New Light on Juan Bautista Diamante

by R.V. Pringle (December 2007)

Emilio Cotarelo y Mori's paper of 1916 has long been accepted as the standard account of the life and writings of Juan Bautista Diamante (?1625-1687), a minor dramatist at the courts of Philip IV and Charles II often described as a 'follower of Calderón'.   Documents unknown to Cotarelo and to later writers, in particular Inquisitional records relating to a younger half-brother of the playwright, throw new light on his family and personal circumstances.   They cast doubt on his provenance and suggest a degree of protection – even against pursuit by the Inquisition – afforded by the royal court to favoured individuals.

Summary – Part 1

The father of Juan Bautista Diamante, the playwright, was a Sicilian by birth, Giacopo Diamanti, possibly of Greek parentage and/or Jewish extraction.

Giacopo or (in the Spanish form) Jácome Diamante came to Madrid in the second quarter of the seventeenth century, set up as a merchant in the Calle Mayor, and married Blanca Rodríguez, the daughter of a fellow-merchant, probably in 1631.   His first son, Juan Bautista, was born some years earlier – possibly in August 1625 – and the marriage with Blanca produced four more sons between 1633 and 1642.   From 1635 onwards, allegations of secret Judaizing were made against the family.   These culminated in 1666 in the arrest and trial by the Inquisition of Mateo Diamante, the playwright's half-brother.

For reasons that are unclear but may be partly guessed at, the allegations of Judaism – and even Mateo's 'confession' in 1670 that he had been brought up in the Jewish faith by his mother, Blanca 'de Herrera' – did not prevent either Juan Bautista or his half-brothers, Pablo and Francisco, from gaining favour at Court.   What we do know for certain is that the Diamante family carried out a wholesale adulteration of public documents in order to conceal the origins of this woman and those of the playwright's own mother, Magdalena de Acosta (or da Costa).

Of the the playwright's mother all we know is that she may have been Portuguese.   Where she was born or laid to rest we do not know;  neither can we be certain that Juan Bautista was a native of Madrid, or indeed the legitimate son of his parents.

Part 1 – Origins and Family Connections

Before Cotarelo, information about Diamante's origins and early years was tantalisingly slight.

Barbosa Machado, in 1747, asserts that Diamante was

Mesonero Romanos, in 1859, refers to a tradition amongst unnamed Portuguese writers that he was

Cayetano de la Barrera provides evidence via Antoine de Latour in 1861 that in September 1648 Diamante

Cotarelo, in 1916, thought he had found Juan Bautista's partida de bautismo.   This made Diamante

Cotarelo's account of Diamante's ancestry on his father's side relies heavily on the evidence of two pruebas de nobleza, the records of parallel investigations carried out in 1687 by Commissioners of the Order of Montesa.   This examined the genealogy of the playwright's half-brothers, Pablo and Francisco Diamante y Herrera.

Pruebas de nobleza - Pablo and Francisco Diamante, 1687

a) Playwright's father: Jácome Diamante (1594-1660)

At the time of their application to join the Order of Montesa Pablo was Corregidor of Chinchilla and Francisco a royal secretary.   Eminent witnesses appeared on their behalf, including Don Juan de Mendoza, royal chronicler and chief herald.   On the paternal side they claimed as great-great-grandfather a Greek nobleman from Koroni who had fled with 3000 other inhabitants when that city fell to the Turks in 1534:

... y en 15. de Abril ... llegaron al Puerto de Malta. El Gran Maestro no quiso dexarlos desembarcar, porq(u)e de los largos trabaxos ivan tan enfermos, q(u)e se decia llevavan contagio;  y assi fueron a Mecina, en donde hallaron mas Piedad, y consuelo.

The candidates' father (and father of the playwright Juan Bautista), known in Spain as Jácome Diamante, was born Ian Giacupu Dinisi Diamanti in Messina in 1594 and left Sicily early in the seventeenth century.   In 1625 he was, by his own account, with the Portuguese fleet

la qual en Cabo-Verde se juntó con la de don Fadrique de Toledo y fueron a desembarcar a la Bahía de Todos Santos, y sitiaron la ciudad de San Salvador que ocupavan los olandeses.

