Black Legend: Wikis


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The Black Legend (Spanish: La Leyenda Negra) is a term coined by Julián Juderías in his 1914 book La leyenda negra y la verdad histórica (The Black Legend and Historical Truth) in reference to the world's Hispanophobia in the Early Modern period, resulting in the perception of Spain and Spaniards as "cruel", "intolerant" and "fanatical". It is thus understood as an example of national demonization.

The Black Legend is said to be influenced by national and religious rivalries as seen in works by early Protestant historians and Anglo-Saxon writers, describing the period of Spanish imperialism in a negative way. Other examples of the Black Legend are said to be found in the exaggeratedly negative portrayals of the Inquisition in both historiography and popular culture, and the villains and storylines of modern fiction and film.

The Black Legend and the nature of Spanish colonization of the Americas including contributions to civilization in Spain's colonies have also been discussed by Spanish writers, from Góngora's Soledades until the Generation of '98.

Inside Spain, the Black Legend has also been used by regionalists of non-Castilian regions of Spain as a political weapon against the central government or Spanish nationalism. Modern historians and some political parties have alleged the existence of a White Legend, an attempt to describe Spain's history in a more positive way, sometimes associated with Spanish nationalistic politics and with Francisco Franco's dictatorial regime.



The creator of the term, Julián Juderías, described it in 1914 in his book La Leyenda Negra[1] as

the environment created by the fantastic stories about our homeland that have seen the light of publicity in all countries, the grotesque descriptions that have always been made of the character of Spaniards as individuals and collectively, the denial or at least the systematic ignorance of all that is favorable and beautiful in the various manifestations of culture and art, the accusations that in every era have been flung against Spain.

The second classic work on the topic is Historia de la Leyenda Negra hispanoamericana (1943; History of the Hispanoamerican Black Legend),[3] by Rómulo D. Carbia. While Juderías dealt more with the beginnings of the legend in Europe, the Argentine Carbia concentrated on America. Thus, Carbia gave a broader definition of the concept:

The legend finds its most usual expression, that is, its typical form, in judgments about cruelty, superstition, and political tyranny. They have preferred to see cruelty in the proceedings that were undertaken to implant the Faith in America or defend it in Flanders; superstition, in the supposed opposition by Spain to all spiritual progress and any intellectual activity; and tyranny, in the restrictions that drowned the free lives of Spaniards born in the New World and to whom it seemed that they were enslaved indefinitely.

After Juderías and Carbia, many other authors have defined and employed the concept.

Philip Wayne Powell, in his book Tree of Hate, also defines the Black Legend:

An image of Spain circulated through late sixteenth-century Europe, borne by means of political and religious propaganda that blackened the characters of Spaniards and their ruler to such an extent that Spain became the symbol of all forces of repression, brutality, religious and political intolerance, and intellectual and artistic backwardness for the next four centuries. Spaniards … have termed this process and the image that resulted from it as ‘The Black Legend,’ la leyenda negra"

One recent author, Fernández Álvarez, has defined a Black Legend more broadly:

"the careful distortion of the history of a nation, perpetrated by its enemies, in order to better fight it. And a distortion as monstrous as possible, with the goal of achieving a specific aim: the moral disqualification of the nation, whose supremacy must be fought in every way possible.


Spanish Inquisition

Exaggerations about the Spanish Inquisition have been one of the main elements of the Black Legend since its origin. Its incorporation into anti-Spanish works dates from the sixteenth century, a time of strong Anglo-Spanish and Protestant-Catholic rivalry. Criticisms of the Spanish Inquisition were first written by Protestant authors such as Englishman John Foxe, a polemicist who published the Book of Martyrs in 1554, and the controversial Spanish convert Reginaldo González de Montes, author of Exposición de algunas mañas de la Santa Inquisición Española (Exposition of some methods of the Holy Spanish Inquisition) (1567).

The fabricated legend depicts the Spanish Inquisition as cruel and bloodthirsty. The image of moats, chains, cries and rooms of torture is usually attached to it with the intention of creating a sense of mysticism and evil. The myth of thousands of Jews, Muslims, Protestants and non-Catholics being tortured and murdered in the dungeons of the institution by Dominican friars is part of this propaganda.

In fact, similar religious institutions existed in other parts of Europe, such as the Roman Inquisition and the Portuguese Inquisition. The first such institution was the Medieval Inquisition, created in the 12th century.

