Sunday, September 6, 2015

Beatrice Mendes nee de Luna, AKA Dona Gracia NASI: leading Marrano Anti-Defamation Leader of 1500's

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                              

When Jews were forced out of Spain in 1492, they went next door to Portugal.  There they were able to enter IF they paid a poll-tax, so many were subsequently detained in the country and sold as slaves.
Manuel, king from 25 October 1495 to 13 December 1521Emmanuel I; 31 May 1469 – 13 December 1521)
Manoel I ordered the expulsion of the Jews from his dominion of Portugal in October 1496 in order to secure the hand of the Spanish Infanta but later changed his mind and had almost the entire community converted by force in 1497.  This is how a large body of Marranos was created in Portugal.  He hadn't wasted any time, starting all this against the Jews a year after taking the throne.  Manuel succeeded in 1495 his first cousin, King John II of Portugal, who was also his brother-in-law, being married to Manuel's sister, Leonor.                                                 

The Inquisition was in 1492 and also introduced with its more evil punishments in the 16th century and the refugees who fled to escape it formed the Portuguese synagogues in London, Amsterdam, New York, etc in the 16th and 17th centuries.  

Back in  1510 in Portugal was born Beatrice de Luna who was a Marrano.  That meant she had Jewish ancestors who were forced to convert to Catholicism because of the Spanish Inquisition of 1492 when Jews had to either convert to remain in Spain or leave the country.  They must have fled to Portugal next door and found the same thing happening there; either convert or leave Portugal, so they converted, but on the sly remained Jewish.

There was Diogo Mendes who was a Portuguese banker.  He had established an important financial and trading house at Antwerp in about 1500 and headed the Marrano community of that city for a long time.  His brother was Francisco Mendes.

Beatrice married the banker, Francisco Mendes who then died in 1536. His brother, Diogo died shortly after Francisco in 1543.  After her husband had died, she moved to Antwerp..  She was a prominent and very wealthy woman, greatly envied by others.  Things had become frightful for her, and she was worried about religious persecution against her, so actually had to escape to Venice in 1544 where she found things even worse.  She was denounced and imprisoned as a Marrano.
 By 1549 she was able to leave, so she went to Ferrara, Italy in the north east section..  There she became known as a Jew. Ferrara had Jews living there in 1275 with early settlers who were part Italian natives and part Jewish immigrants from Germany.  It became one of the most important Italian Jewish centers.  They had a printing-press set up there in 1477.  Spanish-Jewish refugees were welcomed there after 1492.  Portuguese Marranos congregated there in the middle of the 16th century and works were published for their benefit in Spanish and Portuguese from 1552 to 1558.  The were the first publications of Jewish vernacular literature.  The  Marrano settlement was broken up in 1581 and the ghetto system was introduced in 1597 when Ferrara passed under papal rule.  However, the city continued to be a center of Jewish intellectual life.   She patronized literature and controlled an underground organization for the rescue of Marranos from Portugal.

In 1552-3, she then went to Constantinople, being known now ass Gracia Nasi.  Nasi means "prince."  It's a Talmudic term for the president of the Sanhedrin, who was also the spiritual head and later, the political representative of the Jewish people.
Joseph Nasi b: 1524 Portugal d: 1579 Istanbul
There she was joined by her nephew, Joseph Nasi.  While continuing her widespread commercial operation, she became the most prominent leader of the Turkish Jewry.  She was involved in building synagogues, helping fugitive Marranos, organizing in 1556-57, in the face of opposition, the boycott of the port of Ancona in revenge for the burning of a group of Marranos, and beginning the project for the colonization of Tiberias associated with Joseph Nasi. She probably died while in Palestine in 1569.

Her nephew, Joseph, born about 1520, was a statesman and son-in-law of Gracia.  He also was a Marrano born in Portugal as Joao Miguez.  He went to Antwerp in 1536 with Gracia.  When his aunt fled to Italy in 1544, he stayed in Antwerp to settle her affairs for her.  He then joined her in 1554 in Constantinople where he became Jewish publicly as Joseph Nasi and married Gracia's daughter, Reyna, who would have been his cousin.  In those days, it was allowed if not even expected.
Sultan Selim II, ruled from 1566 to 1574;  born May 28, 15224-died December 12, 1574He was a son of Suleiman the Magnificent and Haseki Hürrem Sultan.
Joseph had a wide knowledge of European affairs.  He obtained an entree to the Turkish court and became an intimate of Selim, the heir to the throne.  In about 1561, he received a lease of Tiberias from the sultan.  I can't imagine a person being able to lease a whole ancient and famous city, but the Ottoman Empire was holding the land, and this was done then.  Not only the city but also he got an adjacent area with he meant to develop as an autonomous Jewish center.  When Selim became the Sultan in 1566, Joseph Nasi was created Duke of Naxos and the Cyclades, "the premier duchy of Christendom." " The Cyclades  were  Greek islands located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea.  The islands are located at the crossroads between Europe and Asia Minor and the Near East as well as between Europe and Africa." Naxos was the largest of the islands being 166 sq miles.  

