Story of Liberty - Charles Coffin

The Men Who Ask Questions

On an evening in October, six gentlemen and a servant ride out from the old city of Saragossa, in Spain, taking a road which leads westward. They are starting at this hour of the day for Valladolid; they do not expect, however, to reach it at once, for it is two hundred miles distant. They do not care to have everybody know that they are making the journey, for there are bands of armed men on the lookout for them; especially are they on the watch for the servant of the party—Ferdinand—a young man seventeen years old. Although a servant, he has a well filled purse in his pocket, for he is going all the way to Valladolid—to get married—and has taken a liberal amount of money. Not many servants can show so large a slim. The travellers ride till daybreak, and then stop at an out-of-the-way town to rest through the day, at night travelling once more. They take by-roads and pass through obscure towns, and halt again when morning comes. Ferdinand never has seen the young lady whom he is about to marry; but some of the gentlemen whom he serves say that she is very fair; that her features are regular; her hair a light chestnut; that she has a mild blue eye, and is modest and charming in all her ways. "She is the handsomest lady I ever be held, and the most gracious in her manners," says one. Perhaps he thinks it will please Ferdinand thus to set forth the charms of the lady. At any rate, the praise or something else so abstracts his thoughts that, when he pays the landlord the reckoning at one of the taverns, he leaves his purse behind, and discovers, when he reaches Valladolid, that he has not a cent in his pocket! Here is a dilemma for a young man on the eve of his marriage!

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Ferdinand has served his fellow-travellers faithfully. He has cared for their horses, waited upon them at table, filling their glasses with wine, and he has done it in a courtly way. The landlords, quite likely, have noticed that he is the prince of servants; but not one of them, probably, has mistrusted that he is indeed a prince—son of the King of Aragon; nor do they mistrust that he is travelling in disguise to be married to Isabella, Princess of Castile; that he has taken this way to escape those who are opposed to the match, and who would lay hands upon him if possible.

Isabella never has seen Ferdinand, who is a year younger than herself but of all the suitors for her hand she has selected him, and is greatly pleased to find him all that her fancy has pictured. She is very religious, says her prayers, and goes regularly to confession.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


On the 19th of October, 1469, the marriage is consummated, for, though Ferdinand has left his purse behind, his credit is good. There is a great gathering of grandees, nobles, and ladies—two thousand or more—wearing rich dresses; and by the marriage the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile are united, making the Spain of these later years.

After her marriage she has another confessor, Thomas de Torquemada, a Dominican monk, who wears a black cowl.

"I want you to make a promise," he says to Isabella. "What is it?"

"That when you come to the throne, you will exterminate heresy."

Isabella promises to do as he desires.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The years go by, and after the death of her brother Henry, in 1476, Isabella is queen. There are heretics in Spain, men who dare to think for themselves. That is a terrible crime in the eyes of Thomas de Torquemada, and it must be stopped. The Pope has an institution already organized by which heretics can be rooted out —the holy Office, as it is called. The men connected with it are Inquisitors, or men who ask questions. Thomas de Torquemada is chief questioner. The men who ask questions do it in private. If they have a suspicion that a man is an unbeliever, they may arrest him, and bring him to their secret chamber and question him. These are their rules: Any one may witness against an accused person. The Holy Office may take the evidence of one heretic against another; but a heretic's evidence in favor of a person is good for nothing. If two witnesses testify one in favor and the other against a person, the testimony of the first is to be rejected, while the last shall be accepted. A wife may testify against a husband, and it shall be received; but if she testifies in his favor, it shall be rejected; and so with the husband against the wife, or children against parents, or parents against children. If a witness does not testify all that the questioner desires, they may put him to the torture.

The questioning takes place in an out-of-the-way chamber, in a building that has thick stone-walls—so thick that no moan or wail will reach the ears of the passer-by. There is the thumb-screw—a little vise in which the accused must put his thumb, and then the screw is turned a little. It begins to bite. Another turn; it bites harder. More turning, a little at a time, till the end of the thumb is as thin almost as a wafer —mashed to a jelly, and the blood oozes from every pore.

There is a ring-bolt in the floor, a pulley overhead. The questioners tie the feet of the prisoners to the ring, their hands to the pulley; then tug at the rope till the arms of the accused are almost pulled from the shoulders, and their legs from the body.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Another instrument is the rack. The prisoner is thrown upon a ladder and his feet tied to iron bolts in the wall, and his arms to a windlass, and men with levers work it till the knees and arms are pulled from their sockets. Another instrument is the rolling bench—a table studded with projecting knobs of oak. The accused are stripped to the skin, thrown upon the table, tied hands and feet, and a heavy roller filled with knobs rolled over them, grinding the flesh to jelly.

