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The Spanish Inquisition: The Truth behind the Dark Legend (Part I)

The Spanish Inquisition: The Truth behind the Dark Legend (Part I)

The Spanish Inquisition was not only a controversial organization, but also little understood by the general public. It was an institution that is haunted by a dark legend and, as you know, legends often times have some truth and some falsehood to them. In this case the falsity begins with its origin, which is neither medieval nor Spanish, as is commonly believed.

The Origins of the First Inquisition

Death at the stake was used as a method of execution since the Roman Empire. With the progressive Christianization of Europe it was a forged mentality that heresy, a serious attack on faith, was equivalent to the crime of treason. In terms of heresy, it was considered treason against divine majesty.

The first inquisition, called the Episcopal Inquisition, came about through the papal bull Ad abolendam , from the late twelfth century, and was spread by Pope Lucius III as a tool to combat the Albigensian heresy present at the time in southern France. Fifty years later Pope Gregory IX created the Pontific Inquisition with the Bull Excommunicamus.

Thus the ideas for Inquisition were already established in several European Christian kingdoms during the Middle Ages. As for the Iberian Peninsula, the Inquisition was only present at the time in the Corona de Aragon/Crown of Aragon.

Shield of the Spanish Inquisition. The sword symbolizes the treatment of heretics and the olive branch of reconciliation with the repentant. Surrounding the shield are the words "Exurge domine et judica causam taum. Psalm 73." A Latin phrase meaning: Arise, O God, to defend your cause, Psalm 73. ( Wikimedia Commons )

The “Soft” Repression in Spain

In Spain, the witch hunt could actually be called a small hunt, as the “witch mania” in Spain was less intense than in the rest of Europe, although it took place for a longer period. The Spanish Inquisition came about from the widespread witch hunts that developed in Europe in the late fifteenth century, following the Bull Summis desiderantis afectibus by Innocent VIII (1484) and, especially, following the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum , by Kraemer and Sprenger (1486), which bluntly stated: “Haeresis est maxima opera maleficarum non credere” (the worst heresy is to not to believe in witches). A prominent case that came about from these publications was that of Logroño, and the famous witches of Zugarramurdi .

In other parts of Europe the story was different. In southwest Germany, for example, from 1560 to 1670 AD 3,229 ‘witches’ were executed according to data from Delumeu; in Scotland, there were 4,400 killed from 1590-1680, and in Lorena, over 2,000 were executed from 1576 to 1606. But in Spain the punishment was often less severe, and abjuration of levi was more common, in which the accused was warned, reprimanded, fined, banished for a while (no more than 8 years), and often publicly flogged.

In fact, during the Spanish Inquisition from its beginning in 1478 until its abolition in 1834 (almost 400 years of existence), a total of 130,000 people were judged, of which less than 2% (less than 2,600) were sentenced to death. For a long time the numbers of accused and those condemned to the stake were confused, and absolutely absurd and erroneous execution figures were presented, stating that there were more than 100,000 people executed.

The acquittal rate was large since the tendencies at the time were to believe that the alleged witches had drunk wine and were sick of torpor. Even when the accused had confessed to witchcraft and a pact with the devil, the Inquisition warned:

"to not proceed in these cases only if they are said to be witches and supposedly have committed the crimes, only to continue if the accused have been seen to commit the crimes, because often times what they say they have seen and done happens in their dreams, and to judge what they saw and did as true without having seen the accused in the act will result in inflaming the persecution of persons who are not guilty .”

The coven, painting by Francisco de Goya, Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid, 1797-1798.

No clear data on the conviction of witchcraft has been kept for all of Spain, except for information in Catalonia and Valencia. In these two places, a clear structure divided into five different phases of witch hunting is observed:

  • The first, (1560-1600), very low figures recorded, with five-year averages showing less than 8 people.
  • The second is the height of the witch mania in the 1600s, with a total of 60 accused witches in Catalonia and 12 in Valencia.
  • The third stage covers the long period between 1610 and 1660, with an average rate of about 15 victims every five years in Catalonia and 12 every five years in Valencia. This highlights how the Court of Valencia was dedicated from 1610-20 with the problem of the Moors and the subsequent expulsion of Muslims after the Reconquista/Re-conquest.
  • The fourth stage covers the decade between 1660 and 1670, when there was a new intensification in witch accusations: no less than 53 in Catalonia in the five-year period from 1665-1670.
  • The last and final stage involves the return to the figure of less than 20 trials per five years.

Note that the above figures refer to people accused of witchcraft - not those convicted, let alone executed.

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One of the most common penalties when the defendant was convicted as guilty was to be "whipped while walking the streets," in which case, if it was a male, he was stripped naked to the waist, often mounted on a donkey to suffer greater disgrace, and flogged by the executioner with the designated number of lashes. During this journey through the streets, pedestrians and kids showed their hatred and contempt for the heretic by throwing stones at him.

"Condemned by the Inquisition" by Eugenio Lucas. Nineteenth century, Museo del Prado. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Although the Inquisition was created to prevent the progress of heresy, it also dealt with a wide range of offenses in Spain. Of the total of 49,092 accused in the period from 1560-1700, the following offenses were judged: Judaizing (5007); Moors (11 311); Lutherans (3499); Illuminati (149); Superstitious (3750); proposed heretics (14,319); bigamists (2790); solicitations (by priests on parishioners) (1241); insulting the Holy Office (3954); other (2575).

The Protestant Reformation

During the sixteenth century, the Inquisition was revealed as an effective mechanism to extinguish the few outbreaks of Protestantism in Spain. Oddly, most of these “protestant outbreaks” were Jewish in origin.

The main accusations against Lutherans took place between 1558 and 1562 against two Protestant communities of Valladolid and Sevilla. In these, several crowded auto de fe trials were held, some of them chaired by royals, in which around a hundred people were executed. After 1562, although the trials continued, the repression was much smaller and it is estimated that only a dozen were burned alive through to the end of the 16th century, despite over 200 people going to trial.

The Catholic Kings and the Jewish Community

The Inquisition was not acting directly against the Jewish community. Just against Jewish converts. The object of the Inquisition was to correct errors in the Catholic faith, i.e. combat heresy.

In fact, the Catholic Kings were initially favorable of the Jews (apparently Ferdinand had Jewish blood on his mother’s side) and a large group of Jews served in the court. In Castile and Aragon there were about 220 Jewish communities. The Jews depended directly on the king: they were protected by special laws and contributed unique tributes: however, they were second-class subjects.

As is well known, the Sephardim (Spanish Jews) were expelled by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, following a political line adopted earlier by other European kingdoms like England and France. Specifically it was on March 31, 1492, just three months after the conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada, when the Catholic Kings enacted the Alhambra Decree ordering the expulsion of the Jews from all their kingdoms.

Stamped copy of the Decree of the Alhambra ( Wikimedia Commons )

Isabel and Fernando were well aware that this decision would not be profitable from the economic point of view, since many Jews were engaged in trade and the financial world. But there was great weight on the religious and social causes: the effectiveness of Jewish conversion was feared and they wanted to avoid the mob violence of people against the Jewish communities as well. The alternatives provided to the Jewish citizens were thus to receive baptism or to be forced into exile.

Interior of the Transito Synagogue in Toledo. ( Wikimedia Commons )

It is also true that the Sephardim lived in special quarters and that the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) urged them to use an external mark to distinguish them from Christians, but that idea of a mark did not spread throughout Spain and had a religious, not strictly discriminatory, purpose.

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The number of Jews who left Spain is not known, but current estimates by Henry Kamen show that a population of about 80,000 Jews, (about half) chose emigration. Spanish Jews immigrated mainly to Portugal (where they were also expelled in 1497) and to Morocco.

In 1691, in auto de fe trials in Mallorca, 36 Xuetes (Mallorcan Jewish converts) were burned for Judaizing. Throughout the eighteenth century, the number of converts accused by the Inquisition was greatly reduced. The last trial against Judaizing was that of Manuel Santiago Vivar, held in Córdoba in 1818.

Coming next in Part 2: The Spread of the Black Legend of the Spanish Inquisition

Featured image: Auto de Fe in the Plaza Mayor. Oil on canvas by Francisco Rizi, 1683. Madrid, Prado Museum. ( Wikimedia Commons )

By: Mariló TA

This article was first published in Spanish at https://www.ancient-origins.es/ and has been translated with permission.

Sources:

Bartolomé Bennassar: Spanish Inquisition: political power and social control. Barcelona: Critic, 1981

Kamen, Henry: The Inquisition: A Historical Review. Translation of Maria Borras. Barcelona: Critic, 1999.

José Antonio Escudero: The Spanish Inquisition. http://www.vallenajerilla.com/berceo/florilegio/inquisicion/inquisicion.htm

Holy Inquisition. http://www.monografias.com/trabajos12/stainqui/stainqui.shtml

Gabriel Bernat: The Spanish Inquisition. http://www.gabrielbernat.es/espana/inquisicion/

Luis de la Cruz and Immaculate Badenes: The Spanish Inquisition http://www.mayores.uji.es/datos/2011/apuntes/fin_ciclo_2012/inquisicion.pdf


Black Legend of the Spanish Inquisition

The Black Legend of the Spanish Inquisition is the hypothesis of the existence of a series of myths and fabrications about the Spanish Inquisition used as propaganda against the Spanish Empire in a time of strong military, commercial and political rivalry between European powers, starting in the 16th century. The propaganda depicts the inquisition as the epitome of human barbarity with fantastic scenes of tortures, witch hunting and evil friars. As such, it is a part of the Spanish Black Legend propaganda, as well as of Anti-Catholic propaganda, and one of its most recurrent themes.

Historian Edward Peters defines it as:

a body of myths and legends that between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, established the perceived character of inquisitorial tribunals that have influenced all subsequent attempts to recover the historical reality. [1]

At all times, imperial nations tend to suffer . in the arena of public opinion, and Spain was no exception, becoming the first victim of a long tradition of polemic that picked on the Inquisition as the most salient point of attack. [2]


Larger Work

Morley Publishing Group, Inc., Washington, D.C., October 2003

The scene is a plain-looking room with a door to the left. A pleasant young man, pestered by tedious and irrelevant questions, exclaims in a frustrated tone, "I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition." Suddenly the door bursts open to reveal Cardinal Ximinez flanked by Cardinal Fang and Cardinal Biggles. " Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" Ximinez shouts. "Our chief weapon is surprise . . . surprise and fear . . . fear and surprise . . . Our two weapons are fear and surprise . . . and ruthless efficiency . . . Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency . . . and an almost fanatical devotion to the pope . . . Our four . . . no . . . Amongst our weapons . . . amongst our weaponry — are such elements as fear, surprise . . . I'll come in again."

Anyone not living under a rock for the past 30 years will likely recognize this famous scene from Monty Python's Flying Circus . In these sketches three scarlet-clad, inept inquisitors torture their victims with such instruments as pillows and comfy chairs. The whole thing is funny because the audience knows full well that the Spanish Inquisition was neither inept nor comfortable, but ruthless, intolerant, and deadly. One need not have read Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum to have heard of the dark dungeons, sadistic churchmen, and excruciating tortures of the Spanish Inquisition. The rack, the iron maiden, the bonfires on which the Catholic Church dumped its enemies by the millions: These are all familiar icons of the Spanish Inquisition set firmly into our culture.

This image of the Spanish Inquisition is a useful one for those who have little love for the Catholic Church. Anyone wishing to beat the Church about the head and shoulders will not tarry long before grabbing two favorite clubs: the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. I have dealt with the Crusades in a previous issue of CRISIS (see "The Real History of the Crusades," April 2002). Now on to the other club.

In order to understand the Spanish Inquisition, which began in the late 15th century, we must look briefly at its predecessor, the medieval Inquisition. Before we do, though, it's worth pointing out that the medieval world was not the modern world. For medieval people, religion was not something one just did at church. It was their science, their philosophy, their politics, their identity, and their hope for salvation. It was not a personal preference but an abiding and universal truth. Heresy, then, struck at the heart of that truth. It doomed the heretic, endangered those near him, and tore apart the fabric of community. Medieval Europeans were not alone in this view. It was shared by numerous cultures around the world. The modern practice of universal religious toleration is itself quite new and uniquely Western.

