KING FERDINAND: DID HE HAVE JEWISH ANCESTERS?
by Ribi Eliyahu Capsali - II
From HaLapid, Summer 1995
David and Esther Rafael recently gave me a book that I find very enjoyable. It is The Beauty of Sephardic Life by The late Sam Bension Maimon. The book consists of a series of articles written by Mr. Maimon for La Boz (The Voice) the newsletter of the Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregaton of Seattle. The book can be ordered from Maimom Ideas Publications, 5241 S. Holly, Seattle, WA. 98118. The price is $16.25, ($15 for the book and $1.25 for postage). Checks should be made payable to Maimon Ideas Publications.
Eugene Normand, the son-in-law of Mr. Maimon, has given us permission to reprint one of the articles from the book. It is an article that should be of interest to members of the SCJS.
In last month's La Boz article, we reported the interesting addition to our synagogue library -- that of the two-volume set of books called Sefer Eliyahu Zota by Rabbi Eliyahu Capsali of Candia on the island of Crete.
The unique style the author employs is so captivating that one feels he is reading a masterpiece. In retelling these stories Rabbi Capsali displays an enormous knowledge of Hebrew literature, quoting select phrases from the Bible, the Talmud, etc., and yet manages to connect them all and create a very charming and a very skillful narrative.
Today I would like to report a story that was told to him by what he calls Anusim (forced converts to Catholicism) who, on their way to Constantinople or Salonika or other cities, used to stop in Candia. Rabbi Eliyahu realized that these Anusim, or formerly secret Jews, were running away from the brutality and the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition.
Rabbi Eliyahu tells us that even thirty years after the great expulsion of 1492, there were whole families leaving Spain to find a free land where they could relax and find new homes, where they could practice their beloved Jewish religion openly, without the constant fear of being burned at the cursed auto da fe.
Some of these Anusim had achieved a high degree of economic and political reputation. So the stories they told him were not just gossipy rumors but very reliable information, coming from sources that were very confidential -- first hand accounts told by people who saw it happen.
The story Rabbi Eliyahu tells in great elaborate detail is one that proves that the Spanish King Ferdinand was of Jewish ancestry. There was a very beautiful girl living in Spain. Her name was Palomba. Besides her striking beauty she was also highly educated, attaining a degree of aristocratic refinement and an admirable charm. Palomba was eventually married to a very handsome Jewish young man, equally educated, belonging to an aristocratic home. They lived in a high class mansion situated in the suburb of a large city.
One day, Palomba decided to go to the city on a shopping trip. No sooner had she left her home with her servants than a nobleman happened to see her and began to marvel at her exquisite beauty.
Thee name of this Spanish nobleman was Fadrique Enriques Almirante de Castilia, one of the most loved governors of one of the Spanish provinces, with close official association with the king. Time passed and Almirante could not forget Palomba. He fell madly in love with her, so that one day he managed to trick her to come with him and he finally seduced her.
Palomba, feeling a terrible guilt, told her husband about this sordid affair. Her husband, who could not bear the shame and the embarrassment, left her. Soon, she discovered she was pregnant and subsequently bore a very handsome son.
Word reached Almirante who became sure that this young son was his own flesh and blood. So Almirante took the boy, brought him to live with him at his palace and afforded him an excellent education, fit for a prince.
At first Palomba refused to give up her son, but she was soon compelled to agree. When the young man grew up, Almirante had him marry a princess who bore him four daughters. Three of these daughters were eventually married to princes of the royal family. The fourth daughter was married to the Rey (King) de Aragon. Out of this union was born a son, Ferdinand.
The leaders of the Spanish Jewish community including the famous Don Avraham Seneor, who knew of Ferdinand's Jewish ancestry, rejoiced at the fact that this King Ferdinand would be very tolerant in his treatment of his Jewish subjects.
Unfortunately, history and fate decided differently, and as it turned out it was this very same Ferdinand and his Queen Isabella, who ultimately were responsible for the cruel and heartless edict of the expulsion of our Sephardic ancestors from Spain.