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 Christian Inquisition along with the Roman Inquisition and Portuguese Inquisition.
The Inquisition was originally intended in large part to ensure the orthodoxy of those who converted from Judaism and Islam. This regulation of the faith of the newly converted was intensified after the royal decrees issued in 1492 and 1501 ordering Jews and Muslims to convert or leave.
Various motives have been proposed for the monarchs’ decision to found the Inquisition such as increasing political authority, weakening opposition, suppressing conversos, profiting from confiscation of the property of convicted heretics, reducing social tensions, and protecting the kingdom from the danger of a fifth column.
The body was under the direct control of the Spanish monarchy. It was not definitively abolished until 1834, during the reign of Isabella II, after a period of declining influence in the previous century.
The start of the Inquisition
Alonso de Hojeda, a Dominican friar from Seville, convinced Queen Isabella of the existence of Crypto-Judaism among Andalusian conversos during her stay in Seville between 1477 and 1478. A report, produced by Pedro González de Mendoza, Archbishop of Seville, and by the Segovian Dominican Tomás de Torquemada, corroborated this assertion.
The monarchs decided to introduce the Inquisition to Castile to discover and punish crypto-Jews, and requested the pope’s assent. Ferdinand II of Aragon pressured Pope Sixtus IV to agree to an Inquisition controlled by the monarchy by threatening to withdraw military support at a time when the Turks were a threat to Rome. The pope issued a bull to stop the Inquisition but was pressured into withdrawing it. On November 1, 1478, Pope Sixtus IV published the Papal bull, Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectus, through which he gave the monarchs exclusive authority to name the inquisitors in their kingdoms. The first two inquisitors, Miguel de Morillo and Juan de San Martín were not named, however, until two years later, on September 27, 1480 in Medina del Campo.
The first auto-da-fé was held in Seville on February 6, 1481: six people were burned alive. From there, the Inquisition grew rapidly in the Kingdom of Castile. By 1492, tribunals existed in eight Castilian cities: Ávila, Córdoba, Jaén, Medina del Campo, Segovia, Sigüenza, Toledo, and Valladolid.
Sixtus IV promulgated a new bull categorically prohibiting the Inquisition’s extension to Aragon, affirming that,
many true and faithful Christians, because of the testimony of enemies, rivals, slaves and other low people—and still less appropriate—without tests of any kind, have been locked up in secular prisons, tortured and condemned like relapsed heretics, deprived of their goods and properties, and given over to the secular arm to be executed, at great danger to their souls, giving a pernicious example and causing scandal to many.
In 1483, Jews were expelled from all of Andalusia. Ferdinand pressured the pope to promulgate a new bull. He did so on October 17, 1483, naming Tomás de Torquemada Inquisidor General of Aragón, Valencia and Catalonia. Torquemada quickly established procedures for the Inquisition. A new court would be announced with a thirty-day grace period for confessions and the gathering of accusations by neighbors. Evidence that was used to identify a crypto-Jew included the absence of chimney smoke on Saturdays (a sign the family might secretly be honoring the Sabbath) or the buying of many vegetables before Passover or the purchase of meat from a converted butcher. The court employed physical torture to extract confessions. Crypto-Jews were allowed to confess and do penance, although those who relapsed were burned at the stake.
In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII attempted to allow appeals to Rome against the Inquisition, but Ferdinand in December 1484 and again in 1509 decreed death and confiscation for anyone trying to make use of such procedures without royal permission. With this, the Inquisition became the only institution that held authority across all the realms of the Spanish monarchy and, in all of them, a useful mechanism at the service of the crown. However, the cities of Aragón continued resisting, and even saw revolt, as in Teruel from 1484 to 1485. However, the murder of Inquisidor Pedro Arbués in Zaragoza on September 15, 1485, caused public opinion to turn against the conversos and in favour of the Inquisition. In Aragón, the Inquisitorial courts were focused specifically on members of the powerful converso minority, ending their influence in the Aragonese administration.
The Inquisition was extremely active between 1480 and 1530. Different sources give different estimates of the number of trials and executions in this period; Henry Kamen estimates about 2,000 executed, based on the documentation of the autos-da-fé, the great majority being conversos of Jewish origin. He offers striking statistics: 91.6% of those judged in Valencia between 1484 and 1530 and 99.3% of those judged in Barcelona between 1484 and 1505 were of Jewish origin. “In 1498 the pope was still trying to…gain acceptance for his own attitude towards the New Christians, which was generally more moderate than that of the Inquisition and the local rulers.”
Expulsion of Jews and repression of conversos
The Spanish Inquisition had been set up in part to prevent conversos from engaging in Jewish practices, which, as Christians, they were supposed to have given up. However this remedy for securing the orthodoxy of conversos’ religion was eventually deemed inadequate, since the main justification the monarchy gave for formally expelling all Jews from Spain was the “great harm suffered by Christians (i.e. conversos) from the contact, intercourse and communication which they have with the Jews, who always attempt in various ways to seduce faithful Christians from our Holy Catholic Faith”. The Alhambra Decree, which ordered the expulsion, was issued in January 1492. Historic accounts of the numbers of Jews who left Spain have varied enormously. Historians of the period give extremely high figures: Juan de Mariana speaks of 800,000 people, and Don Isaac Abravanel of 300,000. Modern estimates, based on careful examination of official documents and population estimates of communities, are much lower: Henry Kamen estimates that, of a population of approximately 80,000 Jews, about one half or 40,000 chose emigration. The Jews of the kingdom of Castile emigrated mainly to Portugal (whence they were expelled in 1497) and to North Africa. However, according to Henry Kamen, the Jews of the kingdom of Aragon, went “to adjacent Christian lands, mainly to Italy”, rather than to Muslim lands as is often assumed. The Sefardim or Anusim descendants of Spanish Jews gradually migrated throughout Europe and North Africa, where they established communities in many cities. They also went to New Spain, the Ottoman Empire and North America (the American Southwest), Central and South America.
Tens of thousands of Jews were baptised in the three months before the deadline for expulsion, some 40,000 if one accepts the totals given by Kamen: most of these undoubtedly to avoid expulsion, rather than as a sincere change of faith. These conversos were the principal concern of the Inquisition; being suspected of continuing to practice Judaism put them at risk of denunciation and trial.
The most intense period of persecution of conversos lasted until 1530. From 1531 to 1560, however, the percentage of conversos among the Inquisition trials dropped to 3% of the total. There was a rebound of persecutions when a group of crypto-Jews was discovered in Quintanar de la Orden in 1588; and there was a rise in denunciations of conversos in the last decade of the 16th century. At the beginning of the 17th century, some conversos who had fled to Portugal began to return to Spain, fleeing the persecution of the Portuguese Inquisition, founded in 1536. This led to a rapid increase in the trials of crypto-Jews, among them a number of important financiers. In 1691, during a number of autos-da-fé in Majorca, 36 chuetas, or conversos of Majorca, were burned.
During the 18th century the number of conversos accused by the Inquisition decreased significantly. Manuel Santiago Vivar, tried in Córdoba in 1818, was the last person tried for being a crypto-Jew.
The generally accepted number burnt at the stake by the Inquisition (including all categories such as Protestants, blasphemers, bigamists and crypto-Jews