Archive for the ‘History’ Category.

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!


What makes genealogy fascinating is not just finding out who your ancestors were but also making discoveries that make you take step back and really think about the times and lives they lived. I made one such discovery not too long ago while expanding the tree on my mother’s side of the family.

What I discovered was that the younger sister Ines of my 8th great grandfather Miguel de la Peña Lillo y Estrada was prosecuted and convicted by the Spanish Inquisition in Lima, Peru! This was totally unexpected.

On Page 56, Article 4 of the “Anales de la Inquisición de Lima” by Ricardo Ricardo Palma we find the following text:

Ines de la Peñalillo, limeña, de 40 años y dueña de una mazamorrería. Era una mujer blanca y que poseía una decente fortuna. Sus criadas la acusaron de hechicera y de que meneaba la mazamorra con una canilla de muerto. La infeliz dió un paseo á medio vestir y pasó á condimentar mazamorras á Valdivia. Abjuró de leví y fueron confiscados sus bienes.

Not much more is known of this 9th great-aunt of mine but, using today’s understanding of the human mind, it appears that she was probably suffering of some sort of mental illness. I am also convinced that there were some in her environs that probably wanted to get hold of her material assets so, why not use the Office of the Holy Inquisition to help? Naturally, all this is pure conjecture on my part.

In any case, let’s focus on some of the interesting tidbits we see in the text above.

I won’t go into the description of the Spanish Inquisition because all of that can be easily found by looking at online resources like Wikipedia or any number of encyclopedias. Just be aware to separate fact from fiction.

Something that will be hard to find, I know it was for me, are the different types of outcomes for those convicted:


The rarest of all outcomes because as opposed to what we are all accustomed to in 21st century modern societies, those taken before the Inquisition were presumed guilty until found innocent.

Suspended process

This was the case when the guilt of the accused could not be unquestionably supported yet the person remained under suspicion. At any time the Inquisition can resume the tribunal against him or her with an eventual conviction. In practice, this was a great loophole for the authorities to get out of prosecuting someone innocent while not admitting error.


This required the convicted to publicly denounce (abjure of) his or her crimes. There were three types:

  1. Abjuración de levi: This was a sentence meted out to those that were convicted of “minor” crimes such as bigamists, blasphemers, or those that under a “light” suspicion of heresy. The typical penalties here would be a fine, forced pilgrimage to a holy site, isolation in a convent, or forced fasting of all solids and rarely of even liquids for a period of time.
  2. Abjuración de vehementi: This was for those for whom there were serious suspicions of guilt or there were only two accusing witnesses or the person refused to confess. Typical penalties here would be exile, public flagellation, become a galley slave, or imprisonment.
  3. Abjuración “en forma”: This was in those cases where guilt was proven and the person had confessed their crimes. This was the typical result for those practicing Judaism, especially those that had made a public conversion to Roman Catholicism but continued being practicing Jews in secret. Like with the type above, the typical penalties here would be exile, public flagellation, becoming a galley slave, or imprisonment.

Subsequent convictions of the first type (levi) did not carry extra penalties. Subsequent convictions of the second and third types would mark the person as having relapsed and may even be condemned to death. If the person confessed his or her sins, then they would be strangled before being burned. If they did not confess, they would be burned alive. It should be noted that the actual execution was not carried out by the Church but by the State’s secular authorities to whom the convict would be transferred over after the sentenced was pronounced.

As one can see, the death penalty was reserved for repeat offenders and only in extreme cases, at least in the American Colonies. Contrary to popular belief, the Spanish Inquisition did not automatically burn at the stake everyone that came before it but rather had a range of penalties. Having said that, torture was commonplace and for the non Roman Catholics in Spain, it was a terrifying time with thousands being burnt at the stake during the Inquisition’s existence. Interestingly, as violent as it was at time (at least by today’s standards), torture was not as frequently applied as in the rest of contemporary Europe since even they were of the opinion that confessions brought about during torture are not dependable.

