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The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision Paperback – July 11, 1999

3.9 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Mention the Spanish Inquisition and immediately thoughts of brutal torture and callous witch-hunts spring to mind. Popular belief holds up this infamous institution as a symbol of religious and political intolerance--against the Protestants, Jews, Catholic heretics, and political orders such as the Knights Templar. Yet when Henry Kamen first wrote The Spanish Inquisition in 1965, he argued that the Inquisition was not as powerful or cruel as commonly conceived.

This updated version of Kamen's hypothesis continues and reaffirms his original arguments. In this edition, Kamen provides additional evidence derived mostly from monographic studies conducted by other scholars that separates myth from reality; Kamen suggests that the Inquisition did not enjoy widespread popularity, in Spain or the rest of Europe, and that it was used as a device to scare off enemies. He also concludes that the failure of the Spanish populace to accept Lutheran principles had more to do with popular indifference toward Protestantism than interference from the Inquisition. Though Kamen's book is occasionally lacking in social analysis, this revisionist overview of the Inquisition's impact on Europe is rich in detail and will appeal to anyone who has an interest in this period. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A very well researched, kaleidoscopic study of late medieval and early modern Europe's most notorious--if hardly its most devastating--religious and racial witch hunt. Kamen, a veteran British historian of the Iberian Peninsula (Philip of Spain, 1997, etc.), professor of the Higher Council of Scientific Research, Barcelona, and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, traces the Inquisition's various classes of victims. These included the conversos (recent Jewish converts to Catholicism, who composed the majority of the Inquisition's victims), followers of the humanist Erasmus, Lutherans and other Protestants (including foreigners), Moriscos (recent Muslim converts), and Catholics whom the tribunal deemed ``heretical,'' often on flimsy evidence. Kamen is informative on the structure and problems of the Inquisition, noting for example the struggles between the papacy and the Spanish crown over its control (the latter gained the upper hand), corruption by some of its officials, and regional differences in enforcing its decrees. His main ``revision'' is to historicize the Inquisition, in the sense of contextualizing its brutal intolerance; he notes for example that ``the Netherlands [in the mid-16th century] already possessed an Inquisition of its own'' and that the courts in Antwerp (then part of Holland) ``between 1557 and 1562 executed 103 heretics, more than died in the whole of Spain in that period.'' Kamen also points out how Protestant and other writers mythified the Inquisition, exaggerating its cruelties in the service of anti-Catholic propaganda. Historians also err, Kamen argues, in assigning to the Inquisition primary blame for Spain's decline as a European power; he marshals impressive evidence against this thesis. However, Kamen occasionally over-relativizes the Inquisition, going so far as to say that it created no new problems for Spain. Yet the strengths of Kamen's work, which undoubtedly will prove controversial, far exceed its shortcomings. While its wealth of detail will appeal more to academics and other specialists than to lay readers, its clear prose makes it accessible to all. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1997, First edition (July 11, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300078803
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300078800
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #827,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Justus Pendleton on February 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
Kamen admirably doesn't attempt to answer all of the many questions that the Spanish Inquisition brings up. Neither does he attempt to reduce it to a simple explanation. Instead he shows us many aspects of the complicated history of the most famous tribunal in the world. Kamen's work is even handed and attempts to understand the Spanish Inquisition on a historical rather than polemic basis.
Kamen's book does fall down in two ways however. At times his arguments seem weak. For instance, in his discussion of inquisitorial censoring and its affect on Spanish literature he uses book sellers in Barcelona in an attempt to show that it the index of banned books had little effect. However, in other parts of the book he repeatedly points out in Catalan in general and Barcelona in specific the Inquisition had little power. Kamen also fails to give any kind of comparison of Spanish literary output before and after the index.
Kamen's second weakness is his failure to put the Spanish Inquisition in context. To a certain extent this is understandable. The book is already over 300 pages, not counting end notes, and a line needs to be drawn somewhere. However, it leaves out any details of the medieval inquisitions that were the basis for the Spanish Inquisition. It also doesn't do a very good job of comparing the Inquisition to other tribunals and judicial systems.
