Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Spain
Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición
Seal for the Tribunal in Spain
|Established||1 November 1478|
|Disbanded||15 July 1834|
|Seats||Consisted of a Grand Inquisitor, who headed the Council of the Supreme and General Inquisition, made up of six members. Under it were up to 21 tribunals in the empire.|
|Grand Inquisitor and Suprema designated by the crown|
The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition (Spanish: Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición), commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition (Inquisición española), was established in 1478 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms and to replace the Medieval Inquisition, which was under Papal control. It became the most substantive of the three different manifestations of the wider Catholic Inquisition along with the Roman Inquisition and Portuguese Inquisition. The “Spanish Inquisition” may be defined broadly, operating in Spain and in all Spanish colonies and territories, which included the Canary Islands, the Kingdom of Naples, and all Spanish possessions in North, Central, and South America. According to modern estimates, around 150,000 were prosecuted for various offenses during the three-century duration of the Spanish Inquisition, out of which between 3,000 and 5,000 were executed (~2.7% of all cases).
The Inquisition was originally intended primarily to identify heretics among those who converted from Judaism and Islam to Catholicism. The regulation of the faith of newly converted Catholics was intensified after the royal decrees issued in 1492 and 1502 ordering Muslims and Jews to convert to Catholicism or leave Castile. The Inquisition was not definitively abolished until 1834, during the reign of Isabella II, after a period of declining influence in the preceding century.
The Inquisition was created through papal bull, Ad Abolendam, issued at the end of the 12th century by Pope Lucius III to combat the Albigensian heresy in southern France. There were a large number of tribunals of the Papal Inquisition in various European kingdoms during the Middle Ages through different diplomatic and political means. In the Kingdom of Aragon, a tribunal of the Papal Inquisition was established by the statute of Excommunicamus of Pope Gregory IX, in 1232, during the era of the Albigensian heresy, as a condition for peace with Aragon. The Inquisition was ill-received by the Aragonese, which led to prohibitions against insults or attacks on it. Rome was particularly concerned about the ‘heretical’ influence of the Iberian peninsula’s large Muslim and Jewish population on the Catholic. It pressed the kingdoms to accept the Papal Inquisition after Aragon. Navarra conceded in the 13th century and Portugal by the end of the 14th, though its ‘Roman Inquisition’ was famously inactive. Castile refused steadily, trusting on its prominent position in Europe and its military power to keep the Pope’s interventionism in check. By the end of the Middle Ages, England, due to distance and voluntary compliance, and Castile (future part of Spain) due to resistance and power, were the only Western European kingdoms to successfully resist the establishment of the Inquisition in their realms.
Medieval Inquisition in Aragon
Although Raymond of Penyafort was not an inquisitor, as a canon lawyer and king’s advisor James I of Aragon had often consulted him on questions of law regarding the practices of the Inquisition in the king’s domains. “…[T]he lawyer’s deep sense of justice and equity, combined with the worthy Dominican’s sense of compassion, allowed him to steer clear of the excesses that were found elsewhere in the formative years of the inquisitions into heresy.”
Despite its early implantation, the Papal Inquisition was greatly resisted within the Crown of Aragon by both population and monarchs. With time, its importance was diluted, and, by the middle of the fifteenth century, it was almost forgotten although still there according to the law.
Regarding the living conditions of minorities, the kings of Aragon and other monarchies imposed some discriminatory taxation of religious minorities, so false conversions were a way of tax evasion.
In addition to the above discriminatory legislation, Aragon had laws specifically targeted at protecting minorities. For example, crusaders attacking Jewish or Muslim subjects of the King of Aragon while on their way to fight in the reconquest were punished with death by hanging. Up to the 14th century, the census and wedding records show an absolute lack of concern with avoiding intermarriage or blood mixture. Such laws were now common in most of central Europe. Both the Roman Inquisition and neighbouring Christian powers showed discomfort with Aragonese law and lack of concern with ethnicity, but to little effect. High-ranking officials of Jewish religion were not as common as in Castile, but were not unheard of either. Abraham Zacuto was a professor at the university of Cartagena. Vidal Astori was the royal silversmith for Ferdinand II of Aragon and conducted business in his name. And King Ferdinand himself was said to have Jewish ancestry on his mother’s side.
Medieval Inquisition in Castile
There was never a tribunal of the Papal Inquisition in Castile, nor any inquisition during the Middle Ages. Members of the episcopate were charged with surveillance of the faithful and punishment of transgressors, always under the direction of the king.
