To Love, Honor, and Obey in Colonial Mexico: Conflicts over Marriage Choice, 1574-1821

By Patricia Seed | Go to book overview

Introduction: Romeo and Juliet in Mexico

On the evening of September 16, 1591, in Mexico City, Gerónimo Valverde, the son of a wealthy Spanish merchant, was visiting his uncle. As they talked quietly with other relatives, Gerónimo's father suddenly stormed into the house, accompanied by a huge black slave. Drawing his sword on his son, the father and the slave forced Gerónimo into a small room and shackled his feet. Then the father took out a large padlock made specially in Flanders, fixed it to the door, and posted the slave outside to ensure that Gerónimo could not escape. When the uncle and the relatives demanded to know why he was treating his son like that, the father replied that Gerónimo wanted to marry Juana Herrera, the sixteen-year-old daughter of a rival merchant in the city. Vowing that he would never allow his son to marry against his will, the father turned on his heel and left.

Locked in the room, Gerónimo wrote the chief church judge of the city, telling of his imprisonment and his father's threats against him if he married. He pleaded with the judge to stop his parents from interfering and allow him to wed. The note was smuggled out, and Gerónimo's uncle took it to the church court early on the morning of September 17. After reading the note and hearing the uncle's story, the chief judge immediately ordered his prosecutor to find a royal police official and release Gerónimo. Church prosecutor and crown policeman together sought out Gerónimo's father to request politely that he hand over the key. He refused. In that case, the church prosecutor said, he would be excommunicated: he could

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