The English stereotype of Spain and its people has deep cultural roots

The English stereotype of Spain and its people has deep cultural roots, based on a history of
intense conflict and competition. Though not the first to suggest the existence of a phenomenon
that ‘systematically denigrates the character and achievement of the Spanish people’, William
Maltby’s ‘The Black Legend in England’ remains the most comprehensive work on the topic of
early-modern Anglo-Spanish interaction.1
His work about 1588 can be limited, forming only one
moment in his work that covers over one hundred years, meaning that occasionally his work can
be somewhat reductive, especially in relation to ballads. Nevertheless, it remains an important
milestone in the study of Anglo-Spanish relations. Maltby argues that anti-Spanish sentiment was
formed ‘at a time when European man was first groping toward a concept of nationhood’ and
when religious conflict was high, ideas used to explain why the English view of the Spanish was so
deep-seated.2
Association with cruelty, particularly because of the Spanish Inquisition, has been a
traditional facet of the English conception of Spanish people, though this is not the only
component. Conventionally, other aspects of this anti-Spanish portrait have been seen as greed,
cowardice, incompetence and an association with the devil, though contemporary writers certainly
seemed to see pride as an equally important flaw. In 1598 an anonymous author succinctly
summarised 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 of
the cruelty is also important, with a focus on torture, sexual deviancy and a penchant for
unnecessary destruction being common to Elizabethan anti-Spanish writing. Another element of
English portrayals of Spain takes a racial form, and English writers claimed that the Spanish are
descended from Jews and Muslims, which was often used to explain their vices to contemporaries.