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Cisneros, Cardinal Francisco Jiménez De (1436–1517)


CISNEROS, CARDINAL FRANCISCO JIMÉNEZ DE (14361517), cardinal and archbishop of Toledo, Franciscan friar, and principal adviser and confessor to Queen Isabella of Castille. Frustrated by circumstances, temperament, and worldly abilities, Cisneros sought a monastic life, but labored tirelessly in the secular world. Cisneros viewed rulers as indispensable in guiding their people toward salvation. He gravitated toward power and power gravitated toward him. A man of strong opinions, Cisneros was blunt and assertive and adamant in his will.

Little is known of Cisneros's family background. Born into an impoverished family of the lower nobility, he was sent to school at Acaláde Henares, completed studies for the priesthood at the University of Salamanca, then went to Rome and returned with a papal bull appointing him to the first vacant benefice in Toledo. He claimed Uceda rather than cede it to the appointee, a relative of Toledo's archbishop, Alonso Carrillo. Cisneros was interred at an archiepiscopal prisonuntil Carrillo relented. In Sigüenza he became vicar to its largely absentee bishop, the royal first minister and cardinal, Pedro González de Mendoza. In 1484 he joined the Franciscan Observance and for eight years lived an ascetic life. Nonetheless, during that time he gained a great reputation for preaching and rose to become guardian of the convent of La Salceda.

When Hernando de Talavera became the first archbishop of Granada in 1492, Cisneros succeeded him as Queen Isabella's confessor at the suggestion of Cardinal Mendoza and, following Mendoza's death in 1495, Cisneros succeeded him as archbishop of Toledo, primate of Spain, and thereafter as first minister to the queen. As Isabella's health declined, she relied more heavily on Cisneros for both spiritual and political guidance. Both queen and minister sought to reform the people of Spain, beginning with the clergy. Cisneros moved Franciscan houses, despite resistance, from the looser Conventual to the more severe Observant rule, and laid plans to reform the secular clergy and to found a university at AlcaládeHénares (1499), where the study of law, given primary place at the University of Salamanca, would rank below theology.

Then, in 1499, Cisneros went to Granada to speed the conversion of its Muslims to Christianity, and thereby remove a possible subversive element within Spain. Overriding Talavera's preference for persuasive indoctrination, Cisneros enforced conversion through mass baptism, threatened and jailed the recalcitrant, and provoked three years of guerrilla warfare throughout the former Muslim kingdom of Granada. At its end, a royal decree ordered all Muslims in Castile to convert or leave.

From Granada and in the wake of Columbus's discoveries in the New World, Cisneros took charge of evangelizing Native Americans, dispatching to Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic) six fellow Franciscans, men of proven ability who reported to him on both religious and political matters. In the following years he chose, instructed, and sent to America more Franciscans, among them veterans of his Granadan evangelization. He influenced the Dominicans, who arrived in 1510, and as regent of Spain in 1516, he sent the Hieronymites to investigate the mistreatment of native peoples. While Isabella set formative Spanish policy in America, Cisneros greatly influenced these policies. Isabella's claim that the Indians were royal subjects who must be instructed in religion and "civilized ways" for the benefit of their souls reflected his own viewpoint.

After Isabella's death in 1504, Cisneros had a hand in brokering the concord with Ferdinand that left Philip of Austria to rule Spain for his ailing wife, Joanna. Cisneros advised Philip, and he became virtual regent after Philip's death in 1506. He was instrumental in resisting a strong party favoring the Habsburg Maximilian and in securing the return to power of Ferdinand, who had been forced to renounce his title of king of Castile upon Isabella's death. By then a cardinal, Cisneros sought to extend the Christian Spanish reconquest into North Africa, reputedly once held by the Visigoths, in 1509, personally leading an expedition that besieged and took Oran. Soon at odds with Ferdinand, Cisneros devoted himself to constructing the University of AlcaládeHénares (1499) and to directing a group of scholars in producing the Complutensian Polyglot Bible, which restored what he considered the pristine Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek and Aramaic of the New Testament, together with the Latin of the Vulgate Bible in parallel columns. The Complutensian Bible was a monumental endeavor of critical scholarship.

Cisneros assumed the regency in 1516, appointed by Ferdinand during the absence of his heir and grandson, Charles of Ghent. At eighty, Cisneros raised an army, put down scattered urban revolts and a widespread uprising by dissident nobles, and forced their recognition of Charles as king. Prior to Charles's arrival in Spain in September of 1517, Cisneros, though in failing health, readied to meet and advise the new king, but died on his way to meet him. Cisneros was instrumental in ensuring that Spain entered the modern era with renewed commitment to conjoined religious and political ends.

See also Bible ; Ferdinand of Aragón ; Isabella of Castile .


Bleiberg, Germán, ed. Diccionario de Historia de España. Madrid, 1979. Vol. 1, pp. 835836.

García Oro, José. El Cardenal Cisneros. Vida y empresas. 2 vols. Madrid, 19921993.

Liss, Peggy K. Isabel the Queen: Life and Times. New York, 1992.

Peggy Liss

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