“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” ~Monty Pythons
You may be familiar with the Monty Python’s version of the Spanish inquisition, and it does hold a bit of truth to it in that its accused were never quite sure of what was happening and why.
The actual Spanish Inquisition, started by Ferdinand V and Isabella of Spain and approved by the Pope, set out to unite the country under one religious faith – Catholicism- and purge the country of heretics. Although at the onset, it’s intentions may have been “pure” the Inquisition soon became a vehicle of political corruption and materialism.
This led to religious persecution of the Jews, particularly those in Juderia of Spain. As the Jews were persecuted, many converted Catholicism and became known as conversos. It is likely they claimed Catholic faith, but still remained loyal to their Jewish traditions. The Spanish Inquisition did not persecute conversos at first, but soon fueled by greed and power they came to attack all Jews, conversos, and those who held any Jewish ancestry whether practicing Catholics or not.
In most cases, the accused were not aware of who had accused them or why. Accusations and the Inquisition process remained very secretive to those facing trial. The Spanish Inquisition would offer an Edict of Grace ( a grace period offering a chance for those who were accused to come forward and have a chance to be reconciled with the Church) . When the accused finally did come forward, they were then expected to also list any accomplices and thus the Spanish Inquisition never grew short of supply for their cause. After an unspecified detention period where most times the accused properties and assets were seized, a trial would begin. In the trial, methods of torture were used to elicit a confession from the accused. The torture methods were cruel and consisted of acts such as water torture or extreme “stretching”. If a confession was given (and most times were), the accused were condemned to death with the most popular method being burned at the stake.
Although the Spanish Inquisition was in the name of the Catholic church, the Church did not want “blood” on its hands and handed most of its power over to secular authorities for punishments and such. Heresy was the primary concern, but people were persecuted for a number of reasons including witchcraft, sodomy, bigamy, and blasphemy.
Although the Spanish Inquisition faded out as the decline of the Church came and the French Revolution neared, it still had moments of revival under certain monarchies. Not until 1834 did a Royal Decree declare the end of the Spanish Inquisition.
Information collected from: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Inquisition.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Inquisition, http://www.thenagain.info/WebChron/westeurope/SpanInqui.html