Reconquista and Spanish Inquisition

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  • 0:05 Muslim Control of Spain
  • 1:54 Expulsion of Muslims and Jews
  • 3:48 The Inquisition Takes Hold
  • 6:15 Torture Devices
  • 8:15 The End of the Inquisition
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the Spanish Reconquista and the Spanish Inquisition. It will focus on the reasons for each, specifically highlighting the role of Ferdinand and Isabella, and the tortures they allowed.

Muslim Control of Spain

The official title of today's lesson is 'The Spanish Reconquista and Inquisition'. However, a more fitting title just might be 'When Spain Went Crazy'. As we'll learn, the Reconquista and especially the Inquisition encompass the darkest time in Spanish history. It was a time when faith, greed and politics combined to bring about the deaths of many.

Map of the medieval kingdoms in Spain
Medieval Spain Kingdoms

Let's start with the Spanish Reconquista. In simpler terms, the Reconquista was the attempt by Christian Spain to expel all Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula. In the 8th century, Spain was not one united nation but instead a group of kingdoms. In the early 8th century, these kingdoms of Spain were invaded by Muslim forces from North Africa. Within a few years of this invasion, most of Spain was under Muslim control. In fact, the Muslims renamed the Spanish kingdoms Andalusia, but for our purposes, we're going to stick with Spain. Since the Muslims were an advanced society, Spain prospered.

The Muslims were also very tolerant of other religions, allowing Muslims, Christians and Jews to basically take up the same space. However, Muslim political leaders were very suspicious of one another, which led to disunity among the many kingdoms. This disunity opened up the doors for Christian rule to seep in, and while the Muslims kept firm control of the southern kingdoms of Granada, Christian power began taking hold in the northern kingdoms of Aragon, Castile and Navarre. By the end of the 13th century, only Granada remained under Muslim control.

Expulsion of Muslims and Jews

Through all this turmoil, Spain remained a prosperous land where trade flourished and towns grew. However, in the 14th century, war between the Muslims and the Christians continued and reached its boiling point under the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon to Isabella of Castile in 1469. With these two tying the knot, the large Christian kingdoms of Aragon and Castile united and set their sights on the rest of Spain. In 1482, they began their quest to purge Spain of Muslim rule by invading Muslim-held Granada. In 1492, only a decade later, Muslim Granada surrendered, and the reconquering of Spain for the Catholic faith, or the Reconquista, was complete.

Now, if the story stopped here, my above claim that this lesson should be entitled 'When Spain Went Crazy' might seem a bit out of place. However, the story doesn't stop here, since the time of the Spanish Reconquista was also the time of the Spanish Inquisition.

To explain, even before the fall of Muslim Granada, Ferdinand and Isabella saw themselves as defenders of the Catholic faith and Spain as the 'Land of the Blessed Virgin'. For them, throwing out the Muslims just wasn't enough. The Jews also needed to go! Of course, since many Jews and Muslims didn't want to leave, but they also didn't want to be killed by zealous Catholics, they outwardly converted to the Catholic faith. Converted Jews took on the name Conversos, while converted Muslims took on the name Moriscos. No matter their names, Ferdinand, Isabella and their cronies weren't completely convinced of these converts' sincerity, and thus the Spanish Inquisition began.

Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile
Ferdinand and Isabella

The Inquisition Takes Hold

In 1478, Ferdinand and Isabella asked permission from the Pope to begin the Spanish Inquisition to purify Spain from heretics and nonbelievers. In 1483, they appointed Tomas de Torquemada Inquisitor-General for most of Spain. Torquemada, along with the King and Queen, became obsessed with the idea that the new converts to Catholicism were feigning their new faith in order to escape persecution. The monarchs also feared these 'pretend converts' might rise up against them, giving the Muslims a chance to regain power.

Under the authority of the monarchs, Torquemada established local tribunals, or courts of judges for the Inquisition. Heretics, another word for anyone believing or practicing anything that goes against the Catholic Church, were brought before these tribunals. Heretics included Muslims, Jews, Protestants, the sexually immoral, witches and pretty much anyone else the tribunals chose. Unlike courts today, tribunals were not established to prove guilt or innocence, because by the time a person stood before the tribunals, they were assumed guilty. Instead, these tribunals were established to gain a confession of heresy from the accused.

This was all accomplished in a public ceremony known as the auto-da-fé, in which the accused were brought out and their sentences were read. Although these ceremonies began more like solemn masses, years into the Inquisition they had degraded into public parties with people coming to watch and celebrate the suffering of others.

If a heretic did confess, they were often still beaten, stripped of their property, and at times imprisoned. Making things even more nuts, the accused were strongly 'persuaded' to cough up the name of another heretic. Like a bloody pyramid scheme, the list of heretics grew with every confession.

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