Doña Gracia Nasi (Beatrice de Luna, Beatrice Mendes) and her younger sister Reina (Brianda de Luna) were affluent and philanthropic sixteenth-century Portuguese New Christians. Their families had been forcibly converted to Catholicism, but they gradually returned to Judaism. Jewish historical writings about Beatrice highlight her powerful and righteous role as a heroine, while they unkindly depict Brianda, with whom she quarreled, as an informer who betrayed her family, her people and her religion. In the course of their travels, the sisters formed alliances with many rulers, engaged with several inquisitional bodies and elicited the deliberations of the leading rabbis of the Ottoman Empire. The accounts of these rabbis tended to favor Beatrice—who financed them. However, on the basis of supplementary and sometimes contradictory published accounts of these events from inquisitional dossiers, diplomatic correspondence and archives throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, I argue that the conventional binary depictions of the heroic Beatrice versus the wicked Brianda are flawed. I instead offer an alternative narrative that sheds light on the complexities of these women's roles and relationships, allowing for historical empathy as well as historiographic insight that transcends moralizing and binary understandings of gender and human relations.


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pp. 10-29
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