Conversion & Family

I recently presented my paper “Genealogical Inheritance and the Question of Morisco Children” at the Early Modern Conversions conference (22-25 August 2018; McGill University, Montréal). I’ve been intrigued by the reappearing themes of family and children in my research over the past two years as postdoctoral fellow with the EMC team. This small, interdisciplinary conference (the final “team meeting” of our five-year project!) provided a friendly place to reflect upon these connections.

I began my paper with a brief discussion of the complex relationship between belief and practice in the sixteenth-century Spanish kingdoms with particular reference to the Moriscos. Moriscos were Iberian Muslims forcibly converted to Catholicism beginning in 1502, along with their descendants, who were expelled from the Spanish Kingdoms in the early seventeenth century.

My paper illustrated how matters of family remained centrally important in understanding how conversion could work or be undermined. Ties of kinship and marriage between Moriscos and segregated residential areas were perceived as impediments to their social assimilation and religious conversion as Catholics. Morisca mothers were suspected of teaching their children Islamic customs and beliefs within the home and Morisco parents were accused of never taking their children to church or marrying them to Old Christians. Morisco lineage was decisive, too, as descendants of Muslims were perceived as having impure genealogy (measured by their blood purity, or limpieza de sangre). And throughout this era, there were ongoing debates over the Moriscos’ genealogical inheritance and the question of what to do with Morisco children.

My research considers these issues by asking:

  • how religious and government leaders attempted to enforce Morisco religious conversion and social conformity by controlling Morisco children and separating Morisco families.
  • about the clash between the endurance of hope in next generation of converts and the ultimate rejection of Moriscos from Spanish Catholic society.
  • and about the language used in a wide range of sources to describe ancestry, lineage, inheritance, and early concepts of race. (The next phase of my research will build on my current work by considering how identifying and categorizing Morisco lineage and status related to the wider construction of racialized categories of difference in the early Spanish empire. I’ll undertake this work as Junior Research Fellow in Spanish History at Exeter College, Oxford University, beginning September 2019.)

In this paper, I presented two sets of examples from my recent research for thinking about conversion and family. The first was the liberation of enslaved Morisco children. Many Granadan Moriscos were enslaved during the Second War of the Alpujarras (1568-70). King Philip II declared the captivity of Morisco minors to be illegal and ordered manumitted Morisco youth be placed as servants in the homes of Old Christian families and ecclesiastics. This law was intended as a mechanism for conversion by bringing liberated Morisco children into Catholic society, keeping them separated from their families while they were educated and assimilated. This is the topic of my article “Litigating for Liberty: Enslaved Morisco Children in Sixteenth-Century Valladolid” (available in RQ 70,4), which I also discuss in a recent podcast.

The second example I presented was how debates over families and children were central to the expulsion of the Moriscos in the early seventeenth century; I wrote article (currently under peer review) on the topic of Morisco non-conformism that considers this issue. Belief in the potential of the conversion of Morisco children endured during the expulsion, and I find evidence of this in opinions submitted by and to the Council of State. This hope was usually contingent on separating Morisco children from their families and communities. As in the case of Granadan minors liberated from captivity, the retention of Morisco children in the custody of Old Christians at the time of the expulsion aimed at their assimilation and conversion.

Presenters were invited to submit posters for a group exhibit. You can find the full conference program and poster collection on the EMC website. Here’s mine:

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The past two years as Early Modern Conversions postdoc have gone by very quickly! Getting to do this job has been a real gift to my work. I extend sincere thanks to team leader Paul Yachnin, my postdoc supervisor José Jouve-Martin, Marie-Claude Felton and Stephen Wittek, and to all of my colleagues in this project for supporting and enriching my scholarship.