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      ON October 19, 1469, Prince Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Aragon, married the Princess Isabella, heiress to the throne of Castile. The importance of this union was fully appreciated by their contemporaries. It promised the unification of the Spanish world under the two greatest kingdoms of the Peninsula. It also promised a final solution to the problem of the Jew and Converso, but nobody seemed to be sure what form the solution would take. For example, among those who favored the marriage and the political stability it promised, were Isabella's confessor Thomas de Torquemada, and her adviser in secular matters, the Jew Abraham Seneor.


      As Isabella's spiritual tutor, Torquemada had for years impressed on her the need for purifying the realm of Judaism, both overt and in disguise. It was rumored that he had even extorted a promise from the young Isabella that when she became queen she would do all in her power to erase the stain of Judaism forever. For his part, Abraham Seneor had quite different hopes of a Jewish future under Ferdinand and Isabella.

      There were many aspirants to the hand of Isabella, and Abraham Seneor used his great influence as royal favorite to help her pick the right partner. His choice fell on Ferdinand of Aragon because, it was said, the latter's alleged Converso background might leaven Isabella's religious enthusiasms sufficiently to avoid disaster for the Jews.

      The history of the previous century clearly favored the designs of Torquemada and his friends, and the common people themselves apparently sensed the final victory also. Friar Alonso de Espina had recently passed to his reward, but a new generation, sprung from the bowels of Archdeacon Ferdinand Martinez mounted the pulpits to do his work. During the five years between Isabella's marriage and her accession to the throne of Castile the traditions of 1391 were revived, this time against the hated Converso. It started, appropriately, in Valladolid, where the royal nuptials had taken place. In 1470 the mob fell upon the New Christians of that city and subsided only when royal troops were dispatched to the scene to restore order. Two years later southern was afire. A religious procession in Cordova was disrupted when someone emptied a vessel of unidentified


liquid out of a window and the contents splashed on a canopy which sheltered a picture of the Blessed Virgin. Immediately the cry. arose that the culprit was a Converso, the liquid was not water and this was no accident.

      For three days the enraged citizenry of Cordova killed Conversos, plundered and then burned their homes, and rudely manhandled the local authorities who tried to stop the slaughter. Even the presence of the great aristocrat Don Alonso de Aguilar failed to cow them; after being vigorously pelted with stones Don Alonso prudently withdrew to the safety of his castle.

      From Cordova the slaughter spread to other towns in Andalusia where the Conversos sought refuge. An eyewitness of these events reports that

of those who escaped, many went to the town of Palma. Others went to Ecija and Jerez and anywhere else they could secure refuge from the local governors. In ##Adamtu and in Montoro and in La Rambla they were robbed and severely manhandled. In Almodovar del Campo some of the Conversos were robbed and killed by the peasants.

      The refugees in Palma, near Seville, applied to the local governor, the duke of Medina-Sidonia, for permission to take refuge in Gibraltar, offering the duke a yearly income of considerable size in return for his generosity. The duke's advisers heartily disapproved: the Conversos were too lazy, too useless and too unworthy to settle in Gibraltar. The duke, however, refused to listen and accepted the offer. But he reckoned without


the Voice of the People, who began turning Seville upside down when they heard of their duke's folly. It was now the turn of the Conversos of Seville. Some of them sought the doubtful safety of other towns; some went to Flanders and Italy, never to return. Those who stayed buried their valuables in caves and locked themselves inside the walls of the ancient Jewish quarter, determined to resist to the death as their ancestors had done in 1391. The final assault did not come in 1473, but the Conversos of Seville could not know that a more inexorable fate was just ahead.

      Ferdinand and Isabella visited Segovia in 1474, a few days after a massacre of Conversos there. The walls of the houses were still spotted with fresh blood and the city was threatened with disease from the corpses rotting in the streets. For the Catholic Kings such a state of affairs was too politically untidy to be tolerated for very long. At the moment, however, the more pressing problem of their own royal survival diverted their attention from religious and racial matters. The death of Isabella's half-brother Henry IV in 1475 brought on a disputed succession and fitful civil war which absorbed all the queen's attention for the next five years. But by 1480 Prince Ferdinand had succeeded his father as king of Aragon and Isabella had crushed her opposition and thrust her rival for the throne into a Portuguese convent.

