The Return – Exits and Entrances

–My heritage, part six

The two Antonio’s are both close relatives  of my ninth great grandparents, wealthy New Christians; Antonio Rodrigues being his brother-in- law. Luis de Oliveira Lisboa and Isabel Rodrigues from the town of Lamego in Portugal due north of Viseu.   Two of the children of Luis and Isabel  are my eighth great grandparents – Jacob de Oliveira  and Antonio Rodrigues de Morais. They have at least one other sibling, Polycarpo de Oliveira. The family were to  play an important part in the readmission of Jewry to England with, following the readmission,  some members being amongst the earliest openly Jewish residents there.

Luis decided to move to Lisbon from his home in Northern Portugal. The Portuguese capital. “Lisboa”  was likely incorporated by him in his  family  name because of that move. Luis became a very successful banker in Lisbon  involved in financing the Atlantic trade. Eager to expand his business still further he decided to move to  Madrid, the capital of Spain,   to be closer to the action in “Asiento” bills as well as being closer to the Spanish royal court.

The  move presented no problem being during the temporary union between Spain and Portugal ( 1580 to 1640). Indeed the Spanish King had been actively seeking to attract Portuguese bankers to the capital being desperate to raise finance. Luis was pleased when he was joined there by his nephew Bartoleme Febos. the son of his Rouen based brother, António.

Bartolem had been brought up in Lisbon by an aunt and, in his early years, was  a practising Catholic. Because of the risk of attracting the attention of the Inquisition, it was not unusual for children to be totally  unaware of their parent’s true faith. Later, from the age of 12,  he lived for a time in Rouen with his father Antonio where he was able  to learn about, and started practicing, Judaism –  perhaps even being called to read the Torah at his Bar Mitzvah when 13. To some degree the French authorities were, at that time, choosing to ignore any signs of Judaism emanating from their resident New Christians because of the business they were bringing  to the town  – so the risks arising from practicing their religion appeared to be far less in Rouen  than in Lisbon.

When, in 1627 Bartoleme had moved to Madrid to work with Luis on “ Asiento” related bills of exchange he was only 19. Asientos  were being granted by the King to individuals allowing them to exclusively undertake a designated activity  for  a specified time in return for payment by them of a substantial sum to the Crown. These Asientos could relate to any business area that the King decided upon. It included production and distribution of sugar, salt, tobacco. It included slavery. The financing of  bills of exchange oiled the wheels  of all aspects of each activity. However the  parties granted these Asientos did not directly undertake these trading activities but granted sub-rights to multiple ‘contradores” to individually conduct them to a specified extent. Payment by a contradores for his sub-rights was usually by bills of exchange maturing on specified dates. The holder of Asiento would fund the amount due to the King with the bills of exchange as security. The Spanish and Portuguese Empires were of such  a massive size that I could not imagine the aggregate turnover of the owners of the monopolistic  asiento owners, of  their contradores, the plantation and mine owners and shippers.

Bankers, particularly New Christian bankers like Luis, were an essential part of the commercial landscape funding all of these activities and they became very wealthy as did many of merchants closer to trading activities involved. You would expect that the coffers of the Spanish Crown would be overflowing from the grant of asientos alone. To the contrary, the Treasury was mismanaged to such an extent that it became insolvent. In 1627 Luis, his brother in law Antonio Rodrigues Lamego  and Antonio’s son Bartoleme Febos, participated in the major and crucial  financing of Philip lV of Spain organised by D’Olivares the Spanish Prime Minister. They were an important part of a group of ten participants providing an enormous loan of 2,159,438 ducats to the bankrupt country. This seemed to  open up even further the potential  for financing of  trading activities in the Union .

The group providing the loans were living in a fool’s paradise. The Spanish Crown was never averse  to extracting massive “donations” from New Christians in return for promoting  possible relief from investigation by the Inquisition. Any relief always required approval from the Pope. The Ruler was certainly aware that Iberia was gradually losing commerce to  countries such as France  and the Netherlands and sometimes granted incentives to encourage New Christians to  stay in Iberia. Notwithstanding its damage to the economy it was however  not always possible for them to restrain Inquisitors from  persecution of particular New Christians  and to profit from confiscation of their assets. Witness after living for  4 years in Madrid and helping fund  the Spanish Crown, Bartoleme was accused by the Inquisition of  practising Judaism which we know to be the case.

