The Spanish Inquisition, Obscured by Myth
My novels, The Errant Flock and The Scattered Flock are purely fictional, and set against the backdrop of The Spanish Inquisition. I found the subject fascinating and disturbing, so much so, I was in danger of wanting to cram factual data into the stories. I didn’t. Instead, I allowed the fiction to overshadow historical facts and figures, but at the same time I incorporated various situations for my characters, some, which I believe could have taken place during this terrible period.
During research I was astonished by how politically and financially motivated the Inquisition was. Every book and document I studied, I found evidence of a Spanish Monarchy using the Inquisition to change Spain’s racial and political landscape, secure revenues by confiscation of money, property, and personal possessions of prisoners, and abusing their power on a grand scale. I was also surprised to find that the Inquisition did bring certain order to towns that were blindly persecuting suspected heretics, Jews, Muslims, and converts, without due legal process, and in a vigilante fashion. In many areas, the Inquisition actually saved lives.
The Spanish Inquisition (Inquisición española) was established in 1478 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms and to replace the Medieval Inquisition, which was under Papal control. It became the most substantive of the three different manifestations of the wider Christian Inquisition along with the Roman Inquisition and the Portuguese Inquisition.
The body was under the direct control of the Spanish monarchy and it was not definitively abolished until 1834, during the reign of Isabella II, after a period of declining influence in the previous century.
How many people were arrested, tortured and executed in the Inquisition’s almost 400 years, is debatable, as is the number of Jews who chose expulsion rather than conversion to Christianity. But it is a fact that over the centuries, historians and scholars have come to the conclusion that previous estimates of hundreds of thousands of heretics being tortured and burnt at the stake has been somewhat exaggerated.
Records are incomplete, but during my research I found that the number of persons charged with crimes by the Inquisition could have reached 150,000, with 2,000 to 6,000 people being executed. These numbers do not include those ‘only accused.’ I also concluded that the people of Valencia suffered more executions and imprisonment that any other region in Spain, and that the bloodiest Inquisition period was between 1480 and 1520.
Modern Scholars have determined that torture was used in two percent of the cases, and in less than one percent of the cases was it used a second time, never more than that. In my opinion popular accounts of the inquisition (those that describe scenes of uncontrolled sadistic torture) are not based in truth. I strongly believe that torture was only ever used to elicit information or a confession, not for punitive reasons. Modern scholars have also deduced that the torture lasted no longer than 15 minutes. (Please, rest assured that I am not vindicating torture, I am simply not getting carried away with some of the period’s, over exaggerated accounts.)
There is, until today, conflict between misinformation, myth, and fact. In The Errant Flock, I have tried to give an accurate account of what I believe could have taken place through archived testimonies, quotes and, experiences of some penitents and accused. The Jews, for instance were not arrested, tortured, or burnt at the stake for heresy, by The Inquisition. They had never been baptised, and therefore, could not be charged with heresy by the Catholic Church. The Jews were persecuted, however. They suffered greatly, and for some, expulsion from their country was a fate worse than death…
If you want to know more, please leave a question or better still, pick up a copy of “The Errant Flock and The Scattered Flock. I promise you, they are explosive reads!