Lucrecia the Dreamer
Prophecy, Cognitive Science, and the Spanish Inquisition
Kelly Bulkeley


Historical Prologue


508 BCE - The Rape of Lucretia508 BCE - The Rape of Lucretia

Although we know few details about Lucrecia de León’s parents, we do know they chose to give their first child the name of a legendary young woman of ancient Rome who was renowned for the supreme purity of her feminine virtue. A name is not destiny, of course. But it reflects something important about the parents’ heritage and values, and it hints at their expectations for their child’s future. In this case the parents’ choice of a name unknowingly foreshadowed a path leading to violence, tragedy, and rebellion against the highest authorities of the state.

The first recorded version of Lucretia’s story appears in Livy’s The Early History of Rome, composed at the beginning of the 1st century CE, in which Lucretia plays a pivotal role in the overthrow of the Tarquin monarchy, leading to the founding of the Roman Republic.1 According to Livy, Lucretia was the wife of a young nobleman named Lucius. While Lucius was away on a military campaign, Lucretia received a visit from Prince Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the king who ruled over Rome. In the middle of the night, when everyone else in the house was asleep, the prince silently entered Lucretia’s room, brandished his sword, and raped her. The next day, after the prince’s departure, Lucretia sent an urgent call for her husband and father. They came at once and asked if she was all right. She replied, “No. What can be well with a woman who has lost her honor?”2 She told them what the prince had done to her, and she begged them to avenge her death. Too shocked by the prince’s horrible crime to react, they did not realize what was coming next. She went on, “as for me, I am innocent of fault, but I will take my punishment. Never shall Lucretia provide a precedent for unchaste women to escape what they deserve.”3 With those words, she brought out a hidden dagger and thrust it into her chest, dealing herself a mortal wound.

ILLUSTRATION 1. Tarquin and Lucretia
An oil painting by the Italian artist Titian, commissioned by Philip II and completed in 1571; now in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England.

As her husband and father wailed in grief, Brutus, one of their kinsmen, made a fateful vow. He drew the bloody dagger out of Lucretia’s lifeless body and held it aloft, crying, “By this girl’s blood—none more chaste till a tyrant wronged her—and by the gods, I swear that with sword and fire, and whatever else can lend strength to my arm, I will pursue Lucius Tarquinius the Proud, his wicked wife, and all his children, and never again will I let them or any other man be King in Rome.”4 The dagger was passed from one man to the next, each of them swearing the same oath. From there they took Lucretia’s body to the public marketplace, where a large crowd gathered to view her corpse and hear Brutus describe her shameful defilement and lamentable death. The rape and suicide of Lucretia became the spark for a revolution that overthrew the Tarquinian monarchy and opened the way to a new form of republican self-government for the Roman people.

Myth, legend, and factual events are mixed together in this story, which Livy recounted five hundred years after it supposedly happened. We cannot be sure that there really was a woman named Lucretia whose death became a cause for rebellion. But we do know the Roman people believed that during a key moment in their history such a woman actually lived and died as Livy described, and we also know her story remained a source of wonder and admiration for many centuries afterward. Ovid, a contemporary of Livy’s, wrote a dramatic version of Lucretia’s death in his compendium of Roman mythology, The Book of Days (“Then she stabbed herself with a blade she had hidden, and, all bloodied, fell at her father’s feet. Even then she took care in dying so that she fell with decency, that was her care even in falling”5). In The Divine Comedy, Dante’s sweeping cosmological poem composed in early 14th century Italy, Lucretia occupied an honored place in Limbo, the outermost circle of hell, reserved for famous pagans without sin who were born before the time of Christ. As Dante began his downward descent into the Inferno, he first passed through a gate into a blooming green meadow where he found an impressive gathering of the “master souls of time”—Hector, Aeneas, Caesar, Brutus, Lucretia, and all the other great heroes of ancient Rome.6

The story of Lucretia’s virtuous self-sacrifice would have been familiar to many people in the Roman Catholic world of late 16th century Spain.7 Parents who chose this epic figure as a namesake for their firstborn daughter would have forever connected her to an ancient paragon of feminine purity, a haunting example of absolute commitment to the values of family honor and sexual subservience.8