Secular and ecclesiastical leaders in medieval Europe approached heresy in different ways. Roman law equated heresy with treason. Why? Because kingship was God-given, thus making heresy an inherent challenge to royal authority. Heretics divided people, causing unrest and rebellion. No Christian doubted that God would punish a community that allowed heresy to take root and spread. Kings and commoners, therefore, had good reason to find and destroy heretics wherever they found them — and they did so with gusto.

One of the most enduring myths of the Inquisition is that it was a tool of oppression imposed on unwilling Europeans by a power-hungry Church. Nothing could be more wrong. In truth, the Inquisition brought order, justice, and compassion to combat rampant secular and popular persecutions of heretics. When the people of a village rounded up a suspected heretic and brought him before the local lord, how was he to be judged? How could an illiterate layman determine if the accused's beliefs were heretical or not? And how were witnesses to be heard and examined?

The medieval Inquisition began in 1184 when Pope Lucius III sent a list of heresies to Europe's bishops and commanded them to take an active role in determining whether those accused of heresy were, in fact, guilty. Rather than relying on secular courts, local lords, or just mobs, bishops were to see to it that accused heretics in their dioceses were examined by knowledgeable churchmen using Roman laws of evidence. In other words, they were to "inquire" — thus, the term "inquisition."

From the perspective of secular authorities, heretics were traitors to God and king and therefore deserved death. From the perspective of the Church, however, heretics were lost sheep that had strayed from the flock. As shepherds, the pope and bishops had a duty to bring those sheep back into the fold, just as the Good Shepherd had commanded them. So, while medieval secular leaders were trying to safeguard their kingdoms, the Church was trying to save souls. The Inquisition provided a means for heretics to escape death and return to the community.

Most people accused of heresy by the medieval Inquisition were either acquitted or their sentence suspended. Those found guilty of grave error were allowed to confess their sin, do penance, and be restored to the Body of Christ. The underlying assumption of the Inquisition was that, like lost sheep, heretics had simply strayed. If, however, an inquisitor determined that a particular sheep had purposely departed out of hostility to the flock, there was nothing more that could be done. Unrepentant or obstinate heretics were excommunicated and given over to the secular authorities. Despite popular myth, the Church did not burn heretics. It was the secular authorities that held heresy to be a capital offense. The simple fact is that the medieval Inquisition saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.

As the power of medieval popes grew, so too did the extent and sophistication of the Inquisition. The introduction of the Franciscans and Dominicans in the early 13th century provided the papacy with a corps of dedicated religious willing to devote their lives to the salvation of the world. Because their order had been created to debate with heretics and preach the Catholic faith, the Dominicans became especially active in the Inquisition. Following the most progressive law codes of the day, the Church in the 13th century formed inquisitorial tribunals answerable to Rome rather than local bishops. To ensure fairness and uniformity, manuals were written for inquisitorial officials. Bernard Gui, best known today as the fanatical and evil inquisitor in The Name of the Rose , wrote a particularly influential manual. There is no reason to believe that Gui was anything like his fictional portrayal.

By the 14th century, the Inquisition represented the best legal practices available. Inquisition officials were university-trained specialists in law and theology. The procedures were similar to those used in secular inquisitions (we call them "inquests" today, but it's the same word).

The power of kings rose dramatically in the late Middle Ages. Secular rulers strongly supported the Inquisition because they saw it as an efficient way to ensure the religious health of their kingdoms. If anything, kings faulted the Inquisition for being too lenient on heretics. As in other areas of ecclesiastical control, secular authorities in the late Middle Ages began to take over the Inquisition, removing it from papal oversight. In France, for example, royal officials assisted by legal scholars at the University of Paris assumed control of the French Inquisition. Kings justified this on the belief that they knew better than the faraway pope how best to deal with heresy in their own kingdoms.

These dynamics would help to form the Spanish Inquisition — but there were others as well. Spain was in many ways quite different from the rest of Europe. Conquered by Muslim jihad in the eighth century, the Iberian peninsula had been a place of near constant warfare. Because borders between Muslim and Christian kingdoms shifted rapidly over the centuries, it was in most rulers' interest to practice a fair degree of tolerance for other religions. The ability of Muslims, Christians, and Jews to live together, called convivencia by the Spanish, was a rarity in the Middle Ages. Indeed, Spain was the most diverse and tolerant place in medieval Europe. England expelled all of its Jews in 1290. France did the same in 1306. Yet in Spain Jews thrived at every level of society.

But it was perhaps inevitable that the waves of anti-Semitism that swept across medieval Europe would eventually find their way into Spain. Envy, greed, and gullibility led to rising tensions between Christians and Jews in the 14th century. During the summer of 1391, urban mobs in Barcelona and other towns poured into Jewish quarters, rounded up Jews, and gave them a choice of baptism or death. Most took baptism. The king of Aragon, who had done his best to stop the attacks, later reminded his subjects of well-established Church doctrine on the matter of forced baptisms — they don't count. He decreed that any Jews who accepted baptism to avoid death could return to their religion.

But most of these new converts, or conversos , decided to remain Catholic. There were many reasons for this. Some believed that apostasy made them unfit to be Jewish. Others worried that returning to Judaism would leave them vulnerable to future attacks. Still others saw their baptism as a way to avoid the increasing number of restrictions and taxes imposed on Jews. As time passed, the conversos settled into their new religion, becoming just as pious as other Catholics. Their children were baptized at birth and raised as Catholics. But they remained in a cultural netherworld. Although Christian, most conversos still spoke, dressed, and ate like Jews. Many continued to live in Jewish quarters so as to be near family members. The presence of conversos had the effect of Christianizing Spanish Judaism. This in turn led to a steady stream of voluntary conversions to Catholicism.

In 1414 a debate was held in Tortosa between Christian and Jewish leaders. Pope Benedict XIII himself attended. On the Christian side was the papal physician, Jeronimo de Santa Fe, who had recently converted from Judaism. The debate brought about a wave of new voluntary conversions. In Aragon alone, 3,000 Jews received baptism. All of this caused a good deal of tension between those who remained Jewish and those who became Catholic. Spanish rabbis after 1391 had considered conversos to be Jews, since they had been forced into baptism. Yet by 1414, rabbis repeatedly stressed that conversos were indeed true Christians, since they had voluntarily left Judaism.

By the mid-15th century, a whole new converso culture was flowering in Spain — Jewish in ethnicity and culture, but Catholic in religion. Conversos , whether new converts themselves or the descendants of converts, took enormous pride in that culture. Some even asserted that they were better than the "Old Christians," since as Jews they were related by blood to Christ Himself. When the converso bishop of Burgos, Alonso de Cartagena, prayed the Hail Mary, he would say with pride, "Holy Mary, Mother of God and my blood relative, pray for us sinners . . ."

The expansion of converso wealth and power in Spain led to a backlash, particularly among aristocratic and middle-class Old Christians. They resented the arrogance of the conversos and envied their successes. Several tracts were written demonstrating that virtually every noble bloodline in Spain had been infiltrated by conversos . Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories abounded. The conversos , it was said, were part of an elaborate Jewish plot to take over the Spanish nobility and the Catholic Church, destroying both from within. The conversos , according to this logic, were not sincere Christians but secret Jews.

Modern scholarship has definitively shown that, like most conspiracy theories, this one was pure imagination. The vast majority of conversos were good Catholics who simply took pride in their Jewish heritage. Surprisingly, many modern authors — indeed, many Jewish authors — have embraced these anti-Semitic fantasies. It is common today to hear that the conversos really were secret Jews, struggling to keep their faith hidden under the tyranny of Catholicism. Even the American Heritage Dictionary describes " converso " as "a Spanish or Portuguese Jew who converted outwardly to Christianity in the late Middle Ages so as to avoid persecution or expulsion, though often continuing to practice Judaism in secret." This is simply false.

But the constant drumbeat of accusations convinced King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that the matter of secret Jews should at least be investigated. Responding to their request, Pope Sixtus IV issued a bull on November 1, 1478, allowing the crown to form an inquisitorial tribunal consisting of two or three priests over the age of 40. As was now the custom, the monarchs would have complete authority over the inquisitors and the inquisition. Ferdinand, who had many Jews and con-versos in his court, was not at first overly enthusiastic about the whole thing. Two years elapsed before he finally appointed two men. Thus began the Spanish Inquisition.

King Ferdinand seems to have believed that the inquiry would turn up little. He was wrong. A tinderbox of resentment and hatred exploded across Spain as the enemies of conversos — both Christian and Jewish — came out of the woodwork to denounce them. Score-settling and opportunism were the primary motivators. Nevertheless, the sheer volume of accusations overwhelmed the inquisitors. They asked for and received more assistants, but the larger the Inquisition became, the more accusations it received. At last even Ferdinand was convinced that the problem of secret Jews was real.

In this early stage of the Spanish Inquisition, Old Christians and Jews used the tribunals as a weapon against their converso enemies. Since the Inquisition's sole purpose was to investigate conversos , the Old Christians had nothing to fear from it. Their fidelity to the Catholic faith was not under investigation (although it was far from pure). As for the Jews, they were immune to the Inquisition. Remember, the purpose of an inquisition was to find and correct the lost sheep of Christ's flock. It had no jurisdiction over other flocks. Those who get their history from Mel Brooks's History of the World, Part I will perhaps be surprised to learn that all of those Jews enduring various tortures in the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition are nothing more than a product of Brooks's fertile imagination. Spain's Jews had nothing to fear from the Spanish Inquisition.

In the early, rapidly expanding years, there was plenty of abuse and confusion. Most accused conversos were acquitted, but not all. Well-publicized burnings — often because of blatantly false testimony — justifiably frightened other conversos . Those with enemies often fled town before they could be denounced. Everywhere they looked, the inquisitors found more accusers. As the Inquisition expanded into Aragon, the hysteria levels reached new heights. Pope Sixtus IV attempted to put a stop to it. On April 18, 1482, he wrote to the bishops of Spain:

Sixtus ordered the bishops to take a direct role in all future tribunals. They were to ensure that the Church's well-established norms of justice were respected. The accused were to have legal counsel and the right to appeal their case to Rome.

In the Middle Ages, the pope's commands would have been obeyed. But those days were gone. King Ferdinand was outraged when he heard of the letter. He wrote to Sixtus, openly suggesting that the pope had been bribed with converso gold.

That was the end of the papacy's role in the Spanish Inquisition. It would henceforth be an arm of the Spanish monarchy, separate from ecclesiastical authority. It is odd, then, that the Spanish Inquisition is so often today described as one of the Catholic Church's great sins. The Catholic Church as an institution had almost nothing to do with it.

In 1483 Ferdinand appointed Tomas de Torquemada as inquistor-general for most of Spain. It was Torquemada's job to establish rules of evidence and procedure for the Inquisition as well as to set up branches in major cities. Sixtus confirmed the appointment, hoping that it would bring some order to the situation.

Unfortunately, the problem only snowballed. This was a direct result of the methods employed by the early Spanish Inquisition, which strayed significantly from Church standards. When the inquisitors arrived in a particular area, they would announce an Edict of Grace. This was a 30-day period in which secret Jews could voluntarily come forward, confess their sin, and do penance. This was also a time for others with information about Christians practicing Judaism in secret to make it known to the tribunal. Those found guilty after the 30 days elapsed could be burned at the stake.

For conversos , then, the arrival of the Inquisition certainly focused the mind. They generally had plenty of enemies, any one of whom might decide to bear false witness. Or perhaps their cultural practices were sufficient for condemnation? Who knew? Most converses , therefore, either fled or lined up to confess. Those who did neither risked an inquiry in which any kind of hearsay or evidence, no matter how old or suspicious, was acceptable.

Opposition in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to the Spanish Inquisition only increased. Many churchmen pointed out that it was contrary to all accepted practices for heretics to be burned without instruction in the Faith. If the conversos were guilty at all, it was merely of ignorance, not willful heresy. Numerous clergy at the highest levels complained to Ferdinand. Opposition to the Spanish Inquisition also continued in Rome. Sixtus's successor, Innocent VIII, wrote twice to the king asking for greater compassion, mercy, and leniency for the conversos — but to no avail.

