From the Extermination of Spanish Roma to full Citizenship Status: One Century of Hope (1749–1843)

Manuel Martínez

1. The Raid and the Extermination Project of 1749: the Consequences1

Once the War of Succession had ended, Philip V also inherited the Habsburgs’ anti-Roma policy. Convinced it was ineffectual, he decided in 1721 to abandon it, and instead set up a committee known as the Junta de Gitanos to work out the most effective strategy. Two years later, the Junta came to the conclusion that the policies followed up to that time were useless because they had not managed to force the Roma to abandon their customs or submit to the mandates of the Church. Favouring expulsion, the Junta also came to believe that ecclesiastic immunity for the minority presented the biggest problem. At that point intense negotiations began with the Holy See to deny Roma the right of asylum, which would make it possible to remove all fugitives from places of worship, if necessary through the use of force. Finally, in 1748, Benedict XIV accepted this notion, and issued a papal bull allowing those who had sought sanctuary to be removed in a variety of circumstances.

The loss of this right left Roma completely vulnerable. With no place to take refuge, the Council of Castile, under the obstinate rule of its president, Vázquez de Tablada, agreed to have them arrested in order to ‘get them out of Spain and send them in small groups to the American provinces, where they might be put to useful work in royal factories and mines’.

The Council, aware of Portugal’s failure to expel its ‘Ciganos’, rejected the ‘removal’ of Spanish Roma via this method and finally agreed instead to undertake physical ‘extermination’. Thus, in June 1749 a raid was already being planned to capture all Roma of all ages, men and women alike. For this purpose, census documents prepared for the 1745 Pragmatic Sanction and later updates were used, although in the end these turned out to be incomplete.

The planning for the raid was complete by 8 July 1749, when the Marquis de la Ensenada sent instructions to be followed by the three navy commanders in charge of coordination, as well as a list of places where the operation would be carried out and the military detachments responsible. Equipped with their orders and lists of people to be arrested, the troops would begin their raid at midnight on 30 July 1749. At that moment all Roma were to be arrested and taken from their homes, separated according to gender, and then taken to pre-determined locations until new orders were received.

In the event that a Roma sought refuge in a church, that person was to be removed immediately under the guarantee established by the papal nuncio. Should anyone manage to escape, they would have to be located and apprehended by the same forces carrying out the raid, in order that ‘no trace of a Gitano of either gender should remain’.

After the raid, the homes of those apprehended were to be taken over, sealed shut and guarded in order to prevent looting. A scribe would take an inventory of ‘all the property, furniture and money’ found on the premises, and then an auction would be held to cover the cost of the operation.

The most captures took place in Andalusia, which was traditionally the Spanish region with the greatest Roma presence, particularly in the kingdoms of Seville and Granada. However, areas such as Málaga, Cádiz and Almería never received the prison order in the first place, and neither did Catalonia; for this reason, the raid could not be carried out in these places until the third or fourth week of August.

All told, starting from the dawn of 31 July and over the following months, around 9,000 people were affected by the Great Raid and others that followed. If we consider that at the time the Roma population was estimated to be about 12,000 people at most, this comprised just over three quarters of the Roma population.

Those arrested were rounded up and held in local jails and public squares, from where they were later sent to strongholds in places such as Dénia, Alicante, the Alhambra in Granada and Aljafería in Zaragoza. In some cases they were also held in closed-off streets and public areas, for instance in Seville, Plasencia and Málaga.

The security standards and hygienic conditions in these improvised holding places presented numerous problems, but the lack of foresight shown by the Council of Castile and the Marquis de la Ensenada in particular meant that imprisoned women were kept in these ‘compounds’ indefinitely in deplorable conditions. Their complaints, along with those of Roma who had obtained official letters establishing their Castilian origin, as well as criticism from noteworthy individuals and the concern of the monarch himself for having carried out such disproportionate measures, triggered a new meeting of the Junta de Gitanos, which was called for 7 September of that same year.

The meeting of this Junta in Madrid, under the supervision of Francisco Rávago, the king’s confessor, reviewed the state of the operation and sought a solution for the most controversial elements. The final result was a change of direction that led to a rethinking of the ‘extinction’ project. In actual fact, it was a cruel whitewash that ended up condemning nearly 4,000 innocent people to a captivity lasting sixteen years in the worst cases.

