THE SPANISH INQUISITION by Henry Kamen

THE SPANISH INQUISITION

A Historical Revision

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A very well researched, kaleidoscopic study of late medieval and early modern Europe's most notorious--if hardly its most devastating--religious and racial witch hunt. Kamen, a veteran British historian of the Iberian Peninsula (Philip of Spain, 1997, etc.), professor of the Higher Council of Scientific Research, Barcelona, and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, traces the Inquisition's various classes of victims. These included the conversos (recent Jewish converts to Catholicism, who composed the majority of the Inquisition's victims), followers of the humanist Erasmus, Lutherans and other Protestants (including foreigners), Moriscos (recent Muslim converts), and Catholics whom the tribunal deemed ``heretical,'' often on flimsy evidence. Kamen is informative on the structure and problems of the Inquisition, noting for example the struggles between the papacy and the Spanish crown over its control (the latter gained the upper hand), corruption by some of its officials, and regional differences in enforcing its decrees. His main ``revision'' is to historicize the Inquisition, in the sense of contextualizing its brutal intolerance; he notes for example that ``the Netherlands [in the mid-16th century] already possessed an Inquisition of its own'' and that the courts in Antwerp (then part of Holland) ``between 1557 and 1562 executed 103 heretics, more than died in the whole of Spain in that period.'' Kamen also points out how Protestant and other writers mythified the Inquisition, exaggerating its cruelties in the service of anti-Catholic propaganda. Historians also err, Kamen argues, in assigning to the Inquisition primary blame for Spain's decline as a European power; he marshals impressive evidence against this thesis. However, Kamen occasionally over-relativizes the Inquisition, going so far as to say that it created no new problems for Spain. Yet the strengths of Kamen's work, which undoubtedly will prove controversial, far exceed its shortcomings. While its wealth of detail will appeal more to academics and other specialists than to lay readers, its clear prose makes it accessible to all.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-300-07522-7
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1998




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