At the risk of incurring -XP, I'd like to offer a slightly nonconventional viewpoint.

The Inquisition was not particularly malevolent. Sure, the idea of executing heretics is horrifying to the modern mind, but you have to remember:

  • Church and State were intertwined to remarkable extent, particularly in Spain. In fact, Spain is the only country allowed by the Church to play its national anthem during the consecration of the Mass.
  • Because Spain was so religious, heresy was viewed, not unreasonably, as treason. Remember, religious freedom is pretty much an Enlightenment idea.
  • Treason has always been a capital offense.
  • The 15th century was a brutal time. Their method of execution was nonremarkable. In France, the standard method was boiling in oil; in England they hung you, cut you down while still alive, disemboweled you, and then cut you into four pieces and hung them up around the town.
  • Records for the late 16th century show torture was applied in only 10% of cases.

Much misinformation has been disseminated regarding the use of torture and the methods of trial. As they say, "The winners write the history books".

One final note: at the end of the 15th century, a witch-hunt swept Europe, and tens of thousands (I'll look up some actual figures later, sorry.) were burned at the stake with no real legal process. However, in Spain, because there was already an ecclesiastical authority equipped to deal with the accusations, the charges were found groundless and the so-called witches went free. One might argue that, in fact, the Inquisition saved many more lives than it cost.