I Learn Things: Due Diligence

So it turns out, doing your due diligence to find out if your spouse was dead in the seventeenth century, thus permitting you to remarry within the Church, required a trip to Veracruz. Of course, this assumes you’re already in the Caribbean. Pretty sure if you were bumming around India or Poland the Inquisition wasn’t all “get thee to Mexico or no second wife for you!”

But then, knowing the Inquisition, they well might have been. After all, bigamy is bigamy, no matter the distance. Certainly in the Middle Ages, once the crusades had gotten underway (First Crusade sets off in 1096), we begin to see in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries a fair bit of Christian hand-wringing over missing spice (singular = spouse; plural = spice; you’re welcome). There was no telegram service to let you know that your husband had died in Outremer (i.e., overseas). You had some options, though. You could travel in search of them, finding confirmation of their death that you could then bring to your priest and bishop. Or you could wait five years and then operate on the assumption they’re dead (though if they show up down the line and you’ve remarried, things can be messy). Or you can tough it out.

Two things strike me as different in the early modern context. First there’s the fact that in the central Middle Ages, there was no inquisition to speak of. Certainly nothing like the organized Spanish, Portuguese, and Roman Inquisitions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and not even the more hodge-podge, WYSIWYG inquisitions (definitely small i) of the later thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Second, you didn’t have to go to Jerusalem, or Acre, or Tyre, or any other particular place in the east in your attempts to find out whether your spouse had perished. You just had to go. That way. Good luck. Sure, Jerusalem, Acre, and Tyre would probably be good places to try (assuming they were still in Christian hands and thus you’d be able to find someone with information about your missing spouse), but there was no mandate and no one “clearing house” where everyone passed through. Not even Constantinople could claim that mantle. Veracruz, on the other hand, could and did.

Want to know more about finding missing spice in Veracruz and other goings on in and around this Caribbean port? Check out Joseph Clark’s Veracruz and the Caribbean in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2023).