The Zincali: An Account of the Gypsies of Spain

Author: George Henry Borrow

Chapter X


’The people of God were always afflicted by the Egyptians, but the Supreme King delivered them from their hands by means of many miracles, which are related in the Holy Scriptures; and now, without having recourse to so many, but only by means of the miraculous talent which your Majesty possesses for expelling such reprobates, he will, doubtless, free this kingdom from them, which is what is supplicated in this discourse, and it behoves us, in the first place, to consider


’Writers generally agree that the first time the Gitanos were seen in Europe was the year 1417, which was in the time of Pope Martinus the Fifth and King Don John the Second; others say that Tamerlane had them in his camp in 1401, and that their captain was Cingo, from whence it is said that they call themselves Cingary. But the opinions concerning their origin are infinite.

’The first is that they are foreigners, though authors differ much with respect to the country from whence they came. The majority say that they are from Africa, and that they came with the Moors when Spain was lost; others that they are Tartars, Persians, Cilicians, Nubians, from Lower Egypt, from Syria, or from other parts of Asia and Africa, and others consider them to be descendants of Chus, son of Cain; others say that they are of European origin, Bohemians, Germans, or outcasts from other nations of this quarter of the world.

’The second and sure opinion is, that those who prowl about Spain are not Egyptians, but swarms of wasps and atheistical wretches, without any kind of law or religion, Spaniards, who have introduced this Gypsy life or sect, and who admit into it every day all the idle and broken people of Spain. There are some foreigners who would make Spain the origin and fountain of all the Gypsies of Europe, as they say that they proceeded from a river in Spain called Cija, of which Lucan makes mention; an opinion, however, not much adopted amongst the learned. In the opinion of respectable authors, they are called Cingary or Cinli, because they in every respect resemble the bird cinclo, which we call in Spanish Motacilla, or aguzanieve (wagtail), which is a vagrant bird and builds no nest, (37) but broods in those of other birds, a bird restless and poor of plumage, as AElian writes.


’There is not a nation which does not consider them as a most pernicious rabble; even the Turks and Moors abominate them, amongst whom this sect is found under the names of Torlaquis, (38) Hugiemalars, and Dervislars, of whom some historians make mention, and all agree that they are most evil people, and highly detrimental to the country where they are found.

’In the first place, because in all parts they are considered as enemies of the states where they wander, and as spies and traitors to the crown; which was proven by the emperors Maximilian and Albert, who declared them to be such in public edicts; a fact easy to be believed, when we consider that they enter with ease into the enemies’ country, and know the languages of all nations.

’Secondly, because they are idle vagabond people, who are in no respect useful to the kingdom; without commerce, occupation, or trade of any description; and if they have any it is making picklocks and pothooks for appearance sake, being wasps, who only live by sucking and impoverishing the country, sustaining themselves by the sweat of the miserable labourers, as a German poet has said of them:-

"Quos aliena juvant, propriis habitare molestum, Fastidit patrium non nisi nosse solum."

They are much more useless than the Moriscos, as these last were of some service to the state and the royal revenues, but the Gitanos are neither labourers, gardeners, mechanics, nor merchants, and only serve, like the wolves, to plunder and to flee.

’Thirdly, because the Gitanas are public harlots, common, as it is said, to all the Gitanos, and with dances, demeanour, and filthy songs, are the cause of continual detriment to the souls of the vassals of your Majesty, it being notorious that they have done infinite harm in many honourable houses by separating the married women from their husbands, and perverting the maidens: and finally, in the best of these Gitanas any one may recognise all the signs of a harlot given by the wise king; they are gadders about, whisperers, always unquiet in places and corners.

’Fourthly, because in all parts they are accounted famous thieves, about which authors write wonderful things; we ourselves have continual experience of this fact in Spain, where there is scarcely a corner where they have not committed some heavy offence.

