In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Iberian Inquisitions

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Documents (in English)
  • Western Africa

Atlantic History Iberian Inquisitions
Jessica Fowler
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0380


Only the early modern Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions extended their reach across the Atlantic; however, they did so in very distinct ways. The Spanish would establish three independent tribunals in the Americas, the first two in Mexico and Lima in 1570, and later another in Cartagena (in the colony of New Granada, essentially modern Colombia) in 1610. On the other hand, the Portuguese would entrust the orthodoxy of its Atlantic holdings, even its largest colony of Brazil, to representatives of the institution, known as comissários, dependent on the tribunal in Lisbon. Both structures fostered a wealth of transatlantic exchange, of both people and communication, which brings to light the ways in which this institution, often assumed to be European-bound, also took on Atlantic dimensions as these empires expanded. However, studying Inquisitions in their full transatlantic scope is a daunting task, requiring the mastery of the history and historiography of far-flung locations and, potentially, if studying both Inquisitions, multiple languages. This means that truly transatlantic work on Inquisitions remains limited. However, there is significant work on the Holy Office in individual locations around the Atlantic Basin. Thus, this bibliography will begin by highlighting transatlantic studies, in the sense of tracing processes or people across the Atlantic, before delving into those works that treat individual locations around that basin. An additional consideration to keep in mind is that research on Inquisitions is most frequently divided between those studies interested in the institution and those interested in the defendants that institution tried. While such a division sets up a false dichotomy, because in studying the defendants we inherently learn about the institution, and vice versa, most researchers seem to embark on their studies from one direction or the other. It seemed therefore necessary, if crude, to divide the works in this bibliography into what could broadly be categorized as “institutional histories” and “histories of heterodoxy.” While acknowledging that such a division is problematic, it nonetheless seems the most accessible for those new to the field of Inquisition studies and those who use this resource as a reference guide. It likely goes without saying that much of the work on these Inquisitions remains in Spanish and Portuguese; however, considering the expected audience of this bibliography, English language work has been privileged when and where possible.

General Overviews

Few works treat the histories of both the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions in the Atlantic world. The difference in language, research locations, and familiarity with far-flung locales and their distinct histories makes this a daunting task for any researcher. It was the groundbreaking and innovative work Bethencourt 2009 (published originally in French in 1995) that demonstrated the potential of comparative studies of the early modern Inquisitions of Spain, Portugal, and Italy, and challenged other researchers to embark on the same (it is important to point out that the Italian Inquisition was never as centralized or expansive as its Iberian counterparts). A concise history of these three Inquisitions, from creation to abolition, is offered by Torres Puga 2019. Other historians have focused solely on comparing the Iberian institutions and, more specifically, how these functioned within empires. Soyer 2015 and Green 2012 illuminate how these institutions grappled with expanding imperial jurisdictions that encompassed not only the Atlantic, but also the Pacific world. However, the most accessible and concise introduction to Atlantic Inquisitions is Poska 2017.

  • Bethencourt, Francisco. The Inquisition: A Global History, 1478–1834. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    Originally published in French in 1995, this work remains the most global and all-encompassing of general overviews, using a comparative approach to discuss the Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian Inquisitions in both Europe and the broader world. This work is exceptional for both its scope and comparative approach, and it remains easily accessible to those unfamiliar with the institution.

  • Green, Toby. “Policing the Empires: A Comparative Perspective on the Institutional Trajectory of the Inquisition in the Portuguese and Spanish Overseas Territories (Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries).” Hispanic Research Journal 13.1 (February 2012): 7–25.

    DOI: 10.1179/174582011X13183287338013

    Arguing that the Inquisitions were, first and foremost, state institutions, Green charts and compares the institutional development of the Spanish Inquisition in Latin America to that of the Portuguese Inquisition in Goa (modern India) and West Africa. Demonstrating how global Inquisitions were also fundamentally local Inquisitions, he also highlights the circulation and flows of information and people that made such an institution possible.

  • Poska, Allyson M. “Disciplinary Institutions in the Atlantic World: Inquisitions.” In Judging Faith, Punishing Sin: Inquisitions and Consistories in the Early Modern World. Edited by Charles H. Parker and Gretchen Starr-LeBeau, 266–278. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    An excellent and succinct overview of how the Inquisitions functioned in the Atlantic world. This contribution is placed in juxtaposition, like each section of this work, to how consistories policed Calvinist communities in the Atlantic world. This cross-confessional comparison of religious discipline places the Inquisitions within their appropriate, though rarely recognized, place within societies, both Catholic and Protestant, that sought to regulate orthodoxy.

  • Soyer, François. “Enforcing Religious Repression in an Age of World Empires: Assessing the Global Reach of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions.” History 100.341 (2015): 331–353.

    DOI: 10.1111/1468-229X.12109

    This article offers an overview of how the Iberian Inquisitions aspired and attempted to control orthodoxy across their immense empires. However, this did not involve merely crossing the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas, but also the Pacific Ocean and policing the Iberian outposts in Asia, specifically Manila and Goa.

  • Torres Puga, Gabriel. Historia mínima de la Inquisición. Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 2019.

    As promised by its title, this work is concise, but it does an excellent job introducing the reader to the institution of the Inquisition, from its medieval origins to its three early modern manifestations (Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian), as well as their functioning in Europe, America, and even Asia. The work closes with the extinction of these institutions. An excellent primer for anyone interested in the institution.

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