Today we have a guest blog from Deanna Proach, the author of two novels: To be Maria (Amazon Kindle) and Day of Revenge (Inkwater Press). You can learn more about her at www.deannaproachwriter.com and www.crusadesandcrusaders.com. She’s written a post for The Freelance History Writer on the reasons for the Spanish Inquisition.
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain established the Inquisition in response to their concern of Jewish economic and spiritual dominance over Spain.
The Spanish Jews before the Inquisition
For centuries before the Inquisition was established, Jews in Spain were much better off than in any other part of Europe. In fact, “the most glorious centuries of the Reconquest were those in which Jews enjoyed the greatest power in the courts of Kings, prelates and nobles, in Castile and Aragon,” says Henry C. Lee. By the thirteenth century Jews made up one fifth of Spain’s population. Jews had formed a nation within a nation without the threat of persecution and destruction.
Jews had their own language, law codes and penal system and practiced their own religion, while maintaining peace with the Christian population. “The Jewish population was an integral part of the Spanish economy in the fifteenth century,” says Anthony Bruno. Jews served as administrators, tax collectors and diplomats to their Christian overlords. Their skills and experience in various trades made them the dominant leaders in the cloth, furniture, clothing and jewellery industries. Jews also profited immensely from usury (lending money for a fee), a practice that Catholics were forbidden to exercise.
Jews as threat to the Catholic Monarchs
The immense wealth and economic success the Jews accumulated became a growing concern to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in the mid-fifteenth century. Their large numbers and the economic power they held in Spain, posed a threat to the power of the Catholic Monarchs. These factors, coupled with the Monarchs’ desire to strengthen their power by unifying Spain under their own rule, are what motivated them to establish the Inquisition in the early 1480s.
Jews as a threat to Catholicism in Spain
Ferdinand and Isabella did not view the Jew’s economic domination as the only threat to Catholicism. Judaism posed a far more dangerous threat to Catholicism in Spain. Conversos, Jewish converts to Christianity, posed the gravest threat to the Christians as there were far more of them than Judaists. Furthermore, until the late fifteenth century, they had freely married Christians.
For thousands of years the Christians hated the Jews because they believed they were the ones responsible for the crucifixion of The Christ. Consequently the Christians did not trust any Jew. They were extremely distrustful of the conversos, suspicious they were practicing their religion in secret, and even worse, influencing the Christian population. Many conversos did in fact return to the Judaist religion and practiced Judaist rituals in secret. Some Jews, though, remained faithful to the Christian religion.
The Holy Office of the Inquisition
The proposal for the Inquisition came from Alonso de Hojeda, the Prior of the Dominicans of Seville and a loyal advisor to Queen Isabella. Seeing her ardent desire to purify the country, Hojeda notified her of the spread of Judaism throughout the country and urged her to do something about it. “He laid stress upon the hypocrisy that had underlain so many of the conversions of Jews,” says Rafael Sabatini. Hojeda also pointed out that these conversos were terrible liars who made a mock of the Holy Church and defiled her sacraments by their pretend acceptance of Christianity. He urged that, not only should these Judaists be punished for proselytizing to the Christian communities, they should be carefully examined as well.
Alonso undoubtedly, like many other European Christians at that time, genuinely believed that the Jews were dangerous enemies of The Christ and so, for that reason, they needed to be done away with. At the same time, an inquisition would boost his power, prestige and wealth; another reason for Alonso to push the matter. In any case, the Queen readily agreed with him and the Holy Office of the Inquisition was established in 1478.
The Catholic Monarchs appointed Tomas de Torquemada, a wealthy monk, as Grand Inquisitor of the Inquisition. His stated task was to rid Spain of all heresy, which he successfully accomplished with much vigour. The inquisition in Spain endured long after the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. The Holy Office of the Inquisition was not abolished until 1834.
“A History of the Inquisition of Spain, Volume 1” by Henry C. Lee, “The Age of Torquemada” by John E. Longhurst, “Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition: A History” by Rafael Sabatini
“Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition” by Bruno Anthony