The Marranos of Rouen

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Les Marranes Rouen

In some of the information I was fortunate enough to receive from Dr. Peter, there were a number of references to a little known article by Cecil Roth entitled "Les Marranes Rouen" which appeared, in French in Les Revue Des Etudes Des Juifs in 1929.  It took some detective work to track this down but I finally found that a copy had been deposited with L'Alliance Israelite Universelle in Paris.  A letter in halting French secured a copy of the document and over a year later, I had managed to translate it into "some form" of English.  I was very fortunate that both Dr. Peter and John Ferdinando were able to cast their eyes over my translation and together we managed to piece together what had happened in Rouen in 1632.  This discovery enabled us to take the Antonio Fernandes Carvajal Story back a little further prior to his arrival in London and after his departure from the Canary Islands.

I hope that the information below will give you some idea of what happened in Rouen.  This has now been translated and can be read in full by following this link.

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Some Background

The Inquisition had reached the Canary Islands many years prior to Antonio's departure but, he was probably spurred to action when a close relative was captured and Antonio's name came under the close attention of the Inquisitional Office.  The Sephardim had dispersed around Europe, some were in Amsterdam and others were in Bayonne, Toulouse and Rouen.  The Sephardic Jews, or Marranos as some called them tended to set up in areas where trade was possible and Rouen was a major port on the River Seine and promised good trading and a safe haven from the gaze of the Inquisition.  We can see that many of the names that occur in Rouen, also occur in the Canary Islands and Amsterdam and later in London as they moved to escape the clutches of the Roman Church.

Given this state of affairs, it is easy to understand why they had to move so often and, perhaps, why records of their movements and the records we desperately seek to find may not be available to prove our lineage.  Given this information, our story in Rouen begins:

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Rouen

Rouen had been one of the safer areas in France.  Sephardic merchants had set themselves up in Rouen and had an arrangement with the local Church to cover their movements.  It is probable that this was a mutual arrangement, the Jewish population being given bona fides by the Priest and the Church receiving favours, possibly money to allow this to continue.  The Merchants, and nearly all of our Sephardic families of that time had something to do with commerce, brought money into Rouen and this arrangement had continued for some time without serious cause for concern.  Of course, there were the odd denunciations and accusations but these generally died down soon after they came to light, most probably with a discrete bribe in the right quarter.  However, things were about to change.

The native Merchants were getting jealous and upset at the Jewish Merchants success and accused them of not contributing towards Rouen at all but rather keeping their riches to themselves and, at the first opportunity, to move on to Amsterdam or elsewhere taking their riches with them.  These accusations were not without foundation as some had indeed moved on in this way.  In addition a new Priest was in town and he despised Jews.  He gathered together information about them and finally denounced the vast majority of them (about 30 families) in a petition.  The story moves on to explain the various evidence that the priest had found and that indeed, there was every indication that these families were indeed Jewish.  A show trial was ordered and proceedings were begun.  The Jewish Merchants had friends in high places and some measure of protection was afforded them but many were sent to jail awaiting the outcome of the trial.

Antonio and many of his friends did no more than flee from Rouen, Antonio to end up in London arriving (for certain in 1635), he may of course have arrived earlier or gone via Amsterdam or elsewhere.  Some went to other cities in France and to Holland.  Those that remained pondered their fate as the Trial looked likely to go against them with the sheer weight of evidence.  However, they devised a plan that was pretty audacious, they countered the accusations with accusations of their own that it was in fact the Priest who was a Judaizer and that they were good Catholics and to prove it would, if found innocent, build a useful Hospital or School (or whatever was asked of them) in Rouen.  This defence amazingly worked and they were all freed and cleared of the charges. They did indeed then build a School and the Priest was denounced and sent away, his reputation ruined.  He was further told never to bring similar charges against the community again.

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Summary

The community was again able to live as it had done previously but over the next decades, trade gradually dwindled and perhaps the original threat was still uppermost in their minds as they began to move away from the area.  Antonio continued to trade with Rouen for many years and had an Agent in the city.  It is fascinating to find these small enclaves of Merchants dotted around the trading ports of the then known world and the way in which they used their influence and money to secure their safety.  They continually had the threat of being denounced and having to move on at a moments notice, it cannot have been much fun living with that sort of uncertainty or having to keep looking over your shoulder for the next potential threat.  What we can be certain of though, is that these Merchants must have wielded great power through their wealth and I imagine their overseas contacts, after all it Was Cromwell and Thurloe's interest in the contacts that Antonio had overseas that made his ability to live openly in London a secure one with Endenization and Government Contracts, no doubt, being a suitable reward.  Even so the community in London was denounced but, as we have seen elsewhere, was soon thrown out as mischief making.  These Merchant (to use a modern phrase) brought plenty to the party and were welcome visitors from both commercial and political reasons.

Read the Whole story here.

David Ferdinando

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