In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros

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Renaissance and Reformation Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros
Xavier Tubau
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0494


Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros (b. 1436–d. 1517) is crucial for understanding the political and religious transformation of Spain during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs. He was born in 1436 in Torrelaguna, northeast of Madrid. His parents came from well-established, but not noble, families. He studied in Alcalá and Salamanca. There is no information about his academic achievements. He was appointed archpriest of Uceda in 1471. Seven years later, he exchanged his benefice for a first chaplaincy in Sigüenza, in the diocese of Pedro González de Mendoza, a wise move considering that the latter was influential at court. Cardinal Mendoza was impressed by his organizational ability and appointed Cisneros as his vicar-general in the diocese, which entailed privileges and benefits. In 1484 Cisneros unexpectedly left his post and entered the Franciscan order. Little is known about the reasons for this, although it did not mean losing the patronage of Mendoza, who recommended him as Queen Isabella’s confessor in 1492. Cisneros entered high politics when he was fifty-six, becoming regent of Spain after the deaths of Philip I of Castile in 1506–1507 and Ferdinand II of Aragon in 1516–1517. He became provincial of the Franciscans in Castile in 1494 and was promoted to the archbishopric of Toledo in 1495, the richest and most important episcopal see in the Peninsula. From this position of power, he undertook a reform of the religious orders, supported by Isabella and Ferdinand, and of the archdiocese of Toledo, and instituted an educational program that culminated in the founding of the University of Alcalá. Cisneros was responsible for the mass conversion of thousands of Mudejars in Granada in 1499–1500. He financed and participated in the campaigns of conquest in North Africa, with a major victory in Oran in 1509. Appointed Grand Inquisitor in 1507, he worked to ensure that the legal procedures of the tribunal were enforced. He supported the unsuccessful petitions of Las Casas to prevent the mistreatment of Indigenous populations. His major cultural achievements include founding the University of Alcalá and sponsoring publication of the first (Complutense) Polyglot Bible. Cisneros died in November 1517 and never met the young King Charles I, who had recently landed in Cantabria from Brussels. Portraits of Cisneros are preserved in the frescoes painted during the cardinal’s lifetime by Juan de Borgoña in the Chapter House and, while leading the Oran campaign, in the Mozarabic Chapel of the Cathedral of Toledo.

General Overview

The general overview section has been divided into two main subsections covering the political and religious strands of Cisneros’s career, although the two are not always easy to separate from each other. Cisneros’s ecclesiastical career was low profile until he was fifty-six years old, when Cardinal Mendoza recommended him for the post of confessor to Queen Isabella I of Castile. Biographers say that he was initially somewhat reluctant to accept the offer because he did not want to abandon his secluded life as a Franciscan. Cisneros soon won the queen’s trust. From 1495, as archbishop of the most important diocese in the kingdom, his influence as a political advisor increased. He took part in or was witness to the most important episodes involving royalty, ranging from Queen Juana’s departure for Brussels to the death of Isabella. The fact that he was twice appointed regent of the kingdom reflects his increasing influence over the Catholic Monarchs. The political history of Castile and Aragon (early modern Spain) provided the backdrop against which Cisneros’s public life unfolded. Cisneros died a few days after Luther presented his ninety-five theses. His service as confessor, archbishop, and inquisitor took place in an age marked by the desire for spiritual and institutional reform. The full meaning of his actions to try and reform the religious orders, his extreme care with the legal procedures of the Inquisition, and his crusading policy can be appreciated if studied from the overall perspective of European Catholicism (early modern Catholicism in Spain).

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