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I. Inquisitorial Manuals
Inquisition practice through the ages was supposed to be governed by rules, policies, and complex legal and theological principles. Both theory and practice could vary over time, however, and many different types of manuals, guidebooks and brief procedural notices were circulated as tribunals and individual inquisitors continually strove to improve on their procedures. Closer examination of such texts reveals much about the institutions themselves, their members, and their ideological underpinnings.
II. Trials and Sentencing
Thousands of trial transcripts and related documents have been preserved to record the day-to-day judicial work of the various inquisition tribunals. Though most remain in unique manuscript copies held by major national or ecclesiastical collections in countries of origin as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Mexico, exemplars of several documentary types are also available in the McDevitt Collection.
III. Autos de fe
Many of the infamous autos de fe, ritualized spectacles where sentences were announced and prisoners led off to be "penanced" amid much pomp and pageantry, generated special documentary genres of their own. Prisoner lists, printed sermon texts, descriptive (and sometimes illustrated) pamphlets known as relaciones all bear witness to the scale, the tenor, and the contemporary significance of these emblematic gatherings.
Censoring books and images, warning the public against forbidden materials, and enforcing bans through search and seizure took up a great deal of inquisitors' energies in the early modern period. Further discussion of sources relating to inquisitorial censorship, such as the indices of banned books, edicts of the various tribunals, and broadsides intended for posting in public places, can be found in the essay.
V. Familiars and Officials
Inquisitions depended on a dedicated staff and volunteers to effectively carry out their duties. These officials' mandates and corresponding privileges were laid out in documents which reveal much about the sorts of individuals employed in various functions, the manner in which they went about their tasks, and the ways in which they were perceived by contemporaries. A discussion of these documents, including certificates of familiares and books of privileges, can be found in the essay.
VI. Policies and Proceedings
Inquisitorial bureaucracy generated vast quantities of written documents relating to every aspect of the tribunals’ existence, and these went far beyond the judging and punishment of alleged heretics. In the political sphere, inquisitors corresponded with their own agents and carried on diplomacy at royal and papal courts. At a more mundane level, bills had to be paid and internal quarrels settled. An overview of sample documentation relating to these and other matters can be found in the essay.
VII. Polemics and Histories
The inquisitions faced opposition from many quarters, especially from Protestant polemicists eager to contribute to the so-called "Black Legend" of Catholic (and especially Spanish) cruelty and fanaticism. Catholic apologists responded with counter-claims of their own, and it would be centuries before historians could make much headway with more-or-less impartial analyses. A survey of the rich literature generated over the centuries as writers debated the true nature of inquisitions and their legacies can be found in the essay.