Historical institutions and their legacy: The Spanish Inquisition's motivations and impact on Spanish economic development

by Vidal Robert, Jordi, Ph.D., BOSTON UNIVERSITY, 2013, 131 pages; 3529029


In this thesis, I study the motivations, development and consequences of the Spanish Inquisition. The study of the role this institution played during its long existence and the motivations of its activity sheds light on the political and economic development of Spain. I also examine the channels through which the Spanish Inquisition affected Spanish economic development.

The first chapter analyzes the motivations behind inquisitorial activity. I show that the Inquisition was a repressive tool of the Spanish Kings by using Spanish war activity as a determinant of repression. The basic idea is that the government's demand for repression was greater in periods of war, because war increased the likelihood of internal revolts. To minimize the threat of rebellion, the Inquisition conducted more trials when Spanish war activity was intense. To test this hypothesis, I develop a theoretical framework and I assemble time series data for seven Spanish inquisitorial districts on activities of the Inquisition as well as wars conducted by the Spanish Crown. I show that there exists an inverse-U relationship between wars and inquisitorial activity. My results are robust to the inclusion of data on severity of the weather (droughts), wheat prices and adjustments for spillover effects from other districts than the main district under analysis. I also show that the Inquisition did not conduct trials to finance Spanish wars or to expropriate.

The second chapter analyzes the long-term political and economic consequences of the Spanish Inquisition. Using a dataset on five regions, fourteen provinces and 947 municipalities on inquisitorial activity, population, economic and political outcomes, I show that regions more affected by the Inquisition are associated with a lower economic development than regions less affected by it. Moreover, I find that regions more affected by the Inquisition are associated with more negative attitudes towards scientific advances.

The third chapter (with Francisco J. Pino) exploits data from papal conclaves to analyze how disagreement among the cardinals shaped conflict within the Papal States in 1295–1878. Our finding is that polarization (rather than fractionalization) increases both the likelihood of an internal conflict as well as its intensity. This provides support to recent theories concerning determinants of ethnic and political conflict.

AdviserRobert A. Margo
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsEuropean history; Economics; Economic history
