TOPOGRAPHICAL NOTES ON THE GYPSIES
AND THE JATS
HISTORICAL SURVEY OF THE GYPSY IN EUROPE
BEFORE proceeding to the topographical portion of my subject, it may be well to review summarily the historical accounts of the Romá who overspread Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Grellman, a classic upon the subject of “Chinganology,”1 proved that the last movement to Western Europe set out, not from Bohemia, but from Hungary and the adjacent countries, including (Old) Rumelia and Moldavia. In 1417 some three thousand settled in Moldavia, whilst late in the same year hordes of Tatars, then so called, appeared before the gates of the Hanseatic towns on the Baltic coast, first Luneburg, and then Hamburg, Lübeck, Wismar,
1 Histoire des Bohémiens, French Translation of 1810.
Rostock, and Stralsund.1 Next year they migrated to middle Germany, to Meissen, Leipzig, and Hesse; and presently turned their steps towards Switzerland entering Zurich on August 1, 1418. There they divided their forces. One detachment crossed the Botzberg, and suddenly appeared as “Saracens” before the Provençal town of Sisteron. The main body, led by “the dukes, the earls, and a bevy of knights,”* turned towards Alsace, swarmed through Strasburg, and halted under the walls of Nuremburg.
It is not easy to determine the date of their arrival in Spain, where they may have dwelt in far more ancient times; indeed, during the fifteenth century the Iberian Peninsula was popularly supposed to be their birthplace.2 On the other hand, many Spaniards believe them to be Germans and called their tongue “Germania,” Gypsy German.
In 1433 they invaded Bavaria; and thence they spread over Germany, Denmark, and Sweden.
Their first appearance in French Christendom
1 The Edinburgh Review, “Origin and Wanderings of the Gypsies,” July, 1878, adopted the opinion of P. Bataillard that a single scouting‑party was in Europe between 1417 and 1427.
[* “They appeared in various bands, under chiefs, to whom they acknowledged obedience, and who assumed the titles of dukes and earls” (Weissenburch).]
2 The opinion is refuted by Francisca de Cordova; yet the Histoire de Los Gitanos, by J. N., published in Barcelona 1832, expressly says that the Gitanos, whom he has specially distinguished from the Gypsies descended from the Arab or Moorish tribes, came from the coast of Africa as conquerors at the beginning of the eighth century.
seems to be when a tribe of one hundred and thirty-two souls, under “a duke,” “a count,” and ten “knights,” startled the people of Paris, August 17, 1427. Pasquier, an eye‑witness, who records the arrival of these “Christian penitents” at Paris, where they lodged in La Chapelle, outside the city, gives them ugly features, with crisp black hair.* If he be correct, the horde either must have sojourned long in Africa, or must have had intercourse with negro and negroid. There is no more constant characteristic of the modern Gypsy, after his eye, than the long, coarse, black Hindu‑Tatar hair.
From an old work1 it would seem that the Gypsies drifted to England about 1500, though this is uncertain. The writer, in his book published in 1612, says: “This kind of people about a hundred years ago began to gather an head about the southern parts. And this I am informed and can gather was their beginning: Certain Egyptians [sic] banished their country (belike not for their good condition) arrived here in England; who for quaint tricks and devices, not known here at that time among us, were esteemed and held in great admira‑
[* Hoyland writes: “When they arrived in Paris, nearly all of them had their ears bored, with one or two silver rings in each, which they said were esteemed ornaments in their own country. The men were black, their hair curled; the women remarkably black, and all their faces scarred” (Historical Survey of the Gypsies).]
1 A quarto work by S. R., published to detect and expose the “art of juggling” in 1612.
tion; insomuch that many of our English loiterers joined with them, and in time learned their crafty cozening. The speech which they used was the right Egyptian [sic] language, with whom our Englishmen conversing at least learned their language.”
We first hear of them in Italy in the early part of the fifteenth century. On July 11, 1422, a horde of fully one hundred, led by a “duke,” encamped before Bologna, passing by Forli, where some of them maintained they came from India. At Bologna these “mild Hindus” represented that they were bound on an expiatory visit to the Pope.
Elsewhere they became “penitents,” who, expelled by the Saracens from their homes in Lower Egypt, had confessed themselves to his Holiness, and had been condemned to seven years’ wandering and dispersion by way of penance. Thus was visited upon their heads the crime of those “perverse pagans” their forefathers, who refused a drink of water to the Virgin and Child flying from the wrath of Herod. This was only fourteen centuries after, and we know that lenta ira deorum est. There was quoted concerning them the forty years’ dispersion of Ezekiel: “And I will make the land of Egypt desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate, and her cities among the cities that are laid waste shall be desolate forty years: and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and will
disperse them through the countries” (xxix. 12). The prophet’s minatory ravings against the old Egyptians, who had been a “staff of reed to the house of Israel,” were also recalled to explain their bondage and vagabondage. Hence some declared that it was sinful to maltreat these pseudo‑pilgrims.
