Black legend (Spain)
The Black Legend (Spanish: La leyenda negra), or the Spanish Black Legend, is a theorised historiographical tendency consisting of anti-Spanish and anti-Catholic propaganda. Its proponents claim that its roots date back to the 16th century, when it was originally a political and psychological weapon that was used by Spain's northern European rivals in order to demonize the Spanish Empire, its people and culture, minimize Spanish discoveries and achievements, and counter its influence and power in world affairs.
The assimilation of originally Dutch and English 16th-century propaganda into mainstream history is theorised to have fostered an anti-Hispanic bias among subsequent historians along with a distorted view of the history of Spain, Latin America, and other parts of the world. This 17th-century propaganda found its basis in real events during the Spanish conquest of the Americas, which did involve atrocities, but it often employed lurid and exaggerated depictions of violence, while ignoring similar behaviour by other powers.
Although the existence of a 16th- and 17th-century Spanish black legend is agreed upon by the majority of scholars, aspects of the legend are still debated. Charles Gibson described it as "The accumulated tradition of propaganda and Hispanophobia according to which the Spanish Empire is regarded as cruel, bigoted, degenerate, exploitative and self-righteous in excess of reality". Like other black legends, the Spanish black legend combined fabrications, de-contextualization, exaggeration, cherry picking, and double standards with facts. There is disagreement among scholars over whether a biased portrayal of Spanish history continues into the present day, and the degree to which it might be significant if it does.
Historiography and definitions of the Spanish Black Legend
The term "black legend" was first used by Arthur Lévy in reference to biographies of Napoleon, and he primarily used it in the context of two opposing legends, a "golden legend" and a "black legend": two extreme, simplistic, one-dimensional approaches to a character which portrayed him as a god or a demon. "Golden" and "black legends" had been used by Spanish historians and intellectuals with the same meaning in reference to aspects of Spanish history; Antonio Soler used both terms about the portrayal of Castilian and Aragonese monarchs. The use of the term leyenda negra to refer specifically to a biased, anti-Spanish depiction of history gained currency in the first two decades of the 20th century, and is most associated with Julián Juderías. Throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, scholars have offered divergent interpretations of the Black Legend and debated its usefulness as a historical concept.
Origins of the concept of a Spanish Black Legend
At an 18 April 1899 Paris conference, Emilia Pardo Bazán used the term "Black Legend" for the first time to refer to a general view of modern Spanish history:
Abroad, our miseries are known and often exaggerated without balance; take as an example the book by M. Yves Guyot, which we can consider as the perfect model of a black legend, the opposite of a golden legend. The Spanish black legend is a strawman for those who seek convenient examples to support certain political theses (...) The black legend replaces our contemporary history with a novel in the Ponson du Terrail style, with mines and countermines, which doesn't even deserve the honor of analysis.
The conference had a great impact in Spain, particularly on Julián Juderías. Juderías, who worked at the Spanish Embassy in Russia, had noticed (and denounced) the spread of anti-Russian propaganda in Germany, France, and England and was interested in its possible long-term consequences. Juderías was the first historian to describe the "black legend" phenomenon, although he did not yet name it as such, in a book regarding the construction of an anti-Russian Black legend. His work, initially concerned with the intentional deformation of Russia's image in Europe, led him to identify the same patterns of narration he detected in the construction of anti-Russian discourse in the dominant historical narrative regarding Spain. Juderías investigated the original sources supporting centuries old claims of Spanish atrocities and other misdeeds, tracing the origin or propagation of the majority to rival emerging powers. In is 1914 book, La leyenda negra y la verdad histórica (The Black Legend and Historical Truth), deconstructs aspects of Spain's image (including those in Foxe's Book of Martyrs). According to Juderías, this biased historiography was marked by acceptance of propagandistic and politically motivated historical sources and has consistently presented Spanish history in a negative light, purposefully ignoring Spanish achievements and advances. In La leyenda Negra, he defines the Spanish black legend 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."
Historiographic development of the term
Later writers supported and developed Juderías's critique. In Tree of Hate (1971), historian Philip Wayne Powell argued that the Black Legend was still active in modern history, and plays an active role in shaping USA's relationships and attitudes towards her Latin American neighbors. His book provides examples of what he viewed as divergent treatment of Spain and other powers, and illustrates how this allows for a double narrative that taints Americans' view of Hispanic America as a whole:
Spaniards who came to the New World seeking opportunities beyond the prospects of their European environment, are contemptuously called cruel and greedy "goldseekers," or other opprobrious epithets virtually synonymous with "Devils"; but Englishmen who sought New World opportunities are more respectfully called "colonists," or "homebuilders," or "seekers after liberty." [...] When Spaniards expelled or punished religious dissidents, this came to be known as "bigotry," "intolerance," "fanaticism," and a cause of their decline. When Englishmen, Dutchmen, or Frenchmen did the same thing, it is known as "unifying the nation," or safeguarding it against treason or foreign conspiracy.— Tree of Hate (2008 edition), page 11
In his book Inquisition, Edward Peters wrote:
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 and Hispanophiles have termed this process and the image that resulted from it as "The Black Legend," la leyenda negra.— Inquistion (1989 edition), page 131
In his 2002 book Spain in America: The Origins of Hispanism in the United States, American historian Richard Kagan defined the Spanish black legend:
Compounding this perception of Spain as an inferior 'other' was the Black Legend, the centuries-old cluster of Protestant beliefs that the United States inherited from the British and, to a certain extent, from the Dutch. The Black Legend equated Spain with the Inquisition, religious bigotry, and the bloody persecution of Protestants and Jews. It also conjured up images of despotic monarchs who denied their subjects access to any semblance of economic and political freedom and who had consequently set Spain onto the road of economic weakness and political decline. Such a reading of Spanish history was overly simplistic but promoters of American exceptionalism found it useful to see Spain as an example of what would happen to a country whose fundamental values were antithetical to those of the United States."