It should also be noted that the Inquisition in the colonies was not as severe as in Spain.

Links of interest:


Acta Apostolicae Sedis

The Acta Apostolicae Sedis or Acts of the Apostolic See (in English) is the official gazette of the Holy See, functioning like the official gazette of any government or state around the world. In here, one finds encyclicals, official decisions, appointments, etc. The gazette was established in 1908 by Pope Pius X and has been published every month since then.

Just on the face of it, this is very interesting to anyone that enjoys such things. However, what is particularly fascinating and an excellent source for those of us in the chivalric/heraldic world is that all those who have had the honor of being admitted into any of the papal orders are mentioned in the gazette. In other words, this resource is a quick and easy way to validate whether someone who claims to be a, say, Knight of the Order of St. Sylvester really is so.

As most of those that are involved in orders of chivalry, there are many (way too many) false orders and even more pretenders that claim to have more knighthoods than even the King of Spain! A very (un)healthy market has been the sales of false membership into papal orders. This has gone on for a long time and a few years ago was wildly popular. Naturally, this was completely false and many people were taken in as victims of these scams.

The availability of the Acta online is a veritable boon to all those who like to validate such claims.

The link to the online archive of every single publication of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis since 1909 is:


I’d like to thank Dr. Charles Drake for alerting me to the existence of the archive!

Note: image from Wikipedia

The shaping of a symbol – The double headed eagle

In what is perhaps the best online digital library of Greek or Greece related texts, I found an article written in the 1920s by the Archimandrite Zacharias Lianas (Ζαχαρίας Λιανάς, d. 1952), head of the Rizarios Hieratic School between 1923 and 1925.

The article gives a concise history, from a Greek Orthodox perspective (with emphasis on both Greek and Orthodox), of how the double headed eagle came to have the meaning it has today. Below is my translation of the Archimandrite’s words (apologies for the run on sentences but, that’s how the original is too):

It has always been that people used places, shapes, images, plants and animals as symbols to express an idea. These symbols, called hieroglyphics, are found in all populations and all religions. In those, the imagination of the people borrowed much from the kingdom of the plants such as the olive, the laurel, the lilly, the pomegranate, etc. These were used to express different meanings and ideas.

Also, since antiquity all peoples used as an expression of power, force and majesty the Lion. As an expression of height, poetic elation, wisdom and ingenuity was the Eagle. For this reason the Lion is used in the palaces of kings and the heraldry of nations and sovereign Houses, whereas the Eagle is found on the friezes of temples. Lions decorate the palaces of the kings of Babylon and Persia. Lions decorate as well the palace at Mycenae. Lions [in sculpture] were raised in Marathon, Thermopylae, Chaeronea, etc.

The Eagle, on the other hand, is the symbol and the messenger of the Olympian Zeus. An Eagle transfers Ganymede to Olympus. An Eagle eats, on Zeus’ orders, the liver of Premetheus who is bound to the Caucasus. An Eagle is places on the frieze of the temple of the Olympian Zeus and on the temple of the Capitol Zeus. With the meaning of ingenuity and inspiration, the Eagle was given as a symbol to the Apostole and Evangelist John the Theologian.

Ptolemy Lagus of Alexandria first placed the Eagle on the flags of his army as a symbol of the state and military power. From the Ptolemaic state of Alexandria, dissolved by the Romans, did the Roman Emperors take the Eagle for their military flags. Slowly, the Roman Eagle became the symbol of the entire Roman Empire. As the Roman Empire was split during the reign of Diocletian and Maximilian into two states, the Eastern and the Western, so was the Eagle split into two. The Eagle of the Western Empire had its head facing west and the Eagle of the Eastern Empire faced East. When the Roman State, through Constantine the Great, was united into a single Empire, the two symbolic Eagles were reunited into one. However, the previously single headed Eagle became double headed, symbolizing the unified empire with the two capitals: Old Rome and New Rome. For this reason one of the heads faced West towards Old Rome and the other faced East towards New Rome – Constantinople.

