Last of the Spanish Renaissance men, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza (1504–1575) was a master of the humanist disciplines as well as an active diplomat whose correspondence provides insight into the workings of power politics in the first post-Machiavellian decades.
This account of Mendoza's diplomatic career is a living commentary on the mid-sixteenth century, the time of the Spanish Inquisition and the Reformation, with its upheavals in the European balance of power. Mendoza served as ambassador of Charles V to Venice and Rome and as governor of Siena. His political life complements the reign of the Emperor whose ambition was to become a universal monarch.
An interesting contradiction in Mendoza's thought—his humanist theories versus personal ambition—prevented him from successful implemention of tyrannical imperial policies. His role in the government of the Holy Roman Empire shows how the exertion of imperialist power, humanist ethics notwithstanding, inevitably entails corruption, hypocrisy, greed, and imbalance in the one who tries to wield this power.
Gifted to the point of universal genius, Mendoza was perhaps the foremost representative of the splendid but little-known epoch of Spanish humanism, the era between the death of Queen Isabel (1504) and the abdication of her grandson Charles V (1556). Spain's short-lived Renaissance came to an abrupt end with the accession of Philip II and the almost simultaneous onset of the Counter Reformation. To this changed Spain, under monolithic thought control now exacted and enforced by monarch and Inquisition, Mendoza returned to live the last third of his life, mostly in obscurity, and in the last few years in royal disgrace.
Based on primary sources, this first biography of Mendoza in English also examines the relevance of some of Don Diego's disputed literary works to the legend that grew up around him as a spokesman for latent unorthodox opinion.
By Erika Spivakovsky
Erika Spivakovsky (1909–1998) became interested in Mendoza while researching a book on the expulsion in 1492 of the Jews from Spain. Under the auspices of the Radcliffe Institute she traveled extensively in Spain and Italy, visiting places connected with Mendoza's life and gathering material from local archives.