The Black Legend or ‘leyenda negra’ according Herring is the ‘conviction that Spaniards (and, in lesser degree, Portuguese) were-and are-wicked, cruel, wanton, bigoted, and foolish.’ The people of Spain are acutely aware of this legend which is on the most part a large collection of myths and to some extent facts vastly exaggerated that were assembled by Spain’s foes and victims, creating a prejudice that is thorough and long lasting. The era of Spanish domination brought hatred by most of western Europe against the Spanish crown and subjects to an extent that, according to Payne, ‘among the chief foes of Spain and its royal policies there took shape a vague but sweeping denunciation, not merely of Spanish power but almost all things Spanish. The conceptualisation of this enmity defined as uniquely Spanish the vices of overweening pride, violence, intolerance, ethnocentrism, and obscurantism. By the beginning of the seventeenth century it was taking the form in which it would subsequently be known to Spaniards as the Black Legend.’
The origins of the Black Legend reach far back in time to the Moslems, Jews and their displacement from the Iberian Peninsula. According to Fagg ‘they have not forgotten nor forgiven the homeland which they loved and, some declare, still long for.’  He also states that the Lutherans and Calvinists have added many details of ‘atrocity’ to the Black Legend along with Italy and the Netherlands who were ruthlessly occupied by the Spanish. Many French and English historians, due to the length of time spent at war with Spain have written extensively about their cruel imperialism. Likewise the colonies once independent had much to say about Spain and their years of oppression, often blaming Spain for their own problems. It is argued by Payne that the origins of the Black Legend can be traced as far back as the anti-Aragonese sentiment that sprang up in Italy during the fourteenth and fifteenth century. Those on the Italian peninsula regarded themselves as a pure race descended from the Romans and there was often racial hatred over race mixing in the late Middle Ages, including the accusations that the Pope was a marrano or Spanish Jew by Italian enemies.
The Black Legend as shown above has a very European origin but the Spanish conduct in Latin America gave it a new side and added further to its colourful details. There are two substantial works that have served to heighten the Black Legend, Las Casas’s ‘Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies’ (Spain, 1552) and Cirolama Benzoni’s ‘History of the New World’ (Venice, 1565). According to Elliot these works ‘provided between them as much ammunition as even the most fanatical enemies of Spain could have wished’. These books had a greater influence on the Black Legend than their authors could ever have foreseen. Firstly because of their popularity which led to their reprints and secondly because of their translations into so many other languages. A Latin edition of Benzoni’s works was produced in Geneva in 1578, and German and French ones were made in 1579. Las Casas’s account was translated into Dutch and French in 1579 and into English in 1583. This was the most horrid account of Spanish conduct in the Indies that existed at the time and was because of the translations freely circulating Europe. Elliott states that it ‘only needed the horrific illustrations of Theodore de Bry’s new editions of Las Casas at the end of the century to stamp an indelible image of Spanish atrocities on the European consciousness’.
Payne argues that it is the Spanish monk Bartolomé de las Casas who produced the single most important document in establishing the Black Legend in his attempt to protect and defend the natives. His book is written in ‘lurid, occasionally exaggerated tones’.  The title of the 1689 London edition read ‘Popery truly Displayed in its Bloody Colours: Or a Faithful Narrative of the Horrid and Unexampled Massacres, Butcheries, and all manner of Cruelties, that Hell and Malice could invent, committed by the Popish Spanish Party on the Inhabitants of West-India. Composed first in Spanish by Bartholomew de las Casas, a Bishop there, and an Eye-Witness of the most Barbarous Cruelties; afterwards translated by him into Latin, then by other hands into High-Dutch, Low-Dutch, French, and now Taught to speak modern English.’ It is clear that such a book could bring a bad reputation to a nation and a people. Las Casas’ book is according to Herring ‘crowded with gruesome description of the treatment of the aborigines.’ He is said to have overstated his figures, as they could not be disproved, suggesting that the Spaniards had killed fifteen or twenty million natives. It is this book that made solid the foundations of the Black Legend.
It is not only Las Casas’ book that has contributed substantially to the formation of the Black Legend, there is also the Inquisition. It carried out the task of removing those church officials who were not deemed strict enough in their religious worship, enforcing conformity to doctrine. The Grand Inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada also began the extermination of those people whose Christianity was in question. This was possible because, in 1478 and 1481, Isabel and Fernando got Papal authority to begin the Inquisition in the lands under their control. This was according to Fagg ‘a long and terrible chapter of Spanish history that has fattened the Black Legend’ and that ‘the Inquisition has been an evil memory for centuries’.
The Black Legend was not only around at the height of Spanish dominance and imperialism but also well into the twentieth century. The execution of Francisco Ferrer in 1909, after being tried by a military court for connection with Anarchist conspiracies, brought together mass meetings from Budapest to Lisbon, the storming of the Embassy in Paris and protests in Trafalgar Square. Carr states ‘Maura was unperturbed: what others called the conscience of civilized Europe he regarded as another eruption of the Black Legend engineered by the European left’. Although this is only the interpretation of Maura it shows how the Black Legend had been ingrained onto the Spanish conscience.