During the Middle Ages in Castile, the Catholic ruling class and the population paid little or no attention to heresy. Castile did not have the proliferation of anti-Jewish pamphlets as England and France did during the 13th and 14th centuries—and those that have been found were modified, watered-down versions of the original stories. Jews and Muslims were tolerated and generally allowed to follow their traditional customs in domestic matters.
The legislation regarding Muslims and Jews in Castilian territory varied greatly, becoming more intolerant during the period of great instability and dynastic wars that occurred by the end of the 14th century. Castilian law is particularly difficult to summarize since due to the model of the free Royal Villas mayors and the population of border areas had the right to create their own fueros (law) that varied from one villa to the next. In general, the Castilian model was parallel to the initial model of Islamic Spain. Non-Catholics were subject to discriminatory legislation regarding taxation and some other specific discriminatory legislation-such as a prohibition on wearing silk or “flashy clothes” – that varied from county to county, but were otherwise left alone. Forced conversion of minorities was against the law, and so was the belief in the existence of witchcraft, oracles or similar superstitions. In general, all “people from the book” were permitted to practice their own customs and religions as far as they did not attempt proselytizing on the Christian population. Jews particularly had surprising freedoms and protections compared with other areas of Europe and were allowed to hold high public offices such as the counselor, treasurer or secretary for the crown.
During most of the medieval period intermarriage with converts was allowed and encouraged. The intellectual cooperation between religions was the norm in Castile. Some examples are the Toledo School of Translators from the 11th century. Jews and moriscos were allowed to hold high offices in the administration (See Abrahám Seneor, Samuel Abolafia, Yusé Abrabanel, López de Conchillos, Miguel Pérez de Almazán, Jaco Aben Nunnes and Fernando del Pulgar).[verification needed]
A tightening of the laws to protect the right of Jews to collect loans during the Medieval Crisis was one of the causes of the revolt against Peter the Cruel and catalyst of the anti-semitic episodes of 1490 in Castile, a kingdom that had shown no significant antisemitic backlash to the black death and drought crisis of the early 14th century. Even after the sudden increase in hostility towards other religions that the kingdom experienced after the 14th-century crisis, which clearly worsened the living conditions of non-Catholics in Castile, it remained one of the most tolerant kingdoms in Europe.
The kingdom had serious tensions with Rome regarding the Church’s attempts to extend its authority into it. A focus of conflict was Castilian resistance to truly abandon the Mozarabic Rite, and the refusal to grant Papal control over Reconquest land (a request Aragon and Portugal conceded). These conflicts added up with a strong resistance to allowing the creation of an Inquisition, and the kingdom’s general willingness to accept the heretics that came in seeking refuge from prosecution in France.
Creation of the Spanish Inquisition
There are several hypotheses of what prompted the creation of the tribunal after centuries of tolerance (within the context of medieval Europe).
The “Too Multi-Religious” hypothesis
The Spanish Inquisition (Inquisición Española) is interpretable as a response to the multi-religious nature of Spanish society following the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslim Moors. After invading in 711, large areas of the Iberian Peninsula were ruled by Muslims until 1250, afterwards they were restricted to Granada, which fell in 1492. However, the Reconquista did not result in the total expulsion of Muslims from Spain, since they, along with Jews, were tolerated by the ruling Christian elite. Large cities, especially Seville, Valladolid and Barcelona, had significant Jewish populations centered on Juderia, but in the coming years the Muslims became increasingly alienated and relegated from power centers.
Post-reconquest medieval Spain has been characterized by Americo Castro as a society of relatively peaceful co-existence (convivencia) punctuated by occasional conflict among the ruling Catholics and the Jews and Muslims. However, as historian Henry Kamen notes, the “so-called convivencia was always a relationship between unequals.” Despite their legal inequality, there was a long tradition of Jewish service to the Crown of Aragon and Jews occupied many important posts, both religious and political. Castile itself had an unofficial rabbi. Ferdinand’s father John II named the Jewish Abiathar Crescas Court Astronomer.
Anti-semitic attitudes increased all over Europe during the late 13th century and throughout the 14th century. England and France expelled their Jewish populations in 1290 and 1306 respectively. At the same time, during the Reconquista, Spain’s anti-Jewish sentiment steadily increased. This prejudice climaxed in the summer of 1391 when violent anti-Jewish riots broke out in Spanish cities like Barcelona To linguistically distinguish them from non-converted or long-established Catholic families, new converts were called conversos, or New Catholics. This event though must be understood in the context of the fierce civil war and new politics that Peter the Cruel had brought to the land, and not be confused with spontaneous anti-semitic reactions to the plague seen in northern Europe.
