“When you tell someone your secret, your freedom is gone.” (Fernando de Rojas)
The notorious Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century, the subject of multiple documentaries, movies, and other pop culture mediums, is remembered for its oppression, barbarous torture, and religious tyranny.
It was roughly around this time that a period of European exploration began. Trade was able to increase in Europe from around the world due to more effective ships being introduced. The introduction of multiple mast ships and sternpost rudders allowed the ships to travel quicker and be more maneuverable. By the start of the 15th century, ships were much larger and able to support long-distance travel with a minimum number of crew aboard.
One explorer, Christopher Columbus, sought funding from the Portuguese to search for a passage to Asia by sailing westward, but he was rejected. At this time in the late 15th century, Portugal’s domination of the West African sea routes prompted the neighboring Crown of Castile and the Catholic monarchs in modern Spain to search for an alternative route to South and East Asia (termed Indies) so they provided Columbus with the funding he required. Ultimately, Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492, and Spanish settlements in the “West Indies” would eventually be established.
New Spain was established in the aftermath of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521, and as the most spectacular conquest and the richest province, New Spain quickly became the focus of Spanish America. The Viceroyalty of New Spain was established in 1535, comprising a vast region of what is now the American Southwest: all of Mexico, Central America, the various Spanish-held islands of the Caribbean, the “Spanish Main”, and the Spanish Far East Empire (comprised mainly of the Philippines). The Viceroyalty of New Castile (later named the Viceroyalty of Peru) was established in 1542 and comprised all of Spain’s South American territory, such as it was defined, excluding the Guianas. In 1610, the viceregency of New Granada was established with its capital in Cartagena, comprising the modern states of Columbia, Venezuela, a portion of Ecuador, and Panama. In 1776, after much jostling with the southern frontier of Portuguese Brazil, the viceregency of Rio la Plata was formed, comprising Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, with Buenos Aires as its capital. The Portuguese, of course, established their territory of Brazil with its capital as Rio de Janeiro.
Not surprisingly, as the Catholic empires expanded across the globe, persecution would travel with them, and the horrors experienced by indigenous populations in these colonies rivaled anything heretics back in Europe faced. The Inquisition in the New World looks at how the Inquisitions came to be, the manner in which it was exported west, and how people were tortured and executed.