Section 7 of "The Inquisition of Spain; with anecdotes of some of its more illustrious victims," Blackwood's Magazine, vol. XX, (July 1826), pp. 70-89.


7. Torture. - But what follows is even still more horrible than this; for although the prisoner in the three audiences of monition may have avowed all that the witnesses have deposed against him, and more, still the Fiscal terminates his requisition by alleging that notwithstanding the admonition given him to speak the truth, accompanied with the promise of grace in case of compliance, the accused has been guilty of concealment and denial of facts, that he is therefore impenitent and obstinate, and ought without delay to be put to the torture. If the Inquisitors be of opinion that the accused has not made an unreserved confession, they ordain him to be put to the rack accordingly; and though laterly this has been less frequently applied than in the earlier times of the Tribunal, yet the law authorising it continues in full force to the present hour, and every prisoner, without exception, is threatened with the question at the particular stage of the process to which we have arrived. "Je ne m'arrêterai point," says Senor Llorente, "à décrire les divers genres de supplices exercés par ordre de l'Inquisition sur les accusés, cette tâche ayant été remplie avec beaucoup de exactitude par un grand nombre d'historiens. Je déclare, à cet égard, qu'aucun d'eux ne peut être accusé d'exaggeration." We will endeavour to supply what Senor Llorente has ex consulio omitted, from the most faithful of those historians to whose general accuracy, in this respect, he bears testimony.

The method of torturing, and the degree of torture now or lately employed in the Spanish Inquisition, will be sufficiently understood from the history of Isaac Orobio, which Limborch took down from his own mouth. This man, who was a Jew and a doctor of physic, had been delated to the Inquisition as an Israelite (a crime of the greatest magnitude in their eyes), by a Moorish servant of his own whom he had flogged for thieving, and four years after this he was again accused by a secret enemy of another fact which would have clearly established his descent. On this second charge he was committed to the secret prisons of the Holy Office, where he remained three whole years; and after undergoing several examinations, in the course of which the crimes charged against him were disclosed with a view to his confession, he was at length, in consequence of his obstinate denial of them, carried from his cell to the chamber of torture. This was a large apartment under ground, vaulted, hung round with black cloth, and dimly lighted by candles placed in candlesticks fastened to the wall. At one end, there was an inclosed place, like a closet, where the Inquisitor in attendance and the notary sat at a table; so that the place seemed to poor Orobio the very mansion of death, everything being calculated to inspire terror. Here the Inquisitor again admonished him to confess the truth before being put to the torture; and when he answered that he had already told the truth, the Inquisitor formally protested, that, since he was so obstinate as to expose himself to the question, the Holy Office would be innocent of whatever might happen, and that, in case of lesion, rupture of members, or death, the fault would rest wholly with himself. This protest being extended in order to form part of the procès-verbal, they put a linen garment over his body, drawing it so very close on each side as almost to squeeze him to death; and when he was on the verge of expiring, they suddenly slackened the sides of the garment, by which, as respiration returned, and the blood began again to circulate, he suffered the most excruciating pain. At this stage, he was again admonished to confess the truth, in order to avoid further torments; but, persisting in his denial, they tied his thumbs so tight with small cords, that the extremities immediately swelled, and the blood spirted [sic] out from under the nails. This done, he was placed with his back against a wall, and fixed upon a little bench. Into the wall were fastened little iron pullies, in which ropes were inserted, and tied round several parts of his body, particularly his arms and legs; then the executioner drawing the ropes with his whole force, pinned Orobio to the wall, so that his hands and feet, especially his fingers and toes, being cut by the ligatures, put him to the most exquisite pain, and seemed to him as if they had been dissolving in flames. In the midst of these torments, the executioner suddenly jerked the bench from under him, so that the miserable wretch hung suspended by the cords, the weight of his body drawing the knots still tighter, and thus increasing his agony. He endured this for some time, after which he was taken down and subjected to a new kind of torture. An instrument like a small ladder, made of two upright pieces of wood and five cross ones sharpened before, being placed over him, the executioner struck it in a peculiar manner and with such violence against both his shins, that he received at the same instant five blows on each, in consequence of which he fainted away. After he recovered, the last torture was inflicted on him. The torturer having tied ropes round Orobio's wrists, put them round his own back, which was covered with leather, then falling backwards, and putting his feet up against the wall, he drew them with all his might till they cut through the unhappy man's flesh, even to the very bones. This torture was repeated thrice, the ropes being successively tied round his arms about an inch or thereby above the former wound, and drawn with the same violence. But it happened, that as the ropes were drawing the second time, they slid into the first wound, which caused so great an effusion of blood, that he seemed to be dying. Upon this, the surgeon in attendance was sent for from an adjoining apartment, and asked whether the patient had strength enough to undergo the remainder of the tortures, a question which is always put when death is apprehended, because the Inquisitors are considered guilty of an irregularity if their victim should expire in the midst of his torments. The surgeon, who was far from being an enemy to Orobio, answered in the affirmative, and thereby preserved him from having the tortures he had already endured repeated on him; for his sentence was that he should suffer them all at one time, and if the opinion of the surgeon had induced the Inquisitor to desist, through fear of occasioning death, all the tortures, even those already endured, must have been successively inflicted to satisfy the sentence. Wherefore, the torture was repeated the third time, and then it ended, after which Orobio was bound up in his own clothes and carried back to prison, and was scarce healed of his wounds in seventy days. And inasmuch as he emitted no confession under his torture, he was condemned, not as one convicted, but suspected of Judaism, to wear the San Benito, or habit of infamy, for two whole years, and thereafter to perpetual banishment from the kingdom of Seville.

