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Why Were Spanish Clergymen In The New World So Often At Odds With Each Other Notes

History Notes > The Spanish Conquest and Colonisation of the New World Notes

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Why were Spanish clergymen in the New World so often at odds with each other?
100 Word Summary Extrapolating continent-wide trends from the accounts of de Landa and others, it would seem that clergymen were at odds violently and non-violently. Sometimes this was due to a difference of conversion technique. The crowding of rival factions, papal expansion of regular power and royal favour of secular clergy all created grounds for dispute. However, 'spectacular' opposition was very limited and the Inquisition seem to have remained relatively unbiased. Essay To determine the reasons for the Spanish clergymen's being at odds with one another, an investigation must first be made to define the parameters of the enquiry. "So often" suggests that the spates were near-universal, perpetual and recurrent with little peace in between. "At odds" is more problematic. Are we to take this as meaning actual physical violence between different wings of the Church, which certainly occurred? If so, the frequency of being "at odds" is significantly smaller than if we were to include the insult-exchanges, arguments, legal petitions and letters of complaint sent to the Crown in Spain which characterised religious tension in the New World. Therefore this essay shall take "at odds" to include both paramilitary action on the one hand, and those more pacific actions on the other. Whilst not universally applicable, Diego de Landa's Account of the Affairs of the Yucatan are to a degree emblematic of a number of the conflicts that took place all throughout the Indies, although perhaps on a more dramatic scale than elsewhere. Whilst a Provincial Franciscan operating in Yucatan, de Landa found that "the sons of chiefs (supposedly the most converted strata of Indian society) returned to the worship of their idols and began to offer sacrifices of human blood"1. It seems that the reversion of the caciques' sons to idolatry hit de Landa like a betrayal, and his Western revulsion for blood sacrifices clearly coloured both this account, and his reaction. In his own words Many friars carried out an investigation an apprehended many and brought them to trial. Many were set upon scaffolds, whipped and shorn. Others hanged themselves 2

Aware that his account might be read by Spaniards of some standing and without experience of the New World, and afraid that their reaction could damage his career or threaten his freedom, de Landa's explanation of this investigation seriously minimises the extent of his actions. In fact, on his orders many thousands of Mayan tablets, idols and disinterred bodies were publicly burnt, whilst a sizable chunk of the aristocracy of Mani, Sotuta, Hocaba-Homun and Merida were arrested and prepared for execution. The first Bishop of Yucatan, Fray Francisco Toral, was originally a Franciscan like de Landa but now represented the Secular Clergy. It is no surprise that he reacted badly to de Landa's actions, which were so infamous as to help create the Black Legend. De Landa describes how his friars and the bishop came to be at odds - "on account of the information given to him by the Spaniards and the complaints of the Indians, he undid everything the friars had done and ordered the release of the

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The Affairs of the Yucatan, Diego de Landa, p.62 Idem

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