The expulsion of the Jews may be considered the supreme and crowning work of Torquemada’s life. It marks the high meridian of his achievement. Hereafter his career dwindles gradually in importance in a measure as it sinks slowly to its setting.

In Rome, meanwhile, in that year 1492, a new Pontiff—Roderigo Borgia—had ascended the throne of St. Peter under the title of Alexander VI, and from this Pontiff’s hands Torquemada received his confirmation in the great office which he held—a confirmation which, being couched in the otiose terms of affection not uncommon in papal bulls, seems to have led many to believe that Alexander viewed Torquemada and the Holy Office of Spain with particular fondness. As a matter of fact, this Pope’s attempts to curb the excessive rigour of the Grand Inquisitor were less lethargic—we dare not say more energetic—than those exerted by Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII; and it was Alexander VI who, weary of complaints, finally contrived the retirement of the Prior of Holy Cross.

But that was not yet. Before that came to pass, the scandals of secret absolutions sold and subsequently rescinded by the Holy See were now repeated. Vigorous appeals were made to the Holy Father against the procedure of the Grand Inquisitor, and the Holy Father, acting upon the advice of the Apostolic Court, dispatched his briefs of absolution. Torquemada, incensed once more by this fresh interference with his jurisdiction, made his appeal to the Sovereigns, and jointly with them laid his protests before the Pope, who complacently cancelled the briefs that had been paid for—or rather that part of the absolution which concerned the temporal courts. For the moneys received it could be shown that full value had been given, since these absolutions still held good in the tribunal of conscience. We are familiar by this time with the argument.

Torquemada’s enemies in Spain were increasing now at an alarming rate. But, secure in the royal protection, this old man steadily and ruthlessly advanced along the path of intolerance, undismayed by ill-will. Conscious of the hatred he provoked, he may have gloried in the maledictions hurled against him by the persecuted, conceiving that the malevolence of the infidel would render his deeds the more acceptable in the sight of his God. But whatever the equanimity with which he may have confronted spiritual hostility, he took his measures to secure himself from its temporal manifestations. That he went in dread of attack is evinced not only by the fact that he was never seen abroad without his numerous escort of armed familiars, but further by the circumstance that he never sat down to dine without a horn of unicorn upon his table as a charm against poison.252

So arbitrarily and arrogantly did he widen the sphere of autocratic jurisdiction accorded him that soon he was usurping the functions of the civil courts, thereby provoking a still deeper resentment. He conducted the business of the Holy Office in such a manner that all other courts of the kingdom became subservient to it, and where the magistrates, resenting these encroachments, attempted to withstand him, or even to question his authority, they were—as had happened in the case of the Captain-General of Valencia—promptly charged with lack of zeal and even impeached as hinderers of the Holy Office. They were compelled to submit to humiliating penances, which in the case of magistrates entailed a total loss of dignity and prestige. And such was the ascendancy this man had gained by now that complaints or appeals to the Sovereigns were useless.

Meanwhile, however, and by his own act, his enemies at home had found two powerful mediators with the Pope, two powerful advocates to plead their cause before the Apostolic Court. These were Juan Arias Davila, Bishop of Segovia, and Pedro de Aranda, Bishop of Calahorra.

Torquemada’s frenzied intolerance of men of Jewish blood was by no means confined to those who practised the Law of Moses. It extended to those who had accepted baptism and to their descendants, and it kept alive his mistrust of them.

Very markedly is this exhibited in the proceedings he instituted against the two bishops mentioned, notwithstanding the Papal decree which inhibited inquisitors from proceeding against prelates save by special pontifical authority.

The Bishop of Segovia—Juan Arias Davila—was the grandson of a Jew who had received baptism in the reign of Henry IV, and had held an honourable position at the court of that king by whom he had been ennobled. Considering the ecclesiastical eminence attained by his grandson—now a very old man—one would imagine that the latter should have been secure from inquisitorial attacks on the score of alleged offences committed by his ancestor against the Faith. But the terrible Torquemada contrived to rake up some matters against the long-deceased converso, accused him of having re-Judaized before his death, and instituted proceedings which must have resulted in the destitution, degradation and infamy of the bishop, his descendant.

