The times are such that one should think carefully before writing books.


In its early years the attempts of the Inquisition to identify and control erroneous beliefs were directed mainly against ideas, practices and words, rather than against writings. In pre-modern Europe culture and belief were primarily expressed orally; only occasionally did the inquisitors find it necessary to attack the objects through which ideas could be transmitted, namely, books.

Since medieval times, books were produced in manuscript form and copied by hand where necessary; they were rare, expensive and hard to find, but in a Europe where illiteracy was the order of the day the demand was small. Still, the inquisitors by no means neglected their significance. When Hebrew books and the Talmud were found in the possession of conversos, they were seized and destroyed. The inquisitors also seem from an early period to have frowned on books about magic and astrology. There is a reference, probably from the late 1480s, to the burning of a large quantity of such items found at the University of Salamanca.

The diffusion of the printing press in Europe at the end of the fifteenth century revolutionized the art of communication, made it cheaper and easier to produce and distribute works, and facilitated the spread of both news and ideas. Authorities in both Church and state became aware of the need to oversee the output of books, and also welcomed the opportunity to tax them. In Castile, controls by the government over printing date back to Ferdinand and Isabella. On 8 July 1502, they issued a pragmatic by which licenses were made obligatory for the printing of books inside the realm as well as for the introduction of foreign books. Licenses could be granted only by the presidents of the Chancillerías (high courts) of Valladolid and Granada, and by the prelates of Toledo, Seville, Granada, Burgos and Salamanca.1 Publishing was in its infancy, and the law had little effect. Outside Castile, that is to say in approximately one-third of Spain, printing remained free of government control.

The intervention of the state in pre-publication was new, but there was no intention of censorship since there were already controls available. The Lateran Council in 1515, and in particular the Council of Trent in 1564, granted bishops in Europe a general power to license books for printing. In the early 1500s printing was still a novelty, printed books were few and controls were lax. The coming of the Reformation, by contrast, unleashed a flood of controversial literature, which authorities everywhere attempted to curb.2In England the government produced licensing laws in 1538, and in the 1540s various Italian authorities passed similar edicts. All over Europe authors found their wish to publish freely being hindered by irksome interference. Spain came late into the field of controls: the earliest measures were taken by the state, not by the Inquisition or the Church, and were, as we have seen, valid only for Castile, not for the other realms of Spain.

The Holy Office was given no formal powers to license books, though between 1520 and 1550 it informally managed to issue a few permits to print.3 After the 1550s it limited itself exclusively to the new field of post-publication censorship. Since there were in Spain no existing guides to heretical books, the tribunal had to rely at first on foreign direction. It was a papal order that provoked the first ban on Lutheran books in Spain, issued by Cardinal Adrian of Utrecht in April 1521 in his capacity as inquisitor general. Thereafter prohibitions of individual books were notified through letters (cartas acordadas) sent to the tribunals, and from 1540 regular lists of banned works were issued by the Holy Office. When feasible, a catalogue of prohibited works, the famous Index, was issued.

Before entering into the complex theme of controls over the printed word, it would be wise to clarify some important issues. The measures described here took the form of attempts to control; we cannot be sure that the attempts succeeded, or were even put into effect. Every European country was a mass of autonomous jurisdictions, not always bound by the decrees of a central authority. At no point were the officials who issued the measures in possession of the means to carry them out. The Inquisition, moreover, was not the only state body taking part in the process, though it certainly had an exceptional role in being able also to censor the spoken word, since verbal utterances were the basis of the greater proportion of its prosecutions.

In the 1530s and 1540s the Inquisition attempted to stop the entry of heretical literature into the peninsula. As the only state tribunal that could operate throughout Spain, it was able to act in areas (such as seaports) and in regions (such as the Basque country) where Castilian state officials could not. The government, however, took no direct initiative over controlling literature until the shock discovery of Protestants in 1558, an event that stung the regent Juana into action. On 7 September 1558 she issued a radical decree of control (valid only for Castile and not for the rest of Spain). The law banned the introduction into Castile of all books printed in other realms in Spanish, obliged printers to seek licenses from the council of Castile (which in 1554 had been granted control over such permits), and laid down a strict procedure for the operation of censorship. Contravention of any of these points would be punished by death and confiscation (a formal penalty that, as it happened, was never imposed). At the same time the Inquisition was allowed to issue licenses when printing for its own purpose. According to the new rules, manuscripts were to be checked and censored both before and after publication, and all booksellers were to keep by them a copy of the Index of Prohibited Books. So wide-ranging was the decree of 1558 that it remained theoretically in force until the end of the ancien régime.4

Philip II at that date was in Brussels, from which he wrote approving all the measures taken by his sister. Heresy was spreading through European universities. As a consequence, just before returning to Spain the king banned his Netherlands subjects from studying in France. When he arrived in the peninsula in 1559, he issued a similar order on 22 November to all subjects of the crown of Castile studying or teaching abroad to return within four months. An exception was made for those studying at three named colleges in Italy—Bologna, Rome, Naples—and one in Portugal (Coimbra). No Castilians were in future to be allowed abroad to study except at these.

The censorship law of 1558 and the ban on studying in some countries were intended to be radical measures. They have often been misconstrued as affecting all Spain, and converting it into a police state in the area of literature.5 There were, in reality, several weaknesses in the legislation.

The biggest loophole in both measures was that they only affected Castile, not the whole of Spain. Philip was able to issue his decrees through the council of Castile; in the other realms of Spain, by contrast, he would have had to summon the Cortes, which he did not do at this time. The entire eastern half of the peninsula, and the whole length of the Pyrenees as well as the Basque coastline—that is to say, precisely the most vulnerable frontiers of the country—were consequently exempt from the law. Any author who had difficulties getting a license to publish in Madrid retained the option of going to one of the other peninsular realms. A case in question was the king’s former tutor, the humanist Sepúlveda, who in 1565 felt frustrated by the censors in Castile and tried to get one of his works published in Aragon or, failing that, in Venice.6

The crown of Aragon, in effect, enjoyed considerable freedom in publishing. In Catalonia, the king complained in 1568, “the printers publish many new books without having our license.”7 Not until many decades later in the reign did the government manage to claim some degree of control over licensing in the crown of Aragon: in Catalonia from 1573, in Valencia from the 1580s, in Aragon from as late as 1592.8 Even in Castile the 1558 law exempted most ecclesiastical books (which constituted the most important part of regular book production) and Inquisition publications from the need to obtain state control.9 Over a large part of Spain, consequently, the 1558 law was either not in force or ineffective. Where it was not in force, printing normally had to be licensed by the local bishop.

A second loophole was that the control of imports was operative in Castile alone. The 7 September law regulated the import of books only “into these realms” (Castile and León). The other realms, namely, “Aragon, Valencia, Catalonia and Navarre,” were excluded from the law.10 Books coming from them to Castile were subject to control, but there was no legislation to restrain books coming to them from outside. The stores of Barcelona, for example, imported freely books published in foreign countries in Spanish and other languages.11 In 1561 the bookshop of the Barcelona printer Joan Guardiola held a stock of over nine thousand volumes, of which “ninety per cent came directly from publishers in Lyon, with several from Paris and others from Antwerp and Venice.”12

Third, the 1558 measure in Castile did not in principle involve the Inquisition. As a state law, its implementation lay in the hands of municipal authorities, who had to oversee such matters as book imports and censorship of texts, but found they lacked the experience to do so. Bundles of imported books were held up for months because cities had no officials trained in inspecting them (nor, evidently, did officials have the expertise to analyze texts in French, Greek, Latin or foreign tongues). Eventually, nearly thirty years later, at the instance of the leading Madrid bookseller Francisco López, the council of Castile agreed that each city should contract a professor from the local university to carry out the work.13 Outside Castile, by contrast, the government was obliged to rely on the Inquisition in its attempts to oversee the book import trade.

Fourth, the printing controls had to contend with the reality that Spain relied heavily on foreign imports for its access to literature.14 When the tutor of the future Philip II went book shopping for the prince in Salamanca in the 1540s, most of the books he bought were printed abroad. Imported volumes on humanities (including the complete works of Erasmus), literature, science and art featured in the list.15 It became impossible to apply effectively the law controlling imports, because bookshops in Spain depended for their living on supplies from outside, and there were not enough officials or experts to examine every single volume entering the country. Foreign presses continued to dominate the printing of religious works not only in Bibles but also in mass books and works of devotion.16 Both public and clergy continued to favor imported books. In Seville, Fernando Colón, son of the explorer, included in his library over five hundred editions of works by Reformation writers, including Luther and Melanchthon.17 In 1561, three years after the 1558 law was supposed to be in place, a city official in Alcalá insisted: “for some years foreign booksellers have come to this town and university from France and other parts, in order to sell their books, which are of better quality and also cheaper.”18 The flow of foreign books was desired by booksellers and never restricted, as the case of Barcelona shows. No attempt was ever made by the Inquisition to interfere with trade in this city. Ten years after the restrictive decrees of 1558–59, Catalan booksellers continued to rely for their income on the uninterrupted import of hundreds of foreign books, many of which went on to Castile. “The books that enter through this frontier are very numerous,” the inquisitors reported from Catalonia in 1569, “and even if there were many inquisitors we would not be enough to deal with so many volumes.”19

Finally, the biggest problem with the legislation of 1558–59 was that, true to form, many Spaniards simply ignored it. The printer of a new book normally preferred to apply for the license issued by the council of Castile, because it carried with it a “privilege” or exclusive right to publish and sell. Reprints, on the other hand, did not require a new license. Printers and authors therefore felt free to bring out so-called “reprints,” even if important changes had been introduced into the text.20 Many authors tried successfully to avoid the licensing and censorship process, which they knew could involve interminable delays. They published without permission, or (more frequently) published abroad, in Italy or in France. In the 1540s, most books by Spaniards had been published outside Spain, notably in Antwerp, Paris, Lyon and Venice.21 Despite the apparently restrictive nature of the 1558 law, Spanish writers continued throughout the century to publish as much abroad as they did at home. It was a freedom enjoyed, ironically, by no other European country.22

The works published abroad were, naturally, imported into Spain. No intention of heresy arose. In the late sixteenth century at least sixty leading Spanish writers published their works abroad, in Lyon in France, rather than in Spain.23 The reason was that the quality of presses outside Spain was much better, and controls less onerous.24 As a consequence, the penalties laid down by the 1558 law often remained a virtual dead letter. Enjoying the ability to publish with impunity in the realms of Aragon, Italy, France or the Netherlands, Spaniards could boast that they had more freedom of literature than their neighbors did, despite the 1558 law. Even within Spain, the freedom enjoyed in the non-Castilian realms was remarkable. In Valencia at a later period, some 40 percent of publications reached their readers without having any sort of license or permission.25 Despite all the unlicensed publishing, not a single author or printer in Spain—other than those condemned as Protestants—is known to have suffered the death penalty. By contrast, in England and France the risk of punishment was real and executions frequent.

