Henry A. Kamen (born 1936) is a British historian, who taught at the University of Warwick and various universities in Spain until his retirement in 2002; he wrote many books, such as Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763, Philip of Spain, The Disinherited: Exile and the Making of Spanish Culture, 1492-1975, The Rise of Toleration, etc. [NOTE: page numbers refer to the 369-page hardcover edition.]
He wrote in the Preface to this 1997 book, "Written principally for the general reader, this book pays due attention to the major scholarly themes that have dominated Inquisition studies. Its conclusions, through based firmly on documentary sources, will not satisfy everybody. My aim, however, has been to go beyond polemic and present a balanced and updated synthesis of what we know about the most notorious tribunal of the western world... my book is fundamentally a 'state of the question' paper and therefore still open to discussion."
He observes, "on what evidence did the tribunal justify its existence? Historians have tended to accept without question the reason given by the Inquisition, namely that conversos [Jewish converts, sometimes forced] were judaizing. The fact is that apart from a handful of scattered cases there was no systematic evidence of judaizing. New Christian writers in mid-century had firmly denied such accusations. Zealots ... would point only to unsubstantiated rumors and allegations... If the Inquisition claimed to have religious motives, those motives were difficult to justify from the evidence." (Pg. 45) Later, he adds, "Very little convincing proof of Jewish belief or practice among the conversos can be found in the trials." (Pg. 63)
He asserts, "Taking into account all the tribunals of Spain up to about 1530, it is unlikely that more than two thousand people were executed for heresy by the Inquisition. The final death toll may have been smaller than historians once believed, but the overall impact was certainly devastating for the cultural minorities most directly affected." (Pg. 60) He points out, "Though the Inquisition led a relatively tranquil existence among the people of Spain, its political life was always stormy. Quarrels of jurisdiction plagued its entire career; it had serious disputes with the papacy, the bishops, and virtually every other authority in the state." (Pg. 157)
He states, "The fear generated by the tribunal... usually had its origins in social disharmony. The records of the Inquisition are full of instances where neighbors denounced neighbors, friends denounced friends, and members of the same family denounced each other.. Many of these cases would have arisen through sheer malice or hatred. Vengeful witnesses had everything on their side: their hearsay evidence was usually unverifiable, their identity was always kept secret, and the costs of prosecution were borne not by them but by the tribunal." (Pg. 177)
He recounts, "The basic rule in torture was that the accused should suffer no danger to life or limb. By Church Law, ecclesiastical tribunals could not kill nor could they shed blood. No distinctive tortures were used by the Inquisition. Those most often employed were in common use in other secular and ecclesiastical tribunals, and any complaints of novel tortures would certainly refer to rare exceptions... Both men and women were divested of all their clothes and left completely naked except for minimal garments to cover their shame. There seems to have been no age limit for victims, nor was there any limit on the torture. A victim would often have to undergo all three tortures before he would confess... While the Inquisition did not usually subject very old and very young people to torture, there are cases when tribunals apparently found this necessary. Women aged between seventy and ninety years are on record as having been put on the [rack]." (Pg. 190)
He observes, "Two classes of people along qualified for the stake---unrepentant heretics and relapsed heretics. The latter consisted of those who, after being pardoned a first time, had repeated the offense and were adjudged to have relapsed into heresy. Those who were sentenced ... did not always die at the stake. They were normally given the choice between repenting before the auto de fe reached its climax, in which case they were 'mercifully' strangled when the flames were lit; or remaining unrepentant, in which case they were roasted alive. The vast majority ... were in fact burnt in effigy only..." (Pg. 203)
He notes, "The role of the inquisition in cases of witchcraft was much more restricted than is commonly believed... Well after the foundation of the inquisition, jurisdiction over sorcery and witchcraft remained in secular hands.... By the early sixteenth century, when the Holy Office began enquiries into the heresy of witchcraft, repression of the offense was still normally in the hands of the state courts. The Inquisition's reluctance to interfere was motivated in part by doubts whether any heresy was involved... Medieval secular practice had been that witches should be burnt, and the Inquisition at first followed suit... Here, then, were two important aspects of the role of the inquisition in witchcraft: some inquisitors were sceptical of the reality of diabolical witchcraft, and the tribunal made no claims to exclusive jurisdiction." (Pg. 269-271)
This is an excellent, very informative book, that may challenge some of one's opinions about the Inquisition.