Bernardo López de Mendizábal

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Bernardo López de Mendizábal
18th Spanish Governor of New Mexico
In office
Preceded byJuan Manso de Contreras
Succeeded byDiego de Peñalosa
Personal details
Chietla, in Puebla (present Mexico)
DiedSeptember 16, 1664
Mexico city
Spouse(s)Teresa de Aguilera y Roche
ProfessionCustos, soldier, political, and administrator (Governor of New Mexico)

Bernardo López de Mendizábal (1620 – September 16, 1664) was a Spanish politician, soldier, and religious scholar, who served as governor of New Mexico between 1659–1660 and as alcalde mayor (or royal administrator) in Guayacocotla (on the Sierra Madre Oriental, northeast of Mexico City). Among Lopez' acts as governor of New Mexico, he prohibited the Franciscan priests from forcing the Native Americans to work if they were not paid a salary and recognized their right to practice their religion. He also permitted the Pueblos Native Americans to perform their religious dances (thus endorsing religious practices that had been prohibited for 30 years). These acts caused disagreements with the Franciscan missionaries of New Mexico in their dealings with the Native Americans. He was indicted by the Inquisition on thirty-three counts of malfeasance and the practice of Judaism in 1660. He was replaced in the same year and his administration ended. He was arrested in 1663 and died a prisoner in 1664.

Early years[edit]

López de Mendizábal was born about 1620[1] in the town of Chietla, in Puebla (present day Mexico).[1][2] His father, Cristóbal López de Mendizábal,[3] was a Basque[1] captain[3] and legal representative,[1] while his mother, Leonor Pastrana, was a granddaughter of Juan Nuñez de Leon, a Jew who was prosecuted by the inquisition, having been accused of secretly practicing Judaism.[3] His family had a hacienda in Chietla. His father was a legal representative.[1] López also had a brother - Gregorio López de Mendizábal.[3] López studied arts and canon law[4] in Jesuit college at Puebla,[1][4][2] but finished his studies at the university in Mexico City.[1][2] Mendizábal also joined the Spanish Army, where he served in the Galleon de la Armada and was stationed for a period of time in the Presidio of Cartagena de Indias (in modern Colombia).[4] López occupied many government positions in Nueva Granada, Cuba, and New Spain. López was also alcalde mayor, or royal administrator, in Guayacocotla, on the Sierra Madre Oriental, northeast of Mexico City.[1]

Government in New Mexico[edit]

López de Mendizábal was appointed New Mexico´s governor in 1658 to replace Juan Manso de Contreras. López and his wife arrived in Santa Fe late that year,[1] although apparently he did not assume the position until July 11, 1659.[3] During this period he also worked as a custos, a religious administrator for the Franciscans in this province.[1]

López chose the Spaniard Miguel de Noriega (native of Burgos, Spain, but resident in Mexico city) as secretary of government.[3]

López and Juan Ramírez, who arrived with him in New Mexico, clashed over his ideas about the limits of civil and religious jurisdiction. Also, López was alleged to have made a statement comparing himself with the Eucharist. This was a statement that the Holy Office of the Inquisition, later considered a serious matter. After this, López refused to give Ramírez a formal welcome in Santa Fe. There were several major disagreements between Lopez and the Franciscan missionaries in New Mexico, mainly relating to the payment of tributes by the Native Americans working in the Franciscan missions. Lopez believed that these natives should pay taxes like the other residents of New Mexico, while the missionaries thought that Native Americans who worked for the Church would be penalized if they paid tribute. In addition, López banned corporal punishment for Native Americans who worked in the missions, a punishment that the Franciscans exercised at times when they believed it was needed. He was also charged with kidnapping Apaches to sell as slaves.

The Franciscans began keeping records of the habits and customs of Lopez and his wife, Teresa, who, they suspected, was not a Christian. The records included their spotty attendance at Mass. However, Lopez also recorded the sexual indiscretions carried out by the clergy, whose members had sex with women of their parishes. Lopez himself also was engaging in that activity, as was recognized by the Franciscans.[1]

Lopez doubled the wages paid to the Native Americans who worked for the Spanish,[4] and recognized the right of Native Americans to practice their religions [5] and not to have to assist each Sunday at Mass. If the Franciscans inflicted corporal punishment for that reason, Native Americans could take reprisals against them.[6] Lopez allowed the preservation of the ceremonial dances of the Pueblo Native Americans, comparing them with dances such as the zarambeque, often performed in Spain, which were not banned by the church. In fact, he and his wife attended these dances[1] and the governor permitted the Pueblos to perform their religious dances in the Governor's Palace in Santa Fe.[5] However, the Franciscans continued to try to prevent any non-Christian practices.[1]

In Taos, New Mexico, Lopez appointed as leaders the Pueblo Indians who had murdered the previous priest, leading the Franciscans to accuse him of ordering disobedience by the Amerindians against their order.[6]

Lopez also killed and enslaved Native Americans. In the 1660s, he murdered Navajos traders who traveled to Jemez lands to trade, while he enslaved their women and children. On another occasion he led military campaigns against the Apaches of Taos and the Navajos, selling hundreds of Native Americans as slaves.[7]

The population in New Mexico was divided in two groups according to their support for Lopez. Part of the population supported the governor's political actions, while the other rejected them and sent formal written charges against Lopez to the Viceroy in Mexico City. In 1660, the missionary priests agreed to leave the province, having rejected the governor and the difficulty he created for their religious activity because of the new laws in New Mexico. However, they ended up staying in the province. Former Governor Manso, who had been held captive while Lopez ruled New Mexico, escaped and emigrated to Mexico City where he led a revolt against Lopez.