After which, it seems, he came to Madrid, married Blanca de Herrera y Acuña, a native of the capital, in July 1633, and had by her four sons:  Pablo, baptized on 23 July 1633;  Jácome junior, on 27 October 1634;  Mateo, on 10 January 1636;  and Francisco, on 6 August 1642.   The longer gap between third and fourth sons should be read in the context of Jácome's claim that he had enlisted as an hijodalgo in 1638 to go to the aid of the inhabitants of Fuenterrabía, then under siege from the French.   After which, in 1653:

viendo que él, como forastero, no podía concurrir en los officios Nobles desta Villa, provó su Nobleza, y Limpieza de Sangre, ante el Teniente de Corregidor de Mad(ri)d con citación de su Proc(urado)r g(ene)r(a)l y haviéndose examinado Diezynueve testigos.

One difficulty which this account presented for Cotarelo was that the playwright's record of baptism appeared to place Jácome in Madrid in 1625 – hardly enough time, as Cotarelo himself acknowledges, for Jácome to have served in the fleet, married Juan Bautista's mother, and made his way to Madrid.   And if Cotarelo had seen the document purporting to be a record of Jácome's marriage in Madrid to Magdalena de Castro y Vargas in January 1624 he might well have begun to suspect that all was not quite what it seemed.

If the date 29 August 1625 as given in the partida de bautismo is to be believed, Juan Bautista was already about six years old by the time of his father's second marriage.   If (as suggested by Latour's evidence) he was about 22 in September 1648, that makes him a year younger, ie with a birth date around 1626.

b) Playwright's stepmother: Blanca 'de Herrera'(?1603-1658)

For the candidates' mother it was claimed, with much supporting testimony, that she was of noble birth, the daughter of Francisco de Herrera y Barrios and Elena de Acuña y Freitas, both natives of Madrid, and related to the Marquis of Ujena and the Count of Lumiares, respectively.   Documents produced were the baptismal records of Doña Blanca and her parents;  the candidates' own partidas de bautismo;  pruebas de nobleza obtained in 1653 by Jácome Diamante on behalf of himself and his four children by Blanca de Herrera;  a copy, obtained by Jácome in 1645, of the record of a process by which his father-in-law, as an hijoldalgo, secured his own release from imprisonment for debt in 1590;  and an información de nobleza made by Jácome in 1633 shortly after the birth of Pablo on behalf of himself, his son and his wife, Blanca.

Trial and 'reconciliation' of Mateo Diamante, 1666-1670

Four years after the successful conclusion of these pruebas, the brothers Pablo and Francisco Diamante applied to join the ranks of the Inquisition as 'familiares'.   This new application set in train a far-reaching enquiry which laid bare several uncomfortable facts: one of these was that in 1670 their brother, Mateo, had confessed to the Inquisition of Toledo that he was a practising Jew, and that he had been brought up in the Jewish faith by his mother, Blanca de Herrera.

c) Allegations of Judaism and marrano origins, 1635-36

Mateo's trial lasted four years, from May 1666 until his reconciliation to the Church on 19 October 1670.   The details of the information which led to his arrest in February 1666 and subsequent confession are not known, but they apparently implicated Mateo's deceased mother and her sister, María, as well as Mateo himself and a friend named Luis de Paiva.   The trial revealed a history of allegations of Judaism against the Diamante family stretching back to the summer of 1635, when Jácome, the defendant's father was denounced to the Inquisition in a series of letters from Bayonne.

The accusations against Jácome Diamante seem to have stemmed at the outset from his association with Francisco Rodríguez (Jácome's father-in-law by virtue of his marriage to Blanca 'de Herrera' – see below), a tailor, one-time stationer, and 'notorious Jew' whose observance of the Mosaic law was 'well-known' amongst the Portuguese inhabitants of Madrid.

In a deposition made in September 1636 by Martín de Jaureguí, parish priest of San Miguel, both Jácome and hi father-in-law are further associated with Jacob Cansino, a 'public Jew' whom Jaureguí had observed in conversation with the two men in Jácome's mercer's shop on the afternoon of 25 August.