711 CE - The Rape of La Cava

The historical setting of Lucrecia de León’s life was shaped by another well-known tale of a chaste young lady betrayed and sexually assaulted by a royal lord. The earliest legends of the Spanish people focused on an incident that occurred in the 8th century, when the Iberian peninsula was ruled by a Christian Visigoth king named Rodrigo.9 Rodrigo lived in a splendid palace in Toledo, the ancient capital. One day the king noticed the unusual beauty of a maiden in the queen’s entourage. Known as La Cava, she was the daughter of Count Julian, a Visigoth nobleman who had entrusted her care and protection to the king. Rodrigo’s desire for the young woman reached unbearable proportions, and heedless of his royal responsibilities he ordered her to appear in his private chambers. Despite her pleas and protests Rodrigo raped La Cava, and then forbade her speaking about it with anyone. She went to her father anyway and told him of her disgrace and dishonor. Furious at Rodrigo’s brutal violation of his daughter, Count Julian plotted a terrible revenge. He secretly negotiated with Rodrigo’s enemies, the Muslim armies from across the Mediterranean Sea in North Africa, and helped them invade the peninsula from the south. Rodrigo’s army was slaughtered, Toledo fell without a fight, and frightened Christians scattered into the wild mountainous regions of the north.

This was the beginning of al-Andalus, the period of Islamic rule over the Iberian peninsula lasting more than seven hundred years. In many ways it was a time of tremendous cultural progress in science, philosophy, art, architecture, and education. However, from the perspective of the exiled Christians, the Muslim conquest represented a shattering defeat and humiliating loss of God’s favor. They blamed their shameful plight on the moral weakness of the king.10 God had turned away from them because Rodrigo had failed to uphold the sacred duties of a Christian monarch. If only the Christians could find a leader of pure religious faith and dignity, they believed they could regain what was lost and restore their privileged place in the Lord’s favor.

Just a few years later, between 718 and 722, the first battle was fought in what came to be known as the Reconquista, the Christian war to regain control of Spain. A small group of Christians led by the Visigoth nobleman Pelayo emerged from a hidden cave in the northern mountains to attack and defeat a much larger Muslim force at the town of Covadonga. For the next several hundred years the northern-based Christian armies battled fiercely against the Muslims, pushing the invaders farther and farther south, each victory encouraging their belief that God’s favor was returning.

The legend of La Cava and Rodrigo remained a central narrative during the Reconquista, and over time the moral center of the story shifted from Rodrigo’s betrayal to La Cava’s seductiveness. As documented by historian Patricia Grieve, medieval versions of the story transformed La Cava into the culprit, not the victim, and emphasized her irresistibly lustful overtures toward Rodrigo. In the process, female desire was turned into a political and religious threat of cataclysmic proportions. Grieve says, “in the story’s later, more misogynistic manifestations, beginning in the sixteenth century, she [La Cava] used her sexuality shamelessly, tempting the man who was powerless against such seduction. . . . For all intents and purposes, she is the Eve of Spain, a Helen of Troy with a Christian moral dimension added to her.”11

One of Lucrecia’s dreams makes a specific reference to Rodrigo, so she was familiar to some extent with the legend of La Cava and its message about the dangers of unbridled female sexuality.12 She was also familiar, as every Spanish Christian would be, with the heroic Pelayo and his divinely blessed crusade in quest of their people’s redemption. All three of these mythic characters from the early history of Spain helped to shape the development of Lucrecia’s dire dreams of her country’s future.

1469 - The Marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand

One of the great puzzles of European history is how Spain, a small and undistinguished country on the outer fringe of the continent, managed to rise in a few short decades to became the largest imperial power the world had ever known. The seeds of this improbable ascent were first sown in 1469, when Isabella, an 18-year-old princess of Castile, chose to marry her second cousin Ferdinand II, the 17-year-old King of Aragon and Sicily. During their thirty years of rule together Isabella and Ferdinand forged a nation of bold, aggressive, and extremely religious people who were confident that God intended them to rule the world. And for a glorious, bloody period of about a century, they did exactly that.

