Sunday 30 March 2014


In the 1390s Friar Vincent Ferrer wanted to convert all the Jews of Spain through preaching and put an end to the obstinate, stinking synagogue…but he was frustrated in his efforts because the Jews were deceived and misled by that gloss called the Talmud which is full of great lies and intricate arguments.

And so this monstrous affliction lasted another century until the Spanish crown forced Jews to leave or convert to Christianity. But the newly baptized Jews observed the Faith very badly…and practiced their old religion secretly. Nor did they stop observing Jewish customs, such as eating little dishes of onion and garlic fried with oil…and the oil with the meat and the other things that they stewed smelled very bad on their breath. Also, they were usurers and had many artful tricks.

Meanwhile, Pope Sixtus IV issued a bull that gave the Spanish monarchs the authority to proceed against this heresy and to punish it with fire. The papal bull led to the establishment of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.
(From the chronicle of Andres Bernaldez)

Apparently relapsed Jews did not keep the inquisitors busy enough, so they also proceeded against relapsed Muslims:
In 1571, for example, Ramiro de Palencia, a new Christian descended from Muslims, was brought before the tribunal for having said prayers in which he seemed to call on Mohammed. One time, yawning, he said: May Mohammed close my eyes. And many times he performed the zala, raising and lowering his head without reason, and bringing his hands over his face. The witnesses against him were shady characters, it seems, so it was questionable whether he could be convicted and condemned to death. Instead he was fined  50,000 maravedis (the annual income of a wealthy grandee) to defray the expenses of the Holy Office.
(Source: Lu Ann Homza , The Spanish Inquisition, 1478-1614).

Thursday 27 March 2014

HOW TO CATCH A JEW. Instructions posted on your local church door.

Where? When? Berlin, 1938? No, Valencia, 1512, by the inquisitor Andres de Palacio.

The instructions posted on church doors were addressed to all the faithful, men and women, of every condition, quality, and estate. They invited them to spy on their neighbours and report persons who might have sinned against the Holy Catholic faith. More particularly, the inquisitor wanted to know about Jews practicing their religion in secret and observing the law of Moses. A long list of suspect behaviour was appended.

  • Changing into clean linen on Saturdays,
  • Preparing on Fridays the food for Saturdays,
  • Refraining from work on Friday evenings and Saturdays,
  • Kindling lights on Friday evening,
  • Eating unleavened bread and bitter herbs,
  • Standing up before a wall and saying prayers,
  • Shrinking from eating pork, hares, snails or fish that had no scales,
  • Cutting sinews out of meat, taking a morsel of dough when baking and throwing it into the fire.
And what if you didn’t want to denounce your neighbours?  Shame on you, abettor of heretics!

That is what Palacio called people who were reluctant to become spies for the Inquisition. He posted a warning to strike fear into their hearts.

And you, who with obstinate hearts refuse to declare and manifest the things you have heard and seen, will be proceeded against, excommunicated and accursed, for you have incurred the wrath of the Almighty God, who will turn your prayers to maledictions.

Your property will be given to others and your children will be orphans and your wives and widows. And likewise the houses you inhabit and the clothes you wear and the animals your ride and the beds on which you sleep and the tables on which you eat: let them be accursed and ruined, and may your wickedness be ever present in the divine memory. Amen.
(Source: C. Roth, The Spanish Inquisition. Image:

Saturday 22 March 2014

EARLY MODERN AUTOBIOGRAPHY – creative non-fiction or material for a reality show?

This story comes from Johannes Butzbach’s Hodoporicon (1505):
Johannes’ parents entrust him to a traveler who promises to make a scholar of the boy but instead bullies him. The two travelers arrive at an inn where the landlord greets them: If your money is good and you are good drinkers, you will be welcome guests.
The companion turns out to be a very good drinker and spends all of Johannes’ money, then forces him to beg for a living.
Shades of Oliver Twist here? He regarded me a something delivered over to him, indeed as a stray that he had picked up and made his property.
If I came back empty-handed, he beat me furiously. If I succeeded in getting something good, he devoured it at once, and I got only what remained…Indeed he was so suspicious that he often forced me to rinse my mouth with water and spit it out that he might see if I had perhaps appropriated something from my begging.
Johannes flees and makes his way back home. The relationship between his parents is rocky. My father soundly beat my mother and pulled her hair severely. When I saw that, I threw down my pack and with my brothers and sisters rushed to my mother’s aid, against my father. I succeeded in dragging her from under his feet. Weeping bitterly I left the house and vowed never to set foot there again.
Johannes works hard, saves up money, and begins his studies, but now he is dogged by bad health: burning fevers, tumorous affections, quinsy, swelling of the larynx, boils on various portions of my body, swelling of the feet and thigh, which a woman cut out with an iron instrument, and an itching malady called fig-warts which covered my body like the bark of an oak tree.
He overcomes his health problems and enrolls in the school of Deventer. In his second year there, the Abbot of Laach canvasses classes to recruit monks for his monastery. None of the students are interested since they have already paid their course fees and rented lodgings for the term. Besides, it was an unsuitable time for travelling as a great cold prevailed. But Johannes volunteers, takes the vows, and eventually becomes abbot of Laach himself.
If you ask me, he would have made a great guest on the Oprah Show.

