Born in 1420 in Valladolid, Tomas de Torquemada entered the Dominican monastery in his home town at a young age. He became an unyielding ascetic who habitually wore a shirt of rough cloth under his robes to humble himself, yet he eventually amassed a fortune so great he was able to commission the magnificent monastery of St. Thomas in Avila. He was a strict advocate of Church orthodoxy, and yet toward the end of his life he kept a "unicorn's horn," a talisman he believed protected him from harm.
Torquemada's uncle, Cardinal Juan de Torquemada, was a well-known theologian, and Torquemada's superiors took notice of him for this reason. He rose to the position of prior at the Monastery of Santa Cruz in Segovia and held that office for 24 years. Throughout his life, Torquemada was offered higher Church titles, but he preferred to remain a humble friar laboring in the fields of the Lord. But thanks to his special relationship with the sovereigns of the Spanish kingdoms, Torquemada, at age 63, was appointed to the position of Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition, an office he relished. Torquemada's mission was to rid Spain of all heresy, and his vigorous efforts earned him the name, "the hammer of heretics."
Queen Isabella I of Castile
Torquemada's principal supporter was Queen Isabella I of Castile. He had been her confessor since she was a child and remained her closest advisor and confidante throughout her life. He advised her to marry King Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469 in order to consolidate their kingdoms and form a power base that he could draw upon for his own purposes. With Torquemada whispering in their ears, the royal couple lobbied Pope Sixtus IV to grant their request for a Holy Office to administer an inquisition in their kingdoms. The Church had established inquisitions in other regions of Europe in the past--notably in France and Italy--with the Vatican maintaining the ultimate authority over the prosecution of heretics. Ferdinand and Isabella, however, demanded that they as Catholic monarchs would hold civil authority over the Spanish Inquisition. The pope bowed to their pressure and issued a papal bull on Nov. 1, 1478, granting the monarchs' request with the proviso that heretics would be able to appeal their cases to the Vatican where, as Simon Whitechapel states in his book, Flesh Inferno: Atrocities of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition, the accused would have to send representatives, hire lawyers, and pay for a pardon. Sixtus IV obviously did not foresee the terrible results that an inquisition without papal control would bring.
The pope appointed five new inquisitors for the Spanish kingdoms on Feb. 11, 1482, and Torquemada was one of them. By the next year, he was named to Grand Inquisitor. Working within the mandates of the inquisition, Torquemada was now free to pursue his goals.
While Torquemada's religious fervor can hardly be questioned, Whitechapel raises the possibility that the king, queen, and pope had other motives for wanting an inquisition--financial interests. Sixtus IV needed funds to "subdue rebels in the Papal states and fight a war against Muslims in the east." Ferdinand and Isabella wanted to mount their own war against Muslims residing in Grenada, and they, too, needed money to finance it. According to the rules of the inquisition, local inquisitors could seize the property of any person accused of heresy, and that property would ultimately fall into the hands of the monarchy. An accused person always had the option of buying an expensive pardon from the Vatican. Both the pope and monarchs stood to profit from the Spanish Inquisition, especially because the heretics targeted by Torquemada were reputed to be a prosperous lot--conversos, Jews who had converted to Catholicism.