The Spanish Inquisition

After hundreds of years of Muslim rule, in the late 15th Century Spain had nearly been completely recaptured by Chirstian monarchs. In 1469, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile were married, uniting most of Spain under their rule. Both Ferdinand and Isabella were extremely devoted Catholics and it was their goal to unite Spain under one religion.


  • “Inquisition” refers to the Catholic Church or its Monarchs finding and punishing heretics

    • Heretics were baptized members of the church who had a lapse of faith. Those who had converted to not be exiled but did not believe in Catholicism.

The Beginnings of the Inquisition


At first the Catholic Monarchs allowed the Moors to worship and govern themselves


After a few years they began requiring the Moors to convert to Christianity. These Moors who were coerced into conversion were known as Moriscos and their faith was generally untrusted by traditionally born Catholics in Spain. Many Moors fled to North Africa. 










  • Jews in Spain held considerable power

    • Jews in the courts of all the kings of Spain and Portugal

    • In fact, Ferdinand and Isabella’s marriage was arranged by a mutual Jewish friend.

  • Many early bankers were Jewish because Christians were prohibited from usury (charging interest on loans).  

    • But banks are critical, without them businesses can’t get started.

    • These same bankers helped finance the war against the Moors.


Many of the most powerful and wealthy people in Spain were conversos, Jews whose family had converted to Christianity

Jews in Spain
What is a lapse of faith?

The Inquisition was launched to purify Spanish society, especially of conversos who they believed were returning to their Jewish faith

  • Any traditionally “Jewish” rituals or behaviors could be considered a lapse of faith.

    • Examples:

      • not eating pork

      • Not working Friday night-Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath, Christian Sabbath is Sunday)

      • Eating traditionally Jewish food (Kosher)


Tomas de Torquemada

  • nicknamed “The Black Legend”

  • very close to Isabella

  • Pope named him the first Grand Inquisitor

  • Vented his hatred of Jews and heretics, forcing up to 300,000 out of Spain. He believed that the reason so many conversos were heretics was that the Spanish Jews were a bad influence

    • anti-Semitism

How did the Inquisition work?

  1. Accusation

  • An inquisitor would read a list of heresies and encourage citizens to confess to heresies they committed

  • if you admitted to a crime you would only be given a minor punishment

  • you needed to give names of other heresies so the church could find them


2.  Detention

  • The one who accused would be isolated in prison while priests and officials looked at their case

  • Sometimes the person in jail would be there for months without knowing why they were place there


3. Trial and Sentencing

- In a usual trial the accused would be tortured until they admitted the crimeThe accused would either be sentenced to death, freedom (very rare) or if they admitted their crimes they would go through the “Auto de fe”The “Auto de fe” was a public ritual where the accused were burned at the stake in an Act of Faith.




  • Garrucha: hung by wrists on pulley, weight on feet, pain and dislocation

  • Toca: water torture, forced down throat

  • Potro: Tied onto rack by tight cords that could be tightened

  • The Inquisition and expelling of the Jews and Moors was so successful, that by the 1500’s, Spain was almost completely Catholic

  • In the process, Isabella and Ferdinand became the most powerful monarchs in Europe.