. . . opposed to the sovereignty and independence of the nation and to the civil freedom of Spaniards . . .
IN 1789 REVOLUTIN swept across France. Over the next twenty-five years Iberia would be overrun by the forces which were unleashed. The Portuguese royal family was forced to flee to Brazil in November 1807 as a result of the Napoleonic invasions; the following year the Spanish monarchy was replaced by a puppet king; and the first liberal constitution in Spanish history was proclaimed at the southern port of Cádiz in 1812. The entire imperial edifice disintegrated in a puff of Napoleonic smoke, its American colonies breaking away in independence movements led by Simón Bolívar, Bernardo O’Higgins and José de San Martín.
It was not just political change which turned Portugal and Spain upside down. The new freedoms swept away centuries of ideological and sexual repression. The Inquisition, recognizing itself in mortal peril, lashed out like a wounded beast at the liberties fanning out from France across Europe. On 13 December 1789 the Spanish Inquisition declared war on all books and ideas originating in France, noting how the leaders of the Revolution championed everything which it opposed:
Under the specious guise of defenders of freedom, they really work against it by destroying the social and political order, and thereby the hierarchy of the Christian religion ... in this way they pretend to found this chimerical freedom on the ruins of religion, a freedom which they erroneously suppose to have been given to all men by nature, and which, they say with temerity, has made all individuals equal and dependent on one another.1
Thus we can summarize the enemies and friends of the Inquisition in 1789: its enemies were freedom, equality and interdependence; its friends were the status quo and the hierarchy. The institution proceeded earnestly with its attempts at censorship. The banning of books and the searching of libraries became its main function. Its secret archives swelled with vast numbers of case files, as more and more books were published promoting what it saw as outrageous ideas.
The sheer range of books banned in those years is testament both to the boom in publishing and the incapacity of the Inquisition to do anything to stem the tide. A two-page pamphlet entitled ‘A Burlesque Sermon to Laugh and Pass the Time’ was censored in 1802 for its quips such as ‘Firewater has more virtue than holy water’ and its description of the carriage driver who ‘thinks himself in eternal damnation whenever he is not at his drinking station’.2 Lascivious books recounting ‘profane loves’ were banned in their entirety.3 The Barber of Seville was prohibited for its mockery of the joyless life of upstanding moral virtue.4 Works lampooning and demonizing the Inquisition proliferated, and were denounced as ‘impious, full of temerity, seditious, and injurious’.5 But these works were increasingly popular.
Libertinage and mockery of the Inquisition, and of everything it held dear, became unstoppable. Fans imported from France were censured in 1803, as by opening and closing them a Capuchin friar and a woman could be seen in ‘indecent postures’; the fans were sold around the Plaza Mayor and the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, and there was ‘barely a woman who did not have one, since they are the height of fashion’.6 And when a friar protested some years later at the sale of some china ornaments depicting indecent figures, the vendor refused to give them up to him, and her son added, ‘Perhaps the good father would like to entertain himself with them in his room’.7
Nothing was sacred any longer. In 1799 a play was put on about Christ’s Passion during Lent in Barcelona. The Inquisition was appalled at the idea of a mortal man playing Christ and succeeded in having the play prohibited, but the very fact that it had been staged in the first place reveals the atmosphere of the times, and the growing divisions between supporters and opponents of the inquisitorial world view.8 These divisions increasingly reflected tensions within Spanish society. They pitted rural against urban, liberal against conservative. The Inquisition, through such doctrines as limpieza de sangre and its steadfast refusal to accommodate any new ideas, was as responsible for the divisions as anyone.
In an article by Nicolás Morvilliers published in 1782 in Paris he described Spain as ‘today a nation in paralysis’.9 The cause, in Morvilliers’ eyes, was the fear of knowledge and science as expressed through inquisitorial censorship of books.
‘The proud and noble Spaniard is ashamed of educating himself, travelling, of having anything to do with other peoples’, Morvilliers wrote.10 ‘The Spaniard has scientific ability’, he added, ‘and there are many books for him to read, and yet this is probably the most ignorant nation in Europe . . . every foreign work is impounded, tried and judged . . . a book printed in Spain goes through six acts of censorship before seeing the light of day’.11 The result, in Morvilliers’ view, was the stagnation of the natural sciences in Spain at a time when they were all the rage in the rest of Europe. ‘What is owed to Spain? . . . Art, science and commerce have been extinguished . . . In Spain there are no mathematicians, physicists, astronomers or naturalists’.12
The article caused a furore in Spain, with numerous people launching vituperative attacks on it pointing to the health of the sciences there. Yet, on closer examination these ‘sciences’ were all taken in the humanistic sense, and referred to subjects such as grammar, jurisprudence and theology. No one could come up with examples of luminaries in natural science from Spain.
