The name of Tomás de Torquemada will be forever notorious, associated with cruelty, injustice and intolerance, because of his preponderant role in the Holy Inquisition from the years 1483-1498 as Grand Inquisitor of Spain.
He was born in 1420, possibly in the town from which his name is derived, Torquemada, Crown of Castile, in present-day Palencia in the Autonomous Community of Castile and León.  The name of the town came from the Romans – Turris Cremata – or Burned Tower,  oddly foreshadowing the history that would unfold the last quarter of the 15th century with the onset of the Spanish Inquisition on 01 Nov 1478  and the Alhambra decree of 31 March 1492.  Tomás died on 16 Sep 1498 in Ávila, Crown of Castile, in present-day Ávila in the Autonomous Community of Castile and León.  He was buried at the Real Monasterio of Santo Tomás in Ávila,  which he had built, thanks to the donations of his patrons Hernán Núñez-María Dávila, and of the Catholic Monarchs  but in 1836, two years after the Inquisition was disbanded, the tomb was ransacked, and the bones allegedly stolen and burned in a ritual auto-da-fé. 
|Scene from an Inquisition, between 1812-1819, by Francisco Goya|
Tomás was the son of Pedro Fernández de Torquemada (abt 1390- ) and Mencia Ortega. They were part of the Leonese-Castilian nobility. His father ruled the town of Torquemada and obtained a family pantheon in the Crucifix Chapel in the church of the Convent of San Pablo of Valladolid, where his wife, Mencia, was buried.  His father was the son of Alvar Fernández de Torquemada (abt 1358- ),  who married a first generation "conversa", a Jew who had converted from Judaism to Christianity.   Despite the family's Jewish background, his uncle, Pedro's brother, Juan de Torquemada (1388-1468), enlisted in the Church and became a famous Cardinal, who at the time of Tomás' birth was a Dominican friar in San Pablo of Valladolid. He was an important influence on his nephew and provided him with vital connections. Tomás followed in is footsteps, entering as a Dominican in San Pablo at an early age. Like his uncle, he quickly showed talent and devotion. He was a professor in both San Pablo and Piedrahita and Prior of Santa Cruz in Segovia. As Prior of Segovia, he met Isabel, the future Queen, through the family of Hernán Núñez Arnalte María Dávila, who became the treasurer of the Catholic Kings.  Their acquaintance would have far-reaching repercussions, because the two immediately established a religious and ideological rapport. For a number of years, Torquemada served as Isabel's regular confessor and personal advisor. He was present at Isabella’s coronation in 1474 and remained her closest ally and supporter. He even advised her to marry King Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469, in order to consolidate their kingdoms and form a power base he could draw on for his own purposes.  As a zealous advocate of church orthodoxy, Tomás earned a solid reputation for learning, piety, and austerity.  He was described in 1567 by Friar Juan de la Cruz, also a Dominican, as an austere man who never wanted titles or fame. Others spoke of his austerity eating (he never ate meat) or dressing (he only wore a simple habit and never slept with sheets). His austerity touched his family as well. He had a poor sister for whom he was not willing to set up a dowry, although he did ensure she could live with the nuns at Santo Domingo.  However, some of his acts contradict the moderation described above. He did not accept to be the Archbishop of Seville when it was offered, but he did accept the titles of Prior, Confessor, and Grand Inquisitor when they came along. He did not use linen or eat meat, but he lived in palaces and was provided an armed guard of 250 footmen and 50 mounted men for his security.  He was devout and pious, but the Pope had to restrain him towards the end of his life, appointing four assistant inquisitors in 1494, because of the widespread complaints about him.  Nevertheless, Tomás de Torquemada was a man of recognized talent and competence whose devotion to the Spanish state was unquestionable.
|Auto-da-fé, Plaza Mayor in Madrid, 1683, by Francisco Rizi|
The Inquisition existed in various parts of Europe as part of the judicial system of the Church that dealt with heresy. The original Inquisition of the 12th Century concerned Catharism which was a Christian dualist or Gnostic revival. The Catholic Church felt threatened by the Cathars, and the Inquisition was seen as a political necessity at the time.  This, the medieval Inquisition, was founded by the Popes. Its late heir, the Spanish Inquisition, came into being two centuries later, granted by the Pope on 01 Nov 1478 but  as a mixed enterprise, of secular and ecclesiastical, regal and papal, set in a Spain that had gone through 700 years of "Reconquista", and that was about to finally conquer the last realm, the Kingdom of Granada, after 10 years of campaigns, and whose leaders were determined to unify their nations, eradicating any remaining traitor-heretics or "false converts" (pure Jews or non-converts were allowed to practice their religion without disturbing them). 
In early 1482, Tomás was appointed as one of many Inquisitors, and the following year, he was named Grand Inquisitor of Spain, a position he kept until his death in 1498. In the fifteen years under his direction, the Spanish Inquisition grew from the single tribunal at Seville to a network of two dozen Holy Offices. As Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada reorganized the Spanish Inquisition (originally based in Castile in 1478), establishing tribunals in Sevilla, Jaén, Córdoba, Ciudad Real, and (later) Zaragoza. 
As a trusted man of the Monarchs and of the Church, Tomás gradually became a Man of State. His famous "Memorial", probably delivered to the Queen in 1479, touched three important aspects: the vigilance and control of the city and town councilmen, the "cure" of the epidemic or plague of "blasphemers, sorcerers, and fortune-tellers" or gamblers that swarmed throughout the country, and the "enclosure" of the Jews in their own aljamas or neighborhoods, with closed doors at night, to avoid turbulence between them and the Christians. His ambitions dovetailed with theirs: to edify a modern Spanish State on the solid bases of political unity (a crown), geographical unity (a kingdom), and religious unity (a professed faith , the Catholic faith). 
It is not the purpose of this short biography to discuss the many myths, half-truths and truths that surround the Spanish Inquisition, the expulsion of the Jews or  the later expulsion of the Moors. Suffice it to say, that hard core facts, the basis of true historical analysis, were used skillfully by Holland, France and England, among others, to construct the famous Black Legend of Spain and the Spaniards. Tallies and motivations are often blown out of proportion, when talking about these matters, even today. 
No one knows exactly how many people perished because of the Spanish Inquisition, but it is thought to be between 3,000 and 5,000 people during the 350 years of its existence.  Hernando del Pulgar, Queen Isabella’s secretary, wrote that 2,000 executions took place throughout her reign,  and modern day hispanist Henry Kamen cites the same figure, 2,000 people, until 1530.  To put these figures into perspective, in the period between 1400 and 1782, when Switzerland tried and executed Europe’s last alleged witch, between 40,000 and 60,000 people were put to death in Europe for witchcraft. 
|La Virgen de los Reyes Católicos, thought to be the work of at least three painters, among whom were Fernando Gallego and Master Bartolomé, probably from 1491-1493. Tomás Torquemada is painted behind King Ferdinand.|
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