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 . . . The Conquistadors

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Crime & Punishment


Why understand the 16th Century?

The men and women who migrated from Europe carried baggage in their hearts and in their minds, as well as in their hands and on their backs. We are the result of those feelings and ideas.

Justice by Pieter Bruegel

(1529 - 1569)

In the far background of the picture to the left are poles with cartwheels at their tops. As punishment for certain crimes, your arms and legs would be broken, then woven through the spokes of the wheel. The wheel and you would be hoisted to the top of the pole. You would be left there to starve to death in agony in full view of the public. Notice that their are lots of them along the skyline, some with victims still on them. In addition there was hanging, burning at the stake, flogging, and beheading.

If capital punishment was a real deterrent to crime, then the 16th Century should have been without crime - right? Instead crime was rampant, much worse than today.

Remember that saying about absolute power corrupting? There was a rising voice throughout Christendom that felt very strongly that the Catholic Church had become corrupt. The Catholic Church was the only religious choice in western Europe at that time. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a German theolgian fed up with the wealth and corruption of the papacy tacked his 95 theses on the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg. This act of defiance sent a shudder throughout Christendom. Little did he know that his theses would lead to a split in the church and the birth of the Protestant church.

In 1527, the Holy Roman Emporer, Charles V, 1519 - 1558, ordered a Luthern army to Italy. Soon Rome lay a smoldering ruin. Two thousand corpses were thrown into the Tiber River. On the Vatican side of the river 9,800 dead were buried.

Only problem with this was that European kings required the support of the Pope. The doctrine of "divine right of kings" stated that monarchs derive their right to rule directly from God and are accountable only to God. Therefore Charles V, needed Pope Clement VII in order to maintain his power. The Pope needed Charles' protection. They met at Bologna, Italy on November 5, 1529. Charles knelt before the Pope and kissed his foot. For his part, Clement, forgave Charles for sacking and pillaging Rome.

In 1534 King Henry VIII of England declared himself the head of the Church of England and by the middle of the 16th Century, kings had become more powerful than the Church.

The Rack

On the left, torturers pour water into the mouth of a prisoner. It caused a drowning feeling. To the right, another torturer cranks the wheel, slowly pulling the body until the joints separate. This was done in the name of God and The Church. Neither crime nor punishment know right or wrong.

Justice by Pieter Bruegel

(1529 - 1569)

The Protestant church began with the 95 theses of Martin Luther.

With the Protestant Reformation, religious wars spread throughout Europe and again millions would die. Catholics killed Protestants and Protestants killed Catholics. Both hated Muslims and felt uncertain about Jews. We are taught the Protestants came to America seeking religious freedom, but that is just not true. They came to America to escape persecution. That is a very different concept.

A criminal flees to escape capture, torture, and imprisonment. That is what people fleeing to America did. They were escaping the persecution of a state religion. Persecution isn't about right or wrong. It is about power. Church and state created "handles" to control the population. Everyones' lives were full of those handles. In a thousand ways, lives could be jerked toward less, torture, and death.

Hope by Pieter Bruegel (1529 - 1569)

So what has this got to do with the story of Florida?

Those ships coming to the Americas were filled with minds that were formed by experiences in Europe. I have listened to scholars argue whether guns, steel swords, horses, or disease defeated the Native People of the Americas.

None! It was a paradigm, a way of thinking, an idea, that destroyed the cultures and the environments of America. A world of fear, greed, and violence landed on these shores and we are the result of it.

We don't have to be. The framers of our American constitution tried to guide us toward a better future, but the baggage of such a horrendous past is both sticky and heavy. We continue to wage "war" on poverty, drugs, cancer, crime, terrorists. We practice zero tolerance.

The other word for zero tolerance is intolerance. We see the result of intolerance all around us in racisim and religious absolutism. This is the mind-set of the medieval world come to America.

Now, the coming of the expeditions.

Now, the conquistadors.