There are punches for punching holes in the ears and tongues of the heretics, and skewers to run through them, and pincers for pulling their tongues out by the roots, knotted whips, iron collars set with sharp teeth, chains, balls, manacles.

They fasten the heads of the accused in a frame, put a gag in their mouth, propping the jaws apart. Above them is a dish filled with water, which drips into their throat. Drip, drip, drip, it falls hour after hour. Swallow they must till theyśre filled to suffocation.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Men and women, maidens in their youth and beauty, have the clothes torn from their backs, and they must stand exposed before these questioners. The Holy Office is amenable to no law. From the decision of Thomas de Torquemada there is no appeal. No one is exempt from his jurisdiction. Rich as well as poor are arrested. It is easy to accuse men, and those who never have dreamed of being heretics find themselves in the clutches of Torquemada. Men who are their enemies swear that they are heretics, to cause their arrest, torture, confiscation of property, and death by burning—so taking revenge.

Isabella and Ferdinand urge the men who ask questions to do their work thoroughly—to let no heretic escape, especially if they have money, for by confiscating their property the king and queen and the Pope will replenish their purses. Thomas de Torquemada is not the man to let the grass grow under his feet, especially when his share of the plunder will be a goodly portion.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The Holy Office is not a new institution. Pope Innocent VIII., who has appointed Thomas de Torquemada to superintend it in Spain, did not inaugurate it, for other popes have used it to exterminate heresy. Innocent has set it in operation in Spain to bring money into his pocket. He is greedy for wealth. He puts it in operation in Rome. If a man in Rome commits murder, or any other crime, he can go clear of punishment by paying a good sum to the Pope. He puts money into his pockets by licensing priests to keep taverns, play-houses, and other establishments disreputable for priests or anybody else to keep. Being a priest, the Pope cannot marry; but he has children, nevertheless, and appoints them to lucrative positions. He sells indulgences and pardons for any crime.

One of the persons accused by Torquemada is Senor Pecho, who is worth a great deal of money. Torquemada seizes it all, and puts the owner to death. The widow and children are beggars in the street; but Isabella, as a special favor, graciously gives them a trifle, but appropriates the remainder of the estate to her own use. Not only does she appropriate this, but many other estates, till the Pope, seeing that she is getting more than her share of the spoils, sends a legate to look after his portion. But Isabella knows how to manage the legate. She gives him a liberal share of the plunder, and he reports that the expenses of the Office use up pretty much all of the property of the accused.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Thousands are cast into prison. More thin two thousand men and women are burned— thrown into furnaces. Other thousands flee from the country.

"Do not take such harsh measures," is the advice of some of her friends.

"It is better for the service of God that the country should be depopulated than that it should be polluted with heresy," Isabella replies.

Among others burned is the good Bishop of Tarragona. Many widows are condemned, especially widows of rich men. Is it that they are greater heretics than others? Or is it that Isabella and Torquemada can secure their estates? They are working zealously to bring all the world to one way of thinking—their way. Theirs is the right way, and if any one doubts it, he is to be put to death. Liberty of conscience, liberty of thought, speech, or action, are all unknown. The Pope has decreed that no one shall dissent from his decree or authority, or, if doing so, death shall be his portion.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


If a witness shall swear falsely, or cause a heretic, or one who is not a heretic, to be put to death, he shall not be put to death in turn, though the Holy Office may, if it see fit, put him in prison.

If a man be accused, he must pay the men who ask questions for their time and trouble of accusing him!

If a man be condemned and put to death, infamy shall forever be heaped upon his children, on the ground that children are partakers of the sins of their parents. But the Pope is merciful, and the Holy Office may sell the children into slavery.

If a man be condemned and his property confiscated, though he may be innocent, the Holy Office is under no obligation to return it, on the ground that to be poor will make men humble!

If a man blaspheme, this is his punishment: he must stand outside of the church on Sundays when mass is said. But if he say anything against the Pope, the Church, the Virgin, or if he read the Bible, or do not confess to the priest, he shall be put to death! If a priest swear profanely, he may be fined, but the public shall know nothing of it.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


If a man be a heretic, his wife must leave him. A man must leave his wife if she be an unbeliever. Children must forsake parents, and parents children.

