PERHAPS there is no country in which more laws have been framed, having in view the extinction and suppression of the Gypsy name, race, and manner of life, than Spain. Every monarch, during a period of three hundred years, appears at his accession to the throne to have considered that one of his first and most imperative duties consisted in suppressing or checking the robberies, frauds, and other enormities of the Gitanos, with which the whole country seems to have resounded since the time of their first appearance.

They have, by royal edicts, been repeatedly banished from Spain, under terrible penalties, unless they renounced their inveterate habits; and for the purpose of eventually confounding them with the residue of the population, they have been forbidden, even when stationary, to reside together, every family being enjoined to live apart, and neither to seek nor to hold communication with others of the race.

We shall say nothing at present as to the wisdom which dictated these provisions, nor whether others might not have been devised, better calculated to produce the end desired. Certain it is, that the laws were never, or very imperfectly, put in force, and for reasons with which their expediency or equity (which no one at the time impugned) had no connection whatever.

It is true that, in a country like Spain, abounding in wildernesses and almost inaccessible mountains, the task of hunting down and exterminating or banishing the roving bands would have been found one of no slight difficulty, even if such had ever been attempted; but it must be remembered, that from an early period colonies of Gitanos have existed in the principal towns of Spain, where the men have plied the trades of jockeys and blacksmiths, and the women subsisted by divination, and all kinds of fraud. These colonies were, of course, always within the reach of the hand of justice, yet it does not appear that they were more interfered with than the roving and independent bands, and that any serious attempts were made to break them up, though notorious as nurseries and refuges of crime.

It is a lamentable fact, that pure and uncorrupt justice has never existed in Spain, as far at least as record will allow us to judge; not that the principles of justice have been less understood there than in other countries, but because the entire system of justiciary administration has ever been shamelessly profligate and vile.

Spanish justice has invariably been a mockery, a thing to be bought and sold, terrible only to the feeble and innocent, and an instrument of cruelty and avarice.

The tremendous satires of Le Sage upon Spanish corregidors and alguazils are true, even at the present day, and the most notorious offenders can generally escape, if able to administer sufficient bribes to the ministers (40) of what is misnamed justice.

The reader, whilst perusing the following extracts from the laws framed against the Gitanos, will be filled with wonder that the Gypsy sect still exists in Spain, contrary to the declared will of the sovereign and the nation, so often repeated during a period of three hundred years; yet such is the fact, and it can only be accounted for on the ground of corruption.

It was notorious that the Gitanos had powerful friends and favourers in every district, who sanctioned and encouraged them in their Gypsy practices. These their fautors were of all ranks and grades, from the corregidor of noble blood to the low and obscure escribano; and from the viceroy of the province to the archer of the Hermandad.

To the high and noble, they were known as Chalanes, and to the plebeian functionaries, as people who, notwithstanding their general poverty, could pay for protection.

A law was even enacted against these protectors of the Gitanos, which of course failed, as the execution of the law was confided to the very delinquents against whom it was directed. Thus, the Gitano bought, sold, and exchanged animals openly, though he subjected himself to the penalty of death by so doing, or left his habitation when he thought fit, though such an act, by the law of the land, was punishable with the galleys.

In one of their songs they have commemorated the impunity with which they wandered about. The escribano, to whom the Gitanos of the neighbourhood pay contribution, on a strange Gypsy being brought before him, instantly orders him to be liberated, assigning as a reason that he is no Gitano, but a legitimate Spaniard:-

'I left my house, and walked about

They seized me fast, and bound:

It is a Gypsy thief, they shout,

The Spaniards here have found.

'From out the prison me they led,

Before the scribe they brought;

It is no Gypsy thief, he said,

The Spaniards here have caught.'

v In a word, nothing was to be gained by interfering with the Gitanos, by those in whose hands the power was vested; but, on the contrary, something was to be lost. The chief sufferers were the labourers, and they had no power to right themselves, though their wrongs were universally admitted, and laws for their protection continually being made, which their enemies contrived to set at nought; as will presently be seen.