Throughout Europe, the Reformation crisis generated hopes but also fears. It was the beginning, both in Spain and outside it, of an epoch of caution. “Before that time,” a Dominican said of the year 1558, “Spain was wholly untouched by these errors.” “There was no need at that time to be suspicious of anyone,” an abbot observed of the previous decades.26 Among humanists and university men, the old ideal of an international republic of letters began to break down. When there had been one sole faith in Europe, scholars traveled freely across frontiers. Now they tended to remain within national boundaries. Institutions began to give classes in the local language rather than in Latin. Spanish students were probably the least affected by the process, since they had seldom gone to foreign colleges. The ones they most frequented, in Bologna and Rome, were precisely those still permitted to them. In addition, they could of course attend any of the colleges in the king’s dominions, such as the Netherlands. In practice, difficulties of distance, financing and language were tending to rule these out. Active contacts continued for a while only with French universities. The spread of heresy there, and Spanish restrictions, reduced these to a minimum. Of 228 Spanish scientific authors from the early sixteenth century, some 11 percent had taught in foreign universities and 25 percent had studied abroad; after 1560 the proportion was negligible. Montpellier, famous for its medical studies, turned Calvinist during the 1560s. Between 1503 and 1550, 310 Spaniards (mostly Aragonese) studied there; up to 1565 14 more registered; after 1573 no further Spaniards feature in the official lists.27

The frontiers, however, were never closed, least of all with France. Only Castilians were bound by the new restrictions. In 1565 the French ambassador in France reported that there were twenty Aragonese and Catalan students at the University of Toulouse, and he knew of two Catalans studying medicine at Montpellier.28 In the 1560s Navarrese with Protestant sympathies emigrated freely to France. Not until 1568 was the ban on study abroad extended to Spaniards living in the eastern part of the peninsula.29 However, as late as 1585 a frontier guard at Irún could report “having seen pass through some Spaniards on foot, others on horseback on excursion (though he does not know how many nor from where they came); and that there have also passed through the frontier-post Italians, Flemings, and Burgundians; and many Portuguese on foot and on horse with their wives, children and clothing.”30 Students crossed over to study in France. The secretary of the Inquisition in Logroño reported the case in 1584 of “a Dr. León, a medical doctor, who said he was a citizen of Valladolid, with two sons whom he said he was taking to study in Bordeaux. When asked why he was taking his sons to Bordeaux, where there was little security in matters of religion, and when there were so many good universities in Spain, he replied that if he did not find conditions suitable in Bordeaux he would take them to Paris.”31 Nothing was done to impede the doctor, who left his sons in Bordeaux and returned tranquilly to Valladolid. Several other scholars continued to study in France, but the Spanish government turned a blind eye. The new controls, despite their limited efficacy, may have curbed movement across frontiers. But they had little perceptible impact on intellectual life.

Systematic guides to forbidden literature were first issued in the form of an “index” by the University of Paris in 1542. The University of Louvain began to issue Indexes in 1546, and in Italy various Indexes were published in the 1540s.32 The first printed Index to be used in Spain, issued by Inquisitor General Valdés in September 1551, was no more than a reprint of one compiled by Louvain in 1550, with a special appendix devoted to Spanish books. Steps were taken to have the 1551 Index distributed by the tribunals.33Each tribunal was allowed to modify its local version, so we know of at least five Indexes issued in 1551–52, by the tribunals of Toledo, Valladolid, Valencia, Granada and Seville.34 The works of sixteen authors, mainly the leaders of the Reformation, were condemned in their entirety; but for the rest the Inquisition was content to ban some sixty-one works individually, and lay down regulations about Bibles, books in Hebrew and Arabic, and works printed without authorization.

During those years a large number of unlicensed Bibles and New Testaments was entering the peninsula. Many had translations or comments that did not coincide with orthodox views. The Inquisition began steps to censor the editions, and meanwhile ordered its tribunals in May 1552 to collect any available copies. The results were astonishing. In Seville alone, the inquisitors rounded up 450 volumes.35 In Saragossa the tribunal confiscated 218 unlicensed Bibles, most of them published in Lyon.36 At least 20 unlicensed Bibles were identified in Valencia. Many could be found in Salamanca. Faced by an extensive distribution of unapproved volumes, Valdés issued in 1554 a general censure of Bibles and New Testaments, identifying for correction 65 editions of the Scriptures issued in Lyon, Antwerp, Paris and other places.37

All the steps taken till the middle of the century were in response to an indirect threat from the Reformation. Heresy was still something distant; even the infiltration of Bibles could (it was felt)38 be handled without problems. The discovery of Protestants and the emergency laws of 1558 changed the situation radically. The Inquisition, entrusted with some of the censorship regulations, was ordered to put together an Index as quickly as possible.

The task was undertaken by Fernando de Valdés. In little less than a year, and consulting with very few experts other than his fellow Dominican and friend Melchor Cano,39 Valdés managed to draw up a substantial Index of Prohibited Books, which was published in the summer of 1559. Books were divided into sections according to language, and forbidden if they fell into the following categories: all books by heresiarchs; all religious books written by those condemned by the Inquisition; all books on Jews and Muslims with an anti-Catholic bias; all heretical translations of the Bible; all vernacular translations of the Bible, even by Catholics; all devotional works in the vernacular; all controversial works between Catholics and heretics; all books on magic; all verse using Scriptural quotations “profanely”; all books printed since 1515 without details of author and publisher; all anti-Catholic books; all pictures and figures disrespectful to religion.

It is vital to understand the motives behind this ambitious, and wholly unrealistic, attempt to control the market in books. The approximately seven hundred books listed as forbidden were in no way a carefully considered response to the problem of Reformation heresy, or an attempt to ban books that Spaniards might actually possess. Valdés and his friends for the most part simply stuck together, in a hurried40 scissors and paste operation, prohibitions decreed in other countries. Seventy percent of the entries41 were drawn directly from the previous Index of 1551, from the Indexes of Louvain (1550) and Portugal (1551), and from other Indexes, notably of Paris and Venice. The biggest category of prohibited books, those in Latin, representing nearly two-thirds of the seven hundred items, were almost all (with seven exceptions) published in foreign countries.

These details are highly significant. They demonstrate that the weight of the Index was directed to keeping out of Spain books that had for the most part never entered the country. The prohibition of fifty-four items in Dutch, a language unknown in Spain, could hardly be interpreted otherwise. Evidently, many foreign works were circulating within Spain, for booksellers relied heavily on book imports. But the true interest and significance of the Index for Spaniards at the time was less in its shadowboxing with books that they had neither seen nor read, than in those few books that they were able to read in their own language.

Three categories of books in Spanish stand out for their condemnation in the Index. First, there was the question of Erasmus. Philip II when young had been a devotee of the humanist. On his trip to the Netherlands in 1548 he had made a special visit to his birthplace, Rotterdam.42 The controversies of the Reformation epoch, however, undermined Erasmus’s standing. The Index of 1551 included his Colloquies. While some were debating whether to condemn Erasmus more fully, the Roman Inquisition under Paul IV came out in 1559 with a general condemnation of all his works. The Jesuits protested strongly against the measure, among the most vociferous being the Dutchman Peter Canisius. Diego Laínez, for his part, said openly that the papal Index was something “which restricted many spirits and pleased few, particularly outside Italy.”43 The Jesuits were no friends of Erasmus, but they felt that sweeping bans were unhelpful. The Spanish Index of 1559 listed fourteen works in Spanish by Erasmus, including theEnchiridion. From this time his name fell into disfavor. The Spanish Index of 1612 banned completely all his works in Spanish, and classified the author in the category of auctores damnati.

Erasmus remained (despite a common but mistaken opinion to the contrary) for more than a generation a respected name.44 His works were cited by leading authors both religious and secular. In Barcelona, his books remained openly on sale. Even his forbidden books were kept in private collections and highly treasured. His influence remained in the stream of thought that stretched as far as Cervantes. Intemperate defenses of him (Francisco Sánchez, “el Brocense,” in 1595 declared in a lecture, “Whoever speaks ill of Erasmus is either a friar or an ass!”)45 might of course invite recrimination. But in the end, as happens to most thinkers, he faded from view quite simply because he ceased to be the fashion.

The second notable feature of the Index was its attention to literary works. In 1551 it had banned only a handful of Castilian works. By contrast, nineteen works of a literary character were now banned. Among the authors affected by prohibition of one or more items were Gil Vicente, Hernando de Talavera, Bartolomé Torres Naharro, Juan del Encina and Jorge Montemayor.46 The Lazarillo de Tormes was banned and also the Cancionero general. Each of these items had special circumstances that literary experts have since examined and clarified.

The third and most notable aspect of the Index was its campaign against vernacular works of piety. Valdés and his advisers were vividly aware of the recent spiritualizing movements that had produced the alumbrados. They also suspected links between those movements and the Protestants. As a consequence they came down heavily on some of the best-known spiritual writers of the generation. The most prominent casualties were Juan de Avila’s Audi, Filia (discussed above, chapter 5), Luis de Granada’s Book of Prayer and Francisco Borja’s Works of a Christian.

Granada’s Book of Prayer, first published in 1554, became so popular in Spain that it went through twenty-three editions up to the time it was put on the Index (principally at the request of Melchor Cano, who had been among the first to smell heresy in theCatechism of the archbishop of Toledo). It was in vain that Fray Luis tried to get the ban rescinded. Finding no help in Spain, he succeeded in getting the Book approved by the Council of Trent and the pope. Such approval was not enough for the inquisitors, and it was only when he accepted “corrections” in his text that the book was allowed to circulate freely.47

The ban on Borja also emanated from Cano, an open enemy of the Jesuits. The problem was over the way some phrases in the book could be read.48 Because it was an international order, many in Spain were suspicious of the Company of Jesus. A Jesuit from Valladolid reported the opinion among some “that the Theatines (which is what they call us here in this Babel) have been the source of Luther’s errors.” Valdés’s Index fell like a thunderclap on the Company. Borja, duke of Gandía and former viceroy of Catalonia, was the most distinguished recruit ever to join the society in Spain. The ban on his work threatened to bring disrepute not only upon him but upon all the Jesuits. Fearing that he was about to be arrested by the Inquisition, he left Spain for Rome in the spring of 1560 and never again returned to his homeland.49

This was not the end of the travails of the Jesuits. The 1559 Index prohibited devotional works in the vernacular even if they were not printed (at that time many books circulated in manuscript form). The worried rector of the Jesuit college in Seville went to the inquisitors to ask if the ban applied also to Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, which was used by the novices in manuscript translation and not published in Castilian until 1615. To his horror he was told that the prohibition did apply. He went back to the college, collected all the copies of the Exercises, handed them to the Inquisition, then took to his bed in mortification. “I have just handed them in,” he wrote to his superior in Rome, “today Friday 20 October at six in the evening. The pain of this has laid me low in bed with grief. I have seen in this time the prohibition of works that were highly Catholic and beneficial and by Christian authors.”50

Seville was the scene also of another casualty of the drive against spiritualist piety. A much-respected Dominican friar, Domingo de Valtanás, aged seventy-three at the time, was arrested in 1561 on very vague charges, probably associated with illuminism, and confined to a monastery where he died shortly after.51 There were many pious Catholics who regretted the trend. Teresa of Avila testified that “when they banned many books in Spanish, so they could not be read, I very much regretted it, because some of them were entertaining to read and I could no longer read them because they were in Latin.”52 In fact the policy rested on the firm opinion of one theologian, Fray Diego de Chaves (subsequently a confessor to the king), who managed to convince Valdés and the Suprema thatno works of piety written in Castilian should be allowed to circulate, since they would only lead unprepared readers astray.53 Spiritual works should be made accessible only to clergy, whose job it was to transmit doctrine to the people. This startling conviction, based in great measure on attitudes already expressed by the Dominican professor Melchor Cano, was accepted by the Inquisition, and had unforeseen consequences. The most famous literary work to fall foul of it in 1559 was the Catechism of Bartolomé Carranza (see chapter 8 below). But it also affected no less a work that the Roman Catechism, which had been issued by the papacy and was circulating in Spain (in Latin) with the full approval of the king and of the Church. When steps were taken, both in Spain and in Rome, to translate the Catechism into Castilian in order to benefit a wider Spanish readership, the Inquisition stepped in and blocked every move to publish translations of the work.54

The Index of 1559 has often been taken to represent the beginning of an epoch of repression in Spanish culture. It would probably be more correct to see it as the only repressive Index prior to the eighteenth century. It was the first but also the only pre-1700 Index to attack notable works of Castilian poetry and literature, all of them antedating the mid-sixteenth century. None of the authors concerned had a serious brush with the Inquisition on account of the work affected. Thereafter, no Index before the age of the Enlightenment went any further in attacks on Spanish literature. Rather than opening a repressive phase, the 1559 Index seems to have been, on one hand, an ill-thought-out attempt to control some aspects of creativity; and on the other, the first phase of a hostile response to aspects of native spirituality when published in the vernacular language.

