** medieval era the Church Spanish Inquisition

The Medieval Christian Church: The Spanish Inquisition

Figure 1.--This sobering depiction of a Spanish auto-de-fé was painted by Berruguete around 1490-1500. St. Dominic is depicted sitting beneath the canopy, presiding over an Auto-da-fé--burning of heretics. This is a symbolic presence. St. Dominic lived in the 12-13th centuries and was long dead by the time of the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century. The order he founded, the black-robed Dominicans, was however used by the Church to root out heretics. Many of the victims of the Inquisition at this time were Moors and Jews who had converted, but wee suspecting of continuing their old relgious paractices. After the fall of Granada (1492), Ferdinad and Isabela were intent on purifying Spain.

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel established the Spanish Inquisition as separate from the Roman Inquisition (about 1480). They and suceeding Spanish monarchs appointed the officers of the Spanish Inquisition and they were not responsible to the Church in Rome. After finally defeating the Moors in 1492, the Spanish monarchy embarked on an effort to purify Spain. Spanish authorities dealt harshly with suposedly insincere converted Moslems and Jews ( conversos ) as well as illuminists. The Spanish Inquisition with its massive public autos-da-fé became notorious throughout Europe. Unlike tge Roman Inquisition. death sentences in the Spanish Inquisition were quite common. Here there are no precise numbers. Estimates range from 3,000 to more than 40,000 individuals. The wide range results from the competing claims of Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation. The most notorious Spanish Inquisator General was Tomás Torquemada. The Spanish Inquisition was persued with great ferocity in thec 16th century, throughout Spain and Spain's colonies in America and Europe such as the Netherlands. The Spanish Inquisition not only pursued heretics but became involved in not only politics, but other crimes including some without any religious connotations (polygamy, seduction, adultury, smuggling, usury, and other offenses). The barbarous methods used to extract confessions from the acused as well as witnesses apauled even contemporary Europe. While not as lurid as the enemies of Spain and the Church aleged, they were indeed apaling, especially for an arm of the Church. The intebnsity of the Inquisition relacked in the 17th century. Eventually inquisators were required to obtain rotal authority for an arrest (1770). The Spanish Inqusition was finally abolished until the 19th century (1834).

The Moors

The Moors were Nomadic peoples of North Africa. They were converted to Islam in the ealy 8th century and became fanatical fillowers of the Prophet. They crossed the Straits of Gibraltar (711). They achieved stunning military successes against the crumbling Visogothic kingdom in Spain. The Moors crossed the Pyrenees, but were turned back by Charles Martel at Tours (732). Abdu-r-Rahman I established the Omayyas dynasty. The Moors, however, failed to maintain a strong, centalized state and divided into small, often warring kingdom. Moorish culture made medieval Spain the most advanced region of Europe. Cities like Córdoba, Toledo, and Seville became recognized centers of culture and learning. The contribution to Western learning in agriculture, art, astonomy, mathematics, medcine, and science is encaluable.