The Junta wished to redirect the project exclusively to those Roma men and women who had violated the Pragmatic Sanctions, and so in October 1749 it ordered that all those who had shown themselves to be morally upstanding should be freed. However, those who were unable to do so were to remain incarcerated, in accordance with Section 6 of the order. This particularly affected people who either lived in poverty or lacked relatives or influential individuals to vouch for their conduct. It was an unwise and unfair procedure which was heavily criticised by prison directors, guards and many other custodians of those unlucky enough to remain in prison.

Legally deprived of their civil rights, nearly 4,000 people were sent to final destinations as determined by the Marquis de la Ensenada – the men to carry out forced labour in the arsenals and the woman to almshouses – meaning the opportunity to right the errors committed was lost. Although the king’s conscience was temporarily calmed, in 1754, at the insistence of the Duke of Caylús, capitán general of the kingdom of Valencia, the king promised that a general pardon would be granted. Yet the Council of Castile had no great interest in hastening the process of freeing those still being held, and so years went by until they were liberated. The death of the king and the duke in the summer of 1759 delayed the process even more. The remaining survivors – no more than 300 individuals – were finally freed in 1765.

The pardon came too late, for the damage had already been done. A profound rift had opened between the two communities. This worsened not only the poverty but also the marginalisation of an ethnic collective that had previously been almost completely settled and in the process of full integration.

A large portion of the Roma men and women who had managed to avoid being locked up or had escaped from their temporary prisons – approaching 500 in total – were forced to live in secret, changing names and houses along with their families in places where they were not known, but always full of distrust and fearful of being re-arrested. In addition, the demographic decline in the Roma population was significant; even at the end of the eighteenth century there were only 10–11,000 Roma of all ages and both genders, which was still below the level of 1749. The majority were settled in Andalusia, particularly in the provinces of Cádiz and Seville. Impoverished after having lost their possessions to pay for the raid, they continued working in their traditional trades. Although these were actually prohibited, they were tolerated by officials as nobody else was prepared to carry out these monotonous and marginalized activities.

2. The Pragmatic Sanction of 1783: The Triumph of Assimilation Politics

The extermination project was not, however, the end of repressions for the Roma community; earlier restrictions continued unabated. In May 1767, for example, Charles III confirmed that anyone taken to be a vagabond or good-for-nothing, or ‘of undesirable extraction such as mulattos or Gitanos’,2 would be excluded from the military. Furthermore, on 22 January 1772, a new committee was created to formulate a decree about what ought to be done with the Roma, and once more a proposal was made to separate newborn children from their parents so that the former would not be able to learn and communicate the Roma language and customs, thereby ensuring the complete extinction of Roma identity and culture. The plan envisioned raising the children in orphanages, and completing their training in the navy. Later they would be sent to the Americas where they would mix with ‘honourable people’ and thus become useful subjects of the Crown.3

In 1776, a commission was formed to ‘persecute vagabonds and ensure the employment of loafers’, a group which included Roma under the category of ‘harmful vagrants’. Just as in earlier times, there was a double objective: eliminate the burden which the existence of these ‘harmful’ elements supposedly brought upon the state, while at the same time transforming them into useful employees, this time for the textile industry and in agriculture. At least in the latter point, these intentions were not reflected in the recently begun plan for agrarian reform, which sought to eliminate the structure of land ownership and do away with a hierarchical society in order to facilitate demographic and economic growth. In order to achieve these objectives, tenant farmers were allowed to lease the land long term under a standard set of conditions, something that would at the same time encourage the growth of industry. Although it had been intended that the Roma, would be settled in fertile land where they could work, they were left out of this plan in favour of outside settlers, who had little knowledge of the land and of the agricultural techniques it required.4

Among the proposals laid out by the commission, which included deportation to America and service in the navy, it was decided to go with the solution promoted by the Count of Floridablanca: a gentler, more assimilatory approach set down in the Pragmatic Sanction of 19 September 1783. Before that, there was an example of the earlier repression on 8 May 1783, when authorities were informed by Royal Letter not to grant passes to Roma or allow them to leave their home towns. Moreover, they were prohibited from attending fairs or engaging in livestock trading.

