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.
‘... that no trace of a Gitano of either gender should remain.’
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.
The pardon came too late, for the damage had already been done.
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.