Two Worlds and Two Wives

Good Faith and Truthful Ignorance: A Case of Transatlantic Bigamy

by Alexandra Parma Cook, by Noble David Cook
Duke University Press, 206 pp., $21.95

There is nothing like a bundle of legal documents for opening windows on the past. The initial stages can be unpromising. The bundle may perhaps carry on the cover a totally unknown name; you gingerly untie the ribbon, and turn over one or two documents, faded, moldering, partly illegible, for a desultory inspection; but then, something catches your attention—a sworn deposition full of colloquial turns of phrase, a surprisingly intimate personal letter, the notarized evidence of a long-forgotten and dubious-looking transaction—and you begin to read more carefully; and gradually you find yourself irresistibly drawn into a remote and alien world. And then, with the reading, the sense of remoteness begins to disappear. Names recur, and become increasingly familiar; you grow curious about the fate of those who bear them; and slowly, through the stilted legal phrases of those interminable and exasperatingly inconclusive judgments, the outlines of a story begin to emerge.

All too often, alas, the story leads nowhere. The protagonists, so rudely thrust into the full glare of daylight after their centuries of oblivion, retreat no less abruptly into the darkness once again, still burdened by concerns of such heavy moment to themselves and of so little to us. But sometimes, if you are lucky, the story is complete, or reasonably so; and, if you are pertinacious and skilled, you may in time succeed in rounding it out with evidence drawn from other sources. The Cooks, historians working in the history of colonial Spanish America, have had their share of luck. In their joint book, Good Faith and Truthful Ignorance, they also show themselves to be pertinacious and skilled.

As they explain in their preface, they were working in that great repository of Spanish colonial documents, the General Archive of the Indies in Seville, on the indigenous population of the Colca Valley of Peru, when they came across the court case that provides the story of this book: the story of one of the conquerors, and earliest Spanish settlers, of Peru, a certain Francisco Noguerol de Ulloa. Noguerol’s alleged offense was the crime of bigamy.

Other than his own contemporaries, did anyone before the Cooks know of the bigamy of this forgotten conquistador? Ironically, the brief and schematic entry for Noguerol in a work not actually cited by the Cooks, a catalog of 40,000 Spanish settlers of sixteenth-century America heroically compiled by Dr. Peter Boyd-Bowman, does refer to an accusation for bigamy lodged against him by his first wife, Beatriz, a native of Saldaña de León. But nobody had followed up this entry, and there was no reason why they should. Noguerol himself had no particular claim to fame, and his infamy, if such it was, would no doubt have remained interred with him in Boyd-Bowman’s catalog to the end of time if the Cooks had not stumbled on his case in the Archive of the Indies. Now, as a result of their labors, Noguerol becomes more than just another among forty thousand …

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