As the Spanish Inquisition picked up steam, those involved became increasingly convinced that Spain's Jews were actively seducing the conversos back into their old faith. It was a silly idea, no more real than the previous conspiracy theories. But Ferdinand and Isabella were influenced by it. Both of the monarchs had Jewish friends and confidants, but they also felt that their duty to their Christian subjects impelled them to remove the danger. Beginning in 1482, they expelled Jews from specific areas where the trouble seemed greatest. Over the next decade, though, they were under increasing pressure to remove the perceived threat. The Spanish Inquisition, it was argued, could never succeed in bringing the conversos back into the fold while the Jews undermined its work. Finally, on March 31, 1492, the monarchs issued an edict expelling all Jews from Spain.

Ferdinand and Isabella expected that their edict would result in the conversion of most of the remaining Jews in their kingdom. They were largely correct. Many Jews in high positions, including those in the royal court, accepted baptism immediately. In 1492 the Jewish population of Spain numbered about 80,000. About half were baptized and thereby kept their property and livelihoods. The rest departed, but many of them eventually returned to Spain, where they received baptism and had their property restored. As far as the Spanish Inquisition was concerned, the expulsion of the Jews meant that the caseload of conversos was now much greater.

The first 15 years of the Spanish Inquisition, under the direction of Torquemada, were the deadliest. Approximately 2,000 conversos were put to the flames. By 1500, however, the hysteria had calmed. Torquemada's successor, the cardinal archbishop of Toledo, Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros, worked hard to reform the Inquisition, removing bad apples and reforming procedures. Each tribunal was given two Dominican inquisitors, a legal adviser, a constable, a prosecutor, and a large number of assistants. With the exception of the two Dominicans, all of these were royal lay officials. The Spanish Inquisition was largely funded by confiscations, but these were not frequent or great. Indeed, even at its peak the Inquisition was always just making ends meet.

After the reforms, the Spanish Inquisition had very few critics. Staffed by well-educated legal professionals, it was one of the most efficient and compassionate judicial bodies in Europe. No major court in Europe executed fewer people than the Spanish Inquisition. This was a time, after all, when damaging shrubs in a public garden in London carried the death penalty. Across Europe, executions were everyday events. But not so with the Spanish Inquisition. In its 350-year lifespan only about 4,000 people were put to the stake. Compare that with the witch-hunts that raged across the rest of Catholic and Protestant Europe, in which 60,000 people, mostly women, were roasted. Spain was spared this hysteria precisely because the Spanish Inquisition stopped it at the border. When the first accusations of witchcraft surfaced in northern Spain, the Inquisition sent its people to investigate. These trained legal scholars found no believable evidence for witches' Sabbaths, black magic, or baby roasting. It was also noted that those confessing to witchcraft had a curious inability to fly through keyholes. While Europeans were throwing women onto bonfires with abandon, the Spanish Inquisition slammed the door shut on this insanity. (For the record, the Roman Inquisition also kept the witch craze from infecting Italy.)

What about the dark dungeons and torture chambers? The Spanish Inquisition had jails, of course. But they were neither especially dark nor dungeon-like. Indeed, as far as prisons go, they were widely considered to be the best in Europe. There were even instances of criminals in Spain purposely blaspheming so as to be transferred to the Inquisition's prisons. Like all courts in Europe, the Spanish Inquisition used torture. But it did so much less often than other courts. Modern researchers have discovered that the Spanish Inquisition applied torture in only 2 percent of its cases. Each instance of torture was limited to a maximum of 15 minutes. In only 1 percent of the cases was torture applied twice and never for a third time.

The inescapable conclusion is that, by the standards of its time, the Spanish Inquisition was positively enlightened. That was the assessment of most Europeans until 1530. It was then that the Spanish Inquisition turned its attention away from the conversos and toward the new Protestant Reformation. The people of Spain and their monarchs were determined that Protestantism would not infiltrate their country as it had Germany and France. The Inquisition's methods did not change. Executions and torture remained rare. But its new target would forever change its image.

By the mid-16th century, Spain was the wealthiest and most powerful country in Europe. King Philip II saw himself and his countrymen as faithful defenders of the Catholic Church. Less wealthy and less powerful were Europe's Protestant areas, including the Netherlands, northern Germany, and England. But they did have a potent new weapon: the printing press. Although the Spanish defeated Protestants on the battlefield, they would lose the propaganda war. These were the years when the famous "Black Legend" of Spain was forged. Innumerable books and pamphlets poured from northern presses accusing the Spanish Empire of inhuman depravity and horrible atrocities in the New World. Opulent Spain was cast as a place of darkness, ignorance, and evil. Although modern scholars have long ago discarded the Black Legend, it still remains very much alive today. Quick: Think of a good conquistador.

Protestant propaganda that took aim at the Spanish Inquisition drew liberally from the Black Legend. But it had other sources as well. From the beginning of the Reformation, Protestants had difficulty explaining the 15-century gap between Christ's institution of His Church and the founding of the Protestant churches. Catholics naturally pointed out this problem, accusing Protestants of having created a new church separate from that of Christ. Protestants countered that their church was the one created by Christ but that it had been forced underground by the Catholic Church. Thus, just as the Roman Empire had persecuted Christians, so its successor, the Roman Catholic Church, continued to persecute them throughout the Middle Ages. Inconveniently, there were no Protestants in the Middle Ages, yet Protestant authors found them anyway in the guise of various medieval heresies. (They were underground, after all.) In this light, the medieval Inquisition was nothing more than an attempt to crush the hidden, true church. The Spanish Inquisition, still active and extremely efficient at keeping Protestants out of Spain, was for Protestant writers merely the latest version of this persecution. Mix liberally with the Black Legend, and you have everything you need to produce tract after tract about the hideous and cruel Spanish Inquisition. And so they did.

The Spanish people loved their Inquisition. That is why it lasted for so long. It stood guard against error and heresy, protecting the faith of Spain and ensuring the favor of God. But the world was changing. In time, Spain's empire faded away. Wealth and power shifted to the north, in particular to France and England. By the late 17th century, new ideas of religious tolerance were bubbling across the coffeehouses and salons of Europe. Inquisitions, both Catholic and Protestant, withered. The Spanish stubbornly held on to theirs, and for that, they were ridiculed. French philosophes like Voltaire saw in Spain a model of the Middle Ages: weak, barbaric, superstitious. The Spanish Inquisition, already established as a bloodthirsty tool of religious persecution, was derided by Enlightenment thinkers as a brutal weapon of intolerance and ignorance. A new, fictional Spanish Inquisition had been constructed, designed by the enemies of Spain and the Catholic Church.

Because it was both professional and efficient, the Spanish Inquisition kept very good records. Vast archives are filled with them. These documents were kept secret, so there was no reason for scribes to do anything but accurately record every action of the Inquisition. They are a goldmine for modern historians who have plunged greedily into them. Thus far, the fruits of that research have made one thing abundantly clear — the myth of the Spanish Inquisition has nothing at all to do with the real thing.

Thomas F. Madden is associate professor and chairman of the Department of History at Saint Louis University. He is the author of numerous works, including most recently A Concise History of the Crusades (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999) and Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).


How the Spanish Inquisition Worked

Although early Christians experienced heavy persecution, by the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had significant religious and political power in Europe. To maintain its authority, the church suppressed heretics. The church had a very specific definition of heresy: A heretic publicly declared his beliefs (based upon what the church considered inaccurate interpretations of the Bible) and refused to denounce them, even after being corrected by the authority. He also tried to teach his beliefs to other people. He had to be doing these things by his own free will, not under the influence of the devil.

The Inquisition officially began with Pope Gregory IX (the Papal Inquisition). In 1231, he issued a bull, or decree, that set up a tribunal court system to try heretics and punish them. He chose the Dominican Order, known for being very well-educated and knowledgeable about complex theology, to conduct the Inquisition.

The Spanish Inquisition was unique in that it was established by secular rulers, King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella, with the approval of Pope Sixtus IV. The monarchy was Catholic, and it had just united two kingdoms, Aragon and Castile, as a single country in the late 15th century. Reasons for the Inquisition included a desire to create religious unity and weaken local political authorities and familial alliances. Money was another motive -- the government made a profit by confiscating the property of those found guilty of heresy. Historians speculate that the monarchy convinced Pope Sixtus IV to allow the inquisition by threatening to remove Spanish troops from Rome, where they were needed to prevent an attack by Turkey.

Many prominent citizens were concerned about their country's religious diversity and had bigoted attitudes toward non-Catholics. Jews were subjected to violent attacks known as pogroms and isolated in ghettos. Many were killed. The Inquisition was officially established in 1478, and Jews were banished a few years later when King Ferdinand II issued the Alhambra Decree in 1492, ordering them to leave on pain of death. Many Jews converted to Catholicism. These converts were sometimes called marranos (Spanish for "pig" and a very derogatory term) and accused of secretly continuing to practice Judaism. They became targets of the Inquisition.

Spain conquered Granada, a region populated mostly by Muslim Moors, in the late 15th century. Muslims suffered opposition and persecution similar to that of the Jews, until they were banished in 1502 in the name of religious and cultural unity. Muslim converts to Catholicism, called Moriscos (Spanish for "Moorish"), were targeted for the same reasons as Jewish converts. In the late 16th century, Protestants, mainly Lutherans, also became the target of the Inquisition.

The Spanish Inquisition spread to Spanish-controlled colonies in the New World, including Mexico. Inquisition was abolished in Spain in 1834 by Queen Isabel II.


Teaching the Truth About America's History: Only the Truth Can Make Us Free

The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.

History is important. If you don’t know history it is as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody up there in a position of power can tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it.

Were my African ancestors, who were stolen at gunpoint from their homes and families, dragged in chains into the dark and crowded cargo hulls of ships for the often-fatal Middle Passage, and brutalized, beaten, and forced into chattel slavery for generations, just like many of the other “immigrants” who came to America in order to “work”? Fifteen-year-old Pearland, Texas student Coby Burren didn’t think so when he saw this map caption in his World Geography textbook in the section on “Patterns of Immigration”:

“The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.”

About 150,000 other Texas high school students received the same textbook in their history classes this year, and many of them may have mistaken that caption for truth. Coby knew it was wrong and texted his mother a picture to show her what he was being “taught.”

After his mother Roni Dean-Burren, a University of Houston doctoral student, took a closer look, she shared a video on social media documenting her outrage over the geography book’s mischaracterization of slavery. Both Coby and his mother were willing to stand up and speak out about this distortion of our national past which haunts our present and continues to threaten our future.

Within hours McGraw-Hill, the book’s publisher, apologized stating they “conducted a close review of the content and agree that our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves.” They announced plans to make online changes immediately and reissue a corrected version of the book. After Ms. Dean-Burren and others raised concerns about the initial promise to fix the next print edition, given that many districts who already have purchased one edition will not buy another for several years, McGraw-Hill announced it will distribute revised textbooks and/or stickers to correct the caption to all schools that own the current edition.

I’m very proud of Coby who has attended the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools ® program where he was exposed to excellent and carefully selected books that teach the truth about American and African American history and culture. He learned what I hope all children of all races learn—that he was not too young to make a difference in his family, school, community, nation, and world. And I’m very grateful Coby’s mother joined her son to demand an accurate recounting of forced slavery in our nation whose legacy haunts us still. Their actions may make a difference for thousands of other Texas students who would have continued using geography textbooks with inaccurate and misleading language for years. Parents everywhere must be vigilant about the books their districts are choosing for their children, read them and, like Ms. Dean-Burren, not be afraid to speak up when changes are necessary. Perhaps we need to have parent book clubs to read and discuss the accuracy of history and geography textbooks their children read.

While it is unclear who was finally responsible for this caption, there have been other concerns about the way Texas education officials influence the content of textbooks and the teaching of history. Because Texas is such a large textbook purchasing market with more than 5.2 million K-12 public school students, publishers may often capitulate to requests for changes that meet some state curriculum demands. Once books have been created that meet Texas standards the same texts may be distributed in other states.

