The People of Gibraltar

1474 - Pedro de Herrera - Gibraltar for Sale

Pedro de Cordoba aka Pedro de Herrera was feeling somewhat nervous. Which was unusual. He was normally a confident and resourceful man, an acknowledged leader of his community in Cordoba and, under the useful protection of Don Alfonso de Aquilar, one of the most powerful noblemen of 15th century Spain. Somebody once described Pedro as:
. . . no poco gravedad en el semblante, suavidad al hablar y en la convivencia  una  bondad  digna de elogio; y si surgía  alguna dificultad, Alfonso (de Aguilar) esperaba de él una solución más fácil, por el peso de estas cualidades . . 1
The 'solución' was invariably a question of finding finance for Alfonso's expensive projects. It was the kind of problem somebody like Pedro usually found it reasonably easy to solve.


A fanciful view of the harbour and Rock of Gibraltar  (1680s - Peter Van der Velde )

But on that particular day, Pedro's nervousness had nothing to do with money - it stemmed from his lack of negotiating success with the person sitting in front of him - Don Enrique de Guzmán y Fonseca, Duke of Medina Sidonia and the Count of Niebla - a man who was himself also once described as:
   . . . gallardo mancebo, aunque de espirito avaro y viciosamente educado entre halagos y placeres, tan contrarios a la virtud; porque su padre, muy dado a los delitos, le amó siempre con exceso . . . 2
This attempt at character assassination would have left Enrique cold. Quite apart from being the 2nd Duke of Medina Sidonia and the IV Count of Niebla he was also one of the most powerful men in Andalucía with personal fiefdoms in Sanlúcar, Huelva, Ayamonte, Puerto de Santa Maria, Lepe, Chiclana, Vejer and many others. ( see LINK

But it was from Conil and Tarifa that most of the money came from. He was lucky to own the old but very productive tuna fish almadrabas which his ancestor Alonso Perérez de Guzmán el Bueno had received for services rendered from his king, D. Sancho IV of Castile.
Que vos doy e hago merced de las almadrabas que agora son o seran de aqui adelante desde donde el rio Guadiana entra al mar, hasta toda la costa del reino de Granada. 

Processing Tuna in Conil - Fretum Herculaneum was the old name for the Straits of Gibraltar ( 1572 - Georgius Houfnaglius )

The almadrabas were famous throughout Spain as well as abroad. Salted tuna was exported to faraway places such as Italy and the fisheries were for many years one of the principle sources of income for the Guzmán family. At any given moment the family retained a standing army close to Conil simply as a precaution against Moorish raiders based in Gibraltar.

Some historians have suggested that the Guzman family obsession with the Rock was based on an understanding that the only way to defend their almadrabas from Moorish raids was to have full control over the Straits - and that could not be achieved without some sort of control over Gibraltar. Their worries were theoretically over after 1462 when the Moors were finally driven out of the Rock and the place itself became a possible source of further income for the family. ( see LINK

Unfortunately despite the best efforts of its new Christian owners the place was still considered as far too insecure to allow a stable population to settle there. Very few people seem to have believed that Enrique IV of Castile's generous privileges specifically aimed at populating the place by hook or by crook  would make any difference. ( see LINK ) Gibraltar was considered to be too open to further attacks and the only people who went  there and stayed for any length of time were either military men or temporary visitors. 

Things changed radically in 1469, when Enrique Pérez de Guzmán y Fonseca inherited the place from his father - the man  who had taken it by force during after the 8th siege of Gibraltar. Don Enrique may not have felt the same kind of affection for the place as his father had but he certainly made good economic use of it. 


The letter e from a page on an old manuscript. It probably represents Juan Alonso de Guzmán  y Suárez de Figueroa Orozco - Enrique's father -  finally retaking the Rock from the Moors   ( Unkonwn )

The old Atarazana in the Barcina area of old town became the family's main dockyard and was used for the repairs of their merchant fleet. The necessary timber brought in from nearby Castellar and Jimena. Some of the wood was also used to make barrels for the vineyards of Niebla, Sanlúcar and the campo area itself. The ropes for the almadraba nets were also manufactured in Gibraltar and esparto grass from the nearby Sierra Carbonera was used to manufacture baskets and other containers. 


Vineyards on the isthmus  ( 1712 - Van Keulen ) 

But despite its new found prosperity, there were still only around 1000 permanent residents - far too few to guarantee any proper defence. Some sort of solution was required especially as Enrique suspected that the residents were inclining  to the idea of returning Gibraltar to the crown. His keenness to avoid this from happening forced him to try to come up with a different solution.

