Tomás de Torquemada

Tomás de Torquemada
Tomás de Torquemada
Born October 14, 1420
Died September 16, 1498 (aged 77)
Ávila, Kingdom of Castile
Occupation Grand Inquisitor
  • Don Pedro Ferdinando, lord of Torquemada (father)
Relatives Juan de Torquemada (cardinal) (uncle)

Tomás de Torquemada[a] OP (October 14, 1420 – September 16, 1498), also anglicized as Thomas of Torquemada, was a Castilian Dominican friar and first Grand Inquisitor in Spain's movement to homogenize religious practices with those of the Catholic Church in the late 15th century, otherwise known as the Spanish Inquisition, which resulted in the expulsion from Spain of thousands of people of Jewish and Muslim faith and heritage.

Mainly because of persecution, Muslims and Jews in Spain at that time found it socially, politically, and economically expedient to convert to Catholicism (see Converso, Morisco, and Marrano).[1] The existence of superficial converts (i.e., Crypto-Jews)[2] was perceived by the Spanish monarchs of that time (King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella) as a threat to the religious and social life of Spain.[3] This led Torquemada, who himself had converso ancestors,[4][5][6] to be one of the chief supporters of the Alhambra Decree that expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492.


Early life

Torquemada was born on October 14, 1420, either in Valladolid, in the Kingdom of Castile,[7] or in the nearby village of Torquemada[8][9] He came from a family of conversos (converts from Judaism); his uncle, Juan de Torquemada, was a celebrated theologian and cardinal[4] whose grandmother was a conversa. The 15th Century chronicler Hernando del Pulgar, a contemporary to de Torquemada and himself a converso, recorded that Tomás de Torquemada's uncle, Juan de Torquemada, had an ancestor, Álvar Fernández de Torquemada, who was married to a first-generation conversa.[5][6]

Torquemada entered the local San Pablo Dominican monastery at a very young age. As a zealous advocate of church orthodoxy, he earned a solid reputation for learning, piety, and austerity. As a result, he was promoted to prior of the monastery of Santa Cruz at Segovia. Around this time, he met the young Princess Isabella I, and the two immediately established religious and ideological rapport. For a number of years, Torquemada served as her regular confessor and personal advisor. He was present at Isabella's coronation in 1474, remained her closest ally and supporter and even advised her to marry King Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469 to consolidate their kingdoms and form a power base he could draw on for his own purposes.[10] Torquemada subdued Ferdinand's own ambitions and became his confessor also.[11]

Establishment of the Holy Office of the Inquisition

Torquemada deeply feared the Marranos and Moriscos as a menace to Spain's welfare by both their increasing religious influence and their economic domination of Spain.[5] The Crown of Aragon had Dominican inquisitors almost continuously throughout much of the 14th and the 15th centuries. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella petitioned Pope Sixtus IV to grant their request for a Holy Office to administer an inquisition in Spain. The Pope granted their request and established the Holy Office for the Propagation of the Faith in late 1478.

The papal bull gave the sovereigns full powers to name inquisitors. Rome retained the right to formally appoint the royal nominees. Henry Charles Lea observed that the Spanish Inquisition in both Castile and Aragon remained firmly under Ferdinand's direction throughout the joint reign.[12]

Grand Inquisitor

The Pope went on to appoint a number of inquisitors for the Spanish Kingdoms in early 1482, including Torquemada. A year later he was named Grand Inquisitor of Spain, which he remained until his death in 1498. In 1484, Torquemada relinquished his role as royal confessor to Diego Gaza, a Dominican who would eventually succeed him as Grand Inquisitor. The following year, at a general assembly in Seville, Torquemada promulgated the twenty-eight articles of faith that would be used to guide the inquisitors' investigations.[13]

In the fifteen years under his direction, the Spanish Inquisition grew from a single tribunal at Seville to a network of two dozen Holy Offices.[14] As Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada reorganized the Spanish Inquisition (originally based in Castile in 1478), establishing tribunals in Sevilla, Jaén, Córdoba, Ciudad Real and (later) Saragossa. His quest was to rid Spain of all heresy. The Spanish chronicler Sebastián de Olmedo called him "the hammer of heretics, the light of Spain, the savior of his country, the honor of his order."

Torquemada saw that the condemned were made to wear a sanbenito, a penitential garment worn over clothing, bearing a design that specified the type of penitence, if any. Relapsed heretics, who were sentenced to burning at the stake, wore a sanbenito with designs of flames or sometimes demons, dragons and/or snakes on it. Those who were sentenced to hang, wore a St. Andrew's cross.

The Treaty of Granada (1491), as negotiated at the final surrender of the Muslim state of Al-Andalus, clearly mandated protection of religious rights,[15] but this was reversed just over 3 months later by the Alhambra Decree of March 31, 1492. Under the new Decree, approximately 40,000 Jews were expelled from Spain with only their personal possessions. Approximately 50,000 other Jews received a Christian baptism to remain in Spain. Many of them, derogatorily dubbed "Marranos" by the Old Christian majority, secretly kept some of their Jewish traditions.[16] They were among the chief targets of the Inquisition, but it also pursued anyone who would criticize it.

So many clemency petitions were sent to Rome that the Pope became aware of Torquemada's severity, and three times he had called the Inquisition's representatives to Rome. In addition, Isabella and Ferdinand were concerned that so much money was being diverted to the Holy Office that they too protested to the Pope. But Torquemada's power kept him in position until at least 1494.[13]

There are various estimates of the number of victims of the Spanish Inquisition during Torquemada's reign as Grand Inquisitor. Hernando del Pulgar, Queen Isabella's secretary, wrote that 2,000 executions took place throughout the entirety of her reign, which extended well beyond Torquemada's death.[17]


During his final years, Torquemada's failing health, coupled with widespread complaints, caused Pope Alexander VI to appoint four assistant inquisitors in June 1494 to restrain the Spanish Inquisition, and disgorge its accumulated wealth. Although his zeal was undiminished, Torquemada retired to the monastery of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ávila, leaving his cell only to attend the royal family. In 1498, still in office, he held his last general assembly.[18] After fifteen years as Spain's Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada died in the monastery on September 16, 1498, and was interred there. His tomb was robbed in 1832, only two years before the Inquisition was finally disbanded. His bones were allegedly stolen and ritually incinerated in the same manner as an auto-da-fé.[19]