Thursday 20 March 2014


From Kok's blog
An exemplary tale to warn you against Satan’s tricks from a German scandal sheet published in Strasbourg, 1534. 

The preacher Claus Frey was invited to stay at the house of a pious citizen in N├╝rnberg. But the fruit of his preaching soon became apparent when he seduced the man’s sister, Catharina, and aroused in her the desire to be his handmaid. On a Saturday night, when she went to bed, the seed in her heart sprouted fully. She felt an urge to give Frey her body, her honour, and her possessions, and to let him do with her as he pleased.

Frey took her up on the offer, but when Catharina discovered that he was a married man, she had second thoughts. He too felt badly about it and said to her, “True, we won’t do it again.”

A few months later, however, the urge seized her once more, and they carried on until Frey’s wife hunted them down. She complained that she had been robbed of her husband, with whom she had six little children and struck his new bride. Frey in turn hit his wife on the head, citing the bible: To be an apostle of Christ, I must first hate wife, child, house, and estate. He was ready to abandon them and begin a new life in the Lord with Catharina.

The pair fled to Strasbourg, but the new apostle wasn’t welcome there. Adultery was against the law, and the authorities imprisoned him. As far as they were concerned, Frey was no apostle, but a satanic whoremonger.
They could not tolerate public adultery and whoring and passed judgment that he should be drowned. Frey was unrepentant. When they took him to the river, he said: "What a nice day to go swimming."
When Catharina heard that he had been drowned, she tore up his letters and threw them into the privy. She realized that she had brought shame on herself and that all her hopes were lost. -- God only knows how this will turn out.

Well, friends, think about poor Catharina when you are tempted by Satan, and if you want to read the whole story, my translation will be published in The Correspondence of Wolfgang Capito, volume 3.

Sunday 16 March 2014


More good advice from Leon Battista Alberti:

STEP ONE: Choose a wife of the correct size. Look for one who is fairly big and has limbs of ample length. Obese is out. Those laden with fat are subject to coldness and constipation and slow to conceive.

STEP TWO: Check statistical likelihood that she will bear you a son. It is an excellent sign if a girl has a great number of brothers and no sisters. Chances are, when she is yours, she will fare like her mother.
Okay, you’ve married a woman who is the right size and has brothers.

STEP THREE: Have sex with her.
  • But be careful not to give yourself to your wife while your mental state is troubled by anger, fear, or other disturbing emotion. Passions slow up the vital strength.
  • And watch your drinking. Undertake sex only when you are sober, strong, and as happy as possible.
  • You know the old rule -- don’t go swimming right after you’ve eaten? Same with sex. Wait until the first digestion is over, when you are neither empty nor full of heavy food, but flourishing and lightened by sleep.
  • Watch personal hygiene. It is good to make yourself intensely desired by the woman.
  • Keep the temperature in your bedroom just so, not excessively hot, not excessively cold or your seed is petrified by frost. Oh, they had thermostats in the Renaissance? No, they just had to wait for more temperate weather.
That may work for Italy. Or L.A.  But what about Canada, eh? Sorry, Torontonians, no sex between November and April.

Thursday 13 March 2014


This good advice comes to you from artist and philosopher Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472).

  • No one can deny that a man requires a woman for procreating children. But not more than one, okay? And why not?
  • Because he cannot provide more than is needed for himself and one wife and children. Maybe he could have more wives if he had fewer children?
  • Apparently some fellows didn’t want even one wife. How wrong-headed can young men be? Alberti’s advice: Perhaps it would help to put them under some compulsion. A father might put the following clause into his will: “If you do not marry when you reach the appropriate age, I disinherit you.”
  • What is the appropriate age? Twenty-five. A younger man is better off spending his fire and force in establishing and strengthening his own position than in procreating. The youthful seed, moreover, seems faulty and frail and less full of vigor than that which is ripened.
  • As for the bride required for the purpose of procreation: Let female relatives present the groom-to-be with a list of eligible women. He can then choose the one who suits him best. And take your time. Marrying is like acquiring property – Buyers like to look it over several times before they actually sign the contract.

