Above all were his peaceful procedures. He always administers justice in the beautiful link of peace. It could be the heraldry of his canopy – ‘Justice and peace have kissed.’
Mexico City 1649
ON MONDAY 11 MARCH 1649 a procession left the headquarters of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Mexico City. The gala troop swept between the whitewashed houses, enlivened by musicians dressed in silks of different colours playing trumpets, kettledrums and woodwind. The musicians’ horses were followed by the ministers of the Holy Office and the noblest gentlemen of the city, the ministers bearing the arms of the Inquisition, which so appropriately mirrored the battle between peace and violence which was at the heart of that curious institution: a cross in the middle, an olive branch to the right and a sword to the left.1
The procession, brought up at the rear by Don Juan Aguirre de Soaznava, the chief warden of the Inquisition in Mexico, snaked through the streets of one of the two most important cities in America, announcing amid the din of kettledrums and wind instruments that a grand trial of faith, or autos-da-fé, would be held in a month’s time. Notices were published in the buildings of the Holy Office, at the house of the archbishop, in front of the viceroy’s palace, in the town council and in various streets in the city.2
A month was in truth the absolute minimum necessary to prepare the great theatre for the auto. A stage was built, about 37 metres long and 24 metres wide, around which were placed eight marbled columns grouped in twos. In the keystone of an arch set above the boards was a depiction of a shield with the royal coat of arms, while a pyramid was built and decorated with a shield of the faith. Boys playing trumpets were painted above the doors for entering and leaving the stage, while the prisoners were to be housed in a structure topped by a cupola. The arena was shaded by sails nailed to the tops of forty tree trunks roughly 18 metres high, while thirty stairways were built connecting it to apartments and other buildings so that onlookers could take a rest from the demands of the auto. The whole was lavishly decorated with velvet hangings, carpets and crimson curtains, and the activity was such that ‘people were congregating every day and they remained from sun-up to the close of the day . . . they admired everything and felt that they were seeing something that could be perpetuated through the ages’.3
On 10 April, after a month’s hectic construction work, over 20,000 people filled Mexico City to watch the procession of the green cross which heralded the morrow’s auto. The streets between the Inquisition offices and the great arena were dotted with minor stages. People watched from benches, coaches, balconies and windows as Don Juan Aguirre de Soaznavar set out at three thirty in the afternoon, accompanied by a twelve-strong guard, pages and lackeys. The bells of all the churches and monasteries in the city rang out as the procession passed by. The guards were dressed in the green and black of the empire, embellished with gold and silver braiding. The pages wore fine green clothes and capes, while the lackeys were in groups of eight bearing swords of silver and gold. When the procession finally reached the Plaza del Volador, soldiers fired a celebratory salute and twenty Dominican friars walked forward with white candles to welcome the cross, at last, to the stage.4
It was seven o’clock. Night had fallen across the city, yet there were so many candles that they ‘made the entire theatre appear as if it were day’.5 The candles themselves were so thick that they would burn for two nights. Prayers were led from the stage, and a vast throng filled the Plaza del Volador. All the seats were taken. Few slept as they imagined the sentences that would be meted out to the condemned.
Yet ‘while the city was rampant with all varieties of rumours, the Holy Office . . . proceeded in silence with its labours’.6 In the offices of the Inquisition, two confessors were sent to the 15 people who had been condemned to die for secretly practising Judaism in spite of being baptized and outwardly professing the Catholic faith. These were the so-called relajados, the term used by the Inquisition for those who would be transferred to the secular authorities and put to death. All but one of the relajados protested their innocence and claimed to be good Christians. The exception was Tomás Treviño de Sobremonte, an itinerant merchant who admitted to being a Jew.7 Owing to Sobremonte’s refusal to accept the Christian faith he would be burnt to death the following day, while the other fourteen relajados would be given the relative clemency of being garrotted and then burnt.
