The Inquisition II

The Inquisition expanded its horrible reach

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Neither can the vast sums confiscated from the victims' estates. Indeed a defendant's funds and businesses were sequestered from the moment he was imprisoned, well before actually facing trial, and these "preliminary” incarcerations often stretched on for years. Confiscated, too, was the ­property of individuals who had died years earlier but had been convicted posthumously. Their descendants instantly were stripped of their legacies, creditors denied access to debt payments, savings expropriated, families left impoverished. All funds escheated to the Crown.

Financial greed thus soon became a major factor in the inquisitional crusade. The Catholic Monarchs had negotiated a threefold division of spoils among the royal ­treasury, the Holy Office, and the inquisitional clerics engaged in each trial. These last therefore possessed a vested interest in broadening the scale of arrests, convictions, and confiscations.

Class Partly Determined Converso Reactions

As for the New Christians, their own reactions to the terror varied. The more affluent and educated among them generally had main­tained nominal links with the Jewish religion even before baptism. They had not found it difficult to apostatize for reasons of financial expediency, and if they were seized afterward by the Inquisition, many were quite prepared to degrade themselves, even to invent details that incriminated others, to save their lives and fortunes. There were instances of husbands, wives, and parents testifying against one another, although usually under torture. Other conversos simply fled the country with their families.

It was the converso lower‑middle classes that sustained the warmest communal links with their identified Jewish kinsmen. Many were mar­ranos or near‑marranos. Confronted now by the Inquisition, not a few of these secret judaizers were consumed by paroxysms of belated martyr­dom. "I rejoice," declared one converso prisoner in Torrelaguna to his fellow defendants, "for as soon as the measure of our torments and oppression is full, the Messiah, whom we all await, will speedily appear. Happy the person who will see him!"

There were instances of converso resistance as well. In 1480, with the establishment of the first inquisitional tribunal in Seville, a handful of New Christians met secretly at the home of a wealthy merchant, Diego de Susan. Among the group were the governor of Triana, the royal financial agent of Castile, even several church dignitaries. Together they made plans for an armed attack on the "interlopers."

At the last moment, however, the plot was shattered by Don Diego's daughter. A famed beauty, "La Susana" had a Christian lover, and inadvertently divulged the plot to him. He promptly informed the authorities. Don Diego and his accomplices then were seized, tried, convicted, and executed. As an "accessory,” La Susana herself was condemned to life in convent.

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Howard Sachar

Howard M. Sachar is the author of numerous books, including A History of Israel, A History of the Jews in America, Farewell Espana, Israel and Europe, and A History of Jews in the Modern World. He is also the editor of the 39-volume The Rise of Israel: A Documentary History. He serves as Professor of Modern History at George Washington University.