The Spanish Inquisition was established in 1478 by royal authority with the approval of the pope. Its principal task was to investigate heresy and apostasy in the territories controlled by the Spanish crown. A papal inquisition with jurisdiction over the whole church had grown since the 1230s. The Spanish agency was not so much a branch of the papal inquisition as a supplement to it. Issues of heresy and apostasy were particularly urgent for the Spanish monarchy because of the large numbers of new converts to Christianity from Islam and Judaism. Like the papal original, the Spanish Inquisition managed a large bureaucracy that operated according to complicated legal procedures. Inquisitors were allowed to use torture as a means of extracting confessions, and they could also impose a variety of sentences, including fines, confiscations, imprisonment, and exile. In capital cases, the Inquisition handed over or “relaxed” its prisoners to the civil authority for execution. The crime of “sodomy” was not originally within the sometimes jurisdiction of the Spanish Inquisition, even though the papal inquisitors had been authorized to deal with it since 1451. “Sodomy” was typically taken to include male-male copulation, bestiality, and any genital contact between men and women other than insertion of the penis into the vagina. Lesbian activity was more problematic for church lawyers, who sometimes counted it as sodomy and sometimes not. The Spanish Inquisition seems to have been reluctant at first to accept such cases. In 1509, responding to prosecutions from Seville, the agency’s governing body, the Suprema, ruled that sodomy was to be left to the secular courts, for which it was already a capital crime. But in 1524, the Suprema joined with its officers in Saragossa to request papal authority to prosecute sodomy. Clement VII granted permission for the Spanish inquisitors to pursue sodomites, with two stipulations. The papal ruling was technically only for part of the Spanish possessions, the Kingdom of Aragon, and it furthermore required that sodomites be tried not according to standard inquisitorial procedure but according to civil laws. The inquisitors of Aragon and some territories made use of this papal license for more than a century, although always with jurisdictional and procedural confusions. Between 1570 and 1630, there were nearly one thousand sodomy trials before the Aragonese inquisition, and as many men were executed for sodomy as for heresy. (During the same decades, the Spanish civil courts were executing many more sodomites.) Among those executed for sodomy by the Inquisition, there is a disproportionate number of clergy, foreigners, and the socially marginalized. Many cases involve rape or coerced intercourse. Before 1589, a number of adolescents were executed on the charge. After 1633, the Spanish Inquisition ceased treating sodomy as a capital case, though it continued to try cases and to impose lesser sentences. Mark D.Jordan
Haliczer, Stephen. Inquisition and Society in the Kingdom of Valencia, 1478-1834 . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990, 302-13.