Yet the Pragmatic Sanction of 1783 did not mean a rejection of the policies which had been followed hitherto – merely that they were relaxed to some extent. It was true that on paper, at least, there was now less legal differentiation between Roma and the rest of the king’s subjects – they were allowed to choose their own occupation and form trade guilds and brotherhoods – but in practice this was effectively worthless. The fact that the Roma were no longer considered an inferior race, a belief which had justified so many repressive and controlling measures, did not mean they were recognised as a separate ethnic group, nor were the negative effects of nearly 400 years of prejudice and stereotypes eliminated.5

With the exception of these minor changes to favour Roma, the repression continued, sustained by mistrust and presumed guilt. Anyone who disobeyed the law, perhaps by speaking their language or wearing traditional Roma clothing, was still subjected to severe corporal punishment such as being branded with a red-hot iron. Movement between towns was also strictly controlled, and Roma were obliged to settle in a permanent place. In addition, a royal decree of 20 December 1784 confirmed that Roma would continue to be listed in a separate census.

The idea of ‘extermination’ endured, although in a less violent form, transformed into a policy of assimilation designed to engineer the disappearance of the Roma as a social and cultural identity, in all its forms. To this end they were forced to settle in a single place and interact with the rest of the neighbourhood, and undertake a standard occupation which was deemed to serve the best interests of society. This latter aspect was insisted upon throughout the entire first half of the nineteenth century.

The danger of being deported to America disappeared when the Pragmatic Sanction issued by Charles III came into effect, and although the decree was confirmed in 1805 in the Novísima Recopilación, its coherence was lost when it was carved up and summarised in various chapters referring to ‘Gitanos’, ‘bandits’, ‘highwaymen and ‘rogues’ and ‘general good-for-nothings’.6 Branding as a punishment was retained, however, and although the king abolished it in 1807, he made clear this was only in reference to non-Roma.

3. Roma Society between Liberals and Absolutists in the First Third of the Nineteenth Century

Spanish Roma adopted a neutral stance during Spain’s War of Independence against Napoleonic occupation, just as they did in the Carlist Wars that followed. For the most part, they considered the conflict unrelated to Roma, perhaps in the conviction that whoever was in power, their situation would not improve. And in fact, they were right.

The losing side for example, wanted to maintain the repression of the Roma community during the reign of Joseph I (who had been installed as king by Napoleon), under the rules set out for the Cuerpo General de Gendarmería [General Gendarmerie Corps] on 19 March 1812. This body, however, was dissolved the following year and so there was little opportunity for the paragraph to take effect in which instructions were set out for observing, persecuting and capturing delinquents, vagrants and vagabonds of all kinds.7

On the winning side, the constitution of 1812 was a discreet move forward in the acquisition of Spanish nationality. In the constituent sessions of the Cortes de Cádiz, the Roma issue was linked to the human rights of indigenous groups and other marginal elements in America. Yet, the requirement to have a fixed abode took priority over the conviction that the Roma were still a nomadic people. Thus the classification of Roma as Spanish citizens was conditional upon a legal obligation carried over from an earlier era.

No sooner had Ferdinand VII ascended the throne than he quickly took up the anti-Roma legislation of his Bourbon predecessors. As early as August 1814, he demanded the observance of the 1783 Pragmatic Sanction, particularly articles 22, 23, 24, 30, 31, 32 and 33.8 The measure was inserted in a decree giving instructions on the pursuit and punishment of delinquents; as had already been the case in the sixteenth century, the Spanish Roma were collectively designated as delinquents.

This return to repression provoked the jealousy of those mayors who longed for a return to the old Bourbon policies. A preponderance of complaints and petitions began to arrive, both with the press and the Consejo Real [Royal Council] denouncing ‘wrongdoings’ supposedly perpetrated by the Roma, which, it was claimed, were produced by the authorities and the Council itself having relaxed the application of the laws.

One of the most noteworthy petitions proposing the idea that Roma be forced into a useful life or face extermination is that of August 1816, in which the mayor of Morata de Tajuña addressed the president of the Council of Castile to explain the ‘abuses’ perpetrated by Roma under the protection of the justice system:

[...] in order to restrict the so-called Roma to a civil and industrious life, or exterminate them as harmful elements, the most healthful and energetic measures have been enacted by legislation, in particular the Pragmatic Sanction of 19 September 1783. Nevertheless we see them slip away unpunished, wandering from town to town with the pretext of horse-trading, which is forbidden to them, authorised by passports from local authorities where they have a fixed residence, giving them this safe-conduct pass so that they may continue committing the excesses so often seen in them. The law is categorical, but as happens with so many others, due to tolerance or a failure to obey civil authorities, they lack strength and go unobserved, while the ill effects they are meant to prevent continue. One lone judge is not enough to enforce the aforementioned Pragmatic Sanction, it is necessary that everyone observe and comply. It behoves Your Highness to undertake whatever is required, and if necessary pass a further law to reinforce the implementation of the first. This should be called to the attention of the king as it must be extended throughout the entire kingdom, and it is not enough to issue a letter in your district. The motivation and causes that moved the king to enact this law continue to this day, and there is no reason to stop implementing it.9

These proposals were not isolated cases throughout the turbulent first decade and a half of the nineteenth century, a time when the Roma community never stopped suffering from the strict repressive measures, despite numerous petitions such as that above indicating the contrary. And though it might be true that there were no raids specifically aimed at Roma, the fact is that they were the main target of measures aimed at vagrants. In fact, from 1783 on, the Roma per se were no longer persecuted, but admittedly only because the criminal category of Roma who showed disobedience toward the Pragmatic Sanction was replaced by that of a common vagabond, while there was no let-up in the persecution and arbitrary treatment of this collective.10

After the absolutist restoration, liberals returned to power in 1820 and reinstated the constitution of 1812. However, even in the first months of the government, voices began to demand the adoption of anti-Roma measures, and that they be denied the right to vote. At the same time, criticism resurfaced regarding the supposed laxness of local authorities in supervising Roma communities. It was thus only a matter of time until new legal measures were taken against Roma. The opportunity came when the Cortes Ordinarias met from 6 July to 9 September in 1820. There was a heated debate on the impunity the constitution supposedly afforded delinquents – an accusation put forth by anti-liberals which influenced a good part of the Spanish population.

The old discourse relating laziness to crime came up again, with much of the debate centring on the concept of idleness as the origin of all that was wrong. The final result was decree XXVIII of 11 September 1820, which referred to ‘the approach taken by political leaders and municipal governments to those who have no known way of making a living’. The second article of this document stated:

The aforementioned Gitanos, vagrants or good-for-nothings, as well as other vagabonds and idlers [...], will be persecuted and jailed once proof of their bad qualities has been supplied; and without allowing them more than eight days precisely to disprove such accusations.

The reactionary attitude of the liberals was accepted even by their political adversaries, who viewed the partial return to the 1814 royal admonition as a revival of the royal order of 30 April 1745 and the royal decree of 7 May 1775. These documents were typical of the most die-hard absolutism, re-establishing confinement as a correctional measure in charitable institutions, arsenals, hospitals ‘or any other establishments where they [the supposed delinquents] could work without further deteriorating or becoming a burden on the state’. Alternatively, the vagrants might be deployed for public works in their home towns or the surrounding area.11

Thus, the improvements which had been obtained through the constitution of 1812 were rescinded by the liberals themselves, who not only brought back the old repressive tactics against Roma who had no ‘employment, occupation or known way of making a living’, but also ensured that the civil rights they had been granted in 1812 were removed.

Publications of scant literary quality, such as the serial novels included in the newspapers of the era and the pamphlets known as cordel literature, became the main propaganda forums for negative Roma stereotypes.12 The greatest harm was produced by the profusion of criminal incidents in newspapers allegedly perpetrated by Roma, regardless of whether the sources were reliable or merely unfounded accusations.

Ferdinand VII’s return to absolutism in 1823 did not improve the situation for the Roma. The reality of day-to-day life was truly ominous, an adjective that characterises this period well. With the constitution of 1812 revoked, from 1827 onwards a series of reminders was issued to place Roma under stricter observation in all areas of the Spanish kingdom.

As on earlier occasions, the return to oppressive legislation generated new complaints of supposed ‘abuses’ committed by Roma. Subject to public pressure, the monarch ordered the application of laws included in the Novísima Recopilación, and made authorities responsible for preventing freedom of movement for the ‘bands of Gitanos’ who roved throughout the kingdom, of whom it was said that they ‘lived off everyone else, and with no profession or occupation to get by’.13 As a result, places such as Elche [in Valencia] passed provisions to keep wandering Roma from staying a specific number of days in those towns.14

As in earlier times, petitions and complaints to local authorities continued to set the legislative apparatus in motion, although the incidents in question were not sufficiently investigated. The presumption of Roma guilt prevailed, and constraints regarding their way of life and economic activities remained in place well into the nineteenth century, as we can see in the following sections.15

4. The First Carlist War and Its Repercussions in the Roma Community

The change to the Spanish throne after the death of the absolutist Ferdinand VII did nothing whatsoever to change the situation of the Spanish Roma community. In fact, repressions were tightened as a result of the first Carlist War. Furthermore, the Estatuto Real [royal statute] of 1834 once more revoked the rights acquired through the constitution of 1812.

