Thus far the history of criminality has not bitten deeply into the social history of the Inquisition, so that comparisons with the kinds of sentences handed down by Spanish secular justice are impossible. Yet such comparisons seem to be necessary, because in several instances Spain’s Holy Office shared de facto jurisdiction over certain types of crimes with lay courts, depending on whether or not “manifest heresy” was present in a particular accusation. Maleficient witchcraft, brujeria, was subject to such mixed jurisdiction in early modern Spain. So was blasphemy. So was bigamy. In the Kingdom of Aragon, including Valencia, sodomy and even horse thievery were also subject to mixed inquisitorial and secular jurisdiction. In all these instances the parallel study of secular and inquisitorial justice has barely begun, although an investigation of witch-trials in Upper Aragon between 1600 and 1650 demonstrated that only a handful of such cases were ever transferred from secular courts to the Holy Office and the brujeria suspects brought before the Inquisition were mostly men, whereas virtually all such defendants tried by secular courts in the same region were women….

In sum, we have learned a great deal about the actual workings of that hoary old monster called the Spanish Inquisition during the past few years, principally through the quantitative study of its clientele (and, to a lesser extent, of its personnel) between 1550 and 1700. But the revolution has just begun; the bridgehead must be expanded in various ways, until some day people can regard Lea as they now regard Ranke – a name to conjure with but not to be consulted.

E. William Monter, “The New Social History and the Spanish Inquisition” (1984)

Journal of Social History
Vol. 17, No. 4 (Summer, 1984), pp. 705-713


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