The Spanish Inquisition
One of the darker periods of Spanish history is the Spanish Inquisition, which shrouded Spain for over 350 years. This era of severe censorship, paranoia, torture, autos-da-fé, death, and the general persecution of heretics, or in other words pretty much anybody who deliberately disagreed with the principles of the Catholic church, began in 1478 and lasted until 1834. In both scope and intensity, the Spanish Inquisition far surpassed the Medieval Inquisition, from which the Catholic monarchs took the original idea.
History of the Spanish Inquisition
Following their kingdom-uniting marriage, the famous Catholic monarchs Fernando and Isabel had quite a project ahead of them. Not only did the two kingdoms of Aragón and Castilla become one amongst mixed opinions, but the monarchy was closing in on the remaining Moorish kingdoms with the end of the Reconquista.
In order to manage, unite and strengthen their enlarging and culturally diverse kingdom they decided that the means of unification would be through Catholic orthodoxy. So, in 1478, they asked permission from Pope Sixtux IV to establish a special sect of the Inquisition- permission that he reluctantly granted- and so began the Spanish Inquisition.
The monarchy especially feared the intervention of Jewish and Moorish reinforcements from abroad, so they forced non-Catholics to choose between conversion to Catholicism or expulsion from the country to eliminate the possibility. Those suspected of practicing Protestantism, non-Catholic-approved sexual acts, black magic and anything else that the monarchy saw as a threat also found themselves amongst the persecuted.
Just a few years later suspicions arose again, this time regarding the loyalty of those conversos (converted Jews) and moriscos (converted Moors) to Catholicism. The Inquisition became obsessed with the suspicion that the converts only pretended to convert to escape persecution, continued to practice their own religions privately, and planned to undermine the church down the road. After years of what boiled down to the frantic pointing of fingers, the Spanish Inquisition drew to a close in 1834.
Structure of the Spanish Inquisition
While the Spanish Inquisition revolved around a religious foundation, it operated independent of the Catholic Church. In other words, the Catholic Church had no say in the operations of the Spanish Inquisition- not even the Pope. It was the job of the first General-Inquisitor, Tomás de Torquemada, to shape the Inquisition into the extremely organized, ruthless witch-hunt that it became.
He established tribunals of the inquisition throughout Spain. Heretics, whose names the tribunals acquired from the fearful general public, were presented, tried in the tribunal, and handed their sentence all in a public ceremony known as an auto-da-fé. If they did not repent, they either received anything from life in prison to being burned alive at the stake. The tribunal forced those who did repent to name other heretics, hand over their money, and sometimes still serve time in a jail cell. Of course, there were no "alleged" heretics- just those who repented and those who did not.