A Missed Opportunity?

Jennifer Kolpacoff Deane, A History of Medieval Heresy and Inquisition (Rowman & Littlefield, 2010), purports to cover heresy and inquisition in Europe from 1100 to 1500, but there’s no chapter on Spain at all!


I mean, I’m sure it’s a good book for what it does cover – mysticism, Spiritual Franciscans, Waldensians, witchcraft, Lollards, Hussites, etc. – and no survey book can do everything, but come on.


About emspanishhistorynotes

Scott Taylor is an associate professor in the history department at the University of Kentucky.


4 thoughts on “A Missed Opportunity?

  1. While the presence of inquisition in Spain is a large topic, I believe Deane leaves it out for the reason that it is the most widely written and discussed section of Medieval inquisition.

    Most people have simply heard of “The Spanish Inquisition” and therefore her goal was not to beat a dead horse futher (not to say that the topic isn’t worth the effort), but rather to focus more on the other aspects of Medieval heresy that are not given as much ink.

    I know Deane well enough to know that she would not merely forget to include the topic without a very good reason.

    Posted by Kris | February 8, 2011, 6:34 pm
  2. Dear Kris,

    Thanks for responding. Sure, the Spanish Inquisition is well known. But so are the other heresies and witchcraft, at least for someone who’s taken or is taking a survey on medieval history – which I assume is the books’ audience. I guess my point was: why is Spain, again, left out of the general history of Europe, or in this case, of a Europe-wide institution? And shouldn’t scholars, and students, who grapple with the inquisition in general not ignore the best-known example of it? There must be something that can be learned about the inquisition and the Spiritual Franciscans, for exmaple, by comparing it to the inquisition and conversos and moriscos, no? And vice versa.

    As I said, I’m sure the book is very good on what it does cover, and it certainly fits in with a historiographical tradition of treating the inquisition in (non-Iberian) Europe as an organic whole, with its own dynamics of change over time, and setting aside the Spanish/Jewish/Muslim inquisition as something not quite European, not quite worthy of being compared to the Waldensians and female mystics and their issues with church authority – not quite the same as the “real” history of Europe and of western Christianity church authority. It is, as I titled the post, a missed opportunity to bring the two historiographical traditions together. Too bad the editors at the press, or the external reviewers, didn’t suggest/encourage/allow this mixing of historiographical streams.

    I didn’t mean to launch an ad hominem attack of Deane, and I hope she doesn’t take it that way. I just wish that “European history” didn’t always have to mean the history of France, Germany, Italy, and England.

    Yours, Scott

    Posted by emspanishhistorynotes | February 8, 2011, 8:33 pm
  3. @Kris, I don’t mean to sound nit-picky, but the widely-known Spanish Inquisition isn’t medieval, it’s early modern. While I think it’s a good idea to look at early modern tribunals (in Iberia and in Italy) in the broader context of the medieval, whence they sprang, it also seems ok to me to focus a monograph on medieval tribunals alone. However, there were inquisitorial tribunals active in the Crown of Aragon in the fourteenth century. We don’t need to look at the Holy office as it was institutionalized by Ferdinand and Isabel to get a Spanish example (see Robin Vose); in addition, the medieval Aragonese inquisitors are *not* widely known/studied/integrated into medieval studies on heresy. Thus, I think Scott’s main point stands – why does Iberia keep getting omitted from European surveys?

    (I haven’t seen the book – I’m just weighing in on the general issue of the Spanish inquisition vis-a-vis medieval heresy.)

    Posted by Erin | February 9, 2011, 2:43 pm
  4. Erin,

    A good point. Like you, I haven’t read the book, and maybe the Aragonese tribunals are mentioned. But now we bring up the bugbear of periodization – what’s medieval and what’s early modern?

    Anyway, the Holy Office was established in 1478, right? And weren’t the first few decades of its existence the period of some of its most ferocious attacks on conversos? That certainly falls within the timeframe of the book: up to 1500.


    Posted by emspanishhistorynotes | February 10, 2011, 11:39 am

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