Like Valencian and Toledan records, the materials in Mexico’s national archives contain many more trials than ever got reported in the annual relaciones. Mexico also boasts an extremely thick series of denunciations, almost five times as numerous as its preserved trials. But the investigator, Solange Alberro, seems more interested in her mentor’s version of histoire serielle than in comparing Mexican with Iberian patterns; thus her recent statistical monograph does not provide information which can be directly contrasted with the  Henningsen-Contreras tables.

Nevertheless, it is clear that fewer than 15% of Mexico’s 2,400 preserved trials after 1570 concerned Judaizers or other heretics, while about half were for minor doctrinal errors, nearly 20% for sexual offences (bigamy or priestly solicitation) and roughly 10% were for illicit magic. Mexico seems very dissimilar from an otherwise contemporaneous and comparably-sized tribunal like Galicia: for one thing, Mexico was a multi-racial society where Africans and mulattos formed a sizable share of seventeenth-century defendants; for another, it was a poorly-indoctrinated colony where close to half of the seventeenth-century defendants were clerics accused of both sexual and doctrinal sins (clerics, by comparison, formed about 12% of Galician defendants)

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

Galicia was an inquisitorial backwater, “commonly held to be the most insignificant in all of Spain,” as an experienced Inquisitor explained why he felt “dishonored” to be transferred there in 1620. Its heretics were foreigners: about half of its 213 “Lutherans” were British and only two were Spaniards, while its Judaizers were Portugese and even its few moriscos came from abroad. Riddled with corruption and cronyism, with venality and family connections crucial to its appointments, cutting suspicious deals with the Portugese conversos who comprised its “big game,” the Holy Office of Santiago seems more despicable than horrifying to its critics; but perhaps it was merely participating in the general malaise of seventeenth-century Spanish insitituions, which extended to other types of law courts as well.

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

The series of massacres began at Toledo in the summer of 1467. The canons of the Cathedral had sold to certain Jews the privilege of taxing the bread of the nearby town of Maqueda. An influential Christian ordered the Jews beaten out of town – a move highly popular with the already overtaxed and harassed people. In retaliation the Conversos organized, and one of their leaders, Fernando de la Torre, a hot-headed man of wealth, was foolish enough to boast that he had 4,000 fighting men well armed, six times as many as the Old Christians had; and on July 21 he led his army against the Cathedral, while the Christians were assembled at Mass. The armed Conversos burst in, crying “Kill them! This is no church, but only a congregation of vile men.” The Christian men drew swords, and defended themselves in a gory fray before the high altar. Reinforcements appeared from the nearby towns, mode a counter-offensive in the luxurious section where the Conversos lived, hanged Fernando de la Torre, and then butchered New Christians indiscriminately…

The fact was, that during these bloody years, [Queen Isabel] came to the conclusion that no ordinary expedient could restore civil peace and tranquility in Spain. For the sake of the Conversos themselves, if for no other reason, it was necessary to substitute some form of workable judicial procedure for the crude administrations of mob “justice”. The existing civil courts could not accomplish this, precisely because so many of the judges and lawyers were Conversos. As for the Church courts, the same was true; many priests, and even bishops, were of Jewish descent, and the orthodoxy of some was so suspect that nothing was to be looked for in that direction. Isabel was led inevitably, not only by pressure of public opinion, but by logic itself, to reach for the only weapon within her grasp – an Inquisition like that of the Middle Ages, in which the judges would be Dominican monks, carefully chosen and beyond the reach of intimidation or bribery.

William Thomas Walsh, Characters of the Inquisition (1940)

Fernando and Isabel, armed though they were with the tremendous authorities and responsibilities conferred by this Bull, did not hasten to brandish it over the heads of the Conversos, and to light the vast and lonely horizons of Castile with bonfires; as they would have done, had they been the bigots they have been accused of being. On the contrary, they decided to consider the matter further, and put the document away for nearly two years. They were influenced in this by the counsels of Cardinal Mendoza, who reminded them that if many of the Conversos were ignorant of the truths of the Catholic Faith, it might be because they had not been taught them by those whose business it was to do so. The Cardinal prepared a catechism for all the parishes of his own diocese.

The results, after several months, were discouraging…Toward the end of the second year of futile catechizing, all Christendom was thrown into a panic by the ruthless victories of the Grand Turk, Mohammed II, who, angered by his failure to storm Rhodes, sent his fleet westward, ravaged the coast of Apulia, and on August 11, 1480, took the city of Otrano in the Kingdom of Naples. Nearly half the civil population of 22,000 were butchered in cold blood, while the Archbishop and all the priests were slaughtered after the most brutal tortures.

The reaction in Spain when the news of these outrages arrived, sometime in September, probably had something to do with the decision of King Fernando and Queen Isabel to put into effect, without further delay, the powers granted to them by Sixtus. On the twenty-sixth, at Medina del Campo, they published a decree making the Inquisition effective, and appointing as members of the first tribunal in Castile, Cardinal Mendoza, Fray Tomas de Torquemada, and two other Dominicans, Fray Miguel Morillo and Fray Juan de San Martin.

