Monday, December 19, 2011


Here's a glimpse of the good old days - the Middle Ages. If the Spanish Inquisition didn't get you, the plague probably would.

Of course as highlighted in Friday's mash up, you can still get executed for being a witch in Saudi Arabia and Dutch scientists have isolated a strain of the bird flu that can jump from birds to humans so we're not out of the woods just yet.

So I think we can learn a lot by looking at the past - and one of the things I continually plug is the fact that history is not only relevant it's a lot of fun. I have the fanaticism of a convert I suppose because I hated history at school. I wish they'd taught it to me this way:

I hope that was helpful. In fact, the Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición was not definitively abolished until 1834, during the reign of Isabella II, which had some synchronicity, because as you've seen it was established during the reign of Isabella I three hundred and fifty years before.

I suppose you could say is that it was a very extreme response to multi-culturalism. Iberia had been dominated by the Moors for five hundred years until the Reconquista of the thirteenth century; and the Spanish Jews had actually thrived under their reign. Now both Moors and Jews lived under Spanish rule and were barely tolerated.

It was Alonso de Hojeida, a Dominican friar from Seville, who poisoned Queen Isabel against the Jewish population. They had been required to adopt the Christian faith but he said they were only pretending. King Ferdinand appointed Torquemada to enforce orthodoxy and he set to work with a rack and a box of matches.

Like the East German Stasi he had the people spy on each other. You could be turned in for the absence of chimney smoke on Saturdays (possibly a sign the family might secretly be honoring the Jewish Sabbath) or buying too many vegetables (possibly stocking up for Passover.) 

But orthodoxy is like chocolate peanut butter ice cream; get a little and you want a lot more. Soon, no one was safe. 

The Inquisition's three chief weapons were surprise, fear, a ruthless efficiency and a fanatical devotion to the Pope. The worst thing was that no one ever expected them.

But their reign of terror only resulted in around three to five thousand fatalities in all. What you should really have been worried about was the Black Death.

The plague, or Black Death, was one of the most devastating pandemics in history.  Most theories attribute the outbreak to the yersinia pestis bacteria. Although hosted on flea-infested rats some scholars think its rapid spread could only have been enabled by humans. It is thought to have travelled along the Silk Road in the 14th century. From there it hopped on a boat. 

It killed a mind-numbing 30–60 percent of Europe's population. Half of Paris's population of 100,000 people died. It spread right around the Middle East and killed about 40% of Egypt's entire population as well.

The most common symptom of bubonic plague was the appearance of buboes in the groin, the neck and armpits, and the appearance of gangrenous black spots.  Some people died within two days of infection.

Medicine was rudimentary at best back then; most people believed the plague was sent by God as divine retribution. So of course the answer was to attack immigrant minorities; in August 1349, for example, the entire Jewish communities of Mainz and Cologne were exterminated.

It's good to look back and see how far we have come from those days; thankfully stupidity, ignorance, violence and religious hatred have no part in the modern world.

On Wednesday I have something that will truly inspire you and may even bring a tear to your eye. I hope you'll join me for that - you won't be disappointed. 

Also anyone who joins my blog between now and then wins a copy of HAREM. Its available now through WDW publishing on any electronic format. 

One last question: does the Inquisition still exist? Answer Wednesday.


  1. Mr. Colin, I commend your research on the Spanish Inquisition. A great deal written on the subject is inaccurate, or has been distorted for political or religious bias. The truth is bad enough. Not only did the Inquisition had people spy on one another, but they were ruthlessly efficient. Kudos to the makers of the You-Tube too. By the way, my last name, my father's name, is Lucena, a Converso name of Jewish origins. Several of my ancestors died at the stake. Great post!

  2. Thanks Adelaida ... wow can you really trace your ancestors back so far? That's really something. The thing that surprised me most in my research (which was mostly about the original Inquisition in Toulouse) was how they created a template for repression. And you're right Pricilla - I wish they'd had YouTube when I was learning history at school!