Alexandra Cook’s and Noble Cook’s text, Good Faith and Truthful Ignorance, traced the lives of an early settler of the New World and his two wives. The authors’ purpose in writing this book was to provide modern readers with a “mirror of a segment of Spanish society in the sixteenth century, the middle class and minor nobility” (Cook xii). The authors explored all facets of this society: their values and customs, legal structure, their economy, and their home life.
The authors wove together the story of this man’s life with other historical background information, legal procedures, and the social mores of the time so skillfully that the reader did not become bogged down in mundane details. The writing was lively and interesting; it kept the reader in suspense as the court case unfolded. Although the trial for bigamy was the main theme of the book, the authors inserted other instances of Spanish laws into the text, such as the family of a murdered man may make claims against the estate of the person who murdered him (Cook 2).
In unraveling the trial of Francisco Noguerol, the authors related many aspects of Spanish society, such as the power and control widowed women were allowed to exhibit in this patriarchal society (seen through Nougerol’s mother and Dona Catalina). The text also provided examples of the life in Spanish convents through Nougerol’s sisters. It was very interesting that the nuns who lied to Noguerol were not made to accept responsibility for what their actions caused, except by their brother. This shows, I believe, how the Catholic Church tried to protect their religious orders from scandal.
The Spanish court system was seen to have attempted to protect the rights of women in their society, as seen in the experience of Dona Beatriz and Dona Catalina. For Beatriz, she was protected from being left destitute from her husband’s remarriage, and Catalina was protected from losing the husband that she had made a life and home with.
The authors offered to the reader logical motivations for the actions of people during this time. One example was the reasons why Noguerol left his native land to come to Peru. The authors indicated his primary motivation was to escape from an unwanted marriage, and this seemed very plausible since he stayed away from her for a long time and returned 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; with him not being able to deny it, she would had more success at winning the trial. That she was bitter of being cast aside in favor of Dona Catalina was made very explicit by her actions.
Noguerol also remained bitter towards his family over deceiving him. This bitterness was seen by the fact that he deliberately disinherited his family in his last will and testament, preferring to enact a line of succession for his estate in his wife’s descendants (Cook 137). The character of Dona Catalina, namely her abhorrence of scandal, was exhibited by her agreement to settle more money on Dona Beatriz after the death of Noguerol (Cook 143).
In the examples above and many others, the authors presented an amazingly clear picture of Spanish society during the conquest of the Americas. The reader can discern the many ways women were able to circumvent the Spanish law that restricted them in this patriarchal society. Spanish emphasis on values such as respectability was marked in the characters of Noguerol, Catalina, and Beatriz. The reader can also see how the custom of arranged marriages can cause unexpected catastrophes among the people forced to participate in them. Through their extensive research of church rolls, legal documents, and others, Alexandra Cook and Noble Cook gave us an exciting glimpse of the social history of Spain in a period of continuous change caused by the exploration and conquest of the Americas.
Cook, Alexandra Parma and Noble David Cook. Good Faith and Truthful Ignorance: A Case of Transatlantic Bigamy. Duke University Press, 1991.