According to Don Hasdai Crescas, persecution against Jews began in earnest in Seville in 1391, on the 1st day of the lunar month Tammuz (June). From there the violence spread to Córdoba, and by the 17th day of the same lunar month, it had reached Toledo (called then by Jews after its Arabic name “Ṭulayṭulah”) in the region of Castile. From there, the violence had spread to Majorca and by the 1st day of the lunar month Elul it had also reached the Jews of Barcelona in Catalonia, where the slain were estimated at two-hundred and fifty. Indeed, many Jews who resided in the neighboring provinces of Lérida and Gironda and in the kingdom of València had also been affected, as were also the Jews of Al-Andalus (Andalucía), while many died a martyr’s death, others converted to save themselves.
Encouraged by the preaching of Ferrand Martínez, Archdeacon of Ecija, the general unrest affected nearly all of the Jews in Spain, during which time an estimated 200,000 Jews changed their religion or else concealed their religion, becoming known in Hebrew as “Anūsim”, meaning, “those who are compelled [to hide their religion].” Only a handful of the more principal persons of the Jewish community managed to escape, who had found refuge among the viceroys in the outlying towns and districts.
Forced baptism was contrary to the law of the Catholic Church, and theoretically anybody who had been forcibly baptized could legally return to Judaism. Legal definitions of the time theoretically acknowledged that a forced baptism was not a valid sacrament, but confined this to cases where it was literally administered by physical force: a person who had consented to baptism under threat of death or serious injury was still regarded as a voluntary convert, and accordingly forbidden to revert to Judaism. After the public violence, many of the converted “felt it safer to remain in their new religion.” Thus, after 1391, a new social group appeared and were referred to as conversos or New Christians. Many conversos, now freed from the anti-Semitic restrictions imposed on Jewish employment, attained important positions in fifteenth-century Spain, including positions in the government and in the Church. Among many others, physicians Andrés Laguna and Francisco Lopez Villalobos (Ferdinand’s court physician), writers Juan del Enzina, Juan de Mena, Diego de Valera and Alonso de Palencia, and bankers Luis de Santángel and Gabriel Sánchez (who financed the voyage of Christopher Columbus) were all conversos. Conversos – not without opposition – managed to attain high positions in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, at times becoming severe detractors of Judaism. Some even received titles of nobility, and as a result, during the following century some works attempted to demonstrate that virtually all of the nobles of Spain were descended from Israelites.
The “Enforcement Across Borders” hypothesis
According to this hypothesis, the Inquisition was created to standardize the variety of laws and many jurisdictions Spain was divided into. It would be an administrative program analogous to the Santa Hermandad (the “Holy Brotherhood”, a law enforcement body, answering to the crown, that prosecuted thieves and criminals across counties in a way local county authorities could not, ancestor to the Guardia Civil), an institution that would guarantee uniform prosecution of crimes against royal laws across all local jurisdictions.
The Kingdom of Castile had been prosperous and successful in Europe thanks in part to the unusual authority and control the king exerted over the nobility, which ensured political stability and kept the kingdom from being weakened by in-fighting (as was the case in England, for example). However, under the Trastámara dynasty, both kings of Castile and Aragon had lost power to the great nobles, who now formed dissenting and conspiratorial factions. Taxation and varying privileges differed from county to county, and powerful noble families constantly extorted the kings to attain further concessions, particularly in Aragon.
The main goals of the reign of the Catholic Monarchs were to unite their two kingdoms and strengthen royal influence to guarantee stability. In pursuit of this, they sought to further unify the laws of their realms and reduce the power of the nobility in certain local areas. They attained this partially by raw military strength by creating a combined army between the two of them that could outmatch the army of most noble coalitions in the Peninsula. However, it was impossible to change the entire laws of both realms by force alone, and due to reasonable suspicion of one another the monarchs kept their kingdoms separate during their lifetimes. The only way to unify both kingdoms and ensure that Isabella, Ferdinand, and their descendants maintained the power of both kingdoms without uniting them in life was to find, or create, an executive, legislative and judicial arm directly under the Crown empowered to act in both kingdoms. This goal, the hypothesis goes, might have given birth to the Spanish Inquisition.