Spanish Jews

Jews developed a sophisticated culture in Spain. Jews came to Spain at the time of the Diapora (1st century AD). This is the generral pattern for Western Europe which at the time was part of the Roman Empire. We know little avout Jewish communities in Spain ever during or after the fall of the Roman Empire. They were not percecuted by the Romans, unlike early Christains, nor by the early German rulers after the fall of Rome. I am not sure about the early Christian period before the Moorish invasions. They were tolerated by the Moors after the conquest of the 8th century. As people of the book they were respected in the Moorish kingdoms. This was less true of the Christain kingdoms that gradually retook Spain from the Moors, but for mych of the Medieval era the Jews prpspered in Spain where even in Christain kingdoms they received a level of toleration not noted elsewhere in Western Christendom. This gradually changed as the Christian kingdoms became more and more dominant. The Catholic clergy increasingly began to preach against Jews which they began to liken to a plague on Spain. Archdeacon Martinez in Seville worked to incite the population to purge themselves of the "dirty" Jews. Seville was once the capital of a great Moorish kingdom, and a center of scholarship and toleration. Martinez at the time was even reproached by the Spanish Cardinal and the Pope. Martinez lfinally succeeded on Ash Wednesday (March 15, 1391) when he worked his congregation to pour out of Church and rush enmasse towards the Juderia (Jewish quarter). City authorities intervened and the mob while not stopped was detered. A few months later Archdeacon Martinez was more successful. Another mob sacked the Juderia of Seville. Accounts vary, but Jews in the hundreds if not thousands were slaughtered. [Roth] There were other such scattered incidents, but for the most part Spanish Jews flourished under tolerant circumstances compared to the rest of Western Christendom. As Christianity became increasingly dominant on the Iberian Peninsula ans cattered outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence occurred, many Jews obstensibly converted to Christianity to avoid persecution. These Jews are called Conversos. It is dofficult to know for sure, but many if not most Conversos were not true converts to Christianity. In addition the Jews who did not convert were in some cases conspicuosly wealthy. Laws often restricted Jewish life such as owning land and farming. This focused Jewish economic activity on trades and trading. Often they were very successful. In most cases Jewish children were literate and capable in basic math at a time when most Spanish peasants were illiterate. This gave Jews an economic advantahe in amany areas. With no religious prohibition on cgharging interest (at the time known as usuray), some Jews became successful money lenders. Conversos becaise of the Jewish tradition were also eduacted. As a result they achieved considerable success in Spanish society. Jews an Conversos became noted scholars and respected physcians. Often they attracted the envy of their peers and less successful neighbors. [Roth] The same pattern is not unknown in the modern world. It is essentially the same as the Chinese in Southeast Asia or the Indians in East Africa.

Medieval Spanish Culture

Medieval Spain was perhaps the most tolerant area of Europe, although this depended on the time and place. Despite many instance of intoleration, for much of Medieval period in Spain, Jews, Moors, and Christians lived side by in a high level of toleration--at least in comparison to the rest of Western Christendom. This was a factor in the comparitively high level of cultural attinment in Spain during the medieval era. Some of the most beautiful buldings built during the Medieval era were constructed in Spain. Spanish scholarship was renowned. Many of the great classics were first introduced to Medieval Europe through Spanish universities and scholars. Although not readily oservable because of the flood of American gold and silver that entered Spain in the 16th century, the decline of Spaish culture in large begins with the expulsion of the Moors and Jews and the effort by the Spanish monarchy and Church to purify the country.

The Reconquista

The Arab armies fired by Islam reached Western Europe in the 8th century, sweeping over the Iberian Peninsula, but turned back by the Franks at Tours. One small Christian kingdom remained unconquered. What followed was the reconquest of the Iberian Penninsula by a long series of Christian kings. The last Muslim kingdom to fall was Grenada (1492). This meant the end of 8th centuries of Islamic culture in Spain.

The Roman Inquisition (1231)

Pope Gregory IX in 1231 published a decree detailing severe punishment for heretics and a permanent institution called the Inquisition for discovring, judging, repressuing and punishing heretics. This is referred to as the Roman Inquisitioin meanung the Inquisition administered and supervided by the Roman Curia of the Cathholic Church. The term is used to diferentiate the Roman Inquisitiin with the Spanish Inquisition which was conducted independently from Rome under the auspices of the Spanish monarchy. The penalties of the Inquisitioin could be severe. Life imprisonment and penance for those who confessed and repented and capital punishment for those refused to admit the errors of their ways. Any actual executions would be carried out by civil authorities. Pope Gregory also gave the Dominican Order responsible for organizing the search and investigation of heretics. Although individual inquisators did not have to be Dominicans, most were. The Holy Office of the Inquisuituion by the end of the 13th century had been established througout Europe in all principalities loyal to the Catholic Church. The Holy Office of the Inquisition became permanent system of tribunals charged by the Catholic Church to eradicate heresies and preserve the Faith.

