AKA Tomás de Torquemada
Birthplace: Valladolid, Spain
Location of death: Ávila, Spain
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Cremated (ashes scattered by vandals)
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: Grand Inquisitor
Inquisitor-General of Spain, son of Don Pedro Ferdinando, lord of Torquemada, a small town in Old Castile, was born in 1420 at Valladolid during the reign of John II. Being nephew to the well-known cardinal of the same name, he early displayed an attraction for the Dominican order; and, as soon as allowed, he joined the Friars Preachers in their convent at Valladolid. His biographers state that he showed himself from the beginning very earnest in austere life and humility; and he became a recognized example of the virtues of a Dominican. Valladolid was then the capital, and in due course eminent dignities were offered to him, but he gave signs of a determination to lead the simple life of a Friar Preacher. In the convent, his modesty was so great that he refused to accept the doctor's degree in theology, which is the highest prized honor in the order. His superiors, however, obliged him to take the priorship of the convent of Santa Cruz in Segovia, where he ruled for twenty-two years. The royal family, especially the queen and the infanta Isabella, often stayed at Segovia, and Torquemada became confessor to the infanta, who was then very young. He trained her to look on her future sovereignty as an engagement to make religion respected. Esprit Flechier, bishop of Nîmes, in this Histoire du cardinal Jimenes (Paris, 1693), says that Torquemada made her promise that when she became queen she would make it her principal business to chastise and destroy heretics. He then began to teach her the political advantages of religion and to prepare the way for that tremendous engine in the hands of the state, the Inquisition.
Isabella succeeded to the throne (1474) on the death of Henry IV. Torquemada had always been strong in his advice that she should marry Ferdinand of Aragon and thus consolidate the kingdoms of Spain. To this point he had rarely appeared at court; but now the queen entrusted him not only with the care of her conscience, but also with the benefices in the royal patronage. He also helped her in quieting Ferdinand, who was chafing under the privileges of the Castilian grandees, and succeeded so well that the king also took him as confessor. Refusing the rich see of Seville and many other preferments he accepted that of councillor of state. For a long time he had pondered over the confusion in which Spain was, which he attributed to the intimate relations allowed between Christians and infidels for the sake of commerce. He saw Jews, Saracens, heretics and apostates roaming through Spain unmolested; and in this lax toleration of religious differences he thought he saw the main obstacle to the political union of the Spains, which was the necessity of the hour. He represented to Ferdinand and Isabella that it was essential to their safety to reorganize the Inquisition, which had since the 13th century (1236) been established in Spain. The bishops, who were ex officio inquisitors in their own dioceses, had not succeeded in putting a stop to the evils, nor had the friars, by whom they had been practically superseded. By the middle of the 15th century there was hardly an active inquisitor left in the kingdom. In 1473 Torquemada and Gonzalez de Mendoza, archbishop of Toledo, approached the sovereigns. Isabella had been for many years prepared, and she and Ferdinand, now that the proposal for this new tribunal came before them, saw in it a means of overcoming the independence of the nobility and clergy by which the royal power had been obstructed. With the royal sanction a petition was addressed to Pope Sixtus IV for the establishment of this new form of Inquisition; and as the result of a long intrigue, in 1479 a papal bull authorized the appointment by the Spanish sovereigns of two inquisitors at Seville, under whom the Dominican inquisitions already established elsewhere might serve. In the persecuting activity that ensued the Dominicans, "the Dogs of the Lord" (in Latin, Domini canes), took the lead. Commissaries of the Holy Office were sent into different provinces, and ministers of the faith were established in the various cities to take cognizance of the crimes of heresy, apostasy, sorcery, sodomy and polygamy -- these three last being considered to be implicit heresy. The royal Inquisition thus started was subversive of the regular tribunals of the bishops, who much resented the innovation, which, however, had the power of the state at its back.