The divisions between the Enlightenment and ultramontane supporters of absolute papal authority and the Inquisition became more stark, as supporters of the Enlightenment defended Morvilliers. One of them, Cañuelo, described the condition of Spain in drastic terms: ‘Our poverty and ignorance have never been greater’, he wrote. ‘But we console ourselves’, he went on with bitter irony, ‘with the thought that our wealth is still not so great that we have actually got enough to be able to eat and to clothe ourselves . . . We need chickpeas, beans . . . we need meat; half of Spain is short of bacon; we have to import all the fish we eat except that which is freshly caught; we are in greatest need of eggs, which are brought from Berne to be sold in the Plaza in Madrid’.13 Everything from thread to make clothes to furniture and children’s toys was imported, and had to be paid for in silver and gold, he said. ‘But let us console ourselves and rely on our apologists. They will make us believe that we are the richest and most powerful nation in the Universe, and even that we have reached the greatest peaks of worldly happiness . . . and thus will they keep us in ignorance’.14
By the late 18th century ignorance was indeed characteristic of most parts of Spain outside the cities. Typical was Villacañas in the district of Toledo, where in the 1770s Andrés de las Blancas claimed to have the ability to save young men from military service. This was because, he told his neighbours, he had made a pact with the devil to give away his son Lorenzo. Lorenzo would disappear one dusk, ostensibly to go and see his diabolic master in Toledo, and return at midnight with powders and other ingredients whose stench was so revolting that they made people’s throats gag. For a fee of between sixty and one hundred reales, Las Blancas would supply this magical concoction to his clients, making the father and the son take it while fasting. Then the hapless dupes would put their hands into a jar and recite the following rhyme:
A demon am I,
I am the devil’s mate,
My hand goes down to test
The currents of my fate.
My payment is rewarded,
Should freedom be my guide;
I take the devil’s name
and put my hand inside.15
Such goings-on were not uncommon; it was still widely thought that the right spell could make the face of a malevolent witch appear in a barrel of water.16 When the lame beggar Ignacio Rodríguez offered to sell charms to women which would seduce the men oftheir choice into a sexual relationship, he managed to convince many of them that these amazing charms would only work if the women first had a sexual relationship with him; once this had been consummated, all they had to do was mix the charms with their pubic hair and their desires would be realized.17
Some defenders of the society of which the Inquisition was the moral guardian have asserted that Spain was the ‘least superstitious society in the world’ in this period.18 In the light of such stories as these, however, and of the goings-on we saw involvingbeatasand exorcisms in Chapter Twelve, this seems a curious judgement to make. Much of the population undoubtedly remained extremely gullible and superstitious; but these qualities were in opposition to the movement favouring the Enlightenment in intellectual circles.
It was, however, such circles, with their greater access to the levers of power and the ideas sweeping across the rest of Europe, who had the momentum. Thus it was that as the 18th century ended and Napoleon’s forces began to sweep across Europe, the episodes of resistance which had sporadically punctuated the history of the Inquisition finally moved into the ascendancy.
IN ORDER TO SECURE and maintain its place at the heart of society, a persecuting institution must have popular support. As Hugh Trevor-Roper put it, ‘without the tribunes of the people, social persecution cannot be organized’.19 Once the social tensions have been defused, however, the masses slink back into their respectable lives and any blame falls on the institutions which received their silent sanction. Thus does society scapegoat scapegoating institutions for its own crimes.
The Inquisition always was a popular movement in Portugal and Spain.20 As soon as it was established, had people not rushed to denounce converses?21 Was the Inquisition perhaps a product of the popular mentality, rather than its cause?22 In fact it was both; the Inquisition could not have arisen without popular support, but it then used the powers vested in it to shape the ideas of the people.
Was there any way the rise of the Inquisition could have been stopped? There were of course the local factors at the beginning: the tensions between Old Christians and converses, the civil war in Castile, growing urbanization. There was much specific to Portugaland Spain, in particular the cultural mixture which was then unique in Europe. The Inquisition was, in the end, an ideological prop for developing a ‘pure’ nation and culture from ‘impurities’ – the ideological counterpart to the violence of the defeat of the Moors and the expulsion of the Jews.
Violence, of course, was nothing new in the world. What was new, and reached beyond the boundaries of Iberia, was the institutionalization of violence. The power of the Inquisition was a symbol of the growing force of the state, a force which went with modernization. It was the beginning of totalitarianism. And yet in the worlds of the Inquisition the popular support for aggression, expansion and persecution was always in tension with a resistance.