When the Emperor Constantine the Great saw in the sky, at high noon, the divine symbol of the cross with the epigraph ΕΝ ΤΟΥΤΩ ΝΙΚΑ [translated to Latin as “IN HOC SIGNO VINCES”], he was instructed in a vision where he was visted by Jesus Christ to construct a copy of the image of the cross and to use it throughout his military ranks so that he may be victorious through it. This is when Constantine the Great, according to the instructions he received, constructed the Labarum and replaced the until then national military flag of the Double-headed Eagle with the new Christian banner of the Cross. However, he maintained and established the Double-headed Eagle as the symbol and state emblem of the Imperial Dynasty of the Byzantine Roman State. In the following centuries of the height of the Byzantine State, the Double-headed Eagle was used as the Coat of Arms of the Byzantine Emperors, placed on the Imperial Palaces, decorating the chests of the imperial guards and the courtiers in general. It was embroidered on the imperial clothes, the saddles of the imperial horses and on the imperial shoes. In the sacristy of the Holy Monastery of Great Lavra on Mount Athos, is preserved the imperial coat with Double-headed Eagles embroidered in gold, once belonging to the Emperors Nicephorus Phocas and John Tzimiskes from the 9th century.

After the Fall of Constantinople to the Turks (1453) the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was recognized by the conqueror Muhammed II as the Ethnarch [national leader] of the Romans. As such, he inherited along with the other imperial symbols (the crown, sceptre, robes) the Double-headed Eagle as the symbol of the Nation. This symbol has been used ever since as the emblem of the Ecumenical National Patriarchate and used in the seals of the Patriarchal Bulls. Because of this, it is carved as the Coat of Arms above the gate of the Patriarchal churches. It is also carved on the walls and the floors of the Patriarchal churches and stavropegial monasteries and those houses made stavropegial. It is also conserved on the floors of many temples among which is the temple of the Metropolis of Mistras. It is embroidered in the Patriarchal clothing and robes. Embroidered on fabrics or tapestries, wherever Constantinople is depicted. In time, whenever a cleric in the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is ordained and the floor of the particular temple does not have the Double-headed Eagle carved, a tapestry with the symbol is placed under the feet of the ordained to show that he is stepping and is on Patriarchal ground, as spiritual subject of the Patriarchate.

As a Patriarchal emblem, the Double-headed Eagle became part of the Patriarch’s vestments. It is curious how this particular item did not become more widely adopted by other Bishops like the other imperial emblems did such as the Crown (mitre), the Purpure robes and the Sceptre (pastoral staff).

The spirit of the Greek people maintained alive throughout the years after the Fall [of Constantinople] the Byzantine tradition of the Double-headed Eagle and in the expression of Greek art. The Double-headed Eagle, that before the Fall has such symbolic value, did not lose it later. On the contrary, it was conciously kept as the symbol of the continuing Byzantine tradition and became the premier symbol of the national ideal of the recreation of the Great Empire.

For this reason, it is the most beloved theme of neohellenic art and has an excellent place there. How closely tied is the Double-headed Eagle with the popular concious [of the Greek people] is shown the innumerable depictions in all forms of Greek popular art whether it is in textile, woodwork, metalwork, jewelry etc. Even in our own century [20th] the wave of nationalism raised the Double-headed Eagle to the first and most honored position. It is still carved onto many objects of the Church and the residential furniture, woods, silver and gold objects. It is painted on many icons and carved onto seals. The seal of the Archbishopric of Athens as well as many other Metropolia use the Double-headed Eagle. It is also depicted on every other form of art upon which a national meaning is desired to be given.


Archmandrite Zacharias A. Lianas


The link to the original Greek is found here:

Link to the Rizarios Hieratic School:

Link to the Rizarios Foundation:


Note: Images from Wikipedia

Some Byzantine misconceptions

The reason for this article is to address some of the gross inaccuracies I’ve seen online, not the least of which are the dozens of claimants to the Byzantine throne that are running around parading the Palaiologos name.