Censorship encouraged a practice that later became common: the burning of books. Book burning was, of course, a traditional device used by Christians against their enemies. The Emperor Constantine used it against Arian works. In 1248 the clergy in Paris burned fourteen cartloads of Jewish books. The medieval Inquisition followed suit, and in the sixteenth century it was a common practice in Italy, France (thousands of Protestant books were thrown to the flames in the city of Lyon in 1565) and England.55Torquemada in his day had organized a book burning in his monastery in Salamanca. Jewish sacred books were the objects of a bonfire in Toledo in May 1490 when “many books by the said heretics were burnt publicly in the square.”56 A royal decree of October 1501 ordered Arabic books to be burnt in Granada, and a huge bonfire was held under the auspices of Cisneros. From March 1552 the Inquisition ordered that heretical books be burnt publicly.57 Some twenty-seven books were ordered to be burnt at a ceremony in Valladolid in January 1558.58

In mid-century the Spaniards probably resorted to burning because it seemed the simplest way to get rid of offending material. Very many works perished. “On seven or eight occasions we have burnt mountains of books here in our college,” a Jesuit working for the Barcelona Holy Office reported in 1559.59 In 1561 an official in Seville asked what should be done with the numerous books he had rounded up. There were many books of hours, he said, which could be easily corrected. “Burn them,” the Inquisition replied. And what of the Bibles? “Burn them.” And the books of medicine, many with superstitious material? “Burn them.”60 This drastic solution was not always applied. Subsequently, when the tribunal had elaborated its new system of expurgation rather than condemnation, books were kept in store and not normally destroyed.

The 1559 Index had set out to identify and prohibit suspicious books in their entirety. Subsequent Indexes started from a completely different perspective. The next Index was not issued for a quarter of a century, and in the interim the Inquisition proceeded by cartas acordadas, issuing some forty-three orders affecting a total of fifty books.61 The single most important influence on Catholic thinking about censorship at this period was the Index of Prohibited Books issued by the Council of Trent in 1564. Its premises were accepted as authoritative by all the theologians and inquisitors who helped to prepare the next Spanish Index. Meanwhile, Philip II had arranged for the Tridentine Index to be published in Flanders in 1570, and sponsored the preparation there by Benito Arias Montano, the distinguished Hebraist, of a special “expurgatory” Index (1571). Montano’s Index was novel because it adopted the practice of excising offending passages from otherwise orthodox books, which thereby escaped blanket prohibition. Philip II felt that there were lessons to be learned from the method of censorship adopted in Flanders, for he informed the duke of Alba at the end of 1569 that Montano’s draft index “will be a model for making one like it here, and to this effect a copy has been given to those of the Inquisition.”62

The Indexes of 1564 and 1571 played a fundamental part in the elaboration of Spain’s new Index, first discussed at a committee meeting in Salamanca in the latter year. Very little progress was made, possibly in part because of profound disagreements among the professors of Salamanca, some of whom (as we shall see) were in 1572 arrested by the Inquisition as a result of intrigues within the professorial body. Only after the end of this affair, in 1578, were the plans to prepare an Index resumed.63 Juan de Mariana devoted considerable time to helping the compilers: “I worked on it as much as anybody, and for a long time had four secretaries together helping me.”64 The Index which emerged consisted of two volumes—one of prohibited books (1583), the other of expurgated (1584)—issued by Inquisitor General Gaspar de Quiroga. There was an impressive increase in items compared with the previous Index. Valdés had prohibited some 700 items; the 1583 Index included 2,315, three times as many.65 Of these, 74 percent were in Latin, 8.5 percent in Castilian and 17.5 percent in other languages.

The scope of the 1583 Index was, in appearance, staggering. By its sheer size it drew into its ambit the whole of the European intellectual world, both past and present. Editions of classical authors and of fathers of the Church, the collected works of Peter Abelard and of Rabelais, selected works by William of Ockham, Savonarola, Jean Bodin, Machiavelli, Juan Luis Vives, Marsiglio of Padua, Ariosto, Dante and Thomas More (whose Utopia was banned until expurgated, although the Index conceded that he wasvir alius pius et catholicus) were among the casualties. At first glance it would appear that the Inquisition was declaring war against the whole of European culture.

We would be wrong to accept the impression, because the Quiroga Index was much less aggressive than appears. For the most part it simply took over existing condemnations in the Catholic world. It integrated almost wholesale the previous Index of 1559, the Tridentine Index of 1564, the Antwerp Index of 1570 and items from other sources.66 The result was a big increase in titles, but as far as peninsular items were concerned there was very little change. About forty further books of Spanish origin were added to those in the Valdés list. Some were uncorrected editions of works that were otherwise now permitted, such as the Lazarillo and the Audi, Filia. In general, none of the new prohibitions was readily identifiable as a work of creative literature. Though it is possible, then, to criticize the Valdés Index for the harm it may have done to elements of Spanish literature, the Quiroga Index did virtually nothing to affect the literary or reading habits of Spaniards. The overwhelming bulk of books it prohibited was unknown to Spaniards, had never entered Spain, and was in languages that Spaniards could not read. The 215 books prohibited in Dutch and German, for example, featured in the Index simply because the Quiroga compilers copied the Antwerp Index wholesale. It is consequently misleading to regard the 1583 Index as directly repressive. It affected only in part the daily reality of readers, students or booksellers. More directly relevant may have been the expurgations listed in the 1584 Index.67 Authors and printers may have been irritated by these, but they were hardly a blow to creativity.

Among the influences behind the Quiroga Index were Montano, Mariana and other intellectuals. All were zealous upholders of the Counter-Reformation who saw in the machinery of censorship a golden opportunity not to repress freedom of learning but actively to form the culture of the society in which they lived. The vast borrowing of prohibitions from the Tridentine Index was their gesture to papal authority, but of more direct interest to them than the obvious struggle against heresy was the problem of educating Spaniards. A contemporary of theirs, the Toledo humanist and poet Alvar Gómez de Castro, left a memoir detailing principles of censorship.68 He divided harmful works into two categories: those in Latin and those in the vernacular. Harmful books in the first category may be kept by instructed persons, he stated, but should not be used in schools. Of those in the second category, some, such as Boccaccio, should be carefully expurgated. As for Spanish books in the second category, some are books of romance and chivalry, and “since they are without imagination or learning and it is a waste of time to read them, it is better to prohibit them, except for the first four books of Amadis.” Others in this class are books on love, of which some, such as the Celestina, are serious and good, while others are of such poor quality that they should be banned. Also in this class are works of poetry, again including both good and bad: the bad should be expurgated or eliminated. The interesting criterion employed was obviously that of literary merit.

Mariana conceded in 1579 that otherwise excellent books by Borja and others should continue to be banned because of “the evil times,” and was even firmer than Gómez de Castro in his views on the educative role of books.69 He recommended that the Spanish Index should include the Tridentine rule banning “absolutely those books that narrate or teach lascivious and obscene things” (his advice was not followed). Mariana also urged that “in particular one should ban such books both in Latin and in Castilian, to witCelestina, Diana de Montemayor, and books of chivalry, even if it were only to force people to read good books and genuine histories.” His full list of unworthy literature also included selected works by Virgil, Ovid, Catullus, Propertius and other classical authors. Not all these suggestions were adopted by the compilers of the 1583 Index.

The inquisitors very seldom went looking for books to censor. They already had long lists to guide them, and further items were brought to their attention by zealous members of the public. They had to rely heavily on expert calificadores (censors), usually theologians from the religious orders.70 In the earlier period these tended to be mostly Dominicans;71 by the seventeenth century many were Franciscans and Jesuits.72 The system, if it can be called such, was (like all censorship systems) haphazard. Completely arbitrary decisions were made, and censors frequently contradicted each other. Judgments were made that had nothing to do with religion. The resulting confusion can be seen in the case of Bodin’s Republic, a Spanish translation of which suffered so many different criticisms in 1594 from the censors that it was decided to ban it totally.73 Fortunately, subsequent inquisitors reversed the decision and let the book through after expurgations. The example demonstrates that there was seldom any official criterion of “inquisitorial” censorship. The inquisitors and their censors simply put into effect the ideas prevailing among those who controlled the system. The fact that prominent intellects like Juan de Mariana and Melchor Cano were employed as censors did not affect—or improve—the criteria applied.

The Spanish Index was controlled only by the Spanish authorities and had no connection with that of Rome, which began in the sixteenth century to draw up its own list of prohibited books. While Spain often had on its list works which Rome had prohibited, there was no rule that one Index should follow the lead of the other, and several authors were astonished to find that Spain had forbidden books of theirs which circulated freely in Italy. Alternatively, Rome would ban books which circulated freely in Spain.74There was one other important difference between the two. The Roman Index was exclusively one of prohibition: that is, it banned books without regard to the number of errors in it, and without specifying whether a book could be published if it were expurgated. The Spanish Index, on the other hand, both expurgated and prohibited books, so that some works could circulate if the relevant passages cited in the Index were excised. In this respect the Spanish system was more liberal. When the Indexes clashed, reasons were invariably political, as in the case of the Italian cardinal Baronio, who some years later, in 1594, complained that although the pope had sanctioned his writings there were moves to put him on the Spanish Index. Baronio was certainly not in favor in Spain, but the relevant work by him was banned only by the state and not by the Inquisition.75

The Indexes of the seventeenth century were those of 1612 (with an appendix in 1614), 1632 and 1640. A prominent part in their compilation was played by the Jesuit Juan de Pineda, aided among others by Francisco Peña, the editor of Eimeric. Over twenty years after Quiroga’s Index, the Suprema in 1605 began preparation of a new one.76 It took seven years to draw up. The Index of 1612, issued under Inquisitor General Sandoval y Rojas, departed from previous practice. Instead of publishing separate volumes for prohibited and expurgated books, as was done in 1583–84, the cardinal published both together in an Index librorum prohibitorum et expurgatorum. The volume departed in another way from previous practice. Instead of dividing the material simply into Latin and vernacular books, it now divided the material into three classes. Into the first went authors who were completely prohibited; into the second went books that were prohibited, regardless of author; and into the third went books not bearing the names of their authors. For example, all heresiarchs would go into the first class, whereas Dante’s Monarchia would go into the second. Even this classification, however, was not strictly adhered to. Though Erasmus fell into the first class, and all his works without exception were banned in Spanish translation, several of his Latin works which were clearly beyond suspicion were permitted.

