Virginia Company's meager stores depleted, Captain John Smith found
himself forced to turn to the Powhatans and their neighbors for relief.
Recalling some years later the urgency that had compelled his 1607 expedition
up the Chicahominy ("where hundreds of savages in diverse places
stood with their baskets expecting his coming"), Smith wrote in
the Generall Historie of Virginia,
"The Spaniard never more greedily desired gold than he victual,
nor his soldiers more to abandon the country than he to keep it"
time England's first sustainable colony had been established at Jamestown,
the meta-narrative now known as "the Black Legend of Spanish Cruelty"
had become firmly embedded in European consciousness. So broadly disseminated
were the tales of Spain's New World atrocitiesespecially those
describing the extremes to which the conquistadores
had been willing to go in order to coerce precious metals from the various
Amerindian nations they had encounteredthat few readers could
have failed to register the gravity of Smith's condition. With the merest
allusion to the greed of the Spaniard, Smith could count upon an instant
nod of recognition among his English readership. For by the turn of
the seventeenth century there existed a no more potent sign of Spain's
true intentions than its legendary thirst for gold.
published in Theodor de Bry's America
Pars Quarta (1594), is surely the boldest restatement of the
topos. In this strikingly graphic representation, probably crafted by
the Huguenot artist Jacques Le Moyne de Mourges, vindictive Amerindians
lay exemplary punishment upon captured Spanish soldiers, forcing them
to drink the molten gold they so shamelessly coveted, literalizing their
appetite for the precious metal in such a way as to provide the Iberians
their poetical just deserts.
a reputation for greed had been circulating with accounts of Spain's
New World exploits at least as early as Peter Martyr's De
Orve Nobo Decades (1516), during much of the sixteenth century
ethical concerns regarding Spanish excesses tended to recede before
the magnitude of the American conquest itself. The acknowledged odds
against which the Iberians prevailed had provoked extreme means. The
stunning successes associated with Spain's imperial missionmost
notably, the incredible enlargement of its New World dominions and the
seemingly endless quantities of gold and silver that it brought to the
European bullion marketwere often read as visible signs of the
nation's heavenly favor.
the success of Iberia's mission to extend the boundaries of Christendomwith
Spain adding vast territories in America even as Portugal established
new colonies in Africa and Asiaprovided a number of visible signs
indicating the peninsula's heavenly favor. Alejo Fernañdez's
Virgin of the Navigators (ca. 1535) may be the fullest statement
of the approved Spanish ideology, which might be called "the White
Legend of Spain's Imperial Election." Here Columbus, Magellan,
and the others who so famously embarked under the flag of Aragon and
Castile-Leon, gather around an immense figure of the Madonna. Straddling
the seas, the Virgin unites the continents. Around the Virgin gather
figures of Amerindians who have been brought from pagan darkness to
the light of Roman Catholic Christianity by the navigators who have
set sail in her name. In the official view, this most glorifies Spain:
the enlargement of the corporate body of the Church through the conversion
of millions of Indian souls. Gold and riches are but the earthly signs
of the heavenly favor gained by Spain's propagation of the Holy Faith
(or La Santa Fé), which
was seen to offset the loss of so many souls to the Mohammedan antichrist
(and later to the Protestant one).
mid-sixteenth century, however, the astonishing depopulation of Spain's
American kingdoms had inspired a public reassessment of its colonial
legacy. Scholastic disputations, like those entered into by Bartolomé
de Las Casas and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda at Valladolid
in 1550, openly raised questions concerning the morality and the legality
of Iberian claims in the New World. The Black Legend began to enter
pan-European religio-political discourse with the translation into the
northern vernaculars of polemics generating this context, the most important
of which was Las Casas' Brevissima
Relación de la Destruyción de las Yndias (1552).
other texts contributed to the dissemination of La
leyenda negra; Girolamo Benzoni's History
of the New World (1565) and the well-known Discovery
and Playne Declaration of the Sundry and Subtill Practices of the Holy
Inquisition of Spayne of Gonsalvius Montanus (which had appeared
in English translation by 1568) were two other important fonts. But
it was the language of Las Casas that would surface again and again
in early modern anti-Spanish diatribes.
of the Brevissima Relación
as The Spanish Colonie, or Briefe Chronicle
of the Acts and Gestes of the Spaniardes in 1583, a full thirty
years after its publication in Spain, marks a
pivotal moment in one of the most successful propaganda campaigns ever
carried out. As the Brevissima Relación
is translated, printed, and re-printed in contexts far removed from
that of its initial publication, the acts it recorded gave rise to the
Hispanophobic typology that David J. Weber in The
Spanish Frontier in North America has described as "the
inherited . . . view that Spaniards were unusually cruel, avaricious,
treacherous, fanatical, superstitious, cowardly, corrupt, decadent,
indolent, and authoritarian" (Weber 336). The ensuing cultural
stereotype recast Las Casas' critique of the ethics
of the conquest as the natural consequence of America's having been
devastated by a people of Spanish ethnicity.