“It sufficed,” says Llorente on this subject,253 “that a deceased Jew should have been fortunate and wealthy to seek cause of suspicion upon his faith and religion, such was the ill-will against those of Jewish blood, such the desire to mortify them, and such the covetousness to absorb their property.”

To these proceedings Davila set up a stout resistance and made appeal to the Pope, whereupon Torquemada experienced his first serious check. The Pope ordered him to stick to the letter of the law, and to lay the matter before the Apostolic Court, as was due. Thither went the Bishop also, to defend his grandfather’s bones from the accusation lodged. He was well received by the Pontiff, who ultimately gave him the victory over Torquemada, for when the case was tried his father’s memory was cleared of all guilt.254

In the meanwhile, however, Davila had not only received a very kindly welcome at the Vatican, but, pending his trial, he was given a position of honour, and he was associated with Cardinal Borgia of Monreale (Alexander’s nephew) when the latter went as papal legate to Naples, to crown Alfonso II of Aragon.255

Less fortunate was Pedro de Aranda, the other accused Bishop. In his case, too, the proceedings instituted were based upon the alleged Judaizing of his deceased father—a Jew who had been baptized in the time of St. Vincent Ferrer.

His case was tried at Valladolid, but the inquisitors and the diocesan ordinary disagreed in their findings, and in 1493 the Bishop, accompanied by his bastard son Alfonso Solares, set out for Rome, to present in person his appeal to the Pontiff. Him, too, the Pope received with the utmost kindliness. His Holiness issued a brief inhibiting the inquisitors, and relegating the case to the Bishop of Cordova and the Prior of the Benedictines of Valladolid.

The case being tried by them, a verdict entirely favourable to the Bishop was obtained, and his father’s memory was acquitted of the charge preferred against it. But the tribulations of the living son were not permitted to end there. Torquemada would not suffer that his prey should escape so easily.

Already in 1488 the Bishop had been defamed by a suspicion of judaizing, and the Grand Inquisitor now pressed that he should be called to answer to that charge, forwarding the indictment under seal to Rome.

Pending the solution of the matter by the Apostolic Court, Alexander not only treated Aranda well, but heaped honours and favours upon him and his son. The Bishop was sent to Venice as papal legate, he was appointed Master of the Sacred Palace, whilst upon his offspring was conferred the position of apostolic prothonotary.256

But despite the papal favour which he enjoyed, and notwithstanding the fact that he called upwards of a hundred witnesses to testify in his defence, he was found guilty. It is said that his own witnesses helped to bring about his conviction. The Pontifical Court was obliged to sentence him to loss of all ecclesiastical dignities and benefices, to degrade him and reduce him to the lay estate, whereafter he was imprisoned in Sant’ Angelo, and there he died a few years later.257

Notwithstanding the sentence of the Apostolic Court, Llorente finds it impossible to believe that Aranda was really guilty of Judaizing. “It seems incredible that it should have been so, considering that he had preserved the reputation of good Catholic for so long and with such applause that the Queen Donna Isabella should have named him President of the Council of Castile. His celebrating the Synodal Council in his bishopric argues zeal for the purity of religion and its dogmas. That the witnesses called should have deponed to any words or actions of his that were contrary to this does not signify as much as may at first appear, for we know, from a multitude of instances, that to fast on Sunday, to abstain from work on Saturday, to refuse to eat pork, to dislike the blood of animals, and other similar matters, sufficed as grounds upon which to declare a man a Judaizing heretic, and this notwithstanding that, as any one knows to-day, these are circumstances not at all at issue with a firm adherence to the Catholic dogmas.”258

His sentence, however, was not pronounced until 1498. Until then he enjoyed, as we have seen, great favour at the Papal Court. Taking advantage of this, he and the Bishop of Segovia not only acted as mediators to lay their countrymen’s grievances against Torquemada before the Pope, but, in their very natural resentment at the injustice of the prosecutions instituted against themselves, they went so far as to urge the Pope to depose the Grand Inquisitor from his office. And Llorente—who states this upon the authority of Lumbreras—adds that these petitions would, of themselves, have prevailed but for the royal protection which Torquemada continued to enjoy.259

But the complaints of the Grand Inquisitor’s abuse of his power continued to pour into Rome. They multiplied to such an extent, they were of such a nature, and they were presented by Spaniards of such eminence at the court of the Spanish Pontiff, that thrice was Torquemada forced to send an advocate to defend him before the Holy See.260 And in the end Alexander considered it necessary to take measures to circumvent the royal protection which continued to oppose the deposition of the Prior of Holy Cross.