The Index of 1632 was issued by Inquisitor General Zapata, and that of 1640 by Inquisitor General Antonio de Sotomayor. Similar to the 1612 compilation in scope and content, Sotomayor’s Index offered a general survey of the intellectual advances of the seventeenth century, and complemented the efforts of the Quiroga Index to oversee aspects of European thought. It is not surprising to find Francis Bacon and other major writers condemned in the first class as heretics. Like the Quiroga Index, that of 1640 had little impact on native literature, apart from the surprising appearance of Mariana, who had to endure expurgations in seven of his works as well as in his De mutatione monetae (on the coinage) and his Treatise on Death and Immortality; and the well-known case of Cervantes, who lost by expurgation a sentence in book two, chapter thirty-six, of his Quixote, concerning works of charity. Despite its coincidence with the early period of the Scientific Revolution, moreover, the 1640 Index was tolerant towards some aspects of science. Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe, as heretics, were classified as auctores damnati and therefore appeared in class one; but virtually all their works were permitted in Spain after very minor expurgations. Some were allowed without any expurgation, but with the proviso that a note on the book should state that it was by a condemned author. Into this category fell Kepler’s Astronomia nova of 1609, his Epitome astronomiae copernicanae of 1618, and his Chilias logarithmorum, published at Marburg in 1624.

With these Indexes ended the first great period in the censorship of the Inquisition. The great compilations of 1583 and 1640 were not by their nature repressive weapons, and served more to dissuade Spaniards from reading foreign authors whom none but a few could have read anyway. The real weight of censorship in the country operated, it must be stressed, outside the scope of the Indexes: in the various systems of control at the disposal of both state and Inquisition, and in the formative restrictions that the Counter-Reformation introduced into Spain.

Any evaluation of the role of the Indexes also needs to take into account the practical question of whether they were put into effect. We may consider the situation in Catalonia. Twelve copies of the Quiroga Index arrived in Barcelona in October 1584; they were at once redistributed, a copy being sent to each bishop in Catalonia. The bishop was asked to collaborate with the comisarios (local clergy who helped the Inquisition) of that area. The comisario in his turn had to communicate the contents of his single copy to the leading persons of his district, and to the main booksellers. The booksellers for their part refused to buy copies of the Index “because they say they are very expensive.” In this instance, it appears that a single copy of the Index had to serve for an entire bishopric. If the example is typical, it would appear that in many parts of Spain the Index remained scarce and unknown. “There must be a great many books that are not corrected,” the inquisitors of Barcelona mused in 1586, when they commented on the lack of available copies. Certainly, unavailability of the Index was an excuse given by some booksellers in the city in 1593 when they were accused of selling prohibited books.77

The first concern of the Inquisition in matters of book control was over the entry of foreign books. The successful activities of Julián Hernández, who perished in the auto at Seville in December 1560, were a fraction of the effort made by Protestants to bring books into the country. In 1556 Margaret of Parma, Philip II’s regent in the Netherlands, informed the Spanish council of State that heretics “intend to send to Spain through Seville thirty thousand books of Calvin, and I hear that Marcus Pérez, who is here in Antwerp, is charged with this task.”78 Seaports were inevitably the center of inquisitorial scrutiny, and foreign sailors were vulnerable to arrest if they happened to be carrying Protestant devotional literature. Diplomats abroad sent back regular information on any unusual activity by printers or traders. The Inquisition began to claim the right to be the first to visit foreign ships when they entered territorial waters, but that provoked continual conflicts with local officials. In Bilbao the corregidor was ordered by the crown to give precedence to the Inquisition; in the Canaries the diocesan vicars were similarly told to give way.79

From the beginning of the Protestant scare, the inquisitors were aware that a rigid control of book imports had to be exercised. By early 1521 Lutheran books, translated into Spanish by conversos in Antwerp, were entering Spain via the Flanders trade route. The first ban on them was issued by Cardinal Adrian of Utrecht, regent of Spain and inquisitor general, on 7 April 1521. In view of the Comunero revolt, the political no less than the religious implications of Luther were taken seriously. Books continued to arrive at all the major ports in the peninsula, but the Inquisition was vigilant: a vessel seized at Pasajes had its hold full of books “of writings by Luther and his followers.” In Burgos Bernardino Tovar was able to purchase Lutheran books imported from Flanders. By 1524, it was reported from the court, “there is so much awareness of Luther that nothing else is talked about.”80

The flow of books was impossible to stop completely, since Spain depended on imports for much of its literature. “From one hour to the next,” the Inquisition commented in 1532, “books keep arriving from Germany.” Its officials were ordered to keep a watch at seaports. Special attention was paid to the Basque coast. In 1553, for perhaps the first time,81 detailed instructions were issued to inquisitors about how to carry out visits to foreign ships in Spanish ports. But few heretical books were ever found. The real victims of vigilance were booksellers. From 1559, when a shipment of three thousand books destined for Alcalá was seized on a French vessel in San Sebastián,82 booksellers in Spain had to put up with wholesale embargoes of their precious imports. In general, the shipments were neither confiscated nor censored. They were simply delayed until the bureaucracy had decided that no illegal imports were taking place. In 1564 the Inquisition ordered its officials in Bilbao and San Sebastián to send on to booksellers in Medina 245 bales of books imported from Lyon. Three years later the books were still in the ports. Embargos apart, books continued to enter freely. “Every day,” the inquisitors of Catalonia reported in 1572, “books enter both for Spain and for other parts.”83

Although commercial cargo was the usual hiding place for illegal books, the ever-zealous Inquisition insisted in 1581 that “the packages and the beds of the sailors” should also be examined.84 The searching of ships was always subject to diplomatic agreements. The peace treaty between England and Spain in 1604, for example, gave English ships protection, and in 1605 inquisitors in the ports were ordered not to visit English or Scottish vessels.85 In general, the operation to control book imports was riddled with inefficiency.86 The inquisitors of Barcelona in 1569, unable to process the great number of books entering, reported that “to entrust the work to friars and experts is not enough to keep people happy, and annoys the booksellers.” They therefore proposed “a commission of two persons to look at the books, paid by the booksellers, whose suggestion it is.”87 Orders were sent out periodically by the Suprema for books to be seized; but, the council complained in 1606, “it is reported that many of the books ordered to be picked up are not being collected.”88

Inevitably, condemned books filtered into the country. In Barcelona in 1569 the bookshops were still selling “many forbidden books.”89 Their continuing entry is demonstrated by the case in Madrid of Joseph Antonio de Salas, knight of the Order of Calatrava, whose library was offered for sale to the public on his death in 1651. It was then found that among the 2,424 volumes in the collection, to quote the censor, “there were many books prohibited or unexpurgated or worthy of examination, either because they were by heretical authors or were newly published abroad by unknown writers.”90 There were 250 prohibited works—a proportion of one in ten—confirming that foreign books were smuggled regularly and often successfully into Spain, despite the death penalty attached to the offense.

The second major control was at the point of contact between a book and its potential reader. Libraries and bookshops were at intervals visited and checked. Bishops were encouraged to inspect all libraries in their dioceses, and at Salamanca University a score of the staff went carefully through the library to weed out any dangerous books. As early as 1536 Thomas de Villanueva was employed by the inquisitor general to visit bookshops in Valencia. A lightning check in 1566 in Seville is described thus by an inquisitor: “at a fixed hour, nine in the morning, all the bookshops of Seville were occupied by familiars of the Holy Office, so that they could not warn each other nor hide nor take out any books, and later we came and made all the shops close and are visiting them one by one.”91In reality, such visits were few and far between. They also took place only in big towns where there was an inquisitorial presence. And even there, as the inquisitors of Barcelona admitted in 1569, the bookshops “have not been visited for many years.”92Bookshops, moreover, pleaded ignorance if found with books that needed censoring. In Barcelona in 1593, as we have seen, they said that no copies of the Index were available, and they were consequently unable to monitor forbidden items.93 On this occasion, some booksellers were fined. It is the only recorded case of any action being taken against bookshops in that city.

The task of censorship obviously took many years. Total prohibition was in principle easier. In Barcelona in 1560 the inquisitors appointed a Jesuit to be their censor. With the Index by his side, he advised worried librarians of religious houses “what books they can keep and which they have to tear up and burn.”94 Expurgation, on the other hand, was more onerous. One censor reported to the Inquisition that to expurgate a private library in Madrid worth 18,000 ducats he had labored eight hours daily for four months.95Benito Arias Montano, whose task was to check the entire library of the Escorial, inevitably took a little longer. One way or the other, both authors and booksellers always found reason to complain.96 A few privileged readers were conceded exemption from the system. Up to the 1540s it had been common for the Inquisition to allow individuals special licenses to read or keep prohibited books, usually for purposes of study (how, for instance, could one refute Luther without first reading him?). After 1559 all such licenses were suspended, and not until the 1580s were exceptions made.

The greatest damage of all, in any system of censorship, was suffered by the book itself. Some books probably disappeared altogether, and not exclusively through the fault of the inquisitors. A report drawn up for them at the end of the sixteenth century says that

many, to avoid taking their books to the inquisitors, burn not only those prohibited and to be expurgated but even those that are approved and harmless, or else get rid of them or sell them for a pittance. In this way an infinite number are neither examined nor corrected, but are eventually lost to nobody’s advantage, for their owners suffer great losses and, what is more important, a great many good books disappear.97

Clumsy expurgators of books tore out pages, cut them up carelessly or defaced them horribly by inking out passages and pictures. To avoid this sort of mistreatment, book owners preferred to have their property examined by a cultured expurgator, such as the Jesuit father Gubern in Barcelona in 1559. There, apparently, “no one shows resentment even though he scores through the rare and precious books they have.”98 An even more preferable alternative, adopted by many book owners, bookshops and institutions, was to get hold of a copy of the Index and carry out the expurgations without letting anybody else handle the books.99

Literature collected during searches was, from the end of the sixteenth century, not burnt but sent to the nearest tribunal for further judgment. There it remained until disposed of. Thus in December 1634 the tribunal of Saragossa had in its keeping 116 copies of the Bible, 55 copies of various works by Erasmus and 83 volumes of the works of Francisco de Quevedo.100 Later generations sometimes preferred to store the prohibited books. The Escorial was used regularly for this purpose. In 1585 the prior reported that its library possessed “many prohibited books sent at different times by His Majesty, and kept there by license from Don Gaspar de Quiroga.” The volumes included unlicensed Bibles, the Koran and works by Savonarola and Machiavelli. Half a century later the practice was still being carried on, for in 1639 the Escorial possessed a total of 932 prohibited books.101 Laudable as this may appear, it was not practiced everywhere, with the result that some works condemned by the Inquisition may have been wiped out of existence. In the early seventeenth century there was a plan, supported by both inquisitors and booksellers, to set up a central store of banned books; but “none of those in favor of setting it up wished to take on the task of doing it,”102 so nothing was done.

