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Queen Isabella – The Soul of the Inquisition

Modern Western Civilisations

Nov. 19 2001
As the end of the 15th century was approaching, King Henry IV, ruler
of Castille passed away, leaving his kingdom in the hands of his sister
Isabella.  When she married Ferdinand, King of Aragon, they united the
Spanish nation, and were about to be remembered as the most famous and
significant rulers of Spain.  This unity reduced the power of the nobles,
who before this time had held so much power that they were almost
independent from the Crown.  As soon as Isabella came into power she
established the Holy Brotherhood (military force) to secure her power and
influence, thereby weakening the traditional aristocracy.  She had a vision
of Spain that she was determined to see carried out, and she used absolute
feudalism to expand her royal authority and influence the nation.  Wealth
although, was not the only goal of the Queen, she wished to see a unity of
the Christian faith in her nation, with no other “bad religions” to
desecrate her strong belief in the power of the Christian religion.  She
mainly saw the Jewish people as a threat to her, both politically and
economically, and fabricated a plan to rid her of this problem.  Through
her desideratum for the highest possible political power and her notion of
religious obligation, she devised a system to legitimise and achieve her
objectives and completely annihilate all Non-Christians.  Thus, she
established the Spanish Inquisition.
Isabella was raised and taught by her mother to always believe
strongly in the Christian faith so that she could live a virtuous Christian
life.  When she was growing up the idea of “pure blood” was enforced, which
excluded people of Jewish and Moorish descent (Fernandez-Urmesto 168).  She
had always believed in the Biblical book the Apocalypse that explained the
prophecy of the Second Coming, and imagined herself or one her descendants
in the position of ruler at that time.  However, she presumed that that
empirical ruler would only be able to emerge when all Jews would disappear
as a race.  “Devoutly religious, Isabella believed that it was the duty of
Christian rulers to implement God’s will on Earth” (Commire, Women 713).
She concluded that the only way to fulfil that duty would be to impose her
authority through religion, to either convert or eliminate all non-
Christians.  She felt that it was the Queen’s royal and sacred duty to do
so.  Ferdinand and Isabella consequently acted to bring religious
uniformity throughout Castille and Aragon.  Isabella saw herself in a
position where she was servicing both God and herself and doing what was
needed for the realm, the faith, and the Crown (Liss 277).
Isabella felt that not only did the Jews pose a threat religiously,
but they also posed a danger to the independence and security of the nation
(Mariejol 40).  Not only did she wish for her religion to be the same with
the Spanish people, but she and her husband also wished to have total
control of the kingdom’s political and social structure.  In order to have
total control Isabella complied with the theory, “He who is not with me, is
against me” (Walshe 224).  Isabella devised a plan parallel to royal
purpose and strategy that besides enforcing religious conformity, would
also enhance popular adhesion and internal control, and would bring in
funds (Liss165).  By ridding the nation of all non-Christians, the idea of
patriotism and political conformity would be strongly enforced.
By the time Isabella and Ferdinand came into power, some Jews had
begun to convert because they felt discriminated against, but still,
together with the remaining Jews they managed to control many assets in the
country and pose a threat to the Queen’s power.  There was no doubt that
they were at the height of prosperity, with the capital and commerce of the
country in the palms of their hands.  By the time Isabella came into power,
the Jews were a power, almost a state within a state (Walsh 261).  Wherever
Jews would be situated, their individuality would strongly influence both
the people and environment around them.  Isabella fathomed that if nothing
were to be done about the Jews, “The government would gradually be passed
into Jewish hands” (Walsh 261).  Castille had a significant Jewish
population whose members had much influence as physicians, bankers, and tax
collectors.  People were intimidated by them for their intelligence and
financial ability and were jealous of the power they had.  Isabella said,
“Each day, it is found that the Jews increasingly continue their evil and
harm” (Liss 263).  She convinced both herself and her people that the only
rational solution would be to abolish these enemies from the domain.
On March 30, 1942, Isabella and Ferdinand conquered Granada, the land
of the Islamic people and put their Visigothic code into effect (Mariejol
52).  They decided that their country and its Christian beliefs were in
danger as long as the Jewish people were working and influencing their
communities.  “Religion was so intimately linked to the idea of the state
that it seemed unthinkable for a prince to allow adherents of Moses and
