With the Spanish Inquisition, it depends on whether we are talking about the black legend or the actual thing. There is this whole mythology around the Spanish Inquisition that grew out of the Reformation wars after the Protestant defeat at Mühlberg.
The Inquisition Myth, which Spaniards call “The Black Legend,” did not arise in 1480. It began almost 100 years later, and exactly one year after the Protestant defeat at the Battle of Muhlberg at the hands of Ferdinand’s grandson, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. In 1567 a fierce propaganda campaign began with the publication of a Protestant leaflet penned by a supposed Inquisition victim named Montanus. This character Protestant of course) painted Spaniards as barbarians who ravished women and sodomized young boys. The propagandists soon created “hooded fiends” who tortured their victims in horrible devices like the knife-filled Iron Maiden which never was used in Spain). The BBC/A&E special plainly states a reason for the war of words: the Protestants fought with words because they could not win on the battlefield.
The Inquisition had a secular character, although the crime was heresy. Inquisitors did not have to be clerics, but they did have to be lawyers. The investigation was rule-based and carefully kept in check. And most significantly, historians have declared fraudulent a supposed Inquisition document claiming the genocide of millions of heretics.
What is documented is that 3000 to 5000 people died during the Inquisition’s 350 year history. Also documented are the “Acts of Faith,” public sentencings of heretics in town squares. But the grand myth of thought control by sinister fiends has been debunked by the archival evidence. The inquisitors enjoyed a powerful position in the towns, but it was one constantly jostled by other power brokers. In the outlying areas, they were understaffed in those days it was nearly impossible for 1 or 2 inquisitors to cover the thousand-mile territory allotted to each team. In the outlying areas no one cared and no one spoke to them. As the program documents, the 3,000 to 5,000 documented executions of the Inquisition pale in comparison to the 150,000 documented witch burnings elsewhere in Europe over the same centuries.
RRM, Lucia is quite correct about the numbers, there is a great deal of “mythinformation” about the inquisition, which you seem to rather completely buy into.
She is also correct that a far bigger, bloodier, but less centrally organised episode was the whole “witchcraft” terror campaigns, and these were largely a protestant activity. One of the major features of some of the witch campaign was that once accused one was guilty, and that an accuser stood to inherit the property of the accused. So you can possibly imagine the potential “moral hazard” involved. This was particularly practiced in the various (of the time) Germanic states.
Another campaign that was happening at the same time was the enslavement of large numbers of mainly (but not exclusively) southern european peoples by corsairs raiding from mostly North Africa. These people were sold in the slave markets in the various islamic states, and very few were ever liberated. The numbers have been estimated in the hundreds of thousands although there is some dispute on the numbers. Again, far more of an atrocity than the inquisition, but one even less widely known than the witchcraft campaigns.
One would hardly want to praise the inquisition or imagine it was anything but atrocious, but in perspective it is far from the worst, albeit with perhaps the worst reputation.
Or being boiled alive in France, which was apparently their preferred method of execution at the time of the start of the Inquistion.
RRM, I’m not saying it’s not awful, just that the whole thing has been blown out of proportion and mythologised with what else was happening at the time, which Ed mentions. So many ways to die horribly back then and yet the Inquisition is singled out.
If the figure of 5,000 or so is correct, then (as bad as that is), it truly pales in comparison with the **genocide** perpetrated by the Muslim “Timur the Lame” upon the Hindus of India.
From the Wikipedia article on him –
“By all accounts, Timur’s campaigns in India were marked by systematic slaughter and other atrocities on a truly massive scale inflicted mainly on the subcontinent’s Hindu population.”
“Scholars estimate that his military campaigns caused the deaths of 17 million people, amounting to about 5% of the world population. The historian of Islamic Asia John Joseph Saunders summarized that “Till the advent of Hitler, Timur stood forth in history as the supreme example of soulless and unproductive militarism.”
Makes the Inquisition look like a Sunday-school picnic.