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Notes from Limmud 2005

Elizabeth Tudor and the Marranos: the Untold Story

Sharonah Fredrick

[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed.]

[I missed the first minute of this talk. Presumably it covered how under the early part of Henry VIII's reign, when Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon, England got on well with Spain, which had recently expelled its Jews, and was harrying those who had gone underground, the בני אנוסים bnei anusim (known in Spanish by the pejorative term marranos, "swine"), with the instrument of the Spanish Inquisition.]

... Mary Tudor followed in her fanatical mother's footsteps and even established the Inquisition in England for a while.

1531 after Catherina de Aragon was out and disgraced ("sharing a night with Catherine of Aragon was as exciting as playing chess"—Henry VIII), Spain was humiliated. The Spanish Jews who were in hiding in Spain or in an uncomfortable transitory situation in the north of France (where Cherbourg is now), were following this closely; they thought the enemy of their enemy might be their friend.

Amongst these were members of a family called Carvajal, whose members were later divided between England and Mexico. This clan officially was baptised but half maintained its Judaism militantly; one hundred years later, the family became famous as martyrs to the Inquisition in Mexico, where they were prominent Judaisers: first a nineteen year-old called Luis de Carvajal was burned in a high-profile auto da fé, then the Inquisition completely went to town on the family.

In 15?? members of this family, along with four other families, including those of Cardoso and Lopez, entered England illegally, disembarking in Dover. They lived in London, in the area of the Tower of London, near All-Hallows Church.

Henry VIII found out about them in 1545... but he did not do anything about it. This was because he was starting to have problems with Carlos V of Spain.

In 1547 when Henry died and Bloody Mary acceded, the community went underground. Half of them left England and fled to Wales—somewhere where there were lots of forests and no one would go looking for them. Mary was not going to waste her time going into Wales looking for a few Jews; though she made three different proclamations stating that anyone found guilty of Judaising (along with the Lutheran heresy) would be burned alive on first accusation—which was contrary to the laws of the Spanish Inquisition!

Mary Tudor had fallen in love, and had a long-distance marriage, with Philipe II, king of Spain. He, however, was not interested in her, and fell in love with her half-sister Elizabeth—who rebuffed him and was promptly removed by Mary to the Tower of London.

Meanwhile in 1556 we have the first indications of sympathies with the Jews from the woman referred to then as "the bastard princess"—Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne Boleyn. At age 23, she writes she knows she's going to be a feisty ruler because like King David of Israel she has red hair. Elizabeth spoke and wrote biblical Hebrew and Aramaic (along with Spanish, Welsh, Latin, Greek and of course English). (Henry had not been an intellectual like his daughter.) When she was fourteen she specifically asked to the taught Hebrew as she wanted to learn the language Jesus spoke. By the age of sixteen, having learned Jesus actually spoke Aramaic, she asked to learn that too.

Another reason for Henry to be friendly to Jews was because he went back to the OT to justify his divorce from Catherine of Aragon—because the Jews permitted divorce and the Catholics did not. The example he cited was of Abraham ejecting Hagar. Elizabeth may have taken to the Jews because it was through acceptance of Henry's divorce in England that she ceased being regarded as the bastard princess.

Elizabeth herself noted there were many mistranslations of the Bible in its translation from Hebrew to Greek, which she also knew.

Though a Protestant, Elizabeth was not going to force it on those who don't want it. She hated the religious warfare that had torn the realm in two during the time of her father. Her first proclamation after defeating the Armada was, "This is not a Protestant victory; rather this is a victory for all Englishmen of whatever faith."

She was tolerant with the Catholics and the Jews, who were not forced to go to church. Officially, everyone had to attend church, but she was happy to turn a blind eye, and didn't even go to church herself. (Henry VIII had not forced the Jews either. Perhaps because being Jewish they were so other that they would have been less of a problem than Catholics.)

When Walsingham was not trying to make her Protestant, Elizabeth was a bit of a deist, if not even an agnostic. In her letters, she wrote "how sad that we should kill each other for something as abstract as religion"—an astonishing view for the sixteenth century!

