To what extent has the truth about the Spanish Inquisition been distorted?

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To what extent has the truth about the Spanish Inquisition been distorted?

The truth about the Spanish Inquisition has been distorted to a varying degree.

It was first established in 1478 in Castile under Queen Isabella I and suppressed in 1834 by Queen Isabella II. It has left a mark on the whole of Spanish history and is traditionally been regarded as a barbarous, repressive instrument of racial and religious intolerance that regularly employed torture and the death penalty as punishments and was responsible for severely restricting Spain’s development for generations. However, with the aid of sophisticated new technologies, modern historians have begun to analyse the records of the Inquisition and claim that the above explanation is not the full truth.

There is evidence to suggest that the Inquisition was used as an exterminator of Protestants and Jews. At the first auto de fe - held in Seville on the 6th of February 1481 – six Juidaisers were burnt at the stake and numerous others sentenced to various punishments. Between 1481 – 1488 (according to Bernaldez, a contempory advisor) ‘the Inquisitors burnt over seven hundred persons and reconciled over five thousand and threw many into perpetual prison’. Also, the Inquisitors themselves claim that the aim of the Inquisition was to eliminate heresy. All the early trials were of Judaizers – Christians of Jewish originority who were secretly practicing their old religion. These convertsos accounted for nearly 92% of all those condemned by the Inquisition of Valencia prior to 1530 and are a comparable figure for other tribunals (of which, there were thirteen in mainland Spain and others in Sicily, Sardinia and the Canaries).

However, revisionist scholars have challenged the view that the Holy Office’s primary aim was to uproot conversos and their heresies – particularly the Jewish scholar, Dr. Benzion Netanyahu. It is claimed that Protestantism was the preoccupation of the Inquisition for only a few months in the middle years of the 16th century (1559 and 1560 in particular). The killing and arresting of converses had ended by 1525. For nearly a century afterwards the victims of the Spanish Inquisition were neither heretics nor converses. Most victims were ‘Old Christians’.

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Research from Dutch echnographer-historian Gustav Henningsen and Spanish scholar Jaime Contreras showed that from 50,000 summaries of trial records of the 21 regional tribunals of the Spanish Inquisition over the period 1540-1700, the persuit of the ‘Major heretics’ (eg. Judaisers and Protestants) accounted for 40% of the Inquisitorial activity. In this period the Holy Office had been overwhelmingly concerned with the unorthodox behaviour of Old Christians – ‘Minor Heretics’ – accused of lesser cromes such as unacceptable sexual behaviour and superstitious practices. These crimes consisted of 60% of the Inquisitorial business. Having all but eliminated the incidence of ‘Major ...

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