We have seen signs of this resistance at various points throughout our story: the converso plot to kill inquisitor Arbues in Zaragoza; the constant Aragonese complaints directed at the tribunal until the mid-16th century; the repeated attacks on officers of the Inquisition by moriscos. These were not merely isolated cases: at the zenith of protests against Inquisitor Lucero in Cordoba in September 1506 a mob stormed the Alcázar and freed all the prisoners;23 there were two popular uprisings against the Inquisition in Spain in 1591;24 and a mob stoned an inquisitor in Rio de Janeiro in 1646.25
These pressures for and against persecution mirror the struggles in the minds of countless individuals, in all of us perhaps, between the impulse for love and the impulse for destruction. This was at the heart of the psychological drama of the Inquisition and it is not a little consolation to see that throughout its history there were people capable of allowing their good impulses to triumph. For as well as all the tales of horror and cruelty, the archives of the Inquisition are occasionally touched by softer emotions. Incarcerated in the inquisitorial jail in Malaga in 1620, William Lithgow found his spirits raised by some of the staff. One of the Moorish slaves in the inquisitorial jail hid a handful of raisins and figs in his shirtsleeves once a fortnight, beginning the night after Lithgow had been tortured; the slave was crippled in all his limbs, and had to drop the fruit out of his sleeves onto the floor, where Lithgow would lick them up one by one. Then when Lithgow fell ill an African slave tended him for four weeks, bringing food daily and secreting a bottle of wine in her pocket for him. Lithgow was so touched that he composed a poem for her, which ended, ‘For she a savage bred, yet shews more love / And humane pitty, than desert could moove’.26
Perhaps Lithgow sensed that the Inquisition was indeed a desert of emotion – a place for mutilation and self-mutilation, and for repression. Yet away from this desert there were always members of society willing to risk their lives or reputations to protect the persecuted. In Portugal some Old Christians opened inquisitorial letters and showed them as a warning to conversos.27 Many Old Christians hid conversos who were hoping to escape.28 And we have already seen how at the time of the forced conversions of Jews in 1497 some Christians hid Jewish children rather than have them seized from their parents by the authorities.*1 Yet perhaps the most moving way of all in which Old Christians stood together with conversos and showed that there must always be brave individuals who stand up to persecution was when some of them adopted the Jewish religion themselves, and died in the autos as a result.29
On 25 July 1720 a thirty-six-year-old friar, Joseph Díaz Pimienta (also known as Abraham Díaz Pimienta), was garrotted before being burnt at an auto in Seville, convicted of the crime of crypto-Judaism. Pimienta had led an extraordinary life of adventure, double-dealing, weakness of mind and, in the end, great courage. What had appalled the inquisitors most about this friar was that he was an Old Christian, and he was made to suffer the ultimate penalty for his acceptance of Judaism.30
Pimienta had spent most of his adult life in the Caribbean. He had studied grammar and morals – this last apparently without much success – in Puebla de los Angeles, the second city of Mexico, which lies deep in its fertile valley between the ancient temples of Cholula and the city of Tlaxcala. From Puebla he had gone to Cuba, where he entered a monastery in 1706 at the age of twenty-two. Something of Pimienta’s tempestuous character is revealed by the fact that he at once had violent disagreements with some of his fellow friars, and escaped the monastery two months later, spending ten months living with his parents before returning to the monastic life.
One can discern that all was not well with Pimienta in the Cuban monastery. After a further eighteen months he asked to be able to complete his studies elsewhere, but was refused. Chafing at the restrictions of the monastic life, Pimienta fled again. First he went to Caracas. From Caracas he made his way up the Caribbean coast, through the jungles of Darien and past the former Mayan heartlands of the Yucatán, until he reached Veracruz, the Caribbean port that served Mexico City. This was where the Carvajals had arrived in the New World 150 years before, the port where Luis de Carvajal, the governor of Nuevo León, had helped to overcome the pirate John Hawkins; it was still attractive to chancers and people wishing to reinvent themselves.
From Veracruz Pimienta climbed into the highlands around Puebla, where he forged his baptismal papers in order to obtain written permission to be a priest. Yet his life of constant travelling in the fetid lowlands of the coast, in the highlands, from one outpost of colonial barbarity to another, had not calmed his spirit. He returned from Puebla to Veracruz, and after four months went back to Havana. He was stripped of his priestly titles in Cuba by the bishop, who had learnt of his forged papers. He returned to the monastery, twice, and escaped, twice – each time he was put in the stocks on his reappearance. He was pardoned and decided to try to return to Mexico. He was short of money, so he decided to steal some mules of his mother’s. He was spotted by one of her servants, and fired on him, injuring the man. He knew that the authorities were after him, so he took ship with some English pirates who dumped him on an isolated headland on the Cuban coast. At this point Pimienta made for Trinidad, where he decided to re-enter the priesthood.
What is one to make of this envoy of the divine? As a priest in Trinidad, he began an affair with a married woman whose husband threatened to kill him. He took to going about with pistols, and shot one mulatto after an argument. Then, with his options rapidly narrowing, he sailed from Trinidad to the nearby island of Curação, just north of the Caribbean coast of South America. This was controlled by the Dutch and home to a large Jewish population descended from the Jews of Portugal and Spain. Pimienta had decided to become a Jew; such a choice was understandable in this deeply religious person, especially as he had heard that people were given money to convert, sometimes as much as 300 pesetas.