In 1481, three years after the Sixtine commission, a tribunal was inaugurated at Seville, where freedom of speech and license of manner were rife. The inquisitors at once began to detect errors. In order not to confound the innocent with the guilty, Torquemada published a declaration offering grace and pardon to all who presented themselves before the tribunal and avowed their fault. Some fled the country, but many (Mariana says 17,000) offered themselves for reconciliation. The first seat of the Holy Office was in the convent of San Pablo, where the friars, however, resented the orders, on the pretext that they were not delegates of the inquisitor-general. Soon the gloomy fortress of Triana, on the opposite bank of the Guadalquivir, was prepared as the palace of the Holy Office; and the terror-stricken Sevillianos read with dismay over the portals the motto of the Inquisition: "Exsurge, Domine, Judica causam tuam, Capite nobis vulpes." Other tribunals, like that of Seville and under La Suprema, were speedily established in Cordova, Jaen and Toledo. The sovereigns saw that wealth was beginning to flow in to the new tribunals by means of fines and confiscations; and they obliged Torquemada to take as assessors five persons who would represent them in all matters affecting the royal prerogatives. These assessors were allowed a definite vote in temporal matters but not in spiritual, and the final decision was reserved to Torquemada himself, who in 1483 was appointed the sole inquisitor-general over all the Spanish possessions. In the next year he ceded to Diego Deza, a Dominican, his office of confessor to the sovereigns, and gave himself up to the congenial work of reducing heretics. A general assembly of his inquisitors was convoked at Seville for the 29th of November 1484; and there he promulgated a code of twenty-eight articles for the guidance of the ministers of the faith. Among these rules are the following, which will give some idea of the procedure. Heretics were allowed thirty days to declare themselves. Those who availed themselves of this grace were only fined, and their goods escaped confiscation. Absolution in foro externo was forbidden to be given secretly to those who made voluntary confession; they had to submit to the ignominy of the public auto-de-fé. The result of this harsh law was that numerous applications were made to Rome for secret absolution; and thus much money escaped the Inquisition in Spain. Those who were reconciled were deprived of all honorable employment, and were forbidden to use gold, silver, jewelry, silk or fine wool. Against this law, too, many petitions went to Rome for rehabilitation, until in 1498 the Spanish Pope Alexander VI granted leave to Torquemada to rehabilitate the condemned, and withdrew practically all concessions hitherto made and paid for at Rome. Fines were imposed by way of penance on those confessing willingly. If a heretic in the Inquisition asked for absolution, he could receive it, but subject to a life imprisonment; but if his repentance were but feigned he could be at once condemned and handed over to the civil power for execution. Should the accused, after the testimony against him had been made public, continue to deny the charge, he was to be condemned as impenitent. When serious proof existed against one who denied his crime, he could be submitted to the question by torture; and if under torture he avowed his fault and confirmed his guilt by subsequent confession he was punished as one convicted; but should he retract he was again to be submitted to the tortures or condemned to extraordinary punishment. This second questioning was afterwards forbidden; but the prohibition was got over by merely suspending and then renewing the sessions for questioning. It was forbidden to communicate to the accused the entire copy of the declaration of the witnesses. The dead even were not free from the Holy Office; but processes could be instituted against them and their remains subjected to punishment. But along with these cruel and unjust measures there must be put down to Torquemada's credit some advanced ideas as to prison life. The cells of the Inquisition were, as a rule, large, airy, clean and with good windows admitting the sun. They were, in those respects, far superior to the civil prisons of that day. The use of irons was in Torquemada's time not allowed in the Holy Office; the use of torture was in accordance with the practice of the other royal tribunals; and when these gave it up the Holy Office did so also.
Such were some of the methods that Torquemada introduced into the Spanish Inquisition, which was to have so baneful an effect upon the whole country. During the eighteen years that he was inquisitor-general it is said that he burned 10,220 persons, condemned 6860 others to be burned in effigy, and reconciled 97,321, thus making an average of some 6000 convictions a year. These figures are given by Llorente, who was secretary of the Holy Office from 1790 to 1792 and had access to the archives; but modern research reduces the list of those burned by Torquemada to about 2000, in itself an awful holocaust to the principle of intolerance. The constant stream of petitions to Rome opened the eyes of the pope to the effects of Torquemada's severity. On three separate occasions he had to send Fray Alfonso Badaja to defend his acts before the Holy See. The sovereigns, too, saw the stream of money, which they had hoped for, diverted to the coffers of the Holy Office, and in 1493 they made complaint to the pope; but Torquemada was powerful enough to secure most of the money for the expenses of the Inquisition. But in 1496, when the sovereigns again complained that the inquisitors were, without royal knowledge or consent, disposing of the property of the condemned and thus depriving the public revenues of considerable sums, Alexander VI appointed Jimenes to examine into the case and make the Holy Office disgorge the plunder.