The first law issued against the Gypsies appears to have been that of Ferdinand and Isabella, at Medina del Campo, in 1499. In this edict they were commanded, under certain penalties, to become stationary in towns and villages, and to provide themselves with masters whom they might serve for their maintenance, or in default thereof, to quit the kingdom at the end of sixty days. No mention is made of the country to which they were expected to betake themselves in the event of their quitting Spain. Perhaps, as they are called Egyptians, it was concluded that they would forthwith return to Egypt; but the framers of the law never seem to have considered what means these Egyptians possessed of transporting their families and themselves across the sea to such a distance, or if they betook themselves to other countries, what reception a host of people, confessedly thieves and vagabonds, were likely to meet with, or whether it was fair in the TWO CHRISTIAN PRINCES to get rid of such a nuisance at the expense of their neighbours. Such matters were of course left for the Gypsies themselves to settle.

In this edict, a class of individuals is mentioned in conjunction with the Gitanos, or Gypsies, but distinguished from them by the name of foreign tinkers, or Calderos estrangeros. By these, we presume, were meant the Calabrians, who are still to be seen upon the roads of Spain, wandering about from town to town, in much the same way as the itinerant tinkers of England at the present day. A man, half a savage, a haggard woman, who is generally a Spaniard, a wretched child, and still more miserable donkey, compose the group; the gains are of course exceedingly scanty, nevertheless this life, seemingly so wretched, has its charms for these outcasts, who live without care and anxiety, without a thought beyond the present hour, and who sleep as sound in ruined posadas and ventas, or in ravines amongst rocks and pines, as the proudest grandee in his palace at Seville or Madrid.

Don Carlos and Donna Juanna, at Toledo, 1539, confirmed the edict of Medina del Campo against the Egyptians, with the addition, that if any Egyptian, after the expiration of the sixty days, should be found wandering about, he should be sent to the galleys for six years, if above the age of twenty and under that of fifty, and if under or above those years, punished as the preceding law provides.

Philip the Second, at Madrid, 1586, after commanding that all the laws and edicts be observed, by which the Gypsies are forbidden to wander about, and commanded to establish themselves, ordains, with the view of restraining their thievish and cheating practices, that none of them be permitted to sell anything, either within or without fairs or markets, if not provided with a testimony signed by the notary public, to prove that they have a settled residence, and where it may be; which testimony must also specify and describe the horses, cattle, linen, and other things, which they carry forth for sale; otherwise they are to be punished as thieves, and what they attempt to sell considered as stolen property.

Philip the Third, at Belem, in Portugal, 1619, commands all the Gypsies of the kingdom to quit the same within the term of six months, and never to return, under pain of death; those who should wish to remain are to establish themselves in cities, towns, and villages, of one thousand families and upwards, and are not to be allowed the use of the dress, name, and language of Gypsies, IN ORDER THAT, FORASMUCH AS THEY ARE NOT SUCH BY NATION, THIS NAME AND MANNER OF LIFE MAY BE FOR EVERMORE CONFOUNDED AND FORGOTTEN. They are moreover forbidden, under the same penalty, to have anything to do with the buying or selling of cattle, whether great or small.

The most curious portion of the above law is the passage in which these people are declared not to be Gypsies by nation. If they are not Gypsies, who are they then? Spaniards? If so, what right had the King of Spain to send the refuse of his subjects abroad, to corrupt other lands, over which he had no jurisdiction?

The Moors were sent back to Africa, under some colour of justice, as they came originally from that part of the world; but what would have been said to such a measure, if the edict which banished them had declared that they were not Moors, but Spaniards?

The law, moreover, in stating that they are not Gypsies by nation, seems to have forgotten that in that case it would be impossible to distinguish them from other Spaniards, so soon as they should have dropped the name, language, and dress of Gypsies. How, provided they were like other Spaniards, and did not carry the mark of another nation on their countenances, could it be known whether or not they obeyed the law, which commanded them to live only in populous towns or villages, or how could they be detected in the buying or selling of cattle, which the law forbids them under pain of death?

The attempt to abolish the Gypsy name and manner of life might have been made without the assertion of a palpable absurdity.

Philip the Fourth, May 8, 1633, after reference to the evil lives and want of religion of the Gypsies, and the complaints made against them by prelates and others, declares 'that the laws hitherto adopted since the year 1499, have been inefficient to restrain their excesses; that they are not Gypsies by origin or nature, but have adopted this form of life'; and then, after forbidding them, according to custom, the dress and language of Gypsies, under the usual severe penalties, he ordains:-

'1st. That under the same penalties, the aforesaid people shall, within two months, leave the quarters (barrios) where they now live with the denomination of Gitanos, and that they shall separate from each other, and mingle with the other inhabitants, and that they shall hold no more meetings, neither in public nor in secret; that the ministers of justice are to observe, with particular diligence, how they fulfil these commands, and whether they hold communication with each other, or marry amongst themselves; and how they fulfil the obligations of Christians by assisting at sacred worship in the churches; upon which latter point they are to procure information with all possible secrecy from the curates and clergy of the parishes where the Gitanos reside.

