In which the Spanish Inquisition strikes down a translation and saves an English sailor from a fiery fate

Werner Thomas (* 1931)

is an accordionist from Switzerland credited with composing a tune popularly known as the “Chicken Dance” or the “Birdie Song” while working as a restaurant musician in Davos during the early 1960s

The Chairmans, however, describe him as a composer, and say that his masterwork was actually finished by 1957 and first pressed in 1973, since when it has sold more than 40 million in 370 versions in 42 countries. There is a link to a list of his works at the German National Library, including an Alpine march-fox[trot] called “Hol-di-ol-di-e, das isch doch mir egal”, which doesn’t quite mean “Get the [propan]ol, the Es, it’s all the same to me.”

Now, except perhaps for Belgian dance-hall organs from the 1920s, there’s no musical ambience I like so much (VLC: Media / Open Network Stream: is often good at night). Unfortunately the first video search result is for a German hiphop video in which two nice boys boast about their exploits in the ghetto:


Let me interpret: one of the guys is practising for his yodelling evening class, defying protests from the neighbours with, “Go on, call the police, when they arrive I’ll be singing Heino, bitch“:

Yeah, uh, haha, uh
Hol doch die Polizei
Bevor sie hier erscheinen werden,
ist die Aktion schon vorbei.

I do this out of a love for humankind.

But this post actually draws on another Werner Thomas, a Leuven historian, who in Los protestantes y la Inquisición en España en tiempos de Reforma y Contrarreforma (2001) refutes a key myth of the Black Legend: the notion that the Spanish Inquisition was a kind of secret service at the disposal of the Spanish monarchy, which sought out heresy via a network of spies. Instead, he shows that the Inquisition often served to obstruct the madness, greed and stupidity of the yokels when they turned on foreigners and other easy meat – the delegation of powers is not without its dangers.

In 1608, he writes, the English sailor Guillermo Crocul, recently arrived in the port of Barcelona, was sunning himself near the city wall, where cod was being unloaded from his vessel, when five Spanish students, all minors, approached to ask him if he was Christian. Crocul answered that he was, and that he was a better Christian than they. When the boys asked him if in England people believed in Christ, the Englishman replied that there was no Christ, and that he had not died on the cross. When the students presented him with a crucifix for him to worship, Crocul didn’t want to kiss it. Clearly a heretic, and they denounced him as such to the Holy Office. The inquisitors, however, had to conclude that the Englishman spoke no Spanish, and the Spaniards no English, so that the conversation had been a grave misunderstanding.

With all due modesty, I have also found this centralist pyrophobia as this project slowly drifts downstream. In particular, I have been amused by cases where the Inquisition has clearly allowed economically useful “Germans” to escape, only then to burn them in a state of some despair when they obstinately reappear.

How would we write William Crocul’s surname in English? Crokle? Crocker? Croaker? The image conjured by the story is simply splendid, and it is frustrating to know that one will probably know no more.

English arrestees came from (in numerical order) Bristol, London, Plymouth, Millbrook (Southampton), Barnstaple, Cardiff, Garmouth, Falmouth, Gosport, Portsmouth, Southampton city, Exeter, Chichester, Colchester, Ipswich, Folkestone and Shoreham. Do any Brizzle shanties recall such goings-on?

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