34 Common Errors About the Spanish Inquisition

The anti-Spanish Black Legend was one of the most successful propaganda campaigns in world history.

Escuela Madrileña, ‘Auto da Fe’, ca. 1656
Escuela Madrileña, ‘Auto da Fe’, ca. 1656 (photo: Register Files)

As outlined in our previous post, there are very few tales as tall as the tales told of the Black Legend of the Spanish Inquisition and Catholic Spain. Among the many, many lies of the Black Legend of the Inquisition are:

1. The major source of information about the wildly unrealistic excesses of the Inquisition is the A Discovery and Plaine Declaration of Sundry Subtill Practices of the Holy Inquisition of Spain written in AD 1567. It was authored by Antonio del Corro, a Spanish Lutheran who wrote under the pseudonym Reginaldus Gonzalvus Montanus and claimed to be, himself, a victim of the Inquisition. Scholars know this to be a lie.

2. Montanus portrayed every victim of the Inquisition as innocent, which is statistically impossible. He also insisted that every Inquisition official was venal and deceitful, which is also statistically impossible.

3. Montanus insisted that every step in its procedure was a violation of natural and rational law though never gave an explanation as to why he felt so. Thus his appeals were to emotion rather than reason.

4. The majority of the “histories” about the Inquisition written after AD 1567 relied on Montanus as their definitive source. This document and other subsequent publications, were reprinted and translated throughout Europe and became the source on the Inquisition myths for many centuries even until the present day.

5. The “Black Legend” began as an anti-Spanish propaganda campaign that succeeded largely because of the invention of the printing press. The Inquisition and Carlos V were their prime targets.

6. Stories about cruel torture methods used by the Inquisitors and the terrible conditions in which prisoners were kept were completely falsified. The Inquisition actually had the best jails in Spain. In fact, records prove prisoners of secular courts and jails would blaspheme so they could be transferred to Inquisition prisons and thus escape the maltreatment of secular prisons.

7. The Inquisition never punished or tortured Jews and Moslems as the Church had no authority over non-Christians. Instead, these were people who supposedly converted to Catholicism but did so under false pretenses.

8. In the entire 16th century, the Spanish Inquisition executed only about 50 people—not the hundreds of thousands that are claimed by the “Black Legend.”

9. In all the Inquisitions throughout Europe together, scholars estimate the number of people executed ranged somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000. That averages, at most, about fourteen people per year throughout the entire continent over a period of 350 years, and not the 10 million Dan Brown and those who think him a serious historical scholar, have suggested. (NB: The death of 10 million people would have completely and irrevocably depopulated Europe during the Medieval Ages.)

10. The Inquisition was most active in Spain only between AD 1480-1510. Thirty years.

11. Its authority was very limited and never reached to the countryside. The Inquisition was virtually powerless in rural areas. It was secular powers or mob rule that burned supposed witches and heretics away from the cities and towns. Further, even within urban settings, it was always in competition between the Royal Court, other guilds, municipal authorities and others and was thus overshadowed in the cities of Spain. In the countryside, the Inquisitors had no power, no authority and no tools to do their jobs.

12. The supposed intrigue of the Inquisition, especially that portrayed between the Emperor Carlos V and his son Juan Carlos, is purely fictional and the result of Protestant propaganda. The lies were so successful that it inspired Schiller and Verdi to create operas which portrayed enmity between the Emperor and his son. Verdi's Don Carlos portrayed Juan Carlos as a defender of personal freedom, which he never was.

13. Prosecuting witchcraft was a popular craze in Europe's secular courts at the time. Local governments were particularly intolerant of these offenses. The accused were often burned at the stake. For the Catholic Church, charges of witchcraft were seen as delusions and treated thusly. This Church law came into being in the 7th century. Hard evidence had to be shown for any accusation. Witchcraft and sorcery were rarely capital offenses. The overwhelming number of accusations were dismissed.

14. The Inquisition's manuals remained highly skeptical of witch accusations except in rare cases when dealing with the Cathars of Southern France, whose heretical teachings included witchcraft and magic. Further, the Cathars were engaged in murderous campaigns against Christians in France, including assassinating papal envoys.

15. Contrary to popular atheistic gossip, The Discoverie of Witchcraft was not written by the Catholic Church. In fact, it was written by the Protestant author Reginald Scot in 1584. Scot believed the prosecution of those accused witches was irrational and un-Christian. Further, he held the Catholic Church responsible. In addition, though it purportedly was written to show magic and demonic influences didn't exist, the author actually claimed to believe in astrology, magic stones and the power inherent in unicorn horns. Within two years of its publication in England, it was put on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books thus, it can’t be said that the Catholic Church supported it. As an aside, two years is light speed considering they didn’t have fax machines back then.

16. The Inquisition rarely relied upon torture to extract information. It was used less by the Inquisition than it was in the tribunals of other countries throughout Europe at the time. The stories of Protestant torture of Catholics in the Tower of London were by far more gruesome, including that of St. Nicholas Owen.

17. Jewish conversos who fled Spain often immigrated to Italy where they were treated by far better. If the Catholic Church and its Inquisition was responsible for the horrors attributed to them, why would Jews flee to Italy—the “belly of the beast,” as it were? Obviously the blame for the excesses of the Inquisition rested upon Spanish secular authorities and not religious ones.

