Between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, non-Catholics in the kingdom of Spain faced a lot of prosecution, and they were forced to accept Catholicism or leave Spain. The actions were taken by the rulers of Spain at the time, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, in collaboration with the Pope came to be referred to as the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition officially began in 1478. The Spanish Inquisition was a form of religious discrimination meant to safeguard the Catholic religion in the Spanish Empire. The Inquisition was formally abolished in the year 1834 by Isabella II (Rawlings 15). Throughout the period, more than 150000 were tried, and roughly 3% of the total number was executed.
The main religion of the Spanish empire was Catholicism, although the empire also had significant populations of Jews and Muslims. The Spanish had also conquered other lands as it expanded its territory into the Americas as well as Naples, Canary Islands and the Netherlands. Before the Inquisition, non-Christians all over Europe had suffered from prosecution for their religious beliefs. The Spanish Inquisition was created to root out heresy especially among newly converted Catholics. An example of this is the French bishop Pope Lucius III who organized the persecution of Catharists as alleged heretics were referred to (Kamen 21).
The Inquisitions were led by inquisitors appointed by the monarchs. The inquisitors visited different cities in the kingdom, with the offer that self-confessed heretics would receive a lighter punishment such as whipping or pilgrimage. They were forced to testify to their alleged crimes, and most of the time, there was no evidence presented against them. Some of the reasons why people would accuse others of heresy included revenge, jealousy, economic reasons, among others. The ruling class used the Inquisition to abuse their power; for example, Count Alphonese of Toulouse would confiscate the land and property of the accused, while his predecessor Count Raymond VII burned the accused even after they confessed (Rawlings 41).
The fifteenth century was the most intense for the Inquisition when the newly converted Catholics, named Conversos, were suspected of bringing corruption into the Church. For many years, Jews had to suffer from anti-Semitism and to avoid this they converted into Catholicism and gained the title Conversos. However, Ferdinand and Isabella still did not trust these converses and continued to prosecute them. They were accused of secretly practising their former religion while outwardly pretending to be Catholic. The Christian community also mistrusted the conversos and wanted the ruling class to take a harsh stand against them. In the year 1481, conversos were forced to live in camps apart from the Christians, and hundreds of them were burned at the stake despite their confession.
As the Spanish expanded their kingdom into the Americas, the Inquisition followed. In the year 1556, Phillip II took the throne, and this increased the rate of prosecution of the Conversos. In 1574, the Inquisition in Mexico led to the burning of Lutherans at the stake, and similar incidents happened against the Protestants in Peru. Between 1609 and 1615, a new king, Phillip III, forced Muslims to leave Spain including those who had earlier converted into Catholicism (Rawlings 58). The Spanish Inquisition came to an end after Napoleon conquered the country in 1808 and abolished the practice, which formally ended in 1834 under Isabella II.
The Spanish Inquisition can be compared to the Holocaust in Germany in which millions of Jews were killed for their religious beliefs. The systematic persecution of the Jews began in 1933 when Adolf Hitler became the German Vice-Chancellor. Adolf belonged to the Nazi party, which believed that Germans were superior to other races. The Jews were considered to be inferior and a threat to the Germans and the Nazis decided to completely obliterate the Jews as a solution to the Jewish Question. Before the Holocaust, Europe had a significant population Jewish population of over nine million, but afterwards, less than a third of these remained.
Along with the Jews, other groups of people deemed inferior such as the disabled, homosexuals, and soviet war prisoners were executed. The Jewish prosecution began with a boycott of Jewish businesses in 1933, ending in the destruction and ransacking five years later in the Kristallnacht (Crowe 31). As World War II began, the Germans took the opportunity to declare Jews a threat to Germany and send them to concentration camps in Germany and Poland including Chelmno, Auschwitz, Sobibor and Belzec . The main methods that the Germans used in the executions were gas chambers, mass shootings, gas vans and starvation. Overall, the German Nazis killed more than eleven million people between 1933 and 1945 (Crowe 53).
In conclusion, history has seen the systematic persecution of several groups of people on different grounds, including religion and politics. The Spanish Inquisition was sanctioned by the ruling political and religious class in Spain, with the main aim of ensuring the purity of the Catholic religion in the empire. Muslims and Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism or leave the empire. Even after this, they were still accused of heresy and contaminating the Church, and many of them were tried and executed. The Holocaust follows a similar trend, beginning with segregation of the Jews and other groups of people labelled as inferior by the Nazis. The Nazis then destroyed property owned by the Jews and sent them into concentration camps across Germany and Poland. By the end of 1945, the Nazis killed more than 11 million people.
Crowe, David M. The Holocaust: Roots, History, and Aftermath. Routledge, 2018.
Kamen, Henry. The Spanish Inquisition: a historical revision. Yale University Press, 2014.
Rawlings, Helen. The Spanish Inquisition. John Wiley & Sons, 2008.