Thursday, October 18, 2012

Corruption at Philip III´s court: the Duke of Lerma´s case

The Duke of Lerma (1602), painted by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz

As we learnt yesterday, political corruption and influence peddling are not a 21st century invention. The Duke of Lerma, Philip III´s favourite, is a good example of political abuse on his own benefit. His influence over Philip III was such that he convinced him to move the capital city from Madrid to Valladolid in 1601 only because he had bought a lot of land on the outskirts of the city. When the capital city was moved to Valladolid, the Duke sold these properties at a very high price. He did the same some years later: he bought a lot of cheap properties in Madrid. These properties considerably increased their price when Lerma "convinced" the king to move the capital city back to Madrid in 1606. Lerma was an ancestor of many land speculators. 

In 1618 an enquiry about the Duke of Lerma´s way of administering the royal finances was opened. The Duke of Uceda (his own son), father Aliaga, a Dominican monk and the Count-Duke of Olivares denounced corruption and headed a conspiracy against the all-powerful Duke of Lerma and some of his collaborators started being removed from their posts. When the Duke started fearing from being prosecuted, he convinced the Pope to ordain him cardinal and escape civil justice. After this he asked the king permission to leave the court and retired to his palaces in Valladolid and Lerma (Burgos). The people of Madrid started singing a folk song with these lyrics: In order to avoid being hung, the biggest Spanish thief, wears red clothes. (Para no morir ahorcado, el mayor ladrón de España, se viste de colorado, as cardinals did)

There is another curious story about the Duke of Lerma. It seems that Baroque sculptor Gregorio Fernández portrayed him in one of his most famous procession floats: the Deposition with the Two Thieves on the Cross. The Duke of Lerma had been Gregorio Fernández´s patron when the sculptor started working in Valladolid and Fernández might have wanted to thank the Duke for his help. But the fact is that he portrayed the Duke of Lerma as Dismas, the good thief. Was this made on purpose? We don´t really know. But the truth is that the Duke of Lerma is reminded as one of the biggest thieves in power. He became very rich by using influence peddling and selling official posts and used power to escape justice. Nothing to envy to many current corruption cases with politicians!

Here you have a picture of the Duke of Lerma´s bronze statue and Gregorio Fernández´s Good Thief: 


Roxana said...

Jajajaja. And the Duke of Lerma escaped punishment of all of his corrupt actions?

Roxana said...

What is the meaning of peddling?

Paqui Pérez Fons said...

Hello Roxana,

He escaped, of course. The civil justice couldn´t process him, because he was ordained cardinal, and the religious justice didn´t have anything against him. Very clever from his part.

Influence peddling means that you use the power your post gives you to get personal profit from others. In Spanish the translation is "tráfico de influencias". We have many cases of this kind in Spain now!

Have a nice weekend!