. . . instead of talking of ‘the inquisitor of Peru’ it was more accurate to talk of ‘the Peru of the inquisitor’ . . .
AT THIS MOMENT we seem to have reached to the heart of neighbourly odium. Questions mentionable and unmentionable circle the towns and their acid decay. How did the Inquisition penetrate the everyday? What made people submit to administration and its brittle soul? We have seen that there was a sense of complicity, of pleasure at the licence to spy. But to take advantage of this passivity there had to be an organization ready to take command.
The tale is a familiar one, though foreign in its antiquity. The minutiae of its procedures is, as we have seen, something which marks the Inquisition out as a modern persecuting institution, one of the first of its kind. With the administration of persecution went the possibility of stealing power, and from power came the corruption of what was supposed to be an institution of purity. The Inquisition, theoretically an instrument of the divine, was nothing if not human.
This corruption is no surprise. As the story has unravelled, it has been punctuated by bloodthirstiness and frequent instances of sexual predation by inquisitors. Often, indeed, the two have been connected. Lucero in Cordoba, Manozca in Lima and Mexico, Salazar in Murcia, these inquisitors arranged large-scale burnings even as they satisfied their baser desires, and they were by no means out of the ordinary.*1 According to the social bonds of the time, these overbearing men had something alluring about them – the power to punish, and the power to forgive.
As these examples show, corruption was as commonplace in the colonies as in Portugal and Spain. The same held elsewhere. In Cartagena, the hub of the slave trade to South America, abuses of power occurred on a daily basis as vast numbers of contraband African slaves arrived in America in appalling conditions. Perhaps, then, the Spanish settler Lorenzo Martínez de Castro should not have been surprised in 1643 to find himself a resident of the inquisitorial jail.
On the arrival of Martín Real, an inquisitorial visitor of inquiry from the Suprema in Spain, Martínez de Castro had written and described the activities of Inquisitor Juan Ortiz with his wife, Rufina de Roxas. Ortiz had recently begun the unusual practice of taking Rufina’s confession in a session that lasted all night. As Martínez de Castro rhetorically put it, ‘What business is so serious that a married woman has to have her confession taken all night, and what scribe could possibly exist who would write down her declaration? What divine law orders an inquisitor to commit public adultery, so that if I had killed my wife it would have been on his account?’1 The sense of outrage and scandal is to be expected, but there is nothing in the complaint to indicate surprise; rather, merely the hope that the grievance would be listened to. It was, and over the next six months Real tried to get to the bottom of what had, or had not, gone on.
Martínez de Castro’s wife, Rufina, was only seventeen-years-old in June 1643 when her problems began. Freshly arrived from Seville, one can surmise that she was still adjusting to life in the New World and to the urges of her body. Probably, she found her older husband boring, domineering or both. Such is the implication of the fact that in the first half of 1643 she took to giving him ‘wild aubergines’, which, her slave Thomassa had told her, would make him sleep so that she could go out by night and do as she pleased – and, perhaps more importantly, not do as he pleased.2
Rufina’s problems began when she told Thomassa not to confess to a priest her part in this mild drugging of her husband because, she informed her, it was not a sin.3 This order of Rufina’s was overheard by a mulatto carpenter, Pedro Suárez. Here was a chance for some excitement. He determined to denounce her to the Inquisition.4 Suárez does not come across from the evidence as a particularly devout person; far more likely is that the motivation for his betrayal was his own thwarted desire for Rufina.
In any event, on the very same day that Suárez went to denounce her the messenger of the Inquisition in Cartagena came to Rufina’s house and ordered all of her female slaves to come in for questioning. Rufina fell into a panic. She rushed to a priest for advice, and was told she should go to the Inquisition at once to make a full confession. The peculiar values of that distant time and place are revealed by the fact that, in the Inquisition’s eyes, her sin was not the drugging of her husband, but the advice to her slave Thomassa not to confess her part in it.
On her way back from seeing the priest Rufina met a friend of hers, Inés. Inés clearly knew a thing or two about Inquisitor Juan Ortiz. She suggested that Rufina throw herself at his feet; it would help, she added, if she put on her jewels and finest clothes so that she looked as beautiful as she could. Rufina did as she was told and went to visit Ortiz that evening. The man who accompanied her and her female slave through the narrow streets that night, keeping them safe from physical threat, was none other than Pedro Suárez, her accuser.5
Rufina spent half an hour with Ortiz that evening, with her slave Ana just outside in the darkened corridor. She emerged announcing to Suárez that the inquisitor had declared that this was not a matter for the Inquisition but nevertheless went to see Ortiz the following evening, accompanied again by Suárez. Ortiz told her to come back by day two days later, dressed in black and carried through the city by her slaves to make an official confession.6 This would just be a formality for her to go through so that any question of an offence against the faith was forgotten.
Ortiz, however, had clearly learnt how to snare women like Rufina. Once her guard was down, the shift from relief to fear was one which could provoke other extreme feelings. When she arrived on the appointed day at six in the morning with her slaves, Ortiz changed his approach. He tore into her angrily, and said that it was now clear that the Inquisition would have no option but to arrest her; she was to come two days later by night and see if there might be any remedy.7
The hapless Rufina did the inquisitor’s bidding. Passing through Cartagena in the moonlight, she arrived on the evening in question again with Suárez and her slave Ana in tow. Ortiz asked her if she had come accompanied by a man. Yes, she had; her protector Suárez was waiting for her. She should not have brought him, said Ortiz. Such people, he continued – no doubt thinking of Suárez’s own accusation of Rufina – were not to be trusted, and moreover he had invited her ‘so that she should come to his bedroom, leading her to understand that he wanted her to stay the night with him’.8
Rufina made an excuse and left. She was summoned again two days later. This time, she confessed to the Suprema visitor Martín Real, she had worn a white shift and a skirt embroidered with green taffeta. She had arrived late at night and gone in through the side door of the inquisitor’s lodgings, not by the front door as on previous occasions. This time she did spend the night.9
At first one is shocked by the abuse of power. But consider again how Rufina described the clothes she had worn on the night Ortiz seduced her. This is the description of someone who had taken great care with her appearance before setting out, and, moreover, who by going in via the side door had known what would await her. It is the statement of someone appalled by power, but yet finding this emotion sublimated into a feeling of intense attraction and the release of submission.
