brutal and violent manner. Such exaggerations are contrasted by Spanish directives aimed at recognising the rights of natives. One of these early directives was Queen Isabella I's Last Will that solemnly ordered the colonial authorities treat American natives with respect and dignity. Although such policies were sometimes not enforced, the recognition of native rights put Spain at the historical vanguard of modern natural and international law. The legitimacy of imperialism was also questioned in the works of Spanish scholars themselves, such as the School of Salamanca and the accounts of Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas. Las Casas' recapitulation of the conquistadors' excesses was widely distributed, but was criticized by those who thought the author had grossly exaggerated. Las Casas could have started what eventually became the "Black Legend", creating a stereotypical image of both Spaniards and Indians. Scholars now believe that, among the various contributing factors, epidemic disease was the overwhelming cause of the population decline of the Native Americans because of their lack of immunity to new diseases brought from Europe. In this regard, Spain sent to its American domains, as early as 1803, the Balmis expedition, a humanitarian expedition to distribute the smallpox vaccine.

Another difference is that Spain and Portugal, in a policy similar to the French in Canada, approved and even encouraged interracial marriages in their colonies in order to support demographic growth, whereas British and Dutch authorities banned such marriages and considered them immoral. Such racist policies continued centuries later in former British and Dutch colonies like the United States, where racial segregation and anti-miscegenation laws existed until the 1960s, and in South Africa where Apartheid lasted until the 1990s. These differences are usually ignored in historical texts that criticize Spanish policies in America. Such omissions are also considered part of the Black Legend.

Historian Philip Wayne Powell in his book 'Tree of Hate: Propaganda and Prejudices Affecting United States Relations with the Hispanic World, argued that Spain's official concern and educational efforts toward the American Indians were not equaled by any other European colonizing power:

"Spain's three centuries of tutelage and official concern for the welfare of the American Indian is a record not equaled by other Europeans in overseas government of peoples of lesser, or what were considered lesser, cultures. For all the mistakes, for all the failures, for all the crimes committed, and even allowing for the Crown's motives of practicality and self-service - in its overall performance Spain, in relation to the American Indian, need offer no apology to any other people or nation".


Sverker Arnoldsson argues that anti-Spanish sentiment originated in Italy as a result of the personal, economic, political and cultural relations between the Italian and Spanish peoples. From the thirteenth century, the Crown of Aragon dominated Naples and Sicily, laying the foundations for a widespread resentment of Aragonese dominance. The reputation of the Aragonese pope, Alexander VI Borgia, assumed an almost mythical villainy.

In his book Tree of Hate, Philip Wayne Powell describes how the Black Legend developed in different European countries, such as Germany, France, Holland and England. This development is put down to the reaction against Spanish supremacy in Europe and the New World, which was influenced by the emergence of Protestantism - and even by the rise of Nordicism - in an effort to counter the power of the Spanish-dominated southern part of the continent.

Powell further argued that the Black Legend sprang originally from Spanish Jews, which later joined with a German version "crystallized during the Schmalkaldic War"; after that point, "Jewish words and actions against Spain became a feature of the later Dutch-English-American Black Legend." Powell went on to argue that "Jewish emotion, when aroused by the historical memory of Spanish Inquisition and expulsion, exaggerates and distorts, and certainly gives little shrift to the Spanish side of the story.". According to Powell, given the position of Jews and conversos as "tax collectors; notable ostentation by wealthy Jews; blasphemy and ridicule of Christian practices . . . " and a list of other purported provocations by Jews, "the Inquisition that Isabella established in Castile in 1480, for all the criticism - including papal strictures - against it, was an obvious necessity and solution, though reluctantly undertaken." "The near success of Jewish conspiracy and rebellion against Inquisition establishment, both in Castile and Aragon, bears eloquent testimony to the need for such a step."

Sixteenth century

Exaggerated and lurid accounts of the Roman Catholic Inquisition in Spain were, in the sixteenth century (a time of great Protestant-Catholic strife) and still today, principal sources for the anti-Spanish Black Legend. The Inquisition had existed in many European countries before it came to Spain. The first Inquisition was established in France during the twelfth century. It had existed in the Kingdom of Aragon for some two centuries but not in Castile until the year 1480 when the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, requested its establishment throughout Spain with the converso and Dominican friar, Tomás de Torquemada, as its first Inquisitor General. Inquisitions were institutions of religious supervision which most European countries had at some time in history. It was standard for European monarchies of the time to impose a state religion through such institutions. Modern concepts such as freedom of religion did not exist until the nineteenth century. The omission of these facts including the historical context of inquisitions, is considered to be part of the Black Legend propaganda.

