The English stereotype of Spain and its people has deep cultural roots, based on a history ofintense conflict and competition. Though not the first to suggest the existence of a phenomenonthat ‘systematically denigrates the character and achievement of the Spanish people’, WilliamMaltby’s ‘The Black Legend in England’ remains the most comprehensive work on the topic ofearly-modern Anglo-Spanish interaction.
1 His work about 1588 can be limited, forming only onemoment in his work that covers over one hundred years, meaning that occasionally his work canbe somewhat reductive, especially in relation to ballads. Nevertheless, it remains an importantmilestone in the study of Anglo-Spanish relations. Maltby argues that anti-Spanish sentiment wasformed ‘at a time when European man was first groping toward a concept of nationhood’ andwhen religious conflict was high, ideas used to explain why the English view of the Spanish was sodeep-seated.
2 Association with cruelty, particularly because of the Spanish Inquisition, has been atraditional facet of the English conception of Spanish people, though this is not the onlycomponent. Conventionally, other aspects of this anti-Spanish portrait have been seen as greed,cowardice, incompetence and an association with the devil, though contemporary writers certainlyseemed to see pride as an equally important flaw. In 1598 an anonymous author succinctlysummarised English opinion of the Spanish by expressing his belief that the common Spaniard was’malgine and perverse, so full of pride, arrogance, ambition, tyrannie and infidelitie.’3 The form ofthe cruelty is also important, with a focus on torture, sexual deviancy and a penchant forunnecessary destruction being common to Elizabethan anti-Spanish writing. Another element ofEnglish portrayals of Spain takes a racial form, and English writers claimed that the Spanish aredescended from Jews and Muslims, which was often used to explain their vices to contemporaries.