At four in the morning the chief inquisitor of Mexico, Juan de Mañozca, arrived. The cathedral bells began to toll, to remind the populace that the auto was an earthly representation of the Last Judgement. As well as the fifteen relajados, the effigies of sixty-seven deceased people had been sculpted, to be burnt in place of their bodies for the heresy that they were no longer alive to exculpate; the effigies went first in this procession, followed by twenty-three boxes of their bones, which were also to be burnt. Then followed those prisoners who had been sentenced to suffer penances such as lashing, imprisonment, the galleys and confiscation of goods – the reconciliados. Last of all, the relajados were called and given the banners of their condemnation, which ‘consisted ofsanbenitos[the penitential garb of all prisoners] decorated with flames and figures of demons’; these terrifying images also decorated the corozas, the conical hats which the prisoners wore as they made their way to the stage.8
The procession left the Holy Office at dawn. The relajados were given a green cross. Some of them were gagged, including Sobremonte, who ‘walked through the streets like a volcano of desperation . . . everyone was shouting at him, trying to persuade him or preaching to him. But he wouldn’t listen to anyone, being furious even with himself. He made his own obstinacy a point of honour’.9 Every relajado was accompanied by two confessors, who never let up in their preaching and exhortations to the condemned to repent. Many of the confessors cried as they went, ‘which caused copious tears to fill the eyes of all the onlookers on realizing the charitable spirit showed by the ministers and the scarce interest shown by the accused’.10 The prisoners were followed by the ministers of the Inquisition on horseback, and then by a mule carrying a chest which bore the trial records and sentences of the accused. The head of the mule was adorned with silver plates engraved with gold designs; her neck was hung with silver and gold bells; and the chest with the trial records was mauve-coloured and inscribed with Japanese inlays and elaborate copperplates.11
The brilliant piece of theatre brought the entire colony to a standstill. People came from nearly 1,000 miles away to watch, so that ‘it appeared that all of New Spain*1 had been depopulated and brought to Mexico [City]’.12 The crowd hung from the fences, the scaffolds, carriages and balconies; they sat on 16,000 seats before the stage, shouting and applauding, riveted by the piety of the event and fascinated by the prisoners. As the condemned mounted the stage individually to hear their sentences, the Jesuit friar Mathias de Bocanegra marvelled at the doings of Chief Inquisitor Mañozca, whose ‘glorious solemnity, comprehensive capacity, wise intelligence, mature discretion, old experience, zealous integrity, all . . . justified his work’.13 ‘Above all,’ as Bocanegra put it, ‘were his peaceful procedures. He always administers justice in the beautiful link of peace. It could be the heraldry of his canopy – “Justice and peace have kissed.”’14
JUSTICE AND PEACE were adjectives ill-suited to describe Mañozca’s usual mode of behaviour. The record of this individual reveals a more chequered approach to the art of inquisitorial persecution. In fact, Mañozca’s true character had been apparent for forty years, ever since his appointment as one of the first inquisitors of Cartagena, Colombia, in 1609.*2
In Cartagena Mañozca and his colleague Mateo de Salcedo had made a habit of hauling market traders before them and seizing whatever took their fancy, throwing them into the inquisitorial jail if they did not comply.15 In January 1624 Mañozca was accused of having routinely smuggled goods in and out of Cartagena and freeing his associates when they were arrested for carrying contraband.16 He had destroyed rivals of his friends,17 and appointed a friend of his prior of the Dominican monastery even though his friend could not read Latin.18 When a butcher whose house adjoined his own made a ruckus by killing a pig, Mañozca arrested the butcher’s butler and servants and threw them in the inquisitorial jail.19 It was also public knowledge that he was having an affair with a married woman in the city.20
Perhaps hoping to improve matters, the Supreme Council of the Inquisition in Spain – the Suprema – transferred Mañozca from Cartagena to Lima in Peru.21 In 1625 Mañozca was sent on a commission of inquiry to Quito, Ecuador, where he immediately stood down all the judges except the youngest one, whom he dominated absolutely.22 An associate of Mañozca’s took to parading Quito’s streets with an armed gang, occasionally assaulting royal officials in the plaza, and once stabbing an African slave with his sword to see if it was working properly.23 Mañozca summoned prisoners in chains from Cali, hundreds of miles away in southern Colombia, and kept them in jail for eight months. In all, he and his sidekicks spent over two years racking up huge bills and all but bankrupted the colonial authorities in the province.24
It was this sort of corruption that encouraged men like Juan Pérez de Segura, a trader in Peru in the 1580s, to declare that ‘inquisitors should be tied to the tail of a horse’.25 How delicious it would be to see them dragged through the very muck that was their bequest to so many others! But inquisitors were widely seen as above the law. Was it not typical that none of the litany of complaints had prevented Mañozca from being appointed chief inquisitor in Mexico in 1643 and preparing the trials which came to a head with the great auto of 1649?
