Black Legend

From Academic Kids

The Black Legend (in Spanish, leyenda negra) is the depiction of Spain and the Spaniards as bloodthirsty and cruel, greedy and fanatical, in excess of reality. This term was coined by Julián Juderías in his 1914 book La leyenda negra y la verdad histórica (The black legend and the historical truth). This is contrasted with the White Legend (in Spanish, leyenda rosa, which means rosy legend) which promoted an idealized view of Spaniards. Needless to say, both expressions are themselves highly colored and not propitious for a neutral historical analysis except of folkloric perceptions.



From the 13th century, the Crown of Aragon (then a kingdom including Catalonia, with Barcelona as the kingdom's leading city) dominated Naples and Sicily, creating a great hate towards Catalans. The Valencian pope Alexander VI became almost a mythical villain, and countless legends and traditions attached to his name. Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere called Pope Alexander VI "Catalan, marrano and circumcised". According to Sverker Arnoldsson, the Italians' criticisms of the Spaniards were cultural and racial, not only economical and political: "age-long mixture of Spanish with Oriental and African elements, plus the Jewish and Islamic influence upon Spanish culture; this motivated the view of the Spaniards as a people of inferior race and doubtful orthodoxy."

The classic sources

The Spanish Inquisition was the most important topic of the Black Legend in the 16th century. Although the Inquisition had existed in many European countries before it existed in Spain, Ferdinand II of Aragon instituted the inquisition in Spain primarily to investigate and punish conversos, former Jews and Muslims who had converted to Roman Catholicism, but whose conversions were not entirely trusted. Some of the most famous support for the legend comes 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).

No small part of the Black Legend comes from self-criticism in 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 Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies), a polemical and arguably exaggerated account of the excesses which accompanied colonization, in which he compares the natives with tame ewes and blames Spaniards for the murder of 30,000,000 to 50,000,000 Arawaks on the island of Hispaniola (now home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti). Recent genetic research contradicts the theory of the total Spanish genocide in the Caribbean. Mitocondrial and Y-chromosome analysis have shown that 62% of Puerto Ricans come from an Amerindian ancestry and well over 70% have a white ancestry; see Demographics of Puerto Rico for further information.

Another early source is Girolamo Benzoni's Historia nuovo (New History), first published in Venice in 1565.

The Duke of Alva's actions in the Netherlands, sent to stamp out heresy and political unrest in August 1567 contributed to the Black Legend, in a part of Europe where printing presses were a constant source of heterodox opinion. One of Alva's first acts was to gain control of the book industry; in one 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 terrible 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.

Other critics of Spain included Antonio Pérez, the fallen secretary of king Philip II of Spain. Pérez fled to England, where he published libels against the Spanish monarchy under the title Relaciones (1594).

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 was and 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.

The imprisonment of Don Carlos by his father, King Philip II of Spain, which was followed by the Prince's mysterious death, added to the legend, according to which the young heir had been murdered.

In the 17th century, Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia that had by then been unwillingly absorbed into the Spanish monarchy dominated by Castille, was the great producer of these libels.

The Enlightenment

Guillaume Thomas François Raynal published in 1770 his most important work, L'Histoire philosophique et politique des établissements et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes (The philosophical and political history of the establishments and commerce of Europeans in the two Indies, that is to say the East Indies and the West Indies).

Also during the Enlightenment, the imprisonment and death of Don Carlos, mentioned above, inspired the blank verse play Don Carlos, Infant v. Spanien (Don Carlos, Prince of Spain, 1787), by Friedrich Schiller, and later the opera Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi.

Romantic travellers

In the 19th Century, many writers, such as Washington Irving, Prosper Mérimée, George Sand, and Theophile 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 delays, gypsies, ignorance, machismo, matadores, Moors, passion, political chaos, poverty and fanatical religiosity. From this literature, the figure of the Latin lover still survives.

In classical music, Georges Bizet with Carmen (1875) and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov with Capriccio espagnol (1887) contributed to this theme.

