The University of Southampton

HIST3133 Heresy and Inquisition in the Early Modern Iberian World Part 1

Module Overview

This special subject course closely examines the history of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions from their establishment in the late fifteenth/early sixteenth centuries to their abolition in the early nineteenth century. The Inquisition was set up in both Spain and Portugal to systematically hunt down heretics and expunge Catholic society of any form of heretical beliefs. The various groups persecuted by the inquisitorial tribunals in Spain and Portugal included, amongst others, crypto-Jews, crypto-Muslims, Protestants, bigamists, homosexuals, dissenting intellectuals and witches. The Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions have achieved a rare level of notoriety as ruthless and secretive institutions that coldly used torture and terror to repress any form of religious and social deviancy. This course will examine the actual institutions behind the modern myth: their organization, their modus operandi and their evolution during their three centuries of existence both in the Iberian Peninsula and in the Spanish and Portuguese empires. The course will also encourage you to consider the important question of whether or not the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, far from being backward legacies of the medieval period, can be considered to have been the first truly “modern” bureaucracy and police force established to destroy the perceived enemies of the State.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aims of this module are to introduce you to: - The history of the notorious Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. - The Institutions: their origins, organization and modus operandi. - The victims of the Inquisitions (Conversos, Moriscos, Protestants, etc...): who they were, why they were persecuted and how they responded to persecution. - The modern historiographical debates that surround the history of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Argue your case in group discussions
  • Structure your ideas and research findings into well ordered presentations and essays
  • Analyze critically a variety of primary written and visual sources.
  • Appreciate the context of the primary sources analyzed in the gobbet exam.
  • Engage with the existing secondary literature and contribute to the debates relating to the historiography for this period.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Participate effectively in group discussion.
  • Locate and use effective written and visual sources in the University library and available on-line.
  • Develop your presentation skills
  • Analyze a translated document
  • Research historical questions and communicate your findings convincingly and concisely both in essays and written reports.


In this semester, you will examine the origins and rise of the Inquisition in both Spain and Portugal, its persecution of crypto-Jews, Moriscos, alumbrados, Protestants, as well as various aspects of its organization and procedure (the organization of inquisitorial trials, the spectacular public auto-de-fe judgments, etc…).

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include - One two-hour lecture per week. - One two-hour seminar per week in which students will make presentations, will actively discuss primary source material and will take parts in debates relating to issues that were raised in the lecture/seminar. - Individual consultation in person and by email about assessed work on the unit. Learning activities include - Students will be asked to work both by themselves and in groups in order to prepare for the presentations that they will make in seminars. - Students will conduct individual research for their end-of-year dissertations. - Students will use internet resources to help them in their seminar and dissertations research. - Students will analyze and engage critically with the many books and articles on this subject that have been written by modern historians. - The students will learn to formulate their opinions in class discussions during seminars.

Independent Study260
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Edwards, J (2005). Torquemada and the Inquisitors. 

Alpert, M (2001). Crypto-judaism and the Spanish inquisition. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Take-away task  (3000 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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