Yet persecutors do not abide in a vacuum. Mañozca’s genius for tyranny took advantage of a time when what was called crypto-Judaism flourished. By 1649, Judaism had been condemned in Spanish dominions for over 150 years, and the religion of the twenty-five congregations of secret Jews in Mexico was a curious hybrid of Catholicism, Judaism and taboo rituals which in Mexico were associated with illicit sex.26 Although the Inquisition was charged with the extirpation of this heresy in Spanish territories, it had made little progress since its formation in 1478. New cells of these religious rebels were constantly being uncovered. There were even specialists in their detection, men such as Mañozca, who, prior to the events in Mexico in 1649, had been one of the inquisitors who uncovered the ‘great plot’ of the crypto-Jews in Lima in the late 1630s.27 It turned out to be impossible to separate entirely the pursuers of heresy from the heretics themselves; on some deep and unconscious level, each seemed to need the other.
The 1649 auto in Mexico was in every sense a grand piece of theatre, yet it is only a minor episode in the story of the Iberian Inquisitions. For the victims of the inquisitors, such as the crypto-Jews of Mexico, resistance punctuated their suffering and music occasionally alleviated their torture. As one of their sabbath prayers put it:
Whoever sings lessens his pain;
Whoever cries begets more strain:
I sing so as to remedy
The suffering that torments me.28
ONE MUST BEGIN by acknowledging the sheer vastness of the subject. From 1478 to the mid-18th century the Inquisition was the most powerful institution in Spain and its colonies in the Canaries, Latin America and the Philippines. In neighbouring Portugal and Portugal’s colonies in Africa, Asia and Brazil the Inquisition was pre-eminent for 250 years from 1536 onwards. This means that the Inquisition was a significant force in four continents for more than three centuries; we are dealing with a period stretching from the unification of Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella in the 15th century to the Napoleonic Wars.