None of this was apparent in 1469, however. The immediate result of Isabella’s marital choice was international outrage and civil war. The other suitors for her hand—Prince Charles of France and Prince Alfonso V of Portugal—were furious at her reckless and headstrong decision, which she made despite the opposition of her older half-brother Enrique, the king of Castile. Many noble families stayed loyal to Enrique in denouncing the marriage, while others pledged their support to Isabella and her new spouse. The outcome of their power struggle was in doubt for ten war-torn years, until the military forces of Isabella and Ferdinand finally prevailed and consolidated all the Christian realms under one joint monarchy. Thus began an amazingly prosperous reign that launched Spain on its course toward the imperial heights of the Siglo del Oro.

Once their royal legitimacy and governing authority had been established, Isabella and Ferdinand devoted themselves to the task of fighting the Muslim forces in the southern province of Granada. The Reconquista had successfully liberated many northern towns and regions of the country (León became Christian again in 856, and Toledo was taken back in 1086), but progress had ground to a halt, and there was a real danger the tide of military momentum would turn again. Granada remained a Moorish stronghold whose rulers were becoming increasingly brazen in their cross-border attacks on nearby Christian towns. Like all Christian rulers in Europe, Isabella and Ferdinand were anxiously aware of Ottoman Turkish armies pressing hard from the east. If the Turks formed an alliance with the Moors in Granada and launched an invasion of the Iberian peninsula from the south, the Spanish Christians would be quickly overwhelmed. Isabella and Ferdinand came to the grim conclusion that there was only one way to secure the future safety of their people: they must destroy the Muslim kingdom of Granada.

The ensuing savagery and slaughter inflamed passions on both sides, as bloody attacks were followed by even bloodier reprisals. While Ferdinand led the troops in the field, Isabella worked on gathering intelligence, devising strategy, and boosting morale. To keep her people united and motivated, the queen emphasized the religious justification for the fight. Their cause was God’s cause, she insisted, the cause of good against evil. By driving the Moors from Spain they were purifying the land of infidels and restoring the ancestral rule of Christians after more than seven centuries of shameful Muslim occupation.

By 1492, the Reconquista was complete. The Moors in Spain were finally defeated, and Isabella and Ferdinand triumphantly entered their capital city of Granada and took possession of the Alhambra, the famed palace of Muslim rulers for hundreds of years. The crusade that Pelayo had launched in the early 8th century had finally reached a victorious conclusion.

In that same year, to guarantee the religious purity they had fought so hard to achieve, the queen and king announced the Edict of Expulsion, a royal decree banishing the practice of the Jewish religion and ordering all Jews to leave the country. No more chances were to be taken with non-Christians living in Spain. Anyone who was not a true and actively practicing Catholic was banished under threat of execution.

The fall of Granada and the Edict of Expulsion would be enough to mark this as a pivotal year in Spanish history. But equally as important for the country’s future was Isabella’s decision in late 1492 to provide financial support and royal sanction for an expedition led by Cristobal Colon, whom we know as Christopher Columbus, in search of a western trade route to the Far East. The astounding success of his expedition—he discovered the “New World” of Central and South America—opened up vast new horizons for Spain to acquire territory, seize treasure, and spread the Catholic faith. The queen took special interest in the latter goal. As soon as Columbus returned from his first voyage and reported his amazing discoveries, Isabella began planning for his next expedition, with an emphasis on taking advantage of the religious opportunities when encountering non-European populations:

Isabella gave him [Columbus] specific instructions for the trip. The first and most important point—and the one that she most fully elaborated—called for the religious instruction of the Indians, whom she said Columbus should “by all ways and means . . . strive and endeavor to win over,” to convert them to “our Holy Catholic faith,” teaching them Spanish so they would understand the religious instruction they would receive. To that end, she sent a contingent of twelve priests to begin the missionary work.13

Isabella and Ferdinand led their people in a nearly seamless transition from the national task of fighting Moorish invaders to the international task of colonizing the New World. The same principles that enabled their ultimate victory in the Reconquista—religious fervor and military ferocity—were now applied to the imperial settlement of overseas territories in the Americas. Although no one yet knew the full magnitude of all the riches waiting to be plundered, it already appeared to the Spanish people that God was rewarding them for their religious devotion by giving them a fresh new continent to rule. They threw themselves into the colonizing mission with gusto.