Another controversy erupted recently when groups in Texas were joined by those in other states including Oklahoma, Georgia, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Tennessee and the Republican National Committee in challenging the College Board’s updated framework for Advanced Placement U.S. History courses. The College Board develops the tests taken by all students in Advanced Placement courses nationwide, and critics said the framework emphasized “negative” aspects of American history too much without enough emphasis on other areas like the Founding Fathers, military achievements, and “American exceptionalism.” In July the College Board announced a revised framework that included some of these suggested changes.

Who is writing and influencing the history our children are taught? Should a few education officials in Texas or any state drive decisions about what all of our children learn or sugarcoat the truth? Coby and his mother did the right thing and students should not have to be the last line of defense against untruthful and even offensive materials getting into their school backpacks. Only the truth can make us free. George Orwell reminded us that “he who controls the past controls the future.”

We must go forward in our multiracial multicultural nation and world and not slide backwards toward the dark legacies of slavery, Native American genocide, and exclusion of women and nonpropertied men of all races from our electoral process by our founding fathers. And we must work tirelessly to eradicate their continuing effects on our national life and the growing voices of those who want to turn back the clock of racial and economic progress reflected in mass incarceration, voter suppression, an unjust criminal justice system, separate and unequal schools, and massive poverty and economic inequality that plague us still. Only the truth can make us free.


The Truth About the Spanish Inquisition

The scene is a plain-looking room with a door to the left. A pleasant young man, pestered by tedious and irrelevant questions, exclaims in a frustrated tone, “I didn’t expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition.” Suddenly the door bursts open to reveal Cardinal Ximinez flanked by Cardinal Fang and Cardinal Biggles. “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” Ximinez shouts. “Our chief weapon is surprise… surprise and fear… fear and surprise…. Our two weapons are fear and surprise…and ruthless efficiency…. Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency… and an almost fanatical devotion to the pope…. Our four… no…. Amongst our weapons… amongst our weaponry… are such elements as fear, surprise…. I’ll come in again.”

Anyone not living under a rock for the past 30 years will likely recognize this famous scene from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In these sketches three scarlet-clad, inept inquisitors torture their victims with such instruments as pillows and comfy chairs. The whole thing is funny because the audience knows full well that the Spanish Inquisition was neither inept nor comfortable, but ruthless, intolerant, and deadly. One need not have read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum to have heard of the dark dungeons, sadistic churchmen, and excruciating tortures of the Spanish Inquisition. The rack, the iron maiden, the bonfires on which the Catholic Church dumped its enemies by the millions: These are all familiar icons of the Spanish Inquisition set firmly into our culture.

This image of the Spanish Inquisition is a useful one for those who have little love for the Catholic Church. Anyone wishing to beat the Church about the head and shoulders will not tarry long before grabbing two favorite clubs: the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. I have dealt with the Crusades in a previous issue of Crisis (see “The Real History of the Crusades,” April 2002). Now on to the other club.

In order to understand the Spanish Inquisition, which began in the late 15th century, we must look briefly at its predecessor, the medieval Inquisition. Before we do, though, it’s worth pointing out that the medieval world was not the modern world. For medieval people, religion was not something one just did at church. It was their science, their philosophy, their politics, their identity, and their hope for salvation. It was not a personal preference but an abiding and universal truth. Heresy, then, struck at the heart of that truth. It doomed the heretic, endangered those near him, and tore apart the fabric of community. Medieval Europeans were not alone in this view. It was shared by numerous cultures around the world. The modern practice of universal religious toleration is itself quite new and uniquely Western.

Secular and ecclesiastical leaders in medieval Europe approached heresy in different ways. Roman law equated heresy with treason. Why? Because kingship was God-given, thus making heresy an inherent challenge to royal authority. Heretics divided people, causing unrest and rebellion. No Christian doubted that God would punish a community that allowed heresy to take root and spread. Kings and commoners, therefore, had good reason to find and destroy heretics wherever they found them—and they did so with gusto.

One of the most enduring myths of the Inquisition is that it was a tool of oppression imposed on unwilling Europeans by a power-hungry Church. Nothing could be more wrong. In truth, the Inquisition brought order, justice, and compassion to combat rampant secular and popular persecutions of heretics. When the people of a village rounded up a suspected heretic and brought him before the local lord, how was he to be judged? How could an illiterate layman determine if the accused’s beliefs were heretical or not? And how were witnesses to be heard and examined?

The medieval Inquisition began in 1184 when Pope Lucius III sent a list of heresies to Europe’s bishops and commanded them to take an active role in determining whether those accused of heresy were, in fact, guilty. Rather than relying on secular courts, local lords, or just mobs, bishops were to see to it that accused heretics in their dioceses were examined by knowledgeable churchmen using Roman laws of evidence. In other words, they were to “inquire”—thus, the term “inquisition.”

From the perspective of secular authorities, heretics were traitors to God and king and therefore deserved death. From the perspective of the Church, however, heretics were lost sheep that had strayed from the flock. As shepherds, the pope and bishops had a duty to bring those sheep back into the fold, just as the Good Shepherd had commanded them. So, while medieval secular leaders were trying to safeguard their kingdoms, the Church was trying to save souls. The Inquisition provided a means for heretics to escape death and return to the community.

Most people accused of heresy by the medieval Inquisition were either acquitted or their sentence suspended. Those found guilty of grave error were allowed to confess their sin, do penance, and be restored to the Body of Christ. The underlying assumption of the Inquisition was that, like lost sheep, heretics had simply strayed. If, however, an inquisitor determined that a particular sheep had purposely departed out of hostility to the flock, there was nothing more that could be done. Unrepentant or obstinate heretics were excommunicated and given over to the secular authorities. Despite popular myth, the Church did not burn heretics. It was the secular authorities that held heresy to be a capital offense. The simple fact is that the medieval Inquisition saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.

As the power of medieval popes grew, so too did the extent and sophistication of the Inquisition. The introduction of the Franciscans and Dominicans in the early 13th century provided the papacy with a corps of dedicated religious willing to devote their lives to the salvation of the world. Because their order had been created to debate with heretics and preach the Catholic faith, the Dominicans became especially active in the Inquisition. Following the most progressive law codes of the day, the Church in the 13th century formed inquisitorial tribunals answerable to Rome rather than local bishops. To ensure fairness and uniformity, manuals were written for inquisitorial officials. Bernard Gui, best known today as the fanatical and evil inquisitor in The Name of the Rose, wrote a particularly influential manual. There is no reason to believe that Gui was anything like his fictional portrayal.

By the 14th century, the Inquisition represented the best legal practices available. Inquisition officials were university-trained specialists in law and theology. The procedures were similar to those used in secular inquisitions (we call them “inquests” today, but it’s the same word).

The power of kings rose dramatically in the late Middle Ages. Secular rulers strongly supported the Inquisition because they saw it as an efficient way to ensure the religious health of their kingdoms. If anything, kings faulted the Inquisition for being too lenient on heretics. As in other areas of ecclesiastical control, secular authorities in the late Middle Ages began to take over the Inquisition, removing it from papal oversight. In France, for example, royal officials assisted by legal scholars at the University of Paris assumed control of the French Inquisition. Kings justified this on the belief that they knew better than the faraway pope how best to deal with heresy in their own kingdoms.

These dynamics would help to form the Spanish Inquisition—but there were others as well. Spain was in many ways quite different from the rest of Europe. Conquered by Muslim jihad in the eighth century, the Iberian peninsula had been a place of near constant warfare. Because borders between Muslim and Christian kingdoms shifted rapidly over the centuries, it was in most rulers’ interest to practice a fair degree of tolerance for other religions. The ability of Muslims, Christians, and Jews to live together, called convivencia by the Spanish, was a rarity in the Middle Ages. Indeed, Spain was the most diverse and tolerant place in medieval Europe. England expelled all of its Jews in 1290. France did the same in 1306. Yet in Spain Jews thrived at every level of society.

But it was perhaps inevitable that the waves of anti-Semitism that swept across medieval Europe would eventually find their way into Spain. Envy, greed, and gullibility led to rising tensions between Christians and Jews in the 14th century. During the summer of 1391, urban mobs in Barcelona and other towns poured into Jewish quarters, rounded up Jews, and gave them a choice of baptism or death. Most took baptism. The king of Aragon, who had done his best to stop the attacks, later reminded his subjects of well-established

Church doctrine on the matter of forced baptisms—they don’t count. He decreed that any Jews who accepted baptism to avoid death could return to their religion.

But most of these new converts, or conversos, decided to remain Catholic. There were many reasons for this. Some believed that apostasy made them unfit to be Jewish. Others worried that returning to Judaism would leave them vulnerable to future attacks. Still others saw their baptism as a way to avoid the increasing number of restrictions and taxes imposed on Jews. As time passed, the conversos settled into their new religion, becoming just as pious as other Catholics. Their children were baptized at birth and raised as Catholics. But they remained in a cultural netherworld. Although Christian, most conversos still spoke, dressed, and ate like Jews. Many continued to live in Jewish quarters so as to be near family members. The presence of conversos had the effect of Christianizing Spanish Judaism. This in turn led to a steady stream of voluntary conversions to Catholicism.

In 1414 a debate was held in Tortosa between Christian and Jewish leaders. Pope Benedict XIII himself attended. On the Christian side was the papal physician, Jeronimo de Santa Fe, who had recently converted from Judaism. The debate brought about a wave of new voluntary conversions. In Aragon alone, 3,000 Jews received baptism. All of this caused a good deal of tension between those who remained Jewish and those who became Catholic. Spanish rabbis after 1391 had considered conversos to be Jews, since they had been forced into baptism. Yet by 1414, rabbis repeatedly stressed that conversos were indeed true Christians, since they had voluntarily left Judaism.

By the mid-15th century, a whole new converso culture was flowering in Spain—Jewish in ethnicity and culture, but Catholic in religion. Conversos, whether new converts themselves or the descendants of converts, took enormous pride in that culture. Some even asserted that they were better than the “Old Christians,” since as Jews they were related by blood to Christ Himself. When the converso bishop of Burgos, Alonso de Cartagena, prayed the Hail Mary, he would say with pride, “Holy Mary, Mother of God and my blood relative, pray for us sinners…”

The expansion of converso wealth and power in Spain led to a backlash, particularly among aristocratic and middle-class Old Christians. They resented the arrogance of the conversos and envied their successes. Several tracts were written demonstrating that virtually every noble bloodline in Spain had been infiltrated by conversos. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories abounded. The conversos, it was said, were part of an elaborate Jewish plot to take over the Spanish nobility and the Catholic Church, destroying both from within. The conversos, according to this logic, were not sincere Christians but secret Jews.

Modern scholarship has definitively shown that, like most conspiracy theories, this one was pure imagination. The vast majority of conversos were good Catholics who simply took pride in their Jewish heritage. Surprisingly, many modern authors—indeed, many Jewish authors—have embraced these anti-Semitic fantasies. It is common today to hear that the conversos really were secret Jews, struggling to keep their faith hidden under the tyranny of Catholicism. Even the American Heritage Dictionary describes “converso” as “a Spanish or Portuguese Jew who converted outwardly to Christianity in the late Middle Ages so as to avoid persecution or expulsion, though often continuing to practice Judaism in secret.” This is simply false.

But the constant drumbeat of accusations convinced King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that the matter of secret Jews should at least be investigated. Responding to their request, Pope Sixtus IV issued a bull on November 1, 1478, allowing the crown to form an inquisitorial tribunal consisting of two or three priests over the age of 40. As was now the custom, the monarchs would have complete authority over the inquisitors and the inquisition. Ferdinand, who had many Jews and conversos in his court, was not at first overly enthusiastic about the whole thing. Two years elapsed before he finally appointed two men. Thus began the Spanish Inquisition.

King Ferdinand seems to have believed that the inquiry would turn up little. He was wrong. A tinderbox of resentment and hatred exploded across Spain as the enemies of conversos—both Christian and Jewish—came out of the woodwork to denounce them. Score-settling and opportunism were the primary motivators. Nevertheless, the sheer volume of accusations overwhelmed the inquisitors. They asked for and received more assistants, but the larger the Inquisition became, the more accusations it received. At last even Ferdinand was convinced that the problem of secret Jews was real.