’Father Martin Del Rio says they were notorious when he was in Leon in the year 1584; as they even attempted to sack the town of Logrono in the time of the pest, as Don Francisco De Cordoba writes in his DIDASCALIA. Enormous cases of their excesses we see in infinite processes in all the tribunals, and particularly in that of the Holy Brotherhood; their wickedness ascending to such a pitch, that they steal children, and carry them for sale to Barbary; the reason why the Moors call them in Arabic, RASO CHERANY, (39) which, as Andreas Tebetus writes, means MASTER THIEVES. Although they are addicted to every species of robbery, they mostly practise horse and cattle stealing, on which account they are called in law ABIGEOS, and in Spanish QUATREROS, from which practice great evils result to the poor labourers. When they cannot steal cattle, they endeavour to deceive by means of them, acting as TERCEROS, in fairs and markets.

’Fifthly, because they are enchanters, diviners, magicians, chiromancers, who tell the future by the lines of the hand, which is what they call BUENA VENTURA, and are in general addicted to all kind of superstition.

’This is the opinion entertained of them universally, and which is confirmed every day by experience; and some think that they are caller Cingary, from the great Magian Cineus, from whom it is said they learned their sorceries, and from which result in Spain (especially amongst the vulgar) great errors, and superstitious credulity, mighty witchcrafts, and heavy evils, both spiritual and corporeal.

’Sixthly, because very devout men consider them as heretics, and many as Gentile idolaters, or atheists, without any religion, although they exteriorly accommodate themselves to the religion of the country in which they wander, being Turks with the Turks, heretics with the heretics, and, amongst the Christians, baptizing now and then a child for form’s sake. Friar Jayme Bleda produces a hundred signs, from which he concludes that the Moriscos were not Christians, all which are visible in the Gitanos; very few are known to baptize their children; they are not married, but it is believed that they keep the women in common; they do not use dispensations, nor receive the sacraments; they pay no respect to images, rosaries, bulls, neither do they hear mass, nor divine services; they never enter the churches, nor observe fasts, Lent, nor any ecclesiastical precept; which enormities have been attested by long experience, as every person says.

’Finally, they practise every kind of wickedness in safety, by discoursing amongst themselves in a language with which they understand each other without being understood, which in Spain is called Gerigonza, which, as some think, ought to be called Cingerionza, or language of Cingary. The king our lord saw the evil of such a practice in the law which he enacted at Madrid, in the year 1566, in which he forbade the Arabic to the Moriscos, as the use of different languages amongst the natives of one kingdom opens a door to treason, and is a source of heavy inconvenience; and this is exemplified more in the case of the Gitanos than of any other people.


’The civil law ordains that vagrants be seized wherever they are found, without any favour being shown to them; in conformity with which, the Gitanos in the Greek empire were given as slaves to those who should capture them; as respectable authors write. Moreover, the emperor, our lord, has decreed by a law made in Toledo, in the year 1525, THAT THE THIRD TIME THEY BE FOUND WANDERING THEY SHALL SERVE AS SLAVES DURING THEIR WHOLE LIFE TO THOSE WHO CAPTURE THEM. Which can be easily justified, inasmuch as there is no shepherd who does not place barriers against the wolves, and does not endeavour to save his flock, and I have already exposed to your Majesty the damage which the Gitanos perpetrate in Spain.


’The reasons are many. The first, for being spies, and traitors to the crown; the second as idlers and vagabonds.

’It ought always to be considered, that no sooner did the race of man begin, after the creation of the world, than the important point of civil policy arose of condemning vagrants to death; for Cain was certain that he should meet his destruction in wandering as a vagabond for the murder of Abel. ERO VAGUS ET PROFUGUS IN TERRA: OMNIS IGITUR QUI INVENERIT ME, OCCIDET ME. Now, the IGITUR stands here as the natural consequence of VAGUS ERO; as it is evident, that whoever shall see me must kill me, because he sees me a wanderer. And it must always be remembered, that at that time there were no people in the world but the parents and brothers of Cain, as St. Ambrose has remarked. Moreover, God, by the mouth of Jeremias, menaced his people, that all should devour them whilst they went wandering amongst the mountains. And it is a doctrine entertained by theologians, that the mere act of wandering, without anything else, carries with it a vehement suspicion of capital crime. Nature herself demonstrates it in the curious political system of the bees, in whose well-governed republic the drones are killed in April, when they commence working.

’The third, because they are stealers of four-footed beasts, who are condemned to death by the laws of Spain, in the wise code of the famous King Don Alonso; which enactment became a part of the common law.

