The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8

Author: William H. Rule  | Date: A.D. 1480

Inquisition Established in Spain

A.D. 1480


Prior to the twelfth century the church authorities had been content with defining heresy, while the treatment of heretics was left to secular magistrates. But the spread of heresy at the end of the twelfth century caused the episcopal authorities to look for some occasion for enlarging their prerogatives. In 1204 Pope Innocent III appointed a papal delegate with authority to judge and punish misbelievers. From this germ sprung the Holy Office, commonly known as the Inquisition.

This papal act met with some opposition from the bishops, upon whose prerogatives it encroached; and it provoked rebellion among those against whom it was directed, the Albigenses of Southern France, whose doctrines were spreading into Italy. Ia 1208 Innocent began a crusade against them, which was led by Arnold of Citeaux and Simon de Montfort, and proved a bloody war of extermination, lasting several years.

Meanwhile the papacy gradually proceeded in the design of creating a tribunal under its own direct control. Such a tribunal was soon practically instituted. Its leading spirit was St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican order of preaching friars, but the title of Inquisitor was not yet adopted at the time of his death, in 1221. St. Dominic, however, is with good reason regarded as the founder of the Inquisition.

After the death of St. Dominic the Inquisition gradually assumed a more definite and avowed character, and its repressive hand, inflicting terrible punishments upon accused heretics, was soon felt throughout Southern Europe, and later in the Netherlands, the order of St. Dominic at first furnishing its principal agents.

But later the Inquisition entered upon another stage, under Spanish direction, through a specific organization, practically independent of papal or royal control, though acting under the sanction of both church and state. It became "the most formidable of irresponsible engines in the annals of religious institutions." Two points of view—Protestant and Catholic—are here presented of the Spanish history of the Holy Office.


"Better and happier luck for Spain"—I translate the words of Mariana—"was the establishment in Castile, which took place about this time, of a new and holy tribunal of severe and grave judges, for the purpose of making inquest and chastising heretical pravity and apostasy, judges other than the bishops, on whose charge and authority this office was anciently incumbent. For this intent the Roman pontiffs gave them authority, and order was given that the princes should help them with their favor and arm. These judges were called ’inquisitors,’ because of the office which they exercised of hunting out and making inquest, a custom now very general in Italy, France, Germany, and also in the kingdom of Aragon. Castile, henceforth, would not suffer any nation to go beyond her in the desire which she always had to punish such enormous and wicked excesses. We find mention, before this, of some inquisitors who discharged this function, but not in the manner and force of those who followed them.

"The chief author and instrument of this salutary grant was the Cardinal of Spain (Mendoza), who had seen that, in consequence of the great liberty of past years, and from the mingling of Moors and Jews with Christians in all sorts of conversation and trade, many things went out of order in the kingdom. With that liberty it was impossible that some of the Christians should not be infected. Many more, leaving the religion which they had voluntarily embraced as converts from Judaism, again apostatized and returned to their old superstition—an evil which prevailed more in Seville than in any other part. In that city, therefore, secret searches were first made, and they severely punished those whom they found guilty. If their delinquency was considerable after having kept them long time imprisoned, and after having tormented them, they burned them. If it was light, they punished the offenders, with the perpetual dishonor of their family. Of not a few they confiscated the goods, and condemned them to imprisonment for life. On most of them they put a sambenito, which is a sort of scapulary of yellow color, with a red St. Andrew’s cross, that they might go marked among their neighbors, and bear a signal that should affright and scare by the greatness of the punishment and of the disgrace; a plan which experience has shown to be very salutary, although, at first, it seemed very grievous to the natives."

Cardinal Mendoza might have been an instrument of establishing the new tribunal in Spain, but no author was wanted for that work. Pope Gregory IX, fit successor of Innocent III, had completed in Spain, as in the county of Toulouse and kingdom of France, the scheme which his uncle Innocent began. By a bull, dated May 26, 1232, he appointed Dominican friars inquisitors in Aragon, and forthwith proceeded to confer the same benefit on the kingdoms of Navarre, Castile, and Portugal; Granada being in possession of the Moors. Ten years later, in a council at Tarragona, the chief technicalities of the Spanish Inquisition were settled. At the invitation of Peter, Archbishop of Tarragona, Raymund of Penaforte, the Pope’s penitentiary, presided. The definitions of the council are notable for the determination they evidence to conduct the affairs of the tribunal with entire legal precision and formality. The "vocabulary" was now settled, and one has only to turn to the Acts of the Council of Tarragona to find the exact meaning of "heretic, believer, suspected, simple, vehement, most vehement, favorer, concealer, receiver, receptacle, defender, abettor, relapsed."

As everyone may well know, no inconsiderable part of the Spanish population consisted of Jews, many of whose ancestors had taken refuge in that country, or had settled there for purposes of commerce, ages before the birth of our Lord, and their number had been increased from time to time, in consequence of imperial edicts which drove them from Italy, or by the attractions of honor and wealth in Spain. They were the most industrious and therefore the most wealthy people in those kingdoms, and had possessed great influence. Their learned men occupied important stations as physicians, agents of government, and even officers of state; while the "New Christians," or Jews professedly converted to Christianity, were intermarried with the highest families in Spain, and all this had taken place in spite of the enmity of the clergy, popular bigotry, and the adverse legislation of cortes or parliaments. But the wealth which procured Jews and New Christians so much worldly influence became the occasion of great suffering. The "Old Christians," being less industrious, and therefore less affluent, were frequently their debtors. And although usury was checked by legislators, who dreaded its pressure on themselves, and debts were often repudiated, the Jews maintained their position of creditors; and, as the Cartilla says, creditors are often unreason able persons, or, at least, are considered to be such. Christians of pure blood, therefore, finding themselves involved in long reckonings, became increasingly impatient, and, under a cloak of zeal for the Catholic religion, were incessantly embroiling them with the magistracy or stirring up the populace against them.

