Monty Python Spanish Inquisition
Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

I happened to catch the hilarious Monty Python sketch from the 1970s and its famous catch-phrase got me thinking. With all that's happening in the West today, is nobody expecting another Spanish Inquisition, or something like it?

Many of us in the U.S. who are noticing the trampling of the Constitution and shredding of the Bill of Rights are surely wondering how far it will go. We see the executive branch of government morphing into a ruthless, fascist autocracy before our eyes, gathering more and more power and engaging freely in what was once illegal behavior. It has lied about external threats, launched undeclared wars of aggression, hired and protected a mercenary army, established secret prisons, engaged in torture, withdrawn from global law courts, and so much more horrific foreign policy. Now, this dark force is openly turning its machinery on the American people themselves. And the majority of Americans appear to be oblivious that a police state is forming. The other branches of government, corporations, and the media stand idly by, tacitly supporting and cooperating with the crackdown.

So, how far will it go? Human history is positively brimming over with examples of police states from every era. If people knew more history, they would see clearly the signs of oppression coming down, because the signs are always and ever the same -- ever-increasing control of the masses for the wealth and benefit of the governing elites, and ever-diminishing wealth and freedom for the people.

One example of how far this might go can be found in the story of late-15th century Spain. In 1478, what is now Spain was several countries. The Catholic monarchs of the two largest Iberian nations, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, agreed to an arranged marriage to increase the power of their states in the region. Together, they ruled most of the peninsula. Historian Stanley G. Paine wrote of the political climate of the time:
The new political principles of the fifteenth century were unity and security, cornerstones of the "modernization" of that period. For the Catholic Kings and most of their subjects, it had become inconceivable that political unity should not be reflected in the religious realm, for the two were inextricably intertwined and reinforced each other. Thus the united Spanish monarchy became the first major state in Europe to impose the principle of both political and religious unity that became the standard of governments throughout the continent in the century that followed. [Paine]
Spain was highly multicultural in the 15th century. Christians, Muslims, and Jews had lived there together since Roman times 1500 years prior. In 1478, with the popular notion of political, cultural, and religious unity in mind, Ferdinand and Isabella established the famous Spanish Inquisition to root out all those in the land who were guilty of the highest political and religious crime of the day -- heresy. The king and queen saw an Inquisition as a way to increase the Crown's political muscle, curry favor with the Vatican, and fill the state coffers in the process. To justify the Inquisition, they declared that heretics among the people constituted an internal security threat.

The Catholic Church was then so powerful that it, not monarchs, wielded the highest authority among Catholic peoples. Monarchs ruled at the Vatican's pleasure. The Church had been the sole perpetrator of previous inquisitions, such as the one against the Cathars in France and northern Italy a century earlier. Pope Sixtus IV was reluctant to authorize an inquisition under state administration, but Ferdinand wanted control. He insisted upon royal, not papal, administration of it. In true, psychopathic-leadership fashion, he won this control by threatening Sixtus with withdrawal of Spanish troops that were aiding in protecting Rome from menacing Turks.

The Pope relented and sent his Dominican inquisitors, who reported to Ferdinand and Isabella. These inquisitors were men of all professions necessary to create a security bureaucracy nightmare. They were lawyers, judges, notaries, doctors, torturers, jailers, and executioners. The Chief Inquisitor was a man of enormous power, carrying the full authority of both church and state.

Upon arriving in any town, the inquisitors conducted interrogations of every citizen of adolescent age and up, looking for evidence of heresy. They established a climate of fear by publishing lists of prohibited books and other items, and conducting searches at will for evidence of heretical contraband. They positioned themselves throughout villages, watching everyone closely, inquiring about and recording every detail of citizens' lives, from what they ate to how they washed, to their sexual habits and their community rituals. Any deviation from what was deemed acceptable by the Church could result in a charge of heresy or witchcraft.

The inquisitors coaxed citizens to freely confess their heresies, to spy on their neighbors, and to denounce others who were not faithful. In fact, denunciation was proclaimed by the Holy Office of the Inquisition to be the duty of all, encouraging spouses to inform on each other, and even children to inform on their parents. Historian Henry Charles Lea wrote:
The Spaniard was taught not alone to repress his opinions as to the Inquisition but to keep a guard on his tongue under all circumstances, not only in public but in the sacred confidence of his own family, for the duty of denunciation applied to husband and father, to wife and children. [Lea]

Spanish Inquisition
The Inquisition was so powerful and frightening because it harnessed the fear and selfishness of society and turned every man against his brother.

In true self-serving fashion, people took advantage of the power of denunciation to attack anyone they didn't like, even if it meant inventing charges of heresy. Denunciation resulted in arrest and detainment, then pressure to confess. If confession was not forthcoming, torture was next step, seen as a justified way in which to extract evidence of criminality. All of this was carried out in tribunals not open to the public, much like military trials today. Unsurprisingly, nearly everyone confessed or denounced others while under torture. This created a never-ending cycle of charges of heresy. Stanley G. Paine wrote:
The Holy Office inspired fear and terror because of the secrecy of its operations. Those arrested were not allowed to communicate with the outside world and seemed temporarily swallowed up. The fact that the names of informers and accusers were not divulged made it all the harder to disprove charges. Servants and lower-class people, however, were less troubled by the Inquisition than were the wealthy and powerful, particularly in the sixteenth century. This was because of the Holy Office's concern for influence and example, and possibly also because of venal interest behind some of the prosecutions. [Paine]
Being charged with heresy resulted in a range of sentences. At the low end were public humiliation and being forced to wear a yellow cross of shame. In the middle range, people were stripped of property, exiled, or imprisoned. At the high end, heretics were burned to death or beheaded. Naturally, in most cases, the church and the monarchy divided the proceeds of those divested of wealth.