’The fourth, for wizards, diviners, and for practising arts which are prohibited under pain of death by the divine law itself. And Saul is praised for having caused this law to be put in execution in the beginning of his reign; and the Holy Scripture attributes to the breach of it (namely, his consulting the witch) his disastrous death, and the transfer of the kingdom to David. The Emperor Constantine the Great, and other emperors who founded the civil law, condemned to death those who should practise such facinorousness, - as the President of Tolosa has written.

’The last and most urgent cause is, that they are heretics, if what is said be truth; and it is the practice of the law in Spain to burn such.


’Firstly, they are comprehended as hale beggars in the law of the wise king, Don Alonso, by which he expelled all sturdy beggars, as being idle and useless.

’Secondly, the law expels public harlots from the city; and of this matter I have already said something in my second chapter.

’Thirdly, as people who cause scandal, and who, as is visible at the first glance, are prejudicial to morals and common decency. Now, it is established by the statute law of these kingdoms, that such people be expelled therefrom; it is said so in the wellpondered words of the edict for the expulsion of the Moors: "And forasmuch as the sense of good and Christian government makes it a matter of conscience to expel from the kingdoms the things which cause scandal, injury to honest subjects, danger to the state, and above all, disloyalty to the Lord our God." Therefore, considering the incorrigibility of the Gitanos, the Spanish kings made many holy laws in order to deliver their subjects from such pernicious people.

’Fourthly, the Catholic princes, Ferdinand and Isabella, by a law which they made in Medina del Campo, in the year 1494, and which the emperor our lord renewed in Toledo in 1523, and in Madrid in 1528 and 1534, and the late king our lord, in 1560, banished them perpetually from Spain, and gave them as slaves to whomsoever should find them, after the expiration of the term specified in the edict - laws which are notorious even amongst strangers. The words are:- "We declare to be vagabonds, and subject to the aforesaid penalty, the Egyptians and foreign tinkers, who by laws and statutes of these kingdoms are commanded to depart therefrom; and the poor sturdy beggars, who contrary to the order given in the new edict, beg for alms and wander about."


All the doctors, who are of opinion that the Gitanos may be condemned to death, would consider it as an act of mercy in your Majesty to banish them perpetually from Spain, and at the same time as exceedingly just. Many and learned men not only consider that it is just to expel them, but cannot sufficiently wonder that they are tolerated in Christian states, and even consider that such toleration is an insult to the kingdoms.

’Whilst engaged in writing this, I have seen a very learned memorial, in which Doctor Salazar de Mendoza makes the same supplication to your Majesty which is made in this discourse, holding it to be the imperious duty of every good government.

’It stands in reason that the prince is bound to watch for the welfare of his subjects, and the wrongs which those of your Majesty receive from the Gitanos I have already exposed in my second chapter; it being a point worthy of great consideration that the wrongs caused by the Moriscos moved your royal and merciful bosom to drive them out, although they were many, and their departure would be felt as a loss to the population, the commerce, the royal revenues, and agriculture. Now, with respect to the Gitanos, as they are few, and perfectly useless for everything, it appears more necessary to drive them forth, the injuries which they cause being so numerous.

’Secondly, because the Gitanos, as I have already said, are Spaniards; and as others profess the sacred orders of religion, even so do these fellows profess gypsying, which is robbery and all the other vices enumerated in chapter the second. And whereas it is just to banish from the kingdom those who have committed any heavy delinquency, it is still more so to banish those who profess to be injurious to all.

’Thirdly, because all the kings and rulers have always endeavoured to eject from their kingdoms the idle and useless. And it is very remarkable, that the law invariably commands them to be expelled, and the republics of Athens and Corinth were accustomed to do so - casting them forth like dung, even as Athenaeus writes: NOS GENUS HOC MORTALIUM EJICIMUS EX HAC URBE VELUT PURGAMINA. Now the profession of the Gypsy is idleness.

’Fourthly, because the Gitanos are diviners, enchanters, and mischievous wretches, and the law commands us to expel such from the state.

