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"Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

The Spanish Inquisition was a branch of the Castilian Church founded by Queen Isabella in 1478. It was later given jurisdiction over Aragon and Navarra as well and eventually the unified Kingdom of Spain. It was disbanded in 1834.

The Inquisition was founded by Isabella of Castile to stamp out Heresy and enforce religious orthodoxy amongst her subjects, particularly in Granada - the not-quite-complete conquest and subjugation of which was used as something of a rallying point which she used to smooth over the cracks caused by the somewhat-unexpected union of the Spanish Kingdoms brought about by her marriage to Ferdinand, King of Aragon. Who we'll mention in passing just long enough to make it clear who wore the pants, though he did come in handy at times and by all accounts was a decent husband who could be trusted to get things done. Ferdinand and Isabella are still Spain's most popular monarchs.

Granada was the last remnant of the muslim kingdom of Al-Andalus which had once spanned very nearly the entire Iberian peninsula. With its conquest the Reconquista, the reclamation of Spain for Christianity, was complete. Shortly afterwards, the Muslim population of Spain was given a choice: convert to Christianity, or leave for North Africa. Many tens of thousands left, or were forcibly evicted. The Jewish population was later given the same choice. Isabella thought that it was only fair that those subjects who had effectively agreed to be loyal, Christian subjects would take a generation or so to learn the new ways. After that, the Inquisition could be used to educate the ethnically Moorish population about Catholic orthodoxy if need be. Until then, the Inquisition got started handling its standard fare of cases, the bread and butter it would chew on for the next three hundred years. That is to say, the Inquisition would tour around the cities and larger towns and address the issues that were generally the reserve of Ordinaries (church courts) everywhere - blasphemy, immorality, sexual immorality and religious ignorance generally, and ignorance, illiteracy, corruption and (sexual) immorality amongst the clergy.

By the end of the grace period, a significant minority of Moorish and Jewish subjects were Christian in name only, using 'conversion' as an excuse to stay on in Spain. The degree to which this minority bothered to maintain this illusion varied, but in some areas of central Granada Church attendance could be measured by the dozens per annum, and ignorance of the basic tenets of Catholicism was rife. The Inquisition more or less gave up on ever addressing the huge numbers of Moorish and Jewish people living in the villages and hamlets of Granada and under the protection of Estate Lords who used them as cheap labour in Aragon. Lobbying instead for a further expulsion, they eventually got it a century on from the first expulsion and there was a second expulsion of all Moors from Granada. Most of those expelled went on to become urban poor in Spain's towns and cities, though those that could afford it generally went back to Moorish Africa. There was a third and final expulsion of all Moorish subjects from Spain after this, when it became clear that the Moorish minorities were not being assimilated and were in fact causing trouble in the locales they had migrated to.

The Inquisition exclusively focused on people in urban centres, particularly people of prominence or importance - a strategy of limited resources more than anything else. The Inquisition was to some extent used as a political weapon by the Crown, which had few other means of dealing with its political enemies amongst the Clergy and the Civic Authorities, who administered over two-thirds of the urban population of Spain virtually independently from the Crown. To this end, cultural hang-overs like daily bathing (a Moorish custom) or not eating pork were (infamously) used as the basis for accusations of false conversion. In the same manner, the possession of certain texts - a list of banned books was eventually drawn up to this end - was used to support accusations of heresy, protestantism, anti-monarchism &c. This had the effect of getting many relatively harmless intellectuals into trouble, but the Inquisition's role in preventing the outbreak of Protestantism in Spain has been called assessed as everything from marginal but useful to critical and essential.

Most of these people brought up on charges of heresy, heretical ideas, dangerous ideas &c were asked to recant their sins and accept religious re-education. The afterlife and one's place in it almost always being prized over the temporal one, this was big stuff, though just why exactly it was so may yet elude some people today given the general attitude of complacency to religion today - Atheism still being a heresy that had to be addressed for the sake of the adherents' souls, thought it was a very uncommon charge.

The Inquisition witnessed very few witch trials; this is not just because they dealt only a small proportion of the peninsula's (minority) urban population at intervals of decades or more - some towns for which there exist records were not visited more than a few times during the entire period of the Inquisition's existence. This ended in latter 16th Century, when the Inquisition ruled that so-called witchcraft did not exist. The Inquisition deemed all self-identified 'witches' insane and denounced the backwardness and unorthodoxy of witch-hunters - the Inquisition was not so much interested in enforcing 'old' Catholicism as it was in promoting the 'new' Catholicism of the Catholic Reformation or Counter-Reformation.