According to this new ethnic calculus, Spain was the only European country
capable of such a holocaust.
of allegiance became more clearly drawn in the religious wars that rocked
France, Germany, and the Low Countries, militant Protestants were quick
to recognize the educational value of arguments like that made in the
The key figure in the conversion of Las Casas' reflexive condemnation
of his own nation's "more than Turkish cruelty" into highly
effective anti-Spanish propaganda was William I of Orange, the Prince
of Nassau. Written during the Orange's dynastic struggle with Philip
II (over the Northern kingdoms the latter had inherited through his
father, Charles V), the widely circulated Apology
[or Defense] Against the Proclamation and Edict Published by the King
of Spaine (most of which was probably written by Pierre Loyseleur)
made explicit, among other horrors, a connection between Spanish colonizing
practices in the New World and the atrocities Orange's own subjects
experienced under the Hapsburg yoke.
Orange's Apology laid the foundations
for a rhetorical strategy that explained the acts of cruelty experienced
by his subjects as a function of the ethnicity
of the Spanish perpetrators: "I will no more wonder," wrote
the Dutch prince, "at that which all the worlde beleeveth, to witte,
that the greatest parte of the Spanyardes, and especially those, that
coounte themselves Noble men, are of the blood of the Moores and Jews,
who also keepe this virtue of their Auncestors, who solde for readie
money downe tolde, the life of our Saviour, which thing also, maketh
me to take patientlie this injurie layde upon me" (William I Sig.
O2r). Nassau's rhetorical slide from the matter of his own "injurie"
(Hapsburg rejection of his nation's secession from the empire of the
Hapsburgs) into the mire of ethnic essentialism is easily observed:
the mixed blood of Iberian culture becomes a sign of both religious
and racial corruption. This essentialized view of Spanish ethnicity
characterizes the Black Legend in its most fully realized and virulent
Spain's entanglements in the Low Countries motivated much Black Legend
discourse, two additional contexts were also important to its development.
Foremost among these (from an English perspective) was the Portuguese
succession crisis of the early 1580s. By the final two decades of the
sixteenth century, Spanish interventions in the Low Countries and the
growth of Spain's New World dominions had become bound up with a more
immediate concern. With Philip II's assumption of the Portuguese throne
following the death of King Sebastian I in North Africa, the empire
of "the Spains," as the united Iberian kingdoms had begun
to fashion themselves, suddenly doubled in scale. Europe's two great
transoceanic powers had begun to work in concert, becoming the first
empire known to history as one upon which the sun never set. It was
this Luso-Hispanic incorporation that made the Armada of 1588 feasible;
Lisbon became the port at which the combined navies of Spain and Portugal
could muster in order to undertake Philip's "Enterprise of England."
Once again, a fortuitous turn of events evidenced Spain's heavenly favor.
As had the gift of New World dominions, the deliverance of the throne
of Portugal to Philip II confirmed Spanish imperial election of the
kind rendered in Fernández's The
Virgin of the Navigators even as it gave Roman Catholics throughout
Europe hope that the revolt of the Protestant north might soon be quelled.
to the Portuguese context, French dynastic and religio-political struggles
also factor into the Black Legend's development. Just as the Prince
of Nassau had invoked both antichristian typologies and New World atrocities
in an effort to solicit the support of Protestants abroad, so too had
the Huguenots in France begun to draw attention to Spain's New World
tyrannies in order to suggest that outrages committed by the House of
Valois and the Catholic League (such as the 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day
Massacre) similarly had been hatched in Spain. Much in the manner of
Orange's Apology, many of these
polemics were framed in ethnic terms. With their focus on what Las Casas
had called "the true nature of these Spaniards (who would attack
and rob the Devil himself if he had gold about his person)"
the contours of the Black Legend had been fully forged (Las Casas,
wake of the Armada crisis of the late 1580s, English presses began increasingly
to draw upon a range of Continental anti-Spanish discourses in their
efforts to turn public opinion against Spain once and for all. The propaganda
surge of the 1590s produced the legend that would go on to have an exceedingly
long shelf-life in the Anglo-American world. Faced with rumors of a
second Armada in the making, continuing Spanish designs for the liberation
of Ireland, and threats of a new Spanish alliance with the Catholic
faction in Scotland (as well as increasing internal unrest brought on
by agricultural famine and the succession crisis that Elizabeth I's
advancing age made imminent), English polemicists and propagandists
turned out an astonishing number of Hispanophobic titles. In these tracts,
the concerns of the pre-Armada yearsabout Spain's hubristic political
ambition, propensity toward matrimonial maneuvering, and its over-enthusiastic
Roman Catholic religiosityhad been joined to a new discourse of
ethnicity; the root of this collection of evils had been located in
the racial character of Iberia. The Spaniard mixed Visigothic, Moorish,
and Hebrew ancestry. By this calculation, Spain was less
irreversibly demonized Spain had become in the popular imagination,
attitudes among those who were active in the promotion of English colonial
expansion were still deeply ambivalent. As in the writings of Hakluyt
and Raleigh, who had continued to marvel at the magnitude of Iberia's
colonial achievement even as they sought to undermine it, this ambivalence
can be read in the brief anecdote from The
Generall Historie quoted at the beginning of this essay. For
although Captain Smith had invoked in one breath the well-known Spanish
desire for gold in order to figure the profound depths of his own literal
hunger, he also implied a Spanish solution to the Virginia Company's
difficulties in another.
