Established by papal bull in 1478, the first task of the Spanish Inquisition was to question Jewish converts to Christianity and to expose and execute those found guilty of reversion. It then turned on Spanish Jews in general, sending three hundred thousand into exile. Next in line were humanists and Lutherans. No rank was exempt. Children informed on their parents, merchants on their rivals, and priests upon their bishops. Those denounced were guilty unless they could prove their innocence. Few did. Two hundred lashes were a minor punishment; 31,913 were led to the stake at public displays, the last a mad witch in 1781. The Inquisition policed what was written, read and taught, and kept an eye on sexual behaviour. Napoleon tried to abolish it in 1808, and failed. Joseph Perez tells the history of the Spanish Inquisition from its medieval beginnings to its nineteenth-century ending. He discovers its origins in fear and jealousy and its longevity in usefulness to the state. He explores the inner workings of its councils, courts and finances, and shows how its officers, inquisitors and leaders lived and worked.
He describes its techniques of interrogation, disorientation and torture, and shows how it refined displays of punishment as instruments of social control. The author ends his fascinating account by assessing the impact of the Inquisition over three and a half centuries on Spain's culture, economy and intellectual life.
Joseph Perez is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Bordeaux and Honorary Director of the Velazquez museum in Madrid. His books include a history of Spain under Philip II and biographies of Ferdinand and Isabella and Emperor Charles V. Janet Lloyd, the translator, has translated over fifty books and twice won the Scott Moncrieff prize for translation from the French.