Legally, the inquisition only had jurisdiction over Catholics and claimed no authority over Jews or Muslims. However, a person who had been baptized into the Catholic faith who was found to be secretly practicing Jewish or Muslim customs was still considered to be a Catholic culpable of heresy - and punishable under the law. Like similar European policies before and after the 15th century, the Alhambra Decree removed the Jews from Spain in 1492, while a decree in 1515 removed the last Muslims.

Spanish colonization of the Americas

The European colonization of the Americas disrupted the civilization of indigenous peoples of the Americas and used African slaves for their plantations in the New world. The Spanish conquered vast areas of North, Central and South America, and like other European powers, were involved in the Atlantic slave trade. However, certain differences in the objectives and motivations of the Spanish Crown in America, as opposed to other European monarchies, are often omitted in historical texts. Such omissions are said to be part of the Black Legend which demonized Spanish colonial activity in the New World.

One of Spain's primary endeavours of colonial expansion was to bring Christianity to native peoples. Kings such as Philip II dedicated large resources to sending missionaries and building churches in America and the Philippines. The Black Legend is said to ignore this fact, as well as to depict the conversion of native peoples under Spanish rule in a brutal and violent manner. Such exaggerations are contrasted by Spanish directives aimed at recognising the rights of natives. One of these early directives was Queen Isabella I's Last Will that solemnly ordered the colonial authorities treat American natives with respect and dignity. Although such policies were sometimes not enforced, the recognition of native rights put Spain at the historical vanguard of modern natural and international law. The legitimacy of imperialism was also questioned in the works of Spanish scholars themselves, such as the School of Salamanca and the accounts of Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas. Las Casas' recapitulation of the conquistadors' excesses was widely distributed, but was criticized by those who thought the author had grossly exaggerated.[7]. Las Casas could have started what eventually became the "Black Legend", creating a stereotypical image of both Spaniards and Indians.[8] Scholars now believe that, among the various contributing factors, epidemic disease was the overwhelming cause of the population decline of the Native Americans because of their lack of immunity to new diseases brought from Europe.[9] In this regard, Spain sent to its American domains, as early as 1803, the Balmis expedition, a humanitarian expedition to distribute the smallpox vaccine.

Another difference is that Spain and Portugal, in a policy similar to the French in Canada, approved and even encouraged interracial marriages in their colonies in order to support demographic growth, whereas British and Dutch authorities banned such marriages and considered them immoral.[10] Such racist policies continued centuries later in former British and Dutch colonies like the United States, where racial segregation and anti-miscegenation laws existed until the 1960s, and in South Africa where Apartheid lasted until the 1990s. These differences are usually ignored in historical texts that criticize Spanish policies in America. Such omissions are also considered part of the Black Legend.


From the thirteenth century, the Crown of Aragon dominated Naples and Sicily, laying the foundations for a widespread resentment of Aragonese dominance. The reputation of the Aragonese pope, Alexander VI Borgia, assumed an almost mythical villainy. Countless legends and traditions attached to his name, and Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere dismissed him as, "Catalan, marrano and circumcised".

According to Sverker Arnoldsson, Italian criticisms of the Spanish derived not only from economic and political concerns, but also from prejudices over culture. Sverker Arnoldson also states that with the insults by the Italian pope, Paul IV, the Italians demonstrated an inferiority complex in the face of a victorious, conquering and powerful neighbor nation.

In his book Tree of Hate, Philip Wayne Powell describes how the Black Legend developed in different European countries, such as Germany, France, Holland and England. This development is put down to the reaction against Spanish supremacy in Europe and the New World, which was influenced by the emergence of Protestantism - and even by the rise of Nordicism - in an effort to counter the power of the Spanish-dominated southern part of the continent.


16th century

Exaggerated and lurid accounts of the Roman Catholic Inquisition in Spain were, in the sixteenth century (a time of great Protestant-Catholic strife) and still today, principal sources for the anti-Spanish Black Legend.[11] The Inquisition had existed in many European countries before it came to Spain. The first Inquisition was established in France during the 12th century. It had existed in the Kingdom of Aragon for some two centuries but not in Castile until the year 1480 when the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, requested its establishment throughout Spain with the converso and Dominican friar, Tomás de Torquemada, as its first Inquisitor General. Inquisitions were institutions of religious supervision which most European countries had at some point in history. It was standard for European monarchies of the time to impose a state religion through such institutions. Modern concepts such as freedom of religion did not exist until the 19th century. The omission of these facts including the historical context of inquisitions, is considered to be part of the Black Legend propaganda.

