In this land they bear ill will to the Inquisition and would destroy it if they could.
—INQUISITORS OF CATALONIA, 1618
Throughout the history of the Inquisition, commentators agreed on the impressive support given to it by the people. Foreign visitors to the peninsula were appalled by the way the public accepted autos de fe. Subsequent defenders of the tribunal felt that they could in part justify the Inquisition by the evidence of its roots in the authentic faith of Spaniards.1 Opponents of the tribunal were equally impressed. Even the great Llorente, the first modern historian of the tribunal (see chapter 15), was staggered by the lack of evidence for any opposition to it in Spain. He stated in 1811 in a discourse read to the Royal Academy of History, meeting in Madrid at the height of the Peninsular War:
If in investigating what a nation thought about a certain institution we were to be guided solely by the testimony of public writers, there is no doubt that the Spanish people had as much love as hate for the Inquisition. . . . You will find hardly a book printed in Spain from the time of Charles the Fifth to our own days in which the Inquisition is not cited with praise.2
The apparent support given by the people to the Inquisition has inevitably created problems of interpretation. Partisans of the Holy Office have maintained that its popularity was based on its unswerving sense of justice, and that it responded to a profound religious need. Critics, by contrast, have presented it as a tyranny imposed by the state upon the free consciences of Spaniards. Both extremes of opinion can probably be supported by some contemporary evidence, but neither is wholly plausible. The primitive state bureaucracies of fifteenth-century Castile and Aragon were ill equipped to impose a tyranny on the mass of the people and in reality never attempted to do so. If the Inquisition acquired any base of support, on the other hand, we may ask why this came about.
As we shall see (chapter 10), in practice the Holy Office had little active or continuous contact with the people, because it was not, like the Church, a part of their daily lives. During the first thirty years its impact was limited to the chief urban centers of Andalucia and a handful of other cities including Toledo, Saragossa and Barcelona. Up to the mid-sixteenth century it was still an urban entity that seldom ventured out into the countryside. Not until almost a century after its foundation, when it went out for the first time into the frontier areas of the peninsula, into the mountainous Pyrenees and the remote northwest region of Galicia, did it bestir itself to face the 90 percent of the population that did not live in towns. In the preceding and crucial hundred years, the majority of Spaniards had no problems about accepting the Inquisition, simply because it was not there or at least had only a marginal impact on their daily lives. There were no remarkable protests against it, nor any uprisings.
Meanwhile, if there were protests they arose exclusively in urban centers, where specific local elites or relevant regional interests objected to interference by outsiders. This happened from the very beginning, in almost any town of note (whether in Andalucia or the crown of Aragon) where the newcomers were seen as a threat to the previous way of doing things. Religion was by no means the constant or even the principal motive for opposition. The Aragonese had never fully activated their medieval Inquisition and were in no mood to accept another. Castilians were in an even more sensitive position: never in all their history had they institutionalized the persecution of heresy. Religious dissidence in the highly fragmented medieval society of Castile had been channeled into three main directions: folk customs (see chapter 13), contact with Islam and contact with Jews. None of the three had raised concerns calling for repression of the sort that was being considered in the crown of Aragon, where in the thirteenth century Catharism was filtering through from the Pyrenees. Judaizers in Castile had occasionally been condemned by episcopal courts prior to the establishment of the Inquisition, but in accord with existing law.3 How, then, did Spaniards come to accept a tribunal that was unknown to their own traditions4 and from the first went against their understanding of justice? The most eloquent testimony to criticisms made at the time comes from the pen of the Jesuit Juan de Mariana, writing at the very end of the sixteenth century. According to him, some aspects of inquisitorial procedure5
at first appeared very oppressive to Spaniards. What caused the most surprise was that children paid for the crimes of their parents, and that accusers were not named or made known, nor confronted by the accused, nor was there publication of witnesses: all of which was contrary to the practice followed of old in other tribunals. Besides this, it appeared an innovation that sins of that sort should be punished by death. And what was most serious was that because of these secret investigations they were deprived of the liberty to listen and talk freely, since in all the cities, towns and villages there were persons placed to give information of what went on. This was considered by some to be the most wretched slavery and equal to death.6
Despite the strong language in which it is phrased, this opinion was not apparently shared by Mariana himself, who presents as “better and more correct” a contrary view in favor of the Inquisition. Significantly, he nowhere gives the impression that the critical view was held only by conversos. The specific points mentioned, on innovations in judicial procedure, the death sentence for judaizing and the practice of spying, were indeed questions that Old Christians raised in Castilian and Aragonese Cortes over the next few years. Fully aware of the novelty of inquisitorial practice, Mariana admitted that the new harsh measures were a deviation from the normal charitable procedure of the Church; but, he says, it was held “that the ancient customs of the Church should be changed in conformity with the needs of the times.”