1478 - The Spanish Inquisition

Not all Spaniards were happy with the doctrine of limpieza, or blood purity, as the ultimate test of Christian faith and national loyalty. Many of the old noble families of Spain had long relationships with both Muslims and Jews, financially and by marriage, and they opposed the expulsion of people purely on the grounds of their religious beliefs. The Spanish nobility were certainly not pluralists in the modern sense of the term, but their self-interest led them to tolerate non-Catholics as long as they obeyed the laws like everyone else.

This opened a social space for the conversos, Jewish people who had renounced their old faith and proclaimed their acceptance of the Catholic Church and its teachings. The large number of conversos would seem to represent a victory for Catholicism, but instead it generated resentment and suspicion among the public. Many of the new converts, now officially Christians like everyone else, took the opportunity to fill lucrative government jobs that were previously forbidden to them as Jews. Many other conversos continued to practice their old religion despite a public pretense of Catholicism. The “old Christians” of pure blood were outraged by the privilege and hypocrisy of the conversos, and they demanded action from Isabella and Ferdinand in their royal capacity as defenders of the faith. So in 1478, the queen and king empowered a special agency—the Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición (Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition)—and gave it the task of investigating people accused of religious subversion.

As the Spanish empire grew, so grew the power of the Inquisition. Both were driven by the same goal of asserting absolute Catholic control over the greatest possible range of physical and spiritual territory. The officials of the Inquisition would have more than one hundred years to hone their craft before Lucrecia de León came to their attention.

The legal framework of the Inquisition derived from ancient Roman law and its emphasis on personal confession as the surest proof of criminal guilt.14 Witness testimony was important, but a confession by the accused was the best way to assure everyone involved that justice had been done. In practice, this encouraged the use of extreme measures, including gruesome forms of torture, to coerce people under investigation to admit the truth of the charges against them, thus settling the case in a definitive manner. In Rome the worst crime of all was treason, a crime against the state, and it was punishable by death. The Spanish Inquisition merged political treason with religious heresy as the most heinous of misdeeds. To rebel against the Church was equivalent to rebelling against the state, and it deserved thorough investigation, with the guilty parties receiving the harshest punishment. This line of thinking fueled the Inquisition’s aggressive and ever-expanding drive to root out religiously deviant behavior wherever it might be found.

It served the Inquisition’s mission to foster a general sense of anxious vigilance and paranoia among the populace. The seemingly limitless power of the Inquisition made this easy to accomplish. Its agents could arrest people without warning, seize their property, and jail them in isolation for an indefinite time. Automatically presumed guilty on secret charges, the arrested individual was not told what the accusations were or who had made them. Instead the Inquisitors demanded that the accused people confess all their sins and name any accomplices who helped them in their heretical activities. The process was conceived as a rough but necessary form of pastoral care: the accused person had strayed from God’s laws, and it was now the job of the Inquisition to bring the wayward individual back into alignment with the Church. If torture was required to achieve this goal, that was the choice of the accused, and it was performed with the same bureaucratic precision that governed all aspects of the Inquisitorial system.

The vast majority of prisoners were found guilty and punished in a public ceremony known as an auto de fé, or “act of faith,” usually held in a large town plaza to maximize attendance by the local residents. The heretics, wearing white penitential robes and caps (sanbenitos), were paraded through the streets and then brought before the assembled crowd. After their crimes were read aloud they were forced to repent their sins and accept their punishment—a punishment intended to save their souls, even if it meant whipping, hanging, or burning their bodies.

1527 - The Birth of Philip II

King Philip II, the great-grandson of Isabella and Ferdinand and heir to a vast imperial domain, played a central role in Lucrecia’s dreams. The dangers he faced as ruler of Spain, especially toward the end of his forty-year reign, provided much of the raw material for her dreaming imagination.