Establishment (1478)

KIng Ferdinand and Queen Isabel established the Spanish Inquisition as separate from the Roman Inquisition. Isabel was known as "Isabela the Catolica" and her cherished dream was to make her realm a pure Catholic country. Modern Spain was born out of the Reconquista and the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabel--soverigns of the two major Christain kingdoms what is now Spain. At the time the toleration and religious diversity so admired in the West was seen as a serious weakness. No where else in Western Christendom at the time were Moors accepted nor was toleration of Jews common. The idea that a subject by be of a different faith than his soverign was also not accepted. Ferdinand and Isabel thus saw the situation in their realms as a blot on their reign. An incident brought the situation to a head in 1478, even before the fall of Granada. The Church hierarchy in Castille for some time was concerned with difficult to verify reports of heresy on the part of Conversos. There had been considerable inter-marriage anong Christains, Moors, and Jews. A cavalier courting a Jewish girl came upon a group of Jews and conversos in her home engaged in some sort of clearly non-Catholic celebration. (The courting of a Jewish girl is a sign of the level of toleration in Spain. Much less and potentially dangerous would be a Jewish man courting a Christian woman.) The night was Passover and the cavalier encountered not just the girl, but a grops of Jews and Conversos had assembled to celebrate it. The incident was made worse because it was the Holy Week for the Catholic church. (Passover and Easter are often celebrated at the same time.) The Spanish church prevailed on Pope Sixtus to issue a Papal Bull granting authority for a special Spanish Inquisition that would set upon the great task of purifying Spain from hersesy. The Pope granted that authority to the monarchy. It was a decission that subsequent popes would regret. The bull gave Ferdinand and Isabel the authority to establish a separate Spanish inquisition. [Roth] The Inquisition in Spain operated before this time, but it was in 1478 that a separate Spanish inquisition was established. Ferdinand and Isabel and suceeding Spanish monarchs appointed the officers of the Spanish Inquisition who as a result were not directly responsible to the Church in Rome nor under the auspices of the Roman Inquisition.

Ferdinand and Isabela

It is one of the ironies of history that Ferdinand and Isabella who played a major role in developing Europe's global perspective by supporting Columbus' voyages were the same monarchs who supported the closed, dark world vision symbolized by the Inquisition. [Reston] Both Ferdinand and Isabela supported the Inquisition, but they had very different motives.

King Ferdinand of Aragon

While Ferdinand supported the Inquisition his was not a religious motivation. He was not like his wife a pious Catholic. Ferdinand was more interested in political and military matters. He was not a pious Catholic like his wife. He had no deep commitment to the Church, although he pribably thoigh it advisable for all of his subjects to be Catholic. More impiortantly he saw the Inquisition and especially the expullsion of the Jews as a chance to profit. Ferdinad's military triumphs were in part financed through the Spanish Inquisition. The idea of financing expensive wars without increasing taxes was appealing at the time. Neither Aragon or Castille at the time were absolutist states. Both had important and owerful nobilities. The ability to finance his wars without increasing taxes was very appealing at the time. (One should recall that English decomracy is based in large measure on Parliament's control on the royal purse.)

Queen Isabela la Catolica of Castille

It is likely that Isabella truly wanted to end heresy within the Catholic faith. Ferdinand, Isabela was an exceedingly pious and devout Catholic. One of her advisors was Thomas de Torquemada. A unsubstaniated rumor suggests that as Isabela's spirtual adviser, Torquemada enduced the young princess to vow that should she ever reach the throne, she would devote herself to both the destruction of heresy and the persecution of the Jews. [Roth] When she became queen of Castille she was determined to do just that. It was not just a matter of a youthful vow. This was precisely how Isabela thought. Isabela insisted publically that she wanted "one country, one ruler, one faith".