"Moneylenders and financiers (mostly Jews, no doubt) did a large business lending money to the English government in 1544–1574. London bankers were too small to operate on that scale, and Antwerp had a highly efficient bourse that itself attracted rich bankers from around Europe. After the 1570s the city's banking business declined: England ended its borrowing in Antwerp in 1574."
Cyprus Today with tourism
Joseph was then promised the crown of Cyprus, an island, by the sultan if the island became Turkish.  Cyprus happened to be the biblical land of the Kittim or in modern Hebrew, the Kaphrisin.  He was partly responsible for the breach with Venice and the disastrous Cyprus war of 1570-3.   Joseph Nasi was partly responsible for the conquest of Cyprus by the Turks in 1571 but was not created king as he had anticipated However, in 1571 he was appointed Voivode of Wallachia, (a prince or duke of-actually a Slavic term)  Wallachia, from the first mention of a medieval polity situated between the Southern Carpathians and the Danube until the union with Moldavia in 1862, leading to the creation of Romania.   His power then waned.  In 1579 he died.

Joseph's widow established a Hebrew printing-press after his death at her palace of Belvedere outside Constantinople.  There and at Kuru Cesme, which was also near Constantinople, several works were published under her auspices from 1592 to 1599.

Events happening during this period concerning Portugal were:
1498 — Discovery of a maritime route to India by Vasco da Gama
1500 — Discovery of Brazil by Pedro Álvares Cabral
1505 — Appointment of Francisco de Almeida as the first viceroy of India
1503–1515 — Establishment of monopolies on maritime trade routes to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf by Afonso de Albuquerque, an admiral, for the benefit of Portugal
All these events made Portugal rich on foreign trade while it formally established a vast overseas empire.  Interestingly, Commercial treaties and diplomatic alliances were forged with China and the Persian Empire.

Actually Belgium did not became a country until October 4, 1830.  The congress held in Vienna tried to untie the part that would became Belgium, then called the Southern Netherlands, with the Northern Netherlands, which was Holland, and it didn't work.  They had a war and finally Belgium gained its independence.  

Resource: The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia


  1. how interesting nadene! thanks for posting that. you keep digging deep and finding fascinating things for your readers :)

    my elena denazzi (or denasi as has also been spelled) was married to anthony bassano and they lived in veneto italy so not terribly far from ferarra. elena was born in 1515. who knows how her family got there, but i suspect they were driven out from somewhere else and needed a safe haven. makes a compelling case for my belief that this is a jewish root that harks way back in my family. with the bassanos who appear to have been secret jews and this denasi name married into them only reinforces that she was also of a jewish background in my mind. the name certainly lends itself as does the area of the world where they lived and many other circumstantial evidences to make me believe they were marranos. that denasi family will be interesting for me to find out more on so i will do some futhersearching.

    i love to read history :)

  2. Thankful you enjoy reading history. I just found someone interesting. In my Jewish encyclopedia I found a Georgio Bassani born in 1916 who was an Italian writer born in Bologna, but lived mainly in FERRARA until 1943 when he moved to Rome. He wrote novels including THE GOLD-RIMMED SPECTACLES and THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS. I wonder if he could be a relative.