Through a tangled web of royal scheming, marital maneuvering, and fortuitous pregnancies, Isabella and Ferdinand’s third child, Juana, inherited the Spanish crown. In 1498, Juana married Prince Philip I, the son of the Hapsburg emperor Maximilian I of Austria. The combination of their royal domains was initially intended to create a stronger defense against their mutual enemy, France. But the full might of the military machine known as the Holy Roman Empire emerged only when their oldest son, Charles, assumed the throne and became the king of Spain (Charles I) in 1516 and Holy Roman Emperor (Charles V) in 1519. By this time Spanish ships had established a regular stream of commerce with the Americas, bringing back huge quantities of looted gold and silver that Charles used to fund his mercenary troops in various battles around the empire, including fights with the brutal Ottomans in the east, the heretical Protestants to the north, and the rebellious Comuneros in Spain itself. The Comuneros were a group of traditionalists centered in Toledo who were angry at Charles for spending too much time away from Spain, lavishing his attention on the cosmopolitan cities of the Netherlands and Italy while wasting money and lives in foreign wars that mattered little to the Spanish people.15 Their protests were fruitless; Charles sent a military force into Castile in 1521 to destroy the Comuneros’ rebellion and execute its leaders.

Charles relied heavily on the Inquisition to help him maintain control in Spain while he pressed ahead with warfare on other fronts. Some of the most horrendous massacres of conversos by the Holy Office occurred during his reign.16 Ensuring religious purity at home made it possible to concentrate his efforts on combating threats to religious purity abroad.

When his son Philip was born, Charles carefully groomed the boy as his successor. As a child Philip was cared for primarily by his mother, Isabella of Portugal, and tutored intensively in academic and military subjects. In 1543, at the age of 16, he assumed command of Spain on behalf of his father. This experience gave Philip early and valuable training in the practical arts of governing. From the start he ruled in a thoughtful and measured fashion, never acting rashly or impulsively, always seeking as much information as possible before making a decision. On one point, however, Philip never hesitated: his trust in the Inquisition. Charles made sure his son understood the importance of the Inquisition as guardian of the faith and defender of domestic security, and throughout his life Philip fully supported the Holy Office and its heretic-hunting pursuits.

In 1545, Philip married Princess Maria of Portugal, but she died in childbirth after bearing their son, Carlos. In 1554, at his father’s strategic behest, Philip journeyed across the English Channel to London, where he married the English Queen, Mary Tudor. In so doing, Philip added the title King of England to what would become a lengthy list of royal appellations. Charles had long hoped to combine Spain, England, and the Netherlands into one cohesive Catholic realm. The union of Philip and Mary finally transformed that vision into a reality. At last, the emperor felt confident he could successfully transfer power to his son. In 1556, Charles abdicated the throne and granted the majority of his vast territories, including Spain, to Philip.

Despite his father’s best intentions, Philip II’s reign began in crisis and despair. All the riches plundered from the Americas were not enough to support Charles’ endless wars, and Philip quickly realized the empire’s finances were in a catastrophic condition.17 Just a few months into his rule, Philip was forced to declare bankruptcy so he could restructure the huge debts Charles had incurred before abdication. Then, in 1558, came a double loss: his father died, and so did his wife, Queen Mary, who passed away without leaving Philip any heirs. This meant the English crown passed from Mary to Princess Elizabeth, a Tudor and a Protestant. Meanwhile, the Inquisition arrested several groups of people in Spain and accused them of being secret Protestants—a shocking infiltration of heresy into the heart of his homeland. Suddenly Philip found himself a widower, fatherless, financially ruined, and religiously threatened from within and without.

1561 - A New Capital City

Philip’s plan to assert greater control over his many domains started with the creation of a new center of imperial authority. For centuries the kings and queens of Spain had moved the royal court from one city to another every few months so they could visit their subjects, settle local disputes, confirm loyalties, and levy taxes. In 1561, Philip decided the growing power and expanse of his territorial holdings required the building of a permanent capital with the grandeur to rival any other city in Europe. For this purpose he chose Madrid, at that point a modest town of about nine thousand inhabitants with a settlement history going back to Roman times, located in the middle of the Iberian peninsula along the Manzanares river.18 Like his father, Philip was enchanted by the art and architecture of Italy and the Netherlands, and he wanted to create a similar aura of magnificence here in the center of Spain. His designs were aided by a new influx of silver from the Americas, which strengthened the royal finances and gave him the resources to move ahead quickly with an ambitious plan of grand construction projects.19

In short order the forests surrounding Madrid were cut down to provide space for urban expansion and raw material for new buildings. The population grew rapidly with the sudden arrival of thousands of construction workers, court officials, diplomats, priests, bankers, and merchants, along with the royal family and all their servants and attendants. By the time Lucrecia was a teenager, the city’s population was approaching eighty thousand people.20 All the money Philip spent on glorious palaces and magnificent churches did not, however, include an adequate system of infrastructure to provide sanitary living conditions for so many inhabitants, nor much of a public safety system to protect ordinary people from crime. The filthy streets and sewage stench of Madrid became legendary, and nights were a dangerous time of lawless violence and shadowy misbehavior.

