The Inquisition was an ecclesiastical institution instituted to maintain Catholic orthodoxy. Together with the political powers of its time, it strove for religious unity.
We can cite three types of Inquisitions: the Medieval, Papal and Spanish.
The Medieval Inquisition emerged at the end of the 12th century under Pope Lucius III, who founded episcopal courts and placed them under the jurisdiction of the bishops of each diocese to combat the Cathar heresy.
Fifty years later, with Pope Innocent III and the support of the Kings of France, the Albigensian Crusade was waged in the Languedoc region in southern France.
This was a religious campaign against Albigensian heretics who had created a parallel church based on the belief that the physical world had been created by Satan, and the spiritual world, by God.
It was Pope Gregory IX who created the Pontifical or Papal Inquisition, to prosecute heresy, under his direct authority.
The Inquisition spread throughout Europe, except for the Scandinavian countries and England.
In 1478, the Spanish Inquisition began after the issuance of a bull by Pope Sixtus IV by which its control was granted to the Catholic Monarchs.
The first years of the Inquisition were the worst in its history, as at the outset the proceedings were less regulated and featured fewer mechanisms protecting the rights of the accused than during later stages.
Some of the Inquisitors General of that time, such as Cardinal Cisneros and Pedro de Portocarrero, were also important political figures as well.
Other rulers, such as Felipe II, were closely linked to the Inquisition due to his intense fight against Lutheranism during his reign.
The “Black Legend” against Spain, which was propagated in the 16th century, was partially based on the Protestants’ vision of the Spanish Inquisition, which spread in the German territories where the recently-invented printing press was used to exaggerate and publicize the purported horrors of the Spanish Inquisition.
Rulers like William of Orange, historians like John Foxe, and engravers like Thierry de Bry insisted on portraying the Court of the Spanish Inquisition as inhuman and monstrous, when across the rest of Europe other courts were using similar methods.
Thanks to the Inquisition’s procedural requirements and the many texts preserved, we have an abundance of information demonstrating that during the 350 years of its existence the Inquisition executed approximately 3,000 people. During the same period those executed in the Protestant territories of Germany, only for witchcraft, numbered some 25,000.