Unification of Spain

Queen Isabella I of Castille and King Ferdinand II married (1469). Castille at the time was the dominant force in Spain. The marriage thus made substantial forces available to Ferdinand, beyond the polential of Aragon. The marriage was one of corulers. Isabella did not defer to Ferdinad in matters of state, but was in every sence a ruling monarch. Upon their marriage, Spain did not become a unified state. Rather each monarch continued to rule in their own state. The marriage, however, began the process of unification. The first step was to centarlize administration. Isabella covoked a great Cortes (insipient parliament) at Toledo, which was at the time the seat of government (1480). The Cortes recodified and reformed the judicial system. Through the process Ferdinand and Isabella with considerable success worked to make the Spanish themselves absolute monarchs and reduce the power of the Spanish nobility. This seems to have been achieved to a far greater extent than in many other European countries with guarelsome nobility. There was no civil war in France resisting the monarchy's efforts as there was in other countries (the Fronde--France, Thirty Years War-Germany, and the Civil War--England). We are not entirely sure why this was, but the Inquisition must have been a factor. Surely Spanish Inquisitors saw royal absolutism under Isabella an oportunity to tarnsform and purify the Spanish people. The Catholic sovereigns for their part were determined to have a united country. They like other European monarchs did not believe that could be achieved without all their subjects being of one religion. (It should be remembered that the wars associated with the Protestant Reformation were not fought for religios freedom, but for the right of the monarch ro select the state religion.) Thus both Ferdinand and Isabela, especially Isabela, were determined to refashion Spain as a Christain kingdom. This was to be persuasion, if possible, but if not, by force. Thus Spain including the monarchy, the Church, and the people were ready for actions against the Jews and Moors as well as the Conversos. [Plaidy, p.86.] Isabella the Católica was fanatical about the Christain religion promoted the adoption of repressive measures against the Jews by the Cortes which helped to fill the monarchy's coffers. She established the nortorious Spanish Inquisition (1478) which was to operate under her authority rather than that of papacy which had earlier created the less fanatical Inquisition. After the meeting of the Cortes, Aragon and Castille were politically joined. Ferdinand's armies took Grenada, the last Moorish kingdom (1492). In the same year, Isabella and Ferdinand expelled the Jews from their kingdom. It was a fateful year. It was also the year Columbus discovered the Americas. Partly with the loot extracted from the Jews, Ferdinand invaded and conquered much of southern Italy. Ferdinand also obtained Navarre south of the Pyranees.

Torquemada (1483)

The most notorious Spanish Inquisator General was Tomás Torquemada. At Isabel's insistance, he was appointed the first Inquisator General in Castille and Aragon (1483). His religious zeal and appointment at the earliest stage in the development of the Inquisition resulted in him having a major role in shaping the institution. He in large measure established the rules of inquisitorial procedure. He set up branches of the Inquisition in cities throughout Spain. He led the Inquisition for 15 years and may have been responsible for the execution of about 2,000 people.

Expulsion of Moors and Jews (1492)

Spain's Jews and remaining Moors were expelled by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella after the victory at Granada completing the Reconquista. The Edict was publicised (April 29, 1492.) The charter declared that no Jews were permitted to remain within the Spanish kingdom, and Jew who wished to convert was welcome to stay. Influential Jews were permitted to plead with Catholic Soverigns, but to no avail. The goal was not really to expel Moors and Jews, but to force their conversion. The Crown ordered Spanish Jews to convert or leave Spain. Perhaps 200,000 Jews chose to keep their faith and leave Spain. This came as a shock to both Ferdinand and Isabella. They expected most Spanish Jews to convert. A factor here was that Muslim or Jews were largely outside the reach of the Inquisition. The refugees became known as Sephardic Jews. They played an important role in the economic success and cultural life in countries like the Netherlands. The expulsion of Jews and Moslems by Ferdinand and Isbella occured at the same time that Spain burst on the world scene with Columbus' discoveries. The gold and silver which poured in to Spain with the conquest of Mexico and Peru made Spain for a time a European super power. Spain's subsequent decline is in part due to the decling shipments of bullion. Many histoians believe that the impact of repressive policies such as the use of the Inquisition to curtail discent (and free thinking) and the expulsion of the Jews and Moslems were major factors in Spain's decline.

Purifying Spain

After finally defeating the Moors in 1492, the Spanish monarchy embarked on an effort to purify Spain. Spain and Portugal had been the only countries of Western Europe conquered by Muslims and where Islam had taken root. Queen Isabella in particular was ardently Catholic. She had noted a laxity of faith in her dominions, particularly in the South. The Dominicans argued that Christianity in Spain was threatened by Conversos, suposedly insincere converted Moslems and Jews, as well as illuminists. A priority for the Inquistion became finding the false converts. Inquisition authorities dealt harshly with the Conversos, The Spanish Inquisition in the name of the Church, extended its reach deeply into every aspect of Spanish society. [Reston] I should be noted that neither the Dominicans or Isabella saw this effort to purify Spain as an act of intolerance or abuse of their subjects. They saw it as an act of kindness to bring misguided indiciduals to the true faith, saving them from eternal damnation.