Unfortunately, this did not stop civic authorities - who had their own court systems independent of the Church and the Crown - and groups of angry villagers from rounding 'witches' and hanging them anyway. Said authorities and mobs did not, sadly, keep records, so the actual number of Spanish people killed as witches remains unknown. That said, it is generally assumed to be lower than that in, say, France.

A common misconception is that the Spanish Inquisition was deployed overseas - it was not. There are contemporary, sensationalist, rumours of the Spanish Inquisition burning people left right and centre in the Netherlands during the course of the Reformation and Eighty Years' war. This was however the work of the Dutch Inquisition in the Spanish Netherlands, who were again in many cases using heresy as an excuse to deal with Dutch Nationalists and other politically troublesome individuals.

Some points about the actual Spanish Inquisition:

  • The auto de fe was actually only a public penance of heretics and didn't actually feature torture or burning at the stake as commonly depicted -- the last part came later on. However, the two were seen as the same process.
  • Historians now estimate that of all trials only two percent may have actually ended with execution. A study of the timeframe 1540 to 1700 found documents for 44,674 cases with roughly 1500 death sentences. Furthermore as trials tended to be lengthy and wardens poor a surprising number of the sentenced managed to flee the country and so the sentences resulted in 826 executions in persona, i.e. burning the heretic, and 778 in effigie, i.e. burning a strawman because the convict was unavailable. Estimates for the total number of executions in persona range between 1000 and 1500.
  • They didn't really burn books and the stuff that was on their banned list was still widely available. Most Golden Age authors ran into them at least once.
  • Unusually among the multiple Inquisitions established in different parts of Europe, final authority and control rested with the monarchs rather than the Church hierarchy. It quite often functioned as a simple tool of repression, a sort of medieval secret police working for the Crown. This rather ironically means you could argue it was the least religiously motivated of the Inquisitions, despite its image and reputation.
  • The Holy Office of the Inquisition is now known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Amongst the most recent Prefects of this office was one Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger... currently known as Pope Benedict XVI. In fact, he was Prefect when he was elected Pope.
    • Though the Holy Office per se only had direct jurisdiction over the Italian peninsula at most The Holy Office reported directly to the Pope, while the well-known Spanish office, as said above, reported to El Escorial first.
  • One of the main reasons for the villain status of the Inquisition: Their host country was nearly continually at war with primarily Protestant nations such as England and the Netherlands, where printing presses and popular literature were much more common. This meant that at the beginning they criticized the Spanish Inquisition's poor job on executions and conversions. When the Inquisition became a bit harsher, they went apeshit and exaggerated its reputation of being a blood-thirsty organization. Some modern-day Spaniards refer to this as the "Black Legend."

The Spanish Inquisition in fiction:

  • The classic film Man of La Mancha is the story of Don Quixote as told by Miguel de Cervantes to a group of inmates while qhe awaits trial by the Inquisition. An underplayed but important arch involves Miguel building up his courage to face the Inquisition, running parallel to Quixote's seeming fearlessness.
  • One episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus has a Running Gag where a frustrated character would grumble, "I didn't expect some kind of/this kind of/the Spanish Inquisition!" After a "jarring chord," several anachronistic Spanish Inquisitors would burst in and seize control of the skit.
  • A Batman episode actually plays a version of the famous Monty Python sketch completely straight.
  • Candide
  • The opera Don Carlo, and the play by Friedrich von Schiller on which it is based.
  • A parable told by Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov is set in the Spanish Inquisition.
  • Inspired the Quisition in the Discworld novel Small Gods.
  • The Edgar Allan Poe story The Pit and the Pendulum
  • Spoofed in a musical number in Mel Brooks' History of the World, Part I.
  • Also mentioned in Good Omens, which has the Them playing at being the Spanish Inquisition. We also learn that Hell congratulated Crowley for the Inquisition, despite him having no involvement whatsoever in bringing it about. When he went to see what all the fuss was about, he stayed drunk for a week. Even Evil Has Standards.
  • Kage Baker's novel In the Garden of Iden has its immortal cyborg protagonist, Mendoza, rescued as a child from the Spanish Inquisition. She is not above using this to try to squeeze sympathy and better job postings from her superiors.
  • Depicted as a cancer on an idealized body politic in The Fountain by Darren Aronofsky. Then we realize it was All Just a Story in the head of a dying astronaut who has attained enlightenment.
  • Depicted as a torturous game show sketch, "Convert or Die!", in the Histeria! episode "Megalomaniacs". The sketch was replaced with a new sketch about Custers Last Stand in reruns, but restored when the episode appeared on In2TV.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door had the Spinach Inquisition from the land of Spinachia, who forced kids to eat spinach so they didn't have to (and sang about it as well). Upon saying "Nobody expects the spinach inquisition!", a rim shot plays.
  • Henry was pursued by a priest in Blood Ties. In two different eras.
  • Open Blue has the Three Inquisitional Orders, which served as the Avelian Empire's Spanish Inquisition. When the inquisition ended, they continued to train their priests (and nuns) in the art of swinging swords around as they were frequently assigned as chaplains aboard Avelian warships, which usually went off hunting Pirates. Additionally, these priests and nuns are responsible for training the spies and State Sec agents working for the Empire's intelligence service.
  • Spanish series of novels The Adventures of Captain Alatriste (and the movie, simply Alatriste) feature the Inquisition as an antagonistic organization, represented mostly in Fray Emilio Bocanegra ("Black-Mouth") and his conspiracies.
  • The Doctor Who New Adventures novel Sanctuary.
  • Mentioned in the early books of Eric Flint and David Weber's 1632 series, but comes to the fore in 1634: The Galileo Affair.
  • Warhammer 40000 has the Inquisition, a religious paramilitary security force that protects the Imperium from its enemies within and enemies without. One branch (Ordo Malleus) deals with daemons of Chaos, another (Ordo Hereticus) with rogue psykers or outbreaks of heresy, and a third (Ordo Xenos) from alien corruption. The Inqusition's members have a fondness for broad-brimmed hats (when they're not in full-blown Power Armor), and helped provide most of the 40K contributions on the Quotes Wiki on the subject of Hanging Judge.
    • And by extension, the Inquisition is the main organization of Exterminatus Now. There are also two references to the Monty Python sketch.
  • Warhammer Fantasy, way before Warhammer 40K, had the Witch Hunters, agents who hunted down Chaos activities, unlicensed magic users, mutants, and whatever else they don't like much. Their authority might come from local authorities, the official State Cult, or simply be acting on their own.
  • The Holy See of Berserk also has an Inquisition dedicated to rooting out heretics. The most notorious figure of such is Bishop and High Inquisitor Mozgus, who is quite the nasty piece of work.
  • Paul Luther is detained by the Inquisition in Eternal Darkness; his chapter title is even "Heresy!".
  • The Inquisition is still around in the Dresden Files. Good Shepherd Father Forthill is even a member. Nowadays, though their primary goal is dealing with dangerous supernatural threats and helping the Knights of the Cross. They're really very sorry about what happened in Spain, and have sworn off political power because of it.
  • They're also still around in Hunter: The Vigil. The Malleus Malefictorum are also dedicated to only fighting supernatural threats, particularly vampires. Their leader is a ghoul, as in someone who survives on vampire blood. He's also gay, but surprisingly not a Pedophile Priest.
  • Lang Lang plays it completely straight.
  • Goyas Ghosts starring Natalie Portman as one of the victims of the Inquisition.
  • Marvel 1602 features Magneto as the Grand Inquisitor, and Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch as his two assistants. While he publicly advances the Pope's agenda, he secretly kills only "witchbreed" whose mutations are obvious, such as Angel's. Those who are less obvious he inducts into his "Brotherhood of those who will inherit the earth".
  • The Monk takes place in Spain during this era.
  • While Requiem Chevalier Vampire doesn't have an actual Inquisition, some of the more notorious members show up as werewolves (including torquemada himself), the transformation for religious fanatics.
  • Features prominently in any of Jack Chick's comics about the Catholic Church and, like the life of Jesus is treated as if almost noone has ever heard of it.
  • Don Quixote: The only contemporary example by an Spanish author (Cervantes) shows The Spanish Inquisition as an Institution responsible for ensuring that the Spanish captives by the Moors who returned to Spain did not present traces of having converted to Islam,and as a Moral Guardian full of Pitying Perversion for the masses at their charge when a noble makes a Practical Joke with an enchanted head. However, the book would never have been published if the institution was showed at a worse light.

  ...this marvellous contrivance stood for some ten or twelve days; but that, as it became noised abroad through the city that he had in his house an enchanted head that answered all who asked questions of it, Don Antonio, fearing it might come to the ears of the watchful sentinels of our faith, explained the matter to the inquisitors, who commanded him to break it up and have done with it, lest the ignorant vulgar should be scandalized.


What a show!

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