On entering the shop, situated in the Calle Mayor near the Puerta del Sol, the priest

"vió que en lo más retirado de ella estaba hablando con él [i.e. Jácome Diamante] y con vn viejo (que se decía era su suegro) a vn judío público, llamado Iacob Cansino, mui en secreto.   Y hiço juicio que éste los persuadía a la obseruancia de la ley de Moysés.   Y entre otras palabras que pudo percebir fueron éstas: 'Dice la Sagrada Escritura...' 'Dice vn rabino ...' 'Como nosotros tenemos ...', a las quales estaban mui attentos Jácome y su suegro, bajaban las caueças como aplaudiendo lo que decía el judío, y Jácome decia, 'Sí, sí, bien, bien.' Y con la curiosidad de entender mejor lo que hablaban, se introduxo el testigo en la conuersación, y a el instante la mudaron, diciendo el Cansino que tenía quarenta arrouas de cera, y luego se separaron."

Jacob Cansino belonged to one of the Sephardi families who settled in Oran at the beginning of the sixteenth century and who were allowed by the Spanish authorities to practise their religion without interference.   As a young man he was employed as an interpreter by the Spaniards in Oran, but by 1625 he was in Madrid, as Caro Baroja tells us,

con un permiso especialísimo para vivir dentro de su ley y vistiendo el indumento propio de los judíos africanos.   Era intérprete del Conde-duque [de Olivares] y hombre de su confianza ...   Cansino tenía tal autoridad por entonces que podía hablar libremente, incluso con gentes sospechosas en materias de fe y, según algun proceso, aparece relacionado con espías y judaizantes ...

d) Allegations of Judaism, 1651-55

Notwithstanding Martín de Jaureguí's testimony and the earlier accusations of Judaizing, no action was taken against Jácome or his father-in-law.   In February 1651, however, the daughter of a Madrid schoolmaster, Manuela López, told the Inquisition that a nephew of Jácome's, aged about ten or eleven, had confessed to her to having taken part in a 'crucifixion' at Jácome's house opposite the Correo Mayor, together with his sister, Elena, his mother, Ana (Blanca's sister), and Jácome's wife, Blanca;  and that 'un hijo de Jácome Diamante que era estudiante hacía gestos al santo Christo'.

The accusation is strikingly reminiscent of the affair of the 'Cristo de la Paciencia' in 1629, which resulted in the Madrid auto de fe of 1632, and was of a type frequently made against the Spanish Jews.   The Holy Office, at any rate, took the accusation sufficiently seriously to begin a case against Jácome and his family, but on 24 November 1655 decided to take no further action for the moment.

e) Trial of Mateo Diamante, 1666-70

At the time of Mateo Diamante's arrest in February 1666 both parents were dead, but the memory of the Inquisition, like the arm of the law, was long, and the earlier accusations of Judaism against the Diamante family were now brought to the fore.

Attention centred particularly on the origins of Mateo's mother, Blanca Rodríguez 'de Herrera'. Various documents had been falsified including, it seems, Blanca's partida de bautismo dated 1603 in the parish of San Ginés, Madrid, where the names 'Herrera' and 'Freytas' had been added.   It also appeared that Blanca had called herself variously Ferel, Ferrer and Ferrera before amending her surname to Herrera in order - it was alleged - to obscure her Portuguese marrano origins.

Before his arrest Mateo had succeeded in entering the Order of St Augustine but had been expelled from it by the summer of 1660, and seems to have taken over, by arrangement with his brothers, the house and shop in the Calle Mayor left vacant by the death of their father in June of that year.

No record of Mateo's trial as such survives, but we know that after four years he finally confessed to the 'crime' of which he was accused, "con la circunstancia de auerle enseñado la ley de Moysés D(oña Blanca de Herrera [su] madre ... de nación portuguesa". He was 'reconciled' in private on 19 October 1670, spent (it seems) a period of detention in Toledo, and had his goods and property - including the house and shop in the Calle Mayor - confiscated.

