Private letter written by an annonymous woman to an unidentified addressee, probably Manuel Reinel, licentiate in Medicine.
The author sends news about her and her family and she reminds the addressee of an old love affair between the two.
This proceeding has been fully published by António Manuel Lopes Andrade, under the title “De Ferrara a Lisboa: tribulações do cristão-novo Alexandre Reinel, preso no cárcere do Santo Ofício”, Cadernos de Estudos Sefarditas, nº 7, 2007, pp.83-131. The case concerns Alexandre Reinel, whose original name was Isaque Bendana, and who was accused of Judaism by the Holy Office. He was allegedly part of an illegal immigration scheme of new-Christians, under which he collected money and sent messages. He ended up being arrested in Lisbon, in 1577. Among his belongings they found a book and an anonymous letter. Although Alexandre Reinel claimed not knowing who the author or the addressee of the letter were, António Manuel Lopes Andrade believes the addressee might have been his father, Manuel Reinel and the author a cousin, already a widow. According to António Manuel Lopes Andrade, Manuel Reinel and his cousin had a romantic relationship in the past, but were forced to go separate ways because Manuel Reinel’s uncle (presumably Brás Reinel) chose him another woman to marry (probably D. Leonor Henriques), since she had a bigger dowry. However, the cousin never forgot their love story. Alexandre Reinel was considered guilty in 1578.
You will consider a novelty the fact that I’m writing you. I saw novelty too in the holder of the letter, who claimed to be your son, and I don’t know if I should tell you, or how he came, since, according to his words, you don’t have any other son. He came to see me and all the other relatives. I would have been pleased to raise him for you, but, the way he presented himself, I cannot believe he is your son, and, therefore, he wasn’t better dressed by me nor by anyone else. And this because we feared we wasn’t your son and that we were being fooled, since this is common in this land, where evil grows, and honorable people run away from everything that may cause them troubles. Sir, he will give you news of what he has seen, he knows a lot of things in general and about everyone’s lives. I want to give you news of my own. Sir, I got married three times, as you must know. I’ve been a widow for about eight years now, living at my son’s house. He treats me with respect. He is very honorable and virtuous and he is just fine. And so is his wife. She has no children and she never gave birth in fifteen years. Her older sister has four children, and the youngest has a boy and a girl, and the oldest has a very handsome son and four daughters. My niece, my sister’s daughter, the youngest, has two daughters and a son. She is a widow of [...] came back to me. I tell you, sir, that I have married my son with my niece without receiving a dowry. And I was a better aunt than my uncle, who, may God forgive him, rejected me as his daughter-in-law and took my cousin’s daughter because of her money and not because of her beauty or discretion or due to any other woman. But, as I say, may God forgive him for having taken my love, which I desired so much that, when I dream of you, and your sisters and the windows of your house, I feel no guilt. When I now dream of the past – and I do dream about it for a few hours – I’m not sad anymore because, as I cannot see all of you in person, I feel happy to see you in dreams, which are sometimes so real that I can see you and talk to you all as before. Love is revived by the past and reminds me, among other things, of the letters you used to write me. I still keep them and I remember one night of [...], on Easter Friday’s eve, running from church to church. As I let go of these memories, I go back to the resentment I feel towards my uncle, as we were both married still. Back on those days, if I had the money I have now, I would have been your wife, even though that meant being half Spanish and Spaniards are low people. In the end, everyone dies, rich or poor, good or bad. And there is no one left other than God and Our Lady Virgin Mary.
Sir, tell your sister, whose name is the same as mine, to have this letter as her own and that I was told she was very beautiful and precious and I was very happy with it. Her husband is very old and overloaded with work, without a mother or a sister. And he has his sister and niece at home, and many demands and little remembrance of her. Never talks about her, not even in dreams. And she has a son she loves, poor woman. I say poor because I feel sorry for her, and may God remember her as well as her sisters, the widows, the young and the dead one, God forgive her. To all of them my best regards and I kiss her hands hundreds of times, as well as to your mother-in-law and your daughters. And God is witness of my distress when I heard about the troubles of your grandson. And there is nothing else to thank God and Our Lady for and pray her to give life to the living to serve God. You mother-in-law must feel the great heartbreak we had by hearing that your son is so disobedient and imposes his will to upset us all. He didn’t get rich and we can’t help him at all. I haven’t seen him for thirty four years and I have no idea how he looks like. He could see me but I couldn’t see him. May God and the Holy Virgin allow me to see him alive and relieved. This I pray to God. And may God rescue him from such much poverty and prevent him from starving. May God remember his boyhood. Sir, through my signed letter you could know the news of my house. And about my servants, all of them died during the plague, eight white and eight black slaves, and all of the other servants at home. And I didn’t feel their deaths as much as I felt your son’s, if he was your son indeed. I don’t know if he left something or what the cause of his death was. I wish he had survived so that you could tell me about you, your relatives, and your mother-in-law: how she is, if she is very old. I really wish her well; I owe her more than to anyone else because she gave me a silver knocker when I got married, and, to the rest of the world, I owe nothing, not even a penny, which makes me glad. Please give her a very tight hug on my behalf, and kiss her hands many times, let her know I am well, thank God, and healthy and with good mood and all of my teeth are white and clean, and I walk straight, as your son can assure you, since he saw me. And he came with silk ornaments, well stitched and hidden and so he found me with my niece, who is very honorable, virtuous and my friend, and she cares for me more than an obedient daughter. My son is very honorable and close to God. They are both so obedient in everything that I feel like a young woman. Please tell this to your mother-in-law, because I know she will be pleased in the same way I am pleased with her well-being. I have no further to say to you nor to your sisters because I don’t know how to talk by letter. I have said what I wanted. I send you a kiss, since God made you so discreet and a scholar. May God give you many years of life in good health to serve Him and Our Lady and all the ladies and children and grandchildren. Amen. I recall that your father-in-law, may God forgive him, was supposed to leave to my father what he left to the person who abandoned him, and if he had done so, he would have it now and he wouldn’t have done the harm he did when he was asked his share. They are now the richest and the most protected. To you, this is enough.
Sir, if you see a woman named Leonor Mendes, who was once my neighbor, let her know that those six hundred reais (1) that she borrowed me were legally taken by her brother-in-law, since he acted as proxy for her and I was unable to take them back and refund her. If she isn’t there or if she is dead, please send this message to her daughter as well as news from everyone.
Written at twelve o’clock in the evening, with tears of will and longing which reach the heart.
(1)(Portuguese old currency)