'2ndly. And in order to extirpate, in every way, the name of Gitanos, we ordain that they be not called so, and that no one venture to call them so, and that such shall be esteemed a very heavy injury, and shall be punished as such, if proved, and that nought pertaining to the Gypsies, their name, dress, or actions, be represented, either in dances or in any other performance, under the penalty of two years' banishment, and a mulct of fifty thousand maravedis to whomsoever shall offend for the first time, and double punishment for the second.'

The above two articles seem to have in view the suppression and breaking up of the Gypsy colonies established in the large towns, more especially the suburbs; farther on, mention is made of the wandering bands.

'4thly. And forasmuch as we have understood that numerous Gitanos rove in bands through various parts of the kingdom, committing robberies in uninhabited places, and even invading some small villages, to the great terror and danger of the inhabitants, we give by this our law a general commission to all ministers of justice, whether appertaining to royal domains, lordships, or abbatial territories, that every one may, in his district, proceed to the imprisonment and chastisement of the delinquents, and may pass beyond his own jurisdiction in pursuit of them; and we also command all the ministers of justice aforesaid, that on receiving information that Gitanos or highwaymen are prowling in their districts, they do assemble at an appointed day, and with the necessary preparation of men and arms they do hunt down, take, and deliver them under a good guard to the nearest officer holding the royal commission.'

Carlos the Second followed in the footsteps of his predecessors, with respect to the Gitanos. By a law of the 20th of November 1692, he inhibits the Gitanos from living in towns of less than one thousand heads of families (vecinos), and pursuing any trade or employment, save the cultivation of the ground; from going in the dress of Gypsies, or speaking the language or gibberish which they use; from living apart in any particular quarter of the town; from visiting fairs with cattle, great or small, or even selling or exchanging such at any time, unless with the testimonial of the public notary, that they were bred within their own houses. By this law they are also forbidden to have firearms in their possession.

So far from being abashed by this law, or the preceding one, the Gitanos seem to have increased in excesses of every kind. Only three years after (12th June 1695), the same monarch deemed it necessary to publish a new law for their persecution and chastisement. This law, which is exceedingly severe, consists of twenty-nine articles. By the fourth they are forbidden any other exercise or manner of life than that of the cultivation of the fields, in which their wives and children, if of competent age, are to assist them.

Of every other office, employment, or commerce, they are declared incapable, and especially of being BLACKSMITHS.

By the fifth, they are forbidden to keep horses or mares, either within or without their houses, or to make use of them in any way whatever, under the penalty of two months' imprisonment and the forfeiture of such animals; and any one lending them a horse or a mare is to forfeit the same, if it be found in their possession. They are declared only capable of keeping a mule, or some lesser beast, to assist them in their labour, or for the use of their families.

By the twelfth, they are to be punished with six years in the galleys, if they leave the towns or villages in which they are located, and pass to others, or wander in the fields or roads; and they are only to be permitted to go out, in order to exercise the pursuit of husbandry. In this edict, particular mention is made of the favour and protection shown to the Gitanos, by people of various descriptions, by means of which they had been enabled to follow their manner of life undisturbed, and to baffle the severity of the laws:-

'Article 16. - And because we understand that the continuance in these kingdoms of those who are called Gitanos has depended on the favour, protection, and assistance which they have experienced from persons of different stations, we do ordain, that whosoever, against whom shall be proved the fact of having, since the day of the publication hereof, favoured, received, or assisted the said Gitanos, in any manner whatever, whether within their houses or without, the said person, provided he is noble, shall be subjected to the fine of six thousand ducats, the half of which shall be applied to our treasury, and the other half to the expenses of the prosecution; and, if a plebeian, to a punishment of ten years in the galleys. And we declare, that in order to proceed to the infliction of such fine and punishment, the evidence of two respectable witnesses, without stain or suspicion, shall be esteemed legitimate and conclusive, although they depose to separate acts, or three depositions of the Gitanos themselves, MADE UPON THE RACK, although they relate to separate and different acts of abetting and harbouring.'

