Tomás de Torquemada

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Tomás de Torquemada
Tomás de Torquemada
Born 1420
Torquemada or Valladolid, Spain
Died September 16, 1498 (aged 77–78)
Ávila, Spain
Occupation Grand Inquisitor
Religion Christian-Roman Catholic
Relatives Juan de Torquemada (cardinal) (uncle)

Tomás de Torquemada (Thomas of Torquemada), O.P. (/ˌtɔrkəˈmɑːdə/ Spanish: [toɾkeˈmaða]; 1420 – September 16, 1498) was a Spanish Dominican friar and the first Grand Inquisitor in Spain's movement to force Roman Catholicism upon its populace in the late 15th century, otherwise known as "The Spanish Inquisition".

The existence of many superficial converts among the Moriscos and Marranos[1] (i.e. Crypto-Jews),[2] who had found it more socially, politically and economically expedient to join the Catholic fold, was perceived by the Spanish monarchs of that time, principally 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,[citation needed] to be one of the chief supporters of the Alhambra Decree that expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492.


Early life[edit]

Torquemada was born in 1420, either in Valladolid, Castile-León, Spain,[4] or in the nearby small village of Torquemada.[5][6] He came from a family of conversos (converts from Judaism); his uncle Juan de Torquemada was a celebrated theologian and cardinal,[7] whose grandmother was also a conversa; the contemporary historian Hernando del Pulgar (himself a converso) recorded that his uncle, Juan de Torquemada, had an ancestor Álvar Fernández de Torquemada married to a first-generation Jewish conversa.[8][9]

Hernando del Pulgar, in his book Claros varones de Castilla, says of Torquemada, «sus abuelos fueron de linage de los Judios convertidos á nuestra Santa Fé Católica» ("His grandparents were of the lineage of the Jews converted to our Holy Catholic faith").[10]

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, and remained her closest ally and supporter. He had even advised her to marry King Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469, in order to consolidate their kingdoms and form a power base he could draw on for his own purposes.[10]

Establishment of the Holy Office of the Inquisition[edit]

Torquemada deeply feared the Marranos and Moriscos as a menace to Spain's welfare by their increasing religious influence, and economic domination of Spain.[8] The Crown of Aragon had Dominican inquisitors almost continuously throughout much of the fourteenth and fifteenth 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.[11]

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 the fifteen years under his direction, the Spanish Inquisition grew from the single tribunal at Seville to a network of two dozen 'Holy Offices'.[12] 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".

Under the edict of March 31, 1492, known as the Alhambra Decree, approximately 200,000 Jews left Spain. Approximately 50,000 Jews took baptism so as to remain in Spain; however, many of these, known as "Marranos", secretly kept some of their Jewish traditions.[13]

Torquemada made the procedures of prior inquisitions somewhat less brutal by moderating the use of torture, limiting its use to suspects denounced by two or more "persons of good nature."[citation needed]; and by cleaning up the Inquisitorial prisons. The condemned were made to wear a sanbenito, a penitential garment worn over clothes and of a design that specified the type of penitence. One type, worn by those sentenced to death, had designs of hell’s flames or sometimes demons, dragons and/or snakes engraved on it. Another type had a cross, and was worn instead of imprisonment, then hung in the parish church.[clarification needed]

The Treaty of Granada (1491), as negotiated at the final surrender of the Muslim state of Al-Andalus, clearly mandated protection of religious rights,[citation needed] but this was reversed by the Alhambra Decree of 1492.

There is some disagreement as to the number of victims of the Spanish Inquisition during Torquemada's reign as Grand Inquisitor. Some scholars[specify] believe that he was responsible for the death of 2,000 people. 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.


During his final years, Torquemáda's failing health, coupled with widespread complaints, caused Pope Alexander VI to appoint four assistant inquisitors in June 1494 to restrain the Spanish Inquisition. After fifteen years as Spain's Grand Inquisitor, Torquemáda died in the monastery of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ávila in 1498 and was interred there. His tomb was ransacked in 1832—two years before the Inquisition was disbanded. His bones were allegedly stolen and ritually incinerated as though an auto de fe took place.[14]

In fiction[edit]


  1. ^ "Marrano", Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  2. ^ "Crypto-Jews", My Jewish Learning
  3. ^ Ott, Michael. "Tomás de Torquemada." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 12 Jul. 2015
  4. ^ von Dehsen, Christian (2013). Philosophers and Religious Leaders. Routledge. p. 188. ISBN 9781135951023. 
  5. ^ Gerli, E. Michael (2013). Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 794. ISBN 9781136771620. 
  6. ^ Whitechapel, Simon (2003). Flesh Inferno: Atrocities of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition. Creation Books. p. 52. ISBN 9781840681055. 
  7. ^ "Meditations, or the Contemplations of the Most Devout". World Digital Library. 1479. Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  8. ^ a b Falk, Avner. A Psychoanalytic History of the Jews, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996, p.508, isbn 0838636608
  9. ^ "Tomas de Torquemada", Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2004
  10. ^ a b Fernando del Pulgar (1789). Claros varones de Castilla. G. Ortega. 
  11. ^ Lea, Henry Charles. A History of the Inquisition of Spain, 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1906-07), 1:27-28
  12. ^ The Age of Torquemada, by John Edward Longhurst (1962), from (European University Institute)
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Cullen Murphy, God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012


  • Duran, Alphonsus Maria, Why Apologize for the Spanish Inquisition?, (Eric Gladkowski, Ed., 2000). ISBN 0-9702235-0-1.
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
New Office
Grand Inquisitor of Spain
Succeeded by
Diego Deza