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02 May 2024

The hidden history of Iberia's New Christians

The first comprehensive history of the descendants of Jews forced to convert to Catholicism in late medieval Spain and Portugal.

Strangers Within book cover

Professor Francisco Bethencourt, Charles Boxer Professor at King's Department of History estimates a total of 260,000 New Christians by 1500, more than half of Iberia's urban population. This large minority moved throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, West Africa, coastal Asia and the New World. They established Sephardic communities in North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, Italy, Amsterdam, Hamburg and London.

The elite of bankers, financiers and merchants from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries had a crucial role of this minority in global trade and financial services, as well as in legal and economic thought, science, art and literary expression.

Professor Bethencourt details this history using ground-breaking research in eighteen archives and library manuscript departments. His book, Strangers Within argues that the liminal position in which the New Christians found themselves explains their rise, economic prowess and cultural innovation. Professor Bethencourt explains how the New Christians created the first coherent legal case against the discrimination of a minority singled out for systematic judicial inquiry although, cumulative inquisitorial prosecution, coupled with structural changes in international trade, led to the fatal decline and disappearance as a recognisable ethnicity by the mid-eighteenth century. This piece of research is a landmark study, unparalleled in scope.

In this story

Francisco Bethencourt

Charles Boxer Professor

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