Torquemada, Tomás de°

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TORQUEMADA, TOMÁS DE ° (1420?–1498), first head of the Spanish *Inquisition. Probably born in Valladolid, he entered the *Dominican Order at the age of 14, and soon took his place among the strictest members of the monastery. At the age of 32 he became prior of the monastery of Segovia. Torquemada first came in contact with Queen Isabella around 1469; he became her confessor and some time later also her husband King Ferdinand's. His influence on the royal couple, especially on the queen, made him a powerful factor in Spanish politics. In conjunction with Cardinal Mendoza he drafted a petition to the Pope requesting authorization of the establishment of a unified national Spanish Inquisition. This was given in 1478. Torquemada was among the 12 clerics whose names were submitted to the pope in 1482 for inquisitorial appointments. At that time he was already known for his extreme views on the eradication of Judaism among the *Conversos and the question of the Jews in the united Spanish kingdom. After confirmation of his appointment he started to prepare the organization of the Inquisition, and founded its general supreme council, which became one of the councils of state and a key power in the internal affairs of the united kingdom. As head of the council, Torquemada was accorded the title inquisitor general (1483).

Torquemada established a system of regional inquisitional tribunals, at first in smaller towns near centers of Converso influence where opposition from the local population to the inquisitorial methods was manifest. Later, tribunals were also set up in larger towns. Torquemada initiated conventions of inquisitors (the first was held in Seville in 1484) to discuss the activities of the tribunals. He also drew up permanent instructions for the tribunals on working methods, as well as judicial procedures. In addition to the trials held by the Inquisition, the first results of Torquemada's activities concerning Conversos and Jews were the orders of expulsion from Andalusia (1483) and Albarracín (1486). In particular, there was the libel of *Host desecration and alleged crucifixion of a Christian child involving a group of Conversos at *La Guardia (1490–91).

In the sphere of general politics Torquemada pressed for resumption of the war of Reconquest against the kingdom of *Granada. After Granada's conquest he was instrumental in obtaining the general decree of expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492). A widely related legend – probably without historical foundation – tells of negotiations between a Jewish delegation headed by Don Isaac *Abrabanel and the king: the king was offered the sum of 30,000 dinars for abolition of the expulsion decree, but Torquemada, who was listening to the talks from an adjacent room, broke into the king's room, put a crucifix on the table, and reminded him of Judah Iscariot who had betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Influenced by Torquemada's appearance, the king rejected the Jewish offer.

In 1494 additional inquisitors were appointed, who were allocated many of Torquemada's former competencies. The appointments were evidently made because of Torquemada's failing health, not because of a decline in his influence. In the early 1490s he proceeded severely against bishops and clerics suspected of requesting the pope's support against his methods and policy, the essence of which were to turn Spain into a country of "one flock with one shepherd."

Torquemada had already become a legend in his lifetime, and various assessments – often contradictory – have been made of his personality by writers and scholars. He became a symbol of religious and ideological fanaticism, of persecution, investigation and interrogation, and probing into the souls of men.


Baer, Spain, index; E. de Molènes, Torquemada et l'Inquisition (1897); H.C. Lea, A History of the Inquisition of Spain (3 vols., 1906, repr. 1958), index; T. Hope, Torquemada, Scourge of the Jews (1939); B. Llorca, in: Sefarad, 8 (1948), 360–3, 374–81.

[Haim Beinart]

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Torquemada, Tomás de°

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