Because Jews had mingled for so long and so intimately with Iberian nobility, very few nobles in Spain were free of any suspicion of descent from New Christians and hence Jews. Many were subjected to a most searching scrutiny of their antecedents and adherence to Christianity. Once the Inquisition was established, court rivalries could easily bring unwanted attention from it. Of those whose Christian faith was in any way less than fervent, only the most powerfully wealthy could hope to survive with their fortunes and lives intact. Useful in this regard would be a secure position at court, well-placed friends and family, and the diplomatic skills to influence the Spanish Inquisition via the King or the Pope's representatives. They also needed immaculate pedigrees - manufactured if necessary. In view of these abundant difficulties, we look to a period in Spanish history when conditions seemed most favourable for eminent New Christians to pursue Spanish nobility. This period was in the last 20 years of the union of Spain and Portugal, when Portuguese New Christians played a major role in sustaining the Spanish Monarchy through cheaper Royal financing through the banking reform sought in 1626 (see note 1 below) by Count-Duke d'Olivares (see note 2 below).  By these means, Portuguese finance was critical to Spanish power in the 1620-1650 period. Paradoxically, this fell within the long-standing tradition (going well back through Christian and into Moorish rule) of high level administration by people of Jewish origin - of which the Abravenel and Senior families provide spectacular examples (see note 3 below). The arrangement survived Olivares' downfall in 1643, but not by much. The bankruptcy of the Spanish Crown in 1647 marked the virtual end of the asientos (see note 4 below)

Manuel Pinto e Ribero was a New Christian nobleman who survived having openly Jewish relatives yet promoted his family's standing in the nobility. He was born in Lisbon around 1590, with New Christian parents and a family network that rivalled any of the greatest Portuguese financiers. In 1629, after his father's death, he and his brother Inigo installed themselves and their families in Madrid. After his brother's death in 1642, Manuel liquidated his position in the asientos, returned to the estates that he had purchased and improved at Chiloches (near Madrid) and until his death in 1650 used his influence at court to establish his family's prominence and nobility in Castile. Manuel was quite successful in his attempts to ennoble his family. Already a Gentleman of the Royal Household in 1626, by the time of his death Manuel had added to his family's honours a Knighthood in the Order of Santiago for himself and his eldest son. But in 1646 or thereabouts, one of Manuel's sons of his two marriages renounced his titles and honours on the peninsula for the life of a public Jew in Amsterdam, yet the Lords of Chiloches seem to have been firmly fixed on the peninsula during the second half of the 17th century (ref 23).

Another example of a New Christian family whose fortune and name was enhanced in supplying the Spanish Army was of the Cortissos (ref 36). They came from the Braganza region, and were linked by marriage to the de Castro, Lopes and Almeida families though the Nunes name also appears in the late 1500s. Close to the Spanish Court, Manuel Cortissos and close male relatives were made Knights of the Order of Calatrava by Phillip 4. He died in 1649, but because he had sided with Queen Isabel against d'Olivares, some of his survivors were then made subject of Inquisitional attention but eventually relieved of this attention by virtue of support from well-placed family. His son received the title of Viscount de Valdefuentes. Joseph Cortissos, probably the grandson of Manuel, was born in Antwerp, his father being Abraham Semagh Cortissos who went on a mission to Morocco for the King of Spain, and was later agent there for Isaac Aboab de Paz, of Amsterdam where Abraham later resided. The difficulty of linking Joseph with Manuel is thought to be due to the custom of families in Spain disowning openly Jewish relatives to diminish Inquisitional interest. A confusion also arose over whether the title of Marquis had been awarded to an ancestor, but this may have been one awarded to the de Castro family.

But in the case of the Lamegos, the Inquisition represented a serious impediment, informed as it was about the family. Antonio Mendes Lamego was a prominent Atlantic trader who participated in the asientos. From ref 41 we know that (Antonio and Manuel) Rodrigues Lamego operated an Atlantic trading business from Rouen around 1623, and were probably related to Antonio Mendes Lamego who nevertheless may have tried to camouflage such a family link. For the Rouen Lamegos did not try hard to conceal their Jewishness - in contradistinction to Antonio da Fonseca who was also in Rouen at this time but was Catholic. The Rouen situation was known to the Spanish Inquisition. Perhaps having an overseas relative who was openly Jewish may not have been to the detriment of the Portuguese New Christian financiers while d'Olivares was in power and able to ensure that the agreed terms for asientos participation were adhered to. But Antonio Mendes Lamego and his (probable) relatives Febos and de Oliveira would have been poorly placed to pursue nobility, the Inquisition had already found against Febos and was interested in the de Oliveiras. The Lousadas intermarried with the Lamegos but we cannot find evidence that the Lousadas themselves were part of the Olivares banking reform.