These vast reaches of time and space are matched by the size of the perceived criminal class. Trials were held of witches in Mexico, bigamists in Brazil, seditious Freemasons, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Protestants, fornicating priests and sodomizing sailors. In Mexico the Inquisition banned peyote – the hallucinogenic cactus written about by Carlos Castaneda in the 1960s and 70s – in 1620, because it ‘has been introduced into these provinces, for the purpose of detecting thefts, of divining other happenings and foretellings’.29 Neither indigenous cultural practices nor sorcery and superstition were suffered gladly, even though many of the fortune-tellers and sorcerers around were evidently second rate. Should the Inquisition really have bothered with sorcerers such as Isabel Jiménez, denounced in Guatemala in 1609 for ‘telling fortunes by reading palms . . . always provided that it was a Friday’?30
One of the main structural similarities between the Inquisitions of Portugal and Spain was their interest in places as far-flung as Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Goa and Mexico. Only the Iberian Inquisitions had the means to persecute such minor acts of blasphemy and superstition across the world, acts that would simply have raised laughter elsewhere. In Salvador da Bahia,*3 Brazil, the labourer Manuel de Paredes was denounced by his brother-in-law Gironimo de Bairros in 1591; Bairros was upset at Paredes’s jibe that his sister Pauloa had been no more a virgin when she had married him than Mary had been when she had given birth to Jesus (it was the slur on Mary’s virginity that made this a case worthy of the Inquisition).31 A similar idea was expressed by one Domingo Hernández in Valdivia, southern Chile, around 1580: when discussing ‘how the women of Valdivia slept with the men, [Hernández] said that Joseph had also slept with Mary’.32
Keeping a check on such irreverence was a way of shoring up authority over these gargantuan empires. Power was at the heart of the Inquisition, and thus, inevitably, did religion enter the province of politics. It was no accident that in 1587, just one year before the Spanish Armada set sail for England, Francis Drake’s cousin John was tried by the Inquisition in Lima. John Drake had lost his ship on the River Plate and spent fifteen months as a captive of the Guaraní Indians before managing to escape in a canoe and reach the city of Asunción in Paraguay.33 From here he had been taken to Buenos Aires, before being arrested and transported thousands of miles to the nearest inquisitorial headquarters, in Lima, where he was ‘reconciled’ in the auto of 1587 and imprisoned in the Franciscan monastery of the city, still aged just twenty-three.34 One can but wonder if Francis Drake knew of his cousin’s fate and brooded on it in the months running up to the arrival of the Spanish Armada.
The long, sorry history of the Inquisition reveals countless similar examples. There were always, it turned out, others to persecute. But these others could remain dormant for decades, their heresies unapparent, until some political trigger released them for discovery. The challenge for the historian is the hugeness of the subject, something which in recent years has encouraged academic writers to concentrate on one small area or issue rather than on the whole. The intention of this book is to adopt a more overall perspective, to try and see what the significance of the whole ghastly business really was. For the Inquisition provided nothing less than the first seeds of totalitarian government, of institutionalized racial and sexual abuse.
SOONER OR LATER, one turns to numbers. Populations were much lower in the 16th and 17th centuries than today, perhaps one-fifth or one-sixth of current figures, so one needs to bear in mind that any human statistic represents a much higher percentage of the total population than it would now. Moreover, the Inquisition acted in many other ways beyond mere trials, through investigations of the purity of genealogies, preventing descendants of convicted heretics from taking up many jobs or wearing certain types of clothing, and through instilling a culture of secrecy.
The Inquisition was at its most severe in Spain during the first fifty years after its formation in 1478, when it is estimated that 50,000 people were tried, a significant proportion as relajados burnt at the stake.35 In some years, such as 1492, 2,000 people may have been ‘relaxed’ in person and another 2,000 burnt in effigy.36 Approximately 700 people were put to death in Seville alone between 1481 and 1488, and another fifty in Ciudad Real 1483–4.37 Around 10 per cent of the entire population of Toledo was tried by the Inquisition between 1486 and 1499, and 3 per cent ‘relaxed’ alive or in effigy.38 In the crown of Aragon, meanwhile, roughly 1,000 people were ‘relaxed’ between 1485 and 1530.39
After this initial fury, the Spanish Inquisition became less blood-thirsty, so that between 1540 and 1700 84,000 people were tried.40 In the reign of Philip V (1700–46) there was a rekindling of violence after the War of the Spanish Succession finished in 1714, with 1,463 trials and 111 executions. But thereafter the institution was in decline.41 In Portugal, meanwhile, where there was a lower population than in Spain, there were approximately 45,000 trials between 1536 and 1767 (including 13,667 in Goa)42 with at least 1,543 people being relaxed.43
There is no doubt that these figures are lower than many have long believed.44 Removing the first fifty years of inquisitorial history in Portugal and Spain from the equation, the number of deaths is much lower than the number of people killed during the witch-hunts of northern Europe between 1560 and 1680, which is put at a minimum of 40,000.45 And whereas bloody witch-hunts engulfed Austria, England, France, Germany, Holland, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland and Transylvania, the Inquisition in Portugal and Spain, while prosecuting ‘witches’, executed very few of them. These comparisons have led historians – both past and present – to claim that Spain has been the victim of a ‘black legend’ which paints the violence of its Inquisition and of Spain’s conquest of America in the worst light possible whilst skating over similar or worse excesses elsewhere.