Here we touch on the emotional landscape of one of the more disturbing scientific experiments of the 20th century. In 1961 Stanley Milgram sought to test human response to people in authority. Participants were ordered to administer increasingly large electric shocks to an unseen person in a nearby room. There was in fact no person being tortured and the participants heard the shouts and cries of an actor, yet in spite of the screams two-thirds of the participants gave the largest shock of all, which could have been lethal.
Authority and power compel. Inquisitor Ortiz had played his hand with skill, showing Rufina his potential for compassion before making her fear his power. Such power perhaps accentuated her feelings of loneliness in this alien city so far from her home in Spain. Here, where the streets were filled with American Indians and African slaves, and where the sufferings of those unloaded from
slave ships were constantly apparent, the consequences of disobedience and powerlessness were obvious. Authority became all too easy to obey.
The inquisitorial visitor Real, when he uncovered the truth of the matter, concluded that Rufina had sinned by sleeping with Ortiz; the inquisitor’s failing, in contrast, had been in not punishing her for her crime against the faith. It may seem extraordinary that the Inquisition saw the liaison as Rufina’s sin rather than the inquisitor’s, but this was the (misogynistic) world view of that institution.
Men such as Ortiz are difficult to forgive. Inquisitors had to have legal training and were not usually friars but rather priests who had not taken holy orders.10 Perhaps this makes such failings as these less hypocritical, but only marginally so. In the end what one finds is that power was concentrated to such an extent in the hands of these agents of God that many of them were unable to resist the opportunities that followed. Strengthening the powers of the Inquisition entailed strengthening the corruption of power; the inquisitors were in fact ‘neither demons nor angels . . . just men, in all their glory and all their wretchedness’.11
THE POWER OF INQUISITORS does not just emerge in their sexual activities; it touched every aspect of their lives: their dress, their behaviour to their colleagues and their pride. To observe how power could corrupt an inquisitor’s sense of what was and was not permitted, we shall examine the will of the inquisitor-general of Portugal, Dom Francisco de Castro. Castro was a key figure in the Inquisition’s power struggle with John IV, the first king of Portugal after the split with Spain in 1640. In his efforts to make the Portuguese state solvent, John IV passed a law in 1649 barring the confiscation of goods by the Inquisition from converso merchants. Unhappy at this threat to its revenues, the Inquisition then engaged in a protracted power struggle with him, bolstered by the papacy, who did not recognize John and allowed see after see to fall vacant as bishops died.
Following the death of the first Portuguese inquisitor-general, John III’s brother Cardinal Henry, these individuals had generally had a chequered reputation. In 1621 a letter had been written urgently to King Philip IV*2 saying that the Portuguese Inquisition was on the verge of ruin because of the corruption of Inquisitor-General Fernando Martines Mascarenhas. A council needed to be formed to resolve the problems, and its members should be neither related to the inquisitor-general nor in his debt.12 Clearly, there was a feeling that Martines Mascarenhas was not entirely above worldly affairs.
Similarly, the wardrobe of the venerable inquisitor Francisco de Castro as revealed in his will illustrates a different sort of corruption, but one which was no less endemic. It gives some idea of the lifestyle which this individual followed in his battle with heresy. In his wardrobe were pieces of camlet, dressing gowns, capes, jerkins, knickerbockers, black silk socks, a sunhat made of damask and bonnets, all stored in leather trunks, damask bags and large chests. In fact, let us not make the mistake of thinking that the inquisitor-general had just this one damask hat. No! He had two flat hats with green ties to wear at court and another for when he was travelling plus two hats made of palm leaves, adorned with taffeta and embellished with black and green ribbons.
This was not an individual forced to go short of the necessities of life. Even the spittoon and the travelling urinal which he took with him on journeys to catch his holy spittle and urine were made of silver. He had no shortage of mirrors with which to admire himself. He had a golden dinner service, large tablecloths for when he was having banquets and smaller ones for more personal use. In the midst of such opulence Inquisitor-General Francisco de Castro managed to enshrine the necessary social hierarchies; while he and his colleagues ate from golden plates, his servants ate off dishes made from tin.13
All this was in keeping with the pride and ostentation to which inquisitors were given. The Inquisition was a body driven by status, as its rules of operation make clear. At autos inquisitors sat on chairs and other officials sat on benches. In court the prosecutor was given a chair, but it was smaller than the inquisitors’ chairs; in Galicia, one prosecutor responded by ordering that his own subordinates take off their bonnets when talking to him.14 All power flowed via the hierarchy to the inquisitors, who only deferred to the authority of the scriptures; everyone else deferred to them.
Does one suppose that all inquisitors began life as hypocrites who would be prepared to say one thing and do another? This would be too simplistic; the most famous inquisitors are those that did appalling things,15 while the many who were ‘just doing their job’ and progressing inexorably up the career ladder tend to be passed over.16 Perhaps, indeed, the view that inquisitors either followed the Mengele or the Eichmann school of persecution is also too easy an answer. Human beings, as the archives of the Inquisition show, have countless ways of working out their inner torment.