Llorente estimates the number of Jews who perished under the fury of mobs, in the year 1391, at upward of one hundred thousand. To evade persecution, multitudes submitted to be baptized. More than a million had changed name at the end of the fourteenth century. After those tumults controversial preachers, such as San Vicente Ferrer, declaimed for popery against Judaism; and in the first ten years of the fifteenth century a second multitude of forced converts threw themselves into the bosom of the Romish Church, to the discouragement of their brethern and to their own confusion at last. They were set under the keenest vigilance of the inquisitors, without being able even to counterfeit any attachment to the Church, whose most grievous yoke they had put on, but which in heart they hated.

Now the Church gloried over the declension of Judaism. In presence of Benedict XIII, antipope, a Spaniard, wandering in Spain, because in Rome they would not own him, a formal disputation was carried on for sixty-nine days between Jerome of Santa Fe and other converts—or, as the Jews not improperly called them, apostates—on the one side, and a company of rabbis on the other. Such a controversy, carried on even in the presence of a half-pope, could only come to the prescribed conclusion; and after seeing all persuasion and corruption exhausted to bring over the Hebrews to his sect, but without much success, Benedict closed the debate, pronounced the Jews vanquished, and gave them notice of severer measures. The richer from interest, the poorer from bigotry, and the priesthood from instinct, poured contempt even on proselytes, whom they classified according to their supposed degrees of heterodoxy. Some were called "converts," to note the newness of their Christianity; others "confessed," to tell that they had confessed the falseness of Judaism. Sometimes they were branded as "maranos," from the words maran atha, which the priests, in their ignorance, took to mean "accursed." The whole were spoken of as a generation of maranos, or, worst of all in the imagination of a papist, "Jews." Goaded by the cowardly persecution, the proselytes groaned after deliverance; a few even dared to renounce the profession of a faith they never held, and many resumed the practice of Jewish rites in private. This opened a new field to the zeal of the inquisitors; but the labor of suppressing a revolt so widely spread, so rapidly extending, and even infecting the Romish families with whom the imperfect converts were united, was more than the inquisitors could undertake without a more powerfully organized system of their own.

I believe that the fear of the Bible and the hatred of the Jews of Spain, first imprinted in the page of history by the Council of Illiberis in the beginning of the fourth century, was in course of time much aggravated by the earnest love of the Spanish Jews for the original scriptures of the Old Testament. It was not until the eleventh century that rabbinical tradition gained much hold in the Jewish mind in Spain, but, from the first, Christians had cursed Jews in sincere but blind zeal against the descendants, as they thought, of those who crucified our Lord in Jerusalem. Yet the Sephardim in Spain could have had no knowledge of the Crucifixion until some weeks, at soonest, after it had taken place, and perhaps never knew of the hostility of the Jews in Jerusalem against the Saviour.

Until the dispersion of the Eastern colleges in the eleventh century, no great rabbis came into Spain with pretension of authority to enforce Talmudical traditions. When zealots of the sort did come, they found a community of Hebrews far superior to the Jews of Palestine. No Assyrian had bribed them to worship the gods of Nineveh. Their neighbors the Carthaginians, so long as Carthage stood, had persisted in worshipping the Baal and the Ashtaroth that recreant Israelites in Samaria and Jews in Jerusalem worshipped for ages; but, while those gods had altars in Sidon and in Carthage, we do not hear of any altars being raised to them in "the captivity of Jerusalem, which was in Sepharad," or Spain (Obadiah, 20); neither do we hear that those Jews betrayed any ambition to make a hedge to protect God’s law, instead of taking care to keep it. But the first propagators of traditionism in Spain came from the East, on the breaking up of the great schools of Babylonia by the Persians. Ancient or Karaite synagogues remained in Spain until the expulsion of Jews at the close of the fifteenth century, and yet much later in the provinces that were not annexed to the United Kingdom of Castilla and Leon under Ferdinand and Isabella. Some of the strongest features of biblical learning imparted to the literature of the Reformation in its earlier stages proceeded from the converted Jews of Spain.

About the year 1470, when the persecution of both Jews and Mahometans was at its height—except in the kingdom of Granada—and when the testimony quoted from the Old Testament against worship of images must have been extremely galling to the worshippers, the priests thought it necessary to enforce the prohibition of vernacular versions of the Bible. Such versions, we know, were then circulated more freely in France, Spain, and Portugal. In Spain, one of the chief translators was Rabbi Moses of Toledo. To put a stop to Bible-reading, an appeal was made to Pope Paul II, who prohibited the translation of the holy Scriptures "into the languages of the nations." This authority was quoted in the Council of Trent by Cardinal Pacheco, in justification of the practice of the Church of Rome in his day; but another cardinal, Madrucci, arguing against him, replied with cutting calmness that "Paul, of popes the second," or any other pope, might be easily deceived in judging of the fitness or unfitness of a law, but not so Paul the Apostle, who taught that God’s word should never depart from the mouth of the faithful.

During the persecutions of the fifteenth century, while Ferdinand and Isabella made progress in reconquering the kingdom of Granada from the Moors, and Mahometanism, like Judaism, was declining, the Moriscoes, a middle class, resembling the New Christians, and not less dangerous to Romanism, also challenged the powers of the Inquisition. No other country in popedom was at that time more deeply imbued with disaffection of the doctrines and worship of the Church of Rome. Then In 1477, one Brother Philip de’ Barberi, a Sicilian inquisitor, came to the court of Ferdinand and Isabella, who were sovereigns of Sicily, to solicit the confirmation of some privileges recently granted to the Holy Office in that island; and, having observed the peril of the Church within the enlarged and united dominions of "the Catholic kings" under whose rule nearly all Spain was comprehended, advised the creation of one undivided court of inquisition, like that of Sicily, as the only means of defence against the maranos, Moriscoes, Jews, and Mussulmans.