Persons condemned by the men who ask questions are burned to death. The burning is called an auto-da-fe—the act of faith. It is a great occasion. Ferdinand and Isabella, all the grandees and ladies, the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, and multitudes of people, assemble to witness the burning. There is a grand procession. The school children; the priests, in companies, wearing their robes, carrying crowns, banners, and candles, escort the condemned to death. The victims wear yellow gowns, upon which are embroidered black devils with hoofs, horns, and tails. Gags are thrust into the victims' mouths, so that they may not speak to the people.

Following the condemned are the magistrates, nobles, bishops, cardinals, the king and queen, the men who ask questions carrying a blood-red flag. A great crowd surges along the streets.

The procession reaches the place of burning, where a bishop or priest preaches a sermon praising the Pope, heaping upon the condemned the insulting epithets. They are dogs, vipers, wild beasts, enemies of God and man, fit only to be given over to the flames—to burn eternally. The sheriff reads their sentence; the bishop and priests chant a psalm.

"Deal with them gently," says the judge to the executioner, who chains them to the stakes, heaps the wood around them, and sets it on fire; and so the men and women, whose only crime has been dissent from believing as the Pope believes, are put to death. Ferdinand, Isabella, Torquemada, and the Pope take possession of their estates, and the children are reduced to beggary. In a short time the country is filled with beggars, who wander through the streets in rags, homeless and friendless. It is a crime to give charity to children of condemned heretics. They are outcasts, shut out from all human sympathy.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


While Ferdinand and Isabella are thus rooting out heresy, they are trying to drive the Moors from the country. Armies are marshaled, battles fought, cities besieged. The Moors are compelled to leave their beautiful palaces, where they have enjoyed quiet and peace for centuries; but Ferdinand and Isabella are strongest, and they are driven from the homes where the fountains are ever flowing amidst the palm-trees in the spacious courts. The king and queen accompany the armies and animate the soldiers by their presence.

One day a middle-aged man, a sailor, comes into camp, bringing a letter for Fernando de Talavera, Isabella's old confessor—a letter written by Talavera's friend, the good prior Father Perez, of the Convent of Rabiada, near Palos, introducing the sailor, who has an idea that the earth is round, and that if he were to sail west he might reach the east, The sailor wants to lay the project before Ferdinand and Isabella.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Father Talavera receives the sailor courteously, and introduces him to Ferdinand and Isabella, who listen with interest to his project; but they have other things on hand, and cannot aid him in fitting out an expedition to explore unknown seas. The sailor, however, is not a man to be discouraged by trifles. He will wait, years will go by, and his beard will turn to gray; but let him not he forgotten, for we shall see him again.

The war against the Moors goes on. When Ferdinand and Isabella are in need of money to pay the troops, the rich Jews supply them, for there are many Jews in the country. They are thrifty and industrious, carry on trade, attend to their own affairs, care for their poor, and are peacefully disposed. In all Spain there are no better subjects than they. Through their aid, Ferdinand and Isabella keep their armies in the field, winning battle after battle, taking town after town, driving the Moors at last to their last stronghold, the old city of Granada, iii which is the Alhambra, the gorgeous palace, one from which for centuries the Moorish flag has waved in triumph; but on the 2nd of January, 1492, the banner with the crescent moon upon its folds gives place to the flag bearing the cross, and Ferdinand and Isabella take possession of the Alhambra.

In all the wide world there is no palace like this, with its massive walls, spacious halls, marble floors, elaborately chiseled columns and arabesque roofs; its gardens, where the roses are always in bloom, where fountains are ever playing. For six hundred years the Moors have ruled in Granada, but to-day they surrender all to Ferdinand and Isabella.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"You shall still be a free people; you shall be treated with respect; shall have your own customs, and shall not be molested in your religion. No Moor shall be compelled to become a Christian." It is Ferdinand's promise.

The Spanish troops march into the city, the Moors lay down their arms, the crescent flag comes down, and the cross takes its place. In the courts of the Alhambra a Te Deum is chanted, and Father Fernando de Talavera, Isabella's old confessor, is appointed archbishop in a city in which till now there has not been a Christian. All are Moors or Jews. Ferdinand and Isabella are masters of all Spain. All Christian heretics have been rooted out. The fires have blazed, thousands have been burned, other thousands have fled, and from the confiscated estates the king and queen, Torquemada and the Pope, have reaped rich harvests. But there are the Jews. Their ancestors crucified the Saviour. They will not eat pork, and they will persist in eating meat on Fridays. They read the Old Testament and the Talmud. They are sharp at a bargain, and are getting rich. But what rights has a Jew? Not any. They must become Christians, or they shall be turned over to be dealt with by Torquemada.

