4. How do you use Inquisition cases as historical sources?
There are some problems with using Inquisition documents. One of the things thats really great is that you seem to get first person accounts. Gertrudis is asked about her background and she says, These were my parents, this was my life before I was in the convent, these are the people that I lived with. I worked in other places for a period of time. She talks about how much she was paid when she worked in certain places. It seems to be a first person account, but in fact its not a first person account. I mean you always have to keep in mind that its an Inquisition case; that people arent just writing this down in the privacy of their own home. A notary is taking down the testimony.
And then also of course you have to think about the context. This is a scary situation, especially if youre a mulata woman who has very few rights and privileges in this colonial society. So you have to look at what she said, the framework, and understand that she must have been intimidated.
Theyre saying things to achieve a certain effect. Juana de la Cruz said that Gertrudis renounced God three times. Juana may have been exaggerating the number of times to make her case for beating Gertrudis look better. Gertrudis may have been underestimating it to make herself look like a better Christian, or to make it look more involuntary.
This is not so much about how to deal with the Inquisition, but it is about strategy. In this case, the nun says that Gertrudis had learned to renounce from this other mulatto whos named Alacrán or Scorpion. Gertrudis denies this. There are also some cases in which an owner of a slave told another slave or servant to whip the person who was being punished. Sometimes there was a lot of disagreement among the slaves about whether this person had renounced. You get the impression that maybe they were trying to help protect their fellow slave or servant. Looking at these cases in the aggregate does lead us to suspect that this is a strategy that people knew about.
Inquisition cases follow a certain prescribed pattern. As an example of formulaic language, the accused were asked if they know, suspect, or presume, the reason why they had been called to this commission. This is a way to get them to either say no, they have absolutely no idea, or a way to get them to spill their story. This is a question that is asked of everybody who comes in to the Inquisition. In some ways, you could argue that the renunciation itself is an example of this formulaic language. Gertrudis said that she renounced God and his saints. Juana de la Cruz said, she said that she renounced God and his saints. And then other people say, she said that she renounced God and his saints. You have to think, especially if its in this situation where somebodys being beaten, would it really have come out like this? Would everybody have heard it exactly in that way? Theres a strong possibility that something else was said and yet this is the formula in which it comes out. This provides us with another way of thinking about how much to believe that these are accurate accounts of what happened because everybody resorts to this formula.