The agitprop and demonization operations we write about on the pages of Winter Watch are nothing new or modern. In fact, the usual suspects were behind them then just as they are now. Case in point is what is referred to as the “Black Legend.” The principal target was the Spanish Inquisition. It was built into a massive atrocity campaign throughout Europe by Spain’s enemies and opponents.
Oddly, the Frankfurt/Main area of Germany was a hotbed of propaganda against Spain due to the great number of Jews who fled Spain and settled there after Ferdinand and Isabella expelled them in 1492.
It’s a fact of history that Jews aided the Moorish and Berber tribes from North Africa in their entrance into Spain, and they flourished under Muslim rule with some achieving high positions in government. When the Christian Reconquesta was achieved, they began to be suspected of disloyalty to the united Catholic Kingdom of Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella. Much of the basis for the Black Legend is derived from the supposed mistreatment of Jews and Muslim Moors under the rule of Spain’s Catholic kings.
Most Inquisition measures against false conversos (crypto-Jews) took place between 1491 and 1530, as the Reconquista was consolidated. Typically, these populations were expulsed, not executed. True conversos were not persecuted, but instead often advanced themselves and maneuvered into the bureaucracy and noble classes, typically through the age-old methods of marriage and money.
The War of the Alpujarras (1568–1571), a Muslim-Morisco uprising in Granada, ended with the forced dispersal of about half of Castile and Andalusia Moriscos (crypto-Muslims) populations. The coast was regularly raided, and slaves hauled off by Barbary pirates backed by Spain’s enemy, the Ottoman Empire, and the Moriscos and Jews were aiding them.
Between 1560 and 1571, 82% of those accused in Inquistion proceedings were Moriscos. Between 1615 and 1700, cases against Moriscos constituted only 9% of those judged by the Inquisition. Philip IV in 1621 gave the order to desist from attempting to impose measures on remaining Moriscos “unless they caused significant commotion.”
As different geopolitical conflicts developed with the English, Dutch and French, the agit-prop took on a life of its own. Italy developed a virulent black legend agit-prop as Spain occupied various lands in Sicily and southern Italy. The tools used against the Spanish were the printing press combined with lies and fabrications.
Contrived rumors were spread that Spain was planning an alliance with the Turks in an attempt to subjugate the German people. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, since it was actually Spain at the forefront of European defense against the Turks.
One of the most famous and influential agit-props was the “Book of Martyrs” by John Foxe (1516–1587). Many of the themes that are repeated later on are to be found in this text: anyone can be tried for any triviality; the Inquisition is infallible; people are usually accused to gain money, because of jealousy or to hide the actions of the Inquisition; if proof is not found, it’s invented; prisoners are isolated with no contact with the outside world in dark dungeons, where they suffer horrible torture, etc. Foxe warned that this sinister organization could be introduced into any country that accepted the Catholic faith.
The other atrocity agit-prop was the “Exposition of the Arts of the Spanish Holy Inquisition” published in Heidelberg in 1567 under the pseudonym Reginaldus Gonsalvius Montanus.
By and large, the principal writers of that day (like now) would cite and copy each other without doing any real research or even visiting Spain.
French philosopher Montesquieu joined the pile on by describing an inquisitor as someone “separated from society, in a wretched condition, starved of any kind of relationship, so that he will be tough, ruthless and inexorable.”
Satire and ridicule were popular writing styles, which drew Voltaire into the fray. Voltaire advanced the theory that the Spanish monarchy was nothing more than the plaything of the church and specifically the Inquisition.
In reality, there were a number of powerful interests besides the clergy in Spain, including merchants, tradesmen, nobles and military. These would often mitigate the influence of the Inquisition. Many influential Catholic archbishops and clergy were opposed to forced conversions.
In 1673, Francis Willoughby wrote “A Relation of a Voyage Made through a Great Part of Spain.” He summed up the demonization of the Spanish as follows.
Spain is in many places, not to say most, very thin of people, and almost desolate. The causes are:
- 1. A bad Religion
- 2. The Tyrannical Inquisition
- 3. The multitude of Whores
- 4. The barrenness of the soil
- 5. The wretched laziness of the people, very like the Welsh and Irish, walking slowly and always cumbered with a great Choke and a long Sword
- 6. The expulsion of the Jews and Moors
- 7. Wars and Plantations
The term “inquisition” has become so widely used that it has come to be a synonym for “official investigation, especially of a political or religious nature, characterized by its lack of respect for individual rights, prejudice on the part of the judges and cruel punishments.”
Black Legend propaganda led to the anticlerical ideologies of the left wing, such as socialism, communism and anarchism. It played a role in the mindset of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). It is reminiscent of the staged deceptions and “just make up shit” anti-white (and anti-Muslim) agit-prop we are witnessing today.
It should be noted that Winter Watch writers are neither Catholic nor Hispanic- we have no dog in this but the truth.