There is another kind of torture, employed by the Spanish Inquisition, which has been very fully described by Llorente in his account of the case of De Salas, and by Gonsalvius, in his work entitled, "Sanct Inquisitionis Hispanic Artes aliquot detect." This is called torture by the Escalera or Burro, which is analogous to the French Chevalet and the English Wooden Horse. The instrument by which it is inflicted consists of wood, made hollow like a trough, so as to contain a man lying on his back at full length, and is without any other bottom than a round bar laid across, which, moreover, is so situated that the back of the person to be tortured must rest upon the bar, instead of the bottom of the trough, while, by its peculiar construction, his feet are raised much higher than his head. When the patient is placed in this apparatus, his arms, thighs, and ankles, are made fast to the sides by means of small cords, which, being tightened by means of garrots, or rackpins, (called by some the Spanish windlass,) in the same manner, precisely as carriers tighten the ropes that fasten down the loads on their carts, cut into the very bones, so as to be no longer discernible. Que sera-ce lorsqu'un bras nerveux viendra mouvoir et tourner le fatal billot? The sufferer being in this situation, the most unfavourable that can be imagined for performing the function of respiration, there is inserted deep into his throat a piece of fine moistened linen, upon which an attenuated stream, or thread of water, descends from an earthen vessel, through an aperture so small that little more than an English pint is instilled in the course of an hour. In this state, the patient finds no interval for respiration. Every instant he makes an effort to swallow, hoping to give passage to a little air; but as the moistened linen is there to obstruct the attempt, and as the water enters at the same time by the nostrils, it is easy to conceive how this infernal contrivance must add to the difficulty of performing the most important functions of life. Hence, when the question is finished, and the linen withdrawn from the throat, it is always soaked with blood, from the ruptured vessels of the lungs, or the parts adjoining.

The mode of torture here described, was that employed on the Licentiate De Salas, mentioned above; and as the procès-verbal of that operation has been given to the public by the Suetonius of the Inquisition, we shall insert it here. It will give a more lively idea of the proceedings, than we can pretend to have conveyed by the above description.