Informaciones genealógicas - Pablo Diamante, 1691-1695

Under instructions from Madrid the Inquisitors of Toledo agreed in June 1691 that Mateo's trial and conviction should not in themselves debar Pablo and Francisco from office.   Hearings were organised in Palermo and Madrid to take evidence concerning the genealogy of Jácome Diamante and Blanca de Herrera, and a thorough investigation of all relevant documents, with particular reference to Blanca's disputed surnames, carried out.

f) Hearings in Palermo – playwright's father, Jácome Diamanti y Ribera

The Palermo hearings provided little information, since none of the witnesses called could remember having heard of Jácome Diamanti or his parents;  several did, however, remember other members of the Sicilian branch of the family descended from an uncle of Jácome's.

The Commissary of Messina, for his part, reported that he had found Jácome's record of baptism in the parish of St Luke the Evangelist, under the year 1594, where he was named (in what the Commissary regarded as a slightly defective document) as Ian Giacupu Dinisi, the son of Gianmatteo Diamanti or Dimanti and Agatuzza Ribera.

He had also found the testament of Jácome's maternal grandfather, Giambattista Ribera, dated 1605, in which Agatuzza Ribera, Giambattista's daughter, is referred to as the wife of Gianmatteo Diamanti;  and a marriage contract dated 1589 naming Bernardino de Ribera as Giambattista's father.

g) Hearings in Madrid – playwright's stepmother, Blanca Rodríguez 'de Herrera'

The Madrid hearings produced differing opinions about the origins of Blanca de Herrera.   Though most witnesses thought she was a native of Madrid, some were of the opinion that she was born in Toledo: this agreed in fact with what Pablo had testified to at Mateo's trial, though it was not of course what he and Francisco claimed later.

The consensus seemed to be that her antecedents were Portuguese, though not necessarily marrano.   One witness had heard that she was the sister of "un platero que se llamaba Balthasar Rodríguez que dezían era portugués".   Another that her real name was Ferreira, that she was a native of Lisbon, and had had a sister "penitenciada en la Ynquisizión de Lisboa por la primera vez, y por la segunda quemada viva por negatiba".   It was also alleged by this witness – and denied by another – that when Juan Bautista Diamante quarreled with his half-brothers he taunted them with being Jews.

Pruebas de nobleza - Juan Bautista Diamante, 1660

For an ambitious family like the Diamantes Mateo's arrest and trial must have been, to say the least, an embarrassment.   Like Mateo, Juan Bautista had chosen the Church, while Pablo and Francisco had opted for law, branching off into the judiciary and the burocracy respectively.   (Of Juan Bautista's fourth half-brother, Jácome, we know little.)

Certainly, Juan Bautista and Francisco were so incensed by the arrest that they brought upon themselves the charge of impediencia by attempting to kill a man they presumed to have testified against their brother.   Fortunately the charge was dropped in August 1666.

Six years previously, in 1660, Juan Bautista had persuaded the authorities of the Order of St John of Malta that he was of untainted blood.   He had claimed successfully that his father was descended from a Greek nobleman, and that his mother came from a highborn Portuguese family.

The immediate consequence of Mateo's 'confession' was to place Juan Bautista under house arrest pending further deliberation by the Council of his Order - which decided eventually that his half-brother's transgression should not be held against him 'por ser hijo de otra madre'.

h) Playwright's paternal ancestors: Pablo, Juan and Juan Matteo

Unfortunately, Juan Bautista's pruebas de nobleza no longer survive;  but we know from Fernándaz de Bethéncourt, who must have had access to them, that he claimed as his mother Doña Magdalena de Castro y Vargas.   We may also fairly assume that the account given of his father's origins was substantially the same as that put forward in 1687 by Pablo and Francisco, and would be supported by similar, if not identical, documentation (see section a) above).

i) Playwright's mother: Magdalena 'de Castro y Vargas'

To prove his mother's nobility Juan Bautista would have needed to produce her record of baptism and testimony concerning her parents' ancestry.  In a partida dated 3 September 1610 she is named as Magdalena, daughter of Juan de Castro and Ana María de Vargas;  and in the banns for the marriage of Jácome and Blanca 'de Herrera' in October 1631, the former is referred to as "Jacome diamanti biudo de doña madalena de castro y bargas q(ue) m(uri)o".

