6: No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition!


In the Orchard history I outlined above a key figure in our story emerges; Sir Massey Lopes.  We need to understand this man and his background and so I am going to go back into the depths of history and try to piece together this man’s ancestry and, in so doing, I hope to shed light on why he is so important in our story.

I stated that Sir Massey Lopes was of “Sephardic Jewish” origin. To understand Sir Massey we first need to understand who the Sephardic Jews were and what happened to them. There is much about the Sephardic Jews on the Internet and I am going to select just some key points relating to their expulsion from Spain in 1492.

There had been a large population of Jews in Spain for centuries, they are mentioned in Roman literature. Sephardic is Hebrew for Spanish. The Sephardic Jews had reached the highest levels in government and in the military. They were renowned for being artists, scholars, physicians, lawyers and the professions in general. The arrival of Christianity in Spain saw tensions rise between the two cultures.  

In 1478 the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile decreed that everyone was to commit to the Catholic church or leave the country. Many Jews and Muslims converted publicly to catholithism but in private continued to observe and practice their original faith. These people were deemed ‘heretics’ and the so Spanish Inquisition was set up whose role was to root out those of non-catholic faith and it is thought that around 150,000 people were prosecuted during the 300 years the Inquisition was active and possibly as many as 5,000 people were executed and many more tortured.

In 1492 a royal decree went further and ordered all Jews and Muslims to leave Spain and the Inquisition set about enforcing that expulsion. Many of the expelled Jews established new communities in Holland around Amsterdam and others escaped to North Africa and the Middle east. The community in Amsterdam was to thrive and expand and their talents and enterprising nature was warmly welcomed by the Dutch and Amsterdam grew in strength and wealth as a result of their presence.

In 1492 “Columbus sailed the ocean blue” in search of a western route to India. Although Italian Columbus used Spain as his base and King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella agreed to finance his adventure. After ten weeks at sea he arrived at what we now know as the Bahamas and then went on to Cuba and Hispaniola. Upon his return settlers set off to colonise these islands. In 1494 the island of Jamaica was colonised and it remained Spanish until 1670 when the British took control. Many of the original settlers were Sephardic Jews and were keen to prevent the Spanish from regaining control and so established the island as a base for the British pirates of the Caribbean!

The 18th Century saw the start of the slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean and America. By 1750 there were many African slaves working in the sugar plantations of Jamaica and many of them were forcibly taken from their homes in Nigeria; the bulk of the Nigerians arrived in Jamaica between 1790 and 1807 when the practice was abolished by the British government.  

The point of this research into Sephardic Jewish history is to show the ‘purity’ of their Spanish DNA would have been preserved for 250 years whilst in Jamaica until the arrival of the British and then the slaves from Africa when some interbreeding between the ethnic groups may have taken place. I mention this not only because of the 15% Spanish content in my DNA but also because of the 1% Nigerian content; could this be the source?


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