It also would have been nice if Kamen's final chapter "Inventing the Inquisition" had done a better job of explaining how the mythology of the Inquisition grew to be. For what it's worth, Edward Peters' Inquisition delves into many of these issues in more detail.
One note regarding the reader below from Florida. He recommends Jean Plaidy's Spanish Inquisition.
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Format: Paperback
This is an effort to produce an unbiased description and analysis of the Spanish Inquisition. Based on Kamen's remarkably thorough knowledge of early modern Spain, Kamen takes pains to present the Spanish Inquisition as neither the Black Legend of liberal 19th century historians or the needed force of Catholic apologists. As shown by Kamen, the Spanish Inquisition was not nearly as powerful or inhumane as its critics allege. He demonstrates that many of its most unsavory features were not products of a particularly brutal regime but in fact conventional for early modern europe. This book contains a wealth of interesting detail and Kamen meets his primary goal, that of presenting the inquisition in an objective fashion. This book has a major defect, which is its poor organization. Kamen presents this study in a series of topical essays with some overlapping and redundant narrative in each chapter. This often obscures the sequence in which important events occurred. In addition, important material for understanding the whole inquisition, such as its organization and methods, is not presented until well into the book, obscuring understanding of material in the earlier chapters. Despite Kamen's intent to produce a book for general readers, the organization of the book is really suited best for professional historians seeking information on controversial topics. This book is also limited in the sense that Kaman cannot, ultimately, account for the emergence of the Inquisition in Spain though one has the impression that it has a somewhat accidental character, and that it might have been a transient institution without the occurrence of the Reformation.
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Format: Paperback
Kamen, who began researching the Spanish Inquisition as a graduate student nearly forty years ago, came out with this book in April of 1998 to correct many misrepresentations concerning the Spanish Inquisition that even he had once believed. Although the book is not as well written as it could be it is still deserving of five stars because of Kamen's excellent research into the inquisition itself as well as the myths surrounding it. This book is best read along side the pioneering work of Edward Peters' INQUISITION. Peters is a canon law expert and oversees the Henry Charle Lea library at the University of Pennsylvania. I WOULD LIKE TO MAKE ONE PARTICULAR POINT. SOME PEOPLE, BLINDED BY BIGOTRY WILL NOT TRUST KAMEN'S FINDINGS NO MATTER WHAT. There are many such people out there. Just look at the review posted by the guy from Panama. If he had a clue about what he was talking about he would know that NOBODY was burned at Salem. Those who were executed for witchcraft were hanged. This may seem like a tiny point, but this notice how this loser accuses Kamen of trying too hard to overturn myths and yet he promotes them himself!
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The Spanish Inqusition is one of the frightening stories that everyone hears as they grow. Henry Kamen, through some vicious research, finally disspells many of the myths and legends associated with it. Methodically showing what the Spanish Inqusition really was and how it was not nearly as bad as it has been played out to be, Kamen does an excellent job of putting together a book full of first hand accounts of what went on, who the accussers and accussed were and who really went to be burned at the stake.
However, the book does fall short it its attempts to be for the general reader. Where Kamen's research excels, his writting seems to suffer as information is not as well organized as it should be and some information is repeated quite often when it shouldn't. This makes it hard to trudge through and leaves it to be a wonderful resourse for professional historians, not for the everyday reader.
However, if one is daring to learn more about what really happened during this time, this is a wonderful book to start with. Just a rule of advice: Follow the rule of the historian and view things objectively and don't apply todays moral standards to yesterdays events. To many other readers (as can be seen in the reviews) try to do this and come up with a very negative opinion of the book. One has to realize that the time period being looked at differed greatly from ours today and that disciplining was much harsher than it is now (This was a period where one could be executed for running in the street naked). With this in mind, enjoy.
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