In this early stage of the Spanish Inquisition, Old Christians and Jews used the tribunals as a weapon against their converso enemies. Since the Inquisition’s sole purpose was to investigate conversos, the Old Christians had nothing to fear from it. Their fidelity to the Catholic faith was not under investigation (although it was far from pure). As for the Jews, they were immune to the Inquisition. Remember, the purpose of an inquisition was to find and correct the lost sheep of Christ’s flock. It had no jurisdiction over other flocks. Those who get their history from Mel Brooks’s History of the World, Part I will perhaps be surprised to learn that all of those Jews enduring various tortures in the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition are nothing more than a product of Brooks’s fertile imagination. Spain’s Jews had nothing to fear from the Spanish Inquisition.

In the early, rapidly expanding years, there was plenty of abuse and confusion. Most accused conversos were acquitted, but not all. Well-publicized burnings—often because of blatantly false testimony—justifiably frightened other conversos. Those with enemies often fled town before they could be denounced. Everywhere they looked, the inquisitors found more accusers. As the Inquisition expanded into Aragon, the hysteria levels reached new heights. Pope Sixtus IV attempted to put a stop to it. On April 18, 1482, he wrote to the bishops of Spain:

In Aragon, Valencia, Mallorca, and Catalonia the Inquisition has for some time been moved not by zeal for the faith and the salvation of souls but by lust for wealth. Many true and faithful Christians, on the testimony of enemies, rivals, slaves, and other lower and even less proper persons, have without any legitimate proof been thrust into secular prisons, tortured and condemned as relapsed heretics, deprived of their goods and property and handed over to the secular arm to be executed, to the peril of souls, setting a pernicious example, and causing disgust to many.

Sixtus ordered the bishops to take a direct role in all future tribunals. They were to ensure that the Church’s well-established norms of justice were respected. The accused were to have legal counsel and the right to appeal their case to Rome.

In the Middle Ages, the pope’s commands would have been obeyed. But those days were gone. King Ferdinand was outraged when he heard of the letter. He wrote to Sixtus, openly suggesting that the pope had been bribed with converso gold.

Things have been told me, Holy Father, which, if true, would seem to merit the greatest astonishment…. To these rumors, however, we have given no credence because they seem to be things which would in no way have been conceded by Your Holiness who has a duty to the Inquisition. But if by chance concessions have been made through the persistent and cunning persuasion of the conversos, I intend never to let them take effect. Take care therefore not to let the matter go further, and to revoke any concessions and entrust us with the care of this question.

That was the end of the papacy’s role in the Spanish Inquisition. It would henceforth be an arm of the Spanish monarchy, separate from ecclesiastical authority. It is odd, then, that the Spanish Inquisition is so often today described as one of the Catholic Church’s great sins. The Catholic Church as an institution had almost nothing to do with it.

In 1483 Ferdinand appointed Tomas de Torquemada as inquistor-general for most of Spain. It was Torquemada’s job to establish rules of evidence and procedure for the Inquisition as well as to set up branches in major cities. Sixtus confirmed the appointment, hoping that it would bring some order to the situation.

Unfortunately, the problem only snowballed. This was a direct result of the methods employed by the early Spanish Inquisition, which strayed significantly from Church standards. When the inquisitors arrived in a particular area, they would announce an Edict of Grace. This was a 30-day period in which secret Jews could voluntarily come forward, confess their sin, and do penance. This was also a time for others with information about Christians practicing Judaism in secret to make it known to the tribunal. Those found guilty after the 30 days elapsed could be burned at the stake.

For conversos, then, the arrival of the Inquisition certainly focused the mind. They generally had plenty of enemies, any one of whom might decide to bear false witness. Or perhaps their cultural practices were sufficient for condemnation? Who knew? Most conversos, therefore, either fled or lined up to confess. Those who did neither risked an inquiry in which any kind of hearsay or evidence, no matter how old or suspicious, was acceptable.

Opposition in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to the Spanish Inquisition only increased. Many churchmen pointed out that it was contrary to all accepted practices for heretics to be burned without instruction in the Faith. If the conversos were guilty at all, it was merely of ignorance, not willful heresy. Numerous clergy at the highest levels complained to Ferdinand. Opposition to the Spanish Inquisition also continued in Rome. Sixtus’s successor, Innocent VIII, wrote twice to the king asking for greater compassion, mercy, and leniency for the conversos—but to no avail.

As the Spanish Inquisition picked up steam, those involved became increasingly convinced that Spain’s Jews were actively seducing the conversos back into their old faith. It was a silly idea, no more real than the previous conspiracy theories. But Ferdinand and Isabella were influenced by it. Both of the monarchs had Jewish friends and confidants, but they also felt that their duty to their Christian subjects impelled them to remove the danger. Beginning in 1482, they expelled Jews from specific areas where the trouble seemed greatest. Over the next decade, though, they were under increasing pressure to remove the perceived threat. The Spanish Inquisition, it was argued, could never succeed in bringing the conversos back into the fold while the Jews undermined its work. Finally, on March 31, 1492, the monarchs issued an edict expelling all Jews from Spain.

Ferdinand and Isabella expected that their edict would result in the conversion of most of the remaining Jews in their kingdom. They were largely correct. Many Jews in high positions, including those in the royal court, accepted baptism immediately. In 1492 the Jewish population of Spain numbered about 80,000. About half were baptized and thereby kept their property and livelihoods. The rest departed, but many of them eventually returned to Spain, where they received baptism and had their property restored. As far as the Spanish Inquisition was concerned, the expulsion of the Jews meant that the caseload of conversos was now much greater.

The first 15 years of the Spanish Inquisition, under the direction of Torquemada, were the deadliest. Approximately 2,000 conversos were put to the flames. By 1500, however, the hysteria had calmed. Torquemada’s successor, the cardinal archbishop of Toledo, Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros, worked hard to reform the Inquisition, removing bad apples and reforming procedures. Each tribunal was given two Dominican inquisitors, a legal adviser, a constable, a prosecutor, and a large number of assistants. With the exception of the two Dominicans, all of these were royal lay officials. The Spanish Inquisition was largely funded by confiscations, but these were not frequent or great. Indeed, even at its peak the Inquisition was always just making ends meet.

After the reforms, the Spanish Inquisition had very few critics. Staffed by well-educated legal professionals, it was one of the most efficient and compassionate judicial bodies in Europe. No major court in Europe executed fewer people than the Spanish Inquisition. This was a time, after all, when damaging shrubs in a public garden in London carried the death penalty. Across Europe, executions were everyday events. But not so with the Spanish Inquisition. In its 350-year lifespan only about 4,000 people were put to the stake. Compare that with the witch-hunts that raged across the rest of Catholic and Protestant Europe, in which 60,000 people, mostly women, were roasted. Spain was spared this hysteria precisely because the Spanish Inquisition stopped it at the border. When the first accusations of witchcraft surfaced in northern Spain, the Inquisition sent its people to investigate. These trained legal scholars found no believable evidence for witches’ Sabbaths, black magic, or baby roasting. It was also noted that those confessing to witchcraft had a curious inability to fly through keyholes. While Europeans were throwing women onto bonfires with abandon, the Spanish Inquisition slammed the door shut on this insanity. (For the record, the Roman Inquisition also kept the witch craze from infecting Italy.)

What about the dark dungeons and torture chambers? The Spanish Inquisition had jails, of course. But they were neither especially dark nor dungeon-like. Indeed, as far as prisons go, they were widely considered to be the best in Europe. There were even instances of criminals in Spain purposely blaspheming so as to be transferred to the Inquisition’s prisons. Like all courts in Europe, the Spanish Inquisition used torture. But it did so much less often than other courts. Modern researchers have discovered that the Spanish Inquisition applied torture in only 2 percent of its cases.

Each instance of torture was limited to a maximum of 15 minutes. In only 1 percent of the cases was torture applied twice and never for a third time.

The inescapable conclusion is that, by the standards of its time, the Spanish Inquisition was positively enlightened. That was the assessment of most Europeans until 1530. It was then that the Spanish Inquisition turned its attention away from the conversos and toward the new Protestant Reformation. The people of Spain and their monarchs were determined that Protestantism would not infiltrate their country as it had Germany and France. The Inquisition’s methods did not change. Executions and torture remained rare. But its new target would forever change its image.

By the mid-16th century, Spain was the wealthiest and most powerful country in Europe. King Philip II saw himself and his countrymen as faithful defenders of the Catholic Church. Less wealthy and less powerful were Europe’s Protestant areas, including the Netherlands, northern Germany, and England. But they did have a potent new weapon: the printing press. Although the Spanish defeated Protestants on the battlefield, they would lose the propaganda war. These were the years when the famous “Black Legend” of Spain was forged. Innumerable books and pamphlets poured from northern presses accusing the Spanish Empire of inhuman depravity and horrible atrocities in the New World. Opulent Spain was cast as a place of darkness, ignorance, and evil. Although modern scholars have long ago discarded the Black Legend, it still remains very much alive today. Quick: Think of a good conquistador.

Protestant propaganda that took aim at the Spanish Inquisition drew liberally from the Black Legend. But it had other sources as well. From the beginning of the Reformation, Protestants had difficulty explaining the 15-century gap between Christ’s institution of His Church and the founding of the Protestant churches. Catholics naturally pointed out this problem, accusing Protestants of having created a new church separate from that of Christ. Protestants countered that their church was the one created by Christ but that it had been forced underground by the Catholic Church. Thus, just as the Roman Empire had persecuted Christians, so its successor, the Roman Catholic Church, continued to persecute them throughout the Middle Ages. Inconveniently, there were no Protestants in the Middle Ages, yet Protestant authors found them anyway in the guise of various medieval heresies. (They were underground, after all.) In this light, the medieval Inquisition was nothing more than an attempt to crush the hidden, true church. The Spanish Inquisition, still active and extremely efficient at keeping Protestants out of Spain, was for Protestant writers merely the latest version of this persecution. Mix liberally with the Black Legend, and you have everything you need to produce tract after tract about the hideous and cruel Spanish Inquisition. And so they did.

The Spanish people loved their Inquisition. That is why it lasted for so long. It stood guard against error and heresy, protecting the faith of Spain and ensuring the favor of God. But the world was changing. In time, Spain’s empire faded away. Wealth and power shifted to the north, in particular to France and England. By the late 17th century, new ideas of religious tolerance were bubbling across the coffeehouses and salons of Europe. Inquisitions, both Catholic and Protestant, withered. The Spanish stubbornly held on to theirs, and for that, they were ridiculed. French philosophes like Voltaire saw in Spain a model of the Middle Ages: weak, barbaric, superstitious. The Spanish Inquisition, already established as a bloodthirsty tool of religious persecution, was derided by Enlightenment thinkers as a brutal weapon of intolerance and ignorance. A new, fictional Spanish Inquisition had been constructed, designed by the enemies of Spain and the Catholic Church.

Because it was both professional and efficient, the Spanish Inquisition kept very good records. Vast archives are filled with them. These documents were kept secret, so there was no reason for scribes to do anything but accurately record every action of the Inquisition. They are a goldmine for modern historians who have plunged greedily into them. Thus far, the fruits of that research have made one thing abundantly clear—the myth of the Spanish Inquisition has nothing at all to do with the real thing.


The Black Legend

In order to begin to understand this complex topic, we must first settle on a working definition of the meaning of the term “Black Legend.” Let us then start with the man who coined the phrase, the Spaniard Julian Juderias, in his book , La Leyenda Negra (The Black Legend), of 1914: “(It is) The environment created by the fantastic stories about our homeland that have seen the light of publicity in all countries, the grotesque descriptions that have been made of the character of Spaniards as individuals and collectively, the denial or at least the systematic ignorance of all that is favorable and beautiful in the various manifestations of culture and art, the accusations that in every era have been flung at Spain.”

Here is a more recent definition by a Protestant American historian, Philip Wayne Powell, from his book Tree of Hate: “An image of Spain circulated through late sixteenth century Europe borne by means of political and religious propaganda that blackened the characters of Spaniards and their ruler to such an extent that Spain became the symbol of all forces of repression, brutality, religious and political intolerance and intellectual and artistic backwardness for the next four centuries. Spaniards have termed this process and the image that resulted from it as ‘The Black Legend.’ ”

Powell strongly makes the case for what he calls the “Nordic superiority complex,” giving many examples from textbooks and other writings, especially in English-speaking countries, of how these writers believe that Spaniards have shown themselves, historically, to be “uniquely cruel, bigoted, tyrannical, obscurantist, lazy, fanatical, greedy and treacherous that they differ so much from other peoples in these traits that Spaniards and Spanish history must be viewed and understood in terms not ordinarily used in describing and interpreting other peoples.”

