Thursday 9 August 2007

The Marquis of Pombal and the 3 yellow hats

Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal (1699-1782), Chief Minister of Portugal and reformer

“Pombal’s social reforms designed to open the way to new economic prosperity went beyond the field of education. He recognised that one burden which held Portugal back was still the institutionalised persecution of all Portuguese of Jewish descent. He therefore outlawed racial discrimination and determined that New Christians should be given genuine legal equality with Old Christians. In order to carry out such a radical change he had to confront the Inquisition. This he did by virtually abolishing its church role and turning it into a state tribunal.”
A Concise History of Portugal, by David Birmingham, Cambridge University Press, 1996

A true/apocryphal story ...
King José I was considering a proposal by the Portuguese Inquisition which required New Christians (descendants of Jews) to wear yellow hats so that they could be identified in public. One day, the Marquis of Pombal, his Chief Minister, who objected to discriminatory measures, arrived in court carrying three yellow hats. The King asked who they were for and Pombal replied: “One for me, one for you and one for the Chief Inquisitor”. And there the matter rested.

Portrait of Pombal (1759) by João Silvério Carpinetti (1740-1800)

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