Chapter Thirteen


. . . the number of men enlisted in this Congregation is truly appalling, since according to their books and public pronouncements it reaches four million . . .

IN PORTUGAL THE DISCOVERY of gold in the Minas Gerais of Brazil led to Lisbon becoming one of the busiest ports in Europe in the 18th century. The king who benefited from most of the profits, John V, squandered them on the construction of a baroque palace at the small town of Mafra, to the north-west of Lisbon. Over the border in Spain the accession of the Bourbon dynasty with Philip V meant that the squabbles that had characterized the late 17th century were over, and Spain was connected to the wealthier kingdom of France to the north. In Iberia a period of consolidation had set in.

However, the influx of a new Francophile aristocracy brought its own problems to Spain. France was to be at the heart of the Enlightenment in the 18th century, and it was precisely the ideals of the Enlightenment which were seen by the Inquisition as the great enemy during the last century of its existence. The crypto-Jews from Portugal in the first years of Philip V’s reign were, increasingly, replaced by new targets, enlightened thinkers known as Jansenists, and Freemasons.

The way in which any group could be perceived as a threat is revealed in a case against the German bullfighter Antonio Berkmeier towards the end of the 18th century. Berkmeier was thrown into the jail of the Inquisition and accused of ‘trying to found a society to reform the world and with the purpose of realizing the goals of the Old Testament, claiming that not all of its prophecies have yet come to pass’.1 In order to further the aims of this seditious society, Berkmeier was said to fake visions and apparitions of God and Jesus Christ, which enabled him to ‘seduce’ various people to join his society.

Berkmeier’s first accuser was one Juan Joseph Heideck, a compatriot of his, who saw the danger of the group in part in its internationalism. ‘The said society’, he reported, ‘is composed not only of musicians and Swiss soldiers, but also of other Germans, Frenchmen and Spaniards’. The society aimed to subvert not only religion but also the state and the government, and each day new members were joining. Another witness described how Berkmeier and his acolytes gathered by a fountain with a group of Germans to discuss their new religion; something of the danger of the group was shown by the fact that Berkmeier, in the words of his accuser, ‘has a book, and perhaps also some papers’.

Berkmeier was a freethinker typical of those the Inquisition saw as most threatening. He had written a book called El Tonto SobrenaturalThe Supernatural Fool – which suggests not so much a hankering after the Old Testament as scepticism of everything supernatural. Summoned at the end of August 1798 to answer the charges, he wrote long and detailed answers to the questions put before him. Something of the inequities of inquisitorial justice is revealed by the Inquisition’s choice of an interpreter for Berkmeier, none other than Juan Joseph Heideck, the man who had accused him, and by the fact that Berkmeier languished in jail for four years before his responses to their questions were condemned as heretical.

It is clear that the most important thing was seen to be to crush Berkmeier’s group immediately; once the agitator was incarcerated, the orthodoxy of his views could be examined at the inquisitors’ leisure. This attitude towards societies and gatherings of people stemmed directly from the fear which the Inquisition had developed of Freemasonry in the 1730s. Freemasonry had been condemned by Pope Clement XII in April 1738 in his bull In Eminenti; the bull had been confirmed by Cardinal Firrao, secretary of the Vatican state, on 14 June 1739, in a document in which the mere suspicion of Freemasonry was stated to be a capital offence.2

The rise of Freemasonry in Europe had begun in the early 18th century, and had been marked by the publication of the Constitution of Masonic Orders, published in 1723. The Masonic orders reinvented the initiation rites of the Masons of the Middle Ages, including keeping the secrets of the lodge. It was this secrecy which seemed so suspicious to their enemies, although the secrecy largely appears to have related to the interpretation of certain ritual ceremonies and to have had little to do with religion or politics.3

Nonetheless, authorities such as the papacy moved swiftly to condemn the movement. Following the papal prohibition of 1738, the major impact of Cardinal Firrao’s activities was in Portugal, where he wrote to Inquisitor-General Cardinal da Cunha ordering him to pursue the Masons. Da Cunha prohibited Freemasonry in an edict of 28 September 1738, and five major trials followed in 1743.4 One victim, the Swiss Protestant John Coustos, described his experiences with a certain amount of artistic licence.5 He recounted how the cells were so dark that it was impossible to read. Prisoners were not allowed to groan, sigh, pray loudly or sing psalms, and were beaten if they did. When he was tortured, the door of the torture chamber was covered with mattresses so that his cries would not reach the rest of the prison, while the cords were tightened so much in the potro that they cut through to his bone. The torture only lasted for fifteen minutes, but it reduced him to such a state that for three months afterwards he could not bring his hand to his mouth. When he was eventually sentenced to four years in the galleys, where he was chained to another prisoner by the feet and had to perform menial tasks, he wrote how the relief of being away from the fear of the Inquisition was such that the galleys seemed comparatively pleasant.6

With the Inquisition, little seems to have changed. This held for both the system of inquisitorial practice and the grounds for arrest in the first place. For something of the darkness in which this question was mired had been revealed in Cardinal Firrao’s original instructions to Inquisitor-General Da Cunha regarding the Freemasons, in which he had urged him to ‘find out fully the nature and recondite purpose of this company or institution of [the Masons], so that the papacy can be informed with precision’.7

Inquisitor da Cunha had followed Firrao’s instructions. He had summoned people who had attended Masonic dinners before him to find out what their nefarious purposes might be (even though those purposes had already been condemned) only to be told that ‘in the said places nothing whatsoever was discussed against the Catholic religion, and that their purpose was simply to eat well and entertain themselves with a little music, each of them contributing a few escudos towards the cost, with some money also to be given to the poor’.8 Moreover, Da Cunha went on in a letter to Firrao, as soon as they heard of the Papacy’s condemnation of Freemasonry, ‘they entirely abandoned these conventicles’.9 After the thorough interrogation of nine members of these lodges, even the examining inquisitor declared that ‘the said meetings and society are in no way opposed to the faith or to good customs’.10 Yet none of this prevented the banning of Freemasonry and the arrest and torture of Coustos and other Masons in 1743. In other words, the papacy and the Inquisition had prohibited something and set about punishing it without even knowing what it was, and had then continued the persecution despite discovering nothing heretical. This was to take that inquisitorial speciality, the invention of heresy, to new heights.