Spanish non-Christians were technically not under the authority of the inquisitors, but were pressured to converts. Often the choice was to convert or die. Many converted and were known as Conversos. Some Conversos, eager to prove their zeal, went on to aid the inquisition fervently. Others, receiving no tutoring in their new religion, continued their traditional religious and cultural practices in secret. But, conversion was very often a trap. Converting to Christianity meant becoming subject to the authority of the inquisitors. If found to be still engaged in non-Christian behaviors such as avoiding leavened bread or pork, the result was a charge of heresy, arrest, interrogation, possible torture, and probably sentencing to punishment.

The inquisitors effectively established a police state.

Even Pope Sixtus suggested that the Spanish Inquisition was overzealous, though Ferdinand successfully rebuffed any suggestion to tone down the terror. The intelligentsia of Spain, seeing the Inquisition as a lie and a baseless power grab, was alarmed that the terror was paralyzing society. They tried everything to get Ferdinand to back off. But no logical argument, petition, or popular opinion would sway the king, who was enjoying increased control and greater and greater wealth. Ferdinand replied with an argument that sounds very familiar:
If there are so few heretics as is now asserted, there should not be such dread of the Inquisition. It is not to be impeded. Be assured that no cause or interest, however great, shall be allowed to interfere with its proceedings.
Sensing resistance to the Inquisition, Ferdinand tightened the screws in 1485 by ordering Spanish troops to accompany and aid the inquisitors, adding military might to the policing action against the citizenry.

In the immediately ensuing years, having raised the necessary strength, Ferdinand and Isabella launched a war against Muslim-controlled Granada in the south, finally forcing King Boabdil to surrender in 1492. Italian mariner Christopher Columbus was on the scene and took advantage of the victorious mood of the Crown. Isabella decided to fund Columbus' voyage across the Atlantic in search of a route to India.

Flush with success, the Crown turned its attention to the remaining Jews in Spain, turning up the heat on them to convert or leave the country. Knowing the risks of being caught in the Inquisition, the population eagerly turned against their neighbors, cut social ties, and excluded them from trade.

Eventually, a kind of ethnic cleansing ensued by the issuance of a royal proclamation that amounted to "you're either with us or against us." It stated that remaining Jews had to convert or be forcibly expelled. They were allowed to take personal property except for gold, silver, jewels, or other precious materials. Desperate families were forced to sell everything at fire-sale prices. Every Jewish home was searched and inventoried by agents of the Inquisition and the crown to ensure compliance with the executive order.

As the Inquisition era proceeded, Columbus and many other Spanish-funded mariners traveled to the New World of the Americas, conquering, plundering, converting the indigenous peoples and bringing gold back to Spain. Spain became the richest nation in the world, and the first of global empire. And wherever its emissaries raised the Spanish flag, they brought along the office of the Inquisition and its ruthless horrors.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The Western fascist machine has turned increasingly on the American people by emptying the treasury, awarding tax dollars in no-bid contracts to government cronies, ruining the economy, establishing a Homeland Security agency, engaging in illegal wire-tapping, looking into citizens' bank accounts, opening the mail, putting cameras up everywhere, building detainment camps, militarizing the police, vastly increasing the number of SWAT raids, overturning the Posse Comitatus act, ignoring habeus corpus, videotaping protestors, tasering more and more people into submission, putting a record number of Americans in prison, making travel more difficult, and much more. It is now in the process of conditioning the public to the idea of an internal security threat with the issuance of the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, and all the talk surrounding it, including the Council on Foreign Relations and their proposal for a domestic intelligence agency on top of what already exists.

The legislative and judicial branches, corporations, and the media all tacitly support and cooperate with the crackdown.

So, how far will it go?

Some see it and assume it will just subside with new elections, even though the presidential candidates openly declare the continuation of all the worst existing policies and avoid talking about others.

The Spanish Inquisition and the social attitudes it wrought gave rise to the witch hunts in neighboring countries in the ensuing centuries, which actually resulted in misery and death for even more people. The Holy Office of the Spanish Inquisition was not officially abolished until 1834, after it had persisted for 356 years. It was not until 2004 that Pope John Paul II publicly apologized for the horrors of inquisitions begun over 600 years ago.

Given that the majority of Americans seem to have no clue that anything unusual is occurring, opposition to the tightening grip of government is really almost non-existent. So, no, most Americans, I think, are not expecting the Spanish Inquisition, or anything like it. They aren't familiar with the signs of its coming. The element of surprise, sadly, is still with those who have the power to declare martial law and openly declare a militarized police state.


1. A History of Spain and Portugal, Stanley G. Payne, Chapter Eleven, The Apogee of Hispanic Catholicism,

2. A History of the Inquistion of Spain, Volume Four, Henry Charles Lea, BOOK 9, CONCLUSION, CHAPTER 2, RETROSPECT.

3. Secret Files of the Inquisition, Part II, Tears of Spain, PBS documentary, 2006

4. Spanish Inquisition, Rawlings, The Historiography of the Inquisition

5. Spanish Inquisition, Wikipedia entry.