There were always strong differences of opinion over the criteria to be adopted in censorship. Everyone agreed on the need for control, but they also disagreed on the methods. No one, even in that day, was so sanguine as to believe that the inquisitors knew best. A Salamanca professor, Francisco Sancho, was one of those who in the 1550s tried to advise the Suprema;103 and there were many others who did likewise. It was a Spaniard resident in Rome, Bartolomé de Valverde, chaplain to Philip II, who in 1584 protested to Cardinal Sirleto, then the director of the Roman Index, over the poor quality of his censors, “condemning works they have never read. . . . They are usually nonentities who know not a word either of Greek or of Hebrew, and lack either judgment or capacity. They are paid nothing for reading innumerable books, and therefore to discharge themselves from a task little to their taste, they take the way out which confers on them an air of learning, and suppress the books.”

Malicious and ignorant inquisitors were not a rarity, and none put his personal ambition to greater use than Inquisitor General Fernando de Valdés, who undermined the career of Juan de Vergara and destroyed that of Bartolomé Carranza. In general, however, the involvement of the Inquisition in cultural matters was governed less by the personality or inadequacy of the inquisitors than by the social climate. In literature, no less than in religious matters, prosecutions were set in motion largely by denunciations made by private individuals, so that the Inquisition, although prosecutor, was seldom the initiator. This can be seen in the brush that Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, had with the Inquisition, when current suspicions of conversos and illuminists caused him to be denounced because of his religious practices while a student at Alcalá in 1527.104

At Alcalá he developed links with others who were interested in improving their spiritual lives through the formation of small prayer groups consisting not of clergy but only of lay people.105 Ignatius had a group consisting of three or four other young men, who dressed in a singular way—in long habits with hoods—and met in each other’s rooms for prayers. The circle was later widened with the addition of some women. Unfortunately, these happened to be the very months that the alumbrados were attracting the attention of Church authorities. At the end of 1526, Ignatius and his friends were warned by an officer of the Inquisition to change their spiritual methods and to dress more conventionally. The following April, Ignatius was arrested by the bishop’s tribunal on related charges, and a couple of months later was forbidden to teach his ideas publicly. In the summer he moved from Alcalá in order to get away from the harassment and settled in Salamanca, but was detained there for the same reasons and warned that he should study more before trying out spiritual methods. In addition to the doubts about his prayer activities, there was a lurking suspicious in the minds of the authorities that he and his friends were Jews or conversos. Ignatius indignantly rejected these suspicions, and ever thereafter treated with contempt the anti-Semitic attitude of officials in Castile. In the autumn, he left the hassle behind him, traveled north through Barcelona and took the road for Paris, where seven years later he and a group of friends founded the Society of Jesus. Ignatius never returned to Spain, where for a long time there continued to be a strong current of suspicion directed against him and his followers. Prominent clergy and prelates, usually from the rival Dominican order, never ceased to insinuate that the Jesuits were heretics. In 1553 a Dominican theologian was still insisting that Loyola had fled from Spain because he was an alumbrado.106

The change in the cultural climate in the 1550s had a crucial influence on the Inquisition, which hardened its attitudes rapidly under Valdés. Ideas that might in other times have been tolerated were now discouraged. One of the great sticking points was the use of language. Prior to the European Reformation, interpreting the sacred texts of the Church had been the preserve of a minority of scholars versed in arcane languages: Latin above all, but then also—with the humanists—Greek and Hebrew. Even in the early days of the Inquisition there were conflicts between scholars. University men had a long-standing dispute between “grammarians” (literary scholars) and theologians. In 1504 the Inquisitor General Diego de Deza confiscated the papers of the humanist Nebrija. Nebrija had dared to maintain that as a philologist he was no less capable than a theologian like Deza of determining the texts of Holy Scripture. Subsequently Nebrija was able to rely on the full protection of Cardinal Cisneros. In an Apologia ten years later, he accused Deza of seizing his writings “not to examine them or condemn them, but to stop me writing. That good prelate wanted to wipe out all traces of the two languages on which our religion depends [Hebrew and Greek].” The humanist commented indignantly on the injury to scholarship: “Must I reject as false what appears to me in every way as clear, true and evident as light and truth itself? What does this sort of slavery mean? What unjust domination when one is prevented from saying what one thinks, although to do so involves no slight or insult to religion!”107

The Reformation brought a different dimension to the fore, that of making Scripture and other sacred texts available to a public that had no knowledge of languages. Were ordinary readers capable of reading the text correctly or should vernacular translations be controlled and even prohibited? It was an issue that split learned opinion throughout Europe, and the Inquisition sooner or later had to take a stand on a number of questions.

How could one distinguish between orthodox and unorthodox piety if both used the same language? How could one grasp the real meaning of a religious text? Dissenting from the tendentious interpretation put on Carranza’s writings by Melchor Cano, his fellow Dominican Juan de la Peña argued that “it is impossible to avoid all the methods of expression used by heretics, unless we learn our speech all over again.” Yet the inquisitors were, of course, right to suspect—as in the case of the alumbrados and even more of the exiled Juan de Valdés—that heterodoxy was sheltering behind pious language. This did not stop many from criticizing the 1559 Index. In September that year, a Jesuit wrote:

The faint-hearted have reacted by becoming more faint-hearted and those dedicated to virtue are in dismay, seeing that the inquisitor general has published an edict forbidding almost all the books in Spanish that have been used up to now by those who try to serve God; and we are in times when women are told to stick to their beads and not bother about other devotions.108

On a number of crucial matters, therefore, opinions were sharply divided.

As might be expected, some of the bitterest intellectual conflicts of the period originated not in the Inquisition but among university professors. Personal malice and partisan interest were, then as now, potent forces. The drive against Erasmus at the University of Valencia in the 1520s, for example, took the form of a personal campaign promoted by the rector, Juan Celaya. On his initiative, the faculty refused a chair to the humanist Pedro Juan Oliver,109 a move that may have prejudiced the development of classical studies at the university. Perhaps the most notorious conflict in which university men made use of the Inquisition for their own purposes originated in the malicious denunciations of some of his colleagues made by a professor at the University of Salamanca, León de Castro.

In December 1571 Castro and a Dominican colleague, Bartolomé de Medina, laid before the Inquisition at Valladolid some accusations against three professors at the university. The three in question were Luis de León of the Order of St. Augustine, Gaspar de Grajal and Martín Martínez de Cantalapiedra. The denunciations said that they had taken heretical liberties with their study of Scripture and theology. Fray Luis in particular bore the brunt of the attack. Famous as a theologian and celebrated now as one of Spain’s finest poets, at the age of thirty-four he was elected to a chair at Salamanca. He thereby aroused the hostility of his rivals, who slandered him because of his converso descent and accused him of uttering dangerous theological propositions. It was said that he questioned the accuracy of the Vulgate translation of the Bible; preferred the Hebrew text to the Latin; translated the Song of Songs as a profane love song instead of a divine canticle; and held that scholastic theology harmed the study of Scripture.110 Grajal111was arrested on similar charges on 22 March 1572. Five days later Luis de León and Martínez were taken into custody. Blind belief in the justice of their cause and in the benevolence of the Holy Office cheered the prisoners, but they were soon disillusioned. For Fray Luis it was to be the beginning of an imprisonment that lasted four years, eight months and nineteen days. Cut off almost completely from the outside world in the cells of the tribunal at Valladolid, his only consolation was the permission he received to read and write in his cell, out of which emerged his classic devotional treatise The Names of Christ. From the first he was aware of a campaign against himself, and he complained of the incredible slowness of the trial. On 18 April 1572 he wrote from his cell: “I have great suspicions that false testimony has been laid against me, for I know that in the last two years people have said and still say many things about me that are transparent lies, and I know that I have many enemies.”

He awaited justice, yet none was forthcoming, nor was there any promise of an early trial. His constant appeals were of no avail. A year later, on 7 March 1573, he was writing to the inquisitors: “It is now a year since I have been in this prison and in all this time you have not deigned to publish the names of witnesses in my case, nor have I been given any opportunity of a full defense.”

He was finally sentenced to a reprimand which involved retraction of the several propositions he was said to have held. In prison he had suffered despair, fever and humiliation. Release from the cells came in mid-December 1576. Weary but undefeated, he greeted his freedom with characteristic restraint:

Aqui la envidia y mentira
Me tuvieron encerrado.
dichoso el humilde estado
del sabio que se retira
y de aqueste mundo malvado,
y con pobre mesa y casa,
en el campo deleitoso,
con solo Dios se compasa,
y a solas su vida pasa
ni envidiado ni envidioso.

[Here envy and lies held me in prison. Happy the humble state of the scholar who retires from this malicious world and there in the pleasant countryside, with modest table and dwelling, governs his life with God alone, and passes his days all by himself, neither envied nor envying.]

Restored once more to his rostrum at the university, he is said to have begun his first lecture with the words, “As I was saying last time . . .” But for his enemies this was not the last time. In 1582 he was summoned to a second trial for having uttered rash propositions. The inquisitor general, Gaspar de Quiroga, intervened on his behalf and in 1584 he escaped with a warning to avoid controversial issues in future.112

Less fortunate than Fray Luis were his other colleagues at the university. Gaspar de Grajal, who had been arrested five days before, was thrown into the cells of the Inquisition. There his health gave way, and he died before judgment could be passed on him. A colleague from the university of Osuna, Alonso Gudiel, who was professor of Scripture there, was also arrested in the same month on the basis of Castro’s accusations. Before this case had been dealt with he also died in prison, in April 1573. The only one to outlast his treatment was Cantalapiedra, who had been professor of Hebrew at Salamanca and whose whole life had been dedicated to the study of Holy Scripture. His term of imprisonment in a Valladolid cell exceeded even that of Luis de León. It lasted for over five years, from March 1572 to May 1577, and despite his constant appeals for a quick decision there was no hurry to bring him to trial. Eventually he was freed but never regained his academic post. “I have labored to interpret scripture before the whole world,” he told the inquisitors in 1577, “but my only reward has been the destruction of my life, my honor, my health and my possessions.”113 The bitter lesson he drew from this was drawn by many other contemporaries: “it is better to walk carefully and be prudent”(sapere ad sobrietatem).

The work of León de Castro was not yet over. The Hebrew scholar and humanist Benito Arias Montano had spent several years collaborating with Netherlands scholars on the preparation, patronized by Philip II, of a new Polyglot Bible, which was printed and issued in Antwerp in 1571 in eight volumes.114 Provisional approval was secured from Rome in 1572 and 1576. There was, however, considerable criticism of the project in Spain. In 1575, writing from Rome, Montano complained of “a great rumor which a certain León de Castro of Salamanca has raised in that university, to criticize and discredit the greatest work of letters that has ever been published in the world, the Royal Bible which His Majesty has for the benefit of Christendom ordered to be printed in Antwerp under my direction.”