The religious organization to oversee this role was obvious: Catholicism was the only institution common to both kingdoms, and the only one with enough popular support that the nobility could not easily attack it. Through the Spanish Inquisition, Isabella and Ferdinand created a personal police force and personal code of law that rested above the structure of their respective realms without altering or mixing them, and could operate freely in both. As the Inquisition had the backing of both kingdoms, it would exist independent of both the nobility and local interests of either kingdom.
According to this view, the prosecution of heretics would be secondary, or simply not considered different, from the prosecution of conspirators, traitors, or groups of any kind who planned to resist royal authority. At the time, royal authority rested on divine right and on oaths of loyalty held before God, so the connection between religious deviation and political disloyalty would appear obvious. This hypothesis is supported by the disproportionately high representation of the nobility and high clergy among those investigated by the Inquisition, as well as by the many administrative and civil crimes the Inquisition oversaw. The Inquisition prosecuted the counterfeiting of royal seals and currency, ensured the effective transmission of the orders of the kings, and verified the authenticity of official documents traveling through the kingdoms, especially from one kingdom to the other. See “Non-Religious Crimes”.
The “Placate Europe” hypothesis
At a time when most of Europe had already expelled the Jews from the Christian kingdoms the “dirty blood” of Spaniards was met with open suspicion and contempt by the rest of Europe. As the world became smaller and foreign relations became more relevant to stay in power this foreign image of “being the seed of Jews and Moors” may have become a problem. In addition, the coup that allowed Isabella to take the throne from Joana of Avis and the Catholic Monarchs to marry had estranged Castile from Portugal, its historical ally, and created the need for new relationships. Similarly, Aragon’s ambitions lay in control of the Mediterranean and the defense against France. As their policy of royal marriages proved, the Catholic Monarchs were deeply concerned about France’s growing power and expected to create strong dynastic alliances across Europe. In this scenario, the Iberian reputation of being too tolerant was a problem.
Despite the prestige earned through the reconquest (reconquista) that foreign image on Spaniards coexisted with an almost universal image of heretics and “bad Christians” due to the long coexistence between the three religions, they had accepted in their lands. Anti-Jewish stereotypes created to justify or prompt the expulsion and expropriation of the European Jews were also applied to Spaniards in most European courts, and the idea of them being “greedy, gold-thirsty, cruel and violent”, “like Jews”, due to the “Jewish and Moorish blood” was prevalent in Europe before America was discovered by Europeans. Chronicles by foreign travelers circulated through Europe, describing the tolerant ambiance reigning in the court of Isabella and Ferdinand and how Moors and Jews were free to go about without anyone trying to convert them. Past and common clashes between the Pope and the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, regarding the Inquisition in Castile’s case and regarding South Italy in Aragon’s case, also reinforced their image of heretics in the international courts. These accusations and images could have direct political and military consequences at the time, especially considering that the union of two powerful kingdoms was a particularly delicate moment that could prompt the fear and violent reactions from neighbors, even more if combined with the expansion of the Ottoman Turks on the Mediterranean.
The creation of the Inquisition and the expulsion of both Jews and Moriscos may have been part of a strategy to whitewash the image of Spain and ease international fears regarding Spain’s allegiance. In this scenario, the creation of the Inquisition could have been part of the Catholic’s Monarch strategy to ” turn” away from African allies and “towards” Europe, a tool to turn both actual Spain and the Spanish image more European and improve relations with the Pope.
The “Ottoman Scare” hypothesis
No matter if any of the previous hypotheses were already operating in the minds of the monarchs, the alleged discovery of Morisco plots to support a possible Ottoman invasion were crucial factors in their decision to create the Inquisition.
At this time, the Ottoman Empire was in expansion and making its power noticeable in the Mediterranean and North Africa. At the same time, the Aragonese Mediterranean Empire was crumbling under debt and war exhaustion. Ferdinand reasonably feared that he would not be capable of repelling an Ottoman attack to Spain’s shores, especially if the Ottomans had internal help. The regions with the highest concentration of Moriscos were those close to the common naval crossings between Spain and Africa. If the weakness of the Aragonese Naval Empire was combined with the resentment of the higher nobility against the monarchs, the dynastic claims of Portugal on Castile and the two monarch’s exterior politic that turned away from Morocco and other African nations in favor of Europe, the fear of a second Muslim invasion, and thus a second Muslim occupation was hardly unfounded. This fear may have been the base reason for the expulsion of those citizens who had either a religious reason to support the invasion of the Ottomans (Moriscos) or no particular religious reason to not do it (Jews). The Inquisition might have been part of the preparations to enforce these measures and ensure their effectiveness by rooting out false converts that would still pose a threat of foreign espionage.
