Monday, December 30, 2013

Fire with Fire, Words with Words

It's been a while since I've written a blog post, so I decided I'm going to talk a little bit about the research for my Pitch Wars entry, Confession, a YA Historical set in Seville circa 1807.  First, let's play a game to see how you fit into the time period.  Please answer the following questions:

1.  Are you anything other than Catholic?
2.  Do you use swear words?
3.  Do you get dressed up on Saturdays?
4.  Have you ever read anything by Kant or Voltaire?
5.  Do you wish you could attend Hogwarts?
6.  Do you occasionally read your horoscope?

If you answered "Yes" to any of the above, chances are you would have had a date with the Spanish Inquisition!  (Just like the main characters in Confession, so congratulations!)

When we think of the Inquisition, we often think of it as a medieval Holocaust--an organized extermination of Jews.  In a way, the two were similar, although the Inquisition was significantly less systematic.  It also operated on a much smaller scale, although it lasted over three centuries and spanned continents.

Some Background

The Moorish occupation of Spain left its
mark in art, food, and language.  Although
built by a Christian king, the Alcázar of
Seville is largely in the Islamic architectural
It started with the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula.  From 711 to 1492, the Moors had partial (or total, depending on the year) control of Spain.  Many look on this period as a golden age, for there existed widespread religious tolerance.

Then, in 1469, Ferdinand of Aragon married Isabella of Castile, joining the two most powerful kingdoms into a unified nation.

Ferdinand and Isabella have a lot on their resume.  In America, they're mostly remembered for being the generous souls who financed Christopher Columbus when nobody else would.  They also expelled the last of the Moors, established the Inquisition, and basically invented Spain as we know it (that is, as one country, rather than several small kingdoms).

With the Moors gone from the Peninsula, Jews, Muslims, and other non-Catholics were required to convert.  To ensure that they did not continue their practices in secret, Ferdinand and Isabella introduced the Inquisition, which served as a means of reinforcing political unity, as well as religious orthodoxy.

In order to appear before the Inquisition, one had to be denounced.  Some crimes, to name a few:  practicing Judaism or Islam, bigamy, sodomy, astrology, witchcraft, swearing, dabbling in prohibited books, using reason or philosophy to question God, any ill-will toward the Catholic Church, and a whole host of others.

The infamous rack in a museum in Córdoba.
Fascinating, but gruesome museum.  There were
definitely questionable stains on some of the
Punishment depended on the type and severity of the crime.  For example, adultery and sodomy tended to incur such tortures as the choke pear.  Of course, torture was not a punishment.  It was a means to get the accused to confess, and while many argued that confessions garnered from torture were not valid, the Church contended that if one was truly innocent, then God would give her the strength to get through the pain.

The Inquisition did not use torture as much as we commonly believe.  Usually, the accused was required to sign a confession, perhaps undergo some public humiliation, and that was that.  No ropes, no knives, no hot-irons--and definitely no burnings-at-the-stake.  Of over 100,000 accused by the Inquisition, only about 5,000 were executed over the course of 350 years.  Sure, it's a large number, but it's minuscule compared to the executions that took place in Spain during the Civil War, many of which were for the same trivial crimes that the Inquisition targeted centuries earlier.

Why does the Inquisition interest me?

Aside from the fact that I would have been toasty-roasty, I'm fascinated by the role language played.  The Inquisition relied upon word-of-mouth.  If your neighbor said that she saw you dumping water after a death in the household, the Inquisition would have summoned you on the suspicion that you were a Jew.  Everything depended on rumors, gossip, and scandal--on words.

With their language, people had immense power over each other.  Say Juan and José are business competitors.  Juan could "accidentally" let slip that José doesn't eat pork; whether it's true or not, he just turned the Inquisition into his personal weapon.  Even if José doesn't face the flames, the Inquisition still stripped him of his property, so that's adios, competition.  Sometimes, things got even more personal.  If a woman refused a marriage proposal, for instance, her suitor could easily denounce her as a witch.  It happened.

Then there's the confession.  Innocence, freedom--it all hinged on the confession.  Your life could depend on what you said or didn't say to the inquisitors.  Words, words, WORDS.

Hence, the title of Confession and the reason why the main characters are con-artists by profession.  As liars, it's their job to wield language like a weapon.  When they go against the Inquisition, they don't fight fire with fire, but words with words.

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