According to Julián Marías, the creation of the Spanish black legend was not an exceptional phenomenon-similar disinformation and fabrication campaigns have affected most global powers of the past, such as Ottoman Turkey or Russia- but its persistence and integration into mainstream historiography is. For Marías the causes of its durability are:
- Overlap of the Spanish Empire with the introduction of the printing press in England and Germany, which enabled the printing of hundreds of pamphlets daily
- Religious factors and identification
- Substitution of the Spanish intellectual class by another favorable to its former rival (France) after the War of the Spanish Succession, which established a French narrative in Spain
- The unique characteristics of the early modern era's colonial wars and the need for new colonial powers to legitimize claims in now-independent Spanish colonies and the unique, new characteristics of the succeeding empire: the British Empire.
Walter Mignolo and Margaret Greer view the Black Legend as a development of Spain's racialisation of Jewishness in the 15th century. The accusations of mixed blood and loose religiosity of the 15th century, first levelled at Jewish and Moorish conversos both inside Spain and abroad, developed into 16th century hispanophobic views of Spaniards as religious fanatics tainted by association with Judaism. The only stable element they see in this hispanophobia is an element of "otherness" marked by interaction with the Eastern and African worlds, of "complete others", cruelty and lack of moral character, in which the same narratives are re-imagined and reshaped.
Antonio Espino López suggests that the prominence of the Black Legend in Spanish historiography has meant that the real atrocities and brutal violence of the Spanish conquest of the Americas have not received the attention they deserve within Spain. He believes that some Hispanicists:
...make an effort to justify the Spanish conquest of the Americas in the best way possible, as they were very conscious of the excesses committed by the "Black Legend", a set of ideas that are characterised by their intellectual coarseness.
According to historian Elvira Roca Barea, the formation of a black legend and its assimilation by a nation is a phenomenon observed in all multicultural empires (not just the Spanish Empire). For Roca Barea, a black legend about an empire is the cumulative result of the propaganda attacks launched by different groups: smaller rivals, allies within its political sphere and defeated rivals, and propaganda created by rival factions inside the imperial system; alongside self-criticism by the intellectual elite, and the needs of new powers consolidated during (or after) the empire's existence.
In response to Roca Barea, José Luis Villacañas states that the "black legend" was primarily a factor related to the geopolitical situation of the 16th and 17th centuries. He argues that:
After 1648 [the Black Legend] was not particularly current in European intellectual circles. To the contrary, [Spain's] old enemies, England and Holland, became the greatest defenders of the Spanish Empire at the end of the 17th century, in order to avoid it falling into the hands of [the French]."
The conceptual validity of a Spanish black legend is widely but not universally accepted by academics. Benjamin Keen expressed doubt about its usefulness as a historical concept, while Ricardo García Cárcel and Lourdes Mateo Bretos denied its existence in their 1991 book, The Black Legend:
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 [to what] we have called the white legend.
Historical basis of 16th- and 17th-century anti-Spanish propaganda
Eighteenth-century philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote, "The Spaniard's bad side is that he does not learn from foreigners; that he does not travel in order to get acquainted with other nations; that he is centuries behind in the sciences. He resists any reform; he is proud of not having to work; he is of a romantic quality of spirit, as the bullfight shows; he is cruel, as the former auto-da-fé shows; and he displays in his taste an origin that is partly non-European." Thus, semiotician Walter Mignolo argues that the Spanish black legend was closely tied to race in using Spain's Moorish history to portray Spaniards as racially tainted and its treatment of Africans and Native Americans during Spanish colonization to symbolize the country's moral character. That notwithstanding, there is general agreement that the wave of anti-Spanish propaganda of the 16th and 17th centuries was linked to undisputed events and phenomena which occurred at the apogee of Spanish power between 1492 and 1648.
Conquest of the Americas
During the three-century European colonization of the Americas, atrocities and crimes were committed by all European nations according to both contemporary opinion and modern moral standards. Spain's colonization also involved massacres, murders, sexual slavery and other grotesque abuses of human rights, especially in the early years, following the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean. However, Spain was the first in recorded history to pass laws for the protection of indigenous peoples. As early as 1512, the Laws of Burgos regulated the behavior of Europeans in the New World forbidding the ill-treatment of indigenous people and limiting the power of encomenderos—landowners who received royal grants to recruit remunerated labor. The laws established a regulated regime of work, pay, provisioning, living quarters, hygiene, and care for the natives in a reasonably humanitarian spirit. The regulation prohibited the use of any form of punishment by the landowners and required that the huts and cabins of the Indians be built together with those of the Spanish. The laws also ordered that the natives be taught the Christian religion and outlawed bigamy.