By a curious coincidence the alleged baptismal record occupies a position immediately preceding and on the same page as that of Jácome's second wife, Blanca, dated 5 September 1610, in the registers of San Ginés.  Both partidas are entirely fraudulent, as are the banns of the second marriage referred to above.

To prove his own descent the playwright would have to produce in evidence his partida de bautismo and his parents' marriage record.   The latter is entered in the registers of San Ginés under the date 10 January 1624 (making Magdalena 13 years old at the time of the marriage).   It purports to record the marriage of Jácome Diamante and Magdalena de Castro y Vargas, both parishioners of San Ginés 'en la calle del Arenal', but is a complete fabrication.

Juan Bautista's own baptismal record is likewise entered in the registers of San Ginés under the date 10 September 1625, with a marginal note that the child was born on 29 August.   This too is a forgery.   It is not however a simple forgery, for the fabricated document has itself been fraudulently amended.   In the record as it stands today the playwright's mother is named as Magdalena de Castro;  but in an earlier state - before "retouching" - her name read Magdalena de Acosta.

We know of course that in 1648 Juan Bautista was calling his apparently deceased mother Magdalena de Acosta and that she was being referred to as Jácome Diamante's first wife;  but there exists no satisfactory proof that this marriage took place, whether in Madrid or elsewhere.   Neither is there any evidence of Magdalena's death in the registers of San Ginés between August 1625, the date (apparently) of Juan Bautists's birth, and 1631, the year of Jácome's supposed 'second' marriage.

Thus while it is possible to conjecture that Juan Bautista may indeed have been born on 29 August 1625, there is no proof of this whatsoever, nor can we be certain that he was actually born in Madrid.

Diamante family connections

That Jácome Diamante's account of his origins is substantially true there is little reason to doubt.   It is supported by the researches of the Commissary of Messina and by other external evidence such as the testimony taken in Messina.   But the fact that his family were apparently for several generations back thought of as Christian does not exclude the possibility that the playwright's father had Jewish origins – especially with a surname like Diamante – or indeed that he was secretly faithful to Judaism.   Jácome's great-grandfather came after all by his own account from the port of Koroni, a city which, as an important commercial centre, had a considerable Jewish community.

One testimony concerning Jácome stands out: that of the parish priest, Jáuregui, who claimed to have discovered Jácome and his father-in-law conversing with the 'public Jew', Cansino.   The content of the conversation – about which Jáuregui could easily have been mistaken – is perhaps not so important as the context, which provides credible evidence of an association between Jácome, his father-in-law, and Cansino.   That Jáuregui could have been mistaken about Cansino's identity is unlikely – especially in view of Cansino's unique status as described here by Caro Baroja, and the fact that he wore 'el indumento propio de los judíos africanos':

Frente a la multitud, frente a la Iglesia, el poder del Conde-duque de Olivares no podía evitar que cayeran en el oprobio varios de sus colaboradores financieros.   No puede precisarse hasta dónde llegaron sus gestiones para defenderlos, aunque testimonios tardíos y legendarios hablan de una quema de procesos contra judaizantes hecha por él mismo, y fuentes más fidedignos nos indican que protegió y se sirvió de hombres que debían producir escándalo a los timoratos.   Fue uno de ellos el intérprete Jacob Cansino ...   Cansino tenía tal autoridad por entonces que podía hablar libremente, incluso con gentes sospechosas en materias de fe, y, según algún proceso, aparece relacionado con espías y judaizantes ...   Más tarde, caído (Olivares) ...   en 1646, hubo de sufrir prisión, de la que salió, pero no malquisto, porque aún en 1656, en representación de los judíos de Orán, hizo un préstamo de 800,000 ducados con sus intereses a la Monarquía, viviendo hasta cerca de 1666, al parecer.

In 1666 the Inquisition arrested Mateo Diamante.   Was this just a coincidence, or were the Diamantes in some way protected by powerful friends in the capital until the 1660s?

We shall return to this question in Part 2.