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The Black Legend And The Spanish Inquisition History Essay

Info: 3847 words (15 pages) Essay
Published: 1st Jan 2015 in History

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The birth of Spain as a modern world was quickly pursued by the dawning of a dark myth. Spain as seen in its golden age deepened its colour to black. As with all empires, ethnicities, state and peoples [1] , Spain borne a hostile and untruthful tale of its religious pursuits and practises mostly propagated intentionally and in some cases not, which prevails to this day. What makes Spain situation different from any other realm is its circumstances and context. It is under these conditions which have carved out centuries of bias which no other nationality has endured. Regarding the Spanish Inquisition, it was not much different to other inquisitions previously seen [2] . Its practises were emulated by other countries around the same time [3] , thus this thesis statement poses the question of why Spain’s Inquisition has achieved a reputation unmatched by anywhere else. Without going into detail of what is fact or not, this essay concurs with Kamen’s comprehensive analysis on this issue in The Spanish Inquisition, a Historical Revision. The black legend of the Spanish inquisition albeit a phenomenon in some senses, was placed in a time of history where it flourished [4] . By looking at a combination of the Spanish Inquisitions context (from 1492) and its key players internally, externally, religiously and politically, conclusions can be forged which explains the growth of the black legend surrounding Spain’s Inquisition.

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The Spanish Inquisition began during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain when Aragon and Castile merged causing a politically unified Catholic Spanish kingdom which was inherited by Charles V [5] . Under Charles, the Netherlands became part of this empire and Charles V was named emperor of the Romans [6] . Throughout his reign, opposition of Spain’s power grew further after Protestantism spread through Holland and into Spain itself. His offensive position saw the biggest success against the Reformation in 1547 at Mühlberg furthering Protestant hostility [7] . By the time Philip II came to power, the New World of the Americas was enriching Spain’s economy [8] . Moreover, Spain’s strengthening influence in Italy, the rivalry with Valois and Bourbon, the wars in the Netherlands and the Armada attacking Britain fostered a growing resentment from Protestants and other territories in Europe politically [9] . Philips personal pro-Inquisition stance in Spain and defending Catholicism in external territories enhanced bitterness on a religious level and renewed an anti-Spanish image [10] . Spain’s inquisition was used as a symbol encompassing all that was wrong with Spain and served as a political and religious tool in a paper war [11] . What is more, the Inquisition was used against Spain racially, who was feared by other states in Europe not threatened, in a backdrop of both a religious and political struggle [12] . It is in this environment where the black legend grew to become a paper monster.

Since the instigation of the Spanish Inquisition, it was not until a century later where its black legend ensued [13] . Myths of the inquisition first conveyed religious persecution, followed by political and liberalist suppression [14] . One of the first and most powerful examples of negative propaganda against the Spanish Inquisition was seen in the Book of Martyrs which was allowed to mass circulate by the leading key figure of Spain’s negative reputation, the printing Press [15] . The Briton John Foxe, the protestant author of the text, presented the Inquisition as a malicious witch hunt and a ‘supreme institution of tyranny’ [16] . Likewise an anonymous writer under the pseudonym Montanus, probably written by de Reina and del Corro two ostracised Spanish protestants, held similar views [17] . These Spanish exiles typified the first ‘news’ of the cruelty of the Inquisition, In their Sanctae Inquistionis Hispanicae Artes

1567, the tribunal was conveyed by first hand victims of its procedures giving it more legitimacy which led to pan-European popularity and demand for its distribution [18] . Its contents paralleled the Catholic, Las Casas description of Spanish terror from the Americas thus corroborating fictitious tales, for rare extreme horrors were portrayed as the norm in both thus authenticating a growing myth [19] . Again the printing press allowed it to be supplied within three years into 11 editions and translated into English, French, Dutch, German and Hungarian enabling its establishment [20] . Its contents reconfirmed that the Inquisition was aimed at Protestants and ignored the fact that the principle victims were the Conversos instilling the idea of Protestantism as the inquisitions’ prey.