Although there is no documented proof to confirm significant Roma participation among the combatants of either sides, we do have indications that show they supplied cavalry horses for mounted troops destined for Carlist groups in Aragón. The Aragonian Commission for Armament and Defence introduced a number of measures in late October 1835 in the hope of combating this collaboration, including an order banishing Roma accused of trafficking horses for the Carlists to Málaga, Ceuta and the Balearic Islands.16

Nevertheless, the Roma attitude towards the army of Carlos María Isidro was by no means universally positive, particularly after September 1836, when the new Carlist diputación in Guipúzcoa ordered the expulsion of ‘Gitanos and vagabonds’ found in the jurisdiction of the Irún magistrate and the municipal governments of the province, (thereby confirming an order given by the commander general, Bartolomé Guibelalde, on 25 August that year).17

Generally speaking, the Roma could be said to have taken a neutral stance, since it was a conflict that had nothing to do with them, a point confirmed by Carlos Dembowki in his contemporary report.18 However, at the end of the Carlist offensive in 1835, with the resulting retreat to reorganise in small groups for the purpose of undertaking raids, the Roma began to play a more important role. It was a a time dominated by chaos, when poverty and famine gripped the population, with security in the towns and on the roads threatened by the surge in highway bandits.19

The composition of these gangs was very diverse, but for the most part they were made up of the most underprivileged members of the lower classes. Dembowki, as a proponent of Spanish Romanticism, emphasised the spirit of adventure and the corresponding thirst for independence – values that were held in high esteem by the Roma – as one of the reasons behind people becoming itinerant bandits.

The accusations of crimes supposedly committed by Roma gangs extended through to the end of summer. The press bowed to its readers’ demands, repeatedly devoting its pages to spreading news of new offences carried out by specific Roma, which ended up turning into a projection of crimes perpetrated by the Roma community in general. This tendentious reporting would be accompanied by the mantra-like call to control and pursue the ‘delinquent’ Roma.

With such repeated warnings, even before the end of the war the government proceeded to publish a new reminder in the form of a Real Cédula [royal directive] on 1 March 1837, that all magistrates should comply with the Pragmatic Sanction of 1783, which was further specified through the Real Cédula of 22 August 1814 and the Real Orden [royal decree] of 11 January 1827.20

The liberals were also significantly involved in the anti-Roma offensive that same year, 1837. They launched a smear campaign that equated the rebellious ‘riff-raff’ Carlists with the Roma, assigning them the latter’s bad reputation. This was one more weapon in the war that did much more damage to the Roma than to the Carlists.

With all the confusion and disarray in this final phase of the war, many of the crimes committed continued to be attributed to the Roma, which translated into new and more frequent petitions for repressive measures, which in turn ended up appearing as a reminder of Charles III’s Pragmatic Sanction in the official provincial bulletins, the boletines oficiales. In Almería for example, non-compliance of these regulations by the Roma was reported thus:

Never overlooking the interesting branch of public security and protection in this province, whose government was bestowed upon us by Her Majesty the governing Queen, my attention was caught by the nomadic life generally led by the so-called Gitanos, whose people, like those of the ancient nomadic or breakaway tribes, are to be found anywhere in groups or entire families more or less numerous, with individuals of either sex and all ages, wandering aimlessly, without a fixed address, exempting themselves from all public obligations, and their sons evading military service to such an extent that if any of them are incorporated into the military, they desert at the first opportunity, whereof there are recent examples. The good of society requires therefore that in the district of my command I should adopt severe and energetic measures against a class of person that with their degenerate way of life and bad habits appear to mock the precious rights of citizens, compromise public welfare, and with their fraudulent deals and illicit trading corrupt and harm respectable commerce. Thus public opinion accuses Gitanos in general, among other criminal actions, of being the main purveyors of counterfeit money, which has circulated in large quantities, as well as assorted supposed values of gold and silver, which continue to circulate, although to a lesser degree than previously.21

In such confused times, former members of the defeated Carlist parties, displaced from their home regions, would frequently take to pillaging – and pretending to be Roma proved to be a very useful strategy for confusing the authorities. It is thus highly probable that many groups of bandits who were reported in the press to be ‘apparently Gitanos’, ‘dressed in Gitano clothing’ and other similar expressions, were not actually members of this ethnic group. Whether or not they were, the harm was in fact done; the readers, duped by the negative stereotype, ended up identifying them as criminals and, by extension, the rest of the entire Roma community as well.