In July 1513, four more laws were added in what is known as Leyes Complementarias de Valladolid 1513, three related to Indian women and Indian children and another more related to Indian males. In 1542 the New Laws expanded, amended and corrected the previous body of laws in order to improve their application. These New Laws represented a humanitarian effort that was not enough to dissuade rebellions, like that of Gonzalo Pizarro in Perú. However, this body of legislation represents one of the earliest examples of humanitarian laws of modern history.
Although these laws were not always followed, they reflect the conscience of the 16th century Spanish monarchy about native rights and well-being, and its will to protect the inhabitants of Spain's territories. These laws came about in the early period of colonization, following some abuses reported by Spaniards themselves traveling with Columbus. Spanish colonization methods included the forceful conversion of indigenous populations to Christianity. The "Orders to the Twelve" Franciscan friars in 1523, urged that the natives be converted using military force if necessary. On par with this sentiment, Dr. Juan Gines de Sepúlveda argued that the Indian's inferiority justified using war to civilize and Christianize them. He encouraged enslavement and violence in order to end the barbarism of the natives. Bartolome de las Casas, on the other hand was strictly opposed to this viewpoint—claiming that the natives could be peacefully converted.
Such reports of Spanish abuses led to an institutional debate in Spain about the colonization process and the rights and protection of indigenous peoples of the Americas. Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas published Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies), a 1552 account of the supposed atrocities committed by landowners and some officials during the early period of colonization of New Spain (particularly on Hispaniola). De las Casas, son of the merchant Pedro de las Casas (who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage), described Columbus's treatment of the natives in his History of the Indies. His description of Spanish actions was used as a basis for attacks on Spain, including in Flanders during the Eighty Years' War. The accuracy of de las Casas's descriptions of Spanish colonization is still debated by some scholars due to supposed exaggerations. Although historian Lewis Hanke thought that de las Casas exaggerated atrocities in his accounts, Benjamin Keen found them more or less accurate. Charles Gibson's 1964 monograph The Aztecs under Spanish Rule (the first comprehensive study of sources about relations between Indians and Spaniards in New Spain), concludes that the demonization of Spain "builds upon the record of deliberate sadism. It flourishes in an atmosphere of indignation which removes the issue from the category of objective understanding. It is insufficient in its understanding of institutions of colonial history." However this view has been broadly criticised by other scholars such as Keen, who view Gibson's focus on legal codes rather than the copious documentary evidence of Spanish atrocities and abuses as problematic.
In 1550, Charles I tried to end this debate by halting forceful conquest. Philip II tried to follow in his footsteps with the Philippine islands, but previous violent conquest had shaped colonial relations irreversibly. This was one of the lasting consequences that led to the dissemination of the Black legend by Spain's enemies.
The ill-treatment of Amerindians, which would later occur in other European colonies in the Americas, was used in the works of competing European powers in order to foster animosity against the Spanish Empire. De las Casas' work was first cited in English in the 1583 The Spanish Colonie, or Brief Chronicle of the Actes and Gestes of the Spaniards in the West Indies, at a time when England was preparing for war against Spain in the Netherlands.
All European powers which colonized the Americas, including England, Portugal and the Netherlands, ill-treated indigenous peoples. Colonial powers have also been accused of committing genocide in Canada, the United States, and Australia. These issues have received greater scholarly attention in recent years and the historiographical evaluation of colonialism's effects is evolving. According to William B. Maltby, "At least three generations of scholarship have produced a more balanced appreciation of Spanish conduct in both the Old World and the New, while the dismal records of other imperial powers have received a more objective appraisal."
War with the Netherlands
Spain's war with the United Provinces and, in particular, the victories and atrocities of the Castilian nobleman Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba, contributed to anti-Spanish propaganda. Sent in August 1567 to counter political unrest in a part of Europe where printing presses encouraged a variety of opinions (especially against the Catholic Church), Alba seized control of the publishing industry; several printers were banished, and at least one was executed. Booksellers and printers were prosecuted and arrested for publishing banned books, many of which were part of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.
After years of unrest in the Low Countries, the summer of 1567 saw renewed violence in which Dutch Calvinists defaced statues and decorations in Catholic monasteries and churches. The March 1567 Battle of Oosterweel was the first Spanish military response to the unrest, and the beginning of the Eighty Years' War. In 1568 Alba had prominent Dutch nobles executed in Brussels' central square, sparking anti-Spanish sentiment. In October 1572, after Orange forces captured the city of Mechelen, its lieutenant attempted to surrender when he heard that a larger Spanish army was approaching. Despite efforts to placate the troops, Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo (son of the governor of the Netherlands and commander of the duke's troops) allowed his men three days to pillage the city; Alba reported to King Philip II that "not a nail was left in the wall". A year later, magistrates were still attempting to retrieve church artifacts which Spanish soldiers had sold elsewhere.