18. It can be rightfully asked if Moslems were the distal cause of the Inquisition, why is it that Jews were targeted also? Because for most of the 800 years of Moslem oppression, Jews were integrated into Moslem armies which viciously and indiscriminately killed Christians trying to live peacefully in their own countries (i.e., Spain and Portugal.) Jews in Iberia were treated as second-class citizens but Christians were considered third-class cannon fodder. Moslems regularly recruited Jews to fight their wars for them. After the Reconquista, Christians weren't ready to trust the community that had actively sought their destruction. America imposed great limitations upon the Japanese and Germans because of World War II which are still in effect today. 15th century Iberian Christians didn't have a great number of options left to them and a burgeoning population of 30% non-Christians living in their newly recovered homeland made them very nervous just as the current 25% of non-Jews make contemporary Israelis nervous. Thus, Jews were given the option of converting or leaving. I doubt that any other country would have been as generous to their erstwhile conquerors as 15th century Iberian Christians had been to Jews and Moslems.

19. The last two people to be executed for practicing witchcraft were Anna Göldi (Glarus, Switzerland, in 1782) and Barbara Zdunk (Prussia in 1811.) Both were Protestant-ruled countries and therefore had no connection to the Inquisition. In fact, popes at the time wrote letters begging for local authorizes to spare the lives of the accused witches but to no avail.

20. The Inquisition never sentenced anyone to death. It was civil, secular authorizes which had the power of life and death over prisoners. Neither the Catholic Church nor the Inquisition had the authority or interest to put anyone to death. The Inquisition's authority was merely to ascertain the truth and identify heresy.

21. Stories about the other Inquisitions are seldom told. Protestant propaganda unfairly demonized Carlos V but wrote fulsome panegyrics lauding Henry VIII, the lecherous and treacherous king of England, simply because he was a champion of Protestantism. Tens of thousands of Catholics were tortured and slaughtered throughout Britain and Ireland because of him and other Protestants leaders such as Oliver Cromwell. Atheists seem to have forgotten that salient aspect of history because they refuse to read books before daring to speak.

22. In reality, most inquisitors weren't Catholic priests. Many were lawyers trained in secular Spanish schools. The job of inquisitor was considered a stepping stone to other careers.

23. The anti-Catholic propaganda started immediately after Emperor Carlos V's overwhelming victory during the 1547 Battle of Muelburg when the Protestants armies were annihilated. When the Reformers realized Spain's overwhelming military superiority, they used the printing press to attack his character. This is what led researchers to realize the Inquisition was one of the most successful propaganda campaigns in world history. Protestants were very skilled in the lies they spread about the Catholic Church and the Inquisition in particular. Emperor Carlos refused to address the lies as he believed that gentlemen fought with weapons on a battlefield and not with ideas safely hidden behind a printing press.

24. In addition, all of the complaints about the Inquisition came from Protestant sources. If the Inquisition were as evil as it was portrayed, complaints would have arisen from Catholic sources initially.

25. Protestants portrayed the Inquisitors as being debased, immoral barbarians who routinely used horrific tortures and deflowered virgins to satiate their own lusts. They offered no proof. Even the Inquisitions own records never portrayed such evil.

26. If the Inquisition was as evil as it was portrayed by Protestants, there would have been a massive uprising destroying the Church. There was no such civil war in Spain or mass defections from Catholicism.

27. Even Voltaire decried the Spanish Inquisition claiming that it was still killing people in the 18th century but there are no records of this whatsoever. Voltaire was never a friend of the Church and looked forward to its destruction so was eager to spread tales about it.

28. The supposed “Inquisitorial chamber” and their supposedly gruesome conditions simply never existed.

29. Though propaganda suggests millions of people were imprisoned and tortured, there had only been 7000 cases brought before the Spanish Inquisition in total. Only 2% of the accused experienced any torture. Only 1% experienced torture more than once.

30. A document supposedly from the Spanish Inquisition, which has subsequently been proved to be a forgery, alleged that the court ordered the extermination of entire populations—millions of victims—for heresy. In reality, in 16th century Spain, only 40 to 50 people were executed for heresy in the 16th century including the Americas—fewer people died for heresy than in any other country. In comparison, more than 400 people died, mostly Catholics, were killed in Protestant England for the same reason.

31. Total number of victims of the Spanish Inquisition was 3000-5000 people. This is in comparison to the 150,000 witches burned in the rest of Europe mostly in Protestant countries.

32. The Spanish Inquisition lasted for only 100 years. Moslems occupiers of Spain and Portugal orchestrated 800 years of torture, rape, murder, slavery and forced 30% of the Christian population to convert to Islam. Protestants lied about the extent of the Inquisition. Atheists refuse to read books about the Inquisition while pretending to do so and continue to spread lies about Catholics. Who is more evil?

33. The Inquisitors were said to roast people's feet, brick them up inside walls, smash their joints with hammers, flay them on wheels, ravish their female victims and the indiscriminately use iron maidens. In reality, they were restrained interrogators—when compared to secular authorities such as those in Protestant countries, they were positively enlightened. Consider the tortures of the infamous Tower of London especially those used against such Catholic martyrs as Sts. Nicholas Owen, John Jones, John Wall, Augustine Webster, John Houghton, Robert Lawrence, Richard Reynolds, John Stone, Alexander Briant, Edmund Arrowsmith, Edmund Campion, David Lewis, Henry Morse, Henry Walpole, Nicholas Owen, Philip Evans, Robert Southwell, Thomas Garnet, Alban Roe, Ambrose Edward Barlow, John Roberts, Cuthbert Mayne, Edmund Gennings, Eustace White, John Almond, John Boste, John Kemble, John Lloyd, John Pain, John Plesington, John Southworth, Luke Kirby, Polydore Plasden, Ralph Sherwin, John Rigby, Philip Howard, Richard Gwyn, Swithun Wells, Anne Line, Margaret Clitherow and Margaret Ward. In fact, English secular authorities would disembowel thieves for stealing sheep. Secular authorizes in Germany would blind anyone who returned to the country after being exiled.

34. Inquisitors had very strict guidelines as to what could and couldn't be done taking great efforts to make sure people weren’t hurt especially the innocent. The guidebook was entitled Instructiones