The Black Legend…poor Spain

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I would introduce myself as the new writer on the block but I’ll just jump right in.

The writing of history is an interpretation of what has already been written therefore some historians seem to reconstruct the past to reproduce a new understanding of the past with the knowledge of their sources while others continue to write and keep the past a fresh wound for some, letting history become a destructive force, causing debates and leaving destruction in its wake. History was written by the winners, at least, the history we know.

Let’s look at Spain for an example,  16th century.

Spain gained an horrid reputation in the 16th century for their colonial brutality in the Americas during the period as well as the reception of the Inquisition keeping Spain religiously pure; Catholic. The Black Legend (La leyenda negra) was a term coined by Juderias  in the 1900s  trying to defend the Spaniards.

Historiography permanently taints the reputation of a nation leaving it to be consistently seen in negative light despite its positive achievements and advances. Still looking at Spain, but let’s pan the lens and look at the rest of Europe.

I’m looking at you England, Hi, Germany, France please don’t believe I’ve forgotten you. England, you great and wonderful creature, murderer of wives and cousins, please explain why King Henry VIII is a celebrated part of your history with his track record of simply executing wives and onto the next, granted, he only beheaded two, the sultry Anne Boleyn (found in an early post) and young Katherine Howard.

Queen Elizabeth, our golden virgin Queen, murderer of Mary Queen of Scots to secure her throne, feeling threatened by the Scot. (Anyone watched Reign? I recommend it for a historically inaccurate laugh)

Back to Spain, the Spaniards stood alongside the rest of Europe such as burning witches when the the English and French burning them thus showing they were not so different to their neighbours and do not deserve the title and blackening of culture that they are given, such as the fact that they are represented in texts as “other countries”  rather than shown to be signified the way the French and Italians are.

The perception of Spain being intolerant, cruel and tyrannical as Europe held them to be shows an exaggerated version of their actions and began with its their own people, Bartolome de las Casas, who first wrote of their actions which was then copied and spread and held against them.

Bartolome de Las Casas, a sixteenth century historian wrote the accounts of the Spanish in the Americans, titling it A short Account of the Destruction of the Indies which gave an instant spark the fire against the Spanish as he focuses on the atrocities committed by those who voyaged into the new world- Christopher Columbus whom his son travelled with, however he states his purpose for writing and to whom he is writing to, the next King, King Charles, concerned for Spain religiousness and for the native people showing it was not just made to be a criticism of his people as Europe have taken it to be, turned into a weapon against his people, used in a propaganda war that Felipe refrained from entering resulting to a negative and devastatingly one-sided view of the reputation for his nation for many years to come.

What did Spain do to deserve this?

Spain rose to power which bought about a resentment and envy from the rest of Europe about their political and military hegemony. The legend was born as propaganda used by Northern protestant Europe to justify their ambitions which opposed Catholic Spain. Gibson Charles and Wayne Powell define the legend to be a tradition of propaganda where Spanish imperialism and its people are regarded as cruel tyrannical and exploitative and it is with this view that we know the Spaniards.

The rise of Spain was also fought with divisions within the religious sphere, Felipe II tried to hold Europe to a Catholic unity which is considered to be exemplified by his policies with the Protestant English and Dutch, this played a massive part in the creation of fear and hatred towards the Spanish across Europe, with the Protestant nations choreographing extensive webs in their portrayal of not just the current King, but of the land itself. Portraying King Felipe II to be cruel and tyrannical.

The rise of Spain was also fought with divisions within the religious sphere, Felipe II tried to hold Europe to a Catholic unity which is considered to be exemplified by his policies with the Protestant English and Dutch, this played a massive part in the creation of fear and hatred towards the Spanish across Europe, with the Protestant nations choreographing extensive webs in their portrayal of not just the current King, but of the land itself. Portraying King Felipe II to be cruel and tyrannical.

The decline of Spanish power in Europe however, was blamed solely on external sources, from the early centuries where they chose to show how both domestic and foreigners sought to ruin the greatness of Spain and play down the successes of its history, resorting to holding them back with a demonized and negative version of their colonial power which Judrias supports as the cause of why Spain is considered a backwards nation. Despite this, many modern scholars such as Alfredo Alvar believe that the black legend is Spain’s perception of how the world views their history.

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “The Black Legend…poor Spain

  1. Just a comment about Elizabeth I. If we are going to accuse her of being a ‘murderer’, let’s be objective and admit Mary Queen of Scots was hardly an innocent. She was almost certainly a murderer too- of her husband Darnley, the father of her child, and possibly others. This is the woman whose reign proved so controversial, her own people cast her out of her Kingdom. So let’s remember that when we start getting all sanctimonious.

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