The following article is curious, as it bears evidence to Gypsy craft and cunning:-

'Article 18. - And whereas it is very difficult to prove against the Gitanos the robberies and delinquencies which they commit, partly because they happen in uninhabited places, but more especially on account of the MALICE and CUNNING with which they execute them; we do ordain, in order that they may receive the merited chastisement, that to convict, in these cases, those who are called Gitanos, the depositions of the persons whom they have robbed in uninhabited places shall be sufficient, provided there are at least two witnesses to one and the same fact, and these of good fame and reputation; and we also declare, that the CORPUS DELICTI may be proved in the same manner in these cases, in order that the culprits may be proceeded against, and condemned to the corresponding pains and punishments.'

The council of Madrid published a schedule, 18th of August 1705, from which it appears that the villages and roads were so much infested by the Gitano race, that there was neither peace nor safety for labourers and travellers; the corregidors and justices are therefore exhorted to use their utmost endeavour to apprehend these outlaws, and to execute upon them the punishments enjoined by the preceding law. The ministers of justice are empowered to fire upon them as public enemies, wherever they meet them, in case of resistance or refusal to deliver up the arms they carry about them.

Philip the Fifth, by schedule, October 1st, 1726, forbade any complaints which the Gitanos might have to make against the inferior justices being heard in the higher tribunals, and, on that account, banished all the Gypsy women from Madrid, and, indeed, from all towns where royal audiences were held, it being the custom of the women to flock up to the capital from the small towns and villages, under pretence of claiming satisfaction for wrongs inflicted upon their husbands and relations, and when there to practise the art of divination, and to sing obscene songs through the streets; by this law, also, the justices are particularly commanded not to permit the Gitanos to leave their places of domicile, except in cases of very urgent necessity.

This law was attended with the same success as the others; the Gitanos left their places of domicile whenever they thought proper, frequented the various fairs, and played off their jockey tricks as usual, or traversed the country in armed gangs, plundering the small villages, and assaulting travellers.

The same monarch, in October, published another law against them, from St. Lorenzo, of the Escurial. From the words of this edict, and the measures resolved upon, the reader may form some idea of the excesses of the Gitanos at this period. They are to be hunted down with fire and sword, and even the sanctity of the temples is to be invaded in their pursuit, and the Gitanos dragged from the horns of the altar, should they flee thither for refuge. It was impossible, in Spain, to carry the severity of persecution farther, as the very parricide was in perfect safety, could he escape to the church. Here follows part of this law:-

'I have resolved that all the lord-lieutenants, intendants, and corregidors shall publish proclamations, and fix edicts, to the effect that all the Gitanos who are domiciled in the cities and towns of their jurisdiction shall return within the space of fifteen days to their places of domicile, under penalty of being declared, at the expiration of that term, as public banditti, subject to be fired at in the event of being found with arms, or without them, beyond the limits of their places of domicile; and at the expiration of the term aforesaid, the lord-lieutenants, intendants, and corregidors are strictly commanded, that either they themselves, or suitable persons deputed by them, march out with armed soldiery, or if there be none at hand, with the militias, and their officers, accompanied by the horse rangers, destined for the protection of the revenue, for the purpose of scouring the whole district within their jurisdiction, making use of all possible diligence to apprehend such Gitanos as are to be found on the public roads and other places beyond their domiciliary bounds, and to inflict upon them the penalty of death, for the mere act of being found.

'And in the event of their taking refuge in sacred places, they are empowered to drag them forth, and conduct them to the neighbouring prisons and fortresses, and provided the ecclesiastical judges proceed against the secular, in order that they be restored to the church, they are at liberty to avail themselves of the recourse to force, countenanced by laws declaring, even as I now declare, that all the Gitanos who shall leave their allotted places of abode, are to be held as incorrigible rebels, and enemies of the public peace.'

From this period, until the year 1780, various other laws and schedules were directed against the Gitanos, which, as they contain nothing very new or remarkable, we may be well excused from particularising. In 1783, a law was passed by the government, widely differing in character from any which had hitherto been enacted in connection with the Gitano caste or religion in Spain.

Jump to Zincali Part 1 CHAPTER XII

Return to Zincali Outline

This HTML version of  The Zincali is Copyright ©1999 by Dr. Frank Oliver Clark. This documents may be freely used for private purposes, and included in your own genealogy. However, this document is copyrighted and may not be sold, nor given to anyone who may attempt to derive profit from same.