What we do see, though, when looking at the lives of inquisitors and of inquisitorial operatives in general, is the endless abuse of power. Inquisitors like Juan Ortiz in Cartagena, with his predatory conquest of the young bride Rufina de Roxas, were anything but atypical. Indeed one of the best arguments against those historians who downplay the impact of the Inquisition is the very impunity with which inquisitorial staff abused their power. Had the Inquisition not been feared and its power disproportionate, some of the terrible things that officials felt able to do would surely not have been tolerated.
Santiago de Compostela 1609
IN GALICIA, spiritual heartland of Spain, destination of the great pilgrimages from France and across Spain, all was not well between the two inquisitors. As a network of Judaizing conversos was uncovered around Santiago, Inquisitors Muñoz de la Cuesta and Ochoa began to write letters complaining about one another. In July 1607 Muñoz de la Cuesta had accused Ochoa of insisting on doing things only the way he wanted and of stringing out trials of impoverished prisoners unnecessarily, creating a financial burden for the tribunal. Then, in 1609, when the number of prisoners taken in Galicia was such that the Suprema ordered additional buildings to be constructed to house the prison, Muñoz de la Cuesta accused Ochoa of taking over some of these buildings in order to expand his own apartments. The Suprema censured Munoz de la Cuesta for the disagreements between the two men, so, feeling that he was in danger of being sacked, Muñoz de la Cuesta arranged for an anonymous letter to be sent to the Suprema alleging all sorts of irregularities on the part of Ochoa.17
Tired of the constant sniping between the two inquisitors, the Suprema arranged for a visitor to come and examine the affairs of the tribunal. They appointed the inquisitor of Zaragoza, Delgadillo de la Canal, who rapidly formulated over sixty charges againstbothinquisitors, including the fact that each of them had embezzled confiscated goods into the hands of their friends.18 However, it was their open sexual peccadilloes which were perhaps most astonishing for men who were supposed to uphold the sanctity of the divine law; it is worth recalling again that inquisitors were supposed to prosecute, among other blasphemies, the statement, ‘Simple fornication is not a sin’.*3
Among the charges laid at the door of Muñoz de la Cuesta was that he went to orchards on the fringes of the city and seduced young women there. He had brought a girl called María to Santiago, even though she was only fifteen or sixteen years old, and showered her with gifts. He accompanied married women to the theatre and invited them on a daily basis to his rooms in the tribunal offices; it was public knowledge that he slept with them, and that he had even attempted to seduce nuns through third parties.19Although he was suspended from his post in 1612 none of these manifest failings prevented him from being appointed inquisitor of Barcelona in 161520 – something which says a lot about the competition.
Ochoa was little better. He had bombarded a married woman, Quitería Rodríguez, with presents until he had persuaded her to move to Santiago and live with him openly in sin. She had been with him for several years, and all the inquisitorial officials were forced to call her señora – my lady. When he had eventually been forced to separate from her, he had gone around the tribunal crying and sobbing, calling out, ‘Oh, my beloved Quitería!’ Eventually he had hit upon the ruse of inviting her back with her cuckolded husband Juan Piñeiro, whom he had appointed to a post in the bureaucracy. Ochoa had then taken to presiding over inquisitorial hearings with Quitería beside him, while she had been known to protest at the unreasonable volume of paperwork and at the thoughtless and selfish cries of the prisoners in their jail cells.21 Clearly, Ochoa had decided that it was better to be a hypocrite than to induce the sin of bigamy by marrying Quitería; otherwise he might have ended up having to prosecute his beloved or, worse still, see her prosecuted by his arch-rival Muñoz de la Cuesta.
This remarkable case reveals the chasm between inquisitorial theory and practice. Although in theological theory simple fornication was most definitely a sin, these inquisitors saw nothing wrong with enjoying it in practice. In fact, they were all for it. Moreover, cases such as these are much more common than one might think. In Barcelona in 1592 Inquisitor Alonso Blanco was accused of slipping out in the middle of the night to visit the local brothels.22 And sixty-six years before, when the city of Granada was trying to persuade Charles V against instituting a tribunal of the Inquisition there in 1526, its councillors wrote:
When the [inquisitorial] judges are bad, as can occur since they are human beings and not saintly like the Holy Office [sic], when they arrest virgins and respectable young married women, or when they order them to come secretly before them as the Holy Office requires, they have been known to do with them as they will, which the women only slightly protest against because of the great fear which they have [of them] . . . and meanwhile the scribes and officials of the Holy Office, being single men, as they are in some places, do the same thing with daughters and wives and female relatives of prisoners, and this is easy for them, as the favour will be granted in return for knowing something about the case.23
It is worth stopping to think about what this actually meant. An institution established with the aim of purifying religious practice and combating its corruption was responsible for forcing married and single women to prostitute themselves for the sake of the men they loved or for fear of the consequences if they did not. Such events were not universal. They may not even have occurred in the majority of tribunals. But they clearly were not rarities either. It is difficult not to conclude that if there was a corrupting agent in the Iberian world at this time it was actually the Inquisition.
For inquisitors power was everywhere, and they took advantage. Some kicked prisoners in the face if they did not get the right answer or simply to intimidate.24 The way some of them saw their charges is revealed by Miguel de Carpio, inquisitor of Seville between 1556 and 1578, who saw his mission as to ‘burn and embrace people’ – as if these two actions were in some way related – and wanted to ‘relax’ some prisoners rather than reconcile them simply because they were poor – luckily for them this was not always carried out, since other inquisitors were more moderate, and all such decisions were taken by vote.25
When one looks at the frankly astonishing evidence of abuse of power and of inquisitors’ capacity to say one thing and do another, the gulf between theory and practice becomes ever more disturbing. In theory, therefore, the Inquisition came down hard on officials accepting gifts, and the very first rules of the institution from 1484 made it clear that this was not acceptable;26 fourteen years later, in the instructions written in Ávila in 1498, inquisitors were told not to impose high fines simply in order to get paid, and were ordered to live ‘honestly in their dress and adornments of their person as in every other respect’ – a veiled allusion to sexual misconduct.27 Yet these orders were contemporaneous to numerous cases of corruption and bribery.28
Thus the theory and rule of the Inquisition were never the whole story, and to look at its history by reading its decrees is to miss the point. Like all institutions, the Inquisition was loathe to relinquish power once it had got hold of it. Thus it might pretend dismay at the cases of bribery and corruption, but these were themselves testament to the power of the institution, something of which it was all in favour. Power was too addictive to be sacrificed on the altar of morality. Rather than coming down hard on its own malefactors, the Inquisition often moved them on to another place, as they did with Muñoz de la Cuesta. There was no sense of shame; but it was a little inconvenient that morality was in fact the justifying principle of everything which the institution did.
CONCENTRATION OF POWER was not, of course, the product simply of the personalities of the inquisitors. It required a detailed administrative machinery which channelled authority into the institution and to its functionaries. It also required the agreement of the state in this process since, as we have seen, the Inquisitions of Portugal and Spain were products of local conditions rather than of papal imposition.
The Inquisition’s development of its administrative machinery was slow. In Spain the first tribunal was instituted in 1480 (Seville) and the last not until 1659 in Madrid. In Portugal and Goa, in contrast, the four tribunals were all founded within twenty-five years of each other in the mid-16th century. In Spain the Suprema had six members – five ecclesiastical councillors and one prosecutor – and the king was allowed to nominate two lay members from the Council of Castile; in Portugal the inquisitor-general was allowed to nominate members of the General Council of the Inquisition directly, which could lead to the sort of allegations of corruption that we saw in the case of Fernando Martines Mascarenhas.29 *4
The bureaucratic differences between the two Inquisitions were matched by some differences in targets. As we have seen, the Portuguese Inquisition never dealt with moriscos or large numbers of Lutherans, unlike in Spain. With the moriscos, this was because Portugal had been reconquered from the Muslims much earlier and had assimilated them by the time of the Inquisition. As for Lutherans, at the height of the panic in Spain in the late 1550s the Portuguese Inquisition had only just got off the ground and was still happy to concentrate on the threat of the conversos.
Nonetheless, the period of the joint monarchy (1580–1640) led to a growing fusion of bureaucratic styles. As the inquisitor-general of Portugal, Francisco de Castro – he of the damask hat – put it in 1632, ‘The mode of procedure conforms to law and is, according to the information that we have, substantially the same as that which is used by the Inquisitions of Castile’.30 This meant that many of the reforms which the Inquisition had undergone in Spain in the 16th century, when the Portuguese Inquisition had still been experiencing its growing pains, became characteristic of both institutions.
In Spain, as with the expansion of the institution to prosecute Old Christians for blasphemy, bigamy and Lutheranism, bureaucratic growth coincided with the watch of Inquisitor-General Fernando de Valdés, the arch-enemy of Archbishop Carranza of Toledo.*5Valdés reorganized the administration of the Inquisition in line with the needs of the Counter-Reformation. He put the Inquisition’s finances on a surer footing by securing annual rents from the churches (canonjías).31 *6 He also standardized inquisitorial procedures with general instructions issued in 1561, regularized visits to rural areas so that remote spots were covered more frequently, and established the Inquisition in areas where it had not previously had a presence.32
However, perhaps the most important bureaucratic reform instituted by Valdés was his reorganization of the familiars of the Inquisition in a decree of 1553 known as the Concordia. Familiars were spies of the Inquisition, expected to report anything suspicious; they were often asked to help with the arrest of suspects, and were given drawings of fugitives to help track them down.33 Until the time of Valdés they had been sparse in Spain, but under him the Inquisition appointed familiars according to the size of each settlement. Granada, Seville and Toledo had fifty familiars each, Cordoba, Cuenca and Valldolid forty, Murcia thirty, Calahorra and Llerena twenty-five, towns of up to 3,000 residents (vecinos) ten, towns of up to 1,000 residents six, towns of up to 500 residents four, and towns of fewer than 500 residents two if needed.34
This rationalized network of spies facilitated the movement of the Inquisition into daily life35 and fostered the growth of the power of individual inquisitors and other functionaries. At their peak there were over 20,000 familiars in Spain.36 Henceforth, until the institution declined from the mid-17th century onward, even small towns could not be sure of being free of spies who would report misdemeanours to the authorities. By 1600 even the isolated province of Guatemala in Central America had between sixty and one hundred, and there was no colonial town that was without its familiar.37 In Portugal, meanwhile, although there had been only eighteen familiars before the union with Spain in 1580, by 1640 another 1,600 were in place.38 From now on it would not just be inquisitors who routinely abused their powers; their sidekicks, the familiars, would also become a burden on the people in the towns and villages of Portugal, Spain and the colonies.
THE PORTUGUESE CAPITAL suffered during the sixty years of the joint monarchy. The ships still came and went from the dockside at the Tejo. They sailed out to sea past the royal palace and the beautiful tower at Belén, shadowed by the green hills of Sintra. The dock still groaned with goods unloaded from Brazil and India, with porters hauling them up the narrow streets and passageways, towards the marketplaces and the homes of the nobility. Nevertheless, the decline was real. The greater emphasis placed by the (Spanish) monarchs on the Spanish empire meant that Portuguese colonial outposts began to suffer. Spain was not a country without enemies, and Portugal’s association with its neighbour made its imperial settlements into targets for the Dutch, who were still fighting the 80-year conflict with Spain which would eventually lead to their full independence in 1648.
The problem for Portugal was that whereas the wealth of the Spanish empire in America came from great mining centres in the interior of Mexico and Peru, the Portuguese empire was based around coastal ports and was therefore much easier to target. Between 1603 and 1641 the Dutch attacked Goa (1603 and 1610), the Spice Islands (1605), Gorée (Senegal: 1619 and 1627), Mozambique (1607 and 1608), Malacca (1616, 1629 and 1641), Macao (1622 and 1626) and Mina (modern Ghana: 1637).39 Resentment of the Spanish empire in Portugal was therefore intense, as was the sense of decline which would accelerate during Portugal’s war for independence from Spain (1640–68). In these circumstances the presence of a group of people – familiars – who did little and expected others to shoulder their share of the social burden added to the problems.
A classic instance of what went on was the case of Amador Fernandes, a familiar of the Holy Office in the 1620s. Fernandes must have been a threatening presence in the streets of Lisbon. He was about thirty-five years old and strongly built, his chin shaded by a black beard; whenever he opened his mouth people could count the gaps in his teeth, picked off by disease like trees by a hurricane.40 Fernandes earned his living by selling books but it appears that much of his time was spent on other, less reputable activities.
Fernandes had been made a familiar in 1625. In 1627, the year before accusations began to be received about him by the inquisitors of Lisbon, he used his privileges in an unusual way. Donning his familiar’s habit and going out into the crowded streets of the city, he waylaid a man leading two mules and requisitioned them – this alone reveals the impunity with which familiars could act when on official business. The mules, he informed their owner, were needed for inquisitorial purposes. Fernandes proceeded to use them to go to a bullfight that afternoon.41
This sort of thing was routine behaviour for Fernandes. When he caught the reconciliado Manoell Pinto not wearing his penitential sanbenito, he turned a blind eye when a bribe was offered; Pinto knew of two other reconciliados who had achieved the same result. One familiar, Antonio Antunes, recounted how Fernandes went around buying the deeds of debt of people he disliked, just so that he could go and threaten them with the Inquisition if they did not pay up.42 In March 1628 he lied to a group of conversosthat he had been ordered to arrest one of their friends, just in order to frighten them.43
Fernandes was clearly someone who enjoyed his ability to instil fear. It must also be recognized that he was thought of as a poor example; three of his accusers before the Inquisition in Lisbon were themselves familiars scandalized by his behaviour. The picture which they painted of him does not inspire confidence in his ability to discharge his inquisitorial duties with probity. One of these familiars, Antonio Teixeira, described him as ‘the worst man in the country’.44 Another, Manoel Pires, was Fernandes’s brother-in-law; Pires had few illusions about a man he described as ‘one of the worst men in the world for swearing and committing egregious actions [mal obrar]’.45
The fact that other familiars denounced Fernandes shows that there were some checks and balance to the system, yet his reputation as a person of bad character also forces us to ask why on earth the Inquisition appointed him in the first place. Practices and rules varied a little between districts,46 but often the reality was that the appointment of familiars was left to the whims of inquisitors and was therefore open to widespread abuse. As one inquisitor put it in 1596, ‘he suspects that in the same way as he has received presents because this is said to be a normal way of doing things, so do other officials, and that he has received presents in connection with some applications to become a familiar’.47 In such circumstances it is not surprising that hypocrisy and abuse of power were often synonymous with the activities of familiars.
What did this mean for daily life in the world of these inquisitorial functionaries? The way in which Amador Fernandes seized property and issued threats reveals a system where power depended on the whim of those who had it. One could not be secure in one’s possessions or in the chastity of women since inquisitors or familiars might seek to steal these away. This was a world of arbitrariness, a world in which it was not possible to feel safe.
In the Portugal of Amador Fernandes – as in the cases we saw above of the behaviour of inquisitors in Spain – the gap between theory and practice was once again all too obvious. Thus in 1739 a rulebook composed for familiars in Portugal reveals both how they were supposed to behave and how they actually behaved. Familiars were supposed to be people ‘who behaved well, people of confidence and recognized abilities’.48 The fact that often they were not is revealed by the next requirement, that ‘they should have property from which they can live well’ – presumably so that they did not extort bribes from others. Familiars were not to ‘aggrieve or annoy anybody on the pretext of the privileges which they enjoy’ (so we can assume they did this frequently); they were to ‘speak about the conversos cautiously, so that it is not obvious that they hate them’ (obviously they did hate them, and frequently went around whipping up hatred against them); and they were not to ask for loans from conversos or accept gifts from people who had dealings with the Inquisition (clearly it was common practice to solicit bribes in return for silence or information).
Although the number of familiars declined from the mid-17th century onward,49 particularly in Spain where the Inquisition required a greater degree of wealth before making an appointment, their hypocrisies and bad character were a constant from beginning to end. They often did not bother to wear even a figleaf of piety. In 1566 the familiar Juan de Gonbao of the kingdom of Valencia was punished for the very (un)Christian declaration: ‘I renounce God and will take a devil for my master if the devil has not taken the soul of my mother to hell’.50
This lack of a moral compass poisoned the activities of the familiars. Two years later, in a decree of Zaragoza, the familiars of Aragon were universally acknowledged to be so corrupt that they all had to be sacked and sixty new ones created in their place. The sorts of things that had gone on before are revealed in the articles of the decree, which among other things stipulated that familiars who were tradesmen or merchants should be prosecuted by secular judges for committing fraud in weights and measures and provisions, and that familiars should not arrest anyone without having an inquisitorial warrant to do so.51
Evidently, for some, to be a familiar was hardly a religious choice. It was rather to have the freedom to do as one wished in the knowledge that penances, if imposed, would come from the Inquisition itself, which had a vested interest in ensuring that punishments were minor. The power of familiars is illustrated best by the fact that the Inquisition had to prosecute people who pretended to be familiars in order to do as they pleased. False familiars sometimes robbed rich labourers, going into their houses and taking what they wanted at will.52 Other impersonators of familiars arrested converso women and then tried to have sex with them.53
How dreadful familiars must have been if people would stand mutely by and watch themselves be robbed by them or by people pretending to be them. There was no shame or pretence of shame. Power was (im)morality, as the familiar Francisco Ramírez of the region of Albacete realized. Ramírez, the familiar, who as a young man had been wont to take the clothes off the image of Jesus in the local church, don them and then roam the streets of the town by night pretending to be a ghost; who thus disguised would go to a house to carry on an affair with its owner; who had made another friend pregnant and persuaded her to have an abortion. Once this devout individual was made a familiar, he changed little. He began threatening all those against whom he had taken a dislike. The lives of others were for him playthings. He took against one local deacon, and chased him through his home town of Yeste, waving a pistol in the air.54
THE LINK BETWEEN familiars and the inquisitors themselves was the offical known as the commissary. These were paid officials resident in the larger towns who managed the affairs of the local familiars and received depositions. Often, however, commissaries were little better than familiars.
In 1592 a memorial was written by the clergy of Peru denouncing the behaviour of the commissaries throughout the country, and also in Potosí.*7 The commissaries, the clergy said, were violent, dishonest and argumentative. In Cochabamba (modern Bolivia), the commissary Martín Barco de Centinera revenged himself through the Inquisition on all his personal foes. He usurped royal authority, drank himself silly and boasted publicly of his affairs with married women. The inquisitors of Peru denied none of this, but merely said that getting good officers was difficult. This was the best they could do.55
What does this imply about how the Inquisition saw the powers which it had? This observation reveals that abuse of power was seen almost as inevitable, and as a minor failing compared to the prospect of the absence of this power altogether. Power would inevitably be abused, but at least in such cases it would be inquisitorial functionaries and not others who were abusing it.
The impunity with which inquisitorial officials operated is revealed by such cases. There were frequent disputes between them and royal officials, who protested that they did as they pleased. When a servant of an inquisitor had a fight with a prostitute in a brothel in Barcelona in 1565 the officials who arrested him were themselves thrown into the inquisitorial jail for three months.56 As we have seen, the Council of Granada accused minor functionaries of the Inquisition of bribery and sexual exploitation.57 *8There were of course some kinder officials, but they were not always encouraged; when Miguel de Xea, an assistant in the inquisitorial jail in Toledo in the early 1590s, took to letting some prisoners out into courtyards and allowing messages to reach them, he was denounced by nine people and himself tried by the tribunal.58
The Inquisition did attempt to arrest or at least censure those who misused their powers, but abuses continued inexorably. As far as the familiars of Portugal and Spain were concerned, their freedom of action and disdain for others stemmed directly from the privileges which the Inquisition itself had secured for them. In Portugal, from 1562 onwards familiars were ‘exempt from paying extraordinary taxes, demands, loans and any other charges requested by the royal councils or the towns where they are resident . . . nor can their houses, storehouses or stables be requisitioned by the army . . . and likewise nor can their bread, wine, clothes, straw, barley, wood, chickens, eggs, horses, mules and pack-animals be so requisitioned’.59
These were exemptions and freedoms shared by no other members of society. Officials of the Inquisition were constantly claiming rights and privileges, such as freedom from taxation or free lodging when travelling. The exemption from having their homes or goods requisitioned by royal armies was also a fact of inquisitorial life in Spain, and the subject of widespread anger. The unpopularity of familiars in Iberian societies is shown nowhere more graphically than by the fact that, in Catalonia alone, there were hundreds of attacks on them over the history of the Inquisition.60 Eventually, in 1634, with the Iberian empires approaching crisis point, Philip IV of Spain withdrew all exemptions, pleading necessities of state;61 yet as we have seen in this chapter, often this did not prevent familiars from continuing to do as they wished.
The abuses of power committed by officials of the Inquisition from the loftiest inquisitor to the poorest jailer make plain the power of this institution in Iberian societies. The Italian traveller Leonardo Donato said in 1573 that the Inquisition was of ‘such extreme and tremendous authority . . . that I really do not believe there to be a greater one in Spain’.62 By the early 17th century people were requesting it to do things which had nothing to do with its role, such as punishing people exporting money from Spain.63 They applied to it because it was the most powerful body in Spain, and because it had a power which people had come to know, and to fear.
AS THE INQUISITION moved through its more than three centuries of existence naturally its structures evolved. One should not pretend that its administrative reach was always universal and all-powerful and, as we have seen, the number of familiars declined rapidly in Spain in the 17th century. Yet we should also not doubt that the Inquisition touched most aspects of most people’s lives for most of its life. By the 17th century it was seen by some as a state within a state in Portugal,64 and it had what was unquestionably the largest and most powerful bureaucracy in the country.
The precision of inquisitorial administration at some points in its history is remarkable. In Spain in the late 16th century all descendants of Jews and Muslims had to register with the Inquisition.65 Such precision continued long into the 18th century. In 1723 the small provincial town of Aguilar de la Frontera near Cordoba provided a list of all the sanbenitos hung in its churches. There were a total of 132, including those of twelve people who had been ‘relaxed’ and 111 penitents between 1594 and 1723.66 The list reveals both the reach of the Inquisition in provincial Spain, and also how this reach was constantly in the minds of the people through the sanbenitos hung in the churches.