This sack of Mechelen was the first of a series of events known as the Spanish Fury; several others occurred over the next several years. In November and December 1572, with the duke's permission, Fadrique had residents of Zutphen and Naarden locked in churches and burnt to death. In July 1573, after a six-month siege, the city of Haarlem surrendered. The garrison's men (except for the German soldiers) were drowned or had their throats cut by the duke's troops, and eminent citizens were executed. More than 10,000 Haarlemers were killed on the ramparts, nearly 2,000 burned or tortured, and double that number drowned in the river. After numerous complaints to the Spanish court, Philip II decided to change policy and relieve the Duke of Alba. Alba boasted that he had burned or executed 18,600 persons in the Netherlands, in addition to the far greater number he massacred during the war, many of them women and children; 8,000 persons were burned or hanged in one year, and the total number of Alba's Flemish victims can not have fallen short of 50,000.
The Dutch Revolt spread to the south in the mid-1570s after the Army of Flanders mutinied for lack of pay and went on the rampage in several cities, most notably Antwerp in 1576. Soldiers rampaged through the city, killing, looting, extorting money from residents and burning the homes of those who did not pay. Christophe Plantin's printing establishment was threatened with destruction three times, but was spared each time with payment of a ransom. Antwerp was economically devastated by the attack; 1,000 buildings were torched, and as many as 17,000 civilians were raped, tortured and murdered. Parents were tortured in their children's presence, infants were slain in their mother's arms, wives were flogged to death before their husbands' eyes. Maastricht was besieged, sacked and destroyed twice by the Tercios de Flandes (in 1576 and 1579), and the 1579 siege ended with a Spanish Fury which killed 10,000 men, women and children.(p247) Spanish troops who breached the city walls first raped the women, then massacred the population, reputedly tearing people limb from limb. The soldiers drowned hundreds of civilians by throwing them off the bridge over the river Maas in an episode similar to earlier events in Zutphen. Military terror defeated the Flemish movement, and restored Spanish rule in Belgium.
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 accused the Holy Office of a conspiracy 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.
War atrocities committed by the Spanish army in the Low Countries during the 16th century are so ingrained in the collective memory of Belgian and Dutch societies that they generally assume a signature of this history to be present in their genetic ancestry. Historians claim this assumption is a consequence of the so‐called “Black Legend” and negative propaganda portraying and remembering Spanish soldiers as extreme sexual aggressors.— Dr Maarten Larmuseau, The black legend on the Spanish presence in the low countries: Verifying shared beliefs on genetic ancestry
The memory of the large scale rape of local women by Spanish soldiers lives on to such extent that it is popularly believed that their genetic imprint can be still seen today, and that most men and women with dark hair in the area descend from children conceived during those rapes. The study found no greater Iberian genetic component in the areas occupied by the Spanish army than in surrounding areas of northern France, and concluded that the genetic impact of the Spanish occupation, if any, must have been too small to survive until the present era. However, the study makes it clear that the absence of a Spanish genetic imprint in modern populations was not incompatible with the occurrence of mass sexual violence. The frequent murder of Flemish rape victims by Spanish soldiers, the fact rape does not always lead to fertilisation, and the reduced survival possibilities of the illegitimate offspring of rape victims would all mitigate against significant Iberian genetic contribution to modern populations. Larmuseau considers the persistence of the belief in a Spanish genetic contribution in Flanders to be the fruit of the use of Black Legend tropes in the construction of Dutch and Flemish national identities in the 16th-19th century, leading to the prominence of the stereotype of the cruel Spanish soldier in the collective memory.
In an interview with a local newspaper, Dr. Larmuseau compared the persistence in popular memory of the actions of the Spanish with the lesser attention given to the Austrians, the French and the Germans who also occupied the Low Countries and participated in violence against their inhabitants.
Origin of the Early Modern Black Legend
Anti-Spanish sentiment appeared in many parts of Europe as the Spanish Empire grew. In the Habsburg realm, Spain was a dominant power in a union encompassing present-day Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Burgundy and much of Italy. Iberian (principally Castilian) troops marched along the Spanish Road from Italy to Germany to fight on Dutch and German battlefields.(p442)
During the Eighty Years' War, propaganda depicted Spaniards as bloodthirsty barbarians. During the following centuries, anti-Spanish stereotypes circulated widely (especially in English-, Dutch- and German-speaking parts of Europe). The propaganda depicted exaggerated versions of the evils of Spanish colonial practices and the Spanish Inquisition.