Since to depose him were too aggressive a course to adopt towards the Sovereigns, with whom the Pontiff desired to preserve the friendliest relations, at least Torquemada’s power must be curtailed. And so, by a brief of June 23, 1494, indited with all the craft and diplomacy of which Roderigo Borgia was a master, a brief in which he assures the Grand Inquisitor that “he cherishes him in the very bowels of affection for his great labours in the exaltation of the Faith,” and charged with tender solicitude for Torquemada’s failing health, the Pontiff puts forward these infirmities as a reason for assuming him no longer equal to discharge single-handed the heavy duties of his office. Therefore His Holiness considers it desirable to appoint him assistants who will lighten the labour of his declining years.

The assistants appointed by Alexander were Martin Ponce de Leon, a Castilian nobleman who was Archbishop of Messina, Don Inigo Manrique, Bishop of Cordova (nephew of the prelate of the same name who was Archbishop of Seville), Don Francisco Sanchez de la Fuente, Bishop of Avila, sometime Dean of Toledo and Councillor of the Suprema, and Don Alonso Suarez de Fuentelsaz, Bishop of Mondonedo, who had also held the position of inquisitor.

These assistants were equipped by the Pontiff with the amplest powers—powers as ample as Torquemada’s own—so that they were in no sense subservient to the Prior of Holy Cross. The term “assistant” was a papal euphuism, serving thinly to veil the fact that Torquemada’s autocratic rule was virtually at an end.

Such was the absolute equality of the authority of each of the five Grand Inquisitors now in existence, that it was explicitly set forth that any one of them had power singly to determine any matter, or singly to conclude any case that might have been initiated by one of the other four.261

But of the four assistants appointed only two accepted office jointly with Torquemada. These were the Bishop of Avila and the Archbishop of Messina, who at once took up their duties.

The Pope went a step further on November 4 following, when by a supplementary brief he appointed Sanchez de la Fuente (Bishop of Avila) to be Judge of Appeal in cases of the Faith. And from now onwards it is to Sanchez de la Fuente that the Pope addresses his briefs concerning the conduct of the affairs of the Holy Office. It was to him personally that Alexander gave orders that when a bishop was unable or unwilling to perform upon an offending cleric of his diocese the ceremony of degradation, this should be undertaken by the Bishop of Avila himself, or else by a bishop by him appointed.

Thus it would seem that Torquemada had virtually been superseded, and that Sanchez de la Fuente had been rendered his superior. If so, that superiority cannot have been more than nominal. In spite of it, Torquemada remained the guiding spirit of the Holy Office in Spain, the supreme arbiter and law-giver, as we shall see when we come to consider his last “Instructions,” published in 1498.

In spite of these measures taken by the Pope with a view to softening inquisitorial severity and bringing it within more reasonable bounds, complaints to Rome seem to have continued unabatedly.

Photo by Donald Macbeth.

From Colmenar’s “Délices d’Espagne.”

Far from restricting inquisitorial jurisdiction—as was intended—the appointment of these assistant Grand Inquisitors appears to have widened it. They now went so far as themselves to sell and dispose of confiscated property—a matter which hitherto had been conducted by the officers of the royal treasury. And this was more than Ferdinand could stomach. Where humanitarian considerations, where arguments of political expediency had failed to curb his bigotry, acquisitiveness seems easily to have carried the victory. So that at last we see the King himself turning in appeal to the Pope against this despotism of a court upon which he had conferred the power to become mightier than himself in his own kingdom.