In Curação, however, things did not go as planned. Pimienta cooked up a story of coming from a good Jewish family and being forced to convert to Christianity by the Inquisition. He was aiming to take the money and run. The Jews, however, insisted on instructing him in their faith first, and took him to live in a village where he was taught important prayers and rituals. He was eventually accepted into the faith and given some money, but Pimienta, who appears to have found it impossible to stick at anything for more than a few months, found the ritual demands of Judaism increasingly onerous. Moving to Jamaica, he tried to throw a copy of the New Testament onto a fire but seemed to see blood coming from it, which he took as a sign to leave Judaism.
Pimienta had clearly become a man tortured by unresolved desires. Twice he went to the synagogue in Jamaica but he recited Catholic prayers during the service. Then he heard that the Inquisition was after him again, so he escaped from the island with fifteen Indians and a Jew; something of the inner conflicts now devouring him emerges in his attempt to exorcise his frustration by flogging the Jew, forcing him to eat ham and making him recite the names of the Holy Trinity. But Pimienta was then himself turned on by the Indians with him and left for dead after a fight. He dragged himself through the jungles of the South American coast until he reached a camp, where he was seized, put in chains and taken to the nearest Spanish settlement at the Río de la Hacha. From there he was taken before the court of the Inquisition in Cartagena, where he was reconciled and deported to spend the rest of his days in Spain.
Penniless, Pimienta sought help from the crypto-Jews of Cádiz. He wrote to the commissary of the Inquisition there that he was a Jew and would always remain one – in order, he told the commissary later, to deceive the crypto-Jews and reveal their heresy. The Inquisition arrested him. He declared that ever since his reconciliation in Cartagena he had been a good Christian. Then he changed his mind and said that he had really been a Jew ever since his time in Curação. He said that he had kept the Jewish sabbath in prison, and refrained from eating ham and any meat not killed according to Jewish law.
For two months in the inquisitorial jail of Seville efforts were made to save Pimienta. But perhaps all he really longed for was release from his endless sufferings. He stubbornly maintained his Judaism. On 22 July he was told that he would be killed in the auto three days later, and at length, in his journey through the crowds of the streets of Seville, he repented and begged for Christian mercy. This confused and saddened Old Christian, spent by his life of adventure and confusion in America and Europe, was given the clemency of being strangled by the executioner, before his lifeless corpse was burnt and its ashes billowed up into the unyielding skies above.
HOW COULD AN Old Christian adopt Judaism? Spanish Christians were imbued from a young age with an ideology that demonized the Jewish and Muslim faiths and made them aware that accepting the tenets of these religions could lead to their deaths. Yet Pimienta was not alone, and throughout the history of the Inquisition there were cases of Old Christians who did the same.
Moreover, it was not just that a few Old Christians became heretics. Aspects of both Jewish and Muslim culture filtered into Iberian society and were widely adopted by the Old Christian population. Many of these practices lasted down to the 20th century. In the 1970s the Spanish researcher José Jimenéz Lozano investigated the cultural practices of people living in the rural heartlands of Castile, and found that many of the older people recalled customs which, unbeknown to them, came straight from Judaism. All fat was removed from meat when it was slaughtered, and blood spilt on the ground was covered up. Cold meals were called adafinas, the name given by Jews in Spain to their sabbath meals, which were cooked on Friday and eaten cold on Saturday. The bodies of the dead were washed, and women underwent forty days of quarantine with no sexual contact after giving birth. Most extraordinary of all, in the town of Palencia he found that bread without yeast was made during Easter, a legacy of the Jewish practice of eating unleavened bread during Passover, which occurs at the same time of year.31 His respondents all thought of themselves as devout Christians, yet, as Jiménez Lozano wrote, had they been observed by the Inquisition, they would without question have been arrested for heresy.
These were not just isolated rural practices. The custom of cooking food in oil rather than lard, now seen as typically Iberian, is in origin a Jewish one, denounced by the 15th-century supporter of the Inquisition Andrés Bernaldez.32 And large numbers of people observed elements of Judaism in the 20th century in Portugal and Brazil – as many as 20,000 in Portugal, according to one researcher, even though not many of these can have been of ‘pure’ converso stock.33 Thus in spite of the best efforts of the Inquisition to excise heresy, the reverse had happened: traits of the hated heresy had spread through Iberian society, touching not only people of Islamic and Jewish descent, but the whole culture.
This evidence is all the more extraordinary when we consider that, as we saw right at the start of our story, conversos in 15th-century Spain were not in the main active crypto-Jews and had moved away from the faith of their ancestors. Thus it was not a question of the Inquisition persecuting heretics and not even a question of the Inquisition encouraging its first targets, the conversos, to become heretical; the reality was that even some people who had little or no Jewish ancestry were pushed towards heresy by the atmosphere created by the Inquisition.