León de Castro was not the only critic. There were others, wrote Montano in 1579, “men of letters who seek to find and note some error in my writings, making extraordinary efforts to do so.”115 It is easy to recognize in his words the conviction that he alone was right, and the others were mistaken. The conflict was one that all scholars have experienced, but in Montano’s case the fact is that the criticisms made of the Polyglot are now seen to have been in part justified. He was fortunate that the Holy Office was not brought into the quarrel.

Although the storm passed, Montano was the object of further, and this time indirect, attacks. In 1592 he was instrumental in bringing about a profound change in the spiritual life of José de Sigüenza, Jeronimite historian and monk of the Escorial, where Montano was librarian. Montano, it has been suggested, had heterodox views on religion that he had picked up in the Netherlands and may have communicated to Sigüenza. No evidence for this thesis has been found, but it is undeniable that Montano had an enormous influence on Sigüenza. In 1592 some of Sigüenza’s malicious colleagues, motivated in part by hostility to Montano’s Hebraic studies, denounced Sigüenza to the Inquisition. It was a brief three-month trial, and Sigüenza was completely exonerated.116

Another famous man of letters to fall foul of the Holy Office was Francisco Sánchez, “el Brocense,” professor of grammar at Salamanca. He was denounced in 1584 on charges of loose and presumptuous opinions on theological matters, and summoned before the tribunal of Valladolid. Although the tribunal voted for his arrest and the sequestration of his goods, the Suprema altered the sentence to one of grave reprimand only. Brocense’s turbulent and intemperate mind was not put off by this narrow escape, and he returned to the battle, disputing theology with theologians (once again it was a case of conflict between theologians and grammarians) and expressing contempt for Aquinas and the Dominicans. In 1593, at the age of eighty, this excitable old man found himself in trouble once more. Reports of his speeches were relayed to the tribunal of Valladolid, and in 1596 the Inquisition began proceedings. No action was taken until 1600, when he was put under house arrest and his papers sequestrated. Among the charges raised against him was that “he always subjects his understanding to obedience to the faith; but that in matters that are not of faith he has no wish to subject his understanding.”117 In ill health and humiliated by his treatment, Sánchez died at the beginning of December 1600. Because of the scandal hanging over his name, he was denied funeral honors by the University of Salamanca.

These were virtually the only intellectuals of that time to have had brushes with religious authority, and in each case the conflict was provoked not by the Inquisition but by rivalry over the interpretation of sacred texts at one university, Salamanca. Nothing comparable happened in the rest of the peninsula. We cannot therefore suggest that the Holy Office was in some way a threat to freedom of thought in Spain. There were, however, two significant and worrying aspects to these events. One was the anti-Semitic tenor to the prosecutions. It is notable that three of the accused—Luis de León, Gaspar de Grajal and Alonso Gudiel—were of converso origin; and witnesses claimed that Cantalapiedra was also. “Grajal and Fray Luis are well known to be conversos, so I believe they wish to blot out our Catholic Faith and return to their law,” stated a witness.118 A second aspect for concern was expressed by the accused themselves. When Luis de León heard of the arrest of his colleague Grajal he wrote indignantly to a friend in Granada, “This fate of the master has scandalized everyone and given just cause for keeping silent out of fear.” On another occasion, Fray Luis informs us, he had been lecturing about the fraternal correction of heretics when

those students who were furthest from the rostrum signaled that I should speak louder, because my voice was hoarse and they could not hear well. Whereupon I said, “I am hoarse, and it’s better to speak low like this so that the inquisitors don’t hear us.” I don’t know if this offended anyone.119

As a quantity of evidence—some of it noted elsewhere in this book—demonstrates, Spaniards in that age did not hesitate to express opinions about anything they wished to criticize, including the Inquisition. What Luis de León seemed to be implying was something different: the possibility that motivated persons would use existing legal processes to crush a differing point of view. It was a real fear, which haunted many in early modern Europe and continues to exist in many societies even today.120 The prosecutions inspired a strong reaction from the Jesuit historian Mariana. In a famous passage, he said that the case

caused anxiety to many until they should know the outcome. There was dissatisfaction that persons illustrious for their learning and reputation had to defend themselves in prison from so serious a threat to their fame and good name. It was a sad state when virtuous men, because of their great achievements, had to undergo hostility, accusations and injuries from those who should have been their defenders. . . . The case in question depressed the spirits of many who observed the plight of another, seeing how much affliction threatened those who spoke freely what they thought. In this way, many passed over to the other camp, or trimmed their sails to the wind. What else was there to do? The greatest of follies is to exert oneself in vain, and to weary oneself without winning anything but hatred. Those who agreed with current ideas did so with even greater eagerness, and entertained opinions that were approved of and were the least dangerous, without any great concern for the truth.121

The problems of a handful of persons at Salamanca help us to set in perspective the view that the Inquisition was an enemy of intellectuals. Conflicts were surprisingly few, in part probably because writers steered clear of trouble. There were occasional prosecutions that in no way involved intellectual freedom. An example is that of the Seville writer Juan de Mal Lara. From 1561 to 1562 he was imprisoned by the Seville Inquisition, not for any errors but for allegedly writing defamatory verses.122 The incident had no ill effect on his career. Conflicts between different approaches to learning or to spirituality inevitably continued. Where they could, protagonists would bring in the Inquisition on their side, using where possible (as in the Salamanca cases) anti-Semitic insinuations.

Almost invariably the Inquisition, like other policing bodies in all times and places, tended to operate in favor of the conservatives. When a learned and conservative Dominican at Salamanca in 1571 complained that “in this university there is great play about novelty and little about the antiquity of our religion and faith,”123 he knew he could count on the Inquisition. When the inquisitorial prosecutor of el Brocense alleged that the latter was “a rash, insolent heretic, temerarious and stubborn like all grammarians and Erasmians,”124 he was openly taking sides against university professors who analyzed texts (they were “grammarians”) and studied classical languages (“Erasmians”). The dispute among university teachers over how one should analyze texts of classical authors, and even of the Bible, became perilous ground because some inquisitors felt they should have a voice in it. It was no wonder that when the humanist Pedro Juan Núñez wrote to Jerónimo de Zurita in 1556, he complained that the inquisitors did not wish people to study humanities “because of the dangers present in them, for when a humanist corrects an error in Cicero he has to correct the same error in Scripture. This and other similar problems drive me insane, and often take away from me any wish to carry on.”125

The inquisitors, of course, did not create the trend nor set the pace. They were only a small part of an attitude that could be found in most of the post-Reformation world. In the same way the reaction against unorthodox spirituality was common to much of Counter-Reformation Europe, and the Inquisition was no innovator in this respect. A general (and not simply inquisitorial) suspicion of illuminism and certain types of popular religion explains the difficulties that St. Teresa of Avila experienced. On one occasion, she remarks in her autobiographical Life, “people came to me in great alarm, saying that these were difficult times, that some charge might be raised against me, and that I might have to appear before the inquisitors. But this merely amused me and made me laugh. I never had any fear on that score.”

In 1574 the autobiography, still in manuscript form, attracted suspicion in common with writings by some other beatas. Her adviser, Father Báñez, recommended that it not be published until after her death. She had problems subsequently in 1576 when denunciations were made to the tribunal of Seville against her and her reformed Carmelites, but the Inquisition did not press the matter. Seriously worried, she told one of her advisers, Father Gracián, “Father, would that we could all be burnt for Christ,” and on another occasion, “Father, the Holy Inquisition, sent by God to protect his faith, is hardly likely to harm someone who has such faith as I.”126 After her death (1582) further denunciations were made against her in 1589–91 by Alonso de la Fuente, a friar with an obsession about illuminists, but the Inquisition ignored him.

The continuing history of the later alumbrados, with which the incident of St. Teresa is closely related, revolves around the denunciations made by Alonso de la Fuente from 1573 onwards against groups of adepts in Extremadura and later in Andalucia. Undoubtedly crazed, with a burning hatred of Jews and Jesuits, Fray Alonso was observant enough to be able to identify the new illuminism and its leaders, most of whom were clergy. In the town of Zafra, according to him, “there are seventy priests, and sixty of them are Jews.” He also picked on the influential priest Juan de Avila, who was working in Baeza, and accused him of being an illuminist. The inquisitors happened to value his information, which helped make possible his short (he died in 1594) and destructive career. At an auto de fe in Llerena on 14 June 1579, twenty alumbrados were among the sixty penitents. The group had unusual beliefs, rejecting the Church and Christ and centering their devotion on “God.” Their leader, Hernando Alvarez, “said that Jesus Christ was good for nothing except to be a gipsy.” Subsequently, alumbrados in Andalucia appeared in an auto held at Córdoba on 21 January 1590.127

An important undercurrent in the academic disputes of the time was, we have seen, the suspicion directed against writers of Jewish origin. The identification of creativity with conversos became, in the hands of the twentieth-century scholar Américo Castro, a tool of literary analysis.128 A key part in this analysis was concerned with the impact of the Inquisition on conversos and, by implication, on Spanish literature. Castro argued in several brilliant essays that the Semitic background of Spain, as expressed through the careers of thinkers and writers of Jewish origin, contributed to the formation of an intense creative consciousness. In line with the Liberal preconceptions of his time, he argued that the Inquisition crushed all intellectual life but converso creativity was rich enough to be stimulated even under persecution. Enthusiastic followers of his thesis, using racial origins as a key to their approach, offered a vision of peninsular history in which the crucial element was the suffering “converso,”129 seen as the key to Spain’s genius.

The most notable attempt to use the interpretation was in studies on the Celestina, on the premise that its author, Fernando de Rojas, was a converso.130 It is incontestable that some of the best known figures of Hispanic culture in the time of the Inquisition were of Jewish origin. Among the religious (and literary) figures were the reformer St. Teresa of Avila and the poet St. John of the Cross. Diligent researchers have put together a list of many other significant names from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, all of them occupying a central place in Hispanic culture as clergy, poets, preachers, nuns, writers and scholars. They have suggested that many other personages, such as Hernando de Talavera, Arias Montano and Bartolomé de las Casas, were also of converso origin.131The most enthusiastic have not hesitated to claim Miguel de Cervantes and the painter Diego de Velázquez as conversos. The conclusions arrived at by supporters of this approach are principally two. First, Jewish blood was the most creative element in Hispanic culture. Second, since the Inquisition actively discriminated against people of Jewish origin, it was directly responsible for crushing Spanish creativity.

These hypotheses—which have for the last century provoked deep ideological quarrels among Castilian scholars132—concern us here only with respect to the role of the Inquisition. A crucial distinction should probably be made between, on one hand, the existence of anti-Semitic sentiment in Spanish society and, on the other hand, the persecution of individual converso writers. Thanks to generations of polemic and prejudice, anti-Semitism was commonplace in Golden Age Spain, and has been endemic in Spanish society down to today. It could be found anywhere, in popular conduct and elite attitudes, in universities and in the government. Inquisitors, like others, often shared an anti-Semitic viewpoint and brought it to bear in their work. In their experience, heresy had nearly always (judaizers, alumbrados, some Lutherans) been associated with people of Jewish origin.

