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The Catholic Historical Review 88.2 (2002) 367-370

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Book Review

Historia de la Inquisición en España y América, Volume III:
Temas y problemas

Crypto-Judaism and the Spanish Inquisition

Historia de la Inquisición en España y América, Volume III: Temas y problemas. Edited by Joaquín Pérez Villanueva and Bartolomé Escandell Bonet. (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos. 2000. Pp. xlii, 1256. 10096 pesetas.)
Crypto-Judaism and the Spanish Inquisition. By Michael Alpert. (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave. 2001. Pp. x, 246.)

The nineteen chapters included in the third and final volume of this ambitious series make a valuable contribution to Inquisition studies, although, as often happens in collective volumes of such size, not all chapters fit smoothly into the editors' organizational framework. In spite of the title, the book focuses on the Inquisition in Spain rather than on its role in the Spanish dominions in the New World with the exception of a chapter on the establishment of the tribunal in Cartagena de Indias. A long and informative chapter on the Inquisition in Sicily by Manuel Rivero Rodríguez provides another exception to the book's Spanish emphasis. It is also worth noting that most of the contributors are Spanish academics, many young professors influenced by the new currents of Inquisition historiography, although senior figures in the field are also represented. The generally high quality of the individual chapters and, in many cases, their sophisticated treatment of difficult questions, such as those revolving around the "New Christians" or conversos of Jewish descent and their Islamic counterparts, the moriscos, reflect the conclusions of recent scholarship by Spanish and non-Spanish historians alike that the role of the Inquisition and its effects on society were far more complex and less straightforward than once was thought.

The subjects discussed by the contributors cover a wide range touching important aspects of current debate about the Inquisition and its victims. Roberto López Vila provides a survey of Spanish historiography on the Inquisition in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the institution's history in itself was less important to those writing about it than the ideological debate between [End Page 367] liberals, intellectuals, and conservative Catholics. All were more concerned with the kind of Spain existing in their own day than with rigorous examination of the Inquisition's history. Antonio Domínguez Ortiz, author of a pioneering study of the conversos, offers a perceptive overview of the institution that emphasizes its role as a political instrument used by successive monarchs, often, in very different ways depending on circumstances. Moved by the intense orthodoxy generated by the Council of Trent, the perceived Protestant threat in Europe, and the Ottoman surge in the Mediterranean, Philip II expanded the Inquisition's privileges and range considerably as conversos and moriscos fell victim to decades of aggressive persecution. His son, Philip III, reversed up to a point the brutally anti-converso policy of his father for financial and economic motives so much so that the king's rigidly orthodox critics called him "Phillipus Tertius Tertius Rex Judaeorum." The Count-Duke of Olivares, the all powerful royal favorite between 1621 and 1643, followed a similar although inconsistent policy permitting the immigration of Portuguese converso bankers and financiers. A restless and unhappy Inquisition viewed them as secret practitioners of Judaism, but Olivares required their resources and financial acumen to meet the ruinous cost of sustaining an aggressive and ambitious foreign policy. Domínguez Ortiz, like other contributors, also stresses the importance of studying the regional and local character of the Inquisition and its activities given that its reach was far from uniform and effective over the kingdom as a whole and even within specific regions.

Throughout its history the Inquisition attempted to enlarge its competence and privileges within an elaborate civil and ecclesiastical organization beset by constant jurisdictional battles over the extent of the institution's authority. Competing institutions in church and state vigorously defended themselves against the...


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