Quite apart from all his many titles and town-owning rights, Enrique de Guzmán was also one of the most influential men in Seville where he had full control over the Castle of Triana, the Alcázar and the Dockyards.  It was in Seville that he developed a close relationship with the rich moneylenders and bankers who acted as tax collectors for the Crown. Almost all of them conversos. 


15th century Seville ( Unknown )

And that included Pedro de Herrera, the man who was sitting in front of him. Conversos were Jews who had theoretically reneged on their faith by allowing themselves to be baptised in order to become Christians. In the eyes of their Catholic counterparts many of them had done so simply in order to avoid persecution - which was probably true in many cases. The complex history of the Jewish population in Spain would be out of place in this article but a short resume is probably appropriate in order to understand what happened next.

During the 15th century there seems to have been a distinction in the minds of the Catholic aristocracy between the conversos of Castile and those of Andalucía. The truth was that many of these powerful overlords had been taught by faithful Jewish tutors who had often - ironically - become more anti-Jewish than themselves. An early 15th century bishop of both Cartagena and Burgos was Paulo de Santa Maria - aka Selemoh-ha Levi - a well-known Jewish converso.

Paulo de Santa Maria - aka Selemoh-ha Levi  ( Unknown )

Nevertheless it was firmly believed that those that lived in the south - particularly in Seville and Cordoba - were continuing to practice their religion privately. In 1391 there was a breakdown of law and order in Seville. The governor, Juan Alonso de Guzman y Osorio - by no coincidence Don Enrique's great grandfather - ordered the arrest of the ring-leaders. He was wasting his time. The mob continued on the rampage and murdered 4000 Jews. In Cordoba the scenes were repeated and another 2000 Jewish men, woman and children perished.

Understandably any Jew left standing in Cordoba after 1391 had to be a converso. By the mid 15th century they continued to dominate the textile and leather industries and anything to do with banking and finance - but they had never managed to recover from the effects of the massacre of 1391 and they were forced to live with the very real fear that there could very easily be a repeat performance in the near future.

Pedro de Hererra in particular was convinced that a second day of judgement was inevitable  - and that was why he was taking the risk of talking to the Don Enrique. In essence, he told the Duke,  he was acting as intermediary for his converso community of Cordoba. They were offering to buy Gibraltar from him - but only on the condition that he Pedro was given complete command over the Rock. He was wasting his time. 

Don Enrique's advisors had already warned him that it would not be a good idea to hand over such a strategic place into the hand of somebody who would almost certainly populate the place with conversos to the exclusion of 'old Christians'. Both the weather and the mood was cold tyhat winter's day when the two negotiators left each other without coming to any agreement.

Then during the Easter of 1473,  Pedro de Herrera's worst fears came to pass. During one of the procession somebody threw water from the window of a house which landed on a Virgin carried by some of the penitents. Rumour followed rumour, the water became urine, the window was that of a house owned by a converso, and the act itself a deliberate heretical attack against the Catholic church.


16th century Cordoba   (  Unknown )

The mob then went on the rampage, killing anybody they suspected of being a converso, setting fire to their houses and raping and pillaging as they went. Pedro de Herrera managed to escape and travelled to Seville in order to meet with Don Enrique a second time. It was an act of foolhardy recklessness. The riots and killings in Cordoba had extended themselves to Seville but Pedro was a determined man.

They met and his offer remained the same - he wanted Gibraltar and he wanted to be in sole command.  Once again the Duke's advisors insisted that he should refuse the offer. To make sure there was no misunderstanding they drew up a series of well thought out objections.

Militarily, they argued, the conversos were simply not up to the task - neither on land nor at sea. From a religious point of view it seemed likely that the conversos left to their own devices would revert to their Jewish traditions, in the process corrupting and perverting those Christian children who happened to be living on the Rock with them. Then the coup de grace - whoever authorised the sale would also have to be held responsible for the consequences. All three were powerful arguments at the time - but they were not good enough to sway Don Enrique who finally came to an agreement with Pedro de Herrera which could be summarised as follows. 

Pedro got what he wanted and became the overall commander making use of this power to appoint whatever alcaides or councillors he thought necessary. The town would be abandoned by those living in it at the time and would be replaced by conversos from  both Cordoba and Seville. These new inhabitants would be able to buy the properties abandoned by the people who were being forced out and would also be given permission to build new accommodation - all of this presumably at a price and all of it ending up in Enrique de Guzmáns already bulging pockets.