The advice was quickly taken. First of all, the Dominicans, and after them the dignitaries of the secular clergy, crowded round the throne to pray for a reformation of the Inquisition after the Sicilian model. They appealed to the greed of King Ferdinand by offering him the proceeds of a confiscation, which might be rapidly effected, in pursuance of laws of the Church to that intent provided. They appealed to the piety of Queen Isabella, and were careful that tales of Jewish murders and Jewish desecrations should be poured incessantly into the royal ear. Ferdinand had no scruple. He sincerely prayed the Pope to sanction such a measure, and, swiftly as couriers could bring it, came the desired bull. Isabella could not blame the zeal of priests and monks; for she, too, was a zealot. She could not gainsay the urgency of the nuncio. She could not quench in her husband’s bosom the thirst of gold. But she had brought half the kingdom as her dower; and therefore some deference was due to her conscience and judgment, and both in conscience and judgment she desired gentler measures. During two or three years her orator and confessor wrote books, and preachers were permitted to publish arguments, and disputants to enter into conferences, for the conviction of the Jews.

At her majesty’s request, Cardinal Mendoza issued a constitution in Seville, in 1478, containing "the form that should be observed with a Christian from the day of his birth, as well in the sacrament of baptism as in all other sacraments which he ought to receive, and of what he should be taught, and ought to do and believe as a faithful Christian, every day, and at all times of his life, until the day of his death. And he ordered this to be published in all the churches of the city, and put in tables in each parish, as a settled constitution. He also published a summary of what curates and clerks should teach their parishioners, and what the parishioners should observe and show to their children." Thus does Hernando del Pulgar, in his Chronicle of the Catholic Sovereigns, describe what some too hastily call a catechism. It was merely a standard of things to be believed and done, set forth by authority. The King and Queen also, not the Cardinal, commanded "some friars, clerks, and other religious persons to teach the people." But no true Jew would let himself be taught that idolatry is not damnable; and even the less discouraging issues of controversy with the vacillating or the ignorant were not honestly reported.

The constitution of Cardinal Mendoza and the harangues of the friars were ineffectual, as well they might be, for the Jews knew that the Christians had a sacred book, said to be written by divine inspiration, as well as the Law of Moses; and if that book was not put into their hands, they could scarcely be expected to believe a religion whose chief written authority was kept out of sight. That it was, indeed, kept out of sight was undeniable; and the notorious Alfonso de Castro, chaplain of Philip II, boasted in his book against heresies that there was "an edict of the most illustrious and Catholic sovereigns of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, in which, under the severest penalties, they forbade anyone to translate the holy Scriptures into a vulgar language, or to have any such version in his possession. For they were afraid lest any occasion of error should be given to the people over whom God had made them governors." The clergy maintained that conversion to the truth by argument was impossible, and, at their instance, the bull was no longer kept in reserve, but was published in 1480.

The Queen’s trial of humanity was ended; but a question of policy remained. The King and Queen remembered that they had an interest in Spain as well as the Pope, but they scarcely knew how that interest could be guarded if the inquisitors were allowed absolute power over the persons and property of their subjects. To have proposed lay assessors and open court would have provoked a quarrel with the Pope, then powerful enough to raise Europe in arms against them; therefore they modestly requested no more than that some priests nominated by the King should be associated with some others nominated by the Pope; or that the King should name all, and the Pope confirm his nominations. The "Catholic sovereigns" calculated that nominees of Rome would, of course, prefer the rights of the Church to those of the crown, but they fancied, or they wished to fancy, that priests of their own choice would prefer their interests to those of a stranger. This was an illusion, and therefore Rome made little difficulty; and after due correspondence, and some changes, the Supreme Council of the Spanish Inquisition was constituted thus:

Inquisitor-general—Friar Thomas de Torquemada, of whom Llorente says that it was hardly possible that there could have been another man so capable of fulfilling the intentions of King Ferdinand, by multiplying confiscations; those of the court of Rome, by propagating their jurisdictional and pecuniary maxims; and those of the projectors of the Inquisition, by infusing terror into the people by public executions.

Two assessors—Juan Gutierrez de Chabes and Tristan de Medina, jurisconsults.

Three King’s counsellors—Don Alonso Carillo, a bishop-elect, with Sancho Valasquez de Cuellar and Poncio de Valencia, doctors of civil law. In matters relating to royal power they were to have a definite vote; but in affairs of spiritual jurisdiction they could only be suffered to offer an opinion, inasmuch as a spiritual power resided in the chief inquisitor alone.

Under the jurisdiction of the supreme council were four subordinate tribunals, and eventually several others were added, while some inquisitors, hitherto holding special powers from the Pope, were stripped of their independence, that the court of Rome might have one uniform action throughout Spain. As the Holy Office advanced in labor and experience, the supreme council was enlarged, and at last it consisted of a president—inquisitor-general for the time being; six counsellors with the title of apostolic; a fiscal; a secretary of the chamber; two secretaries of the council; an alguazil-in-chief, or sheriff; one receiver; two reporters; four apparitors; one solicitor; and as many consulters as circumstances might require. Of course these were all maintained in a style worthy of their office. The Inquisitor-general, or president of the council, exerted an absolute power over every Spanish subject, so that he almost ceased to be himself a subject. He alone consulted with the King concerning the appointment of inquisitors to preside over all the provincial tribunals. Each of those inferior inquisitions was managed by three inquisitors, two secretaries, one under-sheriff, one receiver, and a certain number of triers and consulters. Their functions were considerably restricted, leaving all capital cases and ultimate decisions in the hands of the Madrid "Supreme."

But while Ferdinand, Isabella, Torquemada, and the nuncio were concerting their plans and preparing death for heretics, what said Spain to it? Neither was clergy nor laity content. After the bull of Sixtus IV empowering the King to name inquisitors furnished with absolute authority, and to remove them at pleasure, had arrived, but lay unpublished in consequence of the Queen’s repugnance, a provincial synod sat at Seville, where the regal court then was, 1478. Had the clergy of Castile desired the Inquisition, the synod would have said so; but so far were they from approving of such a tribunal, to which every bishop would be subject, but where no bishop would any longer have a voice, that they passed over the affair of heresy in silence, not consenting to accept the Inquisition, yet not presuming to remonstrate against it. Then would have been the time for the clergy to add their power to that of the throne for the suppression of false doctrine, believing, as they did believe, that forcible suppression was not only lawful, but meritorious in the sight of God; and so they would probably have done if inquisitor and bishop were to have had coordinate jurisdiction, as in the first inquisition of Toulouse, and in the early Italian inquisition; but they saw, with alarm, that the episcopate was to be despoiled of its authority at a stroke.