“The needs of the times”: it is the clue to the survival of the Inquisition. While urban factions in Toledo, Ciudad Real and other towns were struggling to dislodge conversos from power, in the 1480s Ferdinand and Isabella, fresh from the civil wars and the constitutional settlement achieved at the Cortes of Toledo (1480), were beginning a military crusade against the Muslims of Granada. In 1486 they sought blessing for their cause at the shrine of St James in Compostela. Crisis times required crisis measures: the message was implicit in every major directive issued by Ferdinand in these years, and helps to explain the unusual cooperation he obtained in much of Spain. It may also help to explain the totally uncompromising firmness with which he insisted that the Inquisition be accepted everywhere, regardless of consequences. We have his remarkable statement to the consellers of Barcelona in 1486, that “before we decided on introducing this Inquisition into any of the cities of our realms, we carefully considered and looked at all the harm and ill that could follow from it and that could affect our taxes and revenue. But because our firm intention and concern is to prefer the service of God to our own, we wish the Inquisition to be established regardless, putting all other interests aside.”7
The stimulation of a feeling of crisis (aggravated by alleged converso plots, the murder of Arbués, or the episode of the La Guardia infant), and the universal response to the great ten-year-long crusade against Granada, pressurized many public authorities to conform and stilled the protests of individuals. The security measures in defense of society were accepted as essential even if they undermined some of the principles of that society. Because the Inquisition was a crisis instrument, it may be that Ferdinand never intended it to be permanent (no steps, for example, were taken at the time to give it a regular income). This certainly was the feeling of the Toledo writer who commented in 1538 that “if the Catholic monarchs were still alive, they would have reformed it twenty years ago, given the change in conditions.”8 The unprecedented activities of the Holy Office were deemed by some to be acceptable in an emergency, until the crisis had passed. Unfortunately, those who controlled the security measures made sure that the crisis was perceived to endure for centuries.
Critics remained uneasy that harsh penalties should be imposed on those who had never been properly Christianized. Were judaizers wholly to blame? Had they ever been catechized after their forced baptism? And were the penalties not extreme? Mariana testifies to the existence of dissent in Castile: “At the time there were differing opinions. Some felt that those who sinned in this way should not suffer the death penalty: but apart from this they admitted that it was just to inflict any other kind of punishment. Among others sharing this opinion, was Hernando del Pulgar, a person of acute and elegant genius.”9
We may conjecture that Pulgar’s view was widely held in higher circles. The diputados of Aragon, as we have seen, protested to Ferdinand that correction should be by example and not by violence. Many Spaniards were indeed appalled at the tide of bloodshed. “We are all aghast,” the consellers of Barcelona informed Ferdinand bluntly in 1484, “at the news we receive of the executions and proceedings that they say are taking place in Castile.”10 Pulgar was no less horrified. Denouncing the resort to coercion at a time when evangelization had not been tried, the royal secretary informed the archbishop of Seville that thousands of young conversos in Andalucia
have never been out of their homes or heard and learned any other doctrine but that which they had seen their parents practice at home. To burn all these would be not only cruel but difficult to carry out.
I do not say this, my lord, in favor of the evildoers, but to find a solution, which it seems to me would be to put in that province outstanding persons who by their exemplary life and teaching of doctrine would convert some and bring back others. Of course [the inquisitors] Diego de Merlo and doctor Medina are good men; but I know very well that they will not produce such good Christians with their fire as the bishops Pablo [de Santa Maria] and Alonso [de Cartagena] did with water.11
While agreeing that heresy should be repressed, Pulgar objected to capital punishment. His principal authority for this position was St. Augustine, who had advocated the use of force but not the death penalty against the Donatist heretics of North Africa in the fifth century.
Pulgar’s contemporary Juan de Lucena, a noted humanist and servant of the crown, also entered into public controversy over the methods of the Inquisition. At one time royal emissary to Rome and then a member of the royal council, Lucena was apparently a converso and, according to his adversary canon Alonso Ortiz of Toledo, not only “attempted with his sophistries to defend the conversos” but also “insisted to the king and queen that there should be no Inquisition.” Lucena claimed, says Ortiz, that Jews “baptized through fear did not receive the sacrament properly, and should therefore be treated not as heretics but as infidels,” and that “conversos ought to be convinced with reasons and inducements, not with coercion and punishments.”12
Further evidence of opposition to the persecution of Jews and conversos comes from an official of the Holy Office itself. The inquisitor Luis de Páramo (as we have observed) wrote that many learned Spaniards, both before and after 1492, thought the expulsion wrong in principle, as well as harmful to the Church, for two main reasons: first, because those who had been baptized by force had not received the sacrament properly and therefore remained essentially pagan;13 second, because the expulsion was an implicit invitation to annihilate the Jews, which would be contrary to Scripture. The first reason was clearly of paramount importance, for if Jews had been forced into conversion their baptism was invalid and the Inquisition had no jurisdiction over them. The standard reply to this argument was simple. The mere fact that the Jews had chosen baptism as an alternative to death or exile meant that they had exercised the right of free choice: there was therefore no compulsion, and the sacrament was valid.