"At Valladolid, the 21st of June 1527, the Senor Licentiate Moriz, Inquisitor, having summoned to his presence the Licentiate John Salas, caused to be read and notified to him the sentence ordaining him to be put to the question; the which reading being finished, the said Licentiate Salas declared, that he had uttered none of those things of which he was accused; and incontinent, the said Senor Licentiate Moriz having caused him to be conducted to the chamber of torture, and stripped of his garments to the shirt, the said Salas was placed by the shoulders in the Escalera, or wooden horse of torture, where the executioner, Pedro Porras, fastened him by the arms and legs with hempen cords, eleven turns of which were coiled round each limb; and while the said Pedro was thus binding him, the said Salas was several times admonished to confess the truth, to which he replied, that he had never advanced any of these things of which he was accused. He (Salas) recited the symbol Quicunque vult, and several times returned thanks to God and Our Lady; and the said Salas being still fastened, as has been already said, a piece of fine linen, moistened, was put upon his face; and from an earthen vessel, containing about two litres, (nearly four and a half English pints,) pierced with a hole in the bottom, water to the extent of about a demi-litre was poured into his nostrils and mouth; and, notwithstanding thereof, the said Salas persisted in saying, that he had advanced none of those things of which he was accused. Then Pedro Porras made a turn of the garrot upon the right leg, and poured a second measure of water, as he had already done; a second turn of the garrot was made on the same leg; and, nevertheless, John Salas said, he had never advanced anything of the kind; and, being several times pressed to speak the truth, he declared, that he had never said that of which he was accused. Then the Senor Licentiate Moriz having declared that the question was commenced, but not finished, ordered the torture to cease, and the accused to be removed from the Escalera." If this was only the commencement of the torture, how, in the name of God, was it to terminate? That the reader may comprehend the full import of this phraseology, however, it is proper to mention, that the Council of the Supreme was frequently under the necessity of forbidding the employment of torture oftener than once in the same process; but that this prohibition was constantly defeated by the Inquisitors, who, when compelled to discontinue the question through fear of their victim expiring in their hands, had recourse to the abominable sophism of describing it as commenced, but not finished. Thus, if the physician or surgeon in attendance ordered the torture to cease before the whole had been inflicted, and if the unhappy urchin did not die in his bed, as indeed often happened, of the consequences of what he had already suffered, his torments recommenced as soon as he recovered sufficient strength to undergo the operation; and this, in the language of the Holy Office, was not a new torture, but merely a continuation of the former! It cannot be denied that the logic of the Inquisition was every way worthy of the conduct pursued by that Holy Tribunal, and that both would have reflected no discredit on a conclave of devils in Pandæmonium, sitting in solemn deliberation how they might most effectually aggravate the miseries of the damned.

And such are a few of the methods practised by the Inquisition, to extract the truth from the accused, as they are pleased to say, but in reality to force him, by the most powerful of all compulsitors, to criminate himself. In the rare instance, where the accused has sufficient physical force to resist the torments inflicted on him, and to persevere in his denial, no decisive advantage rewards him for his fortitude; for the judges, acting upon the maxim that the Inquisition cannot err, agree, in that case, to hold the preliminary depositions as proof; and, after declaring him convicted and obstinate, proceed without delay to condemn him to relaxation, (*) as a heretic of bad faith, and impenitent; the presumption of his guilt arising from his denial, joined to the demi-proof of the information, thus acquiring, in the judgment of these monsters, the force of the most complete and conclusive evidence. So that if the accused, while undergoing the tortures of the charges brought against him, he is convicted on his own confession; if he perseveres in his denial, his fortitude is construed a presumption of guilt sufficiently strong, when joined to the information, to constitute complete proof. Incidit in Scyllam qui vult vitare Charybdim. It often happens, however, that persons subjected to the question accuse themselves of crimes they never committed, nor could commit, in order to obtain a cessation of torture. The records of the prosecutions for magic, sorcery, enchantment, witchcraft, pactions with the Evil One, &c., sufficiently attest the truth of this; men and women confessing themselves guilty of impossible crimes, and narrating, with circumstantial minuteness, the particulars of their imaginary interviews, and sometimes of their carnal connexion with the Prince of Darkness. See particularly Senor Llorente's account of the "Secte des Sorciers," vol. III, p. 431, which is not the least interesting portion of his admirable work. When, during the question, the accused confesses a part or the whole of the facts charged against him, his confession is taken down by the notary in attendance, and the following day he is called upon either to ratify upon oath, or retract. In most instances the prisoners ratify their confessions, because, if they dared to retract, their disavowal could have no other effect than to subject them a second time to the question; and as persons whose fortitude have not proved equal to one trial will hardly expose themselves to a second, the force of the motive to adhere and ratify will be readily acknowledged. From time to time, however, individuals have appeared who protested against their first declaration, stating, with the greatest sincerity, that they had emitted it to escape from intolerable anguish, and that is was false in every particular; but these unhappy wretches speedily found occasion to repent their frankness amidst new and more horrible torments, inflicted in every form which hellish ingenuity could invent, and protracted while sense or life remained. But we absolutely sicken over these details, and shall therefore desist, as our readers must have, by this time, "supped full on horrors," and seek relief as anxiously as ourselves.



* Relaxation is the act by which the Inquisitors deliver over a person convicted of heresy to the royal judge ordinary, that he may be condemned to a capital punishment, conformably to the law of the country. Sentence is passed as a matter of course. When the Inquisitors condemn a prisoner to relaxation, that is, to certain death, they never fail to supplicate mercy for him at the hand of the secular judge, who is bound to pass sentence upon him de plano, when handed over for that purpose by the Holy Office. Horrible hypocrisy!