Thursday, 12 September 2019

My Work on Mark Wright's Mendoza Ancestor for 'Who Do You Think You Are?' UK

I'm thrilled that I can finally share some details of an intense few weeks this past Spring squirrelling away in the shadows on the family history of Don Antonio de Mendoza. The resulting research was part of the story presented last night on the British edition of Who Do You Think You Are? 

In his ancestor's footsteps: Mark Wright (l.)
David Mendoza, who appears on screen in the programme, had uncovered much valuable information about his and Mark Wright's shared ancestor; my contribution was essentially to locate more records and to document minute, hitherto unknown details of Antonio's life. Antonio de Mendoza was a tough customer: his career as a fencing master and his later tenacity in getting around an inquisition-imposed travel ban to seek safety in Amsterdam already provided ample evidence of this, but I was thrilled to discover that earlier he had been a 'Guardia de Millones', a sort of armed revenue officer who protected tax money collected for the King. Most of his swashbuckling exploits are lost to us, but it surely speaks volumes how he stated that if forced upon release to remain in Seville unarmed, he would face retribution from a thug whose face he had once slashed in the course of fighting off a robbery, and who had sworn revenge! Also to Antonio's credit, he wasn't a snitch. During two years in an Inquisition dungeon, imprisoned and tortured, he never gave evidence against any of the associates and family members the Inquisitors pulled in after his arrest - as the Inquistion's civil servants noted in his case file, to their increasing frustration.
Mark Wright and his family were clearly touched by Antonio's story. As a genealogist their reaction delighted me, it's the most encouraging response to hours spent squinting at faded pages in poorly heated archives!

Antonio's tribulations will stay
A record bundle I used in this research
with me, among the more memorable cases on which I'veworked; as will the agony of certain other poor souls, contemporaries of his who suffered at the hands of the same loathsome Inquisitors. Two such items I came across among the many pages turned in search of Antonio were the sad tale of the Santander sisters, five young women imprisoned in Seville at the same time as Antonio, for practicing Judaism covertly, and whose only brother cracked during imprisonment and testified against them; and a memo, found among papers of the Madrid inquisition from 1680, noting that someone needed to be engaged to clean out the cage in which the condemned were being burned alive, as unburnt bones were accumulating among the ashed at the bottom. Once again, routine paperwork illustrating the banality of evil.