  3. # Primary Population (source) Secondary Population (source) Distance
    1 60.5% Swedish (Dodecad) + 39.5% N_Italian (Dodecad) @

    had gone to gedmatch to try out my kit number and though it is kind of scrambled here is some of what i saw

    2 75.5% N._European (Xing) + 24.5% French (Dodecad) @ 1.23
    3 88.7% N._European (Xing) + 11.3% Spaniards (Behar) @ 1.27
    4 97.7% CEU (HapMap) + 2.3% Yemen_Jews (Behar) @ 1.29
    5 89.2% N._European (Xing) + 10.8% Spanish (Dodecad) @ 1.34
    6 97.7% CEU (HapMap) + 2.3% Saudis (Behar) @ 1.35
    7 63.8% Swedish (Dodecad) + 36.2% North_Italian (HGDP) @ 1.37
    8 92.2% N._European (Xing) + 7.8% Sardinian (HGDP) @ 1.37
    9 89.4% N._European (Xing) + 10.6% IBS (1000Genomes) @ 1.39
    10 75.4% N._European (Xing) + 24.6% French (HGDP) @ 1.43
    11 87.5% N._European (Xing) + 12.5% French_Basque (HGDP) @ 1.47
    12 94.4% Orcadian (HGDP) + 5.6% Bedouin (HGDP) @ 1.52
    13 97.3% CEU (HapMap) + 2.7% Bedouin (HGDP) @ 1.54
    14 91% N._European (Xing) + 9% North_Italian (HGDP) @ 1.62
    15 66.9% Swedish (Dodecad) + 33.1% Tuscan (HGDP) @ 1.64
    16 87.1% Orkney (1000 Genomes) + 12.9% Tuscan (Henn) @ 1.64
    17 92.6% Orkney (1000 Genomes) + 7.4% Sephardic_Jews (Behar) @ 1.66
    18 91.8% Orkney (1000 Genomes) + 8.2% Morocco_Jews (Behar) @ 1.67
    19 89% N._European (Xing) + 11% Portuguese (Dodecad) @ 1.69
    20 97.4% CEU (HapMap) + 2.6% Egyptans (Behar) @ 1.69

  4. those percentages are small---but there just the same. does this back up some of what i'm reading in what you have posted about nasi and how it could be connected to me?


    i have found a treasure trove of some of jewish history--this goes deep in spain and italy. wow!

  6. nadene your reference to georgio bassani was lived in ferrara italy is also mentioned in the excerpt from the book the link o sent just above came from. it is incredibly interesting. the book is called shakespeare exhumed the bassano chronicles. there is some much there my head is spinning lol! much jewish history and influence throughout europe all through it.

  7. Wonderful! That influence throughout Europe is so true. The Spanish Inquisition started before 1492, and it did influence all the countries. Did you get the book at the library?

  8. ordering it nadene from amazon. called shakespeare exhumed-the bassano chronicles and is exploring the bassano/denasi/deluna names among many others and the influence they were in spain, italy, and beyond. this is going deep and i have only read excerpts thus far! pertains to a lot of what you have already posted.


  9. found this on wikipedia:

    Cecilia Vernier-Baffo[edit]
    There has been some debate as to whose daughter Rachel Olivia de Nasi was.[4] The Venetian claimed she was the daughter of Nicolò Venier whose brother Sebastiano Venier (1496-1578), who became Doge of Venice between 1577 and 1578.[4] While the Turkish Muslims recorded that she was the natural daughter of Venetian Judean named Yosef de Nasi and Violanta Baffo, who ended up marrying Nicolò Venier.[4] Other entries confirm that Voilanta Baffo was a mistress to Nicolò Venier, yet Yosef de Nasi is also recorded as the husband of Voilanta Baffo.[4] More likely Nasi died, which allowed Baffo to remarry to Nicolò Venier (proven fact from relationships.[4])

    Joseph de Nasi, Duke of Naxos, fled Venice to the Ottoman Empire of Prince Selim II and Rachel de Nasi.[4] This relationship unequivocally confirms that Rachel was the daughter of Yosef Nasi, brother of Benedetto de Nasi, which directly links the two Nasi families to Joseph de Nasi and Doña Gracia Mendes Nasi.[4]

    rachel olivia denasi is a first cousin of my elena denasi. elena's father is benedetto denasi. elena denasi was married to my anthony bassano. i am amazed at these families and the history that surrounds them.

    love finding these details :) ......

  10. I know how you must feel. To find out so much history about one of your relatives and to know that so much happened to them is thrilling. It connects you to them and to that period. You feel almost remade with such knowledge. I'm so glad you investigated your family history and had such exciting results!

  11. yes nadene. have read about the back and forth marriages of nasi and mendes/benvenistes families and think it will help me find out even more clues about these ancestors. thanks for the article that initially pointed me the direction i am headed in to know more. dna led me to the bassanos and denasi's and you helped me get beyond that.

  12. Glad to have helped. I never know when I write if it will help someone or not. Usually I pick a topic by accident and am excited when it leads to something as interesting as this person turned out to be.