Spanish Inquisition

Spanish Inquisition
   The evil reputation of the Inquisition rests less on the record of the medieval inquisitors than on a very different institution, the Spanish Inquisition. After 711, when most of Spain and Portugal were under the rule of Muslim princes, the peninsula became a religiously pluralistic and fairly tolerant society. As the re-conquest of Spain and Portugal by the surviving Christian kingdoms of the north proceeded, strong pressures for conversion to Christian-ity developed and from the 14th century often involved mob violence against non-Christians, mostly Jews. In the face of these periodic acts of terrorism, many Spanish Jews gave in and were baptized. But both the clergy and their gentile neighbors suspected that these conversos continued to observe Jewish religious practices in secret.
   In 1478 the monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, asked the pope to authorize a special tribunal in Castile to inquire into the religious be-liefs and practices of conversos. This tribunal was organized in Castile in 1480 and in 1483 was extended to Aragon. Although au-thorized by papal authority, the Spanish Inquisition was essentially a royal institution. Unlike its medieval predecessor, it had a strong cen-tral authority, headed by a clergyman (normally a Dominican or Franciscan friar) and a governing council of clergymen, the Suprema, all appointed by the rulers. Eventually, 16 local tribunals were formed, scattered throughout the country.
   In the early period of its existence, 90 percent of those prosecuted were converted Jews. The accused were encouraged to denounce themselves and (provided they had no prior offense) were often let off with warnings. During the first half-century, some 2,000 conver-sos were condemned to death. Very few people who were not of Jewish ancestry were executed. After 1530 the number of executions de-clined. Since the Inquisition had no jurisdiction over unconverted Jews and Muslims and the inquisitors contended that the presence of any Jews in Spain tempted conversos to relapse into Judaism, in 1492 a royal edict required all remaining Jews to become Christians. This decree ended the existence of a recognizable Jewish community in the country and led to the exile of thousands of people. Similar pres-sure to convert was brought against the large Muslim minority, be-ginning in 1502 for Castile and in 1525 for Aragon. In both regions, the majority submitted though those Muslims who refused were al-lowed to emigrate.
   At first, these forcibly converted Muslims, or moriscos, were shel-tered by landlords who needed their agricultural skills. Pressure to abandon the use of Arabic language and Islamic customs became so intense that in 1568 the Moors of Granada rebelled. It took two years of military campaigning to restore control of the countryside. Finally, in 1609, the government decided that neither preaching nor supervi-sion by the Inquisition could control this population. Some 350,000 people, all of them at least nominally Christian, were deported, most of them settling in Muslim North Africa. Jewish conversos also con-tinued to suffer from suspicion and increasingly from active discrim-ination, expressed in policies of limpieza de sangre ("purity of blood") which excluded people of known Jewish descent from the most at-tractive positions in the church, the universities, and the civil service.
   From about the middle of the 16th century, the Inquisition also acted to protect the country from the spread of Protestant doctrines. Though Spain had very few Protestants, there were some trials and executions. By the 1540s, not only real Protestants but also reformist Catholics who looked to the Dutch humanist Erasmus for inspira-tion were exposed to prosecution. Other targets of the Inquisition in-cluded the numerous followers of popular mysticism, the alumbra-dos. The Spanish Inquisition was also extended to Spanish dependencies in Sardinia and Sicily and, beginning in 1571, to the Spanish colonies in America.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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