The arrangements in Madrid worked well for Philip, in any case. He built several smaller palaces in the country outside the city where he routinely went to enjoy hunting, horse riding, and other noble pursuits. He also started construction on an immense monastery that he initially planned as a tomb for his father’s remains. Known as San Lorenzo de El Escorial, or just El Escorial, the monastery became one of the greatest religious structures in Christendom. Designed jointly by the king and his royal architect, Juan Bautista de Toledo, it was placed in a barren mountainous region thirty miles away from Madrid. The Escorial would eventually house the king’s enormous collection of religious art and sacred relics. The more Philip aged, the more time he spent at the Escorial as a refuge from the pressures of court and a means of rejuvenating his faith.

An oil painting by the Italian artist Sophonisba Angussola, completed in 1565; now in the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.

Philip had time to focus on architectural plans for his capital city and the Escorial because one of Spain’s worst threats had been temporarily neutralized. A peace treaty with France had just gone into effect, and as part of the agreement Philip had married 14-year-old Princess Elisabeth of Valois, daughter of King Henry II. The new security of Spain’s northeastern border with its historic rival allowed Philip to concentrate his military efforts on fighting back the Ottoman Turks in the Mediterranean, who were attacking Christian merchant vessels and plundering coastal cities. During these sea battles the Spanish naval forces continued to grow in size, skill, and tactical experience, giving Philip a much stronger hand to play in other conflicts—which were soon in coming.

1568 - Philip Besieged

Just like his father, Philip gave abundant military support to the Roman Catholic Church in its holy war against the Protestants. But the fight did not go well. Large swaths of northern Europe were already lost to the heresies of Luther and Calvin. Elizabeth, the Protestant Queen of England, was growing in power, and religious rebels in the Netherlands were refusing to obey the Spanish troops occupying their towns. Mass violence broke out in 1566 during the Beeldenstorm, or “Iconoclastic Fury,” that convulsed cities all over the Netherlands, with Protestant mobs destroying Catholic churches, statues, and monuments while local authorities stood by and watched. Suddenly a threat of heresy had transformed into a full-scale revolt in one of Philip’s most cherished imperial realms. The prospect of losing this region, his father’s favorite, to the Protestants was intolerable, and the king sent a message to the Pope promising immediate action: “you can assure His Holiness that rather than suffer the least injury to religion and the service of God, I would lose all my states and a hundred lives if I had them, for I do not intend to rule over heretics.”21

Philip’s response to the problem was straightforward: more troops, more repression, more executions. Unfortunately, these measures had the opposite effect to the one intended. The rebellion became an open, ugly, and very costly war, requiring the deployment of enormous resources in a distant and hostile land. The king’s leading military commander, the Duke of Alba, had proven his ability to impose enormous suffering on the Dutch population, but he had also proven his failure in preventing the Protestant revolt from spreading and gathering strength. By 1568, Philip could no longer avoid the realization that the only way to preserve his rule over the Netherlands was a long and brutal military occupation.

The same year also witnessed a violent revolt in Granada by the moriscos, Moorish people who had converted from Islam to Catholicism. Like the Jews who became conversos, the formerly Muslim moriscos had found ways to assimilate into Spanish society. But tensions following the Reconquista had never really gone away, and in 1568, vicious fighting broke out in cities throughout southern Spain, threatening once again to reverse the Christian gains and give the Turks an opening for invasion. Philip sent troops to Granada to destroy the rebellion and subdue the population by any means necessary.

The worst blows for Philip in this tumultuous year were personal. His succession plans had always centered on his son Carlos, born from his first marriage. But Carlos, now 23 years old, had become increasingly erratic and mentally deranged over time, to the point of disrupting court business and interfering with the king’s military commanders. Philip finally decided to arrest Carlos and forcibly confine him in isolation in his royal quarters. Six months later, from causes still unknown, Carlos was dead.