On the 30th of March, 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella issue this proclamation:

"If after July 31st a Jew is found in the country, he shall be put to death. No one shall give shelter to a Jew. Any one doing so shall forfeit all his property. The Jews may sell their houses and farms, but no one shall be permitted to carry any gold or silver out of the country."

That is the order which Ferdinand and Isabella issue on the last day of March. If the Jews cannot carry gold or silver, what can they carry? Who will buy their farms? Who pay a tithe of the value of the property?

Rabbi Abarbanal is an old man who has been of great service to the king and queen. When they wanted money to carry on the war against the Moors, he supplied them, paid the troops, and so enabled them to conquer. He enters the Alhambra, and kneels before them on the marble pavement.

"Have mercy, O king! Use us not so cruelly. I will pay six hundred thousand crowns of gold for the ransom of my people."

"Do not take it." Isabella speaks the words. Thomas de Torquemada is her confessor, and now he rushes into the audience-chamber, with a crucifix in his hand.

"Judas sold the son of God once for thirty pieces of silver, and you are going to sell him again. Do it! Here he is. Sell Jesus!"

He throws the crucifix upon the table, and runs out of the hall. The good old rabbi turns away, for Ferdinand has a deaf ear to his entreaty. Perhaps an idea has dawned upon him. Will he not, by the confiscation of all the property of the Jews, get more than six hundred thousand crowns?

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


From the ports of Carthagena, Valencia, Cadiz, Gibraltar, ships are sailing away, carrying the fugitives to Africa, Italy, and the East. Some are shipwrecked, some murdered; many die of disease, more by famine. Some are sold into slavery. Remorselessly the edict is carried out. Their property is seized, and Ferdinand grows rich upon the spoils.

Through the waning summer months the stricken Jews take their departure: five hunched thousand are driven from the country! With them go the thrift and industry of Spain. Isabella, Ferdinand, and the Pope, through the holy Office, have possession of the property; but estates without tenants bring no income to the treasury. In driving them out, Ferdinand and Isabella kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

Besides the five hundred thousand Jews driven out, more than one hundred thousand heretics are burned to death, or are thrown into prison, or lose their property by confiscation. The records of the Holy Office show how zealously Torquemada worked to exterminate heretics.

This is the record:

Burned at the stake 10,220
Died in prison 6,860
Punished by confiscation of property, perpetual imprisonment, or loss of all civil rights 97,321
Total 111,421

Torquemada dies; but Diego Deza steps into his place as chief questioner, and the terrible machine of the Holy Office goes on night and day grinding men and women, humanity, liberty, justice, right, and truth into the dust.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"The Moors must become Christians, or be banished," says the new chief questioner to Ferdinand.

"The treaty stipulates that they shall have peaceable enjoyment of their religion," Ferdinand replies.

"Their religion is an abomination in the sight of God. It is right to break faith with infidels."

Ferdinand sees an opportunity to fill his treasury. The Holy Office urges him to show his zeal for the Church, and he makes his decision:

"The Moors must become Christians, or leave the country "

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The expulsion begins, and year after year goes on. The conquered Moslems, since their surrender, have been dutiful subjects. Many of them are wealthy. They offer to buy their ransom, but they appeal to deaf ears and to stony hearts. Pity has fled, and humanity is dead. Into the treasury of the Church and the king flows the accumulated wealth of six hundred years. Some of the Moors have professedly be come Christians; but they will eat no pork, and they will eat meat on Friday, as the Holy Office discovers, and they are hurried to the stake to pay the penalty with their lives. Fires blaze. Men, women, and children are burned to death. Weeping and wailing is beard on every hand; dismay and despair are seen in the face of every Moor. On the side of Ferdinand, Isabella, and the Pope there is power; but for the Moors there is no comforter. So Ferdinand and Isabella rear the foundations of their united thrones on the graves of hundreds of thousands of the victims of their broken faith while the Pope joins them in exterminating the last vestige of liberty, honor, justice, and right.

The king, queen, and the Pope take possession of the estates; and the country is filled with beggars, who wander homeless, friendless, through the land, holding out their hands to the passers-by, in the streets of the cities, for a morsel of bread.