The Gypsies travelled to Rome and secured a papal safe‑conduct twenty years after their first appearance at Bologna. Hypocritical legend secured them passes and passports from the European powers who were then engaged in the perilous Ottoman Wars. They were more or less supported by the Emperor Sigismund and the bishop of the same name, who, A.D. 1540, at Fünf‑Kirchen employed them in casting iron and cannon‑balls for the benefit of the Turks; by Ladislas II., King of Hungary, and other potentates. The Gypsies doubtless imitated the Jews in hedging between the two belligerents, and in betraying both of them for their own benefit; and this doubtless was part of the cause of the persecution which the two scattered races endured. Purely religious movements of the kind are rare in history; but they are numerous when religion mixes itself, as it ever has and always will, with politics.
Presently public opinion changed, and the natural reaction set in. Lorenzo Palmireno, A.D. 1540, declared in one of his books “that the Gypsies lie,” and the lives they led were not of penitents,
but of “dogs and plunderers.” They were now loaded with all the crimes of the Middle Ages—espionage in the cause of the infidel, incendiarism, professional poisoning and other forms of assassination, cannibalism, sorcery and bewitching, blaspheming God and the saints, and personal intercourse with the foul fiend in the shape of a grey bird.
In 1499, shortly after the institution of the Holy Office, A.D. 1481, and the expulsion of the Jews, A.D. 1492, the “Great Pragmatic,” signed by Ferdinand and Isabella at Medina del Campo under the influence of Jimenez de Cisneros, the archbishop who disgracefully broke faith with the Moors of Grenada, formally attacked the vagrant race.1 It decreed that the Egyptians and stranger tinkers, caldereros, should settle as serfs for sixty days, and after that time leave the kingdom under severe personal penalties. This decree was renewed under Charles V. by the Cortes of Toledo, in 1523, and of Madrid, in 1528, 1534, and 1560, with the condition that “those found vagabonding for the
1 For the special persecutions in Spain and Portugal under Philip III. (1619), Philip IV. (1633), Charles II. (1692), and Philip V. (1726), whose decrees prevailed until 1749, see El Gitanos. [“German writers say that King Ferdinand of Spain, who esteemed it a good work to expatriate useful and profitable subjects—Jew and even Moorish families—could much less be guilty of an impropriety in laying hands on the mischievous progeny of the Gypsies. The edict for their extermination was published in the year 1492. But instead of passing the boundaries, they only slunk into hiding‑places, and shortly after appeared in as great numbers as before” (Hoyland).]
third time should become the life slaves of their captors.” Under the timorous Philip III., 1619, the Professor of Theology to the Toledo University, Dr. Sancho de Moncada, addressed a discourse to the king justifying the wholesale slaughter of the race, even women and children, by the dictum, “No law pledges us to bring up wolf‑cubs.”
Following the lead of the Catholic kings, the Diet of Augsburg, 1500—1548, revoking all previous concessions, banished the Gypsies from the Holy German Empire under similar conditions. This ordinance was also revived in 1530, in 1544, in 1548, in 1551, and in 1577, the last time confirmed by a police regulation at Frankfurt. In 1545 the Superior Tribunal of Utrecht punished a Gypsy who had disobeyed a decree of exile by flogging until blood was drawn, by splitting his nostrils, and by shaving his head before he was driven to the frontier.*
In England the liberal and Protestant Henry VIII.† sanctioned an Act of Parliament persecuting the
[* “Even at the present day a Gypsy in many parts of Germany is not allowed to enter a town; nor will the inhabitants permit him to live in the street in which they dwell” (Simson).]
[† “An outlandish people, calling themselves Egyptians, using no craft nor feat of merchandise, who have come into this realm, and gone from shire to shire, and place to place, in great company; and used great subtlety and crafty means to deceive the people—bearing them in hand that they, by palmistry, could tell men’s and women’s fortunes; and so have deceived the people for their money and also have committed many heinous felonies and robberies” (22 Henry VIII., c. 10).]
Gypsies to extermination; and it was renewed by Philip and Mary, and by Elizabeth.
Francis I. of France followed the example of his neighbours; and under Charles IX. the persecution was renewed by the States‑General assembled at Orleans, 1561, who decreed extermination by steel and fire. Another and similar edict appeared in 1612. Charles V., besides his proclamations in Spain and Germany, condemned the Gypsies of the Netherlands to enrolment under pain of death, and this was confirmed by the States‑General in 1582. Fanatic Poland in 1578 issued a law forbidding hospitality to Gypsies, and exiling those who received them. Pius V. showed himself equally inhuman, and the Romá were driven from the duchies of Parma and Milan, from the republic of Venice, and the kingdom of Denmark. Sweden distinguished herself by the severest laws of expulsion in 1662, 1723, and 1727.
From these barbarities arose the Gypsies’ saying, “King’s law has destroyed the Gypsy law.” The latter consisted of fidelity to one another; the code contained only three commandments, of which the first two were addressed to women:
“Thou shalt not separate from the Rom (Gypsy law).”
“Thou shalt be faithful to thy Rom.”
“Thou shalt pay thy debts to the Rom.”
These Draconian laws against the Gypsies died out
during the development of civilization, and received their death‑blow at the hands of the great and glorious French Revolution, 1789.
I propose now to collect a series of notices upon the subject of the Gypsies and the Jats which are not readily procurable by students; many are obtained from books little known to the public, and not a few are gathered by myself. And with a view of introducing some order into the scattered tribes, we will begin from the farthest East, the old home.