The war clearly did lasting damage to the Roma. Their negative image was supplemented by the misery and poverty brought about by the restrictions on movement, which prevented them from settling in a place where they could find better living conditions. This aspect was exacerbated by the prohibition on exercising their traditional occupations. Moreover, the Roma population was increasing rapidly, which triggered greater competition for work and accelerated the scarcity of the material resources required for survival. As a result, great internal tensions began to form, resulting at times in violent eruptions.

5. The Constitution of 1837 and the End of Bourbon Anti-Roma Laws

Although still immersed in war, at the urging of the progressive party with its radical liberal agenda, Queen Maria Christina implemented a new constitution in 1837 which reinstated full citizenship for the Roma, but this time with no strings attached. Its first article states simply that ‘all people born in Spanish territory’ are, in fact, Spanish. This meant there was no longer any obligation to live a sedentary life in order to become a Spanish citizen. It was a reform that in theory conferred upon Roma all the rights and obligations in the constitution, including the right to hold any office or perform any trade for which they might be qualified, the right not to be arrested, imprisoned or driven from their homes without the appropriate proceedings, and the right to be judged under the same laws as all other Spaniards. As to their obligations, they would have to defend the country through the use of weapons. In theory, Roma formed part of the Spanish population, just as the rest of the crown’s subjects. However, in practice, it was quite another story, and the war did not help to consolidate these rights.

Once the war was just about winding down an attempt was made to restore internal order by controlling the fragmented bands of Carlists who wandered around the most remote towns. As mentioned above, these groups, along with Roma and other elements from marginalised sectors, were taking advantage of the situation to carry out robberies, something that liberal forces attempted to combat in a variety of ways. In the case of the Roma, not only were they subject to persecution by armed groups, but checks on Roma communities also increased, and once again the authorities were reminded of the need to enforce existing legislation. And although in the first years of the war the authorities, who were more concerned with fighting the Carlists, had barely interfered with the free movement of Roma, now nomadic people were obliged ‘to set up camp outside towns’.22

Once again, governors used the boletines oficiales of their provinces to issue new warnings. In one case, on 29 July 1839 the governor of Murcia addressed a reminder to all the mayors of his province, very similar to that which had previously been issued by his counterpart in Almería.23 He warned about the importance of maintaining vigilance with respect to ‘vagabonds and Gitanos’. One novelty was the inclusion of a rather significant note which sought to moderate the enforcement process by advising that these actions be carried out ‘with the prudence and humanity so recommended by a constitutional government such as ours, just and charitable’.24 This recommendation dovetails perfectly with the purest concepts of the 1812 constitution, where emphasis is made (in the sixth article of the second chapter) of the obligation by all Spaniards to be just and charitable. This was a fine point that made Roma eligible for better treatment, something not conceded in the texts of historic statutes or other documents. Thus began a new era in which people began to question the repression that resulted from those laws.

Although still coercive in essence, this new reminder was enacted without incident in Lorca by mayoral decree on 17 August 1839. Moreover, a ‘file to reform the bad lifestyle and customs of Gitanos’ was drawn up, which took articles 7 to 12 and 17 to 18 from the edict issued by the civil governor of Murcia on 25 June of that year. This document expressed the view that the origin of the blight lay in ‘the scant interest by the authorities to apply the laws and Pragmatic Sanctions still in effect against Gitanos and vagrants’. The constitutional mayors were thus requested to supervise the work of the authorities, and proceed against them if they failed to comply with the law.

