||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (August 2012)|
The Black Legend (Spanish: La leyenda negra) is the anti-Spanish historical propaganda created by mostly Protestant or Italian writers starting in the 16th century, thought to counter Spain's increasing influence and power in the world. According to one historian, this propaganda unfairly depicts Spain or the Spanish Empire as "cruel, bigoted, exploitative and self-righteous in excess of reality." The term was coined by Julián Juderías in his 1914 book La leyenda negra y la verdad histórica ("The Black Legend and Historical Truth").
Advocates of the term belong to a pro-Spanish historiographical school that has emerged in Spain and to some extent in the Americas. In turn, some critics have branded this revisionist narrative as a White Legend, grossly distorted so as to erase all blemishes from Spain's historical legacy.
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
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)
The historian Sverker Arnoldsson from the University of Gothenburg, in his book The Black Legend. A Study of its Origins, locates the origins of the black legend in medieval Italy, unlike previous authors who locate it in the 16th Century.[nota 1] Arnoldsson cites studies by Benedetto Croce and Arturo Farinelli to affirm that Italy in the 14th, 15th, and 16th Centuries was extremely hostile to Spain.
Arnoldsson's theories have been disputed by numerous historians. In general, they raise the following objections:
- Just because the earliest writings against Spaniards were written in Italy, that is not sufficient reason to describe Italy as the origin of the black legend. It is a normal reaction in any society dominated by a foreign power.
- The phrase "black legend" suggests a certain "tradition," which did not exist in Italian writings based primarily on a reaction to the recent presence of Spanish troops.
- In the 15th and 16th centuries, many Italians deeply admired Spain.
The Conquest of the Americas
The origin of the Black Legend can also be traced to self-critical texts 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 wrongdoings 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.
Spain's war with the United Provinces and in particular the victories of the Duke of Alba contributed to the anti-Spanish propaganda. Sent in August 1567 to counter political unrest in a part of Europe where printing presses were a source of heterodox opinion, especially against the Roman Catholic Church, Alba took control of the book industry and several printers were banished and at least one was executed. Book sellers and printers were prosecuted and arrested for publishing banned books, many of which were added to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.
After years of unrest in the Low Countries, the summer of 1567 saw renewed violent outbursts of iconoclasm, in which Dutch 'Beeldenstorm' Calvinists defaced statues and decorations of Catholic monasteries and churches. The Battle of Oosterweel in March 1567 was the first Spanish military response to the many riots, and a prelude to or the start of the Eighty Years' War. The 80 Years' War can be seen to have started on 13 March 1567 with the defeat of the rebels at Oosterweel. In October 1572, after the Orange forces captured the city of Mechelen, its lieutenant attempted to surrender when he was informed that a larger Spanish army was approaching. They tried to welcome the Duke's forces by the singing of psalms, but Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo, son of the Governor of the Netherlands, and commander of the Duke's troops, allowed his men three days of pillage of the archbishopric city. Alba reported to his King that "not a nail was left in the wall". A year later, magistrates still attempted to retrieve precious church belongings that Spanish soldiers had sold in other cities. This sack of Mechelen was the first of the Spanish Furies; several events remembered by that name occurred in the four or five years to come. In November and December of the same year, with permission by the Duke, Fadrique had the entire populations of Zutphen, bloodily, and of Naarden killed, locked and burnt in their church.
In July 1573, after half a year of siege, the city of Haarlem surrendered. Then the garrison's men (except for the German soldiers) were drowned or got their throat cut by the duke's troops, and eminent citizens were executed. During the three days long infamous "Spanish Fury" of 1576, Spanish troops attacked and pillaged Antwerp. 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. Christophe Plantin's printing establishment was threatened with destruction three times but was saved each time when a ransom was paid. Antwerp was economically devastated by the attack. The propaganda created by the Dutch Revolt during the struggle against the Spanish Crown can also be seen as part of the Black Legend. The depredations against the Indians that De las Casas had described, were compared to the depredations of Alba and his successors in the Netherlands. The Brevissima relacion was reprinted no less than 33 times between 1578 and 1648 in the Netherlands (more than in all other European countries combined).
