- Doña Teresa Confronts the Spanish Inquisition: A Seventeenth-Century New Mexican Drama by Frances Levine
U of Oklahoma P, 2016, xv + 278 pages. ISBN 978-0806153360, $29.95 hardcover.
Teresa Aguilera y Roche had a charmed life as a courtesan in Santa Fe, surrounded by fine silk, furniture, china, and slaves. One day, however, she left for Mexico in a cage to face the Inquisition as conversa. This is a book about Teresa and her Inquisition trial. The daughter of a high-ranking member of the imperial bureaucracy, Teresa was born in Alessandria, near Milan, where she received a splendid education by reading Ariosto, along with many a pious devotional work. After a long military and diplomatic career in Italy and the Basque country, her father, Melchor Aguilar, moved to become the governor of Cartagena where he made a fortune smuggling gold. In Cartagena, Teresa married Bernardo López de Mendizábal, a Mexican Creole who himself was an imperial bureaucrat-entrepreneur. In 1658, Teresa accompanied Bernardo to Santa Fe as the spouse of the new governor of New Mexico.
Bernardo and Teresa took New Mexico as a business opportunity: they invested heavily in cargo (especially chocolate) to take with them in the official triennial supplying caravan to Santa Fe (the crown guaranteed mission supplies for about sixty Franciscans). With the entradas of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado and Juan de Oñate, in 1540 and 1598 respectively, dozens of Pueblos that lived in adobe villages along the Rio Grande became pastoralist communities that regularly shipped leather, woolens, textiles, salt, pine nuts, and slaves to the mining camps in Nueva Vizcaya (Parral). Coronado and Oñate brought with them Franciscans, thousands of Mexica allies, and large numbers of free and enslaved blacks. Pueblos accepted tributary relations and worked for friars and racially mixed entrepreneur-encomenderos in exchange for protection. The Pueblo were not a unified polity but linguistically fragmented communities in complex relationships of trade and warfare with their equally fragmented Apache and Navajo neighbors. The arrival of horses, cattle, and sheep guaranteed that slave raiding and counter raiding multiplied.
Bernardo and Teresa knew all this, and within two years of arrival in Santa Fe sent to Nueva Vizcaya three large oxen-cart caravans packed full with textiles, leather (deer, cattle, and bison), salt, nuts, and Apache slaves. Bernardo and Teresa's aggressive mercantile moves, however, alienated both Franciscans and mixed-race soldier-encomenderos who also needed Pueblo labor to do well. Franciscans used Pueblos to send commodities in caravans to afford beautifully furnished churches [End Page 419] and ritual vestments. Encomenderos organized Pueblos to create militias against Apache and Navajo and to raid and get slaves. Apache also traded slaves for metal knives.
The battle over control of Pueblo labor manifested regularly in disputes over political control. Four generations ago, Frances V. Scholes summarized the history of seventeenth-century New Mexico as a long battle between the "church and the state," a confrontation that repeatedly destroyed the careers, fortunes, and lives of governors, encomenderos, and Franciscans. Franciscans often used the office of the Inquisition to discipline unruly governors and lay settlers.
In 1661, the Franciscans shipped off to Mexico four encomendero allies of Bernardo and Teresa. In 1662, it was the turn of the governor and his wife. Bernardo and Teresa had their property impounded. The Franciscans sent them in separate iron-bar cages. Ultimately, the Inquisition dismissed the charges of Judaism against all six alleged conversos. But the lives of the accused were forever changed. Teresa and Bernardo lost large chunks of their fortune, including most of their Apache slaves, and Bernardo died in prison in 1664. Teresa was set free in 1665; she spent the rest of her life litigating the return of what was left of her impounded property.
Levine centers the book exclusively on Teresa's trial. She offers a very detailed description of the charges and witnesses borne against Teresa. Levine also offers a lengthy account of Teresa's legal maneuverings before the Inquisition. In fact, Teresa's trial is so...