Andrew Gough: Inquisitions are the “obliteration of anyone they feared”


The Inquisitions swept like a plague across Medieval Europe, with thousands of innocent people arrested, tried and executed for heresy. this is an extraordinary story of nearly 500 years of bigotry, fear, persecution, torture and death.

Andrew Gough is a researcher, writer and presenter of historical conundrums. He is Editor in Chief of The Heretic Magazine and lives and works in Istanbul, Turkey. He is one of the main contributors to the brand new series Inquisition.

What interests you most about the period of history of the inquisitions?

What fascinates, mystifies and ultimately repulses me about the Inquisitions is how transparently shameless the powers at be were in their pursuit and obliteration of anyone who they feared was a threat to their supremacy.

The Inquisitions represented some of the earliest, and most horrific, examples of genocide in the modern world. What made the whole thing particularly disturbing was that their campaigns of hate were justified in the name of God. And their persecution of the so-called ‘heretics’ was so ruthless that even those who had taken their own life were dug up, tried, their skeletons burned and their former possessions taken from their heirs. Before long, the execution of heretics had become such a routine, business-like activity that it required an accounting audit just like any other vocation.

Where did the Inquisitions start and take place? Where did you travel to for this series?

The Inquisitions began in earnest with the extermination of the Cathars in the south of France, in the late 12th century, in a region known as the Languedoc.

And so we travelled to Beziers, where the crusade against the Cathars began in 1209. we investigate the events that led to the carnage in Beziers, when thousands of people were killed, including men, women and children, during what was known as the ‘day of Butchery’.

We pick up the next incarnation of the Inquisition in Madrid, where the Spanish Inquisition sought to suppress the re-emergence of Jewish practices in a country that was desperately trying to maintain a Catholic identity. Not surprisingly, the Spanish Inquisition resorted to torture, in the name of God, in order to ensure its success.

Just when you thought that civilisation had transcended the dismal reality of Inquisitions, we travel to England to study the British Tudors, who were far from the beautiful and benevolent people so frequently portrayed. In fact, what made the religious persecutions of the Tudor Inquisition especially barbaric is that they seemed to revel in torturing their victims, and even invented the torture chamber to facilitate their morbid pleasure, as if it were theatre.

How could a person be labelled a heretic? What happened during their trials?

The manner in which good, honest, normal individuals were labelled heretics, and brutally persecuted, remains one of the most reprehensible phenomena of the last 1,000 years.

First of all, the Inquisition ignored all rules of decency and justice. Guilt was assumed, and the accused seldom knew the identity of their accusers, let alone what they were accused of. Furthermore, the heretic had no right to legal counsel and, in the unlikely event where they were provided representation, even their legal counsel risked persecution.

The Inquisitions were brazen and arbitrarily levied charges of heresy, idolatry, obscene rituals and homosexuality, financial corruption, fraud and secrecy. Astonishingly, over the years the paranoia the Inquisitions spawned became even worse and people were charged on the say-so of hostile or jealous neighbours, while informers were paid handsomely for their efforts. If any of the ‘false’ accusations were exposed, they were
forgiven for being the result of ‘zeal for the faith’. And, lest we forget, typically half of a guilty person’s property was seized by the church. the systematic persecution knew no bounds and the Dominicans even
hit on the idea of digging up and trying dead people, so that they could seize property from their heirs.

Inquisition investigates the most gruesome and horrific period of human history, exclusive to Yesterday, Wednesdays at 9pm from 16th July.