The Beginnings of the Black Legend

The Black Legend seems to have two basic sources: one in Europe, beginning in twelfth century Italy the other, much later, in the writings of the Bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, the Dominican Fray Bartolome de las Casas who had accompanied the Conquistadores to that country shortly after the discovery of the New World. At some point the two converge because the perpetrators of the lies in Europe struck gold when they discovered his book Brevisima Relacion de la Destruccion de Las Indias (Very Brief Relation of the Destruction of the Indies). We shall return to Fray Bartolome’s book later. Let us first begin with the European scene, keeping in mind that, at the time we speak of, the various European nations as we know them today did not exist.

French-Spanish Rivalry

Because of their common border, the French-Spanish rivalry antedates that of all the other European countries. They had been fighting border skirmishes for more than one thousand years. During the Middle Ages, the two countries were the great Imperial rivals of Europe. It was not until Spain’s conquest by the North African Berbers and Moors beginning in 711 that Spain was virtually closed to the rest of Europe. It took the Muslims a couple of centuries to achieve their northernmost conquest, never occupying the extreme north from Galicia on the west to Catalonia on the east, although they did achieve an incursion into southern France where they were defeated by Charles Martel in 732. The Reconquista began almost immediately in the region of Asturias (for the Christians would never give up fighting for their homeland.) France always tended to look down on her southern neighbor as a kind of an extension of North Africa, which she actually was for almost eight hundred years. We shall see that this resentment reared its ugly head in colonial times, not just with France, but with the northern countries of the Netherlands and England, over Spain’s vast territories in the New World.

During the late twelfth century, Spanish imperialism led her into the Mediterranean where she incorporated Sicily, Sardinia and Naples into her budding Empire. Spain and her immediate neighbor across the Pyrenees both had designs on conquering the Italian Peninsula. Under King Ferdinand in the 1490’s Spain demolished French ambitions in that area and upper class Spaniards began to move into Italy. Native Italians naturally resented their presence, considering themselves to be racially superior to the newcomers – after all, they were the heirs of the Roman Empire! It was a well-accepted belief that Spaniards were racially impure they had the blood of centuries of occupation by North Africans and Jews were known to move freely about on the Iberian peninsula during and after the Moorish occupation. They were also suspected of having “other Oriental elements” in their bloodline. Italians also hated the immoral and sensuous Borgia Pope of the time, Alexander VI, who was a Spaniard. The dawn of the sixteenth century was a time when the various European countries began to nurture nationalism, with imperialism simply a given.

Growth of the Black Legend Begins in Germany

Resentment of the Spanish Imperial Army under the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the German states is of a later date and has a distinctly religious character. The Schmalkaldic War of 1546 and 1547 had Charles’ Catholic forces entering Protestant parts of Germany in an attempt to stop the spread of Luther’s heresy. Although Charles’ forces were victorious in defeating the League of Protestant forces, the new beliefs continued to spread in this northern part of Europe. It was due to the heroism of Charles’ son, the great Philip II, King of Spain for much of the latter part of the sixteenth century, that southern Germany remained Catholic.

The myth of “Nordic superiority” had already spread to the German states. It was accepted belief that the Spanish were a “race set apart” because of their smaller stature, darker skin, and “impure” blood. Luther exhibited violent anti-Jewish feelings therefore, Protestant Germans were taught that Spanish blood was tainted with the blood of the Jews (and the Moors) who had lived among them for centuries. Catholic Germans were considered traitors to the Fatherland, with the ridiculous rumor being spread that Spain was planning an alliance with the Turks to attempt to subjugate the German people. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, since it was actually Spain at the forefront of European defense against the Turks. Oddly, the Frankfurt/Main area was a hotbed of propaganda production against Spain due to the great number of Jews who fled Spain and settled there after Ferdinand and Isabella expelled them from their country in 1492.

The Unique Situation of the Jews in Spain

Jews had been a part of life in Spain for many centuries. Indeed, even today, Spanish or Sephardic Jews, claiming to be descendants of King David. consider themselves purer and of higher class than the Ashkenazi Jews. The Sephardic Jews hold a tradition that their ancestors arrived in the Spanish Peninsula soon after the Babylonian destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 586 B.C, where they founded the original capital city of Spain, Toledo. There they prospered as part of the Roman Empire in enterprises such as the slave trade, crafts, and finance. It is a fact of history that they aided the Moorish and Berber tribes from North Africa in their entrance into Spain and they flourished under the Muslim rule, some achieving high positions in the government. They began to suffer when the Arab kingdom disintegrated into many squabbling fiefs, and later, when the Christian reconquest was achieved, they began to be suspect for disloyalty to the united Catholic kingdom that Spain had become under Ferdinand and Isabella. Much of the basis for the Black Legend derives from the supposed mistreatment of Jews and Moorish peoples under the rule of Spain’s Catholic Kings.

But — What About the Inquisition?

How many times have we Catholics heard that question raised as proof of Spanish and Catholic hatred of Jews, Muslims, and heretics in general? . . . of Spanish cruelty, backwardness, and superstition? The Inquisition (or Inquisitions, as properly stated) is so misunderstood and maligned that even Catholics think they have to apologize for it. Pernicious lies about this institution are probably responsible for the greatest part of the Black Legend. There really is no excuse for this ignorance, and we need to be ready to answer this charge.

Here are a few pertinent facts about the Inquisition in general and in Spain in particular: First of all, the Inquisition (meaning simply “inquiry”) was not a Spanish invention. It actually began in France at the promulgation of the Papacy in the thirteenth century in response to the Albigensian heresy raging there. In Spain, it was begun only reluctantly by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in 1480. Complaints were received by the Vatican from southern Spain protesting the many heresies and immoralities introduced into Catholic doctrine by false converts from Islam (moriscos) and Judaism (marranos). In 1478, the Bishop of Osma requested Pope Sixtus IV to establish there a court of the Inquisition. Isabella at first requested the Cardinal to prepare a catechism so that the people could be more thoroughly catechized she was loath to have the tribunal brought into the country. It was two years later, when that measure failed, that the Papal decree was promulgated.

Secondly — an important point that most people are unaware of — the Inquisition had jurisdiction only over those who claimed to be Christians. It had none over the unbaptized. The accused had a period of grace in which to repent and confess their false teaching or gross misconduct on their own accord. If this was done, only a mild penance was imposed, never a severe punishment. The object was to correct the Christian’s error so that he would return to correct doctrine and practice. The accused, if he went to court, would write out a list of all his enemies. NONE of these people were allowed to testify against him. He was given trained lawyers and had the right to disallow any judge he thought would be prejudiced against him. (Is this ever done in modern American courts?) False accusations were punished severely, and many witnesses were called to testify.

Thirdly, in the entire sixteenth century, Inquisitorial courts in Spain handed only forty to fifty persons over for execution. Compare that to the blood-lust in post-Reformation England or Revolutionary France where in a single day fifty heads fell via the guillotine!

Was torture a part of the process? Yes, but only to a minor degree. A person could be tortured for fifteen minutes and only on two occasions. Compare this, again, to the horrific tortures used in Elizabethan England against Catholics who refused to apostatize, not to mention the horrible deaths these brave Catholics suffered. Saint Thomas More, Saint John Fisher, Saint Oliver Plunkett and many others endured beheading, fire, hanging, disemboweling, drawing and quartering and having their corpses dragged through London and their heads displayed on pikes. Why Elizabeth had her own Catholic sister, Mary Tudor, beheaded because she was afraid of her stronger claim to the throne (She was Henry’s legitimate child, unlike Elizabeth.) Yet, she has come down in history as “good Queen Bess” and poor, mistreated Mary as “Bloody Mary.” It was even worse in poor Ireland, where Catholics were hunted down like animals.

Parenthetically, it must be said that many criminals in state courts purposely committed blasphemy so that they could be tried in the more lenient and fairer courts of the Inquisition!

Lastly, the use of the courts of Inquisition in Spain actually prevented the terrible religious wars that France and Germany endured where thousands of Catholics and Protestants died, the land was laid waste, and Christianity was split asunder. To be Spanish was to be Catholic, and the Inquisition there was the instrument by which this was accomplished.

The Power of the Printed Word

How were these lies of the Black Legend proliferated so thoroughly? The printing press. When Ferdinand and Isabella decided in 1492 that it was necessary to expel Spain’s Jews in order to keep the Faith pure, many of them eventually made their way to countries where the new heresies were taking hold. Some of them went into the printing business, and being discontented with their expulsion from Spain, made good use of the press to spread lies about Spain.

Enter Fray Bartolome de las Casas. At this same time, Spain’s explorers and conquistadores were founding and settling new lands on the other side of the globe. To the islands of the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America were sent soldiers and conquerors, yes, but with each military expedition there were numerous priests and brothers. Isabella was a fervent Catholic, and when she was told about the savages in the new lands, her first thought was for the salvation of their souls. For this to happen, they must be taught the Faith and then baptized into it. Dominicans, Franciscans and later, Jesuits willingly gave of themselves – and in many cases, of their lives – to convert the Indians to Catholicism. (See my review of the book Black Robes in Paraguay for the heroic story of the Jesuit missionaries in South America.)

Fray Bartolome was to become the bishop of Chiapas, Mexico. It was the law of the crown not to enslave the natives, but many merciless and greedy overseers, an ocean away away from the homeland, mistreated the Indians and enslaved them. Fray Bartolome took up the cause of their physical freedom and freedom from forced conversions. It was his belief that the Indians were pure and noble in their natural state. Yes, when it came to the Indians, there was a tendency toward Pelagianism with Las Casas. With zeal for his cause, he wrote a book, Brief Relation of the Destruction of the Indies, and had it printed in Sevilla in 1552. The account he gave, however, was an exaggerated and distorted image of the extent of the abusive treatment of the Indians with no consideration of the complete picture. Needless to say, the enemies of Spain in northern Europe took full advantage in printing and disseminating this unfortunate picture. In the words of Bishop David Arias in his book Spanish Roots of America, “the Brief Relation has been used to engender the so-called ‘Black Legend’ by anti-Catholic writers and anti-Spanish political forces from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries when Spain was still a world power. The nobility of the goal pursued in the book does not justify the use of improper means.”

Later, ridiculous pictures of so-called Indians being horribly tortured and killed were added to his book by printers who had never seen American Indians and portrayed them as plump northern Europeans! No matter, the damage of the Black Legend was added to, increasing the hatred of things Spanish and Catholic.

King Philip II of Spain

If any one person could be said to be the object of the Black Legend it was Philip II. Born in 1527, the terrible year of the sack of Rome by the troops of his father, Emperor Charles V – many of them, by the way, Protestant German mercenaries – Philip ruled Spain from the time he was made Regent at the age of sixteen until his death in the penultimate year of the century, 1598. Philip’s life was so filled with personal sorrows, terrible defeats, and amazing victories that it almost seems impossible that one person could endure a lifetime filled with such heavy responsibilities, tragedy, and triumph.

Spain was at the height of her power during the sixteenth century, with her far-flung colonial Empire stretching from the New World all the way across the Pacific to the Philippine Islands (named after him). He made every attempt to adhere to his great-grandparents’ wishes in converting the natives to the true Faith, and for the most part, succeeded. Not only was he king of Spain, but also of the Low Countries to which he had a claim through his father who was born in Flanders, and later in life, of Portugal, to which he had a claim through both his mother and his first wife, Maria.

By the time he was fifty years old, he had lost nine of his loved ones — his mother, father, first wife, Maria, their son Don Carlos, his second wife Mary Tudor (whom he married hoping to keep England Catholic), his third wife, Isabel, his sons Laurencio and Fernando, and his bastard brother Don Juan of Austria, the hero of the Battle of Lepanto. To make matters worse, in several of those cases, Philip was accused by enemies of taking a hand in their deaths. Don Carlos, his first child, was a deformed boy whose intelligence level was low. In addition, he was prone to fits of temper and melancholy, dangerous to himself and others. While the King did have him under a sort of house arrest for his own and others’ safety, he did not poison him, as was whispered about in some courts of Europe. Don Carlos died a very holy death in his confinement, gazing at the Crucifix and seemingly happy to be departing from the misery of his earthly life.