What popularised Skinners version of Montanus’ literature in England by 1568 and consequently contributing to the rise of the inquisitions black legend was England’s recent Inquisition and deteriorating relations with Spain [21] . Since Henry VII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor and then Elizabeth accession in 1559, heresy, harrying of religious belief and Rome and Spain all intensified and allowed a pessimistic outlook of Spain and accordingly its Inquisition. 15th and 16th century French and Dutch histories differed from England’s yet an underlying current of religious dissent and political unrest and a need for blame rested on the shoulders of Spain’s inquisition, an institution never formally implemented in their own countries [22] . Along with these countries, Italy became another early source of anti-Inquisition propaganda [23] . Spanish soldiers posted in Spanish controlled Italian territories saw Catholic opposition to Spain for maltreatment by their army. Italians discriminated Spaniards racially and religiously who were seen as extensions of Africa. They resented Spain’s role in Catholicism as they fostered many different religions and contextually, Italians felt Spain was hypocritical in its aims against Conversos. [24] Yet they were one of the most tolerant countries of that time [25] . Their interpretation of the Spanish black legend filtered into its inquisition. Revolts against Spain in Italy in 1511 and 1526, and against the real threat of a Spanish tribunal under Ferdinand and mistakenly fearing Philip II, saw risings again in 1547 and 1564 deepening resentment of Spain and its Inquisition along with volatile papal- Spanish relations [26] . Italian diplomats including those from the papacy presented Spain’s territories as poor and backward, dominated by a tyrannical inquisition. Kamen states that Italians saw Spain’s Inquisition as an institution solely intended to “rob Jews and persecute the conversos”. [27] Thus a cultivated sinister impression of Spanish policies grew in Italian culture.

Along with Italian thoughts, Dutch and English figures were sources of Spanish myth building especially the Inquisition [28] . Here, printing presses were exploited degrading Spain paralleling its promotion of Protestantism and were lead participants in the propaganda wars against the Inquisition [29] . Their foreign relations with Spain from the Armada, the Dutch revolts, Philip II’s marriage to Mary Tudor and the alliance with Henry III during the religious wars instilled a fear of Spain and used the Inquisition as a focal point of Spanish terror, where feelings of fear transpired to Spain as a threat, which in reality was never intended in their foreign policy [30] . This shift of fear to threat progressed through propaganda techniques not directly from Spain [31] . As seen by William of Orange in his Apology (probably ghost written with Pierre Loyseleur) among much literature, impressions of the Inquisition were that of anti-Protestantism, for the tribunal to establish throughout Europe and the delight the Spanish took in execution [32] . Opening Parliament in 1656, Oliver Cromwell called Spain the “enemy abroad, who is the head of the Papal interest, the head of the anti-Christian interest, that is so described in Scripture” [33] . This did not reflect international politics, the inquisition would need to be totally rewritten for its aims and the aspirations of Spain along with Philip II was not consistently aggressive anti-Protestantism [34] . Further Antwerp’s Inquisition saw more executions from 1557 to 1562 than Spain and outlawed the Spanish tribunals’ process and objective. Perez’s accounts, the Duke of Alva’s control over the book industry and The 1576 ‘Spanish Fury’ contributed to exaggerated accounts of The Holy Office’s activities [35] . The black legend was also used as a yardstick by comparing the atrocities martyrs suffered under the inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 as an act of kindness relative to what the cruel Spaniards inflicted on the native Americans [36] . William of Orange, in 1580 told of a Spain which” committed such horrible excesses that all the barbarities, cruelties and tyrannies ever perpetrated before are only games in comparison to what happened to the poor Indians”. [37] 

The anti-Armada campaign saw sailors who were exposed to the terror of the Inquisition contribute to the paper war against Philip II (especially since his appropriation of Portugal) and the Inquisition [38] . Pamphlets like A Fig for the Spaniard and Perez’s A treatise Paranetical were disseminated [39] . Now, writers of black legend material were given support not only of their views politically but economically with the government financially supporting the circulation of leaflets and other modes of publicity enabling the vehicle of anti-Inquisition propaganda, the first modern propaganda campaign [40] . Edward Peters claims that the construction of ‘The Inquisition’ was an instrument of Protestant martyrdom, whereby Protestants needed to fill in centuries of missing history claiming previous Inquisitions suppressed protestants charged with heresy [41] (Note: Peters use of upper and lower case letters). Further, like other tribunals and comparable courts of Europe, the process of Spain’s Inquisition was held secretively and was no worse nor better than them, allowing abuse and criticism from external sources, developing the myths it holds [42] . What is more, whatever people disagreed about, they could always agree on the Spanish Inquisition, that is in the light of its black legend all contributing to its development and prevalence over centuries [43] . Helped by William of Orange, Protestants feared Spain’s domination of the Americas regarding the spread of Catholicism and its Inquisition thus gave motive to develop the black legend [44] . The Spanish Inquisition was a symbol of Spain and Catholicism, and in tandem with religious and political Spanish hatred it served to develop a legend employed for its downfall.