A few months before the publication of the bull, but long after every person in Spain knew the purport of its contents, and in the certainty that it would be carried into execution, the Cortes of Toledo met; but, instead of avoiding any act that would interfere with the new jurisdiction then to be introduced, they made several provisions for separating Jews and Christians by the enclosure of Jewries in the towns, and for compelling the former to wear a peculiar garb, and abstain from exercising the vocation of surgeon or physician or innkeeper or barber or apothecary among Christians. The parliament plainly ignored the Inquisition in making this enactment on their own authority.

And what said the magistracy and the people? Seville represented the general state of feeling at the time. There, when a company of inquisitors presented themselves, conducted into the city by men and horses which had been impressed for the purpose by royal order, the civil authorities refused to help them, notwithstanding the injunctions of the bull, the obligations of canon law, and a mandate from the Crown. The new inquisitors found themselves unable to act for want of help; meanwhile the objects of their mission forsook the city, and found shelter in the neighboring districts; and Ferdinand had to issue specific orders to overpower the hostility of all the classes of the people and to compel the magistrates to assist the new set of officers ecclesiastic. These orders were most reluctantly obeyed.

Thus fortified, the inquisitors took up their abode in the Dominican convent of St. Paul, and issued their first mandate January 2, 1481. They said that they were aware of the flight of the New Christians, and commanded the Marquis of Cadiz, the Count of Arcos, and all the dukes, marquises, counts, gentlemen, rich men, and others of the kingdom of Castile to arrest the fugitives and send them to Seville within a fortnight, sequestrating their property. All who failed to do this were excommunicated as abettors of heresy, deposed from their dignities, and deprived of their estates; and their subjects were to be absolved from homage and obedience. Crowds of fugitives were driven back into Seville, bound like felons; the dungeons and apartments of the convent overflowed with prisoners; and the King assigned the castle of Triana, on the opposite bank of the Guadalquiver, to the "New and Holy Tribunal," to be a place of safe custody. There the inquisitors, elate with triumph over the reluctant magistrates and panic-stricken people, shortly afterward erected a tablet with an inscription in memory of the first establishment of the modern Inquisition in Western Europe. The concluding sentences of the inscription were: "God grant that, for the protection and augmentation of the faith, it may abide unto the end of time!—Arise, O Lord, judge thy cause!—Catch ye the foxes!"

Their second edict was one of "grace." It summoned all who had apostatized to present themselves before the inquisitors within a term appointed, promising that all who did so, with true contrition and purpose of amendment, should be exempted from confiscation of their property—it was understood that they should be punished in some other way—but threatening that, if they allowed that term to pass over without repentance, they should be dealt with according to the utmost rigor of the law. Many ran to the convent of St. Paul, hoping to merit some small measure of indulgence. But the inquisitors would not absolve them until they had disclosed the names, calling, residence, and given a description of all others whom they had seen, heard, or understood to have apostatized in like manner. After getting this information, they bound the terrified informers to secrecy. This first object being accomplished, they sent out a third monition, requiring all who knew any that had apostatized into the Jewish heresy to inform against them within six days, under the usual penalties. But they had already marked the very men; and those suspected converts suddenly saw the apparitors inside their houses, and were dragged away to the dungeons. New Christians who had preserved any of the familiar usages of their forefathers, such as putting on clean clothes on Saturday, who stripped the fat from beef or mutton, who killed poultry with a sharp knife, covered the blood, and muttered a few Hebrew words, who had eaten flesh in Lent, blessed their children, laying hands on their heads, who observed any peculiarity of diet or distinction of feast or fast, mourned for the dead after their ancient manner, or whose friends had presumed to turn the face toward a wall when in the agony of death, all such being vehemently suspected of apostasy, were to be punished accordingly. Thirty-six elaborate articles were furnished whereby everyone was instructed how to ensnare his neighbor.

But what shall we say of a faith that could only hope to be kept alive in the world by the extinction of charity, honor, pity, and humanity? Llorente describes the immediate issue:

"Such opportune measures for multiplying victims could not but produce the desired effect. Hence, on January 6, 1481, there were burned six unhappy persons; sixteen on March 26th; many on April 21st; and by November 4th, two hundred ninety-eight in all. Besides these, the inquisitors condemned seventy-nine to perpetual imprisonment. And all this in the city of Seville only; since, as regards the territories of this arch-bishopric and of the bishopric of Cadiz, Juan de Mariana says that, in the single year of 1481, two thousand Judaizers were burned in person, and very many in effigy, of whom the number is not known, besides seventeen thousand subjected to cruel penance. Among those burned were many principal persons and rich inhabitants, whose property went into the treasury.

Pope Sixtus V and the Grand Inquisitor

"As so many persons were to be put to death by fire, the Governor of Seville caused a permanent raised pavement, or platform of masonry, to be constructed outside the city, which has lasted to our time [until the French invasion, if not later], retaining its name of Quemadero (’Burning-place’); and at the four corners four large hollow statues of limestone, within which they used to place the impenitent alive, that they might die by slow heat. I leave my readers to consider whether this punishment of an error of the understanding was consistent or not with the doctrine of the Gospel?

"Fear caused an immense multitude of others of the same class of New Christians to emigrate to France, Portugal, and even Africa. But many others, whose effigies had been burned, appealed to Rome, complaining of the injustice of those proceedings; in consequence of which appeals the Pope wrote, on January 29, 1482, to Ferdinand and Isabella, saying that there were innumerable complaints against the inquisitors, Fray Miguel Morillo and Fray Juan de San Martin especially, because they had not confined themselves to canon law, but declared many to be heretics that were not. His holiness said that, but for the royal nomination, he would have deprived them of their office; but that he revoked the power he had given to the sovereign to nominate others, supposing that fit persons would be found among those nominated by the general or the provincial of the Dominicans, to whom the privilege belonged, and in prejudice of whose privilege the former nomination by Ferdinand and Isabella had been allowed."

