Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Book Review on Henry Kamen's "The Spanish Inquisition"

Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997).

Henry Kamen is currently a Professor of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) in Barcelona. He has written numerous publications including Philip of Spain and The Spanish Inquisition.[1] The Spanish Inquisition has been published in at least three editions, each with a slightly different perspective that contributed greatly to the historiography on the Spanish Inquisition. The third edition was written for the general reader and provides an “updated synthesis of what we know about the most notorious tribunal of the western world.”[2] Kamen’s original argument “was that the Inquisition was a weapon of social welfare used mainly to obliterate the conversos--converted Jews—as a distinct class capable of offering social and economic competition to ‘Old Christians.”[3]
Kamen divides his work into fourteen chapters. The first chapter explains how there was toleration for the three different faiths in Spain prior to the era of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Society in general, tolerated non-Christians “and the policy of burning practiced elsewhere in Europe was little known in Spain.”[4] However, the success of the Reconquista changed all of that. The second chapter examines the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. Kamen argues that this “solved no problems and only aggravated an old one.”[5] The problem was the converted Jewish community which did not have much in common with the rest of Spanish society. The Inquisition was formally set up on September 27, 1480 at Medina del Campo “in accordance with the papal bull” that was issued to the Dominicans to take care of this so-called problem.[6] Jews who had converted before the expulsion were primarily the targets of the Inquisition. Many were executed who were deemed to be offensive towards God. Later on the Inquisition turned its attentions towards Spanish Christians who committed deviant sexual acts and witchcraft.
By the latter half of the seventeenth century only private auto de fes were being used by the Inquisition. Kamen argued that “there is no need to attribute this to the growth of tolerance [as] the simple reason was that heretics had been purged out of existence, so depriving the tribunal of combustible material for its fires.”[7] He concludes his work with an overview of the historiography of the Spanish Inquisition from the time of Prescott to current scholars in the field. Kamen concludes that “the inquisition, by its very nature, had been opposed to a tolerant society.”[8] Intolerance had existed in Spain prior to the Inquisition. It “created no new problems and merely intensified old ones.”[9]
Kamen used an extensive array of archival and secondary sources. His analysis of how intolerance has been rampant throughout Spanish history showed us the Inquisition was nothing new in history. It was just another way that governments sought to eliminate the undesirables in their communities. Today, hate and intolerance are still prevalent throughout the world and nations continue to have their own government sponsored attacks against minorities in their society. The Spanish Inquisition is just another page in the history of hate and intolerance that has existed since time began.
[2] xii
[3] Thomas F. Glick, “The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision by Henry Kamen” The American Historical Review, Vol. 104, No. 5. (Dec., 1999), 1773.
[4] Kamen, 7.
[5] 28
[6] 45
[7] 213
[8] 319
[9] Ibid.