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As Ferdinand and Isabella continued to press forward with the 're-conquest' of Spain, they would increasingly come into command of lands long inhabited by Jewish and Muslim populations. As part of the spoils of conquest, those conquered would be stripped of their faith as a way of either driving them out or bring them under the authority of the church and crown. For those that had at least publicly denounced their faith though, the Spanish Inquisition would represent a new and more prying attack on those of non-Catholic origins. Accordingly, Los Hermanas Wool Works, LLC. (2009) reports that "King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain took seriously reports that some Conversos and Mudejars were not only privately practicing their former faiths but were secretly trying to draw others back into their previous religious folds. In 1480, the King and Queen created the Spanish Inquisition to investigate these suspicions. During the first twelve years of this new institution, thousands of converted Jews were killed for breaking the law which prohibited practicing Judaism." (Los Hermanas Wool Works, LLC, 1)
Ironically, the activities of the inquisition which would at first be sanctioned and signed off on by the papacy, would gradually become objectionable to the Church. Centuries of Catholic hostility over the premise of the Jewish role in the crucifixion had at this juncture begun to subside in other parts of Europe when the Spanish initiative reinvigorated demonstrations of European Anti-Semitism. Though reports vary by wide margins, some thousands of those subjected to the inquisition would be burned at the stake as the outcome of public auto de fes. These were trials of spectacle and ridicule where those accused of practicing Judaism in secret would be tortured with some observable parallels to the torture written as having been visited upon Jesus.
The Inquisition would be a powerful force throughout Spain and the Iberian peninsula for the subsequent century, particularly when in 1492, Ferdinand and Isabelle passed an edict expelling all practicing Jews from the kingdom. This would force countless Jews into conversion and countless others into exile, with populations of the Sephardic Jews originating in Spain escaping to less hostile contexts. According to one report, "nany Sephardic Jews went to Morocco, primarily to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. These tiny Mediterranean coastal villages were centers of commerce, and the Sephardic Jews flourished in these locales, thanks to both legal and illegal trade." (Los Hermanas Wool Works, LLC, 1) The mutual interests of the Jews and Muslims -- an ironic consideration given today's tumultuous relationship between the faiths -- would make the Turkish-based Ottoman Empire an hospitable environment to the Jews leaving Spain and Portugal during the bulk of the 16th century. This would help to obliterate its Jewish population in Spain though, leaving a stain of ethnic hostility that is palpable even today.
It would also have detrimental effects on the long-term fortunes of Spain. The Spanish Inquisition would expel, execute, or force into religious submission Spain's Jews and Moors. This would be fatal to the functionality of the production economy, disrupting the interdependent artisan, merchant and consumer aspects of its commercial trade.
Thus, as the challenges provoked by its severe mismanagement had begun to take their noticeable toll both on Spain's capacity to remain afloat economically and to suitably conduct its aspired colonial operations, Spain continuously employed the policy of pilfering its colonial holdings in the New World in order to fuel its improprieties on the European continent. But for Spain, there was a catastrophic ignorance in its Catholic leadership that helped to dismantle its success. As one internal critic would remark at the time "all activity has come to rest precisely on the idea of not doing anything new, in upholding the past -- its institutions and its dogmas -- in suffocating every initiative, every innovating idea." (Crow, 220.) These comments call into speculation the role of the Catholic Church in provoking stagnation and misappropriation within a kingdom of theretofore seemingly limitless potential for growth and innovation.
A markedly impacted population would be the diverse people of the Iberian peninsula themselves. The misappropriation of the crown had created a nation rife with corruption, moral decline, economic despair and the general sense that its leadership was driven by the greed and arrogance of the Catholic Church. This would incline the 1640 departure of Portugal and Catalina from the Spanish Empire. With this defection, Spain would lose respectively an umbrella under which a great many of its diverse holdings were occupied and a region from within its own perceived borders. This would sound the death knell for the empire, with Spain's Hapsburgs family dying out and the nation sinking into a vacuum of power and an era of regional fracturing. In many ways, that would not only characterize a declined Spain, but it would produce the largely splintered nation which we know today. The inquisition, viewed in its time as a doctrine through which to strengthen Spain and its royal family, would prove a long and catastrophic policy that would plunge Spain into centuries of civil unrest.
Crow, John. (1963). Spain: The Root and the Flower: A History of the Civilization of Spain and of the Spanish People. Harper & Row.
Kreger, L. (1996). The Spanish Inquisition: 1478-1834. The Web Chronology Project.
Ogg, David. (1954). Europe in the Seventeenth Century. Adam & Charles Black
Tres Hermana's Wool Works, LLC. (2009). A Short History of the…[continue]
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