500 Years of the Spanish Inquisition

February, 1981 marks the fifth centenary of the inauguration of the Spanish Inquisition. Over the years many myths and misconceptions have grown up around the Inquisition. These are dispelled in this commemorative essay by Henry Kamen, author of The Spanish Inquisition.

On February 6th, 1481, the first public ceremony or auto de fe of the Spanish Inquisition was held in Seville: six accused were burnt alive at the stake and numerous others sentenced to various punishments. It was a grim beginning to the career of one of the most feared institutions in the history of mankind. A modern defender of the Inquisition has conceded that the 1480s in Seville and Toledo were 'a period of imprisonments and trials whose like has perhaps never been equalled'. In the first eight years in Seville alone, according to a chronicler of the time, 'more than seven hundred persons were burnt and over five thousand punished'.

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