The response to his appeal was the bull of February 1495, commanding the inquisitors under pain of excommunication to desist from their course, and never to resort to it again save under royal sanction. The power to proceed against inquisitors in case of fraud or irregularity in this matter was vested in the famous Francisco Ximenes de Cisneros.262

This man, who has been called the Richelieu of Spain, had risen from very humble beginnings, as a barefoot friar-mendicant, to the very splendid eminence of Primate of Spain—in which office he had just succeeded Cardinal Mendoza, who died in that year (1495).

In the following year Torquemada made his exit from the Court, where for a decade he had been a figure of an importance second only to that of the Sovereigns themselves.

Crippled by gout, he withdrew to his monastery at Avila.263 There he now dwelt in retirement, an emaciated old man in his seventy-sixth year, debilitated and racked with bodily infirmities, but with all his vigour and energy of mind unimpaired, his severity as uncompromising as of old, his conscience entirely at peace in the conviction that he had given of his best—indeed, his all—to the service of his God.

But even now his retirement can have been little more than physical. His attention continued focussed upon the Inquisition and engrossed by it. To the last do we find him actively directing the procedure of that tribunal of the Faith.

In the spring of 1498 he summoned the principal inquisitors of the kingdom to the monastery of St. Thomas of Avila, to the end that with himself they might concert the promulgation of further decrees to check abuses which had crept into the administration of the justice of the Holy Office, proving inadequate his enactments of 1484, 1485, and 1488.

These, the fourth “Instructions” of Torquemada, were published on May 25, 1498. They contain a good deal that seems calculated to soften the rigour of the earlier decrees, yet much of this is more or less illusory.

Let us very briefly consider the sixteen articles of which they consist.

The first three provide: (I) that of the two inquisitors appointed to each court one shall be a jurist and the other a theologian, and that they shall not proceed other than jointly to decree prison, torture, or publication of witnesses; (II) that the inquisitors shall not permit their officers to bear weapons in those places where the bearing of weapons is forbidden; (III) that no one shall be arrested save upon sufficient proof of his guilt, and that all cases be disposed of with dispatch and not delayed in the hope of discovering increased justification to sentence.

This last clause merely repeats an earlier one that we have already seen, and from this repetition we are led to suppose that the former expression of the same command had not received proper attention and obedience. The stipulation that no arrest should be made save where there was sufficient proof of guilt is not as generous as it sounds. It is dependent upon what the inquisitors would consider “sufficient proof”; this is revealed by the jurisprudence of the Holy Office: the accusation of a spiteful or malevolent person, or a delation wrung from some wretch under torture, would be accounted “sufficient proof” to justify the arrest and its sequel. To abolish the inequitable character of this it would have been necessary to have rescinded the decree which accounted “semiplenal proof” sufficient ground for taking action.

Very merciful in its terms is Article IV, which sets forth that in proceedings against the dead the inquisitors must absolve promptly where complete proof of crime is not forthcoming, and not delay in the hope of obtaining further proof, as legal delays are very injurious to the children, who are unable to contract marriage whilst such matters are sub judice. But it comes a little late in the day. It comes when the great harvest from the wealthy dead has been safely garnered. Besides, no conditions imposed could mitigate the horrible rigour of the enactment to exhume and burn the bones of the dead together with their effigies, and to reduce the children or grandchildren to destitution and infamy, even when the person convicted was known to have died penitent and comforted by the sacraments of the Church—in consequence of which, by their own Faith, the inquisitors believed him to be saved.

Article V provides that when the tribunal shall be short of money for salary, no further pecuniary penances be imposed than would be the case if the court had funds in hand.

Conceive, if you can, the notions of equity prevailing in a tribunal which needed to have it decreed that fines were to be governed by the offence committed, and not by the court’s need of money at the time!

Similarly illumining is Article VI, which sets forth that imprisonment or other corporal penances must not be commuted to fines, and that only the inquisitors-general shall have power to dispense an offender from wearing the sanbenito and to rehabilitate the children of heretics so that they shall have liberty in the matters of apparel and employment.

As Llorente points out,264 the very existence of this decree shows of what abuses of power the inquisitors were guilty for the purpose of increasing their already considerable profit.

Article VII is thoroughly imbued with the inquisitorial spirit of mercilessness. It warns inquisitors to be cautious in the matter of admitting to reconciliation those who confess their fault after arrest, since, considering how many years have passed since the institution of the Inquisition, the contumacy of such offenders may be taken as established.