In the early years of the Inquisition, opposition was quite logically led by conversos. Unable to secure support in Spain they turned to Rome. A bull issued by Sixtus IV on 2 August 1483, and almost certainly obtained by converso money, ordered greater leniency to be exercised in the tribunal of Seville and revoked all appeal cases to Rome. Only eleven days later, however, the pope withdrew the bull, after pressure from the Spanish rulers. Sixtus IV died in 1484, to be succeeded by Innocent VIII, a pontiff who followed his policy of intervening in favor of the conversos while taking care not to anger the Catholic monarchs. The bulls issued by Innocent on 11 February and 15 July 1485, asking for more mercy and leniency and for greater use of the practice of secret reconciliation, are typical of the efforts made by the Holy See to avoid lasting infamy falling on the tribunal’s victims. Yet even if we see the hand of the conversos in all these attempts to mitigate the worst aspects of inquisitorial procedure, it is impossible to maintain that conversos alone constituted the opposition.
Hostility to the practice of sanbenitos, for example, was shared by Old and New Christian alike. These penitential garments (see chapter 9) were ordered to be worn in public by the condemned, causing them public humiliation and bringing ill fame to the towns where they lived. It was what Mariana singled out particularly as being “very oppressive to Spaniards.” In Andalucia, according to Bernáldez, people were allowed to cease wearing them “so that the disrepute of the territory should not grow.”14 Spying would have been objected to in any community and, as we shall see, aroused appropriate reactions. Prior to 1492 the Jews themselves were asked to spy on conversos. At Toledo in 1485 the inquisitors collected the rabbis and made them swear to anathematize in their synagogues those Jews who did not denounce judaizers.15 A high proportion of testimonies offered against conversos in Saragossa in the period before the expulsion came from Jews.16 In particular, ex-Jews rather than Jews appear to have been the most active denouncers: in Ciudad Real in 1483–85 a former Jew, Fernán Falcón, was the chief witness used against most of those arrested for judaizing.17
Although conversos were notoriously hostile to the new tribunal, we hear little of opposition by Old Christians in Castile during the first two decades of the Inquisition’s existence. Yet this was, as we have seen, by far the most bloody period of its history. Hundreds of Christians of Jewish origin had been executed, ruined or driven into exile in a campaign without precedent in Spanish or European experience, and through all this few Old Christians had bestirred themselves to raise their voices in protest except when political considerations were in question. Occasionally, as in the case of Lucero in Andalucia, Old Christians did indeed find they were involved.
In 1499 the inquisitor of Córdoba was replaced after being found guilty of fraud and extortion. His successor, appointed in September that year, was Diego Rodríguez Lucero. Within a short time Lucero began his own bizarre career of extortion, arresting leading citizens on trifling or false pretexts in order to seize their property in confiscations. Prominent members of Old Christian families soon became ensnared in Lucero’s net and an atmosphere of terror gripped the community. That, at any rate, was the picture presented by those who opposed the inquisitor. Lucero himself had a different story. He had, he said, unearthed in the area a dangerous pro-Jewish millenarian movement.18 There is, in effect, evidence that such a movement had arisen among groups of conversos in the region. Large numbers were arrested by Lucero and persuaded to confess. In 1500, states a report made to the royal council, 130 people were relaxed (that is, “executed,” in the terminology of the Inquisition) in two autos de fe.19 After protests were made, the council sent a commission of inquiry that interviewed many of those arrested. The commissioners seem to have been convinced by the voluntary confessions of some prisoners, and gave their support to Lucero, who was left free to continue his activities. An annalist of Córdoba reports:
to gain credit as a zealous minister of the faith and to gain higher dignities, he began to treat the accused in prison with extreme rigor, forcing them to declare their accomplices, which resulted in the denunciation of so great a number of people, both conversos and Old Christians, that the city was scandalized and almost burst into rioting.20
Converso witnesses testified that they had been forced to teach Jewish prayers to Old Christian prisoners so that Lucero could accuse the latter of judaizing. A report from the cathedral chapter and city council in December 1506 accused Lucero of “killing and robbing and defaming any and everybody.” An independent inquiry by the Córdoba authorities in November concluded that Lucero’s evidence against his victims was “all fabricated”; that Fray Diego Deza, archbishop of Seville and inquisitor general, had failed to respond to petitions against the inquisitor; that four hundred innocent prisoners were currently in the cells; and that Lucero had deliberately burnt as many of his victims as possible (120 were apparently burnt alive in one auto in December 1504; 27 in another in May 1505) to stop them complaining to the new king of Castile, Philip the Fair. The king opportunely in June 1506 suspended another holocaust, this time of 160 persons, that Lucero was preparing.21
Lucero’s inquiries also led him to find evidence of the millenarian movement among members of the household of the eighty-year-old Jeronimite archbishop of Granada, Hernando de Talavera, formerly confessor to Queen Isabella. Accusing Talavera of having a “synagogue” in his palace, Lucero arrested the archbishop and his entire household (which included his sister, two nieces and their daughters, and the servants). The fact is that Talavera—as we note below—was not of converso origin and had no pro-Jewish leanings. Nevertheless, relatives and servants were tortured and duly produced denunciations against him. A rebellion by the city authorities in Córdoba in October 1506 put an end to the regime of Lucero, who fled. The papacy opportunely intervened, the archbishop was acquitted of all charges in April 1507 and he and his family were set free.22 It came too late to benefit the old man. Walking barefoot and bareheaded through the streets of Granada in the procession on Ascension Day, 13 May, he was seized by a violent fever which the following day ended his life. On his deathbed he denounced “Lucero and his accomplices” for “trying to wipe out the conversos,” “which,” he continued, “is clearly against the Holy Catholic Faith, which requires that there be no distinction between Jew and Greek.”23 Talavera’s care for his flock had left him no time to care for himself. He died in perfect poverty; his household, for which he had not provided, had to resort to the charity of the bishop of Málaga.