Some of the strongest and earliest support for the Legend came from two Protestants: the Englishman John Foxe, author of the Book of Martyrs (1554), and the Spaniard Reginaldo González de Montes, author of the Exposición de algunas mañas de la Santa Inquisición Española (Exposition of some vices of the Spanish Inquisition, 1567). Another early source from which the Black Legend drew support was Girolamo Benzoni's Historia nuovo (New History), first published in Venice in 1565. The origin of the Black Legend can also be traced to published self-criticism from within Spain itself. As early as 1511, some Spaniards criticized the legitimacy of the Spanish colonization of the Americas. In 1552, the Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas published his famous Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies), an account of the abuses that accompanied the colonization of New Spain, and especially the island of Hispaniola (now home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti). In the section regarding Hispaniola, Las Casas compares the indigenous Arawaks to tame ewes and writes that when he arrived in 1508, "there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it." [1] The work of Las Casas was first cited in English with the 1583 publication The Spanish Colonie, or Brief Chronicle of the Actes and Gestes of the Spaniards in the West Indies, at a time when England and Spain were preparing for war in the Netherlands. Despite arguments about the actual population size, Las Casas's accounts of widespread slaughter are not widely disputed.

The Duke of Alba's actions in the United Provinces contributed to the Black Legend. Sent in August 1567 to stamp out heresy and political unrest in a part of Europe where printing presses were a constant source of heterodox opinion, one of Alba's first acts was to gain control of the book industry. In a single year, several printers were banished and at least one was executed. Book sellers and printers were raided in the search for banned books, many more of which were added to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. In 1576 Spanish troops attacked and pillaged Antwerp, over three days that came to be known as "The Spanish Fury". The soldiers rampaged through the city, killing and looting; they demanded money from citizens and burned the homes of those who refused to (or could not) pay. Plantin's printing establishment was threatented with destruction three times but was saved each time when a ransom was paid. Antwerp was economically devastated by the attack, and Plantin's business suffered. Such facts similar to German rampages in the sack of Rome (1527) were enlarged upon to enhance the Black Legend.

The rebels in the Dutch Revolt contributed intentionally to the Black Legend in their propaganda efforts against the Spanish Crown. The depradations against the Indians that De las Casas had described, were compared to the depradations of Alba and his successors in the Netherlands. They reprinted translated editions of the Brevissima relacion no less than 33 times between 1578 and 1648, more than all other European countries combined[12]. However, these reprints were only grist for an indigenous propaganda mill that was already going full blast. For instance, the Articles and Resolutions of the Spanish Inquisition to Invade and Impede the Netherlands imputed a conspiracy to the Holy Office to starve the Dutch population, and exterminate its leading nobles, "as the Spanish had done in the Indies[13]." Marnix of Sint-Aldegonde, a prominent propagandist for the cause of the rebels, regularly used references to alleged intentions on the part of Spain to "colonize" the Netherlands, for instance in his 1578 address to the German Diet. The Dutch pamfleteers could have constructed their portrait of the Tyrannies et cruautez des Espagnols without recourse to the Indies. However, they connected their projection of their own predicament (potential enslavement by Spain) with their perception of the predicament of the Indians[14].

Other critics of Spain included Antonio Pérez, the fallen secretary of King Philip II of Spain. Pérez fled to England, where he published attacks upon the Spanish monarchy under the title Relaciones (1594). Philip, at the time also king of Portugal, was accused of cruelty for his hanging on yardarms of supporters of the rival contender for the throne of Portugal, on the Azores islands, following the Battle of Ponta Delgada.

These books were extensively used by the Dutch during their fight for independence from Spain, and taken up by the English to justify their piracy and wars against the Spanish. Foxe's book was among Sir Francis Drake's favourites; Drake himself is regarded by the Spaniards as a cruel and bloodthirsty pirate. The two northern nations were not only emerging as Spain's rivals for worldwide colonialism, but were also strongholds of Protestantism while Spain was the most powerful Roman Catholic country of the period. All of this contributed to the evolution of the Black Legend. Nevertheless, Inquisition laws were in Puerto Rico until the late 19th century. The prohibition of building synagogues or mosque was part of the Catholic struggle for power and control of the Islands that compose today Puerto Rico, being the main island Boriken. Some of these laws are still in the codes but are not enforced at all.

