King Charles II celebrated his marriage by staging an auto-da-fé, a judicial sentence or act of faith that became one of the most spectacular autos-da-fé ever conducted in Spain. More than one hundred persons were tried on charges of secretly practicing Judaism, and at least nineteen burned as heretics and fifty-four sentenced to life imprisonment. The legacy of the Spanish Inquisition includes anti-Semitism and xenophobia, a distrust, fear, or hatred of foreign influences.
Although the legal term “inquisition” technically denoted a judicial inquiry by trained judges, it has commonly been used to describe the persecution of heretics by special Church courts. The inquisition of the medieval Catholic Church was first established in the thirteenth century in an effort to stamp out heretical groups that were especially strong in southern France.
The Spanish Inquisition, which was authorized by the Papacy in 1478, differed from other tribunals in two ways. First, it was directly under the authority of the Crown. Second, in its early stages it was directed primarily at the conversos (Judaizers), Jews converted to Christianity who were suspected of secretly practicing Jewish rituals. Even though the Spanish Inquisition later expanded its focus to include Protestants, liberals, and alleged witches, it continued to concentrate much of its attention on the conversos and their descendants.
In Spain, the Supreme Council of the Inquisition (commonly called the Suprema), which usually had six members, was presided over by the Inquisitor General, who was nominated by the Crown and appointed by the pope. The other members of the Suprema were appointed by the king. The Inquisitor General usually was able to exercise authority over the policies and activities of the Suprema. If disagreements arose, the decision would be made by majority vote.
An engraved depiction of a procession leading to an auto-da-fé, the public execution of those condemned by the Inquisition, in a Spanish town square.
Surviving documents are inexact about the number of victims punished by the Spanish Inquisition. The first serious historian of the topic, Juan Antonio Llorente, who had access to many archives that no longer exist, claimed that between 1481 and 1782 the Spanish Inquisition condemned 341,450 persons to severe penalties, with 31,912 persons burned at the stake. He estimated that two-thirds of the trials took place before 1698. In contrast, many contemporary historians, including Edward Peters, estimate that fewer than four thousand death sentences were carried out during the entire three hundred years of the Spanish Inquisition.
During the seventeenth century, the largest wave of religious persecutions and autos-da-fé occurred during the reign of the last of the Habsburg monarchs, Charles II
In 1679, Charles married Marie-Louise d’Orléans,
The auto-da-fé was announced a month before it took place. On March 29, the ceremony began with a religious procession through the streets of Madrid. Leading the procession were merchants who had furnished the wood for the burnings. Next came Dominican priests, then the fifty guards of the Inquisition, followed by members of the nobility and officials of the Inquisition. Most of the Madrid churches held large masses, and friars spent most of the night singing psalms.
On June 30, approximately fifty thousand people gathered for the auto-da-fé, which lasted for fourteen hours. The king and his court sat on a balcony atop a scaffold that was 50 feet in height and 50 feet in length. The Suprema and the King’s Council sat on similar balconies next to the king. The Inquisitor General sat at the highest balcony. Symbols of Christianity and military power were prominently displayed. During the proceedings, the 118 accused conversos had ropes around their necks and wore yellow sanbenitos, sleeveless coats painted with devils and flames. They also wore 3-foot-tall pasteboard caps marked with inscriptions citing their heresies. The reading of each person’s sentence, one of the centerpieces of the auto-da-fé, lasted several hours.
The most reliable sources indicate that eighteen prisoners were condemned as relapsed Judaizers, although the exact numbers are disputed. The condemned were turned over to the secular government, and they were then transported by donkey outside the city gate to the quemadero (the place to be burned), where they were executed before a small crowd at midnight. Those who showed signs of repentance were strangled before they were burned, and those who did not repent were burned alive. The king himself lit the fire. Of the other prisoners, fifty-four persons who had been condemned for first-time offenses were sentenced to life imprisonment and had their property confiscated. The others were either found innocent or reconciled to the Church. None of the names of the accused appeared in the published accounts.
Following the auto-da-fé, the Suprema continued its aggressive search for Judaizers and other heretics. Another wave of autos-da-fé hit in 1691, with approximately eighty-six conversos prosecuted in four separate events. The only well-known victim of the Inquisition during Charles II’s reign was Froilan Diaz,
The auto-da-fé of 1680 was the most spectacular and well-publicized auto-da-fé of the seventeenth century, and it became famous as a result of Rizzi’s paintings and del Olmo’s book. In most ways, though, it was rather typical of the inquisitorial ceremonies. From 1675 to 1730, according to historian Henry Kamen, the Spanish Inquisition prosecuted more than twenty-two hundred persons for Judaizing. Of these, he estimated that 3 percent of the victims were burned at the stake and more than three-fourths spent a few years in prison. The Suprema, which conducted its last public execution in 1826, was abolished by royal decree in 1834.
Because of the Inquisition’s wrath and power, few identifiable Judaizers or other alleged heretics were in Spain by the middle of the eighteenth century. The legacy of the Inquisition, nevertheless, included anti-Semitism and xenophobia that would continue well into the twentieth century. Although the Inquisition was certainly not the primary cause for the slow progress in Spain’s development, it undoubtedly promoted attitudes and political structures that were not conducive to modernization or cultural advancement.