Let’s get it clear: there are no proven, documented male line descendants of of the Palaiologos House alive today. Therefore, anybody claiming to be that is at best a fantasist and at worst a fraud. If one has the documentation, it would be a boon to historians and genealogists worldwide to examine it. Heck, they would probably become very wealthy by publishing a book (with documentation) on their family history from the Fall to the present.

As it is well known, the last Emperor of the Roman Empire of the East, better known as the Byzantine Empire, was Constantine XI Dragases (Κωνσταντίνος ΙΑ’ Δραγάσης) of the Imperial House of the Palaiologos (Παλαιολόγος). Emperor Constantine died valiantly with his troops defending his capital from the hordes of the Turk that were headed by Mehmet II. After the conquest of of Constantinople, Mehmet II was known as “The Conqueror”.

The fateful day that seat of Christianity in East found itself enslaved by the Muslim Turk was May 29, 1453 and the day the Emperor died.

After his death, the only Palaiologos left were:

  • His younger brother Demetrius, Despot of Morea, who died a monk in Constantinople
    • Demetrius had a single child, a daughter, named Helena who was taken along with her mother into the Sultan’s harem
  • His other younger brother Thomas who was the last ruler of Morea and as the last remaining male Palaiologos, the claimant to the Imperial throne. It is Thomas’ line that is of interest to us.

After Mehmet conquered the Despotate of Morea, Thomas fled to Rome for safety along with his children in 1461. Along with him, he brought the head of St. Andrew, the First Called, as a gift to the Bishop of Rome, Pope Pius II. However, he died in 1465 and his children (2 boys and a girl) were brought up by Cardinal Bessarion (a Greek Orthodox bishop who was a unionist and was made a Cardinal by the Pope after being persecuted by the anti-union forces of the Eastern Church).

The eldest of them was Andrew and was the legitimate heir to the Christian throne of the East. He styled himself in the European Courts as “Imperator Constantinopolitanus” and squandered both his inherited treasures as well as the salary he was paid by the Pope. He went so far as to sell his claims to the Byzantine throne to Their Most Catholic Majesties King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain! There are rumors that he sold the claims several times over, including to King Charles VIII of France. He did not have any children from his wife and died penniless in 1502.

The younger son, Manuel, who became the titular Emperor on the death of his older brother (and if we discount the sale of the titles), moved to Constantinople and sold his own claims to the throne to the same person who caused the destruction of his Imperial House, Sultan Mehmed II! In return, Manuel received a comfortable pension and a life of luxury. While in the City, he married and had two children: John and Andrew of whom no offspring are found in the historical record. It is also said that Manuel and his children converted to Islam, even serving in the Sultan’s navy. A slap in the face to the legacy of their Imperial House!

Thomas’ youngest child was a girl named Zoe. She married the Grand Prince Ivan III of Muscovy (Moscow) in 1472 and brought as part of her dowry the double-headed eagle. This is the basis for the claim of Moscow to be the “Third Rome”. As a side note, Zoe was the grandmother of Ivan the Terrible.

This is the end of the Imperial House of the Palaiologos. However, there is a cadet branch of the Palaiologos House created by Theodore, the first Marquess of Montferrrat. Theodore was born Theodore Komnenos Doukas Angelos Palaiologos in 1270, a son of Emperor Andronikos II. The last of this line was John George and died in 1533.

There were other Palaiologos, younger children from prior generations that presumably survived the conquest but, after a while, the record goes silent and many of the “bin Palaiologos” that can be found in the various Ottoman tax records are not necessarily related to the dynasty.

Another of the major inaccuracies I’ve seen online and also swept under the rug in Greece is related to the religious dogma of the late Emperor. Growing up in Greece, Emperor Constantine is hailed as the consummate Greek hero (and that part is 100% true) and also the “Defender of the Orthodox Faith” (this part is 100% untrue).