In considering why this might be so, one is reminded of some of the people we have come across in this story: the Old Christian ladies who flocked to Erasmus’s ideas precisely because he was so attacked in some circles, or the head of the Masonic lodges in Naples who became a Mason for the same reason. Persecution and demonization can make a group more attractive. The desire to break taboos and prohibitions runs very deep in human beings, after all, as Eve showed in the Garden of Eden. Moreover, the customs of the conversos were constantly read out to the population during the inquisitorial edicts of grace which warned people what heretical customs they needed to guard against.
It was in fact the acts of demonization and persecution which ensured that the threats to society persisted. On some unconscious level, therefore, imperial, expansionist Iberia desired the persistence of these ideas, as enemy threats against which it could define itself. This self-definition through hatred of the enemy was powerful, but it also fostered paranoia, delusion and ultimately the collapse of the very imperial edifice which the Inquisition sought so hard to sustain.
THE LAST CENTURY of the Inquisition in Spain saw several attempts at reform. Philip V’s minister Melchor de Macanaz had produced a programme in 1713 calling for secularization of the state, and seeking to reform the Inquisition as part of this. In Macanaz’s vision the Suprema would be served by a royal secretary, turning it effectively into just another ministry, while censorship would have come under royal and not inquisitorial aegis, with calificadores being appointed by the crown and not the Inquisition. However, as we have seen, such ideas did not endear Macanaz to the Inquisition, which began a case against him and drove him to flee to France.*2 34
Nevertheless, in tune with events in Portugal under the marquis of Pombal, in the reign of Charles III (1759–88) the state in Spain progressively encroached on the territory of the Inquisition. In 1768 attempts were made to rein in the Inquisition’s powers of censorship, and a decree of 1770 restricted it solely to matters of faith, and excluded crimes such as bigamy. The 1790s saw various proposals for reform, one of them led by the first great historian of the Inquisition, Juan-Antonio Llorente, who was also the Tribunal’s secretary. But for one reason or another these later reform programmes all failed, and the Inquisition staggered towards its end.35
By 1800 what energy the Spanish Inquisition had left was directed at coming books from France. But the inquisitors themselves were increasingly influenced by French ideas, and some of them were accused of the very crimes of Jansenism and excessive tolerance of which they accused others.36 A case in point was the last ever inquisitor-general of Spain, Ramón José de Arce. Arce was said to be polite, enlightened and to have had an affair with the marquessa of Mejorada. When Napoleon’s army occupied Madridon 22 March 1808 Arce resigned the following day and emigrated – to France.37
It was the coming of Napoleon which really spelt the end for the Inquisition. Napoleon had first invaded Portugal after disputes with the Portuguese king John VI over the French blockade of English ports. After forcing the Portuguese royal family to flee, the French proceeded to occupy northern Spanish cities. The Spanish king Charles IV was deposed by an aristocratic faction and his son, Ferdinand VII, replaced him; Napoleon removed them both to south-western France ‘for their safety’ and installed his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne.
On 4 December 1808 this government issued a decree abolishing the Inquisition in Spain. Within ten days eight members of the Suprema had been arrested, the offices of the Inquisition in Madrid sacked and large amounts of money confiscated. Napoleon’s forces occupied much of Spain and suppressed the tribunals. In Rome Pope Pius VII had been imprisoned by French troops, which meant that the very idea of the Inquisition had to face difficult questions regarding its spiritual legitimacy.38
With the Spanish empire in chaos, a Cortes was convened in the southern port city of Cádiz, which was not in Napoleon’s hands. Guerrilla fighting raged across Spain, and it was clear that whatever the outcome of the war between the French, Spanish guerrillas, the Portuguese and British troops fighting in Iberia under the future duke of Wellington, Spain would never be the same again. The Cortes was convened on 24 September 1810, and comprised liberals, royalists and a significant proportion of clergy – almost a third. Just two days after its inauguration one of the leaders of the liberal faction, Agustín de Argüelles, raised the issue of freedom of the press.
The debate lasted several weeks. Argüelles argued that freedom of the press was the source of Britain’s prosperity, but one of the ecclesiastical deputies, Canon José Isidro de Morales, replied that it was ‘completely irreconcilable with the canons and discipline of the Church and with the very dogma of the Catholic creed’.39 One of the other things that was irreconcilable, it can be seen, was the gulf between the two parties at the Parliament.
Eventually, on 18 October 1810, the decree permitting freedom of the press was passed. At once a barrage of pamphlets, magazines, newspapers and books commenced attacking the Inquisition. The liberal press was swisher, better written and had a wider public than its conservative rivals. It swiftly took the high ground in the ideological battle. Although after six months some pamphlets in support of the Inquisition began to appear, it was already too late. A port full of ships and sailors from the northern European countries where Enlightenment ideas were in vogue,40 Cádiz was one of the most liberal cities in Spain.
