The Spanish Inquisition (Monty Python)

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"The Spanish Inquisition" is a series of sketches in Monty Python's Flying Circus, Series 2 Episode 2, first broadcast 22 September 1970, parodying the real-life Spanish Inquisition. This episode is itself entitled "The Spanish Inquisition". The sketches are notable for their principal catchphrase, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" The end of the sketch uses music from the composition Devil's Galop by Charles Williams.

Plot synopsis[edit]

This is a recurring sketch always predicated on an unrelated sketch in which one character mentions that they "didn't expect a Spanish Inquisition!", often in irritation at being questioned by another. The first appearance of the Spanish Inquisition occurs in a drawing room set in "Jarrow, 1912". A mill worker (Graham Chapman) enters the room and tells a woman sitting on a couch knitting (Carol Cleveland) that "one of the cross beams has gone out askew on the treadle". When she says she doesn't know what he's talking about, the mill worker gets defensive and says, "I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition!" Then the Inquisition — consisting of Cardinal Ximénez (Michael Palin) and his assistants, Cardinal Biggles (Terry Jones) (who resembles his namesake wearing a leather aviator's helmet and goggles) and Cardinal Fang (Terry Gilliam) — burst into the room to the sound of a jarring musical sting. Ximénez shouts, with a particular and high-pitched emphasis on the first word: "NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

After entering, Ximénez begins listing their weapons ("fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency"), but interrupts himself as he keeps forgetting to mention additional weapons and has to begin his list over again. After several attempts, Ximénez states that he'll come in again, and herds the Inquisition back off the set. The straight man mill worker repeats the cue line, the Inquisition bursts back in (complete with jarring chord), and the introduction is tried anew. But Ximénez fails again and tries to get Cardinal Biggles to do the introduction, but Biggles is also unsuccessful.

Ximénez decides to forget the introduction and has Cardinal Fang read out charges of heresy against the woman. The woman pleads innocent, and the cardinals respond with laughter (as an on-screen caption reads "DIABOLICAL LAUGHTER") and threats (as the on-screen caption changes to "DIABOLICAL ACTING"). Ximénez intends to torture the woman with "the rack", but Cardinal Biggles instead produces a dish-drying rack. This rack is tied to the woman as Biggles pretends to turn a lever, but it has no effect whatsoever.

The Inquisition returns in a later sketch as an older woman (Marjorie Wilde) shares photographs with another woman (Cleveland), who rips them up as they are handed to her. When the older woman presents a photo of the Spanish Inquisition hiding behind the house, the other woman says, "I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!" The three cardinals then reappear and take the older woman away to a dungeon. Biggles tries to torture the woman by poking her repeatedly with soft cushions. When this fails, Ximénez orders Fang to get "the comfy chair", which is brought out and the woman placed in it. Ximénez states that she must stay in the chair "until lunch time with only a cup of coffee at 11", and begins to shout at her to confess - only to have Biggles break down and confess.

At the end of the show, in the "Court Charades" sketch, a judge (Jones) who is also a defendant in an obscenity trial at the Old Bailey is sentenced by another judge (Chapman) to be burned at the stake. The convicted judge responds, "Blimey, I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!" The whole court rises and looks expectantly at the witness entrance door, only for nothing to happen. As the closing credits of the episode begin, the Inquisitors race out of a house and hop on a double-decker bus to the Old Bailey, all to the tune of "Devil's Galop". When they finally burst into the courtroom, Ximénez shouts, "NO-body expects the Span-", but is interrupted as the words "THE END" appear on-screen - to which Ximénez concludes, "Oh, bugger."

In the Monty Python Live (Mostly) stage show the sketch ends when Ximénez orders Biggles to "torture" the victim (who is sitting in the comfy chair) by giving her a glass of cold milk from the fridge. When Biggles opens the door, the Man in the Fridge (Eric Idle) emerges and begins singing the Galaxy Song to the victim, while the Inquisition exit through the fridge.

Related sketches[edit]

Cardinal Ximénez briefly appears two episodes later ("The Buzz Aldrin Show") in a vox pop, again displaying difficulty counting (in this instance, the kinds of aftershave he uses). Later in that episode during the "Police Constable Pan Am Sketch", the policeman tells a chemist "one more peep out of you and I'll do you for heresy", with the chemist (played by Palin) responding that he "didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition"; except that instead of the Spanish Inquisition arriving, PC Pan Am (played by Graham Chapman) simply tells the chemist to shut up.


The "number of weapons" joke echoes a similar joke in the first episode "The Man and The Hour"[1] of the BBC sitcom Dad's Army, broadcast in July 1968. Captain Mainwaring says: "We have one invaluable weapon in our armoury: ingenuity and improvisation", to which Private Frazer replies: "That's two."

In popular culture[edit]

The popularity of Monty Python's sketch led to numerous references to it in other popular media. The first such instance was in Issue #3 (January 1976, shortly after Monty Python began being broadcast in the U.S.) of the comic book title Batman Family [featuring the joint exploits of Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) and Robin (Dick Grayson)], where the story "Isle of a Thousand Thrills" borrowed the scenario of a land where anything anybody thinks of is quickly brought to life. In response to visitors' anxious questions before the nature of their situation is understood, Batgirl replies, "Calm down, everyone! We haven't had time to wonder about all those questions! I didn't expect some kind of Spanish Inquisition…". Immediately six Inquisitors appear, one of whom cries, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition...because our chief weapon is surprise!"

Many other examples have since followed.


External links[edit]