The Targets

The Spanish Inquisition was administered by the Inquisitor General who maintained and oversaw local tribunals. Suspected heretics were often identified by the general population and then brought before the tribunal. The people thus identified might be actual heretics, but in many cases were people who behaved oddly or people with whom there were grudges of various kinds. There was an obvious racial element to the Inquisition. While the Inquisition certainly was not limited to Moors and Jews, but in the early years these were the people most heavily targeted. Jews and those of Jewish ancestry wre special targets of the Inquisition. ccounts mention Moors to a lesser degree. I am not precisely sure why this was. Perhaps the Moors were moor likely to flee after a Christain conquest. As the Inquisition progressed and the number of Jewish targets dwindled, the Inquisition not only pursued heretics but became involved in not only politics, but other crimes including some without any religioius connotations (polygamy, seduction, adultury, smuggling, usury, and other offenses).

Inquisition Process

The Spanish Inquisition was particularly terrifying because of its arbitary nature. After arrested the accused had not right to counsel or legal representaion. The accused was not informed who his or her accusers were. When arrested, the accused properties were seized. These properties were first administed by the Crown and later by the General Inquisitor. I am not sure what if any provisions was made for the accused family. The accused might be jailed for an extended period before being questioned by his inquisator. The accused were first given the opportunity of confessimg their heresy against the Catholic Church. They were also given the opportunity to indentify other heretics. The principle involved here was that heretics, especially Jewish hertics, were most likely to consort with other heretics. There were legal procedures involved, but the accused were not informed of the evidence against them or allowed to question their accusers. [Roth] Those who readily admitted their wrongs and identified other transgressors against the Church they were usually either released with a penance or sentenced to varying prison terms. If they would not readily admit their heresy or indict others the accused could be subjected to tortures to force confessions and denunciations of others. We are unsure to what extent an accused person was cleared by the Inquisition. Gven the financial incentives we suspect that this rarely occurred, but we know of no actual statistics on this matter.


The interogation and punishment of convicted heritics wa a cooperative effort between Church and state. The crimes persued by the Inquisition obstensibly involved concerned spiritual matters and they were thus conducted by the Church as seen here (figure 1). Actual punishments wre carried out by the civil authorities. Note the persons carrying out the execution in the image here are not monks or priests, but soldiers. The methods and tortures used to gain confessions are perhaps the most notorious aspects of the Spanish Inquisition. It should be remembered that torture was not uncommon at the time. It was widely utilized in crininal procedures throughout Europe at the time. The Church handled the interogation of thecaccused. I am not sure who precisely inflicted the totures. They ceratinly were ordered by Church (Inquisition) authorities. There were many means amd methods used for torture by the Inquisition. The idea here was to inflict pain to force confession, not to kill the accused, but deaths did occur. Although great pain was permitted, the inquisator was not permitted to draw blood. The two best knwn most means were the strappado (pulley) and the aselli (water torment). The strappado was a device that used ropes to ecure a person by their arms and legs. Weights were attached to the ends of these ropes. The person was by these ropes and a pully and then the ropes were released. This was extroninarily painful. The body would fall by the force of the weights, but not to the floor. The aselli involoved securing a person horizontally on a trestle with painful sharp-edged rungs. The person was then secured with an iron band. The trestle would be tilted to elevate the feet above their heads. The accused heretic then had a small piece of cloth forced onto into their mouth extending to the gullet. A jar (jarra) of water would then be slowly poured into the mouth and nose. This produced a harrowing state of semi-suffocation. The process would be continued over an extended period. In the mean time, the cords binding the accuded's limbs would be gradually tightened until they feel like they were about to explode. [Roth] Torture once begun would not be stopped until a confession was obtained, but a break might occur. If the torture of an accused heretic was stopped, the reguations governing the Inquisition prohibited its resumption. If the torture was suspended, however, it could be resumed. There were of course other devices and methods used. Different inquisators often had their own techniques to used against heretics. The tortures were inflicted on old and young and women to elicit information. We believe the primary target were men, but in fact know of no data to indicated to what extent women and children were tortured. No records exist as to individuals who were able to withstand these tortures. We suspect there were very few. The severity of the tortures in most cases were intensified until the person either died or confessed. And in any case the accused could be condenmned even if they did not confess.