What’s the Truth About the Activities of the Inquisition
In terms of the context of unifying Spain after centuries of war and Reconquista, the Inquisition was relatively tame. Far worse abuses were going on elsewhere.
An important point of which most people are unaware: The Inquisition had jurisdiction only over those who claimed to be Christians. Besides Protestants, that would include Conversos, Muslims or Jews who converted to Catholicism. It had no authority over the unbaptized.
Primarily, the philosophy used was suasion, shunning, expulsion and the bully pulpit. The accused had a period of grace in which to repent and confess their false teaching or gross misconduct on their own accord. If this was done, only a mild penance was imposed, never a severe punishment. The objective was to correct the Christians’ errors so that he or she would return to correct doctrine and practice. One’s beliefs were not seriously punished — openly proselytizing “false doctrine” was.
Far from being a star chamber, the accused — if he or she went to court — would write out a list of all their enemies. NONE of these people were allowed to testify against him. He was given trained lawyers and had the right to disallow any judge he thought would be prejudiced against him. (Is this ever done in modern American courts?) False accusations were punished severely. There was a strict protocol. The inquistors were typically lawyers or legal experts.
Citations for the next three paragraphs come from this excellent video documentary – The Myth of the Spanish Inquisition. BBC produced this in 1994, back in the day when it still had some reputation for legitimate truth and historical revisionism.
The Inquisition kept voluminous records of proceedings and on those it was keeping an eye. These records have been the subject of deep research in recent decades. Although the Inquisition had a chilling effect, in most parts of Spain — and especially small towns and rural areas — it had almost no authority or clout. The inquisitors would reluctantly roll into these towns once in a blue moon, but the local priests would not cooperate and would instruct their parishioners to speak no evil about their neighbors, cautioning even against gossip.
Juan Antonio Llorente (1756–1823), a fierce enemy of the Inquisition, whose “Critical History of the Inquisition” of 1817–1819 remains the most famous early work estimated the number of executions carried out during the whole of the period that the Spanish Inquisition existed, from 1483 until its abolition by Napoleon, at 31,912.
Recent scholars, such as Henry Kamen [“The Spanish Inquisition” 2014] conclude: “We can in all probability accept the estimate, made on the basis of available documentation, that a maximum of three thousand persons may have suffered death during the entire history of the tribunal” (p. 253).
Inquisitors did not believe torture produced the truth; therefore, it was rarely used. Research suggests about 1% of the more serious cases were subjected to lighter forms of torture and almost never prolonged or repeated torture. The only genuine iron maiden ever found came from Germany. Torture was widespread among Spain’s enemies. Its use in Spain was a myth.
Most of the Inquisition was, in fact, internal security measures taken during wartime conditions to deal with traitors, criminals and subversives, which were typically found in the crypto-conversos population in Spain and among rebellious Protestants in the Spanish Netherlands. Foreign Protestant agents operated in Spain as missionaries. For example, there was a surge between 1557 and 1562 (early stage of the Dutch Revolt) as the courts in Antwerp executed 103 heretics. There were many non-Catholics killed in religious wars, such as the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), but that had little to do with Inquisition activities.
The Inquisition was also a response to the depopulation of the Spanish coastal towns by Judeo-Muslim criminal slave-trading pirates. Many Muslim ship captains who raided Spanish coastal cities were Jewish.
The most important of these was Sinan, called “The Great Jew,” who would later be called the Muslim name of Kaptan Pasha. He was the leader of Barbarossa’s Muslim fleet. He captured Tunis from Spain in 1534. Much of the Spanish fleet was destroyed by Sinan in 1538. Meanwhile, Portuguese Jews (Morranos) were rearming Turkish Muslims. One of Sinan’s biggest operations was ravaging coastal Catholic districts of South Italy and Sicily in 1553 and hauling off tens of thousands of slaves.
American historian Robert Davis in, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800, concluded that 1 million to 1.25 million Europeans ended up in bondage.
The second major Jewish pirate was Samuel Palache and his brother (aka the “Pirate Merchants”), who left Spain and settled in Fez Morroco. He operated out of Tetuan, a pirate port infestation astride the Strait of Gibraltar. Palache ended up in Holland in 1608, planning for Holland and Morocco to team up against Spain. When Spain and Portugal were united in 1580, the outgunned Inquisition was brought in to deal with this world-class skullduggery.
Witchcraft in Spain
In northern Europe, witches were burned at the stake by the tens of thousands. The Spanish believed witches existed, but were often viewed positively as healers. Ancient cults remained strong in many regions, and the Church rarely had a problem with that. An estimated 50 witches were burned at the stake over 350 years and usually in combination with some other behavior or heresy. There was none of the hysteria that may have gone on elsewhere.
Winter Watch Takeaway
Given the context of what they were dealing with, the Spanish Inquisition “didn’t do nothing wrong”. This is yet one more inversion of history in which the good guys who protected the safety and welfare of their people against predators and renegados, are painted as nasty. In reality they were defacto border patrol and worked to stabilize the Spanish nation and society.