What apparently nobody wants to have known is that the Emperor died in communion with the Pope, as did his Patriarch, since they both had accepted the Councils of Ferrara and Florence. If it had not been for the Turkish conquest, the Eastern Orthodox Church would be in communion with the West today.

According to the historical record and what the noted Byzantine scholar John Julius Norwich, after the death of the Emperor, the Sultan wanted to control the Christians of his new empire by selecting a Patriarch that would not cause problems for him. Naturally, he would not choose someone who supported the union with the West and therefore selected the fiercely anti-unionist Gennadius.

Over the centuries, the almost apocryphal story of  the anti-unionists of the Eastern Empire being so anti-Papal that they supported the Turks. This is patently false!

The most “popular” quote is the one attributed to the Grand Duke Lucas Notaras (Λουκάς Νοταράς), a famous anti-unionist, where he allegedly said

κρειττότερον έστιν ειδέναι εν μέσῃ τη Πόλει φακιόλιον βασιλεύον Τούρκων ή καλύπτραν Λατινικήν

or, in English

better to see in the midst of the City the Turkish turban to reign than the Latin mitre

The Grand Duke remained true to his beliefs in that the Eastern Church could not re-unite with the West as per the two Councils but, he was 100% loyal to his Emperor and a hero to his Empire. He tried to protect the Empire to the utmost of his abilities and was an ardent supporter of the Emperor to solicit help from the Western Powers. He took on the defense of the City and, though the Turk was victorious, his organizational skills and rallying of the troops was exemplary.

Let’s not forget that it was the Grand Duke, his son and his son-in-law that were the three first “neo-martyrs” or martyrs under the Ottoman yoke. The were all beheaded for confronting the Sultan.

Not exactly the actions of a turcophile, is it?


Kingdoms within the Republic of Uganda

Typically, republics and kingdoms aren’t compatible and don’t coexist homewever, there are some notable examples around the world that are the exceptions proving the rule.

Some of the better known kingdoms that are part of a republic are those that are within the Republic of Uganda. The kingdoms of Buganda, Bunyoro-Kitara, Busoga and Toro are ancient traditional kingdoms of Africa that long enjoyed local and international recognition, even by the British colonial powers.

Unfortunately, with the political upheavel that Uganda experienced in the late 1960’s the new government of Milton Obote forcefully disbanded all the traditional kingdoms. The constitution introduced in 1967 went a step further and fully outlawed them.

The famously violent regime of Idi Amin of the 1970’s was no better and it wasn’t until the democratically elected government of 1993 re-established them. Then in 1995, the new constitution fully recognized these ancient kingdoms in law and the powers of their leaders or Kings. The 2005 amendment to the constitution re-affirmed the position of these Kings, further confirming their status in Ugandan society.

Though these Kingdoms are fully recognized in law, they are not fully sovereign politically. However, they do have considerable political influence and regularly meet with government leaders.

As mentioned above, the only four kingdoms recognized in Ugandan law are the following:

Buganda is the largest of the subnational kingdoms of Uganda and the namesake of the country and covers about 17% of the population of the country. The traditional title of the King of Buganda is “Kabaka” and the current Kabaka is Muwenda Mutebi II.

Bunyoro-Kitara is the second largest of the Ugandan kingdoms and the only one that was once an empire controlling a large swath of the land that is Uganda today. The traditional title of the King of Bunyoro-Kitara is “Omukama” and the current Omukama is Solomon Iguru I.

Busoga is another ancient Ugandan kingdom that is smaller than those above. The traditional title of the King “Kyabazinga” and the last one to hold the title was Henry Wako Muloki. Unfortunately, there has been strife among the leaders of the Kingdom and a successor has not yet been chosen.

Toro was once part of the Bunyoro Empire and was created in 1830 when the eldest son of the Omukama rebelled and founded his own kingdom. The Kingdom of Toro also names its King “Omukama” and the current holder of the title is Rukidi IV.


Links of interest:


Note: Images from Wikipedia