Tomás de Torquemada

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Tomás de Torquemada
Torquemada, unknown artist, 19th century
Grand Inquisitor
In office
1483 – 16 September 1498
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byDiego de Deza
Personal details
Born14 October 1420
Torquemada or Valladolid, Kingdom of Castile
Died16 September 1498(1498-09-16) (aged 77)
Ávila, Kingdom of Castile
RelativesJuan de Torquemada (uncle)
Alma materUniversity of Salamanca

Tomás de Torquemada[a] OP (14 October 1420 – 16 September 1498), also anglicized as Thomas of Torquemada, was a Castilian Dominican friar and first Grand Inquisitor of the Tribunal of the Holy Office (otherwise known as the Spanish Inquisition). The Spanish Inquisition was a group of ecclesiastical prelates that was created in 1478, and which was charged with the somewhat ill-defined task of "upholding Catholic religious orthodoxy" within the lands of the newly formed union of the crowns of Castile and Aragon. The lands of this newly formed royal union are now known as the Kingdom of Spain.

In part because of persecution, Muslims and Jews in Castile and Aragon at that time found it socially, politically, and economically advantageous to convert to Catholicism (see Converso, Morisco, and Marrano).[1] The existence of superficial converts from Judaism (i.e., Crypto-Jews)[2] was perceived by the Catholic Monarchs as a threat to the religious and social life in their realms.[3] This led Torquemada, who himself was believed to have had converso ancestors,[4] to be one of the chief supporters of the Alhambra Decree that expelled the Jews from the Crowns of Castile and Aragon in 1492.

Owing to the use of torture to extract confessions, and his advocacy of burning at the stake for those declared guilty, Torquemada's name has become synonymous with cruelty, religious intolerance, and fanaticism.[5] The number of burnings at the stake during Torquemada’s tenure has been estimated at about 2,000.[6]


Early life[edit]

Torquemada was born on 14 October 1420 either in Valladolid, in the Kingdom of Castile,[7] or in the nearby village of Torquemada.[8][9] 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, a celebrated theologian and cardinal,[10] was of converso descent.[11] As a converso, Pulgar is considered to have made this assertion out of hate for Juan de Torquemada’s nephew, Tomás de Torquemada.[12] However, a 2020 study of all of Juan de Torquemada’s ancestors found no Jewish converts in his family.[13]

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.[11] Torquemada subdued Ferdinand's own ambitions and became his confessor also.[14]

Establishment of the Holy Office of the Inquisition[edit]

Torquemada deeply suspected the Marrano and Morisco as a menace to Spain's welfare by both their increasing religious influence and their economic power in Spain.[15][better source needed] 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.[16]

Grand Inquisitor[edit]

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 Deza, 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.[17]

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.[18] 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 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".

Under the Alhambra Decree of March 31, 1492, approximately 40,000 Jews were expelled from Spain with only their personal possessions. Approximately 50,000 other Jews received Christian baptism to remain in Spain. Many of them, derogatorily dubbed "Marranos" by the Old Christian majority, secretly kept some of their Jewish traditions.[19] They were among the chief targets of the Inquisition, but it also pursued anyone who criticized it.

So many clemency petitions were sent to Rome that the Pope became aware of Torquemada's severity, and he called the Inquisition's representatives to Rome three times. In addition, Isabella and Ferdinand were so concerned at the quantity of money that was being diverted to the Holy Office that they too protested to the Pope. But Torquemada's power kept him in his position until at least 1494.[17]

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.[20]


During his final years, Torquemada's failing health caused Pope Alexander VI to appoint four assistant inquisitors in June 1494 to assist Torquemada with the administration of the Inquisition. While officially, this papal appointment of assistants appeared to be due to Torquemada's 'failing health', many historians believe that the numerous complaints reaching the Pope about Torquemada's relentless zeal may have been the true cause for this papal appointment of 'assistant inquisitors'.[21] With his faith in his mission undiminished, but stripped of any real power, Torquemada retired to the monastery of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ávila in 1494, typically leaving the monastery only to attend to the royal family, and once again living the simple life of a friar. In 1498, still holding the office of Grand Inquisitor, he held his last general assembly, where new rules were formulated to assure the continuation of the Inquisition in Spain. These rules attempted to curb some of the administrative abuses for which complaints had been lodged against the Inquisition.[22] After fifteen years as Spain's Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada died in the monastery on 16 September 1498 and was interred there. His tomb was ransacked 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.[23]


  1. ^ English: /ˌtɔːrkɪˈmɑːdə/ TOR-kim-AH-də, Spanish: [toˈmas ðe toɾkeˈmaða].

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Definition of MARRANO". Retrieved 2019-12-01.
  2. ^ "Crypto-Jews", My Jewish Learning Archived 2014-10-29 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Ott, Michael (1912). "Tomás de Torquemada" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  4. ^ "Tomas De Torquemada". Retrieved 2019-12-01.
  5. ^ "Tomás de Torquemada | Spanish inquisitor". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-10-11.
  6. ^ "Tomás de Torquemada | Spanish inquisitor | Britannica". Retrieved 2023-01-11.
  7. ^ von Dehsen, Christian (2013). Philosophers and Religious Leaders. Routledge. p. 188. ISBN 9781135951023.
  8. ^ Gerli, E. Michael (2013). Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 794. ISBN 9781136771620.
  9. ^ Whitechapel, Simon (2003). Flesh Inferno: Atrocities of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition. Creation Books. p. 52. ISBN 9781840681055.
  10. ^ "Meditations, or the Contemplations of the Most Devout". World Digital Library. 1479. Retrieved 2013-09-02.
  11. ^ a b Fernando del Pulgar (1789). Claros varones de Castilla. G. Ortega.
  12. ^ A.G. 1940, p. 140.
  13. ^ Domínguez Casas 2020.
  14. ^ Taunton 1911, p. 58.
  15. ^ Falk, Avner. A Psychoanalytic History of the Jews, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996, p.508 ISBN 0838636608
  16. ^ Lea, Henry Charles. A History of the Inquisition of Spain, 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1906-07), 1:27-28
  17. ^ a b Taunton 1911, p. 59.
  18. ^ The Age of Torquemada, by John Edward Longhurst (1962), from (European University Institute)
  19. ^ Wolf, A (1909). Life of Spinoza (Spinoza's Short Treatise on God, Man and his Well Being). London: Adam and Charles Black. pp. 4–5.
  20. ^ Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997), 60
  21. ^ "The Unfathomable Cruelty Of Tomás de Torquemada". All That's Interesting. 2018-02-02. Retrieved 2021-05-18.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link) Complaints about Torquemada reaching the Pope may have had to do with Torquemada's semi-retirement at the end of his life.
  22. ^ Taunton 1911, p. 60.
  23. ^ Murphy, Cullen (17 January 2012). God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 352. ISBN 9780547607825.


Catholic Church titles
New title
Office established
Grand Inquisitor
of Spain

Succeeded by