So adroitly did the Pope take the absolute control of the Inquisition into his own hands under pretence of impartial justice, and leave the weaker tyrant to eat the fruit of his doings. But since that time pope and king have been again united in the management of the Holy Office, the latter, however, in abject subservience to the former. Neither in the appeals nor in the brief was there anything that could divert Torquemada from the prosecution of his purposes; and therefore he hastened to bring Aragon under his jurisdiction. Ferdinand convened the cortes of that kingdom in the city of Tarragona, April, 1482; in that assembly appointed a junta to prepare measures for the establishment of another tribunal; and then Torquemada, in pursuance of the latest pontifical decision, created Friar Gaspar Inglar, a preacher of the Dominican community, and Pedro Arbues de Epila, a canon of the metropolitan church, inquisitors. The King gave a mandate to the civil authorities—a firman, it might be called—compelling them to lend aid to the new officers; and, on September 13th following, the Grand Justice of Aragon, with his five lieutenants of the long robe and various other magistrates, swore upon the holy Gospels that they would give men and arms to defend and to enforce the authority of the Holy Inquisition. And as they swore thus, the King’s chief secretary for Aragon, the prothonotary, the vice-chancellor, the royal treasurer—whose own father and grandfather were Jews, and persecuted by the old inquisitors—together with a multitude of persons of high rank and office, in whose veins flowed Jewish blood, and whose descendants are now among the first families in Spain, looked on with dismay, and sent a deputation to Rome, bearing remonstrance against the newly created Inquisition; and deputed others to present their appeal to the same effect at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. All these deputies were afterward proceeded against as hinderers of the Holy Office; and meanwhile the inquisitors, in contempt of opposition, set themselves to work without delay.

In the months of May and June, 1485, two acts of faith were celebrated in Saragossa, capital of Aragon, and a large number of New Christians burned alive. The public was enraged, certainly, but helpless; yet not so helpless but that many awoke to a conviction that, since the inquisitors had resorted to terror for the conservation of the faith, they ought to be restrained by terror in their turn.

In the night of September 14, 1485, one of the inquisitors, Pedro Arbues, covered as usual with a coat of mail under his robes, and wearing a steel skull-cap under his hat—for he was every moment conscious of guilt and apprehensive of retribution—took a lantern in one hand and a bludgeon in the other; and, like a sturdy soldier of his peculiar Church, walked from his house to the cathedral of that same Saragossa, to join in matins. He knelt down by one of the pillars, setting his lantern on the pavement. His right hand held the weapon of defence, yet stealthily half covered with the cloak. The canons, in their places, were chanting hymns. Two men came and knelt down near him. They understood, as most Spaniards do, how most effectually to attack a man, and how to kill him quickest. Therefore one of them suddenly disabled him on one side by a blow on the left arm. The other swung his cudgel at the back of his head, just below the edge of the steel cap, and laid him prone. He never spoke again, but expired in a few hours. This murder, as might be expected, was well made use of by the priests, serving them to plead the necessity of an inquisition to repress violence; and the inhabitants of the city were instantly overawed by a display of high judicial authority which they had no power to resist.

Queen Isabella, horrified at the murder of her confessor—for "confessor of the kings" was an honorary dignity conferred on each inquisitor in Spain—erected a monument to his memory at her own expense; and when the murders perpetrated by Arbues himself had somewhat faded out of public memory, he was beatified at Rome, and a chapel was constructed for his veneration in the church where he had fallen. Therein his remains were laid; and over the spot where he received the mortal blow a stone was placed, with the inscription: "Siste, viator," etc. "Stay, traveller! Thou adorest the place (locum adoras) where the blessed Pedro de Arbues was laid low by two missiles. Epila gave him birth. This city gave him a canonry. The apostolic see elected him to be the first Father Inquisitor of the Faith. Because of his zeal he became hateful to the Jews; by whom slain, he fell here a martyr in the year 1485. The most serene Ferdinand and Isabella reared a marble mausoleum, where he became famous for miracles. Alexander VII, Pontifex Maximus, wrote him into the number of holy and blessed martyrs on the 17th day of April in the year 1664. The tomb having been opened, the sacred ashes were translated, and placed under the altar of the chapel (built by the chapter, with the material of the tomb, in the space of sixty-five days), with solemn rite and veneration, on the 23d day of September, in the year 1664."

The intelligence of that murder threw all Aragon into commotion. The powers, ecclesiastical and royal, panted for vengeance, and the murderers were put to a most painful death. The Jews and New Christians trembled with terror and rage. The inhabitants of many towns, Teruel, Valencia, Lerida, and Barcelona included, compelled the inquisitors to cease from inquest; and it was only by means of military force, after edicts and bulls had failed, that the King and Pope together could quash two years’ public resistance. In Saragossa, where the murder had been contrived by a party of chief inhabitants, a consciousness of guilt weakened their hands and they endeavored to save themselves by flight. Thousands of people deserted the city, although they had no participation in the deed and were everywhere treated as rebels; and in that migration incidents occurred which might throw a tinge of horrible romance on our history. Let me briefly mention two.

An inhabitant of Saragossa found his way to Tudela, and there begged for shelter and concealment in the house of Don Jaime, Infante of Navarre, legitimate son of the Queen of Navarre and nephew of King Ferdinand himself. The Infante could not refuse asylum and hospitality to an innocent fugitive. He allowed the man to hide himself for a few days and then pass on to France. For this act of humanity Don Jaime was arrested by the inquisitors, thrown into prison as an impeder of the Holy Office, brought thence to Saragossa, a place quite beyond the jurisdiction of Navarre, and there made to do open penance in the cathedral, in presence of a great congregation at high mass. And what penance! The Archbishop of Saragossa presided; but this Archbishop was a boy of seventeen, an illegitimate son of the King; and he it was that commanded two priests to flog his father’s lawful nephew, the Infante of Navarre, with rods. They whipped Don Jaime around the church accordingly.

