SCSC Report: Hershenzon on Returning Captives

Another fascinating paper in Montreal at the 2020 Sixteenth Century Studies Conference was Daniel Hershenzon, “Pleading Captivity in Early-Modern Spain: Bureaucratic and Popular Articulations of North African Captivity, 1580-1650.” Hershenzon, a University of Michigan PhD candidate, is writing his dissertation on the connections between Spain and the Maghreb, and here he was describing the problem of determining who was truly a captive, returned from the jails of Algiers or Oran, and who was not. Captives came back destitute and in debt to the friends and institutions who provided their ransom. Soldiers petitioned for their back pay from the crown, and civilians petitioned the crown for begging licenses. False captives, hoping to obtain unearned boons from the state, loomed large in the imaginations of both royal bureaucrats and Spanish literature, for example in Cervantes’ works. How could you prove you really had been a captive and thus were deserving of aid? Letters  you had written home could help, so would continuing to wear the rags and display the manacles of captivity. A little knowledge of Arabic or Turkish went a long way, too, but all of these things could be faked. In his paper, Hershenzon pointed out how the concerns, and proofs demanded, by the state came to closely resemble the concerns and proofs featured in popular literature.


About emspanishhistorynotes

Scott Taylor is an associate professor in the history department at the University of Kentucky.


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