ON 18 MAY 1751 Pope Benedict XIV confirmed the bull of prohibition of the Masons issued by his predecessor Clement XII. An anonymous memoir described the reasons behind this move: ‘Although up till now it has not been possible to find out with any degree of certainty the mysterious secrets of this sect, these can only be abominable to God and the authorities, swearing as they do a profession of complete freedom, and admitting people of every class and religion into their society’.11

Such equalities of class and religion were deeply heretical and, coincidentally, challenged the status quo as well. Benedict XIV was convinced of the vast army of heretics to be found within the ‘mysterious sects’ of the Freemasons. He had written a letter pointing out that there were 90,000 members of Masonic lodges in Naples ‘so it is said’.12 The master of the Neapolitan lodges wrote to him politely to point out that there were four lodges in Naples with a combined membership of around 200.13

In Spain King Ferdinand VI, who had succeeded Philip V in 1746, issued an edict against the Masons on 2 July 1751 at the urging of his confessor, the Jesuit Francisco Rávago. Rávago had written a long memorial in which the threat to the Spanish nation indeed appeared stark. After all, as Rávago had pointed out, ‘the number of men enlisted in this Congregation is truly appalling, since according to their books and public pronouncements it reaches four million’.14 Rávago, however, was sceptical of such outlandish claims, and was happy to limit membership to an eighth of this, around half a million. Nevertheless these 500,000 Masons were, said Rávago, a terrible threat to the monarchy. For one thing, most of them were soldiers. Moreover, their leader was ‘a bellicose king of whom it is not impertinent to say that he would aspire to a universal conquest and monarchy if he had the means for it’.15 And this threat was not merely hypothetical, since if these half a million people were joined in an army they would be able to conquer the whole world, and it was not inconceivable that they would be put up to this by the king of Prussia. Therefore one was obliged to wonder or suspect if the Freemasons did not desire the conquest of all Europe; and since in a matter of such gravity mere suspicion was enough, even without evidence or certainty measures needed to be taken at once.16

One can only wonder at the sheer insanity of Rávago. Yet such insanity had long been brewing. The charges echoed those levelled at the moriscos, similarly accused of planning to invade Spain with the help of large numbers of foreign allies, put up to it by the duke of Berne and various French/Turkish/Portuguese supporters.*1 They, too, had had a ‘desire’ for ‘universal conquest’. It does not take the most unreconstructed Freudian to imagine that the desire for worldwide domination was in fact the saintly Rávago’s.

Ferdinand VI nevertheless heeded his confessor’s advice. With the edict published and hordes of Freemasons supposedly spreading the length and breadth of Spain, strings of vague denunciations followed. One friar, Torrubia, published a book in 1752, the year following the edict, saying that Freemasons were homosexuals who deserved to be burnt. Torrubia admitted that he did not actually know the precise characteristics of Freemasons, but this did not appear to matter. After all, as he pointed out,

The blacks are certainly black, even though we do not know the origin of their Aethiopic tincture. Cockerels sing at a certain time in the day even though we do not know what makes them do it. No one so far has denied their black colour to the blacks or their songs to the cockerels, just because they are ignorant of where these attributes come from . . . so Freemasons can hide from us what they know and what they have sworn not to say, but not what we see. We already know their colour and song. And we know that they are wicked.17

In the light of such inexorable logic, the die was cast. The following year a series of letters reached the Inquisition of Cordoba, claiming that there were 6,000 Masons at court, although some said there were 12,000. The members of the sect met twice a week in the house of one Zenón de Somodevilla, in front of a picture ‘of an especially lascivious woman with a naked man who is committing the base act of fornicating [with] her’.18 This Zenón de Somodevilla was grand master of a sect of 14,000 families, all of whom were paid salaries. He must, however, have been a devastatingly inept scion of darkness, since even with such a following he never did quite manage to bring about his wicked revolution.

In the face of such terrible threats and tremendous armies of Masons one would expect there to have been thousands of inquisitorial trials, yet in the entire archive of the Spanish Inquisition just two cases exist: one from 1751, when Ignacio Le Roy denounced himself as a Mason, and another in which a Frenchman called Tournon confessed to being a Mason and was expelled from Spain.19 There were a few more cases in Mexico, where 200 lashes were given to the Venetian painter Felipe Fabris for Freemasonry in 1789, and further isolated cases followed there in 1793 and 1795.20 Yet this is a low count for a situation in which half a million soldiers were said to be clamouring for the destruction of the monarchy.

The threat to the nation had been invented. Freemasonry had been denounced as a crime, even though the Inquisition did not know how to define it and it would not in all probability exist in Spain until the Napoleonic Wars.21 Moreover, those who did join Masonic lodges may also often have been motivated by interest in something forbidden; as the master of the Neapolitan lodges wrote to Benedict XIV ‘my curiosity was piqued to get to know personally something that was attacked so vituperatively by some, and praised to the hilt so much by others’.22

THE FREEMASORY FANTASY which developed in 18th-century Iberia was but one of many. There had been the converse plot to deliver Castile into the hands of the Mosaic law at the end of the 15th century; the Lutheran plot which led to the great conflagrations of Valladolid and Seville in 1559; the extraordinarily complex plots of the moriscos in the late 16th century to hand Spain over to the Muslims, Protestants and converses;23 and the great plot of the Portuguese converses in Lima in the 1630s – all meticulously documented, and thoroughly foiled by the Inquisition. There was the inquisitorial document in Portugal which referred to 200,000 converse families existing in Portugal in 1624 when there were no more than 6,000 ‘full-blooded’ conversos left in the country.24Then there was the threat posed by heretical books, when the existence of a few copies of Calvin and Bibles in the vernacular prompted claims that 30,000 books by Calvin were circulating, together with 6,000 such copies of the Bible in vernacular.25There was, it is true, some threat to Catholic ideology in Spain from the printing press, but the number of forbidden books was magnified beyond all proportions.

In order to assess the substance of these fears, one must ask: was there ever a plot of the nature which the Inquisition claimed to have uncovered? The answer lies in the facts. The moriscos never did ally themselves with the Calvinists and the conversos, or with the Turks or Huguenots, to destroy Spain. The conversos never did overwhelm Portugal with their birthrate. No hordes of Freemasons allied themselves with the king of Prussia to destroy the Bourbon monarchy. Some enlightened members of the aristocracy did possess banned books in the 17th and 18th centuries, but only a few – there were never thousands of ‘licences for heresy’ in circulation threatening to destroy the nation.

Not once did any of the complex plots which the Inquisition claimed to have uncovered come to fruition. Not once were any of them close to success. One must, therefore, conclude that the plots were often invented and that where there were plots, the hostility of the enemy groups stemmed mainly from their persecution. The church had often compartmentalized people’s fears so as to deal with them more thoroughly, and it was this tradition which the Inquisition put into practice in Iberia as it purported to deal with first one threat, and then another.26 Yet in spite of the threats to their existence, the Church and the monarchies of Portugal and Spain stubbornly lived on, even as the society around them decayed. It was easiest to blame this decay on internal and external threats, and on the constancy of their attacks, yet the biggest damage was done precisely by the unceasing pursuit of the largely invented enemies.

In studying one particular aspect of the Inquisition, one can get sucked in by the paranoia, to sympathize with the ‘threat’ posed by the moriscos, or by the Lutherans sweeping Spain (but curiously not Portugal), or by the converses. Inquisitorial functionaries wrote persuasively of the problems which they faced and of the dangers which everywhere were to hand. But when one considers the common factors at work in each case, it becomes clear that what we are dealing with is paranoia, a constant search for threats in order to crush them. It is only by considering the whole that the individual threads within the Inquisition become clear.27

There is one final case which should be described, to remind us just how the paranoid society developed under the Inquisition. This is one of the most extraordinary cases in the records, that of the witches’ of Urdax and Zugarramurdi in the Basque country in the early 17th century. This was the last occasion when people were burnt for sorcery under the Inquisition in Spain but it also shows just how near paranoia was to the surface of everyday life in Iberia.

Zugarramurdi 1608–10

IN THE HILLS OF the Basque region just south of the border with France, inner conflicts were reaching a crisis in the early 17th century. Mutual enmities were many, but while the regions of Aragon and Valencia were purging their distress through the expulsion of themoriscos, no such outlet was available in the Basque country. Thus it was that the enemy – who was ubiquitous and ready to pounce – manifested itself through the discovery of witch covens. These covens had made terrible inroads into the communities of these isolated regions, as an officer of the inquisitor described in some detail.

The inquisitorial official told how when a person decided to become a witch, they were visited two or three hours before midnight on the chosen night by a member of the coven, who ‘anoints them with some stinking dark green water on their hands, temples, breast, genitals and on the soles of their feet, and then takes them flying through the air, leaving by the door or through the window which are opened for them by the devil’.28 At the coven meeting the devil would appear in a chair made of gold or dark wood which looked like a great throne. He had an ugly, sad face, appearing ‘like a black man with a crown of little horns and three big ones, so that as if like a ram he had two of them at the sides and one on the forehead, and with these horns he illuminates all those who are at the coven with a light that is brighter than the moon’.29

It was hardly surprising that most people who met the devil were frightened. When the devil spoke he sounded like a braying mule. He always seemed annoyed, his expression was always melancholic, and he always spoke in a sad voice; this, combined with his ‘round, large, open, shining and terrible’ eyes, his goat’s beard and his goat-like torso, was enough to cow most people.30 They adored him, kissing his left hand, his mouth, his chest and his genitals, and then lifting his tail and kissing his ugly, dirty, stinking behind. The devil then made a mark on the novice with his fingernail, drawing blood, and gave them a toad as a guardian angel. The novitiate was taken to dance around a fire with the other witches, where they entertained themselves in sinful excess, to the sound of flutes and tambourines, until dawn.31

This sort of account is familiar today, in particular in the light of The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s portrait of witch-hunts in Salem, Massachusetts. Miller’s classic play, written in part as a commentary on McCarthyite America in the 1950s, has become part of the cultural furniture for those who wish to examine the psychology of paranoia and persecution. The Crucible was a reminder of the power of the past to speak to the present, and of how the particular can be universal; its imaginative portrait of a witch-hunt could be substituted for the persecution of supposed communists in America, or for events in Urdax and Zugarramurdi more than three centuries before.

The goings-on in the Basque region first came to the attention of inquisitors when María de Ximildegui, a twenty-year-old woman, returned to Zugarramurdi from south-west France; here she claimed to have attended covens numerous times. Arriving back at her home village, Ximildegui claimed that another woman, María de Yurreteguía, was a member of the local coven in Zugarramurdi. Confronted by this accusation, Yurreteguía denied it repeatedly, but her accuser spoke so persuasively that the villagers began to believe her. Eventually, Yurreteguía fainted, and when she came round she confessed that it was all true.32

Having confessed, Yurreteguía found herself pursued by witches. The devil called for her personally, and the witches disguised themselves as:

dogs, cats, pigs and goats, and put the queen of the coven Graciana de Barrenechea in the figure of a mare, and then went to the house of María de Yurreteguía, which belonged to her father-in-law . . . and entered the house by the doors and through the windows which were opened for them by the devil: and there they found that María de Yurreteguía was in the kitchen surrounded by many people who had gathered with her that night to keep her company and protect her from what had happened on the previous nights, and because she had told them that that night there would be a coven meeting and that the witches would come to abuse her. And the devil and Miguel de Goyburu, king of the coven, and other witches, hid themselves behind a seat, and raised their heads to locate her and see what she was doing, making signs to show that she should go with them. And her aunt and teacher, María de Chipía, and one of her sisters, positioned themselves high up on the chimney, making signs to ask if she wanted to go with them, and she defended herself, shouting and indicating where the witches were; but those who were with her could not see them, because the devil had bewitched them and thrown shadows over them so that only María de Yurreteguía should see them, and she shouted out: ‘Leave me alone, traitors, do not pursue me, I have already had enough of following the devil!’33

The next day the astonished residents of Zugarramurdi found that the devil and his acolytes had been so furious that they had torn up fruit trees and vegetables and destroyed the water mill by splitting the wheel and leaving the millstone on the roof.34

There is an evident connection between these extraordinary fantasies and the repressed energies and neurotic symptoms that we saw in the last chapter, but what emerges in Zugarramurdi is how the neurosis quickly fed into paranoia. The neurotic delusions of Ximildegui and Yurreteguía rapidly spread along with their fears. Shortly before New Year 1609 a dozen or so neighbours broke into the houses of those they suspected of being witches to look for the demonic toads they thought were protecting them. None were found, but those under suspicion were dragged to the priest to be tortured if they did not confess. By January many had admitted the ‘truth’, and a commissary of the Inquisition was sent for to compile a report.35

It soon became apparent that the case was a farce. Yurreteguía told her aunt María Chipía that she had confessed falsely to save herself and advised her to do the same. Six of those who had confessed went to the Inquisition’s headquarters in Logroño to say that they had declared falsely under threat of torture. But the fears, once unleashed, were not so easy to put away. An inquisitorial visitor who arrived in Urdax in August 1609 was informed that the friar Pedro de Arburu was a witch even though he was found sleeping in bed at the time of the coven meetings. Was it not obvious that this was a counterfeit body, placed there by the devil to give him a false alibi?36

Paranoia spread. In the neighbouring region of Navarre the priest Lorenzo de Hualle gave sermons in the village of Vera in which he described how over three-quarters of the residents of the village were witches, and that this was a fact which he would repeat a thousand times. He confined a large number of children and adults in his rectory for over forty days, during which time no one could leave unless they confessed to diabolical activities. This led to Hualle’s triumphant exposure of the sect in Vera, although as he wrote to the inquisitorial envoy from Logroño, ‘The men and women under suspicion . . . declare without flinching that there are no witches but that I fabricate them in my house; that everything I say in church is a lie and a fable and I am not to be believed; that I get people to affirm things that do not exist at all by means of promises and threats’.37

Just as in Miller’s Salem, the witches of the Basque country had been invented. Neighbour had denounced neighbour and nieces had denounced aunts. Just as the Inquisition had created an atmosphere in which no one could be free of suspicion of heresy, so everyone was thought capable of being a witch. At the auto in Logrono in November 1610, six witches were ‘relaxed’, and a further five burnt in effigy; already, in inquisitorial jails thirteen had died in epidemics.38

The Suprema, it is true, commissioned an inquiry led by the most sceptical of its inquisitors in the Logrono tribunal, Salazar, hoping to dampen down the paranoia. Salazar concluded that almost three-quarters of the confessions were false. Over 1,000 of the cases he examined were of children under twelve, and many of them could not even say how they had managed to go to the coven meetings. There was, in fact, no evidence for the existence of the witches at all.

Salazar pointed out that it might be best to cease the hunt altogether. After all, in neighbouring south-west France, where there had recently been a similar outbreak of witches, they had all disappeared of their own accord after the bishop of Bayonne had prohibited further mention of them in conversation or in writing.39 Thus did the threat to the social fabric depend so deeply on the paranoia which had invented it in the first place.

BY 1750 IN SPAIN there was widely said to be a three-pronged attack by the forces of evil on the forces of good. Two of the prongs consisted of Freemasons and philosophers.40 One of these foes had, as we have seen, largely been invented and the other was to lay the foundations for the world as we know it today; this says much for the condition of the inquisitorial mind in the 18th century. The third prong was the Jansenists, by the early 18th century the main intellectual preoccupation of the Inquisition.41 However, as with the Freemasons, precisely what Jansenism consisted of was open to question. Once again it turned out to be highly useful to invent a label with which to create an enemy.

Originally, the matter had been straightforward. Jansenists were followers of Jansenius, whose book Augustinus was published in 1640 and immediately condemned as heretical by the papacy.42 Yet by the 18th century the movement had become more amorphous, and contained both those who desired a spiritual renewal in opposition to the currents of the Enlightenment, and those who supported a new humanistic rationalism rather as Erasmus had done in the 16th century.43

The spiritual element in 18th-century Jansenism was in many ways a revival of the movements to interiorize piety which had always been such anathema to the Inquisition.44 The Spanish Jansenists wanted to rescue Spain from her increasing intellectual isolation from the rest of Europe, but also stressed their national heritage. Often, they drew on works by some of the early intellectual enemies of the Inquisition, conversos such as Sanches and Vives, as well as on better-known thinkers such as Descartes.45 They also looked to the theological writings of other conversos, people such as Luis de León and Juan de Àvila.46

When one takes a step back to think about the implications of the intellectual foundations of 18th century Jansenism, it becomes clear that the Inquisition was correct – up to a point – in its identification of a threat. Members of this movement sought intellectual renewal through the writings of many thinkers whose ideas the Inquisition had condemned two centuries before, and from philosophers whose ideas were similarly suspect. Yet the fact that so many of these ideas had come from conversos serves to show yet again that the Inquisition had merely helped to establish the ideological currents which then came to pose such a challenge.

What many Jansenists in Spain really stood for in the 18th century was an attempt to blend spiritual renewal with the principles of the Enlightenment.47 This meant that Jansenists often opposed the jurisdiction of the papacy.48 They tended to argue for the expansion of royal power over the Inquisition, something that became known as regalism.49 This gave them a political outlook which was enough, together with their sympathy for some Enlightenment ideas, for them to become associated with the forces which were then chipping away at the edifice of inquisitorial ideology.

The irony was that the Jansenist movement itself had been in part created by the Inquisition, since it was inquisitors, led by Jesuits, who in the first half of the 18th century had defined its enemies as ‘Jansenist’. One Jansenist wrote in 1803 that the Jesuits ‘have always deliberately ensured that the idea of Jansenism is horrific and yet obscure and confused, so that it can be applied to all those who . . . support the reform or abolition of their company’.50

The connection to the Jesuits had come because in the first half of the 18th century the Inquisition in both Portugal and Spain was increasingly dominated by the Society of Jesus.51 The Jesuits saw Jansenism as a specifically anti-Jesuit doctrine associated with France and Voltaire.52 When two Jesuit friars were asked to compile the Spanish index of censorship in 1747 one of them simply copied an edict of 1722 called the Jansenist Library, and thereby included all the books which he reviled.53 Some friars in other orders were furious, and one declared that the so-called Jansenist books in the index were no such thing54 – which shows just how vague the concept was, and how easy to appropriate for ideological ends.

The protests against the index of 1747, and at the role of the Jesuits, had serious consequences in Spain, with some contemporaries going so far as to say that doubt had been cast on the index’s legitimacy.55 In Portugal the Jesuits and the Inquisition were soon to suffer an even more damaging setback. Far more serious than the phantom enemy of the Jansenists was a real foe, the one man who did more than anything to put an end to the Inquisition’s stranglehold on society there: Sebastião José Carvalho e Melo, the chief minister of Portugal better known to posterity as the marquis of Pombal.

A GOOD if doubtless apocryphal story is told of Pombal. In 1773 he was said to have been irked by a proposal of King José I. José, like many before and after him, had suggested that all those with Jewish ancestry should wear a yellow hat. A few days later Pombal came to court with three such hats tucked nonchalantly under his arm. José was understandably bewildered. He asked what they were for, and Pombal answered that he merely wished to obey the king’s orders. ‘But’, José is said to have asked, ‘why do you have three hats?’ ‘I have one for myself, replied Pombal, ‘one for the inquisitor-general, and one in case Your Majesty wishes to cover himself.56

Pombal was a child of the Enlightenment. He wanted nothing to do with José’s proposal to revisit old forms of discrimination, and proceeded to follow up his humiliation of the king by proposing the abolition of the legal distinctions between Old Christians andconversos. As Pombal held absolute power in Portugal, he was successful, and so managed to blow away the raison d’être of the Portuguese Inquisition.

Pombal’s rise to such power over the crown was directly related to another moment that had changed the history of his country, the terrible earthquake that destroyed Lisbon in 1755. The first tremor had struck the city just after 9.30 a.m. on 1 November 1755, All Saints’ Day. The tremor had lasted for two minutes, and been followed by seven minutes of violent shaking. The quake had been accompanied by terrible groaning noises, as if the very rocks on which the world was built were entering their death agony.57Great cracks opened up in the city streets, and subterranean fires could be seen below.58

This first tremor destroyed the palace of the Inquisition in the Rossio and the king’s palace on the waterfront. One mansion lost 200 paintings including a Reubens and a Titian, a library of 18,000 books and 1,000 manuscripts. In the royal palace 70,000 books were lost. Thirty-five of Lisbon’s forty parish churches collapsed, many onto praying parishioners. The dust thrown into the atmosphere by the destruction made the sky go black,59 and the devastation was completed by a second tremor, at around 11 a.m., which led to a tidal surge in the Tejo after which only 3,000 of the city’s 20,000 houses were habitable.60 The wave destroyed ships and flooded the streets. Fires broke out, fanned by a north wind, and people fled the city in panic, believing that the world was about to end.61

Beautiful Lisbon, guarded by the Castle of St George and appearing to visitors as if in an amphitheatre,62 graced with big skies stretching out into the Atlantic, was utterly destroyed. The streets were reduced to piles of ash and broken stones and the charred remains of walls.63 The cities of the Algarve suffered similar devastation.64 The force of the earthquake can be measured by the experience of the terrified residents of Mafra, who saw the vast palace of John V raise and lower itself, move from side to side, creaking and groaning with the earth and threatening to lay bare the vanity of all monuments to human ambition.

With Lisbon brought to its knees, Pombal was given full control by José I; he was the only minister who seemed equipped to deal with the situation. Pombal acted swiftly, executing looters and disposing of the many dead by taking them out to sea, attaching weights to their bodies and casting them into the deep. Then the rebuilding began, and the structure of the modern city of Lisbon was created; the pleasant wide streets which stretch down from the Rossio to the Tejo were all built in this period. But the Inquisition was not to experience such a renaissance.

Feelings ran high in Lisbon after the earthquake. This was a city, and a country, which had spent over two centuries in the grip of the scapegoating Inquisition. Many people, moreover, can only have seen the events as divine punishment for wrongs committed. A new scapegoat was needed, and Pombal, whose power was growing all the time – he would be made count of Oeiras in 175965 – settled on a group which he saw as inimical to the Enlightenment values which he wished the new Portugal to adopt: the Jesuits.

As in Spain, the Jesuits in Portugal had an important role in the Inquisition in the 18th century. But this did not stop rumours circulating about them soon after the earthquake. Pombal himself wrote a series of anonymous pamphlets accusing the Jesuits of all sorts of crimes including running the communities which they controlled in Paraguay with slave labour.66 The Jesuits were said to encourage disobedience to the pope, to support treason and regicide, and to have created their kingdom in Paraguay with the sole purpose of enriching themselves.67

The pamphlets began to work. On 21 September 1757 all Jesuits were expelled from the royal palace. More denunciations followed, as people sensed that a new scapegoat was in the making. Four months later, in January 1758, the canons of Lisbon wrote that the Jesuits favoured lying about the past, libelling the government or a person in order to weaken them, and wishing the death of a neighbour if it was in their own interests – all charges which surely reveal prevailing attitudes towards the Jesuits.68

Pombal moved inexorably towards his target. In the summer of 1758 an alleged plot was uncovered against José I led by the noble house of Távora, in which some Jesuit priests were said to be involved. Several were arrested on charges of treason, and on 3 September 1759 the Society of Jesus was expelled from Portugal. Still festering in the dungeons of the Inquisition was one of the ‘plotters’, Gabriel Malagrida, and on 21 September 1761 he was burnt to death in front of the crowds on the waterfront in Lisbon, the last person to be burnt by the Inquisition in Portugal. The Jesuit Malagrida represented everything that the enlightened Pombal detested. After the 1755 earthquake he had preached to the people that the disaster was punishment for Portugal’s sins. He was also said to encourage people to see him as a saint, and to foster credulity among the masses. He was the perfect scapegoat for an enlightened despot such as Pombal.69

The treatment of the Jesuits created an international scandal and led to the exclusion of Portuguese envoys from the Vatican for nine years. Yet this in itself was an opportunity for Pombal to encroach further on Church power in his attempt to build a modern state. Even though he was now in his sixties, he was a man of indefatigable energy, and moved on to the biggest target of all, the Inquisition.

As a believer in free trade and Enlightenment ideas, Pombal was not a man with any love for the Inquisition. He saw it as backward and as constraining economic growth through its persecution of the commercial class of conversos,70 and he delighted in removing its powers. Pombal made censorship a state function in 1768, taking it out of the hands of the Inquisition.71 In 1769 he made the Inquisition subordinate to royal commands and ordered that all confiscated property be passed to the state.72 The 1773 decree abolishing legal prejudice against conversos followed,*2 and in this document Pombal could not help noting that such prejudice was contrary to the spirit and canons of the universal Church,73 thereby undermining the entire rationale from which the Portuguese Inquisition had proceeded and showing once again how some of its principles were contrary to true Catholic theology.

Pombal followed these decisive moves with a decree abolishing the Inquisition of Goa in 1774 – although it was subsequently reestablished for a time.74 While in Portugal persecution of conversos had continued to predominate, in Goa from 1650 onward the main attention of the Inquisition had moved to prosecuting the crime of Hindu ‘gentility’ – people practising Hinduism while being baptized Christians.75 As late as 1768 people were burnt for this crime in an auto in Goa,76 and Pombal evidently felt that such barbarism did not fit with the modern state which he wished to construct.

Such sweeping reforms must have bewildered the people of Portugal. In 1750 the Inquisition had been a rock of society, its position unimpeachable; by 1774, although Pombal had not abolished it, he had made it subordinate to the crown and paved the way for its complete removal. Moreover, the persecuting institution had in a sense turned in on itself, burning in its very last auto a member of the Jesuit religious order which had offered so much support to it over its history.

Yet this should not be surprising. The Inquisition had after all always been an institution for channelling the scapegoating desires of the most powerful sectors of society and for fostering paranoia. The ruling classes always chose the scapegoats, consciously or unconsciously, and after the earthquake of 1755 it was Pombal who was impregnable, not the Inquisition; Pombal’s choice of scapegoat for the earthquake was what mattered, and he fastened on the Jesuits.

In this key moment in the history of the Inquisition, then, the persecution which it had always directed outward turned in.77 The paranoia which it fostered meant that threats to society were always credible; this time, however, the threat was its ally the Jesuits. Thus the culture of paranoia swung back on the Inquisition like a boomerang. Weakened, stagnant and at bay, the Inquisition would be unable to resist the violence of its own power.

Seville 1767–77

UNDER ATTACK IN PORTUGAL, in Spain the Inquisition remained utterly committed to fighting the Enlightenment. Thus while France basked in the intellectual renewal of Diderot, Montesquieu and Voltaire, in Spain proponents of the ideas of these thinkers were attacked. A show trial was needed and the Inquisition fastened on the government orderly of Seville and quartermaster-general of Andalusia, Pablo de Olavide.

Olavide was the sort of internationalist the Inquisition loathed. He had been born in Lima in 1725 and only come to settle in Spain at the age of twenty-seven. In his mid-thirties he had travelled widely in France and Italy, and on returning to Spain in 1764 had opened a Parisian-style salon which was precisely the sort of vehicle for new ideas which the Inquisition could not abide.78 Two years later, in 1766, depositions against Olavide began to be received.

The first accuser was Carlos Redonc, a servant of the marquis of Cogulludo, who described Olavide’s palace, Valdeaveiro, as containing hundreds of ‘extremely scandalous paintings’ which could ‘provoke sensuality’.79 Another witness, Francisco Porvelo, expanded on the ‘provocative’ paintings, saying that they had ‘women, who by all appearances were young, with uncovered legs and breasts, having dealings with hermits’.80 Meanwhile scandal was exacerbated by the fact that Olavide had chosen for his bedroom a former oratory where mass had been celebrated.81 All this, and the large number of books that Olavide possessed82 – a suspicious fact in itself – were enough for him to develop a reputation as an enemy of religion.

This reputation was clearly widespread. On hearing the news of Olavide’s appointment as orderly in Seville, the count of Santa Gadea declared, ‘This Olavide observes the same religion as the mule who draws my carriage’.83 Nonetheless, Olavide settled into the grand surroundings of Seville’s royal alcázar,84 with its beautiful gardens, ornate patios and fine Islamic architecture stretching back to the period of the convivencia. Here, in his apartments overlooking the spires of Seville’s enormous cathedral, Olavide merrily proceeded to scandalize his peers.

By 1768, just a year after his appointment to Seville, new accusations were being lodged with the tribunal of the Inquisition. Olavide only served meat on Fridays in his lodgings, in contravention of the custom of avoiding it on that day. His rooms were again filled with ‘provocative’ paintings of scantily clad women. He was said to own a portrait of the great enemy of the Inquisition, Voltaire, and some even said that he had met this figurehead of the Enlightenment. He had told a young woman that if she ever considered becoming a nun, she should reject the idea as if it had come to her from the devil. And, to cap all these slights to religious orthodoxy and devotion, he listened to mass while resting on a walking stick and did not even raise himself at the elevation of the host.85

What all these denunciations of Olavide really revealed were the growing divisions within Spanish society. This was no longer a society of one faith, attitude and purpose. The arrival of the Bourbons in the 18th century had led to the creation of an influential minority of intellectuals touched by the French Enlightenment.86 Olavide was representative of this class: he openly mocked the Spanish mode of prayer and said that enlightened nations were right to laugh at it; he called preachers fanatics and confessors fatuous, and was widely known as ‘the great Voltaire’.87 The Inquisition decided to make an example of him.

The depositions against Olavide accumulated throughout the 1770s like kindling for a fire. The extraordinary detail of the case which was eventually mounted reveals the extent to which the bureaucracy of the institution was stifling it. There were eleven files in the trial, each meticulously handwritten and containing an average of around 500 pages; over 140 witnesses were called to prosecute a man who was, in the final analysis, a blasphemer. At last, in October 1775, the Suprema wrote to the king outlining the crimes of which it wished to accuse Olavide.88

Not only was Olavide a blasphemer and a doubter in miracles, affirmed the Inquisition, he had declared that if the authors of the Gospels had never written them the world would be a better place. He was ‘contaminated by the errors of Voltaire, Rousseau and others who have constituted the greatest infamy of our century’. Worse still, he had introduced public dances and masked parties to the towns of the brown hills of the Sierra Morena, north of Seville. His mockery of the Catholic hierarchy was epitomized by his sudden question to a priest in the town of Nueva Carolina: ‘What does your grace think of fornication?’89 The scandalized priest did not deign to record his reply.

The arrest warrant for Don Pablo de Olavide was finally issued on 14 November 1776.90 He was taken to the inquisitorial jail in Madrid and his goods sequestered: his white silk socks, golden tobacco box, his purse filled with gold coins. Olavide was eventually reconciled in a humiliating auto in 1777, before spending three years performing penances in various monasteries. In 1780 he managed to flee to France, where he would spend most of the rest of his life in exile.

The Inquisition had channelled its fight against Enlightenment ideas into this one battle, having, in the words of one historian, ‘chosen Olavide’.91 This meant that many people in Spain saw him as the repository of all evil. One witness described how Olavide was commonly reputed at court to be a ‘heretic or a Jew’.92 A song was heard that epitomized the scapegoating process and the shifting but constant threat which Spanish society believed itself to have been under for the last 300 years:

Olavide is a Lutheran,

A Freemason, an Atheist;

He’s a Gentile, a Calvinist,

He’s Jewish, and he’s Aryan.93

Of course Olavide’s ideas were threatening to the Inquisition, yet the way in which the threat was inflated, as shown in this song, to encompass all known ills is revealing of the paranoia which the Inquisition had created.

Everyone experiences moments of paranoia in their lives. We develop unfounded fears that people do not like us. We worry about things we have said long after those we have said them to have forgotten them. We see threats where there are none. But then, when we recover our sense of proportion, we recognize the paranoia for what it was, and our own part in it.

Historically, there has often been a connection between authoritarianism and paranoia. The violent dictator of the west African nation of Guinea in the 1960s and 1970s, Sékou Touré, was convinced there was a permanent plot against his regime. In Chile, meanwhile, some in the police believed that while under Pinochet the main threat had been posed by communists, in the 1990s the danger came from drug traffickers. The demise of Pinochet (and the communists) did not, sadly, mean that the threat to society had gone.

ON 18 MAY 1776 Ignacio Ximénez, the notary of the Inquisition of Cordoba, received a letter from the priest of Nueva Carolina, the town in which Pablo de Olavide had scandalized the local priest. The letter denounced Olavide for sowing dangerous ideas among the farmers of Nueva Carolina from a book which he had brought from France: ‘It was proposed’, the priest wrote, ‘to teach in the Agricultural and Industrial Society some chapters from the Dictionary relating to industry, factories, and trade’. The priest was outraged, since, as he pointed out ‘I knew that according to the French prohibitions there were dangerous chapters in this work . . . and it was my obligation to oppose such a reading’.94

Fear of enlightened ideas was such in inquisitorial circles that books advancing new scientific and technical ideas were often suppressed. When in 1748 the mathematician Juan Jorge wrote a book defending the idea that the sun was at the centre of the solar system, Inquisitor Pérez Prado sought to ban it on the basis of the trial in Rome the previous century of Galileo.95 Meanwhile, in tandem with this fear of science, the inquisitorial censors, the calificadores, wrote disapprovingly of countries where there was ‘freedom of conscience’96 as if such freedom was intolerable. Phrases in books were denounced as being, as one friar, Andrés de la Asunción, put it in 1783, ‘accomplices in tolerance’.97

Asunción was symbolic of the anger felt by many of his class in the late 18th century. He censored thoroughly a book called The Clamour of Truth, published in Madrid in 1776. In this book Asunción objected particularly to the injunction, ‘Tolerate your brothers whatever their religion, in the same way that God tolerates them’. This meant that a true Catholic had to ‘dissimulate, silence themselves, suffer their mockery of the monastic life, of the clergy, of the Inquisition . . . you have to eat with them, live with them, talk with them’.98 Asunción’s hackles were also raised by, ‘Patience and meekness . . . are the strongest of weapons . . . and their use can never be excessive’. Was this not to desire ‘the extinction of anger in dealing with the impious, that is the strangling of a holy anger which satisfies a holy vengeance on he who offends the creator’? Asunción was clearly a member of that class that felt permanently hot under the collar.

This anger sprang from the feeling that Spain was a society under siege. The intellectual weapons of its enlightened enemies in France were becoming sharper and sharper, and censorship became the main preoccupation of the Inquisition in the second half of the 18th century. Between 1746 and 1755 Voltaire, Montesquieu and Rousseau all wrote key works, and the Inquisition responded by banning their entire oeuvres in 1756.99 Thirty-six edicts banning books were promulgated between 1747 and 1787, to be posted on the doors of churches and convents, with sixty books banned in the edict of 1750 alone.100

By 1797 it was clear to supporters of the Enlightenment in Spain such as Gaspar de Jovellanos – by then minister of justice – that the Inquisition derived most of the power it still had from its role in the censorship of books.101 The calificadores of books were usually of very mediocre intellectual calibre. Many of them could not read any language but Spanish, even though most of the works they censored were written in French; in Logroño French books had to be sent to Madrid as no one there could understand them.102

The increasingly hysterical banning of works central to the modernizing world beyond the Pyrenees sank Spain into an ideological pit of its own making. The enlightened classes from which people such as Jovellanos sprang had no difficulty in getting hold of the books103 as the censors became increasingly incapable of holding back the tide,104 but the edicts polarized society and meant that most people remained ignorant of new ideas. Spain was dividing into two camps: a bourgeois liberal faction and a conservative non-bourgeois wing,105 a division that would take centuries to heal.

The new divisions were encapsulated in the trial of two brothers, Bernardo and Thomas Iriarte, whose cases began in Madrid in 1778. The Iriartes were successful figures in Madrileño society in the 18th century, with Thomas a novelist and Bernardo having served as a diplomat in London before joining the Ministry of State on his return.106 The brothers ran a sort of salon in Madrid where religious ideas were discussed, causing scandal to the more orthodox who came across them. One of these, Joseph Antonio de Roxas from Chile, noted how he had heard them say to one another that the ignorance of Spain derived only from the Inquisition.107

This was a perennial refrain among the enlightened classes in Spain in the 18th century. There were many who supported the Inquisition, as Jovellanos himself admitted, but influential figures in the arts and politics saw it as responsible for the growing material and intellectual backwardness of Spain in comparison with the rest of Europe. That such people scorned the pro-inquisitorial masses of Spain and its priests emerges from the accusations made against the Iriartes by none other than their brother, the friar Juan Iriarte, a Dominican in the Canaries.

Juan found the mockery of his brothers too much to bear. They enjoyed nothing more than laughing at his religious beliefs and his claim that he was able to perform exorcisms. They also inveighed against the truth of the gospels and the pointlessness of saying mass.108 The ideological divisions which were beginning to surface in Spanish society are revealed no better than in Juan Iriarte’s statement that he often ‘provoked discussions on religion to see if his suspicions [of the faithlessness of his brothers] were well-founded’.109

There is no doubt that the Iriarte brothers delighted in provoking the faithful. One November in the early 1770s Bernardo, talking with the friar Felix de la Guardia in the library of the El Escorial palace built by Philip II, asked la Guardia if he spoke French; on hearing that he did he shared with him a book which he was reading on the subject of onanism or masturbation – an activity which it is fair to assume not all friars abstained from. La Guardia was understandably offended, and said that such books ought to be burnt. Not at all, joked Iriarte; the book taught nothing bad, only about a sin of nature, that of voluntary ejaculation – and it was for this precise reason after all that he had had thirty-six noble ladies put to the sword, rather than be tempted by this vice any more himself.110

Bernardo Iriarte’s behaviour was indeed intolerable, but the weight of his scorn and of the anger of his accusers reveals a society where neither side had any time for the other. For those interested in new ideas, the stagnant intellectual environment of the time must itself have been intolerable. One of Bernardo Iriarte’s accusers was the librarian of El Escorial, the friar Juan Núñez. El Escorial was the most important library in Spain, but Núñez described a conversation he had had with Iriarte in which he had declared that he was a great supporter of the Inquisition’s prohibition of books. ‘I wish they would prohibit more’, the great librarian had said to Iriarte.111

This fear of new ideas was, at bottom, a sort of self-realization. The Inquisition knew that the Enlightenment heralded its destruction, and, like all institutions, it would do everything it could to stave off its demise. Yet this process in itself required a certain amount of self-knowledge to develop.

Thus, as we have seen, secrecy was one of the institutional characteristics of the Inquisition, but in 1751 the Inquisition’s supporter, Francisco Rávago, railed against ‘the horrible oath that the Masons swear to keep secrets’.112 Or, as Rávago’s Jesuit colleague Luengo put it in 1786, ‘the quality of these [Masons] can only be perverse . . . it is enough to see their desire to hide everything . . . if everything is innocent, good and irreproachable, and offends no one, neither the State nor religion, what does it matter if everything is known?’113 What was true of the Masons also held for the Inquisition.

Such unconscious self-knowledge had also dawned in Portugal, where in the last code of practice of the Inquisition, written in 1774, the inquisitors wrote, ‘Madness . . . [can exist] in the fixation in the imagination of the madman on a certain point of view to which he is an irrevocable adherent, so much so that he only shows his insanity when the said point is mentioned, while speaking otherwise in an ordinary and correct manner’.114 What was the essence of the Inquisition, if not the irrational pursuit of often invented heresies in people who otherwise spoke reasonably about many things? This disquisition on insanity and the denunciations of secrecy reveal a slow, unconscious dawning of self-knowledge. But it was too late. The Inquisition could not be saved from the collapse which had been provoked largely by its own view of the world.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!