2. What was the Inquisition?
The Inquisition was a tribunal that was created to maintain the purity of the Christian faith. People who committed crimes against Christianity were brought to the Inquisition. In the late 15th century, the Pope gave Ferdinand and Isabel, the Catholic monarchs of Spain, the right to have an Inquisition. They were concerned about the heresies of Judaism, Protestantism, and Islam. They were also concerned with blasphemies, lesser crimes like bigamy, taking Gods name in vain, witchcraft.
By the time the Inquisition got to Mexico in the early 16th century, shortly after the Conquest, really it wasnt as concerned with these heresies but more concerned with these lesser blasphemies. And the Inquisition in its final form in Mexico was established in 1571. Before 1571, the Inquisition was run by clerics and Indians were under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition. It was decided that the punishments being meted out to Indians were way too harsh. A separate tribunal was established for Indians, and so this new Inquisition was established to deal with Spaniards, blacks, mulattoes. You can only be brought to the Inquisition if youre a Christianso [its] Jews and Muslims who converted to Christianity. But there were doubts about whether they had really converted. They took blasphemy seriously.
Sometimes the Inquisition is much more energetic about prosecuting people than at other times. When somebody is brought to the Inquisition, money and property was confiscated to pay for the time spent, and the food, and the medicine when the person was in jail. Some people have argued that inquisitors considered this a money-making venture and that this is why cases against slaves and servants often didnt go to a full trial. Inquisitors were less interested in those people because they could get less stuff from them.
A slave would stay a slave, so that status wouldnt change. There are a few cases in which slaves were sent to other masters, or where the Inquisition mandated that a slave be sold because they decided that the punishment was unnecessarily harsh. Theres a case where the Inquisition mandated that the treatment be better, sent the slave home, and the slave ended up being beaten to death.
The way that many people frame these cases is that its resistance. Slaves and servants were using the Inquisition as a forum where they could complain about this terrible treatment. But ultimately, they really didnt have very much power. In Gertrudiss case, her family sells her to an ingenio, so its not like their lives were markedly improved by this visit to the Inquisition. In the second part of this case, Gertrudis goes to this cleric who tells her story. She knows that this is a body thats not necessarily on her side, but this is a body that she can appeal to.
Men and women do not seem to be treated differently by the Inquisition. For non-Spaniards, race was more of a determining factor in looking at peoples position within the social hierarchy than gender. Genders clearly important in terms of their interactions with each other, but in terms of the Inquisition it ends up being your racial situation that is more important.