The Inquisition rapidly became a symbol for everything seen as wrong with the old order. There was, moreover, a sense that the Inquisition had never been weaker. One of its opponents at the Cortes of Cádiz described it as a ‘colossus . . . with a brilliant golden head, the chest and the arms made of silver, the stomach and the muscles of copper, the legs of iron; but half of its feet are built from mud, and so it is very easy to knock it over’.41
The momentum would be impossible to check. In 1812 a commission was appointed to examine whether the Inquisition should be re-established in Spain in the event of the defeat of the French, and whether it was compatible with the liberal constitution which the Cortes had issued on 12 March 1812. The commission noted the many problems: the pope was imprisoned and the inquisitor-general had resigned, so the question of what authority the Inquisition would report to was a difficult one to resolve. Moreover, it was suggested that the Inquisition was ‘opposed to the sovereignty and independence of the nation and to the civil freedom of Spaniards, which this Parliament has desired to ensure and consolidate’. The commission proposed instead a system working through the bishops to inquire into heresy: the stage was set for abolition.
It is worth looking at some of the tactics used by the liberals against the tired old colossus that for so long had exerted its influence over Spain. The Inquisition was given a character by the pamphleteers which it had not really had for over sixty years, with torture and executions described as if they were still ongoing. Polemicists described the Inquisition as responsible for the decadence of Spain, the disappearance of practical sciences, agriculture, industry and business. Interestingly, these same accusations had been levelled at the Jesuits earlier in the 18th century, and had been responsible for the order’s expulsion from Portugal in 1759 and Spain in 1767.42
Where the accusations remain the same and it is only the identity of the accused group which changes, it is reasonable to suspect that the group is being made to take the blame for something whose causes are different. How many enemies had Spain had to live with! Conversos, Lutherans, moriscos; Freemasons, Jansenists, the Enlightenment; sodomites, bigamists and blasphemers; and now, Jesuits, and the Inquisition. In each case the charges of threatening the strength and identity of the Spanish nation were made. But in each case, there was a more complex dynamic at work, one which required a scapegoat to be found.
Once again, the dynamic met with success in Spain. The campaign was so convincing that when crowds burst into offices of the Inquisition in the organization’s death throes they expected to find instruments of torture set out for the maiming of its victims. This was even though nobody alive could recall ever having witnessed a public auto and very few of the crowd had ever known anyone who had been arrested by the Inquisition.43 Repression had returned to its source: the scapegoat for all of the ills of Spain had become none other than the original scapegoating institution.
THE POLEMICS WHICH swung into action during the dying days of the Inquisition and old regime were the first full public debate on the past in Spain. The divide which we have seen growing between conservatives and liberals crystallized around the different perspectives on the Inquisition and what these said about the history of Spain.
In the late 19th century, one of the champions of the conservative view of Spanish history which again had come to predominate in intellectual and political circles, was Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, a man whose excesses of intellectual precocity were matched only by his excessive verbal diarrhoea. At the age of twenty-seven he published an eight-volume history of non-orthodox thought and thinkers in Spain, including much material on the Inquisition, which remains read today. Menéndez y Pelayo was a staunch defender of the role of the Inquisition in the formation of Spanish society. He held that ‘intolerance is an innate law of the healthy human understanding’:44 the active intelligence reached the truth and then sought to impose it on others, being intolerant to their ideas.
As I visited the archives in Portugal and Spain, the initial affront which such an idea might have created began to be replaced by different emotions. For what were these mounds of yellowing papers but an attempt to impose a vision of the world? Here these papers lay, patiently awaiting their distillation and dismemberment by each passing generation of historical researchers, confined in their protective boxes, wrapped tightly by cloth ribbons. They were journeys into the past and into the psychology of the past which had made the present, but they were also journeys which at some level made the pain and discord of the present easier to bear by displacing it onto the traumas of those who no longer suffered.
It became difficult to dismiss entirely the insight of Menéndez y Pelayo into the intolerance of the human mind. Blame was increasingly easy to place on those one held responsible for various evils: one could blame the inquisitors for their venality and surrender to power, the torturers for their sadism, imperial warmongers for their wars from which liberal intellectuals had often benefited indirectly. Thus the liberal view also required its enemies, who, as with the enemies of the Inquisition, renewed themselves with the changing of the intellectual seasons and the passing of time.