Modern Historiography

Marcel Bataillon (1895-1977) revealed the extent of Erasmus's influence in Spain in Erasme et l'Espagne (1937). Erasmus was a humanist, and the popularity of his ideas in Spain goes against the stereotype of the country as being a monolith of fanatical Catholicism.

Black Legend in the United States of America

In his book Tree of Hate, Philip Wayne Powell wrote that the United States of America inherited the Black Legend from the British colonization of the Americas. These Anglo-Saxon prejudices toward Spaniards were transferred to Mexicans in the 19th century.

The American historian William S. Maltby says in his book The Black Legend in England (1982): "As many other Americans, I had absorbed the anti-Hispanism from movies and folkloric literature much before this prejudice was contrasted from a different point of view in the works of competent historians, what was a big surprise for me; When I succeeded to know the work of the Hispanists, my curiosity had no limits. The Hispanists have always blamed the enemies of Spain for the tergiversation of the Historic facts and the current worldwide prejudice against Spain."

Some people feel that the United States mass media and government have propagated the legend to justify United States actions against Spain or Latin American countries, as in the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War or the colonization of the Philippines after the Philippine-American War. They allege that there exists clear evidence of the Black Legend in modern literature, movies, and web sites, such as in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Steven Spielberg's Amistad. On the other side, the pirates of the Caribbean who used to attack defenseless Spanish merchant ships are turned into romantic and idealistic figures.

The White Legend

Contrasting to the Black Legend is a "White Legend" (in Spanish, "leyenda rosa", "rosy legend"). Although this addresses many matters, it is most notable in portraying Spain as uniquely benevolent during the conquest of the Americas.

For example, in dealing with Hernando Cortes's conquest of Mexico, the White Legend emphasizes that Cortes's army consisted largely of Native American enemies (and disgruntled vassals) of the Aztec Empire and credits the most exaggerated accounts of Aztec human sacrifice and cannibalism.

There is evidence to suggest that at least some involved in the Spanish conquest of the Americas were more than routinely concerned for the welfare of the natives. There is no English or French equivalent of Bartolomé de las Casas, but this need not mean that the English and French were not engaging in comparable cruelties: it can reasonably be interpreted to mean simply that no one among them shared Bartolomé's eloquent dissent. Spain was relatively early in passing some laws for the protection of the natives of its American colonies, with the first such laws being passed in 1542; however, records suggest that the practice never matched the theory.

Similarly, proponents of the White Legend tend to excuse the Spanish Inquisition, emphasizing that in form it merely copied institutions already in place in the rest of Europe (the suppression of Catharism in France, Italy, etc.; the already existing Inquisitions in various parts of Italy), citing the unique situation of Spain as a country recently under Muslim Moorish domination, and comparing the Inquisition favorably with French Wars of Religion, Cromwell's suppressions of Royalists in Ireland or the witch hunts in many Protestant countries.

As for destruction of populations and cultures, the White Legend claims that the demographics of much of Latin America today favor Spain's claims to benevolence. Even today, the descendants of the Native Americans constitute the base of the population in many of the countries that comprised the Spanish Empire in America and Philippines. Some Amerindian languages have reached rank of co-official tongues in Latin American countries (Quechua and Aymará in both Peru and Bolivia and Guaraní in Paraguay). It is likely that Spanish priests actually spread Quechua beyond its original geographic area. This active spread of a native language by Europeans has no equivalent in the American countries which were originally colonized by other European powers, nor in Australia or New Zealand (although the Maori language in New Zealand is a comparable case of co-official status).

The White Legend regards the slave trade largely as an Arab and African matter, and plays down the Spanish role by emphasizing that of the English, Dutch, even the Portuguese, and other Europeans.

See also


  • Powell, Philip Wayne, Tree Of Hate: Propaganda and Prejudices Affecting United States Relations With The Hispanic World. Basic Books, New York, 1971, ISBN 0465087507.
  • Maltby, William S., The Black Legend in England. Duke University Press, Durham, 1971, ISBN 0822302500.

External links

es:Leyenda negra española


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools