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Grand Inquisitor Torquemada

pl:Tomás de Torquemadade:Tomás de Torquemada es:Tomás de Torquemada fr:Tomás de Torquemada Tomás de Torquemada (1420 - September 16, 1498) was a fifteenth century Spanish Dominican, and an Inquisitor General. Famously described by the Spanish chronicler, Sebastián de Olmedo, as "the hammer of heretics, the light of Spain, the saviour of his country, the honour of his order".

Torquemada's name, as part of the Black Legend of the Spanish Inquisition, has become a byword for cruelty and fanaticism in the service of religion. He was born in 1420 in the village of Torquemada (Latin turris cremata, "burnt tower") near the northern Spanish city of Valladolid, and may have had Jewish ancestry: the contemporary historian Hernando del Pulgar, writing of Torquemada's uncle Juan de Torquemada, said that his ancestor Alvar Fernández de Torquemada had married a first-generation Jewish convert. After distinguished service as a monk and scholar, Torquemada grew close to the rulers—Ferdinand and Isabella—of the newly created kingdom of Spain, and was appointed Inquisitor General in 1482. The extension of his power over the whole of Spain was assisted by the murder of the Inquisitor Pedro de Arbués in Zaragoza in 1485, attributed to a band of heretics and Jews, and by the alleged ritual murder of the so-called Santo Niño de La Guardia or Holy Child of La Guardia in 1491, which was again attributed to Jews. In 1492 he was one of the chief supporters of the mass expulsion of Jews from Spain. Many believe that he and the Spanish Inquisition generally were responsible for injustice and suffering in their use of torture, anonymous denunciation, and execution by fire in the so-called auto de fe, or "act of faith."

Torquemada grew up in Valladolid, and like his uncle (Cardinal Juan de Torquemada) he became a Dominican monk. Pious, learned and austere, he was still young when he was sent to be prior at the monastery of Santa Cruz at Segovia, where he became confessor to Princess Isabella, the heiress of Castile. She was crowned in 1473 and he became Spain's first Inquisitor General a decade later. There is very little sound information about Torquemada's personal life, which has always been subject to speculations. "As an honest interpreter and efficient administrator of the popular will, Torquemada was superb. In the fifteen years of his reign the Spanish Inquisition grew from the single tribunal at Seville to a network of two dozen 'Holy Offices'." (Longhurst) The Inquisition touched every individual in Spain with a thoroughness scarcely equalled before the 20th century. Every Christian soul over the age of twelve (for girls) and fourteen (for boys) was fully accountable to the Inquisition. Heretics and Conversos were the primary targets, but anyone who spoke against the Inquisition was under suspicion. To help guard against the spread of heresy Torquemada promoted the burning of non-Catholic literature—especially Jewish Talmuds and, after the final defeat of the Moors at Granada in 1492, Arabic books also.

Accusations of excesses can be supported by reference to Pope Sixtus IV's observation, early in 1482, that the Inquisitors at Seville,

"without observing juridical prescriptions, have detained many persons in violation of justice, punishing them by severe tortures and imputing to them, without foundation, the crime of heresy, and despoiling of their wealth those sentenced to death, in such form that a great number of them have come to the Apostolic See, fleeing from such excessive rigor and protesting their orthodoxy."

Modern allusions to Torquemada

Using the connotation of "torturer", "Torquemada" was the pseudonym of a long-running compiler of crossword puzzles for The Observer. His successors took pseudonyms from other inquisitors: "Ximenes" was followed by the current compiler "Azed", whose name is punningly based on Deza, being both a reversal of the name and a reference to the alphabet.

In the science fiction comic strip Nemesis the Warlock the Earth is ruled by the dictator Torquemada, a descendant of the inquisitor.

In the 1981 film History of the World, Part I, Mel Brooks plays Torquemada in a Busby Berkeley-esque song-and-dance number.


  • William Thomas Walsh, Characters of the Inquisition, (Tan Books and Publishers, 1987). ISBN 0895553260
  • Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision, (Yale University Press, 1999). ISBN 0300078803
  • Alphonsus Maria Duran, Why Apologize for the Spanish Inquisition?, (Eric Gladkowski, 2000). ISBN 0970223501

External link

Torquemada is a municipality (pop. 1142) in the province of Palencia, Castile-Leon, Spain. It is the birthplace of Tomás de Torquemada.


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