On the subject of Article VIII, which enjoins inquisitors to punish false witnesses with public pains, Llorente is particularly interesting in a commentary:

“Properly to understand this article, it is necessary to realize that there were two ways of being a false witness: one by calumniating, another by denying knowledge of heretical words or deeds upon which a person might be questioned in the course of proceedings against an accused. I have seen many records of proceedings against those of this second class, but very rarely (rarissima vez) any against those of the first. Nor could it be easy to prove that a calumniator has borne false witness, for the unfortunate accused would have to guess his identity, and though he were to guess correctly the court would not admit it.”265

Article IX provides that in no tribunal shall there be two persons who are related or one who is the servant of another, even though their respective offices should be entirely different and separate.

Articles X, XI, and XVI are calculated to increase the secrecy of inquisitorial proceedings. The first makes provision for the secret custody of all documents and for punishing any notary who shall betray his trust; the second enacts that a notary must not receive the depositions of witnesses save in the presence of the inquisitor; the last decrees that after the witnesses shall have been sworn by the inquisitors in the presence of the fiscal, the latter must withdraw so as not to be present when the delations are made.

The remaining four articles are concerned with such matters as the setting up of courts of the Inquisition where these have not yet been established, the submission of difficult questions that may arise to the Suprema for decision, the provision of separate prisons for women and for men, and the stipulation that officers of the court shall work six hours daily.

In addition to the foregoing sixteen articles, he promulgated in that same year special instructions concerning the personnel of the Holy Office. They speak for themselves, and very vividly suggest the abuses they were framed to suppress.

For governors of prisons and constables he decreed that they must permit no one to visit the prisoners with the exception of the persons appointed to bear them food, and that these must be bound by oath to preserve the “secrecy” inviolate, and to examine all food to ascertain that no written matter is concealed in it. Food, it is added, shall be conveyed to the prisoners by persons specially appointed for that duty, and never by a constable or gaoler.

All officers are to be sworn to preserve inviolate secrecy upon all things they may see or hear.

Receivers are commanded that in the event of the acquittal of a person whose property has been sequestered, they must restore the property according to the inventory drawn up at the time of effecting the sequestration—but if there are debts to be satisfied by such a person, these may be paid by order of the inquisitors without awaiting the consent of the debtor.

If amongst confiscated property there should be any that is in litigation, the matter is to be judicially decided; and if it is found that any property which should have formed part of a confiscation shall have passed into the hands of third parties, action is to be taken to recover it.

Confiscated property is to be sold after thirty days, and the receivers are not to purchase any under pain of greater excommunication and a fine of 100 ducats. Each receiver is authorized to give vouchers for property up to the value of 300,000 maravedis.

For the inquisitors themselves it is provided that upon assuming office they shall be bound by oath to discharge their duties well and faithfully and to observe the secrecy; that no inquisitor or officer of the Inquisition shall receive any gift of whatsoever nature from a prisoner, under pain of loss of office and a fine of twice the value of the gift plus 100,000 maravedis, whilst any who shall have knowledge of such matter and fail to divulge it shall be subject to the same penalty.

Inquisitors are to make oath never to be alone with a prisoner, and neither an inquisitor nor any officer of the court shall hold two offices or receive two salaries. Lastly, in any district where the Inquisition’s tribunal is established, the inquisitors must pay for their own lodgings, and must never receive any hospitality from conversos.266

We have seen Torquemada’s efforts strained to obtain the fullest possible control over subjects of inquisitorial jurisdiction in Spain, and to establish himself the sole arbiter in matters concerning heresies there committed. And we have seen his frequent conflicts with Rome in consequence of what he accounted undue interference on the part of the Holy See in affairs which he considered purely within his own province. Despite repeated protests which had resulted in the annulment of absolutions granted by the Apostolic Court, the Holy See had ever continued to receive those who fled thither from Spain in quest of a reconciliation that was procurable in Rome upon terms far easier than were accorded by Torquemada’s delegates.