William S. Maltby, regarding Spain in the Netherlands:
As part of an Elizabethan campaign against Spain and the Catholic Church ...Literally hundreds of anti-Spanish publications appeared in English, Dutch, French, and German in the sixteenth century. New editions, and new works restating old accusations, would appear in the Thirty Years War and in other occasions when it seemed useful to excite anti-Spanish sentiment. Given the pervasiveness of such material, it is not surprising that the authors of scholarly histories absorbed anti-hispanism and transmitted it to later generations.— William S. Maltby, The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire
Sverker Arnoldsson of the University of Gothenburg supports Juderías' hypothesis of a Spanish black legend in European historiography and identifies its origins in medieval Italy, unlike previous authors (who date it to the 16th century). In his book The Black Legend: A Study of its Origins, Arnoldsson cites studies by Benedetto Croce and Arturo Farinelli to assert that Italy was hostile to Spain during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries and texts produced and distributed there were later used as a base by Protestant nations.[full citation needed]
Arnoldsson's theory on the origins of Spain's black legend has been criticized as conflating the process of black-legend generation with a negative view (or critique) of a foreign power. The following objections have been raised:
- The Italian origin of the earliest writings against Spain is an insufficient reason to identify 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 tradition (non-existent in Italian writings) based on a reaction to the recent presence of Spanish troops (which quickly faded).
- In 15th- and 16th-century Italy, critics and Italian intellectual admirers of Spain (particularly Ferdinand II of Aragon) coexisted.
Edward Peters states in his work "Inquisition":
In Italian anti-Spanish invective, the very Christian self-consciousness that had inspired much of the drive to purify the Spanish kingdoms, including the distinctive institution of the Spanish Inquisition, was regarded outside of Spain as a necessary cleansing, since all Spaniards were accused of having Moorish and Jewish ancestry. (...) First condemned for the impurity of their Christian faith, the Spaniards then came under fire for excess of zeal in defending Catholicism. Influenced by the political and religious policies of Spain, a common kind of ethnic invective became an eloquent and vicious form of description by character assassination. Thus when Bartolomé de las Casas wrote his criticism of certain governmental policies in the New World, his limited, specific rhetorical purpose was ignored.— Edward Peters, Inquisition
According to William S. Maltby, Italian writings lack a "conducting theme": a common narrative which would form the Spanish black legend in the Netherlands and England. Roca Barea agrees; although she does not deny that Italian writings may have been used by German rivals, the original Italian writings "lack the viciousness and blind deformation of black-legend writings" and are merely reactions to occupation.[This quote needs a citation]
Arnoldsson offered an alternative to the Italian-origin theory in its polar opposite: the German Renaissance. German humanism, deeply nationalistic, wanted to create a German identity in opposition to that of the Roman invaders. Ulrich of Hutten and Martin Luther, the main authors of the movement, used "Roman" in the broader concept "Latin". The Latin world, which included Spain, Portugal, France, and Italy, was perceived as "foreign, immoral, chaotic and fake, in opposition to the moral, ordered and German."
In addition to the identification of Spaniards with Jews, heretics, and "Africans", there was an increase in anti-Spanish propaganda by detractors of Emperor Charles V. The propaganda against Charles was nationalistic, identifying him with Spain and Rome although he was born in Flanders, spoke Dutch but little Spanish and no Italian at the time, and was often at odds with the pope.
To further the appeal of their cause, rulers opposed to Charles focused on identifying him with the pope (a view Charles had encouraged to force Spanish troops to accept involvement in his German wars, which they had resisted). The fact that troops and supporters of Charles included German and Protestant princes and soldiers was an extra reason to reject the Spanish elements attached to them. It was necessary to instill fear of Spanish rule, and a certain image had to be created. Among published points most often highlighted were the identification of Spaniards with Moors and Jews (due to the frequency of intermarriage), the number of conversos (Jews or Muslims who converted to Christianity) in their society, and the "natural cruelty of those two."
Islamophobia and antisemitism
Outside Spain the Inquisition was regarded as a necessary cleansing which needed to be performed in Spain, since all Spaniards were accused of having Moorish and Jewish ancestry (...) First condemned by the impurity of their beliefs, the Spanish then came under fire for their excess of zeal in defending Catholicism. Influenced by the political and religious policies of Spain, a common type of ethnic inventive became an eloquent form of description by character assassination. So, when Bartolomé de las Casas wrote his criticism of certain governmental policies in the New World, his limited, persuasive, specific purpose was ignored.
This origin combines elements of German origin with proof of the anti-Hispanic narrative which existed prior to the 16th century, along with a large number of parallelisms between anti-Spanish and anti-Semitic narratives which existed in modern Europe, and it is one of the narratives which is gathering the largest amount of support. According to this view, the Spanish Black Legend was created by transferring the already created "character" of the "cruel, gold lusty Jew" onto the Spanish nation. Since the narrative was familiar, the stereotype was accepted, and the identification of Spaniards and Jews was already mainstream in Europe due to the long history of coexistence between both communities in Iberia, at a time when the Jews had been expelled from most of Europe, the Black Legend was promptly believed and assimilated in Central Europe.
According to Elvira Roca Barea, the Spanish black legend is a variant of the antisemitic narratives which have been circulated in England, most of central Europe and Italy since the 13th century. Roca Barea views the prejudice against the Spanish empire as leading to a hispanophobic narrative which instrumentalised Spain's historical role as a meeting point of Christianity, Islam and Judaism as a tool of propaganda. In 1555, after the expulsion of the Spanish Jews, Pope Paul IV described Spaniards as "heretics, schismatics, accursed of God, the offspring of Jews and Moors, the very scum of the earth". This climate would facilitate the transfer of antisemitic and anti-Muslim stereotypes to Spaniards. This case has three main sources of proof, the texts of German Renascence Intellectuals, the existence of the black legend narrative in Europe prior to the conquest of America, and the similarity of the stereotypes to other stereotypes which were attributed to Judaism by anti-Semitic Europeans and the stereotypes which the Black Legend attributed to the Spanish.