What did the presence of these sanbenitos imply? It meant that each Sunday, as the parishioners attended mass, they were reminded of the reality of heresy, and of the fact that it could well be in their midst. Even as the host was elevated, the sermon preached and prayers offered, the threat of impurity was in the minds of the faithful. Thus did fear coexist with prayer even at the most exalted moments of religious devotion.
The practice of hanging sanbenitos in churches with the names of penitents continued throughout the life of the Inquisition in Spain. Documents exist showing that measures were periodically put in place to restore the sanbenitos,67 some of which, by the end of the Inquisition’s history, were nearly 300 years old. Only between 1788 and 1798 did a commission begin to examine the origin of the practice and whether or not it ought to be continued.68
Another indication of the bureaucratic fastidiousness of the Inquisition can be seen in the inventories which it compiled of the goods of its prisoners. As soon as a person was arrested, a notary would enter their home and produce a list of their possessions. These inventories are extraordinarily detailed. Every last handkerchief or sheet was noted down. Thus, when Francisco Piñero was arrested by the Inquisition in Cartagena in 1636, his inventory included the following items:69
– One mattress
– Four cedar chairs with broken seats
– Two handkerchiefs
– Cloths from Rouen
– A black silk jacket
– An old parasol
One imagines that the officials did not make use of the broken-seated cedar chairs or the old parasol. They proceeded cautiously with every aspect of their investigation. Having examined the contents of Piñero’s wardrobe, they decided that one rotten hat and some old black stockings that were also mouldy should be thrown out; these were, it was felt, unlikely to add much to the Inquisition’s finances.
This emphasis on the minutiae of daily life is what makes Inquisition archives such a fascinating store of material. Yet this fastidious bureaucracy is also testament to the mentality that we saw in Chapter Three in the torture chamber in the sense that what was written down was somehow legitimated. Once a theft had been noted, it had been legalized, and thus record-keeping could be used for ill as well as good.70
Precise administration and abuse of power were two sides of the same coin: the enormous power of the Inquisition in Iberian societies. It was because the Inquisition wielded so much power that its employees were often able to act disgracefully and get away with it, and it was because the Inquisition was so powerful that it was able to create such a thorough and meticulous bureaucracy.
Thus the world learnt that an excess of power and an excess of administration often go together. The ability to determine on paper the probity of individuals and to decide what should happen in places which the scribes would never see made the exercise of administrative power a remote activity. The powerful could be shielded from the consequences of their actions.
The culmination and catharsis of such power came, collectively, in the autos. By the middle of the 17th century, as we saw in the Prologue, these were lavish and pompous affairs. Something of the ceremony and importance of these events is revealed by the fact that in the auto of Cordoba of 1627 the second largest expense after building the stage was in paying for the candle wax.71 Of all the details one can find, this is perhaps the most expressive of the extraordinary theatricality of those public shows.
Yet the very cost of these autos at a time when the Spanish economy was in decline made them increasingly infrequent. The 17th century also saw the rise of the so-called autos particulares, more local affairs which did not require so much of an outlay.72 After all, the costs of staging an auto had risen by over 4,700 per cent between 1554 and 1632 in comparison with inflation of only a little over 100 per cent.73 Such vast extravagance is testament to the insatiable expansion of the Inquisition, but it was clearly unsustainable and only presaged a long decline.
IT IS HARDLY ORIGINAL to assert that great empires have always eventually fallen into decline. Power is heady and all-consuming, but eventually it fails. Thus we study with fascination the ruins of civilizations such as those that once dominated Easter Island, the Maya, Tiahuanaco in Bolivia and Great Zimbabwe. The dissipation of power appears to be something inherent to it, but it is perhaps not something that the powerful can bear to accept on a conscious level.
The story of the Inquisition is not alien to this dynamic. Spain was the most powerful country in the world in the 16th century and it was at this time that its persecuting institution, the Inquisition, reached its zenith. Yet the Inquisition’s projection of power and its incessant seeking after enemies created the conditions for a decline from which the imperial power itself never recovered.
Administration was not irrelevant to this process. As we have seen in the last three chapters, the inquisitorial infrastructure was increasingly applied to tasks which from an objective position seem pointless. Such tasks occupied vast amounts of time and energy which could have been put towards more productive work. The very diversification and spread of the inquisitorial machine was a symbol of the institution’s power but also a condition of the stagnation which developed as Spain stuttered towards the end of the 17th century and the crisis of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14).
In thinking of this process of power’s self-destructiveness, it is worth thinking back to the process of the creation of the morisco enemy and their expulsion. We saw there that this was the choice of a society which could have assimilated the converts but chose to marginalize and humiliate this ambiguous group, in so doing vaunting its power. But it was in fact precisely this expulsion of the moriscos which precipitated the most serious decline in Spain.
In 1525, following the forced conversions of Aragon’s Moors after the germanía revolt,*9 the prospect of unconverted Muslims leaving the country terrified the nobility. They wrote a long letter to Charles V, maintaining that the prosperity of the whole kingdom depended on the Moors, and that Aragon would be ruined if they left. It was the Moors who did all the harvesting, performed all the crafts, and whose rents sustained the churches, the monasteries and the nobility.74 The nobles remained supporters of themoriscosthroughout the 16th century, sponsoring their petitions to be freed from inquisitorial jails75 precisely because the profitability of their agricultural estates depended on them. Moriscos provided the backbone of the agricultural economy in Aragon and Valencia and it was sheer folly to expel them, but, as we have seen, this is precisely what the country did, in accordance with an ideology of demonization in which the Inquisition had been pivotal.