In favor of this view there is the obvious military sense it makes, and the many early attempts of peaceful conversion and persuasion that the Monarchs used at the beginning of their reign, and the sudden turn towards the creation of the Inquisition and the edicts of expulsion when those initial attempts failed. The conquest of Naples by the Gran Capitan is also proof of an interest in Mediterranean expansion and re-establishment of Spanish power in that sea that was bound to generate frictions with the Ottoman Empire and other African nations. So, the Inquisition would have been created as a permanent body to prevent the existence of citizens with religious sympathies with African nations now that rivalry with them had been deemed unavoidable.
Philosophical and Religious Reasons
The creation of the Spanish Inquisition would be consistent with the most important political philosophers of the Florentine School, with whom the kings were known to have contact (Guicciardini, Pico della Mirandola, Machiavelli, Segni, Pitti, Nardi, Varchi, etc.) Both Guicciardini and Machiavelli defended the importance of centralization and unification to create a strong state capable of repelling foreign invasions, and also warned of the dangers of excessive social uniformity to the creativity and innovation of a nation. Machiavelli considered piety and morals desirable for the subjects but not so much for the ruler, who should use them as a way to unify its population. He also warned of the nefarious influence of a corrupt church in the creation of a selfish population and middle nobility, which had fragmented the peninsula and made it unable to resist either France or Aragon. German philosophers at the time were spreading the importance of a vassal to share the religion of their lord.
The Inquisition may have just been the result of putting these ideas into practice. The use of religion as a unifying factor across a land that was allowed to stay diverse and maintain different laws in other respects, and the creation of the Inquisition to enforce laws across it, maintain said religious unity and control the local elites were consistent with most of those teachings.
Alternatively, the enforcement of Catholicism across the realm might indeed be the result of simple religious devotion or a belief in a mystic religious deity by the monarchs. The recent scholarship on the expulsion of the Jews leans towards the belief of religious motivations being at the bottom of it. but considering the reports on Ferdinand’s political persona, that is unlikely the only reason. Ferdinand was described, among others, by Machiavelli, as a man who didn’t know the meaning of piety, but who made political use of it and would have achieved little if he had really known it. He was Machiavelli’s main inspiration while writing The Prince.
The “Keeping the Pope in Check” hypothesis
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church had made many attempts during the Middle Ages to take over Christian Spain politically, such as claiming the Church’s ownership over all land reconquered from non-Christians (a claim that was rejected by Castille but accepted by Aragon and Portugal). In the past, the papacy had tried and partially succeeded, in forcing the Mozarabic Rite out of Iberia. Its meddling attempts had been pivotal for Aragon’s loss of Rosellon.[clarification needed] The meddling regarding Aragon’s control over South Italy was even stronger historically. In their lifetime, the Catholic Monarchs had problems with Pope Paul II, a very strong proponent of absolute authority for the church over the kings. Carrillo actively opposed them both and often used Spain’s “mixed blood” as an excuse to intervene. The papacy and the monarch of Europe had been involved in a war for power all through the high Middle Ages that Rome had already won in other powerful kingdoms like France. Since the legitimacy granted by the church was necessary both, especially Isabella, to stay in power, the creation of the Spanish Inquisition may have been a way to apparently concede to the Pope’s demands and criticism regarding Spain’s mixed religious heritage, while at the same time ensuring that the Pope could hardly force the second inquisition of his own, and at the same time create a tool to control the power of the Roman Church in Spain. The Spanish Inquisition was unique at the time because it did not depend on the Pope in the slightest. Once the bull of creation was granted, the head of the Inquisition was the Monarch of Spain. It was in charge of enforcing the laws of the king regarding religion and other private-life matters, not of following orders from Rome, from which it was independent. This independence allowed the Inquisition to investigate, prosecute and convict clergy for both corruptions (pedophilia, forgery of documents, etc.) and possible charges of treason of conspiracy against the crown (on the Pope’s behalf presumably) without the Pope’s intervention. The inquisition was, despite its title of “Holy”, not necessarily formed by the clergy and secular lawyers were equally welcome to it. If it was an attempt at keeping Rome out of Spain, it was an extremely successful and refined one. It was a bureaucratic body that had the nominal authority of the church and permission to prosecute members of the church, which the kings could not do, while answering only to the Spanish Crown. This did not prevent the Pope from having some influence on the decisions of Spanish monarchs, but it did force the influence to be through the kings, making direct influence very difficult.