The ‘black legend’ originated in the mid-16th century after the pope freed Alfonso Díaz, a lawyer at the papal court; Díaz had instigated the murder of his own brother Juan because he had become a Protestant whilst studying in Paris.46 The case became something of a cause célèbre and led to numerous anti-Catholic pamphlets across northern Europe. These were augmented by the publication in the 1560s of a book by an anonymous Spanish fugitive from the Inquisition written under the pseudonym Reinaldo González Montes. Montes had probably been a monk accused of Protestantism in Seville in the 1560s, and he published a graphic and unsympathetic account of the Inquisition after his escape to northern Europe.47 Such publications were seized on by countries jealous and fearful of Spain’s power; they quickly became tools in a propaganda campaign which, there can be no doubt, unfairly demonized the activities of the Inquisition in comparison to other persecutions then occurring both in Europe and elsewhere.48
Yet there is a difference between putting the Inquisition in context and excusing its excesses. The Inquisition did not overly persecute witches, but this was principally because, as we shall see, the unique cultural mixture of Portugal and Spain provided other scapegoats to persecute without the need to invent witches.49 Even more seriously, in the desire to put right the black legend, worrying errors of fact are still being made by some, such as the claim that torture was ‘only rarely applied – almost exclusively during the first two decades’ (see Chapter Three).50
In Spain, many of these revisionist historians were originally trained under the Franco regime, to which the Catholic Church was a formidable ideological prop. The intellectual atmosphere of this era is well expressed by the view of Antonio Sierra Corella, author of a book on censorship under the Inquisition, who declared in 1947, ‘Only some wretched author, infected by an anachronistic sense of liberalism, could argue with any conviction against the legal censorship of science and literature, as if this vital social function were an unjust and annoying interference of power.’51
The Francoist era was one when people often wrote obliquely about present events by concentrating on an aspect of the past.52 The growth in revisionist views of the Inquisition under Franco in fact mirrored the attempt to sanitize views of the general’s regime and of its impact on Spain.53 The legacy of these views today should not, therefore, be treated with the respect which in some circles it is still afforded – unless we want to find that the black legend is replaced by a white one, and that the dangers of creating a persecuting state apparatus are not fully appreciated.
WE MUST EXAMINE the Portuguese and Spanish Inquisitions together.54 The procedure of these institutions was almost identical.55 The Inquisition spread from Spain to Portugal, and the first papal bull establishing the Inquisition in Portugal was obtained through the pressure of Charles V, the Habsburg ruler of Spain.56 Moreover, the Inquisition originated in both countries through the persecution of crypto-Jews, and in both it became subordinate to the monarchy.57 Perhaps most importantly of all – and in contrast to the papal Inquisition and the earlier medieval Inquisition – in each of the two countries the institution spread to the colonies.
