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Inquisition in Spain

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The essay is a critical analysis of how inquisition functions in the Spanish society. To successfully accomplish this, a thorough reading of the three case studies in the article Inquisitorial Inquiries: Brief Lives of Secret Jews & Other Heretics edited and translated by Kagan, Richard and Dyer, Abigail provide base for the arguments herein. It is worth noting that Spanish inquisition came to limelight in 1480 by the catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon as well as Isabella I of Castile. The intention of the initiative was to help maintain Catholic orthodoxy in the empire replacing Medieval Inquisition that was under the control of Papal control. It is worth noting that the orthodoxy of individual who converted from Judaism and Islam was ensured (Kagan and Dyer, 2004: 25).  Additionally, there are differing motives that guided the monarch decisions in trying to finance the inquisition for instance increasing political authorities as well as weakening opposition among others.

Historically, Queen Isabel was convinced by Alonso de Hojeda between 1477 and 1478 to introduce the Inquisition to Castile to find and punish crypto-Jews. Ferdinand II pressured the Pope Sixtus IV to agree to the request. This was done by claiming that if he does not assent the later will withdraw military support at a time when Turkey was a threat to Rome. After the approval, the first and most notable auto-de-fe was done in Seville back in 1481 in which six individuals were burned a live. From then hence forth the Inquisition expanded to regions such as Kingdom of Castile. Eleven years after the first auto-de-fe, 8 cities had adopted inquisition.

It is worth noting from the onset that the Spanish Inquisition was different from that of Papal Inquisition in terms of origin as well as organization. While the papal was initiated to deal with heresy, the Spanish one was meant to deal with convert Jews. These individuals had established themselves economically as well as politically and were holding important position. Their dominance, success and prosperity created resentments to other citizen which led to dangerous and irrational kind of hatred between these two groups. In terms of structure Spanish Inquisition was highly centralized as compared to the papal one which entails division and disintegration of power.

Types of crime

As previously stated, the formation of the Inquisition in Spain was aimed at nothing other than to help maintain Catholic orthodoxy in the empire and replacing Medieval Inquisition that was under the control of Papal control. With this there were a number of crimes that were brought to trial in this system. Aside from addressing issues relating to heresy statistic show that there are other kind of crimes such as judaizantes, moriscos, Lutherans, alumbrados, superstition, heretical propositions, bigamy, solicitation, offenses related to or against the Inquisition office among others.

According to Kagan and Dyer, 2004: 95 individual who practiced a number of faiths were liable to be charged in this system of administering ‘justice’. For instance in the case of Antonio in the first case study, he was accused of changing religion a number of times and continued to teach others regarding the previous religion. This in the society was deemed unethical and against rules of the land. With regards to blasphemy was also a crime brought into the trial. It was punishable if one engaged in verbal offenses which included outright blasphemy as well as questioning the many statements about religious beliefs.

Sexual morality as well as misbehavior of the men of the cloth warranted one to be brought to trial. For instance, majority of individuals have been brought to trial for simply affirming fornication was not a sin to them. Things re even worse when one put to doubt various aspects of Christian faith. For instance it was wrong for one to question virginity of Mary mother of God. It is worth noting that men of cloth were also accused of heretical propositions. Fortunately, the punishment for such offenses was rarely severe.

Additionally, the system of Spanish Inquisition tried cases related to sodomy. This category of crime was deemed to be crime against nature based on the Canon Law. Issues tackled included homosexuality, anal sex, rape as well as bestiality. It is important to remembers that those convicted were a times executed by the relevant authorities. However, a special examination into sodomy was carried out in Seville back in 1506 that led to burning of 12 people. Three years later it was declared by the Suprema of in Castile that Spanish Inquisition will no longer adjudicate issues relating to sodomy unless they are closely linked to heresy.

The ground on doing so was that the crime was introduced by Moors. However in Zaragoza the region was the most severe in dealing with sodomy. Between the years 1571 and 1579 slightly over 100 men were accused of sodomy out of these 35 people were executed. Strictly speaking between 1570 and 1630 there were a total of 534 cases handled by the Zaragoza Inquisition and a total of 102 people were executed. It is worth mentioning that as time passed the crime face more lenient punishment. The perpetrators include clergymen, nobles, workers, servants sailors and soldiers.   

On the same note, freemasonry as well as bigamy was also included to be crimes tired by the Spanish Inquisition. It was back in 1815 that the general Inquisitor and bishop dubbed the lodges as nothing but societies that result into atheism, to sedition as well as all other errors and crimes. For this reason, mechanisms were put in place to ensure that any Spaniard when suspected of being a freemason would be arrested. Those accused of bigamy the “act of entering into a marriage with one person while still legally married to another” attracted a penalty of five years in a gallery for men women were also accused but not more often. It was noted with concern that bigamy was an offense that frequently took place in the society.