With respect to enforcing the measures, the governor demanded ‘an exact account’, so that that he might be certain they really conformed to the regulations and apprise the queen of the situation. In order to ensure his orders would be carried out, he warned mayors that he would dispatch ‘people of integrity and commitment to go to the towns where there had been some lapse or disobedience’, and ‘to hold those who had incurred the said error accountable’. Thus a new oppressive figure appeared on the scene: an overseer to supervise those who controlled the Roma.25

To comply with the governor’s orders, on 17 August the mayor of Lorca ordered that a census be made ‘of all Gitanos who reside and live in their respective districts, including the names of fathers, mothers, children if any, and the age of each’.26 In this way, the offspring, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who had been registered from 1783 onwards would now go through the same experience as their ancestors.

Starting in autumn 1839, at a point when the Carlist War was officially over but many of the scattered troops had failed to disperse, numerous incidents involving uprooted Roma elements were noted. The press would report on their crimes in far greater detail than was devoted to other criminal acts committed by non-Roma.

The confusion of this post-war period began to dissipate in summer 1840, and news of criminal acts supposedly committed by Roma decreased. However, despite this apparent normalisation, the suspicion and mistrust did not disappear. The press continued to spread prejudice and stereotypes through their literary booklets and reports on criminal incidents.

Particularly in smaller places, there was a huge level of mistrust and apprehension when a large group of Roma showed up in the area – even more so if they were armed. It is in this context that the last documented (as far as we know) application of corporal punishment, namely cutting off ears, took place as prescribed in the old anti-Roma Pragmatic Sanction. The events happened in Córdoba, where the city’s political and military governor had earlier shown his prejudice against Roma with his order that the first Roma to be seized should be forced to work as a grave-digger.27

On this occasion, rumours emerged in April 1843 of groups of thieves on the roads around Córdoba. and so the chief of police sent special commissioners to check out the story. There was in fact no evidence of any coaches being attacked, just some robberies of cattle perpetrated by individuals on foot – but this was enough to raise suspicions that the acts had been committed by Roma. The unproven assumption was used to justify orders by the chief of police that any Roma caught stealing should have their ears cut off. It was a cruel and obsolete resolution that was widely criticised by the national press. La Posdata briefly reported on the crazy anachronistic order, not without a certain tone of irony:

In the province of Córdoba it seems they’ve dug up the law regarding gangs according to which Gitanos caught in the act of robbery get their ears cut off. If that took effect in Madrid to fight thievery, more than a few guests in coaches would be riding around without their ears.28

The fierce criticism unleashed surrounding this event, just like the case of the forced employment as grave-diggers,29 represents signs that Roma, no matter how bad their reputation was at the time, were already considered citizens with the same rights as anyone else. For this reason, we can regard this second Córdoba event, as paradoxical as it may seem given its repressive nature, as marking the end of anti-Roma legislation in Spain, at a point when anti-Roma laws appeared to have been buried and forgotten.

Nevertheless, the permanent suspicion that the Roma were delinquents was not consigned to the past. Anti-Roma measures were still ordered, but they were of an internal nature for local police and the Guardia civil [Civil Guard], a body which had been particularly entrusted with watching Roma since its creation in 1844.30

In a society at the dawn of the industrial era, the Roma remained largely trapped in poverty and constantly demeaned by repression, as they continued to survive by performing the traditional occupations of their ancestors. They experienced no ‘progress’ and remained disconnected from the social, cultural and economic advances that characterised the rest of the nineteenth century. Only in Barcelona were there signs of a timid proletarianisation among the Roma community, which despite its political and economic insignificance was prominent in events taking place there between 1842 and 1843, particularly with a revolutionary movement called La Jamància.31

The population growth and the move from country to city also made Madrid and Seville core enclaves for the Roma population in Spain, although in these two cities the harsh and precarious living conditions led to an increase in internal tensions within the Roma community. The press somewhat gleefully took to reporting these incidents by exploiting the old stereotypical image of the Roma as a violent and aggressive individual.


Reign of Philip V (1700–1746)

1721 Creation of the ‘Gitanos Board’.

1717 Pragmática [Pragmatic Sanction] that ordered, among other things, the registration of all Roma in the kingdom, as well as their weapons and animals, and the obligation to settle exclusively in forty-one towns.

1726 Royal Certificate issued, containing a reminder of the 1717 Pragmatic Sanction.

1731 Royal Provision issued, developing the eighth article of the 1717 Pragmatic Sanction so that justices and magistrates would ‘visit and search houses for their persons, to recognise if they had something suspicious about them, and to be informed of their way of life and custom’.