The other case was diabolical. Gaspar de Santa Cruz escaped to Toulouse, where he died and was buried after Ills effigy had been burned in Saragossa. In this city lived a son of his, who, in duty bound, had helped him to make good his retreat. This son was delated as an impeder of the Holy Office, arrested, brought out at an act of faith, made to read a condemnation of his deceased father, and then sent to the inquisitor at Toulouse, who took him to his father’s grave, and compelled him to dig up the corpse and burn it with his own hands. Whether the inquisitors were most barbarous or the young man most vile, it may be difficult to say. But it is a most infamous glory of the Inquisition that, for satisfaction of its own requirements, the express laws of God and man and the first instincts of humanity are equally set at naught.

The Arch-inquisitor of Spain, shortly after his accession to the office, summoned the subalterns from their stations to meet him at Seville, and framed, with them, a set of instructions for uniform administration. They were published, twenty-eight in number, on October 29, 1484. On January 9, 1485, eleven more were added. The spirit of these instructions pervades the Directory of Eymeric, into which they were incorporated by his commentator. It is only important to mention here that on the present occasion an agent was appointed to represent this Inquisition at Rome, and there to defend the inquisitors on occasion of appeals from the subjects of inquisitorial violence or from their friends or their survivors. And this was in spite of a bull sent into Spain two years before, appointing the Archbishop of Seville sole judge of such appeals. But that bull was a mere feint for conciliation and never acted on at Rome.

We must not fail to mark this point in the history, forasmuch as here begins the practically juridical relation between the court of Rome as supreme, and the provinces of the Roman Church as subordinate, in matters concerning inquisition.


As to the Spanish Inquisition, which was only an extension of that which was established in other countries, we must divide it, with respect to its duration, into three great periods. We omit the time of its existence in the kingdom of Aragon, before its introduction into Castile. The first of these comprehends the time when the Inquisition was principally directed against the relapsed Jews and Moors, from the day of its installation under the Catholic sovereign till the middle of the reign of Charles V. The second extends from the time when it began to concentrate its efforts to prevent the introduction of Protestantism into Spain until that danger entirely ceased; that is, from the middle of the reign of Charles V till the coming of the Dourbons. The third and last period is that when the Inquisition was limited to repress infamous crimes and exclude the philosophy of Voltaire; this period was continued until its abolition, in the beginning of the nineteenth century.

It is clear that, the institution being successively modified according to circumstances at these different epochs—although it always remained fundamentally the same—the commencement and termination of each of these three periods which we have pointed out cannot be precisely marked; nevertheless, these three periods really existed in its history, and present us with very different characters.

Everyone knows the peculiar circumstances in which the Inquisition was established in the time of the Catholic sovereigns; yet it is worthy of remark that the bull of establishment was solicited by Queen Isabella; that is, by one of the most distinguished sovereigns in our history—by that Queen who still, after three centuries, preserves the respect and admiration of all Spaniards. Isabella, far from opposing the will of the people in this measure, only realized the national wish. The Inquisition was established chiefly against the Jews. Before the Inquisition published its first edict, dated Seville, in 1481, the Cortes of Toledo, in 1480, had adopted severe measures on the subject. To prevent the injury which the intercourse between Jews and Christians might occasion to the Catholic faith, the cortes had ordered that unbaptized Israelites should be obliged to wear a distinctive mark, dwell in separate quarters, called juiveries, and return there before night. Ancient regulations against them were renewed; the professions of doctor, surgeon, shopkeeper, barber, and tavern-keeper were forbidden them. Intolerance was, therefore, popular at that time. If the Inquisition be justified in the eyes of friends to monarchy, by conformity with the will of kings, it has an equal claim to be so in the eyes of lovers of democracy.

No doubt the heart is grieved at reading the excessive severities exercised at that time against the Jews; but must there not have been very grave causes to provoke such excesses? The danger which the Spanish monarchy, not yet well established, would have incurred if the Jews, then very powerful on account of their riches and their alliances with the most influential families, had been allowed to act without restraint, has been pointed out as one of the most important of these causes. It was greatly to be feared that they would league with the Moors against the Christians. The respective positions of the three nations rendered this league natural; this is the reason why it was looked upon as necessary to break a power which was capable of compromising anew the independence of the Christians. It is necessary also to observe that at the time when the Inquisition was established the war of eight hundred years against the Moors was not yet finished. The Inquisition was projected before 1474; it was established in 1480, and the conquest of Granada did not take place till 1492. Thus it was founded at the time when the obstinate struggle was about to be decided; it was yet to be known whether the Christians would remain masters of the whole peninsula or whether the Moors should retain possession of one of the most fertile and beautiful provinces; whether these enemies, shut up in Granada, should preserve a position excellent for their communication with Africa, and a means for all the attempts which, at a later period, the Crescent might be disposed to make against us. Now, the power of the Crescent was very great, as was clearly shown by its enterprises against the rest of Europe in the next century. In such emergencies, after ages of fighting, and at the moment which was to decide the victory forever, have combatants ever been known to conduct themselves with moderation and mildness?

It cannot be denied that the system of repression pursued in Spain, with respect to the Jews and the Moors, was inspired, in great measure, by the instinct of self-preservation: we can easily believe that the Catholic princes had this motive before them when they decided on asking for the establishment of the Inquisition in their dominions. The danger was not imaginary; it was perfectly real. In order to form an idea of the turn which things might have taken if some precaution had not been adopted, it is enough to recollect the insurrections of the last Moors in later times.

Yet it would be wrong, in this affair, to attribute all to the policy of royalty; and it is necessary here to avoid exalting too much the foresight and designs of men; for my part, I am inclined to think that Ferdinand and Isabella naturally followed the generality of the nation, in whose eyes the Jews were odious when they persevered in their creed, and suspected when they embraced the Christian religion. Two causes contributed to this hatred and animadversion: first, the excited state of religious feeling then general in all Europe, and especially in Spain; second, the conduct by which the Jews had drawn upon themselves the public indignation.