The effects were stark. In June 1610, once the expulsion of the moriscos had been decreed, the viceroy of Aragon described how the nobility had lost 80 per cent of their income virtually overnight and were in danger of being bankrupted by their creditors.76Entire towns were deserted. In Asco, Catalonia, the town was emptied, the houses crumbled, the vines, olive groves and plantations of mulberry trees went to seed.77 With the loss of the majority of Aragon and Valencia’s labourers came hyperinflation as themoriscos sold off their goods for a fraction of their true worth.78 The situation there became so bad that people who turned to agriculture were exempted from military service.79
Such measures achieved little, however. By 1638 the total number of settlements in the kingdom of Valencia had fallen from 755 to 550, a decline of almost one third, with 205 former morisco villages simply abandoned.80 Four per cent of the entire population of Spain had left,81 and with it much of Spain’s agricultural expertise. This picture was mirrored in Castile, where the population fell by almost 15 per cent between 1591 and 1631.82 Populations continued to decline throughout the 17th century, and only in 1787 did the kingdom of Castile recover the population level of 1591.83
The results of this decline – precipitated in part by the expulsion of the moriscos – were dire. In 1620 William Lithgow described Spain as ‘neither well inhabited nor populous: Yea, so desartuous that in the very heart of Spaine, I have gone eighteene leagues (two dayes journey) unseeing house or village . . . and commonly eight leagues without any house’.*10 84 Depopulation accompanied decline, and Lithgow, who had travelled widely in Asia and Africa, felt that ‘the most penurious Peasants in the world be here, whose Quotidian moanes, might draw teares from stones. Their Villages . . . wanting Gardens, Hedges, Closses, Barnes . . .’85
The comprehensive bureaucracy of the Inquisition thus presided over a comprehensive decline, and when one thinks of the stagnation fostered by the institution, the seas separating intention and reality become oceans. The Inquisition was supposed, after all, to safeguard society, but with it had come decline. It was supposed to purify the faith, but how were people supposed to believe in the faith when its guardians behaved so shamelessly? Far from safeguarding the faith, the Inquisition often only fostered cynicism. Just as it had invented enemies rather than destroying them, so it corrupted society rather than purifying it.
The gulf between intentions and results may seem extraordinary to some, yet it supports the view of some psychoanalysts that ‘the fact that someone sincerely believes in a statement is not enough to determine his sincerity’.86 For example, just as a person or institution may claim to be motivated by religious ends when the goals are purely political, so political aims can be cited when the goals of some dramatic and violent action are purely religious. To judge the Inquisition by its actions and effects and not by its stated intentions and beliefs, the institution was not a champion of purity or the security of society; in the end, it fostered corruption and decline.
HERE IS THE TALE of the 16th-century inquisitor of Peru, Antonio Gutíerrez de Ulloa. The qualities of this man were eloquently expressed by the viceroy of Peru, Fernando de Torres y Portugal, who declared that ‘instead of talking of “the inquisitor of Peru” it was more accurate to talk of “the Peru of the inquisitor” ’.87 Precisely what the viceroy meant was revealed in an inquisitorial visit of inquiry made by Juan Ruiz de Prado in the late 1580s.
It emerged that Gutíerrez de Ulloa, like so many inquisitors before and after him, had a strange attitude to his position. The affairs with married women – Catalina Morejón, Catalina Alconchel and the wife of the farrier Sancho Casco – come as no surprise. Gutíerrez de Ulloa however went further even than the (admittedly strong) competition. He began an affair with the young noblewoman María Delgado Tello when she was only eleven years old, and fathered a child with her who he packed off to live near the silver mines in Potosí.88 Gutíerrez de Ulloa, indeed, soon became the terror of the young women of Lima, entering their rooms by night dressed as a young suitor, in silk stockings and a short cape. He made his housekeeper pregnant. His lovers had public arguments one of which Gutíerrez defused by letting the one he was seeing out by a secret door while the one he was not seeing shouted from the street. He accompanied some of his flames to their properties outside Lima and abandoned his post for weeks. And when he met a love rival near the house of a woman whom he was going to sleep with he stabbed him and left him for dead.
By the time Ruiz de Prado arrived, Gutíerrez de Ulloa had been an inquisitor in Peru for almost twenty years. The visitor formulated over 200 accusations against him. One would expect that in a case of such severity Gutíerrez de Ulloa would have been stripped of his post and punished, but instead he managed to drag it out for so long that Ruiz de Prado’s finances ebbed away and he had to leave before he could arrest him. What, then, was Gutíerrez de Ulloa’s punishment? He was made an inquisitorial visitor himself, of the province of Charcas (the north of modern Argentina), and left in December 1594 for Buenos Aires.
How can one measure the effects of centuries of abuse of power and bureaucratic stagnation? The decline of Iberia and the comparative poverty of its ex-colonies compared with North America are possible yardsticks, but there are others. In the early 1990s, when I was an employee of the Municipality of Santiago, Chile and provided with lodging as part of my contract, I was offered an iron for my laundry. The iron, however, took several months to get hold of; the problem, my contact informed me, was that the mayor of Santiago had to sign the contract for the release of the iron, and he was usually either busy or absent.
Many people will have similar stories of bureaucratic inertia from around the world. It may be an oversimplification to suggest that such practices are a direct legacy of the administrative bonanza which accompanied the Holy Office, but it is not perhaps inaccurate to suggest that an attitude was cultivated of respect towards administration and of the importance of administration in society, and that this attitude has endured.
What was created most of all was a state of mind. As one scholar so eloquently put it, ‘What difference is there between the inquisitorial sanbenito and the yellow star imposed upon the Jews in the thirties and forties in several European countries . . . or the brands applied to slaves in so many countries of the Americas in the course of the nineteenth century? . . . Evidently, the inquisitorial mind is still alive’.89