Blood and Gold, episode 2 -BBC 2


Word PressI said last week that the title of this series sounded very “1492 and all that”-ish, and this was the “1492 and all that episode”.  There ought to be more than three episodes in this series, really: the final episode’s got to cover everything from the Golden Age/Philip II/the Armada right up to the present day, all in the space of an hour!

So.  1492 and all that.  The completion of the Reconquista (with the fall of Granada) and the expulsion of the Muslims (the Moriscos, descendants of Islamic converts to Christianity, were expelled in 1609), the expulsion of the Jews, and Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas.  Strangely little attention was given to the unification of Aragon and Castile, which was a lot more complex than just the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella, and was a process which took many years … and is rather topical at the moment, with all this talk of Catalan independence.  And a lot of emphasis was put on the religious aspects of Columbus’ voyage, and perhaps too little on the power politics and commercial aspects – although there’ll probably be more talk next week about the Spanish Empire.  And the very valid point was made that El Cid was a mercenary who fought for both Christians and Muslims, depending on what suited, rather than being some sort of crusading Christian hero!

The real focus of this episode was the destruction of so much Jewish and Islamic culture, and the horrific persecution which followed for many years afterwards.  Even now, we tend to talk about “the Spanish Inquisition” rather than “the Inquisition”.  The attempts at hunting down those suspected of being crypto-Jews and, to a lesser extent, those suspected of being crypto-Muslims.  It’s one of the great Terrors of history, and can probably be spoken of in the same breath as Stalin’s reign of terror, Pol Pot’s reign of terror, and the Reign of Terror in revolutionary France.

Religious cleansing, for lack of a better expression, is something which, shockingly, we are now seeing again.  Across many parts of the Middle East and North Africa, and in other places, such as Chechnya, most of the Jews have left and many of the Christians are now leaving.  Sometimes it’s largely just because of a feeling of unease, as with the Jewish community of Morocco.  Sometimes it’s because of a growing sense of persecution, and sometimes acts of violence, as with both the Christian and Jewish communities of Egypt.  And now we’re getting very disturbing reports of the rape, torture and murder of Syrian and Iraqi Christians in areas controlled by Daesh/IS.  Over half a millennium on from the expulsion of the Jews and Moors of Castile and Aragon.

On a more cheerful note, the story of the crypto-Jews of Spain and the Spanish Empire – Simon Sebag Montefiore discovered that some members of his own family had gone to Mexico, although, tragically, at least two of them were hunted down there by the Inquisition and murdered in an auto-da -fe (burning at the stake) is quite fascinating: there are stories of Jewish practices being passed down through families for hundreds of years, whilst those practising them were outwardly practising Catholics.  But the destruction of the great Jewish and Islamic cultures of what we now know as Spain, and the persecution and murder of so many people, was a great tragedy.

Those were dark times.  There are reasons for the Black Legend.  But next week’s episode will take us up to the present day, and a Spain that’s a long way removed from 1492 and all that.




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