The prominence in Spanish culture of some persons of Jewish origin, however, is itself an argument against assuming too easily that Spain’s society and Inquisition were rabidly anti-Semitic, or that peninsular culture was somehow damaged by it. The example of Teresa of Avila speaks for itself. She was notoriously of converso stock. Her grandfather was punished by the Inquisition in 1485 for allegedly judaizing. Yet the fact was never cited against her nor did it affect her career, or her subsequent adoption as patron saint of Spain in the seventeenth century. Numerous other cases may be cited (see chapter 12), among them the humanist Juan Luis Vives, who spent his entire career outside Spain.

Born in Valencia city of converso parents who continued to practice their Jewish religion in secret, Vives was sent by his father to study abroad in Paris at the age of sixteen in 1509, a year after the death of his mother in an epidemic. His life and career were thereafter based in the Netherlands, and though always conscious of his roots he was no longer an active part of the Hispanic world. Early in 1522 he heard (too late to be able to profit from it) that the second duke of Alba, Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo, had invited him to return to Spain as tutor to his grandson.133 Even though the duke may have known of Vives’s Jewish origins, he and his wife certainly harbored no anti-Semitic prejudices, and members of their family were subsequently active patrons of Teresa of Avila. In the same year, 1522, Vives was invited to occupy a chair at the University of Alcalá, but hesitated. Family circumstances combined to complicate his life. In 1520 his father was arrested by the Inquisition as a judaizer and burnt alive in 1524. Four years later his long-dead mother was also prosecuted and her bones disinterred and burnt.134 This shocking history had no impact on his standing in Spain, where he was always held in the highest respect by the establishment and his books circulated without problems. In the event, he chose to go to England rather than Spain, a country where, he felt, “everything is darkness and night, no less in what is happening than in what I feel.” The silence over his family background was a sign that Spaniards wished to conceal a problem. Indeed, his Jewish origins were hidden so effectively that scholars only learned about them in the twentieth century. For his part, Vives lost hope of ever achieving recognition in his homeland. Shortly before his death he stated that “Spaniards are indifferent to study. I shall be read there by few, and understood by even fewer.”135

Public figures continued to have problems if their converso origins clashed with anti-Semitic prejudices. But, as in the case of St. Teresa, there was no systematic pressure. A case in point is that of Diego Pérez de Valdivia, apostle of the Counter-Reformation in Catalonia in the 1580s.136 Of converso origin, he spent several months in the cells of the Inquisition of Córdoba, where he was accused of asserting, among other things, that conversos were better people than non-conversos, and that “it is a sin to observe the principles of racial purity.” The incident was quietly buried by all concerned. Pérez spent his subsequent career in Barcelona where, with the support of bishops, Inquisition and clergy, he pursued a prominent career as religious writer, reformer and preacher.

A prolonged discussion of such cases—of which there are many—is unlikely to have much impact on those who share in the confrontation—dating back to the early nineteenth century—between two deeply entrenched ideological positions. One position, shared by the Liberals of that period and by “progressives” down to today, declares the Inquisition responsible for Spain’s intellectual backwardness and its alleged isolation from the modern world and from Europe. The other, held to no less passionately by conservatives, controverts these claims.

There are great names among the progressives. “It would seem superfluous to insist,” argued the historian Henry Charles Lea, “that a system of severe repression of thought by all the instrumentalities of Inquisition and state is an ample explanation of the decadence of Spanish learning and literature.”137 For the English Catholic historian Lord Acton, the injury inflicted on literature by the Inquisition was “the most obvious and conspicuous fact of modern history.”138 The scholar Américo Castro put the argument succinctly. Writing in exile from his study in Harvard, he asserted that “not thinking, not knowing, not reading” was the fate of Spaniards crushed by “the sadism and lust for plunder of those of the Holy Office.”139

On the opposing side, among the Catholic voices that expressed dissent the most striking was that of a young scholar of twenty-two, Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, who produced a brilliant essay on Spanish Science (1876), which aimed to prove that the Inquisition had not eliminated learning in Spain. In a passage in his Historia de los heterodóxos españoles (1880), he denounced the Liberals passionately:

It is a matter not just of love for one’s country but also of historical justice to undo this progressivist legend, brutally imposed by the lawmakers of the Cortes of Cadiz, which presents us as a nation of barbarians in whom neither learning nor art could arise because all was suffocated by the smoke of the Inquisition’s pyres. Only crass ignorance of things Spanish could explain why in an official document for the decree abolishing the Holy Office they printed these words, an eternal evidence of shame for its authors: “Writing ceased in Spain when the Inquisition was established.”

“Writing ceased in Spain when the Inquisition was established!” Did it cease with the arrival at its peak of our classic literature, which possesses a theatre superior in fruitfulness and richness of invention to any in the world; a lyric poetry that nobody can equal in simplicity, sobriety and greatness of inspiration; among the poets, the only poet of the Renaissance to achieve a union of the old forms and the new spirit; a novelist who will remain as exemplary and eternal paragon of healthy and powerful naturalism; a school of mystics in whom the Castilian language appears to be a language of angels? The fact is that never in Spain was there more written, or better written, than in those two golden centuries of the Inquisition.140

The stirring words—based also, of course, on an ideological vision of the past—helped to rally conservative Spaniards who had on many fronts been losing the initiative to the floodtide of Liberalism in Spain. Basic to the indignant peroration, moreover, there was a simple question that Menéndez y Pelayo thrust before the eyes of his opponents. Had there really been a systematic repression of liberty and of thought? Did Spaniards really—as Américo Castro continued to maintain two generations later—stop thinking, writing and reading for three hundred years? The reality, as scholars realize, was that neither the Index nor the censorship system created an adequate machinery of control, and the Holy Office was never in a position to affect or dictate the cultural evolution of Spain.

The Index, for several reasons, had less impact than is often thought. First, most of the books banned in it were never even remotely in reach of the Spanish reader and had never been available in the peninsula. In order to compile their lists, the inquisitors (as we have seen) copied out foreign prohibitions (notably that of Louvain) or the items on offer at the famous book fairs of Frankfurt. The result—as anyone who manages to get sight of an Index can easily verify—was a long list of items, both unobtainable and incomprehensible, in foreign languages. For instance, the Index of 1583 prohibited 1,709 books in Latin, 215 in German, 104 in French, 72 in Italian and 18 in Portuguese.141 The items in Castilian totaled 197, less than 1 percent of the total of works condemned. The Indexes are a very good guide to what the inquisitors would have liked to prohibit, but since Spaniards had no access to most of the books, the effective impact on their reading was minimal. Second, the Index was large, expensive, in short supply and inevitably both imperfect and out of date. It was consequently difficult to enforce. In Barcelona, where many bookstores refused to buy the Index because of its cost, banned books continued to be on sale years after appearing in the Index.142 Third, the Index faced sharp criticism from booksellers and from those who felt that its criteria were faulty.

Finally, the bulk of creative and scientific literature available to Spaniards never appeared in the Index. The romances of chivalry which made up the staple reading of ordinary Spaniards at home and the campfire reading of adventurers on the American frontier—between 1501 and 1650 a total of 267 editions of chivalric novels was issued, two-thirds of them in the early sixteenth century143—were never proscribed, though often attacked. The riches of scholarship opened up by the imperial experience during the Inquisition’s great period were never affected: the histories of Herrera, Oviedo, Bernal Díaz and López de Gómara, the natural history of Sahagún, the treatises on mathematics, botany, metallurgy and shipbuilding that flourished under Philip II, never came within the ambit of the inquisitors. Long after the measures of 1558–59 Spain continued to profit from a world experience vaster than that of any other European nation. Its contribution to navigation, geography, natural history and aspects of medicine was highly valued in Europe, leading to some 1,226 editions of Spanish works of the period 1475–1600 being published abroad prior to 1800.144

Books published in Castilian were scarcely touched and certainly never blotted out by the Inquisition; many were avidly collected by book lovers throughout the continent. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, private and public libraries in the northern Netherlands stocked over 1,000 editions by Castilian authors, and 130 editions in translation from Castilian. In total, they stocked nearly 6,000 editions of works in all languages dealing with Spain.145 In the same way, during the seventeenth century a number of Spanish literary works entered without impediment into France.146

The overall impact of systems of literary censorship is difficult to judge. How many people could read and might therefore be affected? An examination of 2,843 signatures for New Castile in the period 1540–1817 seems to indicate that 45 percent of them could read and write,147 yet only eight people out of this total confessed to possessing a book. Moreover, we know that it was common for laborers to know how to sign (for their wages), without being able to read or write, so the analysis of signatures is doubtful as evidence. In practice, the great majority of Spaniards were never in contact with a book.148 Nearly everywhere in Europe until the eighteenth century the transmission of culture remained oral, and the illiterate mass of the population was unaffected by literary controls. We should also bear in mind that Castile had one of the smallest book markets of the sixteenth century, a period when it published less than 3 percent of the books produced by Europeans.149 At the great book fair periodically held at Frankfurt, Spanish books were almost nonexistent.150

Though some continue to believe that Spanish literature suffered at the hands of the Inquisition, there are four good reasons to question the belief. First, most Western countries had a comparable system of control, yet none appears to have suffered significantly.151 Second, most prohibited books had a negligible readership in the peninsula. The works most in demand by the public were, as in other Catholic countries, religious and devotional works, and textbooks (such as Latin grammars) for use in schools. Few of these appeared on the Index. Third, those who really wished to obtain banned books of special interest—in astrology, medicine, scholarship—faced few obstacles. They brought books in personally, or through commercial channels, or asked friends abroad to send them.152 Total freedom of movement between the peninsula and France and Italy guaranteed an unimpeded circulation of people, books and—at one remove—ideas. In 1585, when international tension was at its height and Spain had started building its famous Armada, the frontier with France at Irún was, according to the king’s own officials, an open door through which Spaniards, English, Italians, Portuguese, French and Netherlanders passed without restriction.153 Finally, no evidence has ever emerged that the book controls eliminated promising new life among intellectuals or prejudiced existing schools of thought. Up to the mid-sixteenth century, the Inquisition played no significant negative role in the literary world, prosecuted no notable writer and interfered substantially only with some texts of Renaissance theatre.154 Not until the onset of the Reformation, and many years after censorship was being practiced in England and France, did the Holy Office attempt to operate a system of cultural control.

The Inquisition’s overseeing of literature, in short, looked imposing in theory but was unimpressive in practice. A glance at the content of the later Indexes reveals that they had a limited, even petty role. Góngora had minor problems with the censor in 1627;155Cervantes had one line excised from the Quixote in 1632;156 the expurgations of Francisco de Osuna and Antonio de Guevara in the Index of 1612 are trivial; that of Florián de Ocampo in 1632 ridiculous.157 Many creative writers had brushes with the Inquisition, but the total effect of these incidents appears to have been so slight that no convincing conclusion can be drawn. Lope de Vega appeared on the Index, but a century after his death.