The charges against Lopez resulted in the appointment of a new governor to the province in 1660, Diego de Peñalosa,[1] who arrived in New Mexico and assumed the position in mid-August 1661.[3]

Charges against him and his last years[edit]

In November 1661, having left his residence in the governor's house, Lopez tried to bribe Peñalosa with 6,000 pesos to rule out or at least to minimize the charges made against him. However, Penalosa would not accept a bribe of less than 10,000 pesos. Lopez refused to pay this amount and no agreement on the charges was reached. In the same month Penalosa abolished Lopez' law forcing the Amerindians at missions to pay tribute.

In December 1661, Peñañosa charged Lopez with 33 counts of malfeasance exercised during his tenure. This included forcibly acquiring settlers' property, allowing Amerindians and clergy to sell in Parral and Sonora, in modern Mexico, and waging war against the Apaches to obtain slaves to sell.[6]). At the same time, Juan Manso returned to the province in the position of alguacil mayor of the Inquisition with an arrest warrant for Lopez and his wife. However, before the arrest was effected, Peñalosa offered them his help to flee the province in exchange for the acquisition of some of their lands. Lopez refused to transfer lands to Peñalosa and it was confiscated.

In the summer of 1662, the final determination regarding Lopez´s residence was made prohibiting him from holding civil offices for eight years and forcing him to pay a fine of 3,000 pesos.[1] Later, in 1663,[8] the Inquisition arrested Lopez and his wife, both for counts of malfeasance[1] and for practicing Judaism.[8] They were imprisoned in Santo Domingo, in Mexico City.[1] Lopez arrived in Mexico City suffering from an unnamed ailment.[1] The judgments of marriage dragged on[1] and López died in September 16, 1664, because of the ailment.[9]

After his death[edit]

Despite his death, Lopez remained a prisoner accused of being a Crypto-Jew. He was buried in a pen near the prison. Three months later, his wife's judgment was suspended and she was released from confinement. Teresa pressed for her husband's exhumation and, in April 1671, the Holy Office dropped the case and his body was exhumed and reburied in the Church of Santo Domingo (Puebla), now the city center in Mexico City.[1]

Personal life[edit]

In Cartagena, before his appointment as governor of New Mexico,[1] he met and married Teresa de Aguilera y Roche,[1][10] a native of Alexsandria, Italy.[10] Lopez opened a store in the Casa Real of Santa Fe, trading products such as sugar, chocolate, hats and shoes, among others, to the colonists. Amerindians (especially Pueblos) worked for Lopez manufacturing different products for his business including leather goods, whole stockings, and other products as well as wagons for caravans, etc.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v "De Mendizábal, Bernardo López". New Mexico Office of the State Historian. Posted by Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint. Retrieved June 24, 2012, to 14:46 pm.
  2. ^ a b c Trigg, Heather Bethany (2005). From Household to Empire: Society and Economy in Early Colonial New Mexico. The University of Arizona Press. Page 197.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Simmons, Marc; Esquivel, José (2012). Juan Domínguez de Mendoza: Soldier and Frontiersman of the Spanish Southwest: 1627-1693. University of New Mexico Press. Chapter: "Notes".
  4. ^ a b c d Andrew, L. Knaut (1995). The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: Conquest and Resistance in Seventeenth-Century New Mexico. The University of Oklahoma Press. Pages 102 and 103.
  5. ^ a b Sanchez, Joseph P. "Nicolas de Aguilar and the Jurisdiction of Salinas in the Province of New Mexico, 1659-1662", Revista Complutense de Historia de América, 22, Servicio de Publicaciones, UCM, Madrid, 1996, 139-159
  6. ^ a b c d Carter, William B. (2009). Indian Alliances and the Spanish in the Southwest, 750–1750. University Oklahoma Pres.
  7. ^ Blackhawk, Ned (2006). Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West. first Harvard University Press. Page 29.
  8. ^ a b Hordes, Stanley M. (2005). To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico. Columbia University Press. Page 173.
  9. ^ Balestra, Alejandra (2008). Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Linguistic Heritage: Sociohistorical Approaches to Spanish in United States. University of Houston. Page 95.
  10. ^ a b A. Foster, Thomas. (editor; 2015). Women in Early America. New York University Press. Page 13.

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