William Thomas Walsh, Characters of the Inquisition (1940)

From its foundation until 1530, the Valencian Holy Office tried about 2,350 people; over 90% of them were Judaizers, and over 750 of them were put to death. From 1530 to 1609, this tribunal put at least 4,250 defendants on trial: over two-thirds of them were Moriscos and few of them were executed in person (two dozen Moriscos, two Judaizers, four “Lutherans” and a half-dozen sodomites).

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

Several of Lyon’s major publishers – Luxemburg de Gabiano, Jacopo Giunta, Hugues de la Porte, Vincent de Portonaris and Antoine Vincent – formed a major cartel around 1540, known as the Compagnie des librairs de Lyon

Of course, one cannot trace any direct lines from French Bibles (many of them printed by men who later became Huguenots) to Spanish heretics. But it seems more than coincidental that both districts where the Holy Office discovered so many French Bibles in 1552 became centers of serious Protestant circles by the end of the decade. At Seville a notorious crypto-Protestant, Dr. Egidio, was sentenced in 1553, four years before the Inquisition’s capture of a courier from Geneva named Julian Hernandez unveiled the largest group of Lutherans in sixteenth-century Spain. The smaller group of crypto-Protestants in mid-sixteenth century Aragon are gradually emerging from obscurity through the research of A.G. Kinder.

But the possible links between French Bibles and Spanish heretics run in many directions. At the very moment when the Seville Inquisition was collecting copies of the Bible printed at Vienne in 1542 by Melchior and Gaspard Trechsel for Hugues de la Porte, John Calvin was arguing that Aragon’s most notorious Protestant, Michael Servetus, then a prisoner in Geneva, had spread his poison through this particular edition of the Bible, for which he had served as corrector. However, Servetus’ most important editorial work for the Compagnie des libraires de Lyon went into the lavish, six-volume Bible printed by Trechsel in 1545, which seems to have been too elaborate for the Spanish market: it never appears on either the Seville or Saragossa lists.

William Monter, “French Bibles and the Spanish Inquisition, 1552” (1989)

In 1976, a Spanish historian reminded his readers that the Inquisition had been the very first branch of Spanish history to be “colonized” by foreigners, as far back as the sixteenth century. This tradition continued when, one year later, a Danish ethnographer-turned-historian inaugurated the current revolution in Spanish Inquisition historiography with the publication of an article on this institution’s “data bank” between 1550 and 1700. Done in collaboration with a young Spanish historian, Jaime Contreras, Gustav Henningsen’s work offered the first results of an ambitious project begun in 1972 to tabulate and analyze the entire caseloads of all twenty-one branches of the Spanish Inquisition during its peak activities. After five years, they had collected data on almost fifty thousand trials between 1540 and 1700, thanks to an auditing procedure of the Holy Office’s governing board, the Suprema, which demanded (and got) annual reports on cases judged in each tribunal. These relaciones de causas, preserved among the Inquisition’s papers in Madrid’s Archivo Historico Nacional, provided information which has produced the most important breakthrough in this field since the work of Henry Charles Lea reached its final form three-quarters of a century ago.

Global statistics, even incomplete (two tribunals were omitted in the 1977 article) demonstrated some significant and surprising conclusions about the Inquisition’s operations. In the first place, emphasized Henningsen, it was not particularly bloodthirsty – at least not between 1540 and 1700. Among these fifty thousand causas, covering virtually every Spanish auto-da-fe at which the most important prisoners were sentenced, he and Contreras counted only 775 people actually put to death in person (1.6%), and only 700 more (1.4%) sentenced to death in effigy, either because they had fled or else had died unrepentant in prison. An average of five executions per year over a century and a half, from a vast system with more than twenty branches covering most of early modern Europe’s largest empire, amounts to remarkably few victims, even with prison deaths included.

Secondly, Henningsen and Contreras employed a rudimentary classification of nine principal categories of accusation (Judaizers, Moriscos, “Lutherans,” proposiciones against the faith, solicitation of penitents by priests, bigamy, superstition, opposition to the Inquisition, and “miscellaneous”) in order to demonstrate that only a minority of Holy Office business was devoted to pursuit of the major heresies – Judaism, Islam, Protestantism – which supposedly constituted its raison d’etre. The single largest category, comprising close to 30% of the overall total, consisted of “heretical propositions” falling well short of formal heresy. Most defendants therefore were not conversos, moriscos, or foreigners who comprised the bulk of defendants charged with formal heresy, but rather ordinary Spaniards, “old Christians,” charged with an interesting array of lesser offenses. This typology of accusations reinforces and helps explain the comparative mildness of Inqusitorial sentences between 1540 and 1700; even so, most defendants charged with major heresy were not executed either.

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