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.
Other critics of Spain included Antonio Pérez, the fallen secretary of King Philip. Pérez fled to France and 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 of supporters of António, Prior of Crato, the rival contender for the throne of Portugal, on yardarms on the Azores islands, following the Battle of Ponta Delgada.
Reception in England
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. John 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.
The term "White Legend" refers to a counter narrative to the black legend that depicts Spanish colonial history in an idealized way as enlightened and benevolent, minimizing any negative consequences of Spanish colonialism and denying any oppression against minorities in mediaeval Spain. In spite of being actively promoted by members from every side of the political spectrum, these narratives are often seen as being associated with mainly with the dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco, which associated itself with the imperial past that was depicted in thoroughly positive terms. But also American historians of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as John Fiske and Lewis Hanke, have been described as going too far towards idealizing Spanish history in their attempts to counter the Black legend.
In recent years a group of historians including Alfredo Alvar, Ricardo Garcia Carcel, Lourdes Mateo Bretos and Carmen Iglesias have argued that the black legend does not currently exist, the black legend instead being merely the Spanish perception of how the world views Spain's legacy. Carmen Iglesias describes the black legend as "the external image of Spain as Spain perceives itself."
Garcia Carcel even directly denies the existence of the black legend in his book The Black Legend, arguing "It is neither a legend, insofar as the negative opinions of Spain have genuine historical foundations, nor is it black, as the tone was never consistent nor uniform. Gray abounds, but the color of these opinions was always viewed in contrast which we have called the white legend." 
In the view of historian and Hispanist Henry Kamen, the concept of "black legend" ceased to exist in the English-speaking world for many years, although it remains an internal Spanish political issue. Kamen's position and his book Empire have been strongly criticized by Arturo Pérez-Reverte and José Antonio Vaca de Osma. The historian Joseph Pérez also believes that the black legend is gone, but still find traces here and there, as prejudices about Spain are indistinguishable from those that exist for other countries.
The Argentine writer Ernesto Sabato in his article "Neither Black nor White Legend Legend" published in the paper El País proposes an overcoming of the "false choice" between two legends, to present an approach that appreciates the positive results of Spanish conquest without denying or ceasing to deplore the atrocities that were perpetrated.
- Black Legend of the Spanish Inquisition
- Cultural depictions of Philip II of Spain
- Historical revisionism
- Alhambra Decree
- Colonial mentality
- History of the west coast of North America
- New Laws
- Population history of American indigenous peoples
- Propaganda of the Spanish–American War
- Spanish colonization of the Americas
- Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire
- Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire
- Spanish conquest of Yucatán
- Spanish-American relations
- Valladolid debate
- Information warfare
- Gibson, Charles. 1958. "The Colonial Period in Latin American History" pages 13-14 defines the Black legend as "The Accumulated tradition od propaganda and Hispanophobia according to which Spanish imperialism is regarded as cruel, bigoted, exploitative and self-righteous in excess of reality"
- Keen, Benjamin. 1969. "The Black Legend Revisited: Assumptions and realities". The Hispanic American Historical Review. volume 49. no. 4. pp.703-719
- Juderías, Julián, La Leyenda Negra (2003; first Edition of 1914) ISBN 84-9718-225-1
- "el ambiente creado por los relatos fantásticos que acerca de nuestra patria han visto la luz pública en todos los países, las descripciones grotescas que se han hecho siempre del carácter de los españoles como individuos y colectividad, la negación o por lo menos la ignorancia sistemática de cuanto es favorable y hermoso en las diversas manifestaciones de la cultura y del arte, las acusaciones que en todo tiempo se han lanzado sobre España..."
- Powell, Philip Wayne, 1971, "Tree of Hate" (first Ed.) ISBN 465-08750-7
- ...cuidadosa distorsión de la historia de un pueblo, realizada por sus enemigos, para mejor combatirle. Y una distorsión lo más monstruosa posible, a fin de lograr el objetivo marcado: la descalificación moral de ese pueblo, cuya supremacía hay que combatir por todos los mediossine die.»
- Alvar, p.7
- Maltby, p.7
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