The new inhabitants would take over responsibility for the security of the town and would pay the salaries of both the foot soldiers and the cavalry. The Duke on the other hand would only be obliged to pay a nominal account which would be minute in comparison to the amounts that were paid to him each year by the crown and which were earmarked for the security of the place. All of which was set up to last for - at least - two years.

The agreement signed, 4350 conversos from Cordoba and Seville entered the empty town on the 14th of August 1474 and De Herrera immediately appointed the officials that would make up his administration. They were all friends of his from Cordoba. The Sevillian contingent protested, their protests were ignored and back to Seville they went leaving the town entirely populated by Cordoban conversos.


Bay of Gibraltar ( Unknown )

It could of course be argued that this was not the only reason they decided to leave. Gibraltar proved to be less of a paradise than they might have expected. The price of food proved impossibly expensive as were those for the recently vacated homes. It was also practically impossible to build new ones as there was a scarcity of building material. Despite all this the remaining new inhabitants persevered 

In 1475, the war between Castile and Portugal intervened and the Duke of Medina Sidonia involved himself - without any great enthusiasm and with even less success - in an expedition against the Portuguese outpost of Tangier. It was then  that for some reason or other Pedro de Herrero decided to pester Don Enrique to attack Ceuta, Portugal's second colony on the African coast opposite Gibraltar.

According to the 15th century author of the Crónicas of Enrique IV of Castile, Antonio de Palencia, himself a converso, Herrero's fervour for Ceuta was somewhat irrational to say the least. As almost all the evidence for the sale of the Gibraltar to the conversos comes from Palencia it might be useful to review what he had to say.

Herrera and others - including the Duke of Medina Sidonia - were swayed by two totally absurd and disconnected portents - the first the appearance of a phenomenally large whale off the coast of Portugal and the second that of the appearance of a proportionally even more phenomenally large eagle over Gibraltar. The details of this second portent  are dealt with at length by Palencia, but perhaps the most important aspect of these two inconsequential episodes is that they seem to have persuaded Don Enrique to give Ceuta a try.

Unfortunately for Pedro de Herrera the constant drip of anti-converso advice by the Duke's advisors as well as a persistent rumour that they intended to hand Gibraltar to the crown of Castile - eventually made him come round to the idea that it was time to get them out of Gibraltar. The fact that the two year agreement was about to expire and that he would once again be liable for the full amount needed for the security of the place must also have been a powerful incentive.

Soon after he had send his troops to Ceuta, the Duke together with a section of his cavalry visited Gibraltar under the pretext that he was paying the place a courtesy  visit. Pedro obsequiously opened the gates only to be immediately and  ignominiously deposed of his post as governor of after having also been accused of being a traitor

The old Crónicas are silent as to what happened next. Many of the conversos must have been forced to return to face an uncertain future in Cordoba. Not long after the exodus, on the 1st of January 1483 the Inquisition ordered all Jews to abandon Cordoba. By 1498 it could be said that the majority of those conversos that were burned at the stake in Andalucía were from either Cordoba or Seville. 


Expulsion of the Jews from Seville ( Unknown )

But there was no day of reckoning for Enrique de Guzmán. Queen Isabel must have been well aware of what had been going on in Gibraltar. She must have known how Enrique had been swindling the tax payers of Seville by pocketing most of the money earmarked for the defence of the Rock.  Instead of calling him to account she turned a blind eye and made him the Marquis of Gibraltar. At that particular juncture, she needed both his support - and his money.

This article would be incomplete without acknowledging Diego Lamelas Oladán from whose extensively researched work on the sale of Gibraltar much of the above article is taken.  Perhaps it would be fitting to end by quoting his own concluding paragraph. 
Gibraltar  . . ciudad que, sin duda, tiene un raro imán para el pueblo hebreo, como lo demuestra que, tan pronto como fue conquistada  por los ingleses  en 1704, acudieran a ella en masa no sólo sefarditas marroquíes descendientes  directos  de los expulsados  de España en  1492, sino también otros procedentes de países tan lejanos como Italia, Holanda  o Portugal . . . Descendientes  de todos ellos son los miembros de la floreciente comunidad hebrea de importancia clave en  la vida política y  económica de Gibraltar, uno de los cuales (desempeñó ) hasta el año 1988 el cargo de primer ministro de la colonia, por lo que podría decirse que era sucesor por más de un motivo de Pedro de Herrera. 
La  historia  abunda  en  esta  clase de ironías. 4