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Bernardo López de Mendizábal

Bernardo López de Mendizábal

By Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint

Beginning as early as the 1540s, wars in Europe and the Mediterranean proved financially ruinous for the Spanish monarchy. Castile and the empire it controlled lurched from fiscal crisis to crisis throughout the end of the sixteenth and most of the seventeenth centuries. There was never enough revenue. Taxes were raised and raised again, so dramatically that citizens at all levels revolted and whole regions of peninsular Spain sought independence. Revaluation of the currency led to the brink of catastrophe. Beginning in 1631, the "buying" of governmental positions was institutionalized in an effort to bring more income to the royal treasury. From that date on, successful candidates for office were required to pay to the treasury, before assuming their positions, the media anata, or half the amount of the position\'s salary for the first year.

The policy of media anata exacerbated an already strong motive for office holders to obtain financial gain from the discharge of their duties. The avidity with which officials throughout the empire sought personal profit often had disastrous consequences. In the province of New Mexico, for instance, the middle decades of the 1600s witnessed a succession of scandalous governors, each seemingly more venal and corrupt than his predecessor. The low point of the century in this regard may have come with the administration of Bernardo López de Mendizábal, 1659-1661.

López was born about 1620 in the town of Chietla in New Spain, which lies east of Cuernavaca and southwest of Puebla de los Ángeles. His parents had an hacienda there, and his father, a Basque, also served as a legal representative. His family tree included at least one Jewish ancestor, a fact that later would come back to haunt don Bernardo. On the whole, though, don Bernardo\'s family was one of imperial functionaries.

Initially intending a religious career, López attended Jesuit college at Puebla, but finished his course of study at the nearly century-old university in Mexico City. This made him the best educated of New Mexico's governors during that era. With his education complete, don Bernardo filled government posts in Nueva Granada, Cuba, and New Spain, gradually ascending the bureaucratic ladder. While in Cartagena, he met and married Teresa de Aguilera y Roche. Immediately preceding his appointment as governor of New Mexico in 1658, López served as alcalde mayor, or royal administrator in Guayacocotla, on the east slope of the Sierra Madre Oriental, northeast of Mexico City.

Don Bernardo was to succeed Juan Manso de Contreras as New Mexico\'s governor. While governor, Manso had had an affair with a married woman, which produced at least one child and stimulated an investigation by the Inquisition. With the media anata paid, López and his wife accompanied the Franciscan supply caravan from Mexico City to Santa Fe late in 1658. Also on the caravan was fray Juan Ramírez, who had been serving as procurador general, or chief overseer, of the mission supply for the preceding two years. He also held the post of custos, or religious administrator, for the Franciscans in New Mexico.

López and Ramírez were quickly at each other\'s throat, and López voiced views that seemed decidedly anti-Franciscan. The key issues between the two concerned the limits of civil and religious jurisdiction and the deference each man owed the other. Their disputes became so virulent that they may have contributed to the desertion of 10 of the 24 new missionaries who were also in the caravan. Disgruntled by his less-than-glorious reception by missionaries in New Mexico, López was alleged to have made a statement comparing himself to the Eucharist, a statement that the Holy Office of the Inquisition later took serious exception to. Shortly afterward, López retaliated by refusing to give Ramírez a formal welcome in Santa Fe.

Such seemingly petty insults and snubs set the mood for more substantive disagreements. Chief among these was whether Indians who worked at the Franciscan missions should be exempt from paying civil tribute. López said, no, they were not exempt, but were obliged to pay tribute just as all other native inhabitants of the province. On the other side, the missionaries insisted that Indians who worked for the Church would be penalized if they also had to pay tribute. On another issue concerning treatment of Native Americans, López prohibited corporal punishment of mission Indians, an option that the friars saw as sometimes necessary to employ.

The Franciscans accused the new governor of abusing Indians himself, using their labor for his own profit, sometimes by force: hauling salt, driving livestock to the mines at Parral for sale, knitting socks, and collecting piñon nuts, for example. There were also accusations that López engaged in raiding against Apache Indians for the sole purpose of taking captives who could then be sold as slaves.

As ammunition against the governor, Franciscans began keeping records of habits of don Bernardo and Teresa that looked suspiciously non-Christian. Their reading and sleeping habits, their only infrequent attendance at Mass, their occasional bathing on Fridays were all particularly noted. Likewise, the governor kept records of sexual indiscretions committed by the clergy, especially having sex with women in their parishes. Nor was López innocent of such activity, as the Franciscans readily observed and the man himself admitted.