There was no limit on how long an accused heretic might be inprisones. Conditions in the prisons were not good. I am not sure if family members wee allowed to visit. Friens would normally abaondon accused heretic, in part for fear of being denounced themselves. If an accused died in prison before judgement was past I am not sure what the normal procedure was We know that some as well as others who the Inquisition failed to apprehend were found guilty in absentia. Their dead bodies as well as effigies of those who had fled would be added to the fire in an auto-de-fé.

Auto-de-fé (Act of faith)

Convicted heretics were publically exposed at a large public ceremony know as a auto-de-fé or act of faith. Here there sentences were announced. Some were sentenced to life in prison or execution by fire. The burning of heretics was seen as an act of faith. Burning was the most severe punishmernt and reserved for heretics who would not admit their heresy, former heretics who relapsed, and various other dissenters. Burning was chosen as an act of purification and because the church believed that they should not be a direct party in the shedding of blood. The Inquisition authorities thus "relaxed" or handed over individuals judged guilty to secular authorities. Then the church would recommend mercy with the condition that if the accused heretic was found guilty that they be put to death. The secular authorities would then condemn those with "relaxed" status to death. [Roth] The Spanish Inquisition with its massive public autos-da-fé became notorious throughout Europe. Unlike the Roman Inquisition. death sentences in the Spanish Inquisition were quite common. Here there are no precise numbers. Estimates range widely one estimate suggests 3,000 to more than 40,000 individuals, but the time period is unclear. Another source suggests that over more than three centuries 323,362 people were actually burned and 17,659 were burned in effigy. By far the largest number of these involved Judaising. [Roth] An auto-de-fé was an important public spectical of the time. An example is a depiction by Berruguete. This image, despite the symbolic presence of St. Dominic, appears to accurately depict an auto-de-fé during the 15th and 16th centuries. This image shows the reprieve granted penitents who wear pointed hats. They were required to watch the buring of those not repreived as an object lesson and warning. Those condemned were throtted before burning. There would have been all manner of people witnessing the public auto-de-fés. There being no movies and television at the time, people would have flocked to these events for the drama involved. Whole familes would have attended and many children would have seem them.


I am nor sure about the prison terms asssessed by the Inquisition. I know some were sentenced to life which in prisons at the time were essentially a death sentence. Many of these individuals served as galley slaves. War ships in the 15th century still used galley slaves as oarsmem. I am not sure about lesser prison terms.


Seville in southern Spain is today the one of Spain's principal cities and the artistic, cultural, and financial capital of southern Spain. It is located on the plain of the River Guadalquivir. In the medieval era, the Guadalquivir provided access to the Atlantic Ocean. Seville was once the capital of the great Moorish kingdom--al Andalus. It was during the Medieval era under Muslim rule a center of scholarship and toleration. It was recaptured from the Moors late in the Reconquista (1248). A Spanish priest incited a vicious pogram against the Jews (1391). Isabella had noticed the lingering non-Catholic influences and the laxity of faith. It became after Columbus' discoveries the gateway to the Indies. It was the location of the Casa de Contratación which controlled so much of Spanish commerce with the Indies. Spain until the 16th century had no permanent capital, but Seville was in many ways Seville was the capital of the developing Spanish empire. It was also the center of the Inquisition. It wa located in Triana Castle. It was overseen by the Inquisitor General and four assistant inquisators. They had a substantial staff (prosecutor, judge, lawyers, magistrates, motary, accountant, porter, two chaplainssix theologians, and 50 familiares). One of the magistrates oversaw the secret prison. The other oversaw those confined for life. The notary recorded the interogations. The familares were the informants. The Inquisition condemened over 1,000 people to the flanes durinf its peak (1481-1522). About 2,000 people were condemned, but abjured (reconciliado). This was about half of the people burned in Spain during this period were burned in Seville. The Inquisition effecitevely created a Catholic Seville. It also destroyed the spirit of tolerance and intelectual inquiry that had been so prevalent in al Andalus. [Thomas, p. 528.] Despite the great wealth flowing in from the Indies, Seville and Spain itself became a cultural backwater at a time when Europe experienced an intelectual explosion

Protestant Reformation (1519)

Within a few decades of the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition, Martin Luthur posted his 95 Thesis (1519) and the Protestant Reformation swept Europe. The Inquisition by the 1540s is time was in the process of purifying Spain and now had a new evil to combat--Protestantism. There were relatively few Protestants in Spain, in part because of the Inquisition. There were Protestants in provinces that came under the control of Spain--especially the Spanish Netherlands. Had the Great Armada succeeded, England might have come under the jurisdiction of the Spanish Inquisition. They got a taste of what may have been under Queen Mary I who is know to history as Bloody Mary. The wide range of estimates as to the number of people executed by the Spanish Inquisition results in large part from the competing claims of Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation.