The span of the Black Legend in time reaches further forward in time, at least as far as the Spanish Civil War and the Franco Government. After the Civil War the legend of the millón de muertos emerged, exaggerating terrorist and battlefield deaths by two hundred percent. Payne argues that this ‘gave rise to a contemporary variant of the Black Legend that stresses the supposedly uniquely sanguinary propensities of the Spanish’. Also in the late forties and early fifties Franco ‘turned international ostracism into a monster demonstration of ‘Numantian resistance’ against a revival of the Black Legend by communists.’ The fortress of Numantia, near Soria, was the scene of a desperate resistance of the Spanish indigenous tribes to the Roman conquerors. According to Carr, Franco’s personal world was ‘haunted by the paranoia of the Civil War: ‘Martyred Spain’ was surrounded by ‘a secret conspiracy’ of Communists and Masons…Every international protest was a revival by the eternal enemies of Spain of the Black Legend.’
The question is, can the Black Legend be substantiated? Herring discuses this with regard to the Spanish conduct in the Indies outlining that the Spanish conquest was unpleasant and that the conquerors behaved horribly. Nuno de Guzmán, Perdo de Alvardo, and Diego de Almargo were among those who had committed cruelty beyond belief. However it is argued that conquests are never welcomed, the Spanish not being the only ones to be the perpetrators of such deeds – ‘the Japanese in China, the English in India, the Russians in Poland, or the Americans in Mexico.’ As mush as the Spanish were cruel, other nations have also been, it is just to the Spanish that it has stuck. There are also many misconceptions over the Spanish conduct in the America, ‘Spain did not topple the Indian peoples from an Elysian state of perfection to one of abysmal misery…Spain did not bring hunger and poverty to Indian America: life was meager and hunger was general before the conquers came. Spain did not introduce cruelty and war: exploitation was an old story to the Indians… Spain did not destroy ancient systems of noble moral standards: the Indians were masters of gluttony, drunkenness, sexual excesses, and refined torture’ Herring argues. It is obvious that some of Spanish conduct has been twisted and exaggerated, las Casas is an example with his figures of natives killed by the Spanish. The formation of this into the Black Legend served a purpose to Spain’s enemies.
‘Love of tribe made it necessary for England, France and Holland to blacken Spain; for the richest and most majestic empire the world had seen was for three hundred years the quarry out of which England, France and Holland had built their own empires. Spain had to be wrong so that France, Holland and England, and later the United States, could be right.’ The ‘Black Legend was used as propaganda to discredit almost everything Spanish in origin. Elliott states ‘A weapon had been forged in those years of European crisis that would provide service to Spain’s enemies for generations’ and that ‘for the first time in European history the colonial record of an imperial power was being systematically used against it by its enemies.’ However, Elliot assesses the value of this propaganda and concludes that it was less debilitating on Spanish morale than the increasing doubts about the value of the Indies.
During the Enlightenment, French philosophers blamed the Black Legend for the decline in Spain’s prosperity. Their talk of Spanish religious intolerance and exploitation of colonial peoples tormented many Spanish people who wished to bring their nation above that of those in Europe.
The Black Legend served to degrade the reputation of the Spanish nation, peoples and culture to the end of reducing its prowess so that other nations would feel right and just about the wars against the Spanish and their own conduct in colonies.
In conclusion, the Black Legend arose out of early conflict with the people on the Iberian Peninsula, promoted by foreign nations on such issues as the Inquisition and Latin American conquest, in an attempt reduce Spanish power for their own gains.
 A History of Latin America (H. Herring) 1963, Random House of Canada Ltd. Canada. P. 58
 Latin America – general history (J. E. Fagg) 1966, The Macmillan Company. New York. P. 46
 A History of Spain and Portugal 1 (S. G. Payne) 1973, University of Wisconsin Press. USA. P. 264
 Op Cit. (J. E. Fagg) P. 46
 Op Cit. (S. G. Payne) P. 265
 The Old World and the New 1492-1650 (J. H. Elliott) 1992, Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. P. 95
 Op Cit. (S. G. Payne) P. 265
 The Encomienda in New Spain (Berkeley) 1950, University of California Press. USA. P. 2-3
 Op Cit. (H. Herring) P. 177
 Op Cit. (J. E. Fagg) P. 48, 59
 Spain 1808 – 1975 (R. Carr) 1990, Oxford University Press. Guildford and King’s Lynn. P. 485
 A History of Spain and Portugal 2 (S. G. Payne) 1973, University of Wisconsin Press. USA. P. 650
 Op Cit. (R. Carr) P. 696 – 697
 Op Cit. (H. Herring) P. 152 – 153
 The Rise of the Spanish American Empire (S. de Madariaga) 1947, The Macmillian Company. New York. P. 17
 Op Cit. (J. H. Elliott) P. 95
 Spain (R. Herr) 1971, Prentice Hall Inc. New Jersey. P. 52
Spain (R. Herr) 1971, Prentice Hall Inc. New Jersey.
Latin American Civilization, History and Society 1492 to the Present (B. Keen) 1996, Westview Press Inc. Oxford.
The Old World and the New 1492-1650 (J. H. Elliott) 1992, Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.
Latin America – general history (J. E. Fagg) 1966, The Macmillan Company. New York.
A History of Spain and Portugal 2 (S. G. Payne) 1973, University of Wisconsin Press. USA.
A History of Spain and Portugal 1 (S. G. Payne) 1973, University of Wisconsin Press. USA.
Spain 1808 – 1975 (R. Carr) 1990, Oxford University Press. Guildford and King’s Lynn.
A History of Latin America (H. Herring) 1963, Random House of Canada Ltd. Canada.
The Rise of the Spanish American Empire (S. de Madariaga) 1947, The Macmillian Company. New York.
The Encomienda in New Spain(Berkeley) 1950, University of California Press. USA.
Sam Hunter is the author of fiction novel Makaveli’s Prince.