Nearly a century later, Fray José de Sigüenza, historian of the Jeronimite order, lamented that there had been no other prelates in Spain like Talavera. In his treatment of New Christians, says Fray José, Talavera
would not allow anyone to harm them in word or deed, or burden them with new taxes and impositions, for he detested the evil custom prevalent in Spain of treating members of the sects worse after their conversion than before it . . . so that many refused to accept a Faith in whose believers they saw so little charity and so much arrogance.
And if there had been more prelates who walked in this path, there would not have been so many lost souls stubborn in the sects of Moses and Mohammed within Spain, nor so many heretics in other nations.24
Talavera’s position was stated most clearly in his Catholic Refutation, a sharp attack that he directed against a “heretical leaflet” issued in 1480 by a pro-Jewish converso of Seville. Reading the text is enough to demonstrate that Talavera was no converso (as is sometimes alleged) and had no sympathy with conversos. Deflating the pretension of Jews and conversos to be a specially gifted nation (“the Greeks were much more so, and the Romans, and even the Arabs”), Talavera supported use of the death penalty for heresy. On the other hand, he attacked the anti-Semitism to which conversos were subjected, stating firmly that reason rather than persecution was the way to bring them back to the fold: “Heresies need to be corrected not only with punishments and lashes, but even more with Catholic reasoning.”25 It was the policy he later adopted towards the Moriscos of Granada. His tract, possibly because of its controversial nature, was placed on the Index of forbidden books in 1559. The Inquisition subsequently decided merely to remove some phrases from it, but never got round to doing this.26
On 16 July of the same year, 1507, Gonzalo de Ayora, captain general and chronicler, wrote a letter of protest to the king’s secretary Miguel Almazán on behalf of the people persecuted by Lucero.
The government had failed to exercise effective control over its ministers. As for the Inquisition, the method adopted was to place so much confidence in the archbishop of Seville and in Lucero . . . that they were able to defame the whole kingdom, to destroy, without God or justice, a great part of it, slaying and robbing and violating maids and wives to the great dishonor of the Christian religion.
The damages which the wicked officials of the Inquisition have wrought in my land are so many and so great that no reasonable person on hearing of them would not grieve.27
The redress so urgently demanded had begun with the resignation of Deza under pressure, and the appointment on 5 June 1507 of Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, cardinal archbishop of Toledo, as inquisitor general. In May 1508 the Suprema eventually voted to arrest Lucero, who was taken in chains to Burgos, while his victims in the prison of Córdoba were all released. The ex-inquisitor received no punishment for his crimes, but was allowed to retire to Seville, where he died in peace.