Some of the strongest and earliest support for the Legend came from two Protestants: the Englishman John Foxe, author of the Book of Martyrs (1554), and the Spaniard Reginaldo González de Montes, author of the Exposición de algunas mañas de la Santa Inquisición Española (Exposition of some vices of the Spanish Inquisition, 1567). Another early source from which the Black Legend drew support was Girolamo Benzoni's Historia nuovo (New History), first published in Venice in 1565. The origin of the Black Legend can also be traced to published self-criticism from within Spain itself. As early as 1511, some Spaniards criticized the legitimacy of the Spanish colonization of the Americas. In 1552, the Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas published his famous Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies), an account of the abuses that accompanied the colonization of New Spain, and especially the island of Hispaniola (now home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti). In the section regarding Hispaniola, Las Casas compares the indigenous Arawaks to tame ewes and writes that when he arrived in 1508, "there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it." The work of Las Casas was first cited in English with the 1583 publication The Spanish Colonie, or Brief Chronicle of the Actes and Gestes of the Spaniards in the West Indies, at a time when England and Spain were preparing for war in the Netherlands. Despite arguments about the actual population size, Las Casas's accounts of widespread slaughter are not widely disputed.

The Duke of Alba's actions in the United Provinces contributed to the Black Legend. Sent in August 1567 to stamp out heresy and political unrest in a part of Europe where printing presses were a constant source of heterodox opinion, one of Alba's first acts was to gain control of the book industry. In a single year, several printers were banished and at least one was executed. Book sellers and printers were raided in the search for banned books, many more of which were added to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. In 1576 Spanish troops attacked and pillaged Antwerp, over three days that came to be known as "The Spanish Fury". The soldiers rampaged through the city, killing and looting; they demanded money from citizens and burned the homes of those who refused to (or could not) pay. Plantin's printing establishment was threatented with destruction three times but was saved each time when a ransom was paid. Antwerp was economically devastated by the attack, and Plantin's business suffered. Such facts similar to German rampages in the sack of Rome (1527) were enlarged upon to enhance the Black Legend.

The rebels in the Dutch Revolt contributed intentionally to the Black Legend in their propaganda efforts against the Spanish Crown. The depredations against the Indians that De las Casas had described, were compared to the depredations of Alba and his successors in the Netherlands. They reprinted translated editions of the Brevissima relacion no less than 33 times between 1578 and 1648, more than all other European countries combined. However, these reprints were only grist for an indigenous propaganda mill that was already going full blast. For instance, the Articles and Resolutions of the Spanish Inquisition to Invade and Impede the Netherlands imputed a conspiracy to the Holy Office to starve the Dutch population, and exterminate its leading nobles, "as the Spanish had done in the Indies." Marnix of Sint-Aldegonde, a prominent propagandist for the cause of the rebels, regularly used references to alleged intentions on the part of Spain to "colonize" the Netherlands, for instance in his 1578 address to the German Diet. The Dutch pamphleteers could have constructed their portrait of the Tyrannies et cruautez des Espagnols without recourse to the Indies. However, they connected their projection of their own predicament (potential enslavement by Spain) with their perception of the predicament of the Indians.

Other critics of Spain included Antonio Pérez, the fallen secretary of King Philip II of Spain. Pérez fled to England, where he published attacks upon the Spanish monarchy under the title Relaciones (1594). Philip, at the time also king of Portugal, was accused of cruelty for his hanging on yardarms of supporters of the rival contender for the throne of Portugal, on the Azores islands, following the Battle of Ponta Delgada.

These books were extensively used by the Dutch during their fight for independence from Spain, and taken up by the English to justify their piracy and wars against the Spanish. Foxe's book was among Sir Francis Drake's favourites; Drake himself is regarded by the Spaniards as a cruel and bloodthirsty pirate. The two northern nations were not only emerging as Spain's rivals for worldwide colonialism, but were also strongholds of Protestantism while Spain was the most powerful Roman Catholic country of the period. All of this contributed to the evolution of the Black Legend. Nevertheless, Inquisition laws were in Puerto Rico until the late nineteenth century. The prohibition of building synagogues or mosque was part of the Catholic struggle for power and control of the Islands that compose today Puerto Rico, being the main island Boriken. Some of these laws are still in the codes but are not enforced at all.

