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Critique of Good Faith and Truthful Ignorance
Text by Alexandra Cook and Noble Cook, Good faith and true ignorance, followed the lives of an early New World settler and his two wives. The authors’ goal in writing this book was to provide modern readers with “a mirror of a segment of Spanish society in the sixteenth century, the middle classes and lesser nobility” (Cook xii). The authors have explored all aspects of this society: their values and customs, legal structure, economy and domestic life.
The authors connected the story of this man’s life with other historical sources, legal procedures and social customs of the time so skillfully that the reader did not fall into mundane details. The writing was lively and interesting; it kept the reader in suspense as the court case unfolded. Although the main theme of the book was the trial for bigamy, the authors included other examples of Spanish laws in the text, for example, the family of a murdered man can claim the property of the person who murdered him (Cook 2).
In unraveling the Francisco Noguerol trial, the authors focused on many aspects of Spanish society, such as the power and control that widowed women could exhibit in this patriarchal society (seen through Nougerol’s mother and Dona Catalina). The text also provided examples of life in Spanish convents through the Nougerol sisters. It was very interesting that the nuns who lied to Noguerol were not forced to accept responsibility for what their actions caused, except to their brother. I think it shows how the Catholic Church tried to protect its religious orders from scandal.
The Spanish judicial system attempted to protect the rights of women in their society, as seen in the experience of Dona Beatriz and Dona Catalina. Beatriz was protected from being abandoned by her husband’s new marriage, and Catalina was protected from losing the husband with whom she had made a life and a home.
The authors offered the reader logical motivations for people’s actions at this time. One example was the reasons why Noguerol left his native country and came to Peru. The authors stated that his primary motivation was to escape from an unwanted marriage, and this seemed very likely, as he stayed away from her for a long time, returning to Spain only when he believed she had died. Another example was why Dona Beatriz waited until after Noguerol’s death to claim that the marriage was consummated; if he could not deny it, she would have more success in winning the trial. That she was bitter at being cast aside in favor of Dona Catalina was made very clear by her actions.
Noguerol also remained bitter towards his family for having tricked him. This bitterness was seen in the fact that in his last will and testament he deliberately disinherited his family, preferring to enact a line of succession for his property in his wife’s descendants (Cook 137). Dona Catalina’s character, specifically her opposition to the scandal, was shown by her agreement to pay more money to Dona Beatriz after the death of Noguerol (Cook 143).
In the above examples and many others, the authors presented an amazingly clear picture of Spanish society during the conquest of the Americas. The reader can discern many ways in which women were able to circumvent the Spanish law that restricted them in this patriarchal society. The Spanish emphasis on values such as decency was evident in the characters of Noguerol, Catalina and Beatriz. The reader can also see how the custom of arranged marriages can cause unexpected disasters among the people who were forced to participate in them. Through extensive research into church scrolls, legal documents and more, Alexandra Cook and Noble Cook have given us an exciting look at the social history of Spain during a period of constant change brought about by the exploration and conquest of the Americas.
Cook, Alexandra Parma, and Noble David Cook. Good Faith and True Ignorance: The Case of Transatlantic Bigamy. Duke University Press, 1991.
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