Who Was Thomas de Torquemada?

An illustration of Tomas de Torquemada.
An illustration of Tomas de Torquemada.

Tomas de Torquemada was born in 1420, in Valladolid, Spain. As the nephew of a renowned Dominican Cardinal, Juan de Torquemada, the young Tomas entered San Pablo Dominican monastery when he was only two years old. He soon became famous for being an extremely austere and devoted Catholic. His fame led to his promotion to the monastery of Santa Cruz at Segovia, where he met Princess Isabella I, and soon became her personal advisor and confessor. From that point on, he was always her ally, and even influenced her on many important choices in her governance and personal life.

4. Career

At the time, as a devoted Catholic, Torquemada was deeply worried about the existence of non-Catholic beliefs in Spain, especially Judaism, which his own ancestors had been converted from. He saw Jews as a huge threat to the religious life and social order of Spain. As a Friar of the Monastery of Santa Cruz and a close ally of the Spanish Monarchy, he played a pivotal role in persuading the King and Queen to request for a Holly Officer to administer an Inquisition in Spain. After Pope Sixtus IV granted their request, in 1483 Torquemada was appointed to act as "Grand Inquisitor for Castile, Leon, Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and Majorca". Thusly, Tomas became most well known for his role as an inquisitor (a judicial official investigating and punsishing heresy, in this case deviation from Catholic teachings) in the long "Spanish Inquisition" to come.

3. Major Contributions

After his appointment in 1484, Torquemada soon reorganized the Spanish Inquisition, and established tribunals to conduct it at various places throughout Spain. The next year, he promulgated 28 articles outlining every aspect of the guidance of inquisitors. These reached into every aspect of personal life, including religious heresy, apostasy, sodomy, polygamy, usury, blasphemy, and so on and so forth. Torture was used excessively to induce confessions. Tomas saw the execution of thousands of "heretics" through burning over the years. Among all "heretics", he was especially hostile towards Jews, and his attitude directly led to the Spanish Monarchs' decision to expel all Jews who refused to convert to Christinanity.

2. Challenges

Although at first Torquemada's orders and measures were met with widespread public support, his extreme cruelty, excessive use of torture, and arbitrary use of his power gradually caused public discontent, and decreased his legitimacy in many Spaniards' eyes. Pope Alexander VI even had to appoint four assistant inquisitors in June of 1494 just to hold his power in restraint. At the same time, although he was dedicated to rid Spain from all heresy, he only forced people to "officially" convert to Catholicism by way of baptism. However, many Jews who had taken baptism under pressure in order to remain in Spain, in practice retained many of their traditions.

1. Death and Legacy

Torquemada died on September 16th, 1498, in the Monastery of St. Thomas Aquinas in Avila, Spain. The Spanish Inquisition initiated by him was carried on for hundreds of years after his death. Although he helped to consolidate the status of Catholicism in Spain, and indirectly helped the successful spread of Catholicism throughout the new Spanish colonies in the Americas and elsewhere around the world, his excessive measures brought tremendous tragedies and sufferings to non-Catholics in Spain for centuries. Without question, Torquemada's extreme cruelty and harshness made him a notorious historical figure.


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