Romantic travelers

In the nineteenth century, many writers, such as Washington Irving, Prosper Mérimée, George Sand, and Théophile Gautier, invented a mythical Andalusia. In their writings, Spain is converted into the Orient of the Western World (Africa begins in the Pyrenees), an exotic country full of brigands, economic underdevelopment, Gypsies, ignorance, machismo, matadores, Moors, passion, political chaos, poverty and fanatical religiosity. In classical music, Georges Bizet with Carmen (1875) and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov with Capriccio espagnol (1887) contributed to this theme.

In 1842 George Borrow's Bible in Spain was published in England and sold well. It was part-travelogue and partly the story of his attempt to translate and teach the New Testament in Spanish. At the time the bible as used in Spain was in Latin and he found that most Spanish people knew little about its contents.

White Legend

The term "White Legend" refers to the attempts to debunk many of the distorted and manipulated versions of Spanish history and describe Spain's history in a more positive light, occasionally in response to the propaganda of the Black Legend. In spite of being actively promoted by members from every side of the political spectrum, these efforts are often seen outside Spain as being associated with nationalist politics or with dictatorial regimes, such as that of Francisco Franco.

Proponents of the White Legend argue that the Spanish Inquisition was in many ways less cruel than practices in other parts of Europe, such as the suppression of Catharism in France. Thus, the Inquisition in a more favorable light when is compared with the French Wars of Religion (only during St. Bartholomew's Day massacre there was more people killed than during more than three centuries of Spanish Inquisition), Oliver Cromwell's conquest of Ireland, or the witch hunts in many Protestant countries.

Similarly, these advocates tend to minimize "The Spanish Fury" or the sack of Antwerp, emphasizing that troops of Habsburg Spain were composed by many different European nationalities and ethnicities under Spanish command. They explain that Belgian, Italian or German rampages were enlarged upon and attributed to Spanish soldiers in order to enhance the anti-Spanish Black Legend.

Henry Kamen argues that Spain does not deserve blame for all of the actions of the Spanish Empire. According to his book, the Spanish Empire was a multinational enterprise, incorporating armaments from Milan, Genoese and German bankers, foreign sailors, German and Italian soldiers, Native American allies, and English and Chinese merchants.

Versions of history less hostile to Spain including the white legend argue that the conquest of the Americas was not as negative as it is sometimes intentionally portrayed. The White Legend emphasizes that Cortés's army consisted largely of Native American enemies of the Aztec Empire, and credits accounts of Aztec human sacrifice and cannibalism. These claims are supported by Archeological findings that confirm that the Aztecs, Mayans and other indigenous peoples of the Americas were involved in both human sacrifices and cannibalism. As high as 250,000 human sacrifices were estimated to be carried out every year only in the Aztec Empire, with one in five children of the Mexica subjects being killed.

Some historians claim that the demographics of much of Latin America today contradict claims that Spain destroyed or suppresses native populations and cultures. Furthermore, the demographic collapse which occurred in the Americas upon the conquest was mainly due to diseases imported from Europe which would have been transmitted even if the English or French, rather than the Spaniards, had been the first to arrive into the Americas.

The White Legend also emphasizes the role of other European nations in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The defenders of this point of view argue that Spain was prohibited by the Pope from taking part in such activities, together with the fact it would be in breach of the Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided the world outside of Europe in an exclusive duopoly between the Spanish and the Portuguese, assigning Africa to Portugal.

Spain was the first European colonial power to pass laws protecting the Native Americans with the Laws of the Indies in (1542), and many historians claim that Native Americans enjoyed better conditions under Spanish rule than under the mandate of the American republics after independence. The native chiefs had some power and autonomy. The enslavement of the natives was forbidden. The vast majority of Native Americans fought for the Spanish side during the wars of independence. After independence, there were a large number of indigenous rebellions and wars. The Indians lost all their rights and there were movements aimed at the extermination and enslavement of native Americans.


Post a Comment



Blog Archive

Total Pageviews