Romantic travellers

In the nineteenth century, many writers, such as Washington Irving, Prosper Mérimée, George Sand, and Théophile Gautier, invented a mythical Andalusia. In their writings, Spain is converted into the Orient of the Western World (Africa begins in the Pyrenees), an exotic country full of brigands, economic underdevelopment, Gypsies, ignorance, machismo, matadores, Moors, passion, political chaos, poverty and fanatical religiosity. In classical music, Georges Bizet with Carmen (1875) and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov with Capriccio espagnol (1887) contributed to this theme.

In 1842 George Borrow's Bible in Spain was published in England and sold well. It was part-travelogue and partly the story of his attempt to translate and teach the New Testament in Spanish. At the time the bible as used in Spain was in Latin and he found that most Spanish people knew little about its contents.[15] Bizet's character of Don Jose in Carmen was inspired by the book.

Spanish Civil War

While the Spanish Civil War in 1936-1939 aroused among the international Left and Right strong waves of support and admiration for the corresponding sides in Spain, there was a considerable part of international public opinion that disapproved of both sides in the civil war. For them, the widespread atrocity stories emanating from Spain (and often exaggerated as part of both sides' war propaganda) were taken as a new proof of the supposed inherent brutality of all Spaniards, whatever their politics. This was reinforced by the statements of Spaniards who chose to sit out the war in exile, expressing disgust with both sides.


The term Black Legend has been also used outside Spain. It can be referred to any person/organization/situation/period in history presented (according to the user of the term) unfairly in popular culture. Examples can be Richard III in England, Cardinal Richelieu in France and many others.

White Legend

The term white legend refers to attempts to describe Spain's history in a more positive light, occasionally in response to the propaganda of the Black Legend. However, some attempts to correct the distortions and often manipulated versions of Spanish history are misclassified as part of the "White Legend". The white legend is associated with Nationalistic politics and with the regime of dictator Francisco Franco.

Proponents of the White Legend argue that the Spanish Inquisition was in many ways less cruel than practices in other parts of Europe, such as the suppression of Catharism in France, it casts the Inquisition in a favorable light as compared with the French Wars of Religion, Oliver Cromwell's conquest of Ireland, and the witch hunts in many Protestant countries.

Similarly, these advocates tend to minimize "The Spanish Fury" or the sack of Rome, emphasizing that troops of Habsburg Spain were composed by many different European nationalities and ethnicities under Spanish command. They explain that Belgian, Italian or German rampages were enlarged upon and attributed to Spanish soldiers in order to enhance the anti-Spanish Black Legend.

Henry Kamen argues that Spain does not deserve blame for all of the actions of the Spanish Empire. According to his book, the Spanish Empire was a multinational enterprise, incorporating armaments from Milan, Genoese and German bankers, foreign sailors, German and Italian soldiers, Native American allies, and English and Chinese merchants.

Versions of history less hostile to Spain including the white legend argue that the conquest of the Americas was not as negative as it is sometimes intentionally portrayed. The White Legend emphasizes that Cortés's army consisted largely of Native American enemies of the Aztec Empire, and credits accounts of Aztec human sacrifice and cannibalism. Some historians claim that the demographics of much of Latin America today contradict claims that Spain destroyed or suppresses native populations and cultures. Furthermore, the demographic collapse which occurred in the Americas upon the conquest was mainly due to diseases imported from Europe which would have been transmitted even if the English or French, rather than the Spaniards, had been the first to arrive into the Americas.

The White Legend also emphasizes the role of other European nations in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The defenders of this point of view argue that Spain was prohibited by the Pope from taking part in such activities, together with the fact it would be in breach of the Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided the world outside of Europe in an exclusive duopoly between the Spanish and the Portuguese, assigning Africa to Portugal.

Critics of The White Legend counter that it downplays the Spanish role as purchasers and users of slaves in the Americas in the Atlantic slave trade, the treatment of indigenous peoples of the Americas, and the taking of resources from New Spain during the period known as the Spanish Golden Age. They also point out that much of the treatment of indigenous peoples and the disruption of their culture was documented by Hernán Cortés's and Francisco Pizarro's own men, who had no reason to soil the reputation of the Spanish empire by creating false charges of cruelty. Critics have also claimed that the conquistadores were likely to exaggerate their accounts of barbaric rituals performed by the indigenous people in order to justify their actions.