As far as his brother Don Juan, Philip genuinely loved him. When he was assigned by the King to keep the peace in the Low Countries, long after his zenith as the hero of Lepanto, he languished, hating the climate and feeling out of his element. He eventually caught a fever and died at the young age of thirty-three. He, too, died in the bosom of the Church.

All these rumors, this hatred and jealousy of this magnificent king, whose main desire was to rule his kingdom in justice and keep all parts of it Catholic during terrible times, were calumnies hurled by those who hated the true Faith and who were trying their best to make Spain and Philip look backward, superstitious, and primitive.

When in his later years, he began to work on the monumental Escorial, the palace/monastery/mausoleum whose design was based on the descriptions of Solomon’s Temple, where he would spend his later years and eventually find his final rest, he was roundly criticized all over Europe for building such a dark and foreboding complex — obviously reflecting the darkness of his personality and his state of mind. One of his American anti-Catholic historian critics, Francis Parkman, had this to say: “In the middle of the sixteenth century, Spain was a tyranny of monks and inquisitors, with their swarms of spies and informers, their racks, their dungeons and their fagots crushing all freedom of thought and speech and, while the Dominican held his reign of terror and the deeper Jesuit guided the mind from infancy into those narrow depths of bigotry from which it was never to escape … the mistress of the Indies Spain swarmed with beggars. Yet, verging on decay, she had an ominous and appalling strength. The mysterious King Phillip II in his den in the Escorial, dreary and silent, and bent like a scribe over his papers was the type and the champion of arbitrary power. More than the Pope himself, he was the head of Catholicity. In doctrine and in deed, the inexorable bigotry of Madrid was ever in advance of Rome.

“The monk, the inquisitor, and the Jesuit were lords of Spain – sovereigns of her sovereign, for they had formed the dark and narrow mind of that tyrannical recluse.” He goes on to call Spain a “citadel of darkness” unlike France where the “leaven of the Reform was working.” Just who is the bigot here? And Parkman was only one of many such writers who painted Spain and Philip in such an ominous manner. In truth, Philip was a fun-loving, generous, and doting husband and father who loved the hunt, but abhorred the ostentation of the northern courts of Europe. Except on ceremonial occasions, he always wore a severe black suit. Philip thanked God for his crosses and sorrows, even after the defeat of the Invincible Armada by England in 1588. His attitude was that God was in control and worked in His own way, even when the Catholic cause suffered.

Philip’s greatest mistake was trusting Elizabeth of England. This sick woman allowed herself to be controlled by William Cecil and his cohorts, including the evil William of Orange who was Cecil’s partner in crime in the Low Countries — as William Thomas Walsh writes in his monumental work, Philip II: “These men were not interested so much in bringing the Protestant Reform to England. They were representatives of a deeper, darker worldwide conspiracy. The end of Catholicism in England via the Revolt was simply a means to an end.” For a wonderfully complete picture of Europe at this time and of Philip and Spain in particular, every Catholic should take on this long but most enjoyable and educational book.

The Black Legend in America

The above-mention “historian” is certainly not the only English-speaking writer who has perpetuated the Black Legend. The Protestant American historian, Philip Wayne Powell, in his book Tree of Hate mentions a number of English writers who have followed the same line. These authors have polluted the minds of generations of English-speaking students. Here are a few illustrations: It is common in American textbooks to extol the nobility of purpose of English colonists while Spaniards who came to the New World are contemptuously called cruel, greedy seekers after gold. Englishmen are “homebuilders” and “settlers” who were willing to make the new land their home, while the Spanish are described as “seeking their fortunes” while enslaving and murdering the natives. The truth is actually quite the opposite. It was the English who saw the native Americans as enemies and tried to exterminate them. (Indeed, their policies were carried on by the American government when they expelled the Indians from their ancestral lands and resettled them on “reservations.” This problem is, sadly, still with us today.)

The Spanish conquistadores brought first priests, then their women, to their settlements in the New World. Their primary aim was to bring the Faith to the savage natives — many of whom engaged in horrific practices toward their fellow men, such as human sacrifice, mutilation, enslavement, and cannibalism. In North America they founded hundreds of settlements in California, across the Southwest, Texas and the Southeast. Many Spanish soldiers intermarried with the Indian women, thus creating a new race – that of the mestizos (meaning “mixed”), who populate much of Latin America and Mexico today. What happened to these peaceful and prospering villages on our continent where the natives were not only taught the Faith, but skills and trades by which they could earn a living and live in peace with one another? The vast part of them was destroyed by the English, the natives killed and their priests murdered in brutal ways. It was not only the Iroquois who were interested in killing Catholic missionaries!

A glance at a typical American history elementary or high school textbook begins with the discovery of America by Columbus (a good Catholic, by the way), in the name of the Spanish crown, and covers the conquest of Mexico and Peru. Is anything ever said about the peaceful Spanish settlements in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, for example? No, the Spanish seem to drop off the face of North America and English American colonial history suddenly takes over.

A Word About Francisco Franco

While the scope of this article does not include the history of modern Spain, mention should be made of General Franco, who in the modern mind is almost universally maligned as a “fascist” dictator. That, too, is a victory for the lie of the Black Legend. While Franco was certainly what we would call a “right-winger,” he had no use for real fascists like Hitler or Mussolini. In fact, Hitler hated him because he was so difficult to deal with. Franco’s aim was to keep both Communism and fascism and the oncoming conflict between them out of Spain. The Spanish Civil War was not a war of the “good” Republicans versus the “bad” fascists. It was a war for the Catholic soul of Spain, which Franco succeeded in keeping after the victory, though at a terrible cost to the Spanish people. Unfortunately, today Spain has chosen the socialist path.

Yes, the Black Legend lives on. During her Golden Age under Philip II and beyond, Spain produced some of the greatest art and literature the world has known. Her Empire was the first of which it could be said “the sun never sets on the Spanish Empire.” She Catholicized two entire continents during that time and helped to keep much of northern Europe from going into heresy. Her legacy is one of achievement and nobility, and that is a fact that should be better known.


True. Almost every pirate ship had a set of articles that all new pirates had to agree to. It clearly set out how the loot would be divided, who had to do what and what was expected of everyone. Pirates were often punished for fighting on board, which was strictly forbidden. Instead, pirates who had a grudge could fight all they wanted on land. Some pirate articles have survived to this day, including the pirate code of George Lowther and his crew.

Myth. There were female pirates who were just as lethal and vicious as their male counterparts. Anne Bonny and Mary Read served with the colorful "Calico Jack" Rackham and were famous for berating him when he surrendered. It's true that female pirates were rare, but not unheard of.


Spain fights to dispel legend of Inquisition and imperial atrocities

Beyond the cliched vistas of bullfights and beaches, and beneath the stereotypes of sunshine and sangría, fiestas and siestas there lurks a dark view of Spain that some of its people find bitterly and enduringly unfair.

For more than 500 years, they say, the country’s past has been disfigured and distorted by the propaganda spread by its former opponents and rivals. The so-called leyenda negra – black legend – was spun by chroniclers in England and the Netherlands who supposedly sought to depict their Roman Catholic enemies as unusually cruel and bloodthirsty and to exaggerate the brutality of the Spanish empire and the Inquisition.

Five centuries on, a newly established group, the Hispanic Civilisation Foundation, is hoping to lay the legend to rest by using feature films, TV programmes, books and mobile exhibitions to lighten Spain’s historical image. The foundation, made up of businessmen, diplomats, journalists, lawyers, academics and writers, aims to restore a lost sense of pride in the spread of Spanish culture.

According to the foundation, Spaniards have spent far too long feeling guilty and ashamed of their past and worrying about how they are seen by the rest of the world.

“We need to improve the self-esteem and cohesion of Spaniards when it comes to their shared history and what they have contributed to humanity,” says Borja Cardelús, a writer and vice-president of the foundation. “There are various reasons why self-esteem is so low but it’s fundamentally because neither Spain nor Hispanic countries have cultivated their images.”

Cardelús said that, unlike Spain, the US, the UK and France had used culture and education to foster a favourable international image. “They’ve done this brilliantly well – but Spain hasn’t,” he says. “That has meant that others, outside Spain, have been the ones making Spain’s image, and that’s what’s called the leyenda negra.”

Although he singles out figures such as the Dutchman Theodor de Bry – whose engravings of Spanish imperial atrocities helped cement the conquistadors’ reputation for cruelty – Cardelús lays much of the blame for the black legend at the door of a famous Spaniard.

The 16th-century Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas has long been feted for his early and fierce defence of the indigenous people of the Americas, but some historians have criticised him for overstating the barbarism of the Spaniards and getting his figures badly wrong. “It’s true that, through his exaggerations and lies, Bartolomé de las Casas managed to get the Spanish crown and the country’s politicians to protect the Indians,” says Cardelús.

“In that respect, his position was very laudable. But Bartolomé de las Casas also suggested that Indians could be saved by importing slaves from Africa.”

Cardelús, who takes a markedly benign view of the conquest of the Americas, argues that Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro brought “a far more humanitarian system” to the Aztec and Inca empires they conquered.

“Cortés and Pizarro went into territories that have been eulogised … but the Aztecs practised human sacrifice,” he says. “Cortés had no problem allying himself with those indigenous people who saw the Spanish as liberators from Aztec oppression. Things were even worse with the Incas, whose empire was very totalitarian.”

What’s more, he says, the black legend has come to eclipse Spain’s role in the development of the concept of human rights through the School of Salamanca.

Others have a more nuanced view of Spain’s imperial adventures and subsequent reputation. “I don’t deny the existence of the black legend – you can’t deny the evidence of that negative criticism,” says Ricardo García Cárcel, a historian and author of books on the black legend, the Golden Age and the inquisition. “But I do question the fatalistic, victim mentality that surrounds the issue: ‘Oh, poor Spain! What have we done to deserve this?’”

If you look at the Spanish empire from a historical point of view, he says, it becomes clear that it had its bright patches as well as its ugly shadows. Take, for example, Spain’s Golden Age literature and the huge interest in the works of Cervantes which were translated and spread across the world.

“There were evident virtues when you think of the cultural projection in both Europe and the Americas,” adds García Cárcel. “You can’t deny the existence of that extraordinary cultural empire. But you also have scenes of military violence like the sack of Antwerp.”

Some suggest that anxiety about the Spanish world image has been sparked by the recent Catalan independence movement. Photograph: Manu Fernandez/AP

He argues that Spain never had the necessary resources to come up with a counter-legend. “It lost the image war and the war of public opinion in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.”

He also wonders whether this latest public show of anxiety over Spain’s international image has been prompted by recent events in Catalonia, and by the periodic national tendency to indulge in soul-searching. “We’re living through the old problem of national consciousness and the dismantling of the nation state called Spain, which is being called into question by the whole Catalan question,” he says.

“Amid this national insecurity, we’re seeing the return of a phrase that we thought was dead and buried. Spain is once again obsessively – almost neurotically – fixed on what other people think.”

Cardelús denies there is any political dimension to the foundation’s work and says the fact that its emergence has coincided with the political crisis in Catalonia is purely coincidental.

But he adds: “It does seem an opportune moment because one of the things we’re trying to do is bring together all the people of Spain when it comes to what we’ve done and what we’ve contributed.” He also rejects suggestions that this is all an attempt to whitewash the country’s colonial past.

“We’re not looking to swap the black legend for a rose-tinted legend,” he says. “We’re looking to swap the black legend for the truth.”

Emilio Sáenz-Francés, a lecturer in history and international relations at Madrid’s Comillas Pontifical university is sceptical about the notion that the legend still fogs foreign eyes. Perhaps one reason for the survival of la leyenda negra, he suggests, is Spain’s lasting fascination with it.