At the same time as the troubles in Córdoba, complaints were raised in Llerena (Extremadura) against the activities of the new inquisitor, a man named Bravo, who had for a time been an assistant of Lucero in Córdoba. So many wealthy prisoners were thrown into the cells by Bravo, despite the protests of one of his colleagues, that the relatives of the condemned finally gathered enough courage to petition the crown:
We the relatives and friends of the prisoners in the cells of the Inquisition of Llerena kiss the royal hands of Your Highness and testify that the inquisitors of that province, together with their officials, have persecuted and persecute both the prisoners and ourselves with great hatred and enmity, and have carried out many irregularities in the procedure of imprisonment and trial, and have maltreated not only the said prisoners but their wives and children and property.28
There is no record of any censure of Bravo’s policy, and it appears likely that he was allowed to pursue his career unchecked. Lucero’s influence also seems to have haunted the tribunal at Jaén, where a professional “witness” who had formerly served the inquisitor now extended his activities. The man’s name was Diego de Algeciras, and for a reasonable pittance he was ready to perjure himself in testifying to the judaizing activities of any number of conversos. Thanks to his assistance, the richest conversos of the city were soon in jail on suspicion of heresy. Those who still remained free petitioned the crown to restore jurisdiction over heresy to the bishop of Jaén, whose mercy they trusted more than the abuses of the officials of the Inquisition.29
Most abuses probably originated not with the inquisitors themselves but with their subordinate officials. Among the more notorious cases was the notary at Jaén, who locked a young girl of fifteen in a room, stripped her naked and whipped her until she agreed to testify against her mother.30 A deposition drawn up by witnesses at Toledo and dated 26 September 1487 asserts that the receiver of confiscated goods in that tribunal, Juan de Uria, had defrauded sums amounting to 4,000 ducats, enough to set himself up in comfort.31 There were opportunities for lining one’s pockets even at the bottom of the ladder. In 1588, the inquisitor from Madrid who carried out the inspection of the tribunal at Córdoba reported that both the doorkeeper and the messenger of the tribunal were criminals and profiteers, and that this was well known throughout the city, although apparently not to the inquisitors of Córdoba.32
In the crown of Aragon, too, Old Christians who had condoned the persecution of conversos now began after the death of Queen Isabella to rally to the defense of the fueros. Meeting together at Monzón in 1510, the representatives of Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia raised the question of reform in jurisdiction. No further steps were taken until their next meeting at Monzón in 1512, when a comprehensive list of reforms was drawn up. To this list Ferdinand added his signature, thus agreeing to the first of the manyconcordias (accords) made between the Inquisition and the individual regions of Spain. Among other things, the accord of 1512 stipulated that the number of familiars in the kingdom should be limited; that the Inquisition should not be exempt from local taxes; that officials of the tribunal who committed crimes should be tried by a secular court; that in cases of confiscation, property which had formerly belonged to the condemned should not be included in the confiscation; and that trade with conversos should not be prohibited, since this depressed commerce. Moreover, the tribunal was not to exercise jurisdiction over usury, bigamy, blasphemy and witchcraft unless heresy were involved. The fact that pressure had to be put on the king through the Cortes proves how serious were some of the objections raised in Aragon against inquisitorial procedure. Yet the demands made in 1512 are relatively mild when compared with some of those made at a later date.
At the death of Ferdinand on 23 January 1516 the crown passed to his grandson Charles, who was in Flanders at the time. Since the death of Isabella on 26 November 1504 Ferdinand had been king of Aragon only, and Castile had been under the rule of their daughter Juana (the Mad), widow since 1506 of Philip the Fair of Austria. The death of Ferdinand would normally have meant the acceptance of Juana as queen, but her mental dislocation made her obviously unfitted to rule, so that her son Charles was everywhere accepted as rightful sovereign.
While awaiting the arrival of Charles in Spain, Cisneros maintained control of the Inquisition. In his will the Catholic King had called upon his successor to preserve the tribunal, which Charles had every intention of doing. But the new reign aroused hopes of reform, particularly in converso hearts, and Cisneros was greatly alarmed by a rumor that the king intended to allow the publication of the names of witnesses in inquisitorial trials. In a letter which the now aging cardinal wrote to Charles, apparently in March 1517, he asserted that the Inquisition was so perfect a tribunal “that there will never be any need for reform and it would be sinful to introduce changes.”33 The publication of witnesses’ names would lead inevitably to their murder, he stated, as had happened recently in Talavera de la Reina when an accused converso, on learning the name of his denouncer, went out to waylay him and assassinated him (for the question of confidentiality of information, see below, chapter 9).
Cisneros was not, however, unalterably opposed to reforms, as his own life and career had demonstrated. During his tenure of the post of inquisitor general, he had taken care to dismiss the more notorious inquisitors, including the secretary of the Suprema. He wrote to Charles in December 1576 advising him that the royal secretary Calcena and others should have nothing further to do with the Inquisition, in view of their excesses. Lea’s very fair verdict is that “we may feel assured that he showed no mercy to those who sought to coin into money the blood of the conversos.”34
Whatever Cisneros’s views may have been, many contemporaries thought that some reform in the judicial procedure of the Inquisition was essential, even if they did not question its actual existence. The arrival of the seventeen-year-old king from Flanders set off a train of requests and demands which constituted the last chapter in the struggle to subject the Inquisition to the rule of law. When Charles, after arriving in Spain in September 1517, held the first Cortes of his reign at Valladolid in February 1518, the deputies petitioned “that Your Highness provide that the office of the Holy Inquisition proceed in such a way as to maintain justice, and that the wicked be punished and the innocent not suffer.”35 They asked moreover that the forms of law be observed, and that inquisitors be chosen from reputable and learned men. The main result of this was the series of instructions for the Inquisition drawn up principally on the initiative of Jean le Sauvage, chancellor of the king, a man who was accused of being in the pay of the conversos. The preamble to these proposed instructions claims that
accused people have not been able to defend themselves fully, many innocent and guiltless have suffered death, harm, oppression, injury and infamy . . . and many of our vassals have absented themselves from these realms: and (as events have shown) in general these our realms have received and receive great ill and harm: and have been and are notorious for this throughout the world.
