How many deaths in all was [Torquemada] responsible for during the whole of his career? The monstrous figures accepted by generations of Protestant Englishmen have of course been drastically revised. Wherever actual records of the Inquisition have come to light, the have refuted the swollen figures of Llorente, who set in motion the legend of “bloody Torquemada”. Purlgar, secretary to Queen Isabel (himself of Jewish descent), says that in her whole reign 2,000 persons were put to death by the State, after the Inquisition had handed them over as impenitent, relaxed or pertinacious. This number included those convicted not only of heresy, judaizing, blasphemy and other offenses directly religious, but bigamy, sodomy and certain other crimes, which in Spain were dealt with by the Inquisition instead of the civil courts. This figure is now generally accepted, even by anti-Catholic historians. If it correct, Torquemada was responsible for perhaps half or more – let us say, at a hazard, between 1,000 and 1,500…

One of the few local Tribunals for which accurate statistics have been found is that of Barcelona. The court was established by Torquemada in 1488. In the ten years following there were thirty-one autos de fe. Ten persons from the city or the country round about were strangled and then burned, thirteen were burned alive, fifteen were burned dead, 430 were burned in effigy. 116 were given penances, with prison sentences; and 304 were reconciled after voluntary confessions.

An analysis of these figures will give some idea of how severe Torquemada’s Inquisition was in practice. Here we have 888 accusations. Of the persons accused, 430 escaped, leaving only the poor satisfaction of burning their images; and 15 were dead. There remained in the hands of the Inquisitors 443 persons. Of these, 304 were released without punishment, and told to go and sin no more. Of the remaining 139 (less than a third), the vast majority, 116, were sentenced to terms in prison, whose durations are not stated. Twenty-three were executed, ten of them with the privilege (considered an act of mercy) of being strangled before being burned. Of those accused and arrested, the Inquisitors turned over about five percent to the State for execution. One prisoner out of twenty was put to death in the Barcelona district.

If we may accept the estimate that in Torquemada’s entire regime 100,000 prisoners passed before his Tribunals, and if we take Pulgar’s estimate of 2,000 executions for the reign of Queen Isabel, including the early days of Morillo and San Martin and the alter administration of Deza, the percentage becomes even more favorable to the Inquisitor General. Hardly more than one percent of all the prisoners in Spain, during Torquemada’s term of office, could have been executed.

William Thomas Walsh, Characters of the Inquisition (1940)


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