Was the inquisitorial state of mind then in some way an inevitable precursor to the modern human condition? There is no doubt that it has had plenty of successors, by analogy at least. There was the Stasi network of informants known as the Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter, which spread across East Germany during the cold war like inquisitorial familiars, monitoring the politically incorrect; and the executioners of Mao Zedong, who severed the larynxes of their victims so that they could not protest just as the victims of autos had been gagged, and who charged the families of the dead for the bullets used to kill them just as victims of the Inquisition had had to pay the people who flogged them.45
It had been discovered that administration was a vital tool which could be used to project failings onto others. Human psychology was, then, at the heart of the story of the Inquisition. But if the historical literature spoke with precision of inquisitorial structures, of the statistics of autos, of the detail of the inquisitorial trial process and of its activities all over the Iberian worlds, it very rarely entered into the psychology behind what had gone on in an effort to understand what had actually motivated the persecution.46
This always seemed a mistake. And yet in the climate in which the research was conducted, one could see how such an omission could come about: the volume of information about the atrocities and the creeping advance of the persecuting culture, the accumulating ‘evidence’ of the threat, all inevitably pushing consumers of this information into relating to it on its own terms, so that it became difficult to perceive it from any external perspective and gain a psychological understanding of what was really going on.
In the decades that followed the demise of the Inquisition the task of understanding the psychological dynamics involved was increasingly passed to novelists. Classic examples are Dostoyevsky, with his devastating vignette ‘The Grand Inquisitor’ in The Brothers Karamazov, and Kafka’s portrait of a bureaucratized inquisitorial pursuit in the story of Joseph K., recounted in The Trial. Who can forget K’s quest for a meaningless piece of paper, of whose name he is always in ignorance, and his sudden execution after a meeting in the cathedral?
Another writer who used this theme was Elias Canetti. Like myself, Canetti was a descendant of the Iberian Jews who had been among the initial targets of the Inquisition. This made objectivity difficult and yet it also perhaps allowed a level of empathy which, one hopes, rather than trampling upon the emotions produced by the Inquisition, released them. One of Canetti’s most famous works is his novel Der Blendung, published in Austria in 1935 and translated into English under the author’s supervision as Auto-da-Fé. In this book Canetti – who won the Nobel Prize in 1981 – portrays the psychological breakdown of a scholar, Peter Kien, living in a central Europe increasingly dominated by authoritarianism in the years leading up to the Second World War. Hoodwinked out of his apartment by his housekeeper Thérèse and the fascist caretaker Benedikt Pfaff, Kien descends into an underworld from which he cannot re-emerge.
Canetti’s book reprises the satire of the inquisitorial Auto which had first been composed by Cervantes over three centuries before. In Canetti’s disturbing vision the background to Kien’s madness and collapse is the growing aggression, violence and scapegoating of a society on the brink of genocidal war. This world is unable to take responsibility for its own enormities. Obsessed by his own vision of the truth in his books, surrounded by a culture of incipient persecution, beaten, intense, mad, Kien is no longer able to live with what he has created in the microcosm of his ordered flat. In this space of such learning and culture, its creator, Kien, decides to burn down the flat, burn down the books, and destroy himself in the process.
THE DEBATE ON the commission’s proposals for the future of the Spanish Inquisition was inaugurated in Cádiz on 4 January 1813. Agustín de Argüelles, one of the members of the commission, came to the defence of its findings, reiterating the difficulties involved in re-establishing an Inquisition when there was no inquisitor-general, and adding that the institution had not promoted the purity of religion, but rather helped in eroding it by ‘encouraging accusations . . . and relying on the probity of the judges, who are as full of wretchedness as any men’.47 He went on to accuse the Inquisition of having dried up the sources of the Enlightenment and chased out of Spain all men of genius and enlightened ideas.
Argüelles was supported by the count of Toreno, who again stressed the absence of an inquisitor-general and the Inquisition’s opposition to the Enlightenment, and added, ‘The Inquisition has always gone about watching over and investigating the conduct of wise men and the intelligentsia . . . I cannot think of any enlightened person I have known who has not been under threat from the Inquisition’.48 There were, though, many who spoke out in favour of the Inquisition. Some deputies noted that the nation was not comprised just of the enlightened or those who liked novelty, but of ordinary folk, and that these people desired the Inquisition to remain. Others stated that the Cortes should have nothing to do with belief, and should limit its remit simply to defending the faith, which as far as they were concerned meant maintaining the Inquisition.
The critics of the Inquisition in the Cortes proceeded to pull off a trick. On 16 January, as many of its supporters attended the funeral of the bishop of Segovia, the liberals rushed through a law declaring that ‘the Catholic and apostolic religion will be protected by laws which conform to the Constitution’.49 The Inquisition was doomed; on 22 February 1813 the decree of abolition was approved. Prohibited books went on sale at once, their sales boosted by being advertised as ‘works prohibited by the Inquisition’. In the masked parades during Lent people dressed as bishops with burning axes went from plaza to plaza reading out the decree of abolition. In Cádiz, centre of bourgeois and internationalist Spain, celebration was in the air.