The proposed reforms, therefore, included provisions that prisoners placed in open, public prisons be able to receive visitors, be assigned counsel, be presented with an accusation on arrest and be given the names of witnesses. In addition, goods of the accused could not be taken and sold before a verdict, nor could the salaries of inquisitors be payable out of confiscations. Prisoners should be allowed recourse to mass and the sacraments while awaiting trial, and care should be taken not to let those condemned to perpetual prison die of hunger. If torture were used, it should be in moderation, and there should be no “new inventions of torture as have been used until now.” Each of these clauses points to the existence of problems which the new pragmatic was supposed to remedy.
Had the instructions ever been approved, a totally different tribunal would have come into existence. The rule of confidentiality of witnesses would have been completely removed, and opportunity for abuses presumably reduced. Happily for those who supported the Inquisition, the new inquisitor general appointed by Charles on the death of Cisneros was his own tutor the Dutch cardinal Adrian of Utrecht, bishop of Tortosa, who firmly opposed any innovation. Shortly after this, early in July 1518, Sauvage died. With him collapsed any hope of fundamental alterations in the structure of the Inquisition. Adrian, who as a Netherlander appears not to have had any close knowledge of Spanish problems, even reversed some of the reforms of Cisneros by reappointing Calcena to a post of authority as secretary to the Suprema.
Meanwhile Charles had gone to Aragon, where he accepted the allegiance of the kingdom in the Cortes which opened at Saragossa in May 1518. Surprisingly, when the Cortes offered to advance him a large sum of money in exchange for agreement to a list of thirty-one articles that were substantially the same as those drawn up in Castile by Sauvage, the king agreed. It soon became clear that he had no intention of observing the agreement, for a subsequent message to the Spanish ambassador in Rome asked him to secure from the pope revocation of the articles and a dispensation from his oath to observe them.
However, the Cortes had already taken the step of having Charles’s signature to the articles authenticated by Juan Prat, the notary of the Cortes. All the relevant papers were then sent to Rome in the hands of Diego de las Casas, a converso from Seville. After the dissolution of the Cortes in January 1519, the Inquisition stepped in to arrest Prat on the charge of having falsified the articles. The accusation was obviously false, but both ecclesiastical and secular authorities acted as though it were true. The new chancellor, Mercurino Gattinara, urgently drew up papers which he sent to Rome in April, claiming that these were genuine and that the official copy was a forgery. By now a serious constitutional quarrel had arisen inside Aragon, and the deputies and nobility of the realm, meeting in conference in May, sent a request to Charles for the release of Prat, threatening not to grant any money until their demands were met. They summoned the Cortes and refused to disperse until justice had been done.
At this stage Pope Leo X intervened in favor of the Aragonese. In July 1519 he issued three briefs, one to Charles, one to the inquisitor general and one to the tribunal of Saragossa, reducing the powers of the Inquisition to the bounds of ordinary canon law and revoking all special privileges granted by his predecessor. Charles and his officials refused to allow the publication of the brief in Spain, and sent a firm protest to Rome. The pope now shifted his position and suspended the briefs without revoking them. At this the Aragonese immediately discontinued payment of any grants to the crown. Finally, in December 1520 the pope confirmed the accord of 1518, but in terms which did not specify whether it was Prat’s or Gattinara’s version that was the correct one. A compromise was eventually reached in 1521, when Cardinal Adrian accepted the Aragonese version for the time being, and released Prat. The victory of the Aragonese was an unsubstantial one. The Inquisition at no time afterwards admitted the validity of the accords of 1512 and 1518, so that the struggles of these years were after all in vain.
At the Castilian Cortes of La Coruña in 1520, the requests made at Valladolid for a reform in the procedure of the Inquisition were repeated, but to no avail. Later that same year, while Charles was away in Flanders, another plan for reform was presented to him. This and subsequent proposals fell through. On his return to Spain, a Cortes was held at Valladolid in 1523. Again the old suggestions for reform were brought up, fortified by a request that the salaries of inquisitors should be paid by the crown and not drawn from confiscations. Failure was again the result. In 1525 the Cortes which met at Toledo complained of abuses committed by both inquisitors and familiars, but they achieved nothing beyond a promise that wrongs would be righted if they really existed. In 1526 in Granada the king was presented with a memorial demonstrating the defects in the secret procedure of the Inquisition, and asking for prisoners to be kept in public jails instead of the secret cells.36 To this there is no recorded reply. Almost annually such requests had been presented to the crown, and as regularly refused. Quite obviously a persistent stream of opposition was in continual existence, dedicated not so much to the suppression of the Inquisition as to the cure of abuses. Against a stubborn Charles, however, no impact could be made. In April 1520 the king observed to a correspondent that “in the Cortes of Aragon and Catalonia the Holy Office has been criticized and attacked by some people who do not care much for its preservation.”37 The reference to Aragon should not divert us from the fact that, as we have seen, criticism had been raised just as frequently in the realm of Castile. Throughout Spain, the organs of constitutional government became the last channels of protest available to opponents of the Holy Office.
