To what extent was the elimination of heresy achieved at the expense of personal and social freedoms in Spain during the reign of Charles V?

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Becky Grevitt        Page         4/21/2005

To what extent was the elimination of heresy achieved at the expense of personal and social freedoms in Spain during the reign of Charles V?

It can be seen that the elimination of heresy in Spain was a success. Charles prevented the establishment of Protestantism in Spain by means of the inquisition. Illuminism and Erasmianism were effectively eliminated by the late 1520s and Spain had become hostile to similar Protestant movements. Those who followed the ideas of Luther and other revolutionaries chose to travel elsewhere in Europe where there was more freedom to discuss such orthodoxy. The elimination of heresy encompassed reforms and policies that limited not just religious tolerance, but also employment opportunities, and access to the wider readings, as well as what would now be considered a fair trial. The overall effect and extent of these losses of personal and social freedoms however, is debatable.

The Inquisition was a powerful weapon in medieval Spain: During the reign of Charles V it was used as a means of controlling the people of the peninsula and ensuring that they remained loyal to the Catholic faith. Many historians believe that it was used ruthlessly and relentlessly throughout Charles’s V reign. The conventional view is that the continued persecution of minority groups and innocent people, combined with the introduction of the Index and limpeiza de sangré, created a police state where few personal and social freedoms remained. There are however, certain revisionists such as Kamen who believe that the impact of the inquisition has always been exaggerated. His belief is that during Charles’s reign the inquisition had very little effect on the daily life of the Spanish people.

The Inquisition was first introduced in Spain during the reigns of Ferdinand and Isabella. At this time Spain was unlike any other country in Europe. Spanish nationalism was minimal as there was an uneasy coexistence of three religions, Catholicism, Judaism and Islam(1). This coexistence was known as covivencia. Foreign powers saw the state of covivencia as a weakness. It was believed to be a sign of a weak monarch as it showed that the rulers had little control over their people. In addition the Spanish kingdom was clearly divided. The marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella united the Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Aragon under ruler only. Each kingdom remained completely separate by retaining their own system of government, traditions and culture. It was believed that the establishment of a mono-religious state would unite the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile as well as creating a sense of nationalism. It was during their rule that saw the end of covivencia and religious tolerance and the creation of a mono-religious state where Catholicism was the only acceptable religion. The Jews living in Spain had often been subject to persecution. The Catholics resented the rich Jewish families and this caused anti Semitic riots. It was decided that the Jewish problem had to be solved. They were given an ultimatum, either they had to convert to Catholicism or leave the peninsula. The converted Jews or Conversos became integrated into Spanish society yet it was clear some were not loyal to the Catholic faith; such ‘Judaizers’ were investigated by the Inquisition throughout their reign. In addition, the Muslim Moorish state of Granada was retaken. Keen to create both a Catholic state and prevent the expansion of a Moorish empire, Ferdinand and Isabella’s army invaded the southern Spanish state in 1482. The war lasted ten years but the Catholic Monarchs were victorious and the Moors were soon forced to convert or emigrate.

Thus, the Inquisition had already been used throughout the reigns of the ‘Catholic Monarchs’, Ferdinand and Isabella. Many personal and social freedoms had already been lost during their reign. These earlier reforms mitigated the effects of Charles’ subsequent actions.  Kamen supports this idea, as he believes that the Inquisition had little impact during Charles reign, as much had already been achieved in the years before he succeeded the throne. Furthermore, Catholicism had always been the dominant religion of the peninsula; thus, the majority of the Spanish people were not affected by the Inquisition and few of their freedoms disappeared. Historians have often treated the subject of the Inquisition with bias depending on their own personal religious beliefs. For example, an intensely Catholic historian such as Amandor de los Rios tends to exaggerate the power and awe of the inquisition; he estimates that in the first forty years of the inquisition over thirty thousand people were burned at the stake. In contrast, there are other Spanish historians, such as Rodrigo, who act as apologists of the inquisition. Rodrigo has put forward the impossible assertion that only four hundred people were burned in the whole reign of the Inquisition.

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Whilst relatively small numbers of people suffered at the hands of the Inquisition much had already been achieved in terms of orthodoxy. By the time of Charles’s accession to the throne, Spain was already one of the most orthodox states in Europe. The total number of the Jews and Moors only accounted for around ten percent of the Spanish population and when Charles became king many had emigrated or converted to Catholicism.

Protestantism was the last of the great problems which the Spanish Inquisition was called upon to face and the first which it more or less ...

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