Finally witchcraft was also a crime that warranted being tried in Spanish inquisition system. This fell under superstition.  Compared to other European region witchcraft in Spain was of much less intensity. A case that is remembers is that of Logrono where the witches of Zugarramurdi were persecuted. It is worth to remember that 11 people were burned in 1610 after being convicted of witchcraft. Although the Inquisition was addressing the issue, hey did not give it a lot of focus because it raised a skeptical attitude since the cases are nothing other than superstitions bases on no solid grounds (Kagan and Dyer, 2004: 205).

Responding to the crime

When a critical examination is done on how the accused responded to the accusation, it can be much clear on how at present individuals taken to court respond. It is thus evident that the current events in courtroom heavily borrowed from the ancient happenings. Generally speaking the procedure in the Spanish Inquisition follows the precedent that was developed in 13th century as well as models offered by the secular tribunal. It is worth noting that when one is accused of the previously mentioned a term of grace is given usually between 30 and 40 days to recant and prepare their defense.  

The accused person is allowed to have services of a lawyer and was only examined by officers only in presence of two priests deemed to be of no interest in the case. In most cases, the accused is not allowed to meet with the witnesses. This kind of arrangement proved to be a great disadvantage to the accused. Like in the case of Antonio, it is apparent that when one is in the court, he/she is questioned regarding the reasons of being arrested, name, age, profession, place of residence among others are asked. The respone depend on the person. Individuals who are sharp answer formulaic queries and only tell the inquisitors only the information they need to hear.

Additionally, there is an occasion that the accused Is given a chance to give a narrative of his/her life, on uses the opportunity to clearly describe all events that are linked to help them be exonerated of the accusations (Kagan and Dyer, 2004: 45). During the trial, there are a series of hearings in which the two main parties the denouncers as well as defendant provide evidence. It is the responsibility of the lawyer to help in encouraging the accused to speak nothing but the truth. In response to the accusation the defendant has the potential to bring favorable witnesses for instance Antonio in the first cases study brought his wife.

Similarly, the defendant can resort to clearly how that the witnesses against him are not worthy. Additionally, during the grace period, the accused was also given an opportunity to denounce others who have committed certain offenses or crimes that warrants being tried by the Spanish Inquisition. While responding, to the accusations, the accused are tortured. In most cases the accused are sentenced to whatever kind of punishment, rarely did the accused get acquitted.

Types of punishment

With regards to the punishment available, commentators have broadly categorized them into being very severe and lenient ones. The type of punishment usually was dictated by a number of factors such as the evidences provided, the response of the accused and more importantly the type of crime committed. The most severe kind of punishment subject to offenders was death. This was not carried out by the church but rather the public. In series offences such as heresy, individuals found guilty were burnt to death. The application of this kind of punishment was to impenitent heretic. In situations where the accused is found guilty and repents mercy is shown by garroting then burned. Those who did not repent were more often than not burned alive. It is worth noting that application of death or capital punishment took toll in the begging of the Inquisition and later subsided as time passed.

In situations where one is reconciled other harsh punishment followed. For instance individuals could be jailed or put into gallery for substantially longer periods of time. Additionally, there were incidences in which the accused was deprived of all his/her property. Interestingly, there were cases where the punishment entails thorough whipping. Other ‘light punishment’ during the times included individual’s adjuring their crimes in the eyes of the public and accepts punishment spelt by the public. Some of the punishment included exile, paying of fines and being sentenced to galleries (Kagan and Dyer 2004: 134).


From the review of Spanish Inquisition, it is evident that there are close association with the case studies in the book Inquisitorial Inquiries: Brief Lives of Secret Jews & Other Heretics. Historically, the Inquisition came to being back in 1480 thanks to the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon as well as Isabella I of Castile. The intention of the initiative was to help maintain Catholic orthodoxy in the empire replacing Medieval Inquisition that was under the control of Papal control.

It is different from the papal one in terms of structure, intent and origin.  Among the types of crime that were addressed by the Inquisition included heresy, sodomy, bigamy, freemasonry, witchcraft among others. These crimes drew a number of punishments that ranged from whipping, paying fines to being burnt a live. It is worth noting that before being sentenced, the accused is given room to present his/her case with a help of an official. The response can be done by calling in favorable witnesses or providing beyond doubt that he witness is not worthy to testify against the accused.

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