The Spanish Inquisition

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The Inquisition took its own course in Spain and Portugal, where it was turned primarily against Jews and Muslims, religious sects and even Freemasons. Accusations of witchcraft and sorcery were used against many of the accused. The driving force behind the Spanish Inquisition was political unification of the three dominant kingdoms of Spain, Castile, Aragon and Granada, pursued by King Ferdinand, who ascended the throne of Aragon in 1479, and his wife, Queen Isabella, who ascended the throne of Castile in 1474. In 1478, Pope Sixtus IV authorized the examination of Jewish converts to Christianity. The new royals used this against what they perceived as "the Jewish" problem in their own land.

The Spanish Inquisition operated outside the jurisdiction of Rome and had its own organization of councils and inquisitors, overseen by an Inquisitor General. As the first Inquisitor General, Torquemada established rules and procedures. Salaries and expenses of inquisitors were paid from the goods and properties confiscated from the accused, so there was great motivation to target heretics.

The typical procedure against an accused heretic was to read accusations against him from anonymous accusers. The wordings were deliberately vague, and the accused was forced to guess the identity of his accusers and why he was targeted. If he guessed wrongly, he was sent back to prison and recalled again. If he guessed correctly, he was asked why the witnesses accused him of heresy. In that way, the accused were maneuvered into acknowledg ing guilt and also naming others who might be dragged into court as well. Throughout, the accused was assigned an "advocate," a sort of public defender, who in actuality did little to defend the accused. Instead, the advocate encouraged the accused to admit guilt.

In many cases, cruel torture was applied. The torture was both physical and psychological. The latter included taking the accused into dark, underground chambers where inquisitors waited with a black-robed and hooded executioner.

Victims were not given formal trials, but rather subjected to long interrogations punctuated by long periods in prison and by torture. Finally the accused was made to appear at an auto-da-fe, at which a sentence was given. The condemned were not always executed; many were sentenced to prison, whippings, scourging, galleys and fines.

Unrepentant or relapsed heretics were sentenced to death by burning at the stake. If they confessed during the auto-da-fe, they were given the mercy of strangulation prior to burning. The executions were spectacular affairs conducted in a public square, attended by royalty. The stakes were about four yards high, with a small board near the top where the condemned were chained. Several final attempts were made to get the condemned to reconcile to Rome. The executions proceeded by first burning the faces of the condemned with flaming furzes attached to poles that were thrust at them. Then dry furzes set about the stakes were set afire.

The Spanish Inquisition did not succumb to the witch craze that swept through Europe, but instead kept most of its focus on religious heretics. The Spaniards extended their Inquisition into the New World, setting up an office in Mexico, whose jurisdiction reached into what later was part of the American Southwest (see SANTA Fe WITCHES). The Spanish Inquisition came to a formal end in 1834.

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