REVEALING THE OTHER: MORISCOS, CRIME, AND LOCAL POLITICS IN TOLEDO'S HINTERLAND IN THE LATE SIXTEENTH-CENTURY
Author: Berco, Cristian
Source: Medieval Encounters, Volume 8, Numbers 2-3, 2002 , pp. 135-159(25)
Abstract:This study examines the treatment of Moriscos in local secular courts as a barometer of their situation in late sixteenth-century Castile. Focusing on a 1575 criminal case in the Toledan village of Yebenes where three Morisco men were accused, and eventually acquitted, of murdering a Christian child found dead in a well, it argues that the impulse to discriminate against them based on prevailing constructions of Moriscos as "others" was diluted in the more urgent concerns of local politics and jurisdiction. Thus, while the national context of the Alpujarras revolt, increased fears of Morisco criminal activity, and growing inquisitorial vigilance over Islamic practices signalled greater government preoccupation with the Morisco problem, jurisdictional conflicts between Toledo and its dependent villages coupled with communal divisions regarding the role of Moriscos in village life subsumed the potential prejudice against the Moriscos and allowed for their acquittal. Although this criminal case might be seen as a mere anomaly in a larger trend towards increased intolerance of Moriscos that would result in the expulsion of 1609, this study argues that the fate of minorities in secular courts might provide greater nuance to a model that has become dogmatically teleological. Because the Inquisition, by its very nature, focused on cultural and religious divergences from orthodoxy, the prevailing use of its sources to examine attitudes towards Moriscos practically guarantees the emergence of a model of otherness rooted in the cultural differences between Moriscos and Old Christians. The largely untapped records of secular courts, on the other hand, might prove a better source for the task because civil courts had no special mandate or interest in addressing issues of religious difference and were thus devoid of an institutionalized drive towards cultural discrimination.
Document Type: Research article
Publication date: 2002-12-01