Jiménez de Cisneros: On the Threshold of Spain's Golden Age

By Erika Rummel | Go to book overview

8 The Image of the Cardinal

Gómez de Castro gives this account of the Cardinal’s reputation in his time:

Many people thought that Cisneros had a mania for building;
others that he had more of a mania for warfare than was proper
for a bishop. Many thought that he was a champion of letters
and patron of scholars on a grand scale … The diversity of
verdicts stemmed from no other cause but from the fact that
once he entered on a task, he devoted all his energies to it, so
that it seemed as if he was born for it and a natural disposition
had driven him to this undertaking. [De rebus gestis, 365)

Gómez put his finger on a trait that was a predominant and striking aspect of the Cardinal’s character. He was compulsive in all his actions. Once he had decided on a course of action, he was fanatical in its pursuit. Fanaticism governed his reforms and his missionary activities; singlemindedness characterized his political actions; uncompromising self-discipline his private life. An inability to delegate may have been his weak point. For the sake of keeping charge of affairs, he surrounded himself with mediocre men, whom he could control, who were his devoted servants but never rose to be his disciples or carry on his life’s work.

In the seventeenth century the image of the Cardinal became polarized. Some saw in him a saint; others a shrewd politician. Two groups of sources are of particular interest in this context: tracts from the 1650s and ‘60s supporting the canonization of Cisneros; and a clutch of biographies comparing him with Cardinal Richelieu.

Among the first is Pedro de Quintanilla y Mendoza’s Archetypo de Virtudes, Espexo de Prelados: El Venerable Padre y Siervo de Dios F. Francisco Ximenes de Cisneros (Archetype of Virtues and Mirror of Prelates: The Venerable Father and Servant of God, Fray Francisco

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