From 1519 to 1521 the energies of Castilians were occupied in the famous revolt of the Comuneros, a confusing and complex struggle waged partly by town oligarchies against the royal authorities who had the support of the nobility, and partly by rival factions against each other in some of the great cities. Inevitably some conversos, with their known activity in many municipalities, could be found on the rebel side. Among the leading Comuneros were a Coronel in Segovia, a Zapata in Toledo, a Tovar in Valladolid; all the names were of well-known converso families. Rumor, seasoned in part with malice, tended to exaggerate their role. The Constable of Castile informed Charles V in 1521 that the “root cause of the uprising in these realms has been the conversos”; and after the rebel defeat at Villalar on 23 April 1521, according to the emperor’s jester, “many dead were found without foreskins.”38 A generation later the archbishop of Toledo, Siliceo, could claim maliciously that “it is common knowledge in Spain that the Comunidades were incited by descendants of Jews.” In fact, there was no significant identification of the converso cause with that of the Comuneros, and many known conversos fought on the royalist side.
It is certain that some rebels hoped to modify or abolish the Inquisition: the Admiral of Castile claimed early in 1521 that “the Comuneros say there will be no Inquisition,” and hostility to the tribunal is recorded in various parts of the realm. But the junta that headed the Comunidad was scrupulously careful to cause no offense to the Holy Office, and not a single reference to the Inquisition occurs among the demands made to the government.39 The tribunal survived this critical period with its functions intact. In Valencia, where a parallel revolt of Germanías (“brotherhoods”) was taking place, the functions of the Holy Office were in fact given further support as a result of compulsory mass baptisms that the rebels imposed on some of the Muslim population.
In the years after the Comunidades, objections to the activities of the Inquisition continued to be made in both Castile and Aragon. A typical example is the memorial drawn up on 5 August 1533 and read to Charles at the Aragonese Cortes in Monzón.40 The sixteen articles included complaints that “some inquisitors of the Holy Office, in the voice and name of the Inquisition, have arrested and imprisoned people for private offenses in no way touching the Holy Office”; that inquisitors were taking part in secular business; that they had extended their jurisdiction illegitimately by prosecuting cases of sodomy, usury and bigamy—questions which had nothing to do with heresy; that the inquisitors of Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia had an excessive number of familiars, whose identity was kept concealed, thus provoking numerous abuses. As for the Moriscos, said the protest, addressing itself to the inquisitor general, “Your Reverence knows well the way in which they were ‘converted,’ and the little or no teaching or instruction in our Holy Catholic faith which has been given them, and the lack of churches in the places where they live. Yet despite this lack of teaching and instruction, they are being proceeded against as heretics.” Worse still, the Inquisition was illegitimately seizing the land they had confiscated from the Moorish converts. To all these complaints Alonso Manrique, the inquisitor general, gave a firm, negative reply. The protests were shelved.
Complaints along these lines were to play an important part in future controversies over the Inquisition. Inquisitorial jurisdiction in moral matters, for instance, was considered, then as later, a wrongful extension of its powers. But sweeping appeals like the protest of 1533 were growing fewer as the position of the Holy Office became stronger. Not only did the existence of the Inquisition become almost wholly unquestioned, but toleration of its attendant abuses became more common. As papal and royal favor confirmed it in its position as one of the key institutions of the realm, it survived all opposition, though it was never immune from criticism.
By the mid-sixteenth century the tribunal was constitutionally secure. In part this happened because of the implicit support of the Old Christian majority, who had tolerated two decades of bloodletting directed against the conversos because it suited their own interests and who, too late, attempted to restrain the Inquisition when it appeared to be working against them. By then, in the new social atmosphere created by the European Reformation, the Holy Office had become essential to the maintenance of the established religion. In part, also, the Inquisition survived because of the unswerving support of the crown, which could ill afford to lose so useful an institution. Like Ferdinand before him, Charles V was firmly dedicated to it, and introduced a similar tribunal into the Netherlands in 1520.41 When the Aragonese disputes over Juan Prat occurred in 1518, Charles informed the Cortes: “you can be sure that we would rather agree to lose part of our realms and states than permit anything to be done therein against the honor of God and against the authority of the Holy Office.”42 During the Comunidades, Charles exhorted his viceroys in Spain to resist any attack on the Inquisition.43 In subsequent years, therefore, the monarchy had at its disposal a unique institution upon which it could possibly call in case of need. As it turned out, the need did not arise. There were repercussions in the crown of Aragon, where some of the activities of the tribunal were always regarded as unconstitutional. However, in Castile the Holy Office was never used to increase royal power, and its own powers were always circumscribed by day-to-day conflicts with other royal authorities and tribunals.
These years of tension and conflict help to clarify what we know about popular support among Spaniards for the Inquisition. Support is easiest to identify in the realms of the south of Castile, where the tribunal in its early period was restricted to a few big towns, had almost no contact with the population of the countryside and came into conflict in the urban centers with no significant interest group apart from the converso elite. Unlike the institutions of the Church, to which believing Christians paid tithes and other donations, the tribunal demanded neither obedience nor taxes from the ordinary people; there was consequently no pressing reason for popular hostility. The Inquisition merged itself into existing power structures and gained the collaboration of local elites, who were happy to accept honorary posts (as “familiars”) in the tribunal.
