Spanish Inquisition, 1478-1834
Inquisition was a chief instrument of the Crown and the Church. It was an
instrument to strengthen monarchy and to unify the two kingdoms, Castilla and
Spain was one of the most tolerant lands in medieval Europe, a place where
Christians, Jews, and Moslems lived in harmony. That had been the policy of
the Moslems when they ruled Spain; the Christians continued it. By the 15th
century, however, intolerance grew, evidenced by mob violence and persecution
laws against Moslems and Jews. In 1492, Castile passed a law requiring Jews to become Christians or go
into exile. Spaniards increasingly saw Moslems as a problem. The Moslems
rebelled against religious intolerance and were ordered to convert to
Christianity or leave. Too many Spaniards were beginning to believe that
loyalty to the monarch and to Spain required that everyone believe the same.
To enforce like-mindedness, Christians created a thought control agency, the
Inquisition, back by the state. It determined what people could or could not
believe, conducted investigations and trials, and, when found guilty, turned
them over the government authorities for punishment.
The Inquisition stood for social justice. It ignored class distinctions, economic
status, and other such differences. It tended to reduce all men to a common
level before the law (which was a very leftist posture). Judged by the standards
of the times, the Spanish Inquisition was neither cruel nor unjust in its
procedure and penalties. In many ways, it was more just and humane than almost
any other tribunal in Europe. Conviction, for example, required seven witnesses.
The accused was allowed the assistance of trained lawyers and an advocate. An
accused could challenge a judge because of prejudice and make a list of all his
enemies, thus excluding them from testifying. False accusations carried severe
penalties. The Inquisition took good care of its prisoners. Unlike other
European justice systems, it was very sparing in the use of torture and, when it
did, used the more humane forms. What was terrifying about it was its secrecy.
People could be arrested and held for years by the Inquisition.