’In the fifth place, because your Majesty, in the Cortes at present assembled, has obliged your royal conscience to fulfil all the articles voted for the public service, and the forty-ninth says: "One of the things at present most necessary to be done in these kingdoms, is to afford a remedy for the robberies, plundering and murders committed by the Gitanos, who go wandering about the country, stealing the cattle of the poor, and committing a thousand outrages, living without any fear of God, and being Christians only in name. It is therefore deemed expedient, that your Majesty command them to quit these kingdoms within six months, to be reckoned from the day of the ratification of these presents, and that they do not return to the same under pain of death."

’Against this, two things may possibly be urged:-

’The first, that the laws of Spain give unto the Gitanos the alternative of residing in large towns, which, it appears, would be better than expelling them. But experience, recognised by grave and respectable men, has shown that it is not well to harbour these people; for their houses are dens of thieves, from whence they prowl abroad to rob the land.

’The second, that it appears a pity to banish the women and children. But to this can be opposed that holy act of your Majesty which expelled the Moriscos, and the children of the Moriscos, for the reason given in the royal edict. WHENEVER ANY DETESTABLE CRIME IS COMMITTED BY ANY UNIVERSITY, IT IS WELL TO PUNISH ALL. And the most detestable crimes of all are those which the Gitanos commit, since it is notorious that they subsist on what they steal; and as to the children, there is no law which obliges us to bring up wolfwhelps, to cause here-after certain damage to the flock.


’Every one who considers the manner of your Majesty’s government as the truly Christian pattern must entertain fervent hope that the advice proffered in this discourse will be attended to; more especially on reflecting that not only the good, but even the most barbarous kings have acted up to it in their respective dominions.

’Pharaoh was bad enough, nevertheless he judged that the children of Israel were dangerous to the state, because they appeared to him to be living without any certain occupation; and for this very reason the Chaldeans cast them out of Babylon. Amasis, king of Egypt, drove all the vagrants from his kingdom, forbidding them to return under pain of death. The Soldan of Egypt expelled the Torlaquis. The Moors did the same; and Bajazet cast them out of all the Ottoman empire, according to Leo Clavius.

’In the second place, the Christian princes have deemed it an important measure of state.

’The emperor our Lord, in the German Diets of the year 1548, expelled the Gitanos from all his empire, and these were the words of the decree: "Zigeuner quos compertum est proditores esse, et exploratores hostium nusquam in imperio locum inveniunto. In deprehensos vis et injuria sine fraude esto. Fides publica Zigeuners ne dator, nec data servator."

’The King of France, Francis, expelled them from thence; and the Duke of Terranova, when Governor of Milan for our lord the king, obliged them to depart from that territory under pain of death.

’Thirdly, there is one grand reason which ought to be conclusive in moving him who so much values himself in being a faithful son of the church, - I mean the example which Pope Pius the Fifth gave to all the princes; for he drove the Gitanos from all his domains, and in the year 1568, he expelled the Jews, assigning as reasons for their expulsion those which are more closely applicable to the Gitanos; - namely, that they sucked the vitals of the state, without being of any utility whatever; that they were thieves themselves, and harbourers of others; that they were wizards, diviners, and wretches who induced people to believe that they knew the future, which is what the Gitanos at present do by telling fortunes.

’Your Majesty has already freed us from greater and more dangerous enemies; finish, therefore, the enterprise begun, whence will result universal joy and security, and by which your Majesty will earn immortal honour. Amen.

’O Regum summe, horum plura ne temnas (absit) ne forte tempsisse Hispaniae periculosum existat.’


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Chicago: George Henry Borrow, "Chapter X," The Zincali: An Account of the Gypsies of Spain, ed. Symons, Arthur, 1865-1945 and trans. Elwes, R. H. M. (Robert Harvey Monro), 1853- in The Zincali: An Account of the Gypsies of Spain (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1904), Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2024,

MLA: Borrow, George Henry. "Chapter X." The Zincali: An Account of the Gypsies of Spain, edited by Symons, Arthur, 1865-1945, and translated by Elwes, R. H. M. (Robert Harvey Monro), 1853-, in The Zincali: An Account of the Gypsies of Spain, Vol. 3, London, Smith, Elder & Co., 1904, Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Borrow, GH, 'Chapter X' in The Zincali: An Account of the Gypsies of Spain, ed. and trans. . cited in 1904, The Zincali: An Account of the Gypsies of Spain, Smith, Elder & Co., London. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2024, from