Mohamed to live side by side with the Christian folk” (Mariejol 40).  To
protect the unity of Spain and to allow for the golden age of progress to
arrive, Isabella and Ferdinand obtained authorisation from Pope Sixtus IV
to grant a bull for the establishment of the Inquisition.  They were then
allowed to choose the priests who were to investigate and discover all
heretics and apostates (Llorente 32).  The courts of Spain were then put
under royal control as opposed to papal or episcopal control as they were
in the past (Commire, Women 715).  All non-Christians were faced with two
choices, either convert and adhere to the Christian faith or be removed
from the country.  Many people chose to flee the country and others chose
to convert but still tried to keep the Jewish culture whenever possible.
With the all the non-Christians “taken care of”, Isabella sustained that
her kingdom would now be able to become more powerful and capable.
“Conversion, Inquisitions and expulsion brought religious uniformity, and
control over the Spanish church, which strengthened Ferdinand’s and
Isabella’s royal power” (Commire, Historic 656).
The inquisition was first established in Seville, and then spread
throughout Castille and Aragon, and was considered one of the earliest
institutions in Spain.  “The inquisition was an ecclesiastical court
charged with achieving an objective to both religion and the state”
(Mariejol 39).  Inquisitors were sent out to find any one person who had
converted to the Christian religion but still practised the Jewish ways,
otherwise known as Judaizers.  Heresy became more than just a religious
question; it became both a political and national issue to be examined.
The idea of heresy greatly troubled Isabella because she believed
conformity within her nation was essential for the new order of monarchical
centralisation (Commire, Women 715).  People were questioned and tortured
under extreme circumstances so that they would reveal whatever the
Inquisitor wished to hear, even if it was not true.  All people found
guilty of heresy were either executed or sent to prison to serve as a
lesson to all other conversos: follow the Christian ways or else.  The aim
of the inquisition, Isabella explained, was to not only punish and
persecute for the sake of intolerance, but was to protect the faithful
Christians from unjust scepticism and subjugation (Walshe 271).  As long as
the Spanish religion and nationality was protected from the spread of
heretical principles, Isabella felt her objectives were being met.
Queen Isabella was and is still seen as one of the most influential
people in Spanish history.  Her reasons for introducing the Spanish
Inquisition, which seemed rational at the time, created an atrocity against
humanity all for the vision of a “pure nation”.  Politically, she desired
power, and anything that posed a threat to her was to be eliminated.
Through strong influence and careful planning, she demonstrated the
capability she had to stop at no means to get what she wanted.  Isabella
also, felt that it was her duty, to “cleanse” the nation and prepare it for
bigger and better things.  The position that the Jews had at that time,
combined with the new-Christians, who still faithfully believed in the
Jewish religion, advocated the Queen to rid her nation of these impurities,
to ready her nation for the golden age of progress.  Isabella had the
opportunity to be a great Queen for all Spaniards, however, her
shortsighted vision of the world, supported by the intolerance of the time,
lead her to relentless cruelty against those who did not share her beliefs.
As much as she will be remembered as one of the most important leaders of
the Spanish world, she will also be remembered as the instigator of one of
the major social crimes in history.
Works Cited
Commire, Anne. Ed.  “Isabella 1.”  Women in World History.  7 vols.
Yorkin Publications, 2000.  711-716.
Commire, Anne. Ed.  “Isabella 1 Queen of Castille.”  Historic World
Leaders.  2
vols.  Detroit: Vale Research Inc, 1994.  653-657.
Fernadez-Urmesto, Felipe.  Ferdinand and Isabella.  London: Weidenfeld and
Nicolson, 1975.
Liss, Peggy K.  Isabel the Queen.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Llorente, Antonio Juan.  Critical History of the Inquisition of Spain.
Massachusetts: Jon Lilburne Company publishers, 1823.
Mariejol, Jean Hippolyte.  The Spain of Ferdidnand and Isabella.  Ed. and
Benjamin Keen.  New Brunswick: H. Wolf Book Manufacturing Co, 1961.
Walshe, William Thomas.  Isabella of Spain.  London: Sheed and Ward, 1931.

Works Consulted
Fritz-Bear, Yitzhak.  “Jewish and Converso Trials.”  The Spanish
Inquisition.  Ed.
Paul Hawben.  Toronto: John Wiley and Sons Inc, 1964.  100-140.
Knight, Kevin. Ed.   “Isabella 1.”  Catholic Encyclopaedia Online.  1999.
York.  1 Oct. 2001  .
Netanyahu, Benjamin.  “Primary Causes of the Spanish Inquisition.”  Towards
Inquisition.  London: Cornell University Press, 1997.  183-200.
Montavs, R. Gonsalvius.  “Spanish Protestant Martyrology.”  The Spanish
Inquisition.  Ed. Paul Hawben.  Toronto: John Wiley and Sons Inc,
Roth, Cecil.  “An Edict of Faith.”  The Spanish Inquisition.  Ed. Paul
Toronto: John Wiley and Sons Inc, 1964.  50-70.

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