“Well-informed people around the world know pretty well what Spain’s history has been and though they may have a cliched image of Spain, it’s no worse than that of the UK when it comes to certain things or France in other things,” he says. “But I think there’s something a little bit self-punishing in the Spanish mentality.”


History of the Spanish Inquisition

Following their kingdom-uniting marriage, the famous Catholic monarchs Fernando and Isabel had quite a project ahead of them. Not only did the two kingdoms of Aragón and Castilla become one amongst mixed opinions, but the monarchy was closing in on the remaining Moorish kingdoms with the end of the Reconquista.

In order to manage, unite and strengthen their enlarging and culturally diverse kingdom they decided that the means of unification would be through Catholic orthodoxy. So, in 1478, they asked permission from Pope Sixtux IV to establish a special sect of the Inquisition- permission that he reluctantly granted- and so began the Spanish Inquisition.

The monarchy especially feared the intervention of Jewish and Moorish reinforcements from abroad, so they forced non-Catholics to choose between conversion to Catholicism or expulsion from the country to eliminate the possibility. Those suspected of practicing Protestantism, non-Catholic-approved sexual acts, black magic and anything else that the monarchy saw as a threat also found themselves amongst the persecuted.

Just a few years later suspicions arose again, this time regarding the loyalty of those conversos (converted Jews) and moriscos (converted Moors) to Catholicism. The Inquisition became obsessed with the suspicion that the converts only pretended to convert to escape persecution, continued to practice their own religions privately, and planned to undermine the church down the road. After years of what boiled down to the frantic pointing of fingers, the Spanish Inquisition drew to a close in 1834.


The Spanish Inquisition: The Truth behind the Dark Legend (Part I) - History

Whether it was World War II and a brand's will to survive at any cost, or a more contemporary set of issues like increasing profit margins despite Third-World implications, some of the most hallowed names in fashion - past and current - have dark histories. In part 1 of our 3-part exploration, we go deeper into their pasts.

At its very core, a company must determine what "their price of doing business" is. For some, it means sacrificing profit margins in order to ensure that their products are produced ethically in terms of the utilization of human resources as well as recognizing and evaluating environmental concerns, while others are willing to take a more cutthroat approach to maximize and squeeze every penny out of a product.

Over the years, several fashion mainstays and some newer entries into the marketplace have become interconnected by their questionable ethics. In our three-part exploration, we shed a light on some notable offenders.

The rivalry between adidas's Adi Dassler and PUMA's Rudi Dassler went much deeper than merely who was selling more shoes. During an Allied bomb attack on Herzogenaurach in 1943, legend has it that Adi and his wife climbed into a bomb shelter that Rudi and his family were already in. "The dirty bastards are back again," Adi said, apparently referring to the Allied warplanes, but Rudi was convinced that "the dirty bastards" crack from his brother was meant about him and his family.

While their infamous feud lives on in the pantheon of footwear, the Dassler brothers' political leanings far outweigh their opinions about each other. Shortly after Hitler took power - and years before their dispute - both Dassler brothers were active members in the Nazis party. In order to defeat the Allies, the Nazis believed in fighting a "total war" which called for a "total war economy" - meaning that all of Germany's industry would be dedicated to producing a range of items necessary to combat their enemies.

At their Herzogenaurach factory, the Dossler brothers were tasked with manufacturing the Panzerschreck - the German equivalent of the United States' bazooka. According to Spiegel Online, "Despite its exceedingly simple design, it was still remarkably effective. 'The Panzerschreck represented a quantum leap for the infantry in terms of anti-tank defense,' explained Christian Hartmann, a military historian at the Munich-based Institute of Contemporary History (IfZ). 'It was the first weapon that German infantrymen fighting on their own could use to destroy tanks from a distance.'"

While it's unclear if Adi and Rudi were drawn to Hitler's philosophies or if they were merely following the lead of every industry, Adi did work tirelessly to get his products into the hands of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin despite the Nazi's attempts at shutting down the partnership. Many believe it was this partnership that saved their Herzogenaurach factory after the arrival of American G.I.'s who were obsessed with Owens' exploits in the Olympics, and wanted to buy all the products that the Dasslers could churn out.

Since the 1970s, Nike has been forced to answer charges alleging unfair working conditions and having products manufactured in sweatshops. Many human rights activists noted that as wages rose and labor practices improved in Korea and Taiwan, Nike decided to urge its accounts to begin utilizing places like Indonesia, China and Vietnam.

Jeff Ballinger from Press for Change proved be one of the first, and leading voices against Nike's practices - especially in Indonesia. In a game-changing exposé for Harper's - which proved to be a vital piece in getting several dozen NGOs to support the courageous struggle of workers at Nike’s contract factories in Asia - Ballinger brought attention to the workers at Nike factories who were only earning .14 cents an hour.

On May 12, 1998, Nike Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Phil Knight, finally addressed their practices. Knight remarked, "It's been said that Nike has single-handedly lowered the human rights standards for the sole purpose of maximizing profits. And Nike products have become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime, and arbitrary abuse. One columnist said, 'Nike represents not only everything that's wrong with sports but everything that's wrong with the world.'"

In that same speech, Knight announced and acknowledged Nike would raise the minimum age of workers, significantly increase monitoring, and adapt U.S. OSHA clean air standards in all factories. In 2005, Nike became the first brand to be completely transparent about the factories they utilized overseas.

According to Quartz, "Undercover researchers from the Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) found that workers at two Uniqlo suppliers in southern China were being underpaid, overworked, and subject to unsafe conditions, including sewage-covered floors, poor ventilation, and sweltering temperatures." In the report which was filed in January 2015, a testimonial from one of the workers brought charges of a never-ending work day, saying, "the machine will never stop so after the day shift workers finish work, the night shift workers come, and the machines keep going. So at least 12 hours - around 12 hours everyday."

Other testimonials from workers solidified SACOM's assertion that Uniqlo was breaking three International Labor Laws having people working more than 8 hours a day and 44 hours a week without overtime, the absence of one day off a week, and that a person shall not have more than 36 hours of overtime a month.

According to Ecouterre, "After hearing of the allegations, Fast Retailing, Uniqlo’s parent company, carried out its own investigation late last year. Although it acknowledges several problems, including the long work hours, Fast Retailing contends that it has 'different views on some of the issues' listed by SACOM’s staff." As of January 2015, Fast Retailing hasn't cut ties with the Chinese factories in question.

The revelation that Hugo Boss outfitted the Nazis isn't that surprising given what we know about Joseph Goebbels' idea to fight the "total war." When the company was founded by Hugo Ferdinand Boss in 1924, he always maintained that his allegiance to the Nazi party had occurred simply to "protect his business."

In the book, Hugo Boss, 1924-1945: The History of a Clothing Factory During the Weimar Republic and Third Reich by Roman Köster, the company itself wanted to learn if in fact the rumors were true, and they were more complicit with Hitler's orders than Boss would admit to when he passed away in 1948. When asked why they would want to dig up a dark history, Philipp Wolff, Hugo Boss' senior VP of communications, said: "We don't want and have never wanted to hide anything, but rather want to bring clarity to the past. It's our responsibility to the company, our employees, our customers and everyone interested in Hugo Boss and its history."

According to Köster's report, "there [was] no indication that the Hugo Boss company played any kind of leading role in [the uniform production] sector. Nor do the available sources indicate in any way that it was involved in designing uniforms."

While charges that Boss served as Hitler's "personal tailor" proved to be false, the report did find some inflammatory information the usage of slave labor. In an official apology from the brand, Hugo Boss acknowledged it, saying "it express its profound regret to those who suffered harm or hardship at the factory run by Hugo Ferdinand Boss under National Socialist rule."

Köster's report contends, "[A] total of 140 Polish forced laborers, mostly women, as well as some 40 French prisoners of war, were made to work for Boss during the Holocaust. They were housed in a camp in one area of the factory, and lived in extremely poor conditions with 'uncertain' food and hygiene levels."

In 2013, New York retailer Barneys - which has operated since 1923 - came under fire for charges of racial profiling when Trayon Christian, a NYC College of Technology freshman from Queens, was detained following purchasing a $350 USD Salvatore Ferragamo belt. Despite producing his identification, his debit card from Chase, and the receipt with his name on it, Christian was taken into police custody, but eventually let go when they determined that the belt wasn't stolen nor was the purchase fraudulent. A second shopper, Kayla Phillips, then came forward and said she endured a similar ordeal.

Barneys ultimately agreed to pay a $525,000 USD penalty to settle claims that it mistreated African-American customers by subjecting them to unwarranted scrutiny and falsely accusing them of committing crimes. Following a nine-month-long investigation by New York State Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, he commented, "This agreement will correct a number of wrongs, both by fixing past policies and by monitoring the actions of Barneys and its employees to make sure that past mistakes are not repeated."

Following the settlement, Barneys CEO, Mike Lee, said of the ruling, "During the entirety of our 90-year history, Barneys New York has prided itself on providing an unparalleled customer experience to every person that comes into contact with our brand -- open and welcoming to one and all."

Much of Forever 21's success stems from a philosophy that is not necessarily unique to them, but one that they've proven that consumers are willing to get behind. By toeing the line between producing knockoffs of expensive brands and selling them for "mall prices," their "fast fashion" formula keeps them relevant in terms of design aesthetics, but doesn't eliminate certain cash-strapped verticals from getting in on the buying action.

While much of the dark history related to labor practices relates to oversea workers, a class-action lawsuit filed by minimum wage workers in the United States suggests that the broken system between owners and employees isn't only a third-world problem.

According to the Huffington Post, "Jazzreeal Jones, Jessica Ramos, Shanelle Thompson, Alyssa Elias and Tiffinee Linthicum, represented by Norton & Melnik, APC, and Kitchin Legal, claim[ed] in court filings that they were frequently kept at stores during lunch breaks and after the ends of their shifts while they were searched for stolen merchandise." Since the employees had already clocked out, the suit alleged that this amounted to unpaid labor.

Legal council for the plaintiffs pointed to a settled suit in 2010 against Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. in which similar "off the clock hours" were expected of employees which was ultimately settled out of court for $4 million USD.

As part of their 11th annual sustainability report which aimed to provide consumers with transparency as to their labor practices throughout the world, H&M disclosed that in 2013, 1,798 factories manufactured goods for the company - with 760 are in the Far East, 499 in South Asia and 539 in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

According to trade officials, H&M is the largest single buyer of Bangladeshi garments and imports by purchasing $1.5 billion USD of ready-made clothes from the country. As part of the company's official "about" section they say, "Bangladesh is one of our most important production markets." As the world’s second-largest apparel exporter - after China - it also has the lowest minimum wage in the world - $37 a month - despite being a $19 billion USD manufacturing industry. The New York Times reported that, "Its low wages and lack of regulation have helped it attract billions of dollars in orders from Western retailers and apparel brands."

SPIEGEL: You could have done that much earlier on. Around 700 people have died by fire alone in Bangladesh's textile factories since 2006. Why did H&M only sign the treaty now?

Persson: This is the first treaty of its kind regarding fire and building safety. A step like that only makes sense if many or ideally all companies take it together. That was not the case before. But we were already doing a lot prior to this. We've trained more than 500,000 textile workers in fire and safety procedures, that being part of our Code of Conduct. We have also conducted programs in skill development and social dialogue, and we have published the names of our 800 supplier firms, creating transparency for the first time. The problem is of a different nature. In Bangladesh we are dealing with a corrupt system. The factory that collapsed was approved for fewer stories than it actually had. The catastrophe has brought everyone closer together now -- the government and the companies there.

SPIEGEL: You have your supplier companies checked regularly by your own inspectors -- at the company Garib and Garib in Bangladesh in 2009, for example. There, fire extinguishers and first aid boxes were not accessible, and yet H&M continued producing there. A year later there was a fire there which killed 21 people.

Persson: . that was a disaster. We checked (the building) once and urged them to make improvements. We do not cut off (relationships with) suppliers unless they attract attention at a second inspection. Perhaps in this case we ought to have performed more inspections. But should we have left this factory? No, I don't think so. That would not have helped anybody. During the months after the tragic accident, our staff visited the factory more often. As there was a willingness to improve the conditions at the factory, we preferred to remain a buyer and support our supplier.


Watch the video: Monty Python Spanish Inquisition Part 1 (December 2021).