These events were mirrored in Portugal and the New World. In Mexico the leader of the independence movement, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a liberal priest from the region of Querétaro, was charged in December 1810 by the Inquisition with ‘rebellion and heresy’. Hidalgo was said by numerous witnesses to have doubted the coming of the Messiah, to have said that the Bible had only taken its complete form in the third century AD, and that St Teresa of Ávila had been deluded because of her self-flagellation and repeated fasting.50 It was said that in his house a ‘large group of common people gather perpetually to eat, drink dance and chase women’.51 Priests were said to dance with vials of holy oil around their necks, and the church ornaments and vestments were used in masked balls. On Christmas Eve the host had been hidden on the altar; the officiating priest suspected it had been stolen and had to hunt for it, just so that the congregants could find something to laugh at.52
Hidalgo maintained that he would never have been accused of heresy but for his support of the independence movement. However, the vigour with which the Inquisition pursued him may have been due to the fact that he spread stories among his followers about it. To the horror of Inquisition officials, he claimed that ‘the inquisitors were men of flesh and blood; that they could make mistakes; and that their Edicts were driven by passions’.53 Many priests agreed with Hidalgo, and one of them, the friar José Bernardo Villaseñor, announced that the edict issued against the ‘heretic Hidalgo’ was ‘fit for using to wipe your bottom’.54 Hidalgo and his followers then marched on Mexico City but in early 1811 retreated north, where they were defeated in March. Hidalgo was given a summary trial by the Inquisition before being shot.
Hidalgo, however had not died for nothing. Mexican independence soon followed, and by June 1813 the decree of abolition from Cádiz was public knowledge and the tribunal in Mexico ground to a halt. The same occurred in Lima, while in Chile the municipal council of Santiago had removed the ecclesiastical rent from the cathedral canonjía dedicated to the Inquisition almost two years earlier, in September 1811. Cartagena in Colombia had seen violent demonstrations demanding the abolition of the Inquisition the same year.55
In Portugal, meanwhile, events were no less dramatic. The Inquisition had been declared abolished by liberals following the flight of the Portuguese royal family from Napoleon’s troops in 1807; the offices of the Inquisition were sacked, and the inquisitor-general fled to south-western France.56 A definitive edict suppressing the tribunal in Goa was published on 16 June 1812.57 The viceroy wrote suggesting that all the trial documents be burned and they have never been found. The Inquisition was finally abolished officially in Portugal on 31 March 1821 by the constitutional government58 after the upheavals of the Peninsula War had come to an end.
By this time the decree of abolition passed by the Cádiz Cortes in 1813 had finally come into effect in Spain. After the ejection of French troops in 1813 King Ferdinand VII had returned to Spain and reinstalled the Inquisition, briefly. But a revolution had occurred in January 1820, again centring on Cádiz, and Ferdinand had only managed to retain his throne by promising to respect the constitution passed during the earlier Cádiz Cortes. Ferdinand proceeded to release prisoners from the inquisitorial jails and to pass a decree suppressing the Inquisition on 9 March 1820,59 a decree ultimately converted into a law of abolition in 1834.
As soon as Ferdinand VII’s decision to abide by the constitution of Cádiz was published on 8 March 1820 people took matters into their own hands. In Madrid a crowd of several hundred went to the jail of the Inquisition, where they freed seven detainees, all of them political prisoners. Those freed refused to be carried aloft in triumph to their homes; a tailor offered himself for the role instead, even though he had never had anything to do with the Inquisition. Then the crowd made a bonfire of all the furniture and paperwork that they had taken from the palace.60
The scapegoating of the scapegoater could not be checked; repressed feelings and anger returned with an awesome inevitability. The jails of the Inquisition were stormed in Seville and Valencia on 10 March. In Palma, Mallorca the inquisitorial palace was destroyed.61 In Barcelona the mob arrived at 1 p.m. on 10 March outside the palace of the captain-general, demanding the declaration of the constitution. He agreed, and they made for the inquisitorial palace with the aim of putting an end to the Inquisition for good. They forced the gates of the prison, as in Madrid, and freed the prisoners. More bonfires were lit, plumes of smoke rising into the sky as the trial records and archives of the Catalonian tribunal darkened the skies overhead.62
Poor Iberia! Portugal and Spain, once the seats of the greatest empires in the world, had been reduced to ruin. Divisions ruled. The Inquisition had tried to produce a united ideology, had persecuted threats when and where it had found them, but had only managed to preside over imperial decline. It could not be said that the persecution of the enemy had contributed to prosperity or the enhancement of people’s lives. Repression had followed, and frustration. From frustration came anger, and then mutual rancour.
The stage was set for increasing bitterness. In time the divisions would slide into the terrible conflict of the Spanish Civil War and the mutual antagonism of conservatives and liberals which foreshadowed Portugal under Salazar. The enemy never vanished. The Inquisition had helped in its pursuit, yet the split which had in consequence been opened up would become wider than an ocean. Thus in Portugal and Spain had paranoia bled prosperity into decay. It was the imperial society’s intolerance and pursuit of phantom threats which had ground its own empire into the melancholy runnels of oblivion.