Family Treachery – the terrible tale of Juan Diaz

Neil Inglis
December 2004

After reviewing Rome and the Bible by David Cloud in the last edition of the TSJ, I tracked down a copy of the History of the Progress and Suppression of the Reformation in Spain in the Sixteenth Century by Thomas McCrie*, a rare and venerable book dating from 1842. Among the many horrible martyrdoms recounted in its pages, one story in particular caught my attention; an innocent and kindly victim is ensnared by a wily, despicable assailant in the first half of the 1500s. This isn’t Tyndale, however, but the Spaniard Juan Diaz, a friend of the Enzinas family of reformers (of whom Francisco de Enzinas the Bible translator is the best known). In this sobering story, the Henry Phillips role is played by Juan’s brother Alfonso. The relevant excerpt appears below (beginning on page 138), with spellings unchanged.

‘Juan Diaz, a native of Cuenca, after he had studied for several years at Paris, was converted to the Protestant religion by the private instructions of Jayme Enzinas. Being liberally educated, he had, previously to that event, conceived a disgust at scholastic theology, and made himself master of the Hebrew language, that he might study the Bible in the original. With the view of enjoying the freedom of protesting the faith which he had embraced, he left Paris (…) and went to Geneva, where he resided for some time. Having removed to Strasburg in the beginning of the year 1546, his talents and suavity of manners recommended him so strongly to the celebrated [Martin] Bucer, that he prevailed on the senate to join the Spanish stranger with himself in a deputation which they were about to send to a conference on the disputed points of religion to be held at Ratisbon.

On going thither Diaz met with his countryman Pedro Malvenda, whom he had known at Paris, and was now to confront as an antagonist at the conference. To the pride and religious prejudices of his countrymen, Malvenda added to the rudeness of a doctor of the Sorbonne, and the insolence of a minion of the court. When informed by Diaz of the changes which had taken place in his sentiments, he expressed the utmost surprise and horror; saying, that the heretics would boast more of making a convert of a single Spaniard than of ten thousand Germans. Having laboured in vain, at different interviews, to reclaim him to the Catholic faith, he laid the matter before the emperor’s confessor. It is not known what consultations they had; but a Spaniard, named Marquina, who had transactions with them, repaired soon after to Rome, and communicated the facts to a brother of Diaz, Doctor Alfonso, who had long held the office of advocate in the sacred Rota[1]. The pride and bigotry of Alfonso were inflamed to the highest degree by the intelligence of his brother’s defection; and taking along with him a suspicious attendant, he set out instantly for Germany, determined, in one way or other, to wipe off the infamy which had fallen on the hitherto spotless honour of his family.

In the meantime, alarmed at some expressions of Malvenda, and knowing the inveteracy with which the Spaniards hated such of their countrymen as had become Protestants, Bucer and the other friends of Juan Diaz had prevailed upon him to retire for season to Neuburg, a small town in Bavaria situated on the Danube. On arriving at Ratisbon, Alfonso succeeded in discovering the place of his brother’s retreat, and after consulting with Malvenda, repaired to Neuburg. By every art of persuasion he sought during several days to bring back his brother to the church of Rome. Disappointed in this, he altered his method, professed that the arguments which he had heard had shaken his confidence, and listened with apparent eagerness and satisfaction to his brother while he explained to him the Protestant doctrines, and the passages of Scripture on which they rested. Finding Juan delighted with this unexpected change, he proposed that he should accompany him to Italy, where there was a greater field of usefulness in disseminating the doctrines of the gospel than in Germany, which was already provided with an abundance of labourers.