Texts which identify Spaniards with "heretics" and "Jews" were first written in Germany in the 14th century, and various pieces of 15th- and 16th-century anti-Spanish propaganda are almost line by line copies of prior anti-semitic works. For example, the famous account of the mistreated Native Americans killing their oppressors by pouring melted gold on their heads is an exact rewording of the scene which is described in the anti-semitic poem the Siege of Jerusalem. It also suggests that the deep anti-semitism which is espoused in Luther's works may have served a double function, nationalistic and anti Spanish as well as religious, if the identification of both functions was already in circulation.
Martin Luther correlated "the Jew" (detested in Germany at the time) with "the Spanish", who had increasing power in the region. According to Sverker Arnoldsson, Luther:
- Identified Italy and Spain with the papacy, although Rome and Spain were enemies at the time
- Ignored the coexistence (including intermarriage) of Christians and Jews in Spain
- Conflated Spain and Turkey out of fear of an invasion by either.
In 1566 Luther's conversations are published. Among many other similar affirmations, he is quoted as saying:
[...] Spaniern [...], die essen gern weiss Brot vnd küssen gern weisse Meidlein, vnd sind sie stiffelbraun vnd pechschwartz wie König Balthasar mit seinem Affen. (The Spanish eat white bread with pleasure and kiss white women with pleasure, but they are as dirt-brown and tar-black as King Balthasar and his monkeys".)— Johann Fischart, Geschichtklitterung (1575).
Ideo prophetatum est Hispanos velle subigere Germaniam aut per se aut per alios, scilicet Turcam [...] Et ita Germania vexabitur et viribus ac bonis suis exhausta Hispanico regno subiugabitur. Eo tendit Sathan, quod Germaniam liberam perturbare tentat (Thus, it is prophesied that the Spaniards want to subjugate Germany, by itself or through others, such as the Turks. And so Germany will be humiliated and stripped of its men and property, will be submitted to the kingdom of Spain. Satan tries this because he tries to prevent a free Germany)— Luther
References to Spanish as "bad Christians", "Jews", "Moors" or racialized references associating said ancestry with lack of moral or general inferiority can be found uninterruptedly in black legend sources and political propaganda since the Middle Ages until well into the contemporary period.
England played a role in the spread and use of the Spanish Black Legend during colonial times, but it is also agreed that, no matter how much the English might have added to it, the origin of the narrative was not in England and reached the islands only after war and conflicting interest.
In A Comparison of the English and Spanish Nation (1589), Robert Ashley writes:
[We must] learne to despise those magnificent Don Diegos and Spanish Cavalieros, whos doughtiest deedes are bragges and boastinges, and themselves (for the most part) shadowes without substance. ... What humanitie, what faith, what courtesie, what modestie, and civilitie, may wee thinke to finde amongst this scumme of Barbarians? [My assertions can] be cleared by conference of their manner with ours, that is, of their vices with our vertues, of their vile viliacquerie, with our generositie. ... The comparing of our conditions with those of this mongrell generation. [The Spanish Nation is] unfaithful, ravenous, and insatiable above all other Nations. ... The nature and disposition of the Spaniards, in whom may be seene together incorporated, a craftie Fox, a ravenous Wolfe, and a raging Tygre. ... [The Spaniard is also] an uncleane and filthie swine, a theevish howlet, a proud peacocke ... a legion of divels ... [Columbus] would never have undertaken this voyage, if he had thought that the men whome hee brought thither ... should straightwaies be transformed into Lions, Panthers, Tigres, and other savage beastes ... O Turkes, O Scithians, O Tartarians, [rejoice, for Spain's much greater cruelty makes yours look so much less].[a] [Spain] is and ever hath bene the sinke, the puddle, and filthie heape of the most lothsome, infected, and slavish people that ever yet lived on earth. ... This wicked race of those half Wisigots. ... This demie Moore, demie Jew, yea demie Saracine. ... What? Shall those Marranos, yes, those impious Atheistes reigne over us kings and Princes? ... [Those Spaniards with] ... theyr insatiate avarice, theyre more than Tigrish cruelty, theyr filthy, monstruous and abominable luxurie ... theyr lustfull and inhumaine deflouring of their matrons, wives, daughters, theyr matchless and sodomiticall ravishings of young boys, which these demi-barbarian Spaniardes committed. ...
Antonio Pérez, the fallen secretary of King Philip, fled to France and then England, where he published attacks on the Spanish monarchy under the title Relaciones (1594). The English referred to these books to justify privateering and wars against the Spanish.A violently hispanophobic preacher and pamphleteer, Thomas Scott, would echo this sort of epithet a generation later, in the 1620s, when he urged England to war against "those wolvish Antichristians" instead of accepting the "Spanish Match."