Some experts in literature maintain that even if there was little quantifiable damage to literary creativity, there was hidden damage. Writers, they argue (with specific reference to conversos) exercised self-censorship; and if they published, they did so in a “coded” language where words meant something different from what they appeared to mean. The approach is an intriguing (though unconvincing) way of analyzing literary works. As a literary and philosophical device, “dissimulation” was accepted at the time as necessary by a number of commentators, among them the English savant Francis Bacon and the Dutch scholar Hugo Grotius;158 and was also proposed later in Torquato Accetto’s Dissimulazione onesta (1641). But the identification of hidden meanings is somewhat different from alleging hidden damage. Indeed, some writers who dissimulated were also those—Quevedo is a case in point159—who most openly challenged authority.

The fact is that book control and censorship were systematically evaded in all countries where practiced. In both Italy160 and France161 the attempts at control were both “futile” and “inefficient.” In England, likewise, despite indubitably harsh laws (and more death sentences than in Spain!), “authors rarely encountered difficulties.”162 The evidence for Spain is clear enough. Though some scholars differ,163 in general there are no grounds for believing that Spaniards were unique among Europeans in their efficiency at imposing control,164 or that they were subjected to a regime of “thought control” which “fossilized academic culture” for three hundred years.165 The book trade continued to function successfully for a long time without disruption, as we know from the evidence of Barcelona. At a later date, when authors tended to publish in the vernacular rather than in Latin, the nature of the trade changed; but if there was an “almost total rift from the book culture of Europe,”166 the Holy Office was hardly the culprit, since Spain never formed a significant part of that culture. If ordinary Spaniards did not read foreign authors it was for the very same reason that prevails today, when there is no Inquisition looking over their shoulders: the books were not available in Spanish or were too specialized for their tastes.

The impact of the Inquisition on science was minimal, and largely indirect. Spaniards seem not to have been in the front rank of inquiry into knowledge, and in the early modern period had possibly the least dedication to science, measured by the university affiliation of scientists,167 of any nation in Western Europe. Those who took learning seriously went to Italy. Thanks to access to Italian and French expertise, scientific inquiry in Spain did not collapse. Technology filtered into the country: some foreign treatises were translated; engineers were imported by the state. Foreign technicians—all of them Catholic—came to the peninsula with their expertise. Above all, the enormous influence of Spain’s New World through the contact it afforded with new perspectives,168 new materials, new knowledge of plants, trees, medicines and animals, helped to stimulate the European mind and push it into a new dimension of activity.169 The Inquisition was marginal to all these developments, did not impede them, and did not normally interfere unless there was a specific problem concerned with matters of faith. Scientific books written by Catholics tended to circulate freely (a minor exception, the works of Paracelsus and a few others were banned).170 The 1583 Quiroga Index had a negligible impact on the accessibility of scientific works, and Galileo was never put on the list of forbidden books. The most direct attacks mounted by the Inquisition were against selected works in the area of astrology and alchemy, sciences that were deemed to carry overtones of superstition.171

There was consequently no pressure inhibiting Spaniards from taking part in European advances. If they did so to only a limited extent,172 and if there was an imbalance between scientific progress in the peninsula and in the rest of Europe during and after the Renaissance, the Inquisition was not perceptibly responsible. The undiscriminating range of books it prohibited may well have impacted on some branch of science and dissuaded some concealed scholar of genius, but there is not a single known case of this happening and it would not have had serious consequences for learning during the sixteenth century. By the late seventeenth century, on the other hand, it was clear that English and Dutch intellectuals—writing in languages that Spaniards found incomprehensible—had become the pioneers in science and medicine. They were Protestants, and their books automatically fell within the scope of inquisitorial bans. Logically, some Spaniards from the mid-seventeenth century began to look on the Holy Office as the great obstacle to learning. The complaint of the young Valencian physician Juan de Cabriada in 1687 echoed the outlook of his generation: “how sad and shameful it is that, like savages, we have to be the last to receive the innovations and knowledge that the rest of Europe already has.”173 Those who could read French in Cabriada’s day managed to import scientific and philosophical works privately. Descartes was being read in Oviedo, Hobbes in Seville.174 For a century thereafter, however, intellectuals in the peninsula faced an uphill struggle in their attempts to make contact with the new learning. The Scientific Revolution came, but it passed Spain by. When the Royal Society of London in the 1660s began to organize its scientific links with intellectuals from the continent, not a single Spaniard featured.

In the ports, where contact with the exterior was easier, Spaniards with the ability and interest had access to European thought. In 1691 the inquisitors of Seville seized the library of a priest, Juan Cruzado de la Cruz y Messa, a scholar who not only had an apparent command of English, French, Italian and Dutch, but also an extensive interest in science.175 The 1,125 volumes, constituting one of the most remarkable book collections to have emerged from that period, included a Dutch/French and a French/English dictionary to help with vocabulary, various treatises on optics, astronomy, trigonometry, navigation and mathematics, and the works of Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Gassendi, Hobbes, and other European authors, as well as maps in Flemish and Hoefnagel’s volumes on the cities of Europe. It is unclear why Cruzado came to the attention of the inquisitors, but his library is evidence that those who wished could have access to any aspect of European thought. And there were no serious impediments. The Inquisition did not, for example, interfere with mail. In those same years the professor of astronomy at Salamanca complained to a French correspondent in Madrid that “these wars with France are extremely irksome to us since they impede the passage of books from there.”176

Looking back on Spain’s failure to participate in the mainstream of Western science, later commentators tried to seek an explanation. In the mid-eighteenth century, the Valencian scholar Gregorio Mayans decided that “one of the reasons why the arts and sciences have declined so greatly has been the law promulgated by Philip II, prohibiting study in foreign universities.”177 We have already commented on the misapprehension over the 1559 decree to which Mayans referred. Unwilling to seek any further for an explanation, subsequent writers did not hesitate to blame the Inquisition. It was to these that the young intellectual Menéndez y Pelayo addressed his essays on Spanish Science (1876), to which we have referred. It was the first serious look at what may have happened to creative and scientific literature in the generations when Spain’s culture drifted apart from Europe, but the arguments were ignored by those wedded to the view that Spanish learning was backward solely because of the Inquisition. The debate over science continues, always with strongly ideological overtones, and mordant comments such as the observation by Ortega y Gasset: “Spanish science has always been barbaric, mystical and errant, and I presume that it will always remain so.”

The Inquisition, it has been repeated interminably,178 not only cut the peninsula off from the outside world (by the decrees of 1558–59) but also forbade Spaniards traveling abroad or having contact with other nations. The truth is that no legislation to this effect ever existed in early modern Spain, and common sense demonstrates quite the reverse. In fact, no Europeans traveled so much as the Spaniards. Their travel literature became a standard point of reference for seafaring nations such as the British and the Dutch.179Under Habsburg rule the armies of Spain went everywhere in Europe, its ships traversed the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and its language was spoken from central Europe to the Philippines. Tens of thousands of Spaniards went abroad every year, mainly to serve in the armed forces. A scholar reminds us: “early modern Spain was a highly mobile society, its people constantly on the move.”180 Cultural and commercial contact with all parts of Western Europe, especially the Netherlands and Italy, continued absolutely without interruption. We may conclude that it is both implausible and untrue to suggest that Spain was denied contact with the outside world, or that the Inquisition was responsible for it.

An astonishing—and admittedly exceptional—example of this international contact was the labor of Fernando Colón, son of the great explorer Christopher Columbus. In the 1520s, during his travels through Europe with the court of the emperor Charles V, he built up one of the richest collections of books ever known, which came to form part of the Biblioteca Colombina in Seville.181 Fortuitously, as we have seen, the collection included over five hundred editions of German and Swiss theology of the Reformation period, which lay tranquilly on the bookshelves until rooted out by zealous censors a hundred years later.

The image of a nation sunk in fear, inertia and superstition because of the Inquisition was part of the mythology created around the tribunal in the nineteenth century and transmitted to later generations. The reality was that no less than the English or the French, Spaniards said and did what they liked (see chapter 13). Like other European states, the country had active political institutions at all levels. Free discussion of political affairs was tolerated, and public controversy occurred on a scale paralleled in few other countries. Unpalatable aspects of national life—anti-Semitism, intolerance to Moriscos and their eventual expulsion, oppression of peasants, high taxes—were nowhere so hotly debated as among Spaniards themselves. The historian Antonio de Herrera affirmed that such free discussion was essential, for otherwise “the reputation of Spain would fall rapidly, for foreign and enemy nations would say that small credence could be placed in the words of her rulers, since their subjects were not allowed to speak freely.”182 In the seventeenth century the arbitristas continued the tradition of controversy, and the diplomat Saavedra y Fajardo commented approvingly that “though grumbling is in itself bad, it is good for the state. Grumbling is proof that there is liberty in the state; in a tyranny it is not permitted.”183

Freedom in Spain was a positive side of the picture. The negative side was the unquestionably parochial state of peninsular elite culture, a situation that had little to do with the Inquisition. As we have commented, thousands of Spaniards traveled throughout the Western world. Despite these extensive imperial contacts, Spain was and remained on the fringe of the major currents in West European philosophy, science and creative art. In the great age of empire, Philip II drew for technological expertise on Italians, Belgians and Germans rather than Spaniards.184 Spaniards did not export what expertise they may have had, but instead called on outsiders to contribute theirs. In the same way they exported little in the way of books, but imported them. “The Iberian peninsula was not well placed to contribute to the book market, and books published in Spain made little impact on the wider European market.”185 Spanish printing, in the new age of book production, was probably the worst in Western Europe.186 The Castilian elite, with a few prominent exceptions, was criticized at the time by Italian and German diplomats for its lack of cultural sophistication.187 Saavedra y Fajardo commented that northern Europeans “traverse the world and learn languages, arts and sciences; Spaniards remain in tight seclusion in their country.”188 The Inquisition had no responsibility for the situation, but many observers felt—and with good reason—that it incarnated in some sense the backward aspects of peninsular society. This, as we shall see, contributed powerfully to mold the enduring image of the Holy Office.

Spaniards began to expand their vision in the eighteenth century, when a new French dynasty helped to change perspectives. For the first time, thanks to French sponsorship, Spaniards explored the scientific wonders of the New World. A French-directed expedition in 1735, with the participation of two young naval cadets, Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa, turned into the first major contribution of the Spanish empire to the observational science of the Enlightenment.189 By this time the Inquisition was almost an irrelevance. From the 1680s there were signs of active contact with European ideas. By the 1750s several Spaniards, albeit hesitantly,190 were abreast of new trends in medical science and philosophy. They were exceptional: for the most part, the Spanish elite was cut off from cultural contact by an unreformed educational system, and by lack of familiarity with any of the languages in which the new thinking was being published. It is significant that we know of no substantial literary correspondence between Spanish and European intellectuals before the late eighteenth century, when the literary contacts of the Valencian scholar Mayans i Ciscar (who looked to Italy rather than northern Europe for his inspiration) began to take shape. There was therefore a serious intellectual divide between the south and the north. “If a nobleman wishes to educate his sons,” a prominent minister in Madrid reported in 1713, “he has to send them to colleges in Bologna, Rome, France and other places.”191 Spain consequently never featured as a desirable component of the Grand Tour: its universities were (explained one pained English visitor in 1664) “just where our universities were 100 years ago.”192 There was no apparent reason for going there; like the rest of southern Europe, it remained on the outer confines of the European experience. “No country is less known to the rest of Europe,” Dr. Johnson concluded in 1761.193

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