In the north of Castile and in the other realms of the peninsula, the degree of support was much more tenuous. Converso elites continued to be potent enemies, particularly in the kingdom of Aragon. But more than anything else it was the question of legal privileges that blighted the attempt to collaborate with non-Castilians. In Italy, Aragon and Catalonia, “local elites never lost their jealousy of its special privileges.”44 There were also a wide variety of other reasons that condemned the inquisitors to unpopularity outside Castile. They were resented by local clergy, they were seen as foreigners45 and they did not speak the language (for the issue of language, see chapter 8). “We are hated as officials of the Holy Office, especially in this town,” the inquisitor of Navarre wrote in 1547.46 He happened to be in a gloomy mood. Moreover, here on the mountainous frontier the Inquisition, even by the late sixteenth century, was a novelty that the population, most of whom spoke no Spanish, refused to accept. In 1574 an Inquisition official narrowly escaped lynching by the people of the Vall d’Arán in the Catalan Pyrenees. He reported back that “in that land they will not on any account permit the Holy Office to enter.”47 In Catalonia the tribunal was never fully accepted. “In this province,” the inquisitors complained in 1618, “they bear ill-will to the tribunal of the Holy Office and would destroy it if they could.”48 It was an exaggeration, for Catalans always worked along with the tribunal if it suited their interests. But they certainly viewed it as an alien institution, not because it was an Inquisition—they already had their own medieval one—but because it was Castilian.
For three centuries more, the Inquisition would continue to be a standard feature of the Spanish landscape. Just as it had been bitterly opposed by the conversos, so in time it would also earn the profound hatred of other minorities. Its anti-Morisco activity arguably earned it some popularity among Christians. The chief victims at its autos in the crown of Aragon were “nearly always,” it has been pointed out, “people for whom the general public had little sympathy.”49 In Aragon and Valencia the accused were Moriscos, in Catalonia they were French immigrants. Despite this victimization of minorities, the Inquisition found it difficult to earn genuine popular support in the eastern realms of the peninsula. The rest of the Spanish population gradually came to accept it, but in a spirit that was by no means enthusiastic. It was essentially a policing body and therefore feared as the police can be, popular only when it acted out prejudices against minorities and outsiders.
The ordinary people as a whole came very seldom into contact with it, and on balance accepted its activity without too much demur. The only significant popular riots against it were always a side effect of political disturbances (as in Saragossa in 1591). The inquisitors time and again tried to argue that the people were with them, and they were not necessarily wrong. “It is only the lords and leading persons who wage this war against the Holy Office,” they complained in Aragon in 1566, “and not the people.”50 At no time in ancien régime Spain did the populace attack the Inquisition as a religious institution. In 1640 in Barcelona they scared the Castilian inquisitors out of the country, but it was no more than a prelude to setting up a native non-Castilian Inquisition. Only in March 1820 in Madrid did the mobs for the first time break with intent into the tribunal’s palaces, by now half-empty buildings from which a handful of startled prisoners were liberated.
Support for the tribunal was of course always modified by considerable reserve. “It is fine,” a Catalan noble said in 1586, “for the Holy Office to look into questions of faith and punish bad Christians; but as for other matters, they should be dealt with when the Cortes meets.”51 Like other Spaniards, he saw clearly that there were things in which the Inquisition had no business to meddle. And indeed the Inquisition meddled much less than we might think. Both defenders and opponents of the Inquisition have often accepted without question the image of an omniscient, omnipotent tribunal whose fingers reached into every corner of the land. The extravagant rhetoric on both sides has been one of the major obstacles to understanding. For the Inquisition to have been as powerful as suggested, the fifty or so inquisitors in Spain would need to have had an extensive bureaucracy, a reliable system of informers, regular income and the cooperation of the secular and ecclesiastical authorities. Seldom if ever did they have any of these.
Though often presented as such, therefore, there is no good reason for thinking of the Inquisition as a sinister tyranny imposed on an unwilling people. It never enjoyed enough power to become a tyranny, and it was brought into being by a particular social situation—the converso question—that in the relevant areas counted on substantial popular support. In some regions its impact was deadly; in others people never saw the tribunal at any moment of their lives. It fulfilled a role—as guardian against foreign ideas, as keeper of public morality, as arbiter between factions, as tribunal for small causes—that no other institution fulfilled. Moreover, over long periods of time and substantial areas of the country, it was inactive and all but disappeared. It did not exist in northwest Spain during the entire century after it came into existence in Andalucia. In the 140 years between 1536 and 1675 the tribunal that had been set up in Mallorca did virtually nothing.52 In the early decades the Holy Office went through periods when the glare of publicity shone on its activities, but all too often thereafter it was swallowed up by shadows. After an explosive entry into the course of Spain’s history it slipped surreptitiously into the stream of daily life, where its impact and duration was to be much longer than anyone could have imagined at the beginning.