The Spanish Inquisition of course was not limited just to Spain. The Spanish Inquisition was pursued with great ferocity in the 16th century, throughout Spain and Spain's new colonies in America and Europe such as the Netherlands.


The barbarous methods used to extract confessions from the acused as well as witnesses appalled even contemporary Europe. While not as lurid as the enemies of Spain and the Church alleged, they were indeed appalling, especially for an arm of the Church.

The Papacy

The papacy eventually attempted to intervene in the Spanish Inquisition. The control of the Inquisition in Spain gave the monarchy unprecedented control over the Spanush Church. The Pope attampted to gain control of the Spanish Inquisition. Here the lurid accounts pf the excesses of the Inquisition may have been a factor. It is difficult to assess if this was the papacy's real concern or used as an excuse to gain control of the Inquiisition. Regardless the papacy was gave but were unable to wrench control of the Inquiisition from from the Spanish monarchy which as the Inquisition progressed found it a useful political as well as religious tool and was used rather as some American presidents have used the Internal Revenue Service.


The Spanish Inquisition evolved over time. The initial purpose was purify the new Spanish nation of heretics. Over time it became more materialistic as important sums of money were involved. Convicted heritics were stripped of their wealth and possessions. Also over time racial and political aspects emerged.


The Spanish Inquisition was feared throughout Europe. The truth was bad enough, but this was embellished and expanded on in Protestant propaganda and used to discredit Catholics throughout northern Europe.


I am not sure what happened to the families of the men condemed by the Inquisition. As regards Moors and Jews, whose families may have been involved in illicit religious practices. I'm not sure how the children were treated in such instances. I think the Church confiscated property (this needs to be confirmed), so even if not executed, the women and children would have been impoverished and faced a bleak future. Those conversos who continued to practice Islam or Judiasm did so at great peril. It would have been difficult to do so without children noticing and thus inquisators could obtain information from innocent children who may have no understanding of the dire consequences. If hiden from young children, how would parents tell children at a later time that they were not Christains?

Father Juan Antonio Urente

The intensity of the Inquisition began to relax in the 18th century. Eventually inquisators were requuired to obtain rotal authority for an arrest (1770). Father Juan Antonio Urente was in the 1790s the Secretary General of the Madrid Inquisition. He this had access to the ekaborate files of the Inquisition. His study of those files led him to the conckusion that the Inquisition had been a grave mistake and crime against thousands of peope. Urente desired to publish his findings, but in a Spain governed by a a monarchy close to the Church , this was impossible.

Napoleon's Peninsular Campaign (1808-14)

This changes when Napoleon sends French armies into Spain and occupies Madrid (1808). He deposes Charles IV and his son Ferdinand -- the Spanish Bourbons. He installed his brother Joseph as king. A Polish officer seized the files of Inquisition and liberated prioners, some as young as 15 years old who were being hekd in chains, The officer also finds hideous implements of torture. In the new climate, famed artist Francico Goya portays the horrors of the Inquisition in a series of drawings. Urente is now free to publish his findings about the Inquisition. He reports that during the a major portion of the Inquistion (1547-1699), about 90,000 people were examined and about 15 percent of those people were burned at the stake. The European public was horrified. For years Protestant propaganda had accused Soain nd the Church of terrible abuses. Urente now confirms with sactusal Church documdents that many of these chrges were true. King Joseph Bonaparete wawards the Order of Spain to Urente. Militry reverses, however, destoyed Napoleon. The Peninsular Campaign proves costly and then the Grand Armee is destoyed in Russia (1812). The French withdraw from Spain. The Code Civil is revoked. The Spanish begin arresting French suppoters (May 1814). The Inquisition is reinstituted and threatens heritics with a hot iron piercing their tongues. Goya is brought before the Inquisition for painting a naked lady. He manages to emerge with a light sentence where he spends the rest of his life. Urente also escapes to France where he publishes a detiled account of the Inquisition (1818).