Thus, this book does not focus on the medieval and Italian Inquisitions. While many of the procedures of the Spanish body – such as secrecy in court proceedings – were inherited from the medieval Inquisition,58 *4 the crucial difference is that whereas the medieval Inquisition was controlled by the papacy or its representatives, the bishops, the Spanish Inquisition formed in 1478 came directly under the control of the Spanish crown.59
It was this which made the Inquisition in Spain, and then Portugal, a new departure. The first inquisitors were installed in royal buildings, and the first inquisitor-general in Spain, Tomás de Torquemada, sacked the medieval inquisitors of Aragon and installed his own replacements.60 At the first Spanish auto, in Seville on 6 February 1481, six people were burnt in spite of the fact that this sentence was not justified according to previous inquisitorial procedure – these were all warning shots that this new court of faith was going to be different.61
Thus one of the best reasons to concentrate on the Portuguese and Spanish Inquisitions is that this is a story of power and the abuse of power, rather than an excuse to reprise the anti-Catholic propaganda of the past. During the formation of the Inquisition in Portugal the papacy was always more benign than the Portuguese crown under John III: where John banned converted Jews from leaving Portugal in 1532, Pope Clement VII issued them a general pardon in 1533; when, after the Inquisition had been founded in 1536, John wanted the bishop of Lamego made the Portuguese inquisitor-general, the papacy refused for fear that he would be too violent; and when Pope Paul III issued the bull Meditatio Corbis on 16 July 1547, which at last gave the Portuguese Inquisition the same freedoms as its Spanish counterpart, he did so on condition that for a whole year everyone who wanted to would freely be able to leave Portugal, and so escape persecution.62 Similarly, when the institution of the Inquisition in Spain led to violent excesses, Pope Sixtus IV tried hard in 1482 to curtail the powers of the new body and complained to the monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella.63
The papal role in the Inquisitions of Portugal and Spain was, in fact, almost always moderate. The papacy was always reluctant to sanction the excesses of the Inquisitions in Iberia, and was routinely bypassed. Leonardo Donato, an Italian traveller, noted in 1573 how the Pope had ‘no involvement’ in the Spanish Inquisition, and that Pius V had been unable to override it in order to achieve a position for a servant of his.64 Even the victims of the Inquisition came to recognize the difference between justice in Rome and justice in Iberia, with Juana Roba, a morisca (descendant of a converted Muslim), prosecuted in Valencia in 1587 for saying among other things that ‘since the pope let everyone live according to their faith in Rome why were things done differently [in Spain]?’65
Thus the abuse of inquisitorial power in Iberia was a political rather than a religious abuse of power, and the story of the Iberian Inquisitions need not be an anti-Catholic diatribe.66 Persecution never was the monopoly of Spaniards, Portuguese or Catholics. It was something of which all peoples were capable.67
IN 1595, SIX RESIDENTS of the small town of Hellín, in the south-eastern Spanish district of Murcia, gave evidence to an inquisitor. During this era inquisitorial visits were supposed to be made on a regular basis to inquire into the orthodoxy of residents of even the smallest villages, and in Hellín a considerable scandal had been caused by the labourer Francisco Maestre.
Maestre had been elected major-domo of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Rosario. Unfortunately, this election had been held in his absence, and when the insignias, sceptre and standard were taken to his house he was less than pleased and said, ‘What manure, shit, what stench or rubbish are you bringing me here?’, and having been informed that these were the insignias of Our Lady of Rosario he replied, ‘It’s just shit and more shit’.68 This response did not go down well. Maestre was hauled before the inquisitors, excusing himself by explaining that he had been tired and had not taken in the insignias properly when they had arrived.
As this story shows, to understand the nature of the Inquisition there is no need for legends, either black or white. There is in fact a huge archive.69 Reading through it, there are many times – as with the Maestre case – when laughter is as appropriate a response as sadness. Sometimes, the mirth is caused by the constant examples of people who refused to be cowed by fear; at others, it is tempered by admiration at the wit of prisoners in the face of adversity.
