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Frontiers of Heresy: The Spanish Inquisition from the Basque Lands to Sicily.

William Monter proposes that the period from 1530 to 1630 was the "Aragonese century" of the Spanish Inquisition. The end of the Lutheran, Morisco, and Jewish scares in Castile brought a decline in the number of cases tried in the Castilian tribunals after 1570. Social realities and political climate in the Crown of Aragon, however, inspired tribunals there to try more cases and execute proportionally more defendants. Between 1570 and 1625 twenty-five percent of those killed by the Holy Office were executed in Aragon, which had five percent of the Spanish population. Crown of Aragon tribunals sent 2,500 men to the galleys for "unpaid penance at the oars," while Castilian tribunals sent fewer than 300. The Aragonese Inquisition executed 100 Moriscos after 1540, about forty percent of the Spanish total.

Aragonese tribunals developed specialties in crimes not often tried by the Castilian Inquisition. The Barcelona Inquisition pursued a strategy of "survival through insignificance," persecuting blasphemers, French or Gascon Protestants, and bigamists. The Valencia Inquisition carried out a large number of executions for sodomy and bestiality in its effort to tame the magnates and their Morisco subjects. Logrono, with jurisdiction over Navarre and the Basque lands, satisfied itself with mediocre witchcraft trials. In Sicily, however, the Inquisition found "a race of village atheists," who presented the Palermo tribunal with a number of intriguing heresies and sexual offenses.

Instead of stereotypical persecutors and victims Monter discovers "rational" persons. The judges acted as businessmen, targeting new crimes in order to justify their own existence. The Zaragoza tribunal after 1570 began aggressively to "take business away from other courts," both ecclesiastical and secular. Interference from Madrid prevented Barcelona's presiding judge from "making witchcraft into a profitable business for an impoverished tribunal." Supply-and-demand models shaped the judges' choice of crimes to prosecute. The Zaragoza tribunal tried sodomy and bigamy cases because it had a spacious prison to fill. With its abundant supply of foreigners, the Catalan tribunal pursued Protestants long after the meager supply of Spanish Protestants was exhausted in the 1560s.

Defendants behaved as the Inquisition's discerning "clients." In general they were active, conscious masters of their own cases. Those accused of bestiality, for example, "conducted" their trials differently from those accused of blasphemy and sodomy. In contrast to all other groups, Morisco defendants - both men and women - almost never implicated their correligionists.

This colorful tour of regional tribunals reflects the author's impeccable research in inquisition records and his trenchant appraisals of the published literature. He has confronted a great variety of trials and observed the participants with a fresh and discerning eye. More important than the new geographical emphasis he claims, Monter has shifted the paradigm of Inquisition studies. Having read this book, one cannot read Inquisition records without seeing judges and defendants as assertive personalities with the wit and will to make their own cases.
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Article Details
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Author:Nader, Helen
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1994
Words:474
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