1558 when she acceded, according to Perez and Cecil Roth, the Crypto-Jewish community had already started to trickle back, and they were interested in the fact Elizabeth could read Hebrew: word of this had got out. She was one of the first Protestants to recognise the importance of the Hebrew origins of Christianity. Indeed, when Ector Carvajal had his first audience with her and stammered out "I am a Jew", she smiled and said, "So was my lord and saviour." Even today, of Catholics, only the Jesuits accept this fact.

Elizabeth had her first contact with the Jews through Sir Francis Walsingham, one of her two most important advisers. He had become good friends with a number of people in the Crypto-Jewish family: Ector Cordovero and Ector Carvajal. Walsingham saw that war with Spain was going to come during Elizabeth's lifetime, because she kept turning down Philipe's love notes, replying with the likes of, "I am as attracted to you as a goat would be to a dog." On top of which she was Protestant. And she was building a good relationship with French Catholics (enemies of the Spanish), and they liked her. For she saw correctly that persecution by the Inquisition was a Spanish and Portuguese phenomenon, not a general Catholic one.

She was also very open-minded on certain issues. She had an alliance with the Prince of Anjou, who was a transvestite and a homosexual. One night she found him wearing her gown; her reaction was simply to smile and tell him, "I think that's not really your colour."

Sir Walter Raleigh had a love affair with a Jewish woman, whom the queen would later meet, before Walsingham introduced her to Carvajal and Cordovero—possibly the first Elizabeth had met. This was Maria Nuñez, whom Raleigh met when he was playing privateer and captured the Spanish ship she was aboard.

Elizabeth wrote that she was entranced by Maria Nuñez, and was particularly impressed by her steadfast refusal to convert. Raleigh was not so impressed, because he wanted to marry her. He flirted with the idea of conversion, but decided against when he discovered the necessity of circumcision. His poem "Ode to the beautiful Jewess" is worth reading.

Sephardic folklore records that in the same room in Hampton Palace where her father's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was walled up, Maria Nuñez prayed, and prayed as a Jew.

Chaim Beinhardt estimates there were approximately two thousand Jews in England at this time. (Cecil Roth estimates five thousand, based on Walsingham's estimates; Ms Fredrick thinks this is way too high.) Eight hundred were in London - the most cosmopolitan city: friendly to foreigners. The rest were scattered elsewhere, particularly in the Cotsworlds.

From 1576 Elizabeth Tudor, after her meeting with Maria Nuñez, officially accorded "the Spanish community of All Hallows Church" status as Wards of the Court—i.e. placed them under her protection.

So if she was so friendly to the Jews, why did she not issue a general proclamation allowing all the Spanish Jews to come to England. The answer was, because she knew her own people. For the typical Englishman, a Jew was a devil, or Judas—see their portrayal in The Jew of Malta. So she did what she could—and even that raised some eyebrows. She was fortunate that her closest advisers were well disposed towards the Jews. Most of the others did not, particularly the Earl of Wessex.

Elizabeth had a doctor called Rodrigo Lopez, of Jewish background, but who was now a fanatical Catholic. Though you will hear him referred to as a Crypto-Jew, this was emphatically not the case: he was what was called in Spanish a malsin (from Hebrew מלשין malshin, slanderer): a traitor to his birth people. He was working for the Inquisition and the Spanish Crown, and handed over 32 Jews to the Inquisition. He ended up burned at the stake 1594 for having tried to poison the Queen.

To her credit, Elizabeth did not try to take this out on the Spanish Crypto-Jews, or the Catholics.

And so to the ambiguous portrayal of Jews in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Yehuda Amichai said, "When you read The Merchant of Venice, you will read it depending on what you want to find. If you want to find pro-Jewish quotes in it, you will; if you want to find anti-Jewish quotes in it, you will." So what was going on in Shakespeare's mind? Maybe he himself was confused. Maybe through being a good friend of Raleigh he got to meet Maria Nuñez, but that's just a guess.

In 1589 Elizabeth got her last offer of marriage from Philipe II. He response: "I laughed quite heartily, for Philipe hath no knowledge that when a woman says no, she meaneth no." Philipe, who was furious that England was developing a threat to Spain's naval power, sent, to teach them a lesson, the invincible Armada.