According to Philip Wayne Powell, criticism which was spread by the Jews who were expelled by Spain's Catholic monarchs was an important factor in the spread of anti-Spanish sentiment (particularly religious stereotypes).
Proponents such as Powell, Mignolo and Roca Barea allege that The Spanish Black Legend affects most of Europe, especially Protestant and Anglican Europe, and France, as well as the Americas. There is, however, no significant trace of it in the Muslim world or Turkey despite the almost seven centuries of sustained warfare in which Spain and the Islamic world were engaged. Historian Walter Mignolo has argued that the Black Legend was closely tied to ideologies of race, both in the way that it used the Moorish history of Spain to depict Spaniards as racially tainted, and in the way that the treatment of Africans and Native Americans during Spanish colonial projects came to symbolize their moral character.
The continuance of the Black Legend in the modern era
Historians disagree on whether the Black Legend exists as a genuine factor in current discourse around Spain and its history. In recent years a group of historians including Alfredo Alvar, Ricardo Garcia Carcel and Lourdes Mateo Bretos have argued that the Black Legend does not currently exist, it being merely the Spanish perception of how the world views Spain's legacy. According to Carmen Iglesias, the black legend consists of negative traits which the Spanish people see in themselves and is shaped by political propaganda.
The view of the group around Garcia Carcel is echoed by Benjamin Keen, writing in 1969. He argues that the concept of the Black Legend cannot be considered valid, given that the negative depiction of Spanish behavior in the Americas was largely accurate. He further claims that whether a concerted campaign of anti-Spanish propaganda based on imperial rivalry ever existed is at least open to question.
Henry Kamen argues that the Black Legend existed during the 16th century but is now a thing of the past in England. Other authors, however, like Roca Barea, Tony Horowitz and Philip Wayne Powell, have argued that it still affects the way in which Spain is perceived and that it is brought up strategically during diplomatic conflicts of interest as well as in popular culture to hide the negative actions of other nations. Powell believed in 1971 that the stereotypes of the Black Legend contribute to white supremacy, erasing the ethical and intellectual contributions of Southern Europeans and obscuring the power and competence of Native American empires before and during the Spanish conquest. In 2006, Tony Horowitz argued that the Spanish black legend affected current US immigration policy.
Roca Barea states that early modern Spanish phenomena, such as the Spanish Inquisition and the conquest of the Americas, were in actual fact beneficial and therefore any negative comment on them forms part of the Black Legend. She further claims that Protestant European countries remain essentially anti-Catholic stating:
If we deprive Europe of its hispanophobia and anti-Catholicism, its modern history becomes incomprehensible.
This viewpoint is criticised by Garcia Carcel, who views her book as part of a long tradition of Spanish insecurities towards other European countries, that in effect constitutes the true Black Legend. He identifies strains of whataboutery (in Spanish: y tu más) and self pity (no nos quieren: "Nobody loves us") in the Spanish historiography of the Black Legend, arguing that rigorous historical investigation should replace Spain's obsession with the way others see it.
José Luis Villacañas, in his 2019 response to Roca Barea, states that her work is in fact "populist national-Catholic propaganda", containing large numbers of "scientific irregularities". Villacañas further accuses Roca Barea of considering France, Spain, England and Holland to have "hispanophobia in their DNA", and of minimising Spanish atrocities in Latin America along with the activities of the Inquisition. He argues that to all intents and purposes the Black Legend has no meaning outside the context of 17th century propaganda, but recognises that certain negative archetypes of Spain may have persisted during the Franco regime.
Other proponents of the continuity theory include musicologist Judith Etzion and Roberto Fernandez Retamar, and Samuel Amago who, in his essay "Why Spaniards Make Good Bad Guys" analyzes the persistence of the legend in contemporary European cinema.
Those who contend that the Black Legend still affects Spain and the Latin American world point to the following concrete examples:
- Luis Español argues that direct references to constructs from the times of the Black Legend were made in the British and Canadian press during the Turbot War of 1992 between Spain and Canada.
- Elvira Roca Barea argues that referring to Spain as part of the PIGS or "GIPSY" (sic) group of countries is a recourse to anti-Catholic and hispanophobic stereotypes in order to protect the financial interests of Protestant countries.
- Latin America–United States relations: Philip Wayne Powell, writing in 1971, considered the Black Legend to be the root of contemporary diplomatic problems and anti-Latino sentiment in the United States, making the case for this in his book The Tree of Hate: Propaganda and Prejudices Affecting Relations with the Hispanic World. The view of the Black Legend affecting the present-day United States' immigration policy has gained supporters in the current political climate. The narrative of the "degenerated race" is argued to be at the root of the racist discrimination suffered by Latinos in America.
- Powell stated that Spain's past ownership of about half of the United States' land was unknown by most Americans, affecting the way in which the Latin American population and culture are treated, as well as the linguistic debate there.
- Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell stated that he sees a re-emergence of the Black Legend across Europe in the way the Catalonian issue has been covered, especially by English-speaking press.
Education and popular culture
- In 1944, the American Council of Education released a report on anti-Hispanism in school textbooks, identifying a large number of basic errors, inexactitudes and biased portrayals. It concluded that "The abolition of the Black Legend and its effects in our interpretation of Latin American life is one of our main problems in the educational and intellectual aspect, as well as in the political sphere", and urged for textbooks' biases and errors to be fixed. However, according to Powell, in 1971 all the core errors were still in the majority of school materials.