      During these uncertain years, pious prelates and Old Christians had been breaking the queen's ears with their exhortations for an Inquisition against the Conversos. How much Torquemada had to say in the privacy of the


royal chamber we simply do not know, but the credit-if that is the word-for the actual creation of the Spanish Inquisition must go to another: friar Alonso de Ojeda of the Dominican monastery of San Pablo in Seville. For several years Ojeda dogged the royal footsteps carrying tales about the spreading Converso infection and the need for immediate action if Spain were to be saved. The queen was wavering. It was time for a Jewish horror story, and Ojeda was not a man to shirk his responsibilities. In 1478 he hastened from Seville to the royal court at Cordova to reveal a horrifying discovery. An amorous Christian of the pure blood was carrying on an informal romance with a pretty Jewess in the ghetto of Seville. During the Easter week just past he had seen a group of Conversos and Jews doing strange things in his sweetheart's home. He was not very clear as to just what these things were, but Ojeda knew: the Conversos of Seville were celebrating Holy Week with their Jewish brethren by practicing ritual abominations against Christianity and its Founder.

      Ferdinand and Isabella were scandalized. ! The king and queen were very upset and pained to discover that there were people in their lands who felt badly about the Christian religion,! one contemporary reports. The Spanish ambassador in Rome was instructed to negotiate with the Pope for the creation of a special Inquisition for Spain. November 1, 1478, Sixtus IV issued a bull recording the papal displeasure with false Christians and authorizing the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition. After the customary delay inherent in all administrative machinery, the Catholic Kings' issued a lengthy procla-


mation setting up the first Inquisition tribunal in Seville September 27. 1480.

In our kingdoms (they declared) there are some bad Christians, both men and women, who are apostates and heretics. Although they have been baptised in the True Faith, they bear only the name and appearance of Christians, for they daily return to the superstitions and perfidious sect of the Jews. Scornful of the Holy Mother church. they have allowed themselves to incur the sentence of censure and excommunication, together with other penalties established by the Apostolic laws and constitutions. Not only have they persisted in their blind and obstinate heresy, but their children and descendants do likewise, and those who treat with them also are stained by that same infidelity and heresy.

      This is familiar language, of course, but this time it was a preface to grim action. Inspired by the greatest desire and zeal for the Faith, to secure the well-being of the Faithful on earth and in Heaven, and to exalt virtue by abasing the wicked, their majesties herewith appointed two Dominican friars-Miguel de Morillo and Juan de San Martin-as Inquisitors and defenders of the Holy Faith against the machinations of the Conversos of Seville.

      Headquarters for the Inquisition tribunal was in Ojeda's monastery of San Pablo, which seems fitting. Ojeda was also chosen to preach the ceremonial sermon at the first Auto de Fe celebrated by the new Inquisition. Almost immediately afterward, he died of the plague, and we can imagine that friend and enemy alike saw in this the workings of Providence.


      Even before the Inquisitors began Conversos fled Seville to take refuge on the lands of the nearby nobility, particularly those of marquis of Cadiz, whose influence and rank promised a certain immunity from the obedience demanded of ordinary men. The marquis perhaps had his own selfish reasons for allowing these refugees to settle within his dominions, but the fact that he did so also demonstrates a principle evident in the earlier history of the Spanish crusade against Judaism. The uncompromising character of the Jewish pogrom came, not from the aristocracy, but from the Common People. This may violate modern myth that the Common People are by some instinct of nature the only source of freedom, tolerance and general virtue, and that aristocracy is inherently wicked and cruel. But without launching into a disquisition on the merits or demerits of aristocracy, we feel safe in saying that for uncontrolled violence and pitiless persecution there is nothing in the bloody record of human history to equal the ferocity of the Common People once they have been stung into action.

      The marquis quickly discovered that nobody was to be allowed to frustrate the authority of the Inquisition, and it becomes quite clear that Ferdinand and Isabella, in creating the Inquisition, were motivated by a mixture of both piety and political sagacity.1 Certainly one of the many

1. Tradition assigns the piety to Isabella and the political sagacity to Ferdinand, whom Machiavelli praised as the cunning fox. However, the sarcophagus of the Catholic Kings in Granada represents Ferdinand lying with his head on an undented pillow, whereas Isabella's head makes an impressive dent in hers. The natives take pleasure in pointing this out as evidence of Isabella's intellectual superiority, but we may safely attribute the discrepancy to the loyal prejudice of a Castilian sculptor.


