Book Project

The Morisco Problem and the Politics of Conversion in Early Modern Spain.

Manuscript in revision.

Moriscos were Spanish Muslims forcibly converted to Catholicism beginning in 1502, as well as their descendants, who were eventually expelled from the Spanish Kingdoms between 1609 and 1614. The Morisco problem was the failure of the early modern Spanish Crown and Church to assimilate the Moriscos into Catholicism in the wholesale and controlled manner desired by those institutions. Central to this problem was their identification: the determination of their individual and communal legal statuses and corresponding privileges, related but not equivalent to their religious “identities.”

My research focuses on two groups living in the Castilian city of Valladolid: Castilian Moriscos native to that region and Granadan Moriscos resettled there after 1570. I explore how Moriscos responded to religious prosecution and assimilationist policies with both legal action and noncompliance. This project is not a comprehensive history of the Moriscos; rather, it attends to a series of encounters between Moriscos and various Church and State institutions.

Chapter One, “The fight for the barrio,” looks at the Castilian Moriscos’ legal struggle to remain in their long-time residential enclave, Valladolid’s Barrio de Santa María. The second chapter, “Petitioning for Grace,” explains how they mitigated Inquisitorial prosecution by petitioning the king for Edicts of Grace and negotiating with the Inquisition an annual monetary tribute designed to protect their property from confiscation. Chapter Three, “Contested Relocations,” examines how Granadan Morisco deportees relocated to Valladolid challenged prohibitions on their mobility. The fourth chapter, “Litigating for Liberty,” focuses on Moriscos enslaved as children during the Granadan rebellion and war who later won their freedom in courts of law. The final chapter, “Resisting Expulsion,” shows how Moriscos resisted and disrupted the process of their final expulsion from the Spanish Kingdoms in 1609-1614.

This project’s critical intervention in the field is its focus on the textual record Moriscos generated through legal action, sources that include court records, leases, petitions and claims, tax settlements, licenses, passports, charters of Old Christian status, and letters of manumission. I argue that the identification of the Moriscos was a process of negotiation in which they themselves took part. This thesis challenges the traditional narrative of the marginalization of the Moriscos: for all the prosecution and prohibitions they faced as suspected heretics and dissidents, these documents tell a tale of significant economic industry, civic integration, and legal agency.