Final Years

The Spanish Inqusition was fianlly abolished (1834).


The Spanish Inquisition is normally treated as an aberation and a footnote to Spanish history. In fact the Inquisition was a central development in Spanish history with profound consequences. It seems to have been a major factor in the decline of both Spain and Portugal from an advanced center of learning and creativity to an economic and cultural backwater. The three most important were 1) essentially a death sentence to critical thought and inovation, 2) an economic decline, and 3) the development of royal absolutism. The Inquisition was not the only factor involved here and scgolars debate the importance of the Inquisition. One has to ask why did Spain which had been the most advanced area of Europe in the medieval era become such a backward area which sparked few intelectual or technical advanced during subsequent European history. Here the Inquisition was a major factor as was the related expulsion of the Moors and Jews.
Critical thought: Medieval Spain was an important center of intelectual life. Spanish cities were unrivaled in Europe as centers of learning. Notable adances were achieved in architecture, mathematics, medicine, navigation, and other fields. Scholars engaged in critical thought at a time before universities existed elsewhere in Western Europe. It was Spain and neigborng Portugal which led Europe in its voyages of discovery. These voyages were based on superior technology. Yet after the initiation of the Spanish Inquisition Spain becomes a intellectual backwater, despite the arrival of vast wealth from its American colonies. Not only did the Inquisition have a stultifying affect on intellectual discussipn, but some of the best and most educated minds in the copuntry, the Jews and Conversos were driven out. Even by the time of the Armada (1588) Spain had fallen decidedly behind England (a rather backward country at the time) its naval engineering and gunnery. Beginning in the 16th centuary a steady stram of scientific advancements flowed from Western Christendom--but Spaniards are absent from the great minds of the era. One historian writes, "Works of science were also targeted, to significant effect in many places. Inventories of books confiscated in Spain suggest that Inquisition censors could be surpassingly diligent, removing scientific booksregardless of whether they were officially proscribed. Compared with that of other European countries, Spain's political and intellectual development proved to be sluggish. Historians are divided, but the Inquisition may be mong the reasons hy." [Murphy]
Economic development: Spain was a prosperous country in the 15th century, although the arid nature of the Iberian Peninsula somewhat limited Spanish agriculture. Spain was destined to become one of the poorest countries in Europe. Several factors are involved in this development. One factor was the erxpulsion of the Jews. It is no accident that their arrival in the Netherlamds followed that small country becoming an economic giant. As wealth became a target of the Inquisition, acquiring great wealth meant that you might become a target of the Inquisition. The ability of the Inquisition to confiscate wealth is hardly anenducement to invest and create wealth. The acquisition of wealth by the Inquisition put substantial sums in the hands of the Church which was largely used for unproductibe purposes.
Royal absolutism: The Spanish inquisition was a primary instrument of the Spanish monarchy in establishing an absolutist regime. Those who angered or threatened the monarchy might find themselves before the Inquisition.
Destructive force: The independence of the Inquisition allowed it to amass great wealth as result of thousands of confiscations. This made the Inquisition a power unto itself. [Roth, p. 73.] The Inquisition not only enabled the monarchy to establish political absolutism, but enabled it to establish considerable authority over the Spanish Church.


Hamilton, Bernard. The Medieval Inquisition (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1981).

Murphy, Cullen. God's Jury: The Inquisitionand the Making of the Modern World (2012).

O'Brien, John A. The Inquisition (New York: Macmillan; London: Collier Macmillan, 1973).

Peters, Edward. Inquisition (New York: Free Press; London: Collier Macmillan, 1988).

Plaidy, Jean. The Spanish Inquisition (New York: The Citadel Press, 1967).

Reston, James Jr. Dogs of God: Columus, the Inqwuisition and the Defeat of the Moors (Doubleday, 2005), 363p.

Thomas, Hugh. Rivers of Gold: Thec Rise of the Spanish Empire, from Columbus to Magellan (Random House, New York, 2005), 696p.

Roth, Cecil. The Spanish Inquisition (W. W. Norton & Company, 1964).


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Last updated: 9:44 AM 1/9/2013