Now let us return to Table 1 with its 18,860 cases (42.2 percent) for major and 25,815 (57.8 percent) for minor heresies. These dry figures reflect a plan of action conceived on the highest political level. Beginning gradually in the late 1540s, the Holy Office embarked on what would become its most important task: the consolidation of the dogmas and moral teachings of the Counter-Reformation.In accord with the doctrines and the new strategy being developed at the Council of Trent, attention was now concentrated on the Old Christians in order to eradicate what authorities considered their pseudoreligious notions and blasphemous habits…[T]he Inquisition was to employ strong measures against all those who in one way or another opposed the new moral and social order proclaimed by the Council of Trent. The Counter-Reformation program of re-Christianizing and reeducating the people was to be effected through the imposition of legal sanctions and social stigmas. This was the new assignment of the Inquisition in the second half of the sixteenth century, and its machinery remained mobilized for this purpose through the following century. In this period we may, however, notice an important change. While the Holy Office had originally been most active in the town, the “new” Inquisition directed its chief attention to the rural population, for it was there that – to use Ricardo Garcia Carcel’s expression – its most important and most typical “patient” was to be found: the Old Christian peasant.

[A]mong the major judicial institutions of early modern Europe, the Spanish Inquisition stood alone in demanding regular annual reports from each of its many branches, thereby generating such a massive series of trial summaries covering more than a century and a half. Like almost any other type of surviving documentation from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these series are incomplete today, but a large and easily usable portion of the relaciones de causas has survived.

Second, these summaries demonstrate that relatively few people were executed by the Spanish Inquisition after 1540; a single tribunal (Valencia) killed almost as many people during its first fifty years as the entire group of twenty did over the next century and a half. [43]

[FOOTNOTE 43] From 1484 to 1530 the inquisition of Valencia executed 754 persons, or 32 percent of the 2,354 people tried in this period.

Jaime Contreras and Gustav Henningsen (transl. by Anne Born), “Forty-four Thousand Cases of the Spanish Inquisition (1540-1700): Analysis of a Historical Data Bank”. The Inquisition in Early Modern Europe: Studies on Sources and Methods (1986)


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