The Iberian Inquisitions in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Between Coercion and Accommodation

Authored by: Helen Rawlings

The Routledge Companion to Iberian Studies

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415722834
eBook ISBN: 9781315709895
Adobe ISBN:


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The Iberian Inquisitions, first established in the kingdom of Castile (1478), then in the Crown of Aragon (1484), and half a century later in neighbouring Portugal (1531) as a deterrent against the threat of heresy, soon gained a collective reputation as a metaphor for religious and racial intolerance that has left its indelible mark on Iberian identity in particular and the history of western civilization in general for more than 500 years. But the infamy of the Inquisition as an historical phenomenon has very often distorted the actual historiographical record, giving rise to an enormous volume of ‘black versus white’ polemical discourse, coloured by the ideological and political bias of writers, as opposed to measured analysis. It was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that a major turning point was reached in inquisitorial studies when the American scholar Henry Charles Lea became the first historian to make extensive use of the archives of the Spanish Inquisition to conduct his research. His application of critical, objective methodology to the evidence transformed the discourse. In his four-volume History of the Inquisition of Spain (1906–07), Lea challenged liberal and conservative interpretations that had characterised inquisitorial historiography since the sixteenth century. While he criticised the severity of its practices, he also acknowledged that the Spanish Inquisition had been established for reasons that were seen as legitimate in their time and advised modern historians to be cautious in their judgement of it. He thus set the agenda for revisionist scholarship that would follow in the second half of the twentieth century.

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