The guileless Juan promised to think seriously on this proposal, which he submitted to the judgment of his Protestant friends. They were unanimously of opinion that he should reject it; and in particular Ochino[2], who had lately fled from Italy and was then at Augsburg, pointed out the danger and hopeless nature of the project. Alfonso did not yet desist. He insisted that his brother should accompany him at least as far as Augsburg, promising to acquiesce in the decision which Ochino should pronounce after they had conversed with him on the subject. His request appeared so reasonable that Juan agreed to it; but he was prevented from going by the arrival of Bucer and two other friends, who, having finished their business at Ratisbon, and fearing that Juan Diaz might be induced to act contrary to their late advice, had agreed to pay him a visit. Conceding the chagrin which he felt at this unexpected obstacle, Alfonso took an affectionate leave of his brother, after he had, in a private interview, forced a sum of money upon him, expressed warm gratitude for the spiritual benefits he had received from his conversation, and warned him to be on his guard against Malvenda. He proceeded to Augsburg on the road to Italy; but next day, after using various precautions to conceal his route, he returned, along with the man whom he had brought from Rome, and spent the night in a village at a small distance from Neuburg.

Early next morning, being the 27th of March 1546, they came to the house where his brother lodged. Alfonso stood at the gate, while his attendant, knocking at the door and announcing that he was the bearer of a letter to Juan Diaz from his brother, was shown upstairs to his apartment. On hearing of a letter from his brother Juan sprang from his bed, hastened to the apartment in an undress, took the letter from the hand of the bearer, and as it was still dark, went to the window to read it, when the ruffian, stepping softly behind him, despatched his unsuspecting victim with one stroke of an axe which he had concealed under his cloak. He then joined the more guilty murderer, who now stood at the stair-foot to prevent interruption, and ready, if necessary, to give assistance to the assassin whom he had hired to execute his purpose.

Alarmed by the noise which the assassin’s spurs made on the steps as he descended, the person who slept with Juan Diaz rose hastily, and going into the adjoining apartment beheld, with unutterable feelings, his friend stretched on the floor and weltering in his blood, with his hands clasped, and the instrument of death fixed in his head. The murderers were fled, and had provided a relay of horses to convey them quickly out of Germany; but the pursuit after them, which commenced as soon as alarm could be given, was so hot, that they were overtaken at Inspruck, and secured in prison.

Otho Henry, count palatine of the Rhine and duke of Bavaria, within whose territories the crime was perpetrated, lost no time in taking the necessary measures for having it judicially tried. Lawyers were sent from Neuburg with the night-cap of the deceased, the bloody axe, the letter of Alfonso, and other documents; but though the prisoners were arraigned before the criminal court at Inspruck, the trial was suspended through the influence of the Cardinals of Trent and Augsburg, to whom the fratricide obtained liberty to write at the beginning of his imprisonment. When his plea for the benefits of clergy was set aside as contrary to the laws of Germany, various legal quirks were resorted to; and, at last, the judges produced an order from the emperor [Charles V], prohibiting them from proceeding with the trial, and reserving the cause for the judgment of his brother Ferdinand, King of the Romans.

When the Protestant princes, at the subsequent diet of Ratisbon, demanded, first of the emperor and afterwards of his brother, that the murderers should be punished, their requests were evaded; and, in the issue, the murderers were allowed to escape untried and with impunity, to the outraging of humanity and justice, and the disgrace of the church of Rome, whose authorities were bound to see that the most rigorous scrutiny was made into the horrid deed, under the pain of being held responsible for it to heaven and to posterity.

The liberated fratricide appeared openly at Trent, along with his bloody accomplice, without exciting a shudder in the breasts of the holy fathers met in council; he was welcomed back to Rome; and finally returned to his native country where he was admitted to the society of men of rank and education, who listened to him while he coolly related the circumstance of his sanctified crime. Different persons published accounts, agreeing in every material point, of a murder which, all circumstances considered, has scarcely a parallel in the annals of blood since the time of the first fratricide, and affords a striking proof of the degree in which fanatical zeal will stifle the tenderest affections of the human breast, and stimulate to the perpetration of crimes the most atrocious and unnatural.’


[1]Vatican high court of appeal that deals chiefly with annulments and other cases.
[2]Bernardino Ochino, Italian religious reformer.
  *Neil Inglis plans to review the book this extract is reproduced from in the next issue no 29 of the TSJ August 2005.

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