For many years Torquemada had been persuading the sovereigns to make an attempt once for all to rid the country of the hated Moors. Mariana holds that the founding of the Inquisition, by giving a new impetus to the idea of a united kingdom, made the country more capable of carrying to a satisfactory ending the traditional wars against the Moors. The taking of Zahaia in 1481 by the enemy gave occasion to reprisals. Troops were summoned to Seville and the war began by the siege of Alhama, a town eight leagues from Granada, the Moorish capital. Torquemada went with the sovereigns to Cordova, to Madrid or wherever the states-general were held, to urge on the war; and he obtained from the Holy See the same spiritual favors that had been enjoyed by the Crusaders. But he did not forget his favorite work of ferreting out heretics; and his ministers of the faith made great progress over all the kingdom, especially at Toledo, where merciless severity was shown to the Jews who had lapsed from Christianity. The Inquisition, although as a body the clergy did not dislike it, sometimes met with furious opposition from the nobles and common people. At Valencia and Lerida there were serious conflicts. At Saragossa Peter Arbuè, a canon and an ardent inquisitor, was slain in 1485 while praying in a church; and the threats against the hated Torquemada made him go in fear of his life, and he never went abroad without an escort of forty familiars of the Holy Office on horseback and two hundred more on foot. In 1487 he went with Ferdinand to Malaga and then to Valladolid, where in the October of 1488 he held another general congregation of the Inquisition and promulgated new laws based on the experience already gained. He then hurried back to Andalusia where he joined the sovereigns, who were now besieging Granada, which he entered with the conquering army in January 1492 and built there a convent of his order.
The Moors being vanquished, now came the turn of the Jews. In 1490 had happened the case of El Santo niño de la Guardia -- a child supposed to have been killed by the Jews. His existence had never been proved; and in the district of Guardia no child was reported as missing. The whole story was most probably the creation of imaginations stimulated by torture and despair, unless it was a deliberate fiction set forth for the purpose of provoking hostility against the Jews. For a long time Torquemada had tried to get the royal consent to a general expulsion; but the sovereigns hesitated, and, as the victims were the backbone of the commerce of the country, proposed a ransom of 300,000 ducats instead. The indignant friar would hear of no compromise: "Judas", he cried, "sold Christ for 30 pence; and your highnesses wish to sell Him again for 300,000 ducats." Unable to bear up against the Dominican's fiery denunciations, the sovereigns, three months after the fall of Granada, issued a decree ordering every Jew either to embrace Christianity or to leave the country, four months being given to make up their minds; and those who refused to become Christians to order had leave to sell their property and carry off their effects. But this was not enough for the inquisitor-general, who in the following month (April) issued orders to forbid Christians, under severe penalties, having any communication with the Jews or, after the period of grace, to supply them even with the necessaries of life. The former prohibition made it impossible for the unfortunate people to sell their goods which hence fell to the Inquisition. The numbers of Jewish families driven out of the country by Torquemada is variously stated from Mariana's 1,700,000 to the more probable 800,000 of later historians. The loss to Spain was enormous, and from this act of the Dominican the commercial decay of Spain dates.
Age was now creeping on Torquemada, who, however, never would allow his misdirected zeal to rest. At another general assembly, his fourth, he gave new and more stringent rules, which are found in the Compilación de las instrucciones del officio de la Santa Inquisitión. He took up his residence in Avila, where he had built a convent; and here he resumed the common life of a friar, leaving his cell in October 1497 to visit, at Salamanca, the dying infante, Don Juan, and to comfort the sovereigns in their parental distress. They often used to visit him at Avila, where in 1498, still in office as inquisitor-general, he held his last general assembly to complete his life's work. Soon afterwards he died, on the 16th of September 1498, "full of years and merit" says his biographer. He was buried in the chapel of the convent of St. Thomas in Avila.
The name of Torquemada stands for all that is intolerant and narrow, despotic and cruel. He was no real statesman or minister of the Gospel, but a blind fanatic, who failed to see that faith, which is the gift of God, cannot be imposed on any conscience by force.
Father: Don Pedro Ferdinando
Risk Factors: Vegetarian
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