recognition of his soldiers' temptation "to abandon the country"
and his own determination to keep it, John Smith seems to have been
placing himself on a par with the archetypal conquistador
Hernán Cortéz, who had so legendarily mustered the will
to found New Spain, not only against all odds but against the judgement
of his own less-determined countrymen (who would have preferred the
possiblity of a safe return to Cuba over scuttling their fleet at Vera
Cruz). In New World matters especially, Spain remained at this early
stage of English imperial aspiration not only a measure of colonial
excess, but a model for colonial success as wellas indeed it would
throughout the period of European global expansion.
Suggestions For Further Reading
Hakluyt, Richard. The
Original Writings and Correspondence of the Two Richard Hakluyts.
2 Vols. Edited by E.G.R. Taylor. London: Hakluyt Society, 1935.
Las Casas, Bartolomé de. The
Spanish Colonie, or a Briefe Chronicle of the Acts and Gestes of the
Spaniardes. London: 1583.
Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. Edited by Anthony
Pagden. Translated by Nigel Griffin. London: Penguin Books, 1992.
Loyseleur, Pierre. An
Apology or Defense of My Lord the Prince of Orange . . . Against the
Proclamation and Edict Published by the King of Spaine. Delft:
The Decades of the newe worlde or west india, etc. In The
First Three English books on America. Edited by Edward Arber.
Translated by Richard Eden. Birmingham: 1885.
Smith, John. Captain
John Smith: A Select Edition of His Writings. Edited by Karen
Ordahl Kupperman. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.
. "The General History of Virginia,
New England and the Summer Isles." In The
Complete Works of Captain John Smith (1580-1631). Edited by Philip
L. Barbour. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.
Elliott, J. H. The
Old World and the New, 1492-1650. New York: Cambridge University
Gibson, Charles. The
Black Legend: Anti-Spanish Attitudes in the Old World and the New.
New York: Alfred Knopf, 1971.
Griffin, Eric. "Un-sainting James: Othello
and the 'Spanish Spirits' of Shakespeare's Globe," Representations
62 (1998): 58-100.
. "'But wherefore blot I Bel-Imperia's
name?': Ethos, Empire, and the Valiant Acts of Thomas Kyd's Spanish
Tragedy." English Literary
Renaissance 31 (2001).
Hadfield, Andrew. Literature,
Travel, and Colonial Writing in the English Renaissance. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
La Leyenda Negra: Estudios Acerca del Concepto de España en el
Extranjero. Barcelona: Casa Editorial Araluce, 1929.
Maltby, William. The
Black Legend in England: The Development of Anti-Spanish Sentiment,
1558-1660. Durham: Duke University Press, 1971.
Pagden, Anthony. European
Encounters in the New World. New Haven: Yale University Press,
Parmellee, Lisa Ferraro. 'Good
Newes from Fraunce': French Anti-League Propaganda in Late Elizabethan
England. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 1996.
Powell, Philip Wayne. Tree
of Hate: Propaganda and Prejudice Affecting United States Relations
with the Hispanic World. New York: Basic Books, 1971.
Retamar, Roberto Fernández. "Against
the Black Legend." In Caliban
and Other Essays. Translated by Edward Baker. Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 1989.
Sanchez, Joseph P. The
Spanish Black Legend/La Leyenda Negra Española: Origins of Anti-
Hispanic Stereotypes/Orígenes de los estereotipos antihispánicos.
Albuquerque: National Park Service, 1990.
Weber, David J. The
Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven: Yale University