reasons for establishing the Inquisition was to substitute the controlled force of authority for the uncontrolled violence of the People in dealing with religious affairs. Both Ferdinand and Isabella had a keen enough sense of history to wish to avoid the subversion of authority implicit in the mob actions of 1391 and after. They were equally alert to the dangers of allowing any assertion of independence by the grandees of the realm. Of this danger too, they had personal experience. The years immediately following their accession were taken up with the task of reducing the great nobility to submission and centralizing the authority of the realm in their own hands. It was to this problem that they turned first, even at the expense of having to delay the solution of the religious problem. Although this might have frustrated Ojeda and Torquemada, in the long run it had the effect of making the Inquisition, when it finally did come, an all- powerful institution and guaranteed success where earlier half - hearted and haphazard efforts had failed. Now the Crown was strong enough to purify the realm in an orderly, legal fashion. Unauthorized mob violence against Conversos was sternly punished as subversive of the authority of the Crown. And unauthorized asylum for Conversos would be treated precisely the same way for precisely the same reason.

      Consequently, when it became apparent that the marquis of Cadiz and other grandees of the realm were presuming to receive refugee Conversos on their lands, the two Inquisitors at Seville took immediate action. January 2, 1481, they delivered themselves of a strongly worded proclamation which had all the force of the


Crown behind it. The marquis and others like him were ordered to seize all refugee Conversos in their dominions and deliver them forthwith to the Inquisitors of Seville. Failure to comply would mean excommunication, as well as confiscation of all lands and noble perquisites, and Inquisitorial prosecution as protectors of heretics. Contemporaries report that thousands of such refugees were returned and the detention rooms at the monastery became so overcrowded that the Inquisitors were forced to move into larger quarters in the great Castle of Triana just outside the walls of Seville.

      A few of the Conversos apparently decided to resist, although the story of the Seville conspiracy against the Inquisition is so clouded in murky romance that the details fail to come through. The general outline of the second-hand accounts which have come down to us goes something like this: a handful of wealthy Conversos in Seville began meeting secretly at night to plan an uprising against the Inquisition. There was some talk about tyrants, hidden weapons and the virtues of assassinating Inquisitors. It all came to naught when the beautiful-the wondrously beautiful-daughter of one of the leading conspirators confided the news to her Old Christian lover. The latter raced to tell the Inquisitors, the plotters were rounded up in the well-worn nick of time and were burned at the stake in the first Auto de Fe, to the accompaniment of an appropriately indignant sermon by friar Alonso de Ojeda. The beautiful daughter escaped this grisly fate only to spin out a life of remorse and disintegration reminiscent of the later career of Lady Hamilton.


      A certain weariness prevents us from recording in detail the thousands of trials which took place during these initial Inquisitorial years. Autos de Fe became a regular feature of life in Seville, with great parades of penitents, elaborate purification ceremonies, exciting sermons, and finally the burning alive of the gravest offenders. Those who had managed to escape were burned in effigy. The bones of the dead were dug up, solemnly tried, and burned. Thousands of the frightened living came forward voluntarily to confess their guilt under a promise of mercy and to denounce their neighbors as secret Judaizers. As the trials proceeded, the existence of a vast Judaizing conspiracy throughout Spain became more horrifyingly apparent to the Old Christian Faithful. The historian Bernaldez accurately recorded the general sentiment of the age.

     In Seville (he writes) it was learned that the Conversos of Cordova. Toledo, Burgos. Valencia, Segovia, and all of Spain, were all Jews and held to the same hope which the people of Israel had in Egypt: that although they were persecuted by the Egyptians God would lead them out of Egypt as He later did with His strong hand and extended arm.
     And thus the Jews look upon the Christians as Egyptians. or worse, and believe that God will miraculously sustain and defend them and that they will be led by the hand of God from among the Christians and into the Promised land. In this manner they live and remain among Christians, entertaining these mad hopes as they have confessed at their trial, thus making it clear that their whole race is defamed and infected by this sickness.


It is impossible to describe the wickedness of this heretical depravity. I can only say that now that the fires are lit they will burn until this pestilence is destroyed root and branch if they have to burn until every Judaizer is consumed to death and no more remain.

      To expand the operations begun in Seville, the Catholic Kings obtained early in 1482 a papal bull naming eight new Inquisitors for Spain. Meanwhile the Crown set about reorganizing the Inquisition machinery for the more effective prosecution of heresy. In 1483 they created a new royal council of the Supreme and General Inquisition to expand the operations begun at Seville. At the head of this council they placed the royal confessor Thomas de Torquemada, with the title of Inquisitor General of Spain. The work of purification was now to begin on a thorough scale.


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