1. A major difficulty in the reign of Philip 4 was the financing of the Spanish army in the Netherlands (ref 23). Because Portuguese penetration of American markets, and growing Dutch predation, undermined Seville's trade and the Genoese system of high finance, an adjustment of Spanish royal finances to the new realities of Atlantic preponderance was unavoidable. Portuguese merchants arrived in Madrid in 1626 to initiate the period of most intensive collaboration between Portuguese and Castilian. The Genoese banking syndicates who were providing the service until then were costly; and Olivares engineered competition by a series of syndicates (or asientos) of Portuguese bankers who were mostly New Christians with links to the successful trading families. Olivares helped them guard against the Inquisition with one notable lapse; and under general terms agreed, assets of the asentistas were immune from the Inquisition. Philip 4 seemed to require that his bankers be courtiers of a sort (see note 5 below). The policy of restructuring Spanish financing using Portuguese New Christians self-evidently required close knowledge of how the trading families operated. In addition to receipt of Royal paper in Spain, money had to be outlaid in Antwerp and elsewhere to make the Spanish Army's purchases and would have required issue of commercial paper, later to be offset and otherwise cleared through trusted local bill traders, agents and factors. The unrivalled trading success of the New Christians, with their links to the allied Jewish trading network, points to their expertise being at the heart of the design and execution of the refinancing. To obtain such expertise d'Olivares was not hesitant to use New Christians. From ref 23 (p66) we see something of how such skills were employed. 'Bartoleme Febos, born in Madrid about 1608, was a specialist serving many of the Portuguese asentistas from 1630 through 1647 at least. He provided credit in Lisbon, Rouen (where he had once lived with his father Antonio Rodrigues Lamego), Antwerp, Hamburg and Amsterdam. Luis de Oliveira Lisboa of Madrid, Bartoleme's uncle, also was active with him as a bill specialist. After a decade of operations in Madrid, Febos appeared as a specialist in Seville in 1640.' According to Edgar Samuel (ref 11) Luis de Oliveira Lisboa came from Lamego before becoming a banker in Madrid. (Samuel goes on to briefly describe this family, including its brush with the Inquisition, and a grandson who after an apprenticeship in Amsterdam went on to become a prominent silversmith in London.)

2. The eventual unpopularity of d'Olivares himself cast a shadow over his nephew Don Luis de Haro who in continuing to serve the King for as long as his uncle did had to take care that 'he succeeded in making people forget whose nephew he was' (ref  69 p350). But on the other hand, J H Elliott's splendid biography of Olivares (ref 70) provides many insights into how a Guzman scion like the Duque de Losada was able to continue - in competition with other aristocratic families - the Guzman and Zuniga grip on the role of Sumiller de Corps lasting almost 2 centuries from 1619. Olivares himself assumed the role of 'el sumiller de corps' to Philip 4 and in effect his Prime Minister, like the Duque de Losada a century later.

3. Olivares used as (what might now be called) Cabinet Secretary Jeronimo Villanueva from a family of Aragonese court officials of Jewish origin. And he also used Manuel Lopes Pereira - back to Spain from Holland in the early 1620s (ref 70). Originally he advised d'Olivares on Spanish foreign exchange problems, and went on to become a principal and enduring source of financial expertise for d'Olivares in the design and implementation of the refinancing.

4. The bankruptcy of the Spanish Crown in 1647 marked the virtual end of the financing. After 1647, many wealthy Portuguese New Christians left Madrid, looking for economic opportunities and even for their intellectual and cultural heritage and inspiration not to the Iberian Peninsula, which had mentored them, but to the newly founded and thriving Portuguese communities of the Diaspora and to the northern mercantile communities, whose entrepreneurial aspirations and outlook conformed more closely to their own than did the aristocratic ethos of the peninsula. The decline in the asientos left the Atlantic payments system intact and cleared the way for Amsterdam and its bankers to assume the function of the international payments and clearance mechanism and to become the international bankers of Europe. 

5. Glimpses of life at court can be obtained from ref 41 whose subject Fernando (Isaac) Cardoso, a doctor, arrived in Madrid at the same time as the influx of Portuguese New Christian financiers. Fernando Cardoso survived with his life and library intact and went on to lead a distinguished life in Verona as Isaac Cardoso.