It was vinced.

Shortly beforehand, Elizabeth had issued a proclamation that all Spanish citizens in England must either leave the country or renounce their Spanish citizenship. She was banking on the support of the expatriate Spanish community - and she got it. They were not, however, required to renounce their Catholicism.

When Ector Cordovero came before her and offered the same, she told him to forget it, as his people were not Spanish in the first place. They actually came out openly about being Jewish at this time of anti-Spanish sentiment: the enemy of England's enemy was their friend. (Being wards of the Queen helped, too.)

Elizabeth was also using their knowledge to help defeat the Spanish; they knew a lot about Spain. And during this time Spanish Jews had continued to come across from Spain.

Philipe had three elements acting against him: the weather, strategic information, not only from the Crypto-Jews but also from Catholics in England (and also the Irish) who wanted to prove their loyalty to her. [Hmm, I can only see two elements here. :o)]

For the final fifteen years of her reign, the Jews of All Hallows Church had a very laid back existence. "The little golden period" in Sephardic history. They no longer had to hide their Judaism, by wearing crosses, etc. Elizabeth also allowed Raleigh and Walsingham who had good connections with the Jews to consort with them as they wished. (Walsingham probably first developed that connection for political reasons, but later developed a genuine rapport.)

The Crypto-Jews were involved in professions not necessarily associated with Jews: they were tanners, builders, stonemasons. There were also an overkill of more Jewish professions: doctors and dentists. (The French and the Jews used belladonna as an anaesthetic, whereas the English did not.) They could not, however, join guilds. Officially, they were not tradesmen but helpers to tradesmen. A Jew could not list his profession as a stonemason, for example; officially he had to help an English stonemason.

When Elizabeth died in 1603, she was succceeded by James I and VI, who, unlike her, was not well educated. He was superstitious and believed in witches—indeed was paranoid about them. He was obsessed by witches and warlocks; in his reign public burnings came back in a massive way. Things rapidly got ugly for the Crypto-Jewish community: as had been traditional, James equated Jews with witches. The Crypto-Jewish community thinned out fast; by 1650 it was almost completely gone: 90% depleted in numbers.

One of the first thing James did was make it compulsory for everyone to have their papers in order—and the Jews had none because they were there illegally.

Many of the Jews went to Amsterdam. Most escaped to Ireland, which was Catholic, but was not supporting the Inquisition. The Irish was quite relaxed about having these Jews living in their midst. They were also helped by the fact that there were Jesuits in Ireland.

So what happened to them later? Did they become assimilated, or did they go to France? No one knows exactly.

And finally, a question from the audience: where were these Crypto-Jews buried in Elizabeth's time? That was a secret Queen Elizabeth took to her grave. Sephardi tradition holds there are Jewish graves under All Hallows Church. But of course such graves would not be overtly marked as such. No births or deaths were recorded; what we have is the letters of the community, and of Walsingham. He was a philo-Semite; he found the English to be "thick and stupid" and the Jews more refined. That was why he took to spending time in their company.

Jewish learning notes index


Date: 2006-01-02 06:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] curious-reader.livejournal.com
I did not know that Queen Elisabeth liked the Jews and she learnt Aramaic and Hebrew. I thought this is great for my mom as she is a fan of Elisabeth I. (She is not an expert with computers, I just posted her the link if you don't mind.) It is good that she never got married because every man was after her position. She would have lost it if she had married and everything would have been worse again. I saw a film with Elisabeth and Lord Wessex. They were lovers but she got him killed because he wanted her thrown and power. If he was so much against Jews she had saved their lives, too.
What are warlocks? Well I might find it on the internet. I cannot find it in my dictionary.

Re: interesting

Date: 2006-01-03 09:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
Feel free to point anyone at my blog you like. I post it on the web so whoever may be interested can see it.

And a warlock is a male witch.

Date: 2006-01-03 01:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snjstar.livejournal.com
Really interesting, Sharonah is always a good speaker about different topics.

Date: 2006-01-03 01:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
What, did you know of her before Limmud?

Date: 2006-01-03 02:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snjstar.livejournal.com
Yes, she has spoken at UJS conference the last few years.