Never, however, had the fugitives to Rome been so numerous as they were now in the reign of Alexander VI. Never before had so many Judaizers—who were liable, if discovered in Spain, to perpetual prison or the fire—sought at the hands of the Pontiff the absolution which, subject to penitence and penance, the Holy Father was willing and ready to accord them.

On July 29, 1498, an Auto de Fé was held in Rome in the vast square before St. Peter’s, when 180 Spanish Judaizers came to be reconciled to the Church.267

It is worth while to take a glance at this, and to mark the difference between the Act of Faith in the very heart of Christendom, and the spectacles provided under the same title by Spanish bigotry and fanaticism.

There were present the Governor of Rome, Juan de Cartagena, the Spanish Orator at the Vatican, the Apostolic auditors, and the Master of the Sacred Palace, whilst the Pope himself surveyed the scene from the balcony above the steps of St. Peter’s.

The penitents received the sanbenitos, which were put on over their ordinary garments, and arrayed in these they entered St. Peter’s. There all were assembled and reconciled, whereafter they were taken in procession to the Church of Santa Maria della Minerva. In this temple they put off their sanbenitos, and each one withdrew to his home without further bearing the insignia of shame and infamy.268

The view taken by Torquemada of a Pope who so little understood what the former considered to be the duties of Christ’s earthly Vicar is to be gathered from the attitude of the Sovereigns in the matter of these reconciliations, and their protests—protests which, beyond doubt, would be inspired by the Grand Inquisitor.

Alexander advised the Sovereigns in reply—by a brief of October 5—that in according these absolutions one of the pains imposed upon the penanced was that they must never return to Spain without the special sanction of the Catholic Sovereigns.269

In this manner, clearly, there was no infringement by the Pontiff of the power relegated to the Spanish inquisitors, since as long as the penitents remained abroad they were beyond the jurisdiction of the Holy Office of Spain. As for the prohibition to return being a part of the penance imposed, it was surely supererogative, for we cannot think that any of those who had so fortunately obtained absolution would easily incur the risk of coming within reach of the talons of a court that would disregard, or else find a way to cancel or circumvent, the Roman reconciliation.

But by the time the brief reached Spain, Frey Tomás de Torquemada, the arch-enemy of the Jews, had breathed his last in his beautiful monastery of St. Thomas at Avila.

He passed away in peace, laying down the burden of life and sinking to sleep with the relief and thankfulness of the husbandman at the end of a day of diligent, arduous, and conscientious toil. His honesty of purpose, his integrity, his utter devotion to the task he had taken up are to be weighed in the balance of historic judgment against the evil that he wrought so ardently in the unfaltering conviction that his work was good.

His name has been execrated and revered at once. He has been vituperated as a fiend of cruelty, and all but worshipped as a saint; and there is bias in both judgments—both are no better than gratifications of prejudice.

Perhaps Prescott is nearest the truth when he says that “Torquemada’s zeal was of so extraordinary a character that it may almost shelter itself under the name of insanity.”270

Garcia Rodrigo speaks of the barbarians of the nineteenth century who desecrated the monastery of St. Thomas, and whose “revolutionary hammers” smashed so many of the sepulchral and other marbles. He turns the medal about for us when he pours his fierce invective upon anti-religious fanaticism and speaks of these broken marbles as evidences of “perversity, intolerance, and want of enlightenment.”271

The anti-religious fanaticism and intolerance must be admitted. But it must be admitted that they are the inevitable fruits that fanaticism and intolerance produce. Men reap as they sow. And what but thistles shall be yielded by the seed of thistles?

The same author inveighs against the political fanaticism of Spanish Liberalism, which in the hour of reaction sought fiercely for the bones of the first Grand Inquisitor. He denounces it indignantly for disturbing the peace of sepulture. In the main we share his feelings; and yet can we avoid perceiving here a measure of retributive justice? Can we fail to see in this fanatical act the vengeance of humanity for the almost obscene violation of a thousand graves by that same Grand Inquisitor’s fanaticism?

He was laid to rest in the chapel of his monastery, and his tomb bore the following simple inscription:


But his work survived him. His spirit—through his enactments—continued for three centuries after his death to be the guiding spirit of the Inquisition, executor of the stern testament he left inscribed upon the walls of his monastery—


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