1738 Royal Provision issued, recalling the provisions of 1717, 1727 and 1731.

1743 Marquis de la Ensenada, secretary of state and of the office, takes over the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of War and the Ministry of the Navy and the Indies.

1745 Royal Order issued on 17 September to persecute ‘Gitanos’ and people leading a ‘bad life’.

1745 Royal Decree issued on 30 October, ordering the publication of camps so that all Roma can return to their homes.

Reign of Ferdinand VI (1746–1759)

1746 Royal Provision issued in July, increasing the number of populations entitled to receive Roma.

1748 Brief issued by the papal nuncio authorising Roma to be removed from consecrated premises.

1749 Royal Order issued on 28 November; general raid on ‘Gitanos’.

1754 Proposal to pardon the Marquis de la Ensenada and his ultimate dismissal.

1759 Deaths of Ferdinand VI and Duke of Caylús.

Reign of Charles III (1759–1788)

1763 Pledge of pardon

1765 Freedom for all Roma and Roma who were still imprisoned.

1767 Roma banned from the army.

1772 Consultation to create a new Pragmatic Sanction.

1775 Royal Decree issued on 7 May 1775, obliging able-bodied people who did not work to be employed in the army. Anybody who could not perform useful work should be picked up and given refuge in hospitals, houses of mercy and the like.

1776 The commission includes ‘Gitanos’ in the category of ‘damaging vagrants’

1783 Royal cédula issued in May ordering that judges should not grant passports to Roma or permit them to leave their homes, as well as prohibiting them from attending fairs or trading horses.

1783 Pragmatic Sanction issued in September condemning and punishing vagrancy among Roma.

1784 Royal Order issued stipulating that registers of Roma should be created and updated.

Reign of Charles IV (1788–1808)

1805 Various articles from the 1783 Pragmatic Sanction are included in Spain’s Novísima Recopilación laws.

1807 Branding as a punishment is abolished, except for Roma.

Reign of Joseph I (1808–1813)

1808 Beginning of the War of Independence.

1812 Regulation of the Cuerpo General de Gendarmería [General Gendarmerie Corps].

Reign of Ferdinand VII (1808–1833)

1812 The Cortes of Cádiz grants Spanish citizenship to all those who have been born within the domains of Spain and are domiciled there.

1814 Repeal of the 1812 constitution in May.

1814 Reminder of articles 22, 23, 24, 30, 31, 32 and 33 of the 1783 Pragmatic Sanction.

1816 Petition by the mayor of Morata de Tajuña requesting that the president of the Council of Castile expose the ‘abuses’ supposedly perpetrated by Roma.

1820 Restoration of the 1812 Constitution in March.

1820 Decree XXVIII issued in September, referring to ‘the approach taken by political leaders and municipal governments to those who have no known way of making a living’, a description which also included Roma; revival of the Royal Order of 30 April 1745 and the Royal Decree of 7 May 1775.

1827 Royal Order issued on 11 January, reviving the Pragmatic Sanction of 1783.

Reign of Isabella II (1833–1868) Regency of Maria Christina (1833–1840)

1833–1839 First Carlist War.

1834 Royal Statute issued.

1836 The Carlist Provincial Council of Guipúzcoa orders the expulsion of ‘Gitanos and vagabonds’.

1837 Royal Decree issued in March recalling the Pragmatic Sanction of 1783, Royal Decree of 22 August 1814 and Royal Order of 11 January 11 1827.

1837 Publication in June of a new constitution, which removes the requirement that Spanish citizens should have a fixed abode.

1838 Publication of the reminder from the previous year in the official provincial bulletins, the boletines oficiales.

1838 In September the political and military chief in Cordoba orders the arrest of several Roma to work as gravediggers.

1839 In July the political and military chief in Murcia orders that a reminder of the 1783 Pragmatic Sanction be added to the official bulletin so that it is fulfilled ‘with the circumspection and humanity that a constitutional government so much recommends’.

1839 In August and later months, robberies by Carlists and other marginal groups increase.

Regency of Espartero (1840–1843)

1842–1843 La Jamància revolutionary movement.

1843 In April, the political and military chief of Cordoba orders that Roma who are caught committing a robbery should have their ears cut off.

1844 Creation of the Guardia Civil [Civil Guard], which is entrusted with the special task of monitoring and supervising Roma.