The necessity of restraining the cupidity of the Jews, for the sake of the independence of the Christians, was of ancient date in Spain: the old assemblies of Toledo had attempted it. In the following centuries the evil reached its height; a great part of the riches of the peninsula had passed into the hands of the Jews, and almost all the Christians found themselves their debtors. Thence the hatred of the people against the Jews; thence the frequent troubles which agitated some towns of the peninsula; thence the tumults which more than once were fatal to the Jews, and in which their blood flowed in abundance. It was difficult for a people accustomed for ages to set themselves free by force of arms to resign themselves peacefully and tranquilly to the lot prepared for them by the artifices and exactions of a strange race, whose name, moreover, bore the recollection of a terrible malediction.

In later times an immense number of Jews were converted to the Christian religion; but the hatred of the people was not extinguished thereby, and mistrust followed these converts into their new state. It is very probable that a great number of these conversions were hardly sincere, as they were partly caused by the sad position in which the Jews who continued in Judaism were placed. In default of conjectures founded on reason in this respect, we will regard as a sufficient corroboration of our opinion the multitude of Judaizing Christians who were discovered as soon as care was taken to find out those who had been guilty of apostasy. However this may be, it is certain that the distinction between New and Old Christians was introduced; the latter denomination was a title of honor, and the former a mark of ignominy; the converted Jews were contemptuously called maranos ("impure men," "pigs"). With more or less foundation, they were accused of horrible crimes. In their dark assemblies they committed, it was said, atrocities which could hardly be believed for the honor of humanity. For example, it was said, that, to revenge themselves on the Christians and in contempt of religion, they crucified Christian children, taking care to choose for the purpose the greatest day among Christian solemnities. There is the often-repeated history of the knight of the house of Guzman, who, being hidden one night in the house of a Jew whose daughter he loved, saw a child crucified at the time when the Christians celebrated the institution of the sacrifice of the eucharist. Besides infanticide, there were attributed to the Jews sacrileges, poisonings, conspiracies, and other crimes. That these rumors were generally believed by the people is proved by the fact that the Jews were forbidden by law to exercise the professions of doctor, surgeon, barber, and tavern-keeper; this shows what degree of confidence was placed ii? their morality. It is useless to stay to examine the foundations for these sinister accusations. We are not ignorant how far popular credulity will go, above all when it is under the influence of excited feelings, which makes it view all things in the same light. It is enough for us to know that these rumors circulated everywhere and with credit, to understand what must have been the public indignation against the Jews, and consequently how natural it was that authority, yielding to the impulse of the general mind, should be urged to treat them with excessive rigor.

The situation in which the Jews were placed is sufficient to show that they might have attempted to act in concert to resist the Christians; what they did after the death of St. Peter Arbues shows what they were capable of doing on other occasions. The funds necessary for the accomplishment of the murder—the pay of the assassins, and the other expenses required for the plot—were collected by means of voluntary contributions imposed on themselves by all the Jews of Aragon. Does not this show an advanced state of organization, which might have become fatal if it had not been watched?

In alluding to the death of St. Peter Arbues, I wish to make an observation on what has been said on this subject as proving the unpopularity of the establishment of the Inquisition in Spain. What more evident proof, we shall be told, can you have than the assassination of the inquisitor? Is it not a sure sign that the indignation of the people was at its height and that they were quite opposed to the Inquisition? Would they otherwise have been hurried into such excesses? If by "the people" you mean the Jews and their descendants, I will not deny that the establishment of the Inquisition was indeed very odious to them, but it was not so with the rest of the nation. The event we are speaking of gave rise to a circumstance which proves just the reverse. When the report of the death of the inquisitor was spread through the town, they went in crowds in pursuit of the New Christians, so that a bloody catastrophe would have ensued had not the young Archbishop of Saragossa, Alphonsus of Aragon, presented himself to the people on horseback, and calmed them by the assurance that all the rigor of the laws should fall on the heads of the guilty. Was the Inquisition as unpopular as it has been represented? and will it be said that its adversaries were the majority of the people? Why, then, could not the tumult of Saragossa have been avoided in spite of all the precautions which were no doubt taken by the conspirators, at that time very powerful by their riches and influence?

At the time of the greatest rigor against the Judaizing Christians, there is a fact worthy of attention. Persons accused, or threatened with the pursuit of the Inquisition, took every means to escape the action of that tribunal: they left the soil of Spain and went to Rome. Would those who imagine that Rome has always been the hot-bed of intolerance, the firebrand of persecution, have imagined this? The number of causes commenced by the Inquisition, and summoned from Spain to Rome, is countless, during the first fifty years of the existence of that tribual; and it must be added that Rome always inclined to the side of indulgence. I do not know that it would be possible to cite one accused person who, by appealing to Rome, did not ameliorate his condition. The history of the Inquisition at that time is full of contests between the kings and popes; and we constantly find, on the part of the holy see, a desire to restrain the Inquisition within the bounds of justice and humanity. The line of conduct prescribed by the court of Rome was not always followed as it ought to have been. Thus we see the popes compelled to receive a multitude of appeals, and mitigate the lot that would have befallen the appellants if their cause had been definitely decided in Spain. We also see the Pope name the judge of appeal, at the solicitation of the Catholic sovereigns, who desired that causes should be finally decided in Spain: the first of these judges was Inigo Manrique, Archbishop of Seville. Nevertheless, at the end of a short time, the same Pope, in a bull of August 2, 1483, said that he had received new appeals, made by a great number of the Spaniards of Seville, who had not dared to address themselves to the judge of appeal for fear of being arrested. Such was then the excitement of the public mind; such was at that time the necessity of preventing injustice or measures of undue severity. The Pope added that some of those who had had recourse to his justice had already received the absolution of the apostolical penitentiary, and that others were about to receive it; he afterward complained that indulgences granted to divers accused persons had not been sufficiently respected at Seville; in fine, after several other admonitions, he observed to Ferdinand and Isabella that mercy toward the guilty was more pleasing to God than the severity which it was desired to use; and he gave the example of the good shepherd following the wandering sheep. He ended by exhorting the sovereigns to treat with mildness those who voluntarily confessed their faults, desiring them to allow them to reside at Seville or in some other place they might choose; and to allow them the enjoyment of their property, as if they had not been guilty of the crime of heresy.