Then, just two months after that, Philip’s wife Elisabeth, whom by all accounts he had truly grown to love, died in childbirth. She had borne the king five children, only two of whom survived, both daughters. Philip, now a widower three times over and with no male heirs, once again found himself on the brink of financial ruin and at war with heretics inside and outside the country. It must have seemed in 1568 that nothing had improved since he took over the throne from his father twelve years earlier.

But Philip could look to the future with some confidence, knowing he had several valuable resources at his disposal. The seemingly endless flow of treasure from the Americas gave him financial flexibility and room for political maneuvering. His naval forces were growing in size, strength, and experience, developing into a major military asset that would enhance the king’s power in several regions of his empire. And Philip always knew he could depend on the Inquisition. As many historians have noted, the total number of people executed by the Holy Office diminished toward the end of the sixteenth century. This did not, however, mean the Inquisitors had lessened their pursuit of heretics. On the contrary, it meant the Inquisition had succeeded in stamping out the worst deviations from Catholic orthodoxy and imposing a strict system of control over the country’s religious beliefs and practices. The Inquisition could now turn its gaze to subtler forms of heresy, less obvious but for that reason more dangerous to church and state.


1. Livy, The Early History of Rome.

2. Ibid., 101.

3. Ibid., 102.

4. Ibid.

5. Ovid, The Regifugium.

6. Dante, The Inferno, 53–54.

7. In 1571, just a few years after Lucrecia’s birth, the master Italian artist Titian presented Philip II with an enormous oil painting titled Tarquin and Lucretia, portraying the moment of the prince’s violent attack on the defenseless virgin. Another artist of the Italian Renaissance, Botticelli, painted The Story of Lucretia, a work in three panels, in the early years of the 16th century.

8. Her parents might also have been influenced by the stories of Saint Lucretia of Mérida, a young virgin who was martyred in the 4th century during Roman persecutions, and Saint Leocritia of Córdoba, a young Muslim girl in the 9th century who converted to Christianity, was arrested for apostasy, and then martyred. Each legend teaches that the ultimate virtue for a woman is self-sacrifice in obedience to a higher power.

9. This account draws on Grieve, The Eve of Spain, 21–23.

10. In some versions of the story, Rodrigo staggers into seclusion after his defeat and suffers a horribly emasculating punishment.

11. Grieve, The Eve of Spain, 25.

12. The legend of La Cava and Rodrigo was used as dramatic material for the oral ballads widely sung and performed in Iberian folk culture. These ballads provided one of the most influential sources of cultural knowledge for people without formal education. As a lifelong resident of Madrid, Lucrecia would have had ample opportunity to hear these ballads and absorb their characters, stories, and themes into her imagination.

13. Downey, Isabella, 278.

14. The focus here is on the Spanish Inquisition, which differs in significant ways from Inquisition activities in other European countries. The political importance of the Inquisition in Spain was unusually strong and gave it a dual authority: “After 1478 in Castile, Inquisitors would be politically subject—and hence politically loyal—to monarchs, even though the authority and jurisdiction of those Inquisitors had to come from the pope himself. . . . From the beginning, then, the Spanish Inquisition differed fundamentally from the medieval, papal inquisitions, because of the prominent role Spanish kings played in its institution” (Homza, The Spanish Inquisition 1478–1614, xvii).

15. “Ruler of the biggest accumulation of states ever known in European history, he [Charles] drew Spain into an imperial role it had never before experienced” (Kamen, Philip of Spain, 22). See also Elliott, The Revolt of the Catalans.

16. See Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition; Giles, Women in the Inquisition; Homza, The Spanish Inquisition 1478–1614; Kors and Peters, Witchcraft in Europe 1400–1700; Roth, The Spanish Inquisition; Edwards, Inquisition; Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages; Kagan and Dyer, Inquisitorial Inquiries.

17. “Charles V’s fantastically expensive foreign policies and his dependence on credit to finance them therefore had had disastrous consequences for Castile” (Elliott, Imperial Spain 1469–1716, 207).

18. Kamen, Philip of Spain, 181.

19. Ibid., 183–184.

20. Kagan, Lucrecia’s Dreams, 15.

21. Ibid., 115.