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The black legend of the Spanish Inquisition prevailed and was portrayed in this manner until the nineteenth century when the racial dimension of its content focused on older Jewish elements from the fifteen century [45] . 1830’s England focused on anti-Semitic policies of the tribunal. This part of the black myth was served by historians and novelists who, by profession, gave authority to their claims. Ivanhoe by Walter Scott along with works from Irving and Prescott attributed Spain’s inquisition on Jewish suffering and used heroic Jews to further the brutality of Spaniards. [46] This renewed take on the myth of the Inquisition resuscitated a three century legend [47] . What is more, it provoked formal studies into the Jewish role of the inquisition where suffering was actually felt and now nineteenth century Spain had new legitimate enemies continuing the slander of Spain [48] . At this time, soon after the Holy Office was abolished, Llorente was entrusted with its historical documents. In 1817 he issued the first account of the Inquisition Historia critica de la Inquisicion Espanola, warranted by factual analysis of these papers [49] . Albeit with many mistakes which many scholars have never forgiven, Kamen, a ground breaking historian in this field, remarked that “even today his work is recognized as a classic” [50] . These mistakes nonetheless have haunted the Inquisitions black legend as they were seen as authentic and influential observers based many false claims from Llorente’s account. Prescott was indeed influenced by him, and in turn, Prescott swayed Dostoyevsky [51] . In 1870, Lea’s work was the definitive collection of the Holy Office, and felt many scholars today, still is. Even by his own admission, there is much bias in his work, the black legend was still undefeated. Kamen and Peters warn that to study the Inquisition alone and out of context can revive the Inquisitions myth [52] .

By the twentieth century the black legend was firmly established and focused on the decline of creativity in Spain concurring with Castro’s school whereby Jews were the most creative, and all creativity was censored by the Inquisition [53] . Before this, the Holy Office was accused of Spain’s economic fall. None of these claims have ever proven to be true. Notably, the inquisitions long term effects did not and were found not to consciously interfere with economic relations [54] . Internally, the majority of Spanish citizens were indifferent to the Inquisition which may have furthered the rise of it’s Inquisition’s black legend. Most had very little contact with the Holy Office, which allowed its citizens to pass on macabre myths through generations. During each phase of its existence it did have Spanish critics, mainly on the grounds of being unnecessary regarding its objective, especially when compared to other countries. [55] Elements of the Inquisitions black legend was incorporated into twentieth century Fascist Spain, another agent for its survival.

Throughout it’s life, the Holy Office was secretive which allowed it’s black legend to flourish [56] . Problems which preceded the institution now became institutionalised [57] . It became a scapegoat for those who feared its abilities not only to who its objectives were aimed at but those who were afraid of the Spanish. Its context in which it was established regarding race follows Kamen’s argument where he believes that the Inquisition followed and adapted to the society it was placed in [58] . Its motives began due to socio-national problems, that were the Conversos [59] . The church and state were an inseparable notion thus allowing an inevitable religious element [60] . Here, tensions heightened in the context of the inquisition with nothing new created [61] . The Holy Office’s context religiously, politically and culturally afforded the growth of its legend. The rise of the black legend is still ongoing. Scholars are popularising the myth by debunking its slander and setting the record straight regarding the Inquisition. The success of Spain in its Golden Age contributed to the jealousy held against them by competing empires. Without admitting Spain’s economic achievements through conquering, rivals aimed at destroying Spain by blackening their religious reputation which they personally held highly. Rawlings concludes a review of Kamen’s views that “the Inquisition came to mirror the broad realities of time and place, accommodating itself to different needs and circumstances across the Spanish regions.. which enabled it to survive for over 350 years” [62] and with that its black legend.


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