Antisemitic Conspiracy Theories in the Early Modern Iberian World

Narratives of Fear and Hatred


In Antisemitic Conspiracy Theories in the Early Modern Iberian World: Narratives of Fear and Hatred, François Soyer offers the first detailed historical analysis of antisemitic conspiracy theories in Spain, Portugal and their overseas colonies between 1450 and 1750. These conspiracy theories accused Jews and conversos, the descendants of medieval Jewish converts to Christianity, of deadly plots and blamed them for a range of social, religious, military and economic problems. Ultimately, many Iberian antisemitic conspiracy theorists aimed to create a ‘moral panic’ about the converso presence in Iberian society, thereby justifying the legitimacy of ethnic discrimination within the Church and society. Moreover, they were also exploited by some churchmen seeking to impose an idealized sense of communal identity upon the lay faithful.

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François Soyer, Ph.D. (2007, University of Cambridge) is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He is currently a senior lecturer in early modern history at the University of New England (Australia).
“Arguing against Karl Popper, who regarded conspiracy theories as a product of the eighteenth century, [...] Soyer insists convincingly that they started far earlier, in the early modern period.”
Alastair Hamilton, Warburg Institute. In: The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 71, No. 2 (2020), pp. 410–412.

“compelling and thoroughly researched […]. The author is to be congratulated on an important, and highly recommended, contribution.”
Norman Roth, University of Wisconsin–Madison, emeritus. In: Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 74, No. 2 (Summer 2021), pp. 651–653.

“I applaud Soyer’s engagement with a sensitive historical subject like popular antisemitism, without opting to hide behind academic relativism or political correctness. […]. [His book is] solid, convincing, and enrichingly honest.”
Claude B. Stuczynski, Bar-Ilan University. In: AJS Review: The Journal of the Association of Jewish Studies, Vol. 45, No. 2 (November 2021), pp. 464–468.

“a detailed and fascinating book […], valuable not only for historians but also, and maybe even more so, for people interested in how conspiracy theories work, what they do, and how they endanger ethnic and religious groups.”
Lucien van Liere, Utrecht University. In: Exchange: Journal of Contemporary Christianities in Context, Vol. 50, No. 3–4 (2021), pp. 327–328.



 1 The ‘Secret Jews’ and Proto-Racialism of Early Modern Spain and Portugal
 2 Conspiracy Theories and Conspiracism
1 Conspiracism and Society in Early Modern Europe
 1 Defining the Conspiracy Theory
 2 Delusional Paranoia, Collective Emotions and the Emotional Dimension of the Conspiracy Theory
 3 Explaining the Popularity of Conspiracy Theories
 4 Moral Panics: The Social and Political Function of the Conspiracy Theory
 5 ‘Modernity’ and the Origins of Conspiracism
 6 Conspiracism in Early Modern Europe: the Demonic Superconspiracy
 7 Conclusion: the Conspiracy Theory in the Age of ‘Confessionalization’
2 Forged Documents and the Fear of Jewish Infiltration: The Jewish World Plot and the Early Modern Iberian World
 1 The Early Notions of a Worldwide Jewish Conspiracy in Medieval Europe
 2 The Forged Letter of the Jews of Toledo to Those of Jerusalem:  a Fatal Precedent?
 3 Warrant for Hatred: the Forged letters from Toledo and Constantinople
 4 The Obscure Origins of the Forged Letters
 5 The Reception of the Forged Letters
 6 Francisco de Quevedo’s La Isla de los Monopantos
 7 The Legacy and Influence of the “Toledan Letters” in Modern Antisemitism
 8 Conclusion
3 “Seeking to Build a Synagogue within the Church of God”: the Alleged Converso Plot to Infiltrate and Destroy the Catholic Church
 1 The Insidious Converso Threat to the Church
 2 Perceiving Judaism as a Militant and Missionary Faith
 3 The Spectre of the Jewish Dogmatizadores
 4 The Menace of Jewish Proselytism amongst Africans and Amerindians
 5 Reckless Resistance or Narrative Assault?: the Desecration of Religious Objects and the ‘Jewish Conspiracy’
 6 Conclusion
4 Medical Murder: the Myth of the Jewish Serial-Killer Doctors
 1 Jews and Medicine in Medieval Iberia
 2 Fear of the Homicidal Jewish Doctor and its Medieval Roots
 3 The Archetypal Homicidal Doctor: Dr Meir Alguadex
 4 Converso Doctors and the ‘Jewish Plot’
 5 Ethnic Discrimination and the Medical Professions
 6 Medical Antisemitism in the Eighteenth Century
 7 Other Medical Conspiracy Theories: a Comparative Study
 8 Conclusion
5 “Traitors Who Dwell amongst Us”: the Conversos as Collaborators and Masterminds of the Muslim and Protestant Onslaught against Spain and Portugal
 1 The Archetype of Jewish Treason: the Fall of Toledo in 711 CE
 2 The ‘Jewish Origins’ of the Reformation: Linking Conversos and Protestants
 3 The ‘Jewish Plot’ against the Portuguese Empire
 4 A New Toledo in the Americas: Jewish Treason and the Fall of Bahia (1624)
 5 Dutch Brazil and the Image of the Conversos
 6 The Dutch, the Conversos  and the “Grand Conspiracy” against the Spanish Empire (1610-1650)
 7 Conclusion
6 “Sponges That Suck Up the Wealth of Spain”: the Jewish Plot, Economic Parasitism and the Fear of Economic Decline
 1 The Trope of Jewish Lust of Gold and Usury beyond
 2 The Converso Merchant: a Parasite Growing at the Expenses of the Host
 3 The Merchant in the Ancien Régime: a Figure of Suspicion and Fear
 4 An Easy Hate Figure: the Converso Tax-Farmers and Asentistas
 5 Conclusion
 1 The Elusive Converso Enemy: a Tool to Construct a Collective Identity
 2 Epilogue: the Survival of the Conspiracist Narrative after

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