The Inquisition is generally supposed to have been founded by Ferdinand and Isabella, about the year 1480 or ’82; but a deeper research informs us that it had been introduced into Spain several centuries earlier, and obtained great influence in Arragon. Confiding in the protection of the papal see, the Inquisitors set no bounds to their ferocity: secret informations, imprisonments, tortures, midnight assassinations, marked their proceedings; but they overreached themselves. All Spain, setting aside petty rivalships, rose up against them. All who should give them encouragement or assistance were declared traitors to their country; the very lives of the Inquisitors and their families were, in the first burst of fury, endangered; but after a time, imagining they had sunk into harmless insignificance, their oppressors desisted in their efforts against them, and were guilty of the unpardonable error of not exterminating them entirely.[A]
[Footnote A: Stockdale’s History of the Inquisition.]
According to the popular belief, the dreaded tribunal slept, and so soundly, they feared not, imagined not its awakening. They little knew that its subterranean halls were established near almost all the principal cities, and that its engines were often at work, even in the palaces of kings. Many a family wept the loss of a beloved member, they knew not, guessed not how—for those who once entered those fatal walls were never permitted to depart; so secret were their measures, that even the existence of this fearful mockery of justice and Religion was not known, or at that time it would have been wholly eradicated. Superstition had not then gained the ascendency which in after years so tarnished the glory of Spain, and opened the wide gates to the ruin and debasement under which she labors now. The fierce wars and revolutions ravaging the land had given too many, and too favorable opportunities for the exercise of this secret power; but still, regard for their own safety prevented the more public display of their office, as ambition prompted. The vigorous proceedings of Ferdinand and Isabella rendered them yet more wary; and little did the Sovereigns suspect that in their very courts this fatal power held sway. The existence of this tribunal naturally increased the dangers environing the Israelites who were daring enough to live amongst the Catholics as one of them; but of this particular danger they themselves were not generally aware, and their extraordinary skill in the concealment of their faith (to every item of which they yet adhered) baffled, except in a very few instances, even these ministers of darkness.
“In war did never lion rage more
In peace was never gentle lamb more mild,
Than was that young and princely gentleman.”