NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION! In the Monty Python version, a slightly dim English servant is being questioned. "I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition," he says. The door flies open and three cardinals in red robes stomp in. Their leader, Michael Palin, booms: "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" Hilarity follows.
Anyway, here's the real story.
HER MAJESTY Mention Queen Isabella and most of us picture the wise and generous patron who funded Christopher Columbus' first exploration of the New World. In fact, she and King Ferdinand were staunch -- if not to say fierce -- Catholics. And what they wanted more than anything was political and religious unity in Spain.
HOLIER THAN THOU In 1483, Pope Sixtus IV went looking for someone to head up the inquisition in Spain. He didn't have to look very far: He found his man in Dominican friar TomÃÂÃÂ¡s de Torquemada, Ferdinand and Isabella's confessor and closest advisor.
Not only was Torquemada the most powerful cleric in the country, he was also suitably fanatic about ridding Spain of all non-Catholics, a category that included Jews, Moslems, Moors, and even Catholic converts who were suspected of being "insincere." The irony is that Torquemada was of Jewish descent himself. But that did nothing to stop him from what came next.
"YOU CAN'T TORQUEMADA ANYTHING!" Nine years later, in 1492, while Columbus was searching the seas for a new route to the Indies, Torquemada was doing his best to persuade Isabella and Ferdinand to boot out all Jews who refused to be baptized. It took some priestly arm-twisting to convince them, but they finally agreed.
Three months later, a total of 170,000 Jews, Moslems, and Moors had fled Spain. Torquemada's next move was to clean up after them: He instructed his assistants to ferret out all...