Servant of Which Master? The Sixteenth-Century Spanish Inquisition

Student Author(s)

Alex Mouw

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Janis Gibbs

Document Type


Event Date



In 1477 a preacher named Alonso de Hojeda warned King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain that heretics were undermining the Christian Church in their kingdoms and something had to be done. In 1478, Pope Sixtus IV gave the monarchs the right to name inquisitors, and in 1480, the first inquisitors named by the monarchs began their work. While the Inquisition initially investigated Jewish converts to Christianity suspected of backsliding, the scope of the Inquisition's inquiry expanded over time. Historians have debated the true purpose of the Inquisition. Since the tribunal was authorized by the pope but administered by the Spanish monarchy, its purpose is difficult to ascertain and has been widely debated. While the Inquisition theoretically functioned on behalf of both the church and the monarchy to punish heresy, sources reveal that in practice the Inquisition functioned as more than a weapon to combat heresy. Its seemingly inconsistent treatment of two cases reveals the Inquisition as less systematic and more self-serving than its creators may have intended. I use the cases of Maria Gonzalez, tried in 1513, and Maria de Cazalla, brought to the Inquisition court in 1532, to investigate the inquisitors' motives. Inconsistencies in the judicial process of each case illustrate the complex nature of the Inquisition as an institution with dual allegiance to the church and state. They also reveal a paradox: The Inquisition may have been more concerned with its own authority than with heresy, yet it needed heresy, or at least a perception of heresy, in order to sustain its own authority.

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