See also


  1. ^ Juderías, Julián, La Leyenda Negra (2003; first Edition of 1914) ISBN 84-9718-225-1
  2. ^ "el ambiente creado por los relatos fantásticos que acerca de nuestra patria han visto la luz pública en todos los países, las descripciones grotescas que se han hecho siempre del carácter de los españoles como individuos y colectividad, la negación o por lo menos la ignorancia sistemática de cuanto es favorable y hermoso en las diversas manifestaciones de la cultura y del arte, las acusaciones que en todo tiempo se han lanzado sobre España..."
  3. ^ a b Carbia, Rómulo D., Historia de la leyenda negra hispano-americana (2004; first Ed. 1943) ISBN 84-95379-89-9
  4. ^ «...abarca la Leyenda en su más cabal amplitud, es decir, en sus formas típicas de juicios sobre la crueldad, el obscurantismo y la tiranía política. A la crueldad se le ha querido ver en los procedimientos de que se echara mano para implantar la Fe en América o defenderla en Flandes; al obscurantismo, en la presunta obstrucción opuesta por España a todo progreso espiritual y a cualquiera actividad de la inteligencia; y a la tiranía, en las restricciones con que se habría ahogado la vida libre de los españoles nacidos en el Nuevo Mundo y a quienes parecería que se hubiese querido esclavizar sine die.»
  5. ^ Powell, Philip Wayne, Tree of Hate (1985, first Ed. 1971) ISBN 465-08750-7
  6. ^ La Leyenda Negra (1997) by Alfredo Alvar; p. 5 «...cuidadosa distorsión de la historia de un pueblo, realizada por sus enemigos, para mejor combatirle. Y una distorsión lo más monstruosa posible, a fin de lograr el objetivo marcado: la descalificación moral de ese pueblo, cuya supremacía hay que combatir por todos los mediossine die.»
  7. ^ Bartolomé de Las Casas
  8. ^ Cultural Readings - Viewers and the Viewed - Black Legends
  9. ^ Stacy Goodling, "Effects of European Diseases on the Inhabitants of the New World"
  10. ^ Hodes, Martha (1999). Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History. New York University Press.  
  11. ^ "Extranjeros, Leyenda Negra e Inquisición" (pdf). Retrieved 2007-11-24.  
  12. ^ Schmidt, p. 97
  13. ^ Schmidt, p 112
  14. ^ Schmidt, pp. 97, 110
  15. ^ Borrow's "Bible in Spain" text online


  • Español Bouché, Luis, "Leyendas Negras: Vida y Obra de Julian Juderías", Junta de Castilla y Leon, 2007.
  • Kamen, Henry, Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763. New York: HarperCollins. 2003. ISBN 0-06-093264-3
  • Powell, Philip Wayne, Tree Of Hate: Propaganda and Prejudices Affecting United States Relations With The Hispanic World. Basic Books, New York, 1971, ISBN 0-465-08750-7.
  • Maltby, William S., The Black Legend in England. Duke University Press, Durham, 1971, ISBN 0-8223-0250-0.
  • Julian Lock, How Many Tercios Has the Pope?' The Spanish War and the Sublimation of Elizabethan Anti-Popery, History, 81, 1996.
  • M. G. Sanchez, Anti-Spanish Sentiment in English Literary and Political Writing, 1553-1603 (Phd Diss; University of Leeds, 2004)
  • Frank Ardolino, Apocalypse and Armada in Kyd's Spanish Tragedy (Kirksville, Missouri: Sixteenth Century Studies, 1995).
  • Sverker Arnoldsson, 'La Leyenda Negra: Estudios Sobre Sus Orígines,' Göteborgs Universitets Årsskrift, 66:3, 1960
  • Eric Griffin, 'Ethos to Ethnos: Hispanizing 'the Spaniard' in the Old World and the New,' The New Centennial Review, 2:1, 2002.
  • Andrew Hadfield, 'Late Elizabethan Protestantism, Colonialism and the Fear of the Apocalypse,' Reformation, 3, 1998.
  • Schmidt, Benjamin, Innocence Abroad. The Dutch Imagination and the New World, 1570-1670, Cambridge U.P. 2001, ISBN 978-0-521-02455-6

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




The term was coined by Julián Juderías in his 1914 book La leyenda negra y la verdad histórica (The Black Legend and Historical Truth).

Proper noun

Black Legend


Black Legend

Wikipedia has an article on:


  1. The anti-Hispanic Black Legend (Spanish: Leyenda Negra) is the depiction of Spain and Spaniards as bloodthirsty and cruel, greedy and fanatical with the intention of defaming the country of Spain and its inhabitants. The term was later extended to include all Hispanics and their countries of origin, in particular the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America, as well as persons residing in the United States of America of Spanish or Spanish-speaking Latin American descent.

See also

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