Engelsman from Carvajal's Mexico

Date: 2006-01-24 04:42 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)

Answer: Buried in some hidden places as well as some cemeteries far away places like in the Netherlands.
Is the Ector Carvajal you mention the same than Hector Nuñez?
You did not mention Don Luis de Carvajal, the elder, the Conquistador.
I would like to partcipate on this discusion. I am very much interested in the Carvajal and Jewish, I would say Portuguese, clever infiltration in England.
Hawkins and Drake and other stuff. Did they have a portuguese Garndama?


Re: Engelsman from Carvajal's Mexico

Date: 2006-01-24 08:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
Thank you for your interest. I am not an expert on the subject, these were merely notes I took at a talk I went to. I suggest you redirect your enquiry to Sharonah Fredrick, who was the person who gave the talk. You can find her email address by Googling.

maria nunez and menasseh

Date: 2006-10-04 01:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] frlavell.livejournal.com
Trying to rewrite the legend about Maria Nunez I have red the works of Daniel Levi de Barrios, J. Lucia de Azeveda, Henri Mechoulan and Mozes Heijmans Gans. Therein I found very little about the stay of Maria in England, except that she became the darling of the english court and that one day Elizabeth took her on a ride in an open carriage through Londen in order to show the people her beauty. None of the mentioned historians speak about Sir Walter Raleigh and the fact that Elizabeh knew Hebrew. This information is gold for me! Where can I find more? PLease give me sources! What puzzles me however is the line "from 1576 Elizabeth after her meeting with Maria Nunez etc..."Following my sources Maria was on her trip to Holland in 1590 and then she was only 19. Is this a typists error? Another riddle is for me that you speak about the dangerous situation of the crypto jews in and about 1650. While in 1655 Menasseh Ben Israel writes from Amsterdam to Cromwell a request for free jewish settlement in England. (Because it was his conviction that the jewish people had to be spread to all four corners of the world and England (angle terra) was one of them. Can you help me?

Re: maria nunez and menasseh

Date: 2006-10-04 02:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
Thank you for your interest. I am not an expert on the subject, these were merely notes I took at a talk I went to. I suggest you redirect your enquiry to Sharonah Fredrick, who gave the talk. You can find her email address by googling.

Another riddle is for me that you speak about the dangerous situation of the crypto jews in and about 1650. While in 1655 Menasseh Ben Israel writes from Amsterdam to Cromwell a request for free jewish settlement in England.

No, what I wrote was that after the persecution under James I, by 1650 there were no crypto-Jews left in England. Or so said Dr Fredrick; I have heard other accounts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_England--Maranos_in_England) saying that was not the case. At any rate, the big change that happened between 1650 (or the late 1640s at any rate) and 1655 was the English Civil War: the Stuart regime went out, the Puritans came in, and Britain's official policy towards everything changed, including the Jews.

Re: maria nunez and menasseh

Date: 2006-10-05 07:49 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Finding the e nail address of Sharonah Fredrick is not as easy as it seems. I did not succeed. I try now to get it from the Touro College, hoping that they want en can give it. Anyhow thanks for your reaction

Maria Nuñez and Raleigh's ode

Date: 2008-03-12 04:36 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I'm researching family history and discovered that Maria Nuñez was my 10th great-grandaunt. I'm trying to find Sir Walter Raleigh's poem you mention "Ode to the beautiful Jewess". Sharona Fredrick knows nothing about it and I'm wondering where you found it. The BL Rare Books couldn't find it, and yours is the only Google reference. I would be grateful if you could give me a reference, or perhaps send me the text of the poem.

Re: Maria Nuñez and Raleigh's ode

Date: 2008-03-12 04:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
I'm researching family history and discovered that Maria Nuñez was my 10th great-grandaunt.


I'm trying to find Sir Walter Raleigh's poem you mention "Ode to the beautiful Jewess". Sharona Fredrick knows nothing about it and I'm wondering where you found it.

If Sharonah Fredrick knows nothing about it, she did once and must have forgotten! I know nothing about the subject myself; this posting consist entirely of notes I took at Dr Fredrick's talk at Limmud.


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