Here I think of the Englishman William Lithgow, who was arrested by the Inquisition in Malaga in 1620 and harangued for being a Protestant. The arrest was unlawful, since there was an agreement at this time between the Spanish and English crowns that the English should not be arrested by the Inquisition. Nevertheless, after being given eight days by a Jesuit confessor to convert or face the consequences, the Jesuit departed Lithgow’s cell with the words, ‘My Son, behold you deserve to be burnt quick, but by the grace of our Lady of Loretta, whom you have blasphemed, we will save your body and soul’. At a hearing with the inquisitor the next day Lithgow was subjected to a tirade of accusations. Yet instead of showing any fear he replied, ‘Reverend Sir, the nature of Charity and Religion does not consist in opprobrious speeches’ – whereupon he was kicked in the face by the inquisitor and soon enough tortured.70
William Lithgow turned out to be a fortunate man. The English consul in Malaga heard of his case, managed to get the ambassador in Madrid to secure his release, and he was able to write his memoirs twenty years later. Of course few were as lucky as him, and it is in this constant struggle between fear and resilience that the real drama of the Inquisition emerges. Just thirty-two years after the first auto in Seville, the Florentine ambassador Guicciardini wrote in 1513 how the inquisitors, ‘confiscating the goods of the guilty and at times burning them, have made everyone afraid’.71 Fear percolated every layer of society: in 1559 a case was begun against the archbishop of Toledo, Bartolomé Carranza, the primate of all Spain, for ‘heresy’, which revealed that no one was free from suspicion (see Chapter Five); by the late 16th century, the moriscos of Cuenca kept their goods away from their houses, since if they were arrested by the Inquisition these would all be confiscated;72 and by 1602 moriscos lived in such fear of the Inquisition that some fainted at the mere sight of an inquisitorial aide.73
This sense of fear was carefully cultivated by the inquisitorial authorities. In 1564 a lawyer wrote to the Suprema from Galicia to say that there was a need ‘that people nurture fear’ there respecting the Inquisition.74 And in 1578, when Francisco Peña republishedDirectorium Inquisitorium – the 14th-century rubric for inquisitorial procedure written by Nicolas Eymerich, an inquisitor of Aragon – he wrote, ‘We must remember that the essential aim of the trial and death sentence is not saving the soul of the defendant but furthering the public good and terrorizing the people’.75
The Inquisition clearly believed that fear was the best way to achieve political ends. This was, as the French historian Bartolomé Benassar has put it, a ‘pedagogy of fear’:76 an entire institutional and political armoury designed to propagate terror in the population whose best interests it supposedly had at heart. The fear was mythologized through the use of torture and burning. It began from the very moment the inquisitors arrived in a town and read their edict of faith, enjoining anyone who had either committed an error of the faith, or knew of someone who had done, to come before the inquisitors within thirty days and confess or denounce.77 Fear spread through society with the power of the Inquisition to deliver social and financial ruin, ensuring the poverty of its victims by confiscating their goods, banishing them from their home towns and decreeing that their descendants could not fill any official post or wear silks, jewels or any other adornments of prestige.78 Most of all, fear was ensured by the principle of secrecy, which meant that the accused could not know the names of their accusers.
Yet it was the apparatus of fear which in the end destroyed the whole. As the stories of Lithgow in Malaga and Maestre in Hellín show, resistance was never far away. The inquisitors’ attempts to impose their will through force merely inspired rebellion; this in turn created more targets, and so a vicious circle formed. It was impossible to purge society of its enemies, because society – and the Inquisition – was itself creating them.
The essential world view of the Iberian Inquisitions was that anything that was different was a form of rebellion. Their sheer diversity and long time-span, together with their enormous bureaucratic machine, make them unparalleled as institutions through which to examine persecution. This is, in the end, the story of how persecution can arise and how it can be avoided; it is a story whose relevance never vanishes, a warning from the past.79
My hope is that the violence of some of what follows is tempered, and transcended, by the ultimate refusal of people in the Iberian worlds to submit to the reign of fear. The fact that excesses of power always, in the end, destroy their perpetrators is a source of consolation, and a testament to the complex and paradoxical nature of the human condition that emerges from the remarkable stories which fill the archives of the Inquisition in Portugal and Spain. Thus in telling this story I hope to fulfil something of what the great American historian Henry Charles Lea described as his philosophy of history: Lea, whose three-volume history of the Spanish Inquisition remains the standard work on the subject, completed the publication of his book with Macmillan exactly one hundred years ago; it was his hope that the study of the past ‘can make us more exigent with the present and more hopeful of the future’.80