Mexico’s Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition founded by Philip II in January 1569 had developed its bureacratic structure by the first decade of the seventeenth century. Spectacular autos de fe between 1574 and 1601 allowed the Tribunal to establish its reputation in the colony and to augment its financial base beyond the yearly 10,000 peso subvention provided by the Spanish monarchy. Trials of crypto-Jews in the 1590s netted considerable income and caused the king to cease his payment of inquisitional salaries for a time. During the first decade of the seventeenth century the Tribunal petitioned the crown to assign the income from a series of cathedral canonries for support of the Inquisition bureaucracy. Between 1629 and 1636 “reserved” canonries were established for Holy Office income and by 1650 nine of these were generating the Inquisition’s salary budget. It was always understood that royal subsidies were to decrease as canonry income paid salaries. All other expenses had to come from judicial fines.
After the flurry of Protestant and Jewish trials of the late sixteenth century, the Mexican Tribunal entered an era of relative inactivity and meager income. From the arrival of the Tribunal in 1571 a series of disputes with the ecclesiastical hierarchy and with civil government over jurisdiction, dignity and position in religious and civil affairs ensued. These abrasive relations accentuated in the first half of the seventeenth century and provided the background for vicious infighting after 1630. Viceroys, jealous of their prerogatives, treated the Holy Office with benign neglect causing the Tribunal to complain in February 1634 that edicts of faith had not been read for a decade. Civil government officials would not march in Inquisition processions or attend proclamations of edicts “owing to quarrels over the ceremonial aspects of the procedures,” and it was another decade “before questions of etiquette and precedence were settled” and edicts of faith were read in the cathedral. The Inquisition Tribunal had reported to the Council of the Suprema in Spain on July 12, 1638 “not a single case was pending.” This was the situation when the Mexican Holy Office used a perceived Jewish conspiracy to recoup its power, prestige, and financial position. Blatant disregard for prescribed inquisitorial procedures, rights of accused, peculation, and use of the Inquisition as a political instrument led to a full scale investigation of the Mexican Holy Office between 1645 and 1669.
Richard E. Greenleaf, “The Great Visitas of the Mexican Holy Office 1645-1669,” The Americas, vol. 44.4 (1988)