Detailed History Of The Spanish Inquisition Of 1478-1834

A Detailed History Of The Spanish Inquisition Of 1478-1834

The Spanish Inquisition (Spanish: Inquisición española), also known as the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition (Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición), was a judicial institution established in 1478 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, and one of several inquisitions that occurred between the 12th and 19th centuries. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms by combating heresy in Spain, and to replace the Medieval Inquisition, then under Papal control.


The inquisition in medieval times created through the papal bull Ad abolendam, issued by Pope Lucius III, in 1184 C. E., as a way of combating the Albigensian heresy in the south of France, and number of tribunals of the Papal Inquisition in various European kingdoms during this period, had played a considerable role in Christian Spain during the 13th century. Despite this, the struggle against the Moors―who had dominated the Iberian Peninsula following their invasion of the peninsula in 711―had kept the people busy and served to strengthen their faith until the final Moorish defeat in 1492 during the Reconquista.

The desire for religious unity became more and more pronounced, and the regulation of the faith of newly converted Catholics intensified after the royal decrees issued of 1492 and 1502, ordering Jews and Muslims to convert to Catholicism and be baptized or be expelled from Spain. The Jewish population, which at the time was among the largest in Europe, soon became a target for religious repression, with many who did not convert to Christianity and became baptized killed. Even so, those who converted were ― known as the conversors ― were still vied with suspicion and prejudice, while those who had professed conversion but secretly practice their faith―the Marranos―were perceived to be an even greater threat to the social order than those who had rejected forced conversion.

To address this growing threat, the Marranos were denounced as a danger to the existence of Christian Spain, and in 1478, Pope Sixtus IV issued a bull authorizing Catholic Monarchs to appoint inquisitors who would address the issue. That to the Spanish sovereigns― Ferdinand and Isabella now joined in marriage under a united Spain―did not mean the turning over to the church the struggle for unity. They, however, sought to use the Inquisition to strengthen their absolute and centralizing regime and, most especially, to increase royal power in Aragon.

Muslims were not left out. After the proscription of Islam in Granada―the last Muslim Kingdom in Spain―in 1502, the persecution of Muslim accelerated under Francisco, Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros’ watch as grand inquisitor. Muslims in different Spanish Kingdoms were forced to convert, and Islam was altogether banned in Spain. Moriscos―Spanish Muslims who had previously accepted baptism―were forbidden from expressing Morisco culture amidst the persecutions. This would eventually lead to open warfare between the Moriscos and the Spanish crown, until they were driven from Granada in 1571. By 1614, about 300,000 had seen expulsion from Spain.

Mode of Operation

In its functioning, the Spanish Inquisition operated in clear conformity with Canon Law, which meant that its operations were in no way arbitrary. Its procedures were set out in various Instrucciones issued by some successive Inquisitor Generals.

To effectively achieve the objectives of the Inquisition, a grand inquisitor who acted as the head of the Inquisition of Spain was appointed; the first being the Dominican Tomás de Torquemada who employed much brutality and fanaticism―also associated with the Inquisition, and used torture and confiscation to terrorize his victims. Under his watch, about 2000 were recorded to have at least been burnt at stake, after the sentencing of the accused who participated in the ceremony of an auto-da-fé (Portuguese: “act of faith”) which solemnised his return to the Church (in most cases), or punishment as an impenitent heretic.

The Inquisition took place in stages: Accusation; Detention; Trial; and Sentencing. The first step of the accusation was the Edict of Grace. The Inquisitor would read the edict which explained possible heresies and encouraged the congregation to come to the tribunals of the Inquisition to “relieve their consciences”. Denunciations, however, were anonymous, and defendants had no way of knowing the identity of their accusers. After a denunciation, each case was examined by the calificadores―who determined if heresy was involved―followed by the detention of the accused.

This was followed by an inquisitorial process that consisted of a series of hearings. In them, both the denouncers and the defendant gave testimony in the presence of the Notary of the Secreto, who punctiliously wrote penned down the words of the accused. Here, the Inquisition used torture―but not in a systematic way―on the criminals, especially those suspected of Judaism and Protestantism. At the conclusion of the process, the case was voted and the sentence pronounced.

Number of Casualties

During the period the Inquisition lasted (as modern estimates suggest), around 150,000 people were prosecuted for various offenses. Out of these, however, the number of executions and nature of atrocities committed remain a subject for debate. While the New World Encyclopedia notes that “between 3000 to 5000 people died during the Inquisition’s 350 years”, Encyclopaedia Britannica, however, affirms that “32,000 individuals were executed under the Spanish Inquisition”.

End of the Inquisition

After centuries in operation the SpanishInquisition was abolished 1834, during the reign of Isabella II. Often in history and popular literature as an example of religious repression and intolerance, various historian and scholars have come to the conclusion that many of the charges raised against the Inquisition are, however, exaggerated, and are a result of the ‘Black Legend’ produced by political and religious enemies of Spain, especially England. Because of its association with torture and execution also, the inquisition remains a controversial and difficult subject.

(By Ejiofor Ekene Olaedo)


Freeman, S. (n.d.). How the Spanish Inquisition Worked. Retrieved June 17, 2020, from HowStuffWorks:

New World Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Spanish Inquisition. Retrieved June 16, 2020, from New World Encyclopedia:

Ryan, E. A. (n.d.). Spanish Inquisition. (Edited by the Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica,) Retrieved June 17, 2020, from Encyclopædia Britannica:

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Spanish Inquisition. Retrieved June 17, 2020, from Wikipedia:


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