Saturday 8 March 2014

Here is what Juan Luis Vives wants you to consider, gentlemen:
  • A woman has two virtues, and they are practically the only ones she must possess: piety and chastity.
  • No, let’s make that three virtues: piety, chastity, and a good figure. Don’t marry a wife who is too short (as did King Archidamus of Sparta, with the result that his children could not maintain the dignity of a king because of their short stature).
  • And don’t marry too young. The best age of marriage for men is at 34. If a man is much younger than that, he does not have the necessary strength for procreating children. Your wife should be at least 18. It is not good for her to become accustomed to love-maxing at a tender age. Lust is enkindled and her physical development hampered.
  • Get some education. Some men think that the more stupid they are, the better they are. I would counsel them to beget asses rather than humans. Hey, I can subscribe to that. No, wait. I don’t like where this is going.
  • Check what your wife is reading. She must not have access to complicated writings like questions of theology. It is not at all fitting for a woman to be curious and inquisitive about profound matters.
  • Okay, no theology, but what about the other subjects? She should leave the study of nature, grammar, dialectic, history, political science, and mathematics to men. That doesn’t leave her with a lot of material. Oh, I see:
  • Pious books are sufficient, for morals are best formed by piety.
  • And the most important subject for a woman? How to keep your mouth shut. Count silence among the disciplines to be learned by your wife. It is the greatest ornament of her sex.
(Source: J.L. Vives, The Duty of Husbands)

Thursday 6 March 2014


The Husband’s Duty is the title of a book by Juan Luis Vives, but you know what? It’s a misnomer. It’s all about the problems women cause. Well, maybe Vives means it’s the husband’s duty to find a wife that isn’t problematic.

In the Renaissance it was hard to get a divorce unless you had the clout of Henry VIII. And even he had to take extreme measures to get rid of his wives, such as beheading them and founding his own religion. This wasn’t an option for the average guy. So Vives’ advice is to get a wife who loves you.
  • Otherwise, no matter how rich she is, or how elegant and beautiful in appearance, she will be a source of trouble.
  • Mind you, women are troublesome one way or another. To begin with, their health is inferior because of the greater amount of waste they generate, which their insufficient degree of warmth cannot dispel; to discharge them, women have fixed monthly periods. Except during pregnancy, when all bets are off.
  • Another troublesome feature of women is their loquacity. It comes partly from the variety of their thoughts and emotions, which follow upon one another in quick succession and rapidly go from their mind to their mouth. Whereas men’s thoughts get stuck in their mind and swell up their heads?
  • Question: would education tame the flood of women’s thoughts and emotions? Nope. She will not be able to vanquish her passions altogether and rid herself of them any more than she can cease to be a woman.
  • But all those words which come out of a wife’s mouth are good for something, it turns out. Female loquacity, provided it has some limit, is sometimes soothing to a man’s spirit when he is weary of private and public cares.

Ultimately, men just have to put up with women. Who is so hard-hearted that he cannot take pity on their condition? We must overlook many things in them. The creature weaker in nature must be tolerated by the stronger.

Saturday 1 March 2014


More advice from Francesco Barbaro’s marriage manual.
  • Loquacity cannot be sufficiently reproached in women and silence be sufficiently applauded.  If you have to talk, girls, keep it short. Hello and good-bye will do. The idea is to give the impression of being provoked into conversation rather than provoking it.
  • Women can never be too hot, right? Wrong. Abstain from foods that encourage and instil the desires of the flesh. Curb your libido because
  • A couple must use intercourse mainly in the hope of procreating.
  • Once the wife is pregnant, forget about sex. I admonish you: When the ship is full, admit no more passengers.
  • The best occupation for a wife, pregnant or not, is to stay home and oversee the household. It is her duty to see that no harm comes to her husband’s wine cellar, pantry, and oil supply.
  • In short: To keep your man happy, shut up, put up, and procreate.
  • Conclusion: I think that ear guards are far more necessary for a wife than for a wrestler. His ears are only subject to blows, hers are subject to humiliation.