From 1632  to 1636 Bartoleme was interrogated and tortured  by the Inquisicion de Toledo. Information fed to them by spies on his practice of  Judaism  in Rouen was a critical part of the evidence. His celebrity friend  Fernando ( later Isaac)  Cardoso, Physician at the Royal court, sprang to  his defense. Bartolem was eventually convicted but suffered only a small fine and was recorded as “reconciled”  with Catholicism. He was able to live the high life and entertain   merchants, artists and poets at his home in Rua de San Luis. However his  father, António in Rouen, was found guilty in absentia and his effigy was burnt. Eventually six of the loan providers  to the Spanish Crown were bankrupted because of a default on the loan which had a knock on effect with business associates of theirs. Unsurprisingly Antonio Rodrigues de Lamego would not not exactly have any warm feelings towards Spain and its ruler in the future.

As New Christians, my ancestral family had to cope  with the two centers of power in Portugal and France in addition to Spain  – the Crown and the Church –  whose attitudes to them could be in conflict. If some New Christians had become  wealthy and the economy had benefited this was proof of the success of the Crown’s strategy. An automatic consequence of a New Christian being wealthy  was to  attract the attention of the Inquisition who would seize their assets if they were found guilty of having practiced Judaism. In the process of Inquisition any of them falling into the hands of the Inquisition, like Bartoleme, could be tortured to obtain further  evidence not only about them and their religious practice but also about friends and relatives. A scribe would have witnessed and noted the tortures  employed on Bartoleme,  noted the questions and responses and the names of all the friends and relatives for use in future  actions.

Scribes notes of gruesome events have been archived and are available to researchers. From this I have learnt of members of my family tree who were found guilty of heresy and not only had  their assets confiscated but were burnt at the stake in an auto-da-fe. New Christians only too aware of the risks,  would take  some precautionary actions – for example the accumulation of their assets outside of the country  which was particularly possible if they were trading overseas. Antonio Rodrigues de Lamego in Rouen had  felt he was remote not only from the Spanish Inquisition but also from the Portuguese Inquisition.

Antonio and his family had interests in Brazil which had been part of the Portuguese Empire from the time it had been awarded the territory  by the Pope in 1506. Plantations had been created there using slave labor  where crops would be grown from which valuable commodities,  including particularly sugar, would be extracted. I have not yet found that my family directly owned any plantations. In  1630, a time when Portugal was still in a Union with Spain,  the Dutch, aspiring to create a major empire,  started a campaign to take over part of Brazil by force  with their eyes firmly focused on acquiring the benefit of the profits on trading in the many  commodities produced there. The family had members living in Portugal in Spain and Amsterdam so this development created a  new set of problems to be addressed.


Clive Russell
Clive Russell
CLIVE currently serves as Joint President of Russell Business LLC (“RB”), which is the collective name for a community of synergistic and complementary activities and businesses encompassing the International Property Market. RB is engaged in business activities that combine cutting-edge structured finance and technology geared to maximize returns from various sectors, including residential and commercial property, hotels and energy-related assets. Over the years, Clive’s forte’ has been the ability to develop and/or identify “below the radar” concepts, strategies and opportunities ripe for leveraging and ultimate success.

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  1. Hi Clive,
    I hope you get this message as I believe we are related. Abraham and Simha are my 6th grandparents. They had four daughters, two of whom you mentioned, Esther and Leah, and the other two were Rebecca and child 5, Rachel. Rachel is my 5th grandmother. She married Benjamin Isaacs and their youngest son Lewis married his first cousin, Simelia, daughter of Leah and Lazarus Phillips. Rachel and Benjamin’s oldest son Abraham is my 4th grandfather.
    I was so interested to read your article!
    Thank you