Moreover, it is not to be supposed that the appeals admitted at Rome, and by virtue of which the lot of the accused was improved, were founded on errors of form and injustice committed in the application of the law. If the accused had recourse to Rome, it was not always to demand reparation for an injustice, but because they were sure of finding indulgence. We have a proof of this in the considerable number of Spanish refugees convicted at Rome of having fallen into Judaism. Two hundred fifty of them were found at one time, yet there was not one capital execution. Some penances were imposed on them, and, when they were absolved, they were free to return home without the least mark of ignominy. This took place at Rome in 1498.

It is a remarkable thing that the Roman Inquisition was never known to pronounce the execution of capital punishment, although the apostolic see was occupied during that time by popes of extreme rigor and severity in all that relates to the civil administration. We find in all parts of Europe scaffolds prepared to punish crimes against religion; scenes which sadden the soul were everywhere witnessed. Rome is an exception to the rule—Rome, which it has been attempted to represent as a monster of intolerance and cruelty. It is true that the popes have not preached, like Protestants, universal toleration; but facts show the difference between popes and Protestants. The popes, armed with a tribunal of intolerance, have not spilled a drop of blood; Protestants and philosophers have shed torrents. What advantage is it to the victim to hear his executioners proclaim toleration? It is adding the bitterness of sarcasm to his punishment.

The conduct of Rome in the use which she made of the Inquisition is the best apology of Catholicity against those who attempt to stigmatize her as barbarous and sanguinary. In truth, what is there in common between Catholicity and the excessive severity employed in this place or that, in the extraordinary situation in which many rival races were placed, in the presence of danger which menaced one of them, or in the interest which the kings had in maintaining the tranquillity of their states and securing their conquests from all danger?

I will not enter into a detailed examination of the conduct of the Spanish Inquisition with respect to Judaizing Christians; and I am far from thinking that the rigor which it employed against them was preferable to the mildness recommended and displayed by the popes. What I wish to show here is that rigor was the result of extraordinary circumstances—the effect of the national spirit and of the severity of customs in Europe at that time. Catholicity cannot be reproached with excesses committed for these different reasons. Still more, if we pay attention to the spirit which prevails in all the instructions of the popes relating to the Inquisition, if we observe their manifest inclination to range themselves on the side of mildness, and to suppress the marks of ignominy with which the guilty, as well as their families, were stigmatized, we have a right to suppose that, if the popes had not feared to displease the kings too much, and to excite divisions which might have been fatal, their measures would have been carried still further. If we recollect the negotiations which took place with respect to the noisy affair of the claims of the Cortes of Aragon, we shall see to which side the court of Rome leaned.

As we are speaking of intolerance with regard to the Judaizers, let us say a few words as to the disposition of Luther toward the Jews. Does it not seem that the pretended reformer, the founder of independence of thought, the furious declaimer against the oppression and tyranny of the popes, should have been animated with the most humane sentiments toward that people? No doubt the eulogists of this chieftain of Protestantism ought to think thus also. I am sorry for them; but history will not allow us to partake of this delusion. According to all appearances, if the apostate monk had found himself in the place of Torquemada, the Judaizers would not have been in a better position. What, then, was the system advised by Luther, according to Seckendorff, one of his apologists? "Their synagogues ought to be destroyed, their houses pulled down, their prayer-books, the Talmud, and even the books of the Old Testament to be taken from them; their rabbis ought to be forbidden to teach, and be compelled to gain their livelihood by hard labor." The Inquisition, at least, did not proceed against the Jews, but against the Judaizers; that is, against those who, after being converted to Christianity, relapsed into their errors, and added sacrilege to their apostasy by the external profession of a creed which they detested in secret, and which they profaned by the exercise of their old religion. But Luther extended his severity to the Jews themselves; so that, according to his doctrines, no reproach can be made against the sovereigns who expelled the Jews from their dominions.

The Moors and the Moriscoes no less occupied the attention of the Inquisition at that time; add all that has been said on the subject of the Jews may be applied to them with some modifications. They were also an abhorred race—a race which had been contended with for eight centuries. When they retained their religion, the Moors inspired hatred; when they abjured it, mistrust; the popes interested themselves in their favor also in a peculiar manner. We ought to remark a bull issued in 1530, which is expressed in language quite evangelical: it is there said that the ignorance of these nations is one of the principal causes of their faults and errors; the first thing to be done to render their conversion solid and sincere was, according to the recommendation contained in this bull, to endeavor to enlighten their minds with sound doctrine.

It will be said that the Pope granted to Charles V the bull which released him from the oath taken in the Cortes of Saragossa in the year 1519, an oath by which he had engaged not to make any change with respect to the Moors; whereby, it is said, the Emperor was enabled to complete their expulsion. But we must observe that the Pope for a long time resisted that concession; and that if he at length complied with the wishes of the Emperor, it was only because he thought that the expulsion of the Moors was indispensable to secure the tranquillity of the kingdom. Whether this was true or not, the Emperor, and not the Pope, was the better judge; the latter, placed at a great distance, could not know the real state of things in detail. Moreover, it was not the Spanish monarch alone who thought so; it is related that Francis I, when a prisoner at Madrid, one day conversing with Charles V, told him that tranquillity would never be established in Spain if the Moors and Moriscoes were not expelled.


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Chicago: William H. Rule and James Balmes, "Inquisition Established in Spain," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), Original Sources, accessed April 13, 2024,

MLA: Rule, William H., and James Balmes. "Inquisition Established in Spain." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, Original Sources. 13 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: Rule, WH, Balmes, J, 'Inquisition Established in Spain' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN. Original Sources, retrieved 13 April 2024, from