- Roca Barea criticises the 2007 BBC documentary "Andes: The Dragon's Back" for stating that 200 Spaniards conquered 1.5 billion Incas, more than the entire population of the world at the time. She considers this to be modern Black Legend propaganda. Edgar Straehle, in his extended response to her book, points out that the programme in fact states that the population of the Inca Empire was 15 million, linking to the original English version. Roca Barea later replied to this argument by stating that, in the dubbed version broadcast on Spanish television, the figure of 1.5 billion was given.
- Roca Barea points to the following dialogue from a dubbed episode of the TV series Law & Order, broadcast in Spain in 2014, as an example of continued hispanophobia in the present day: "How many heterosexual men over-30 do you know that are still Catholics and aren't weirdos?"
- Powell argues that the Black Legend and its counterpart, the Dutch, English and German golden legends, are allegedly main contributors to the construct of white supremacy, since they erase the ethical and intellectual contributions of Southern Europeans and reduce the power and competence which was achieved by indigenous empires both prior to and during the Spanish conquest of the Americas.
The label "White Legend" is used to describe a supposed historiographic approach presenting an uncritical or idealized image of Spanish colonial practices. Some authors consider this to be the result of taking attempts to counter the bias of the Black Legend too far, whereas others consider it to have developed independently. Miguel Molina Martinez describes this legend as a characteristic of the Nationalist Spanish historiography which was propagated during the regime of Francisco Franco, a regime which associated itself with the imperial past and couched it in positive terms. Molina Martinez points to the classic text of Spanish Americanists during the Franco period, Rómulo Carbia's Historia de la leyenda negra hispanoamericana, as a work with a strong ideological motivation which frequently fell into arguments which could be qualified as part of the White Legend, while also giving more current examples of the trope. Some, such as Benjamin Keen, have criticized the works of John Fiske and Lewis Hanke as going too far towards idealizing Spanish history. While recognising the general merit of Hanke's work, Keen suggests that the United States' contemporary imperial ventures in the Caribbean and the Philippines had led him to idealise the Spanish Empire as an analogy for American colonialism. He further argues that the proponents of the White Legend focus on Spanish legal codes protecting the Indigenous population, while ignoring the copious documentary evidence that they were widely ignored.
Luis Castellvi Laukamp accuses Elvira Roca Barea of "transforming the Black Legend into the White Legend" in her influential 2016 work, Imperofobia y Leyenda Negra, in which she claims that Spain confronted the other "not with racist theories but with [protective] laws". Castellvi Laukamp points out that not only did the Spanish Laws of the Indies include racism from the beginning, but slavery continued in Spanish colonies in the Americas until 1886. He further takes issue with claims that Spanish colonies' high level of mestizaje (biological and cultural mixing of the European and Indigenous population) demonstrates the absence of racism in the Spanish Empire. Castellvi Laukamp quotes from contemporary sources showing that Indigenous women were treated as spoils of war and subject to racialised sexual slavery and subordination and demonstrates the discriminatory racial stereotypes deployed against black and other non-white women in the colonial period.
Dominican Historian Esteban Mira Caballos argues that the Black and White legends for part of a single unity, which he calls a "Great Lie". He goes on to describe the way the Black Legend is instrumentalised to support the White Legend:
The consequence of the positioning of those who allude to the Black Legend in order to, in reality, defend the White Legend, has been to silence any criticism of the past: We were marvellous, and anything negative anyone has to say about us is fruit of the Black Legend. And without the possibility of criticism, the science of History loses all meaning— Esteban Mira Caballos, Mito, realidad y actualidad de la leyenda negra
The "White Legend" or the "Pink Legend" (Sp: Leyenda Rosa) may also refer to the propaganda which was circulated within Spain by Philip II and his descendants, propaganda which claimed that his actions in the Netherlands and America were religiously motivated, so his own patrimony would be preserved. This propaganda was intended to foster the image that Spain was ruled by a prudent and pious monarch, and control the unrest that was generated by his aggressive policies and his wars in the Netherlands.
- Society in the Spanish Colonial Americas
- Albigensian Crusade
- Antisemitic canard
- Aragonese Crusade
- Atrocity propaganda
- Black armband view of history, a similar concept in Australia
- Black Legend of the Spanish Inquisition
- Blood libel
- Colonial mentality
- Cultural depictions of Philip II of Spain
- Historical revisionism
- Historiography of Colonial Spanish America
- History of Portugal
- History of Spain
- History of the west coast of North America
- Information warfare
- Laws of Burgos
- Mozarabic Rite
- New Laws
- Population history of indigenous peoples of the Americas
- Portuguese Empire
- Spanish colonization of the Americas
- Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire
- Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire
- Spanish conquest of Yucatán
- Spanish Empire
- Toledo School of Translators
- Valladolid debate
- The author of this pamphlet gives credit to the famous Venetian, Francesco Guicciardini, for some of this characterization of the Spaniards.
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