Perhaps most offensive to the Franciscans was the official stance adopted by the governor concerning the calendar of masked ceremonial dances performed by the Pueblos. According to later testimony, López "had given his permission for the Christian Indians to perform their ancient and modern [kachina] dances." He likened them to dances such as the zarambeque that was performed routinely in Spain without ecclesiastical prohibition. López and his wife even attended masked dances at the pueblos. This was anathema to the missionaries, who increasingly sought to stifle all non-Christian observations among their flocks.

Factions supporting and opposed to the governor acted in support of their favorites. Formal charges were drafted on both sides and dispatched to Mexico City. By 1660, the missionary priests had decided to abandon New Mexico out of frustration with López. But in the end, they stayed. Former governor Manso, who had been held in captivity while López conducted his residencia, or administrative review, escaped and fled to the viceregal capital, where he spearheaded agitation against don Bernardo.

The various charges against him brought a premature end to López\'s administration when, in 1660, a new governor of the province of New Mexico was appointed, Diego de Peñalosa Briceño y Berdugo. Also in that year a new Franciscan custos was appointed, fray Alonso de Posada. He proved to be an implacable adversary of both the old governor and the new.

As was standard procedure for an immediate past governor, López\'s residencia began shortly after the new governor\'s arrival in Santa Fe. The movement of don Bernardo and Teresa was restricted while the review was in process. In November 1661 as the residencia drew to a close, López offered Peñalosa a bribe of 6,000 pesos to minimize or dismiss altogether the resulting charges. Peñalosa, no paragon of virtue himself, refused and demanded instead 10,000 pesos. The former governor balked at that figure and no deal was reached. During the same month the new governor restored the exemption from tribute of Indians working for the mission churches, thus reversing López\'s ruling of less than two years earlier.

In December, Peñalosa handed down an indictment of López on 33 counts of malfeasance during his tenure. No sooner had don Bernardo received that blow, than his predecessor in the governor\'s office, Juan Manso, returned to New Mexico, now bearing the title of alguacil mayor, or chief constable, of the Inquisition. He brought with him a warrant for the arrest of both don Bernardo and Teresa by the Inquisition. Before the warrant could be served, Diego de Peñalosa offered to help the López de Mendizábals flee from New Mexico in exchange for some of their property. When that offer was turned down, the new governor simply confiscated the couple\'s property, effectively removing it both from their possession and that of the Inquisition.

Summer 1662 saw the arrival of the Audiencia\'s final determination in López\'s residencia. He was barred from holding civil office for eight years and fined 3,000 pesos. Manso then served the Inquisition\'s warrant and arrested don Bernardo and Teresa, imprisoning them in separate cells at Santo Domingo Pueblo, the religious "capital" of the province. There they awaited transport to Mexico City with the returning supply caravan. The train of wagons with its doleful cargo departed from New Mexico in October 1662.

Imprisoned by the Inquisition upon reaching the viceregal capital, López was already ill with an ailment that would kill him in a year and a half. The trials of don Bernardo and Teresa dragged on, as was not unusual. The hapless ex-governor died in September 1664, still a prisoner and accused of being a crypto-Jew. He was buried in unconsecrated ground in a corral near the prison. Three month\'s later, his wife\'s trial was suspended and she was freed from confinement. Teresa pressed for exoneration of her dead husband and after seven years, in April 1671, the Holy Office decided not to pursue its case against don Bernardo. As a result, his body was exhumed and then reburied at Santo Domingo Church, not far from the Zócalo, or city center, in Mexico City.

Back in New Mexico, the repercussions of the López de Mendizábal case continued. In the tug-of-war between religious and civil authorities over control of many aspects of the lives of Pueblo Indians, the Franciscans had clearly won. They continued and increased their pressure on Pueblo religious practices. That hard-line stance contributed significantly to unrest among the Pueblo people and helped precipitate the coordinated uprising of 1680, known as the Pueblo Revolt, which succeeded in driving Spaniards, both religious and lay, from New Mexico for 12 years.

Sources Used:

Elliott, John H., Imperial Spain, 1469-1716 (London: Penguin Books,1990).

Gutiérrez, Ramón A., When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991).

Hackett, Charles W., "New Light on don Diego de Peñalosa: Proof that He Never Made an Expedition from Santa Fe to Quivira and the Mississippi River in 1662," The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 6(3) (December 1919):313-35.

Riley, Carroll L., The Kachina and the Cross: Indians and Spaniards in the Early Southwest (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1999).

Scholes, France V., "Troublous Times in New Mexico," New Mexico Historical Review 12(2):134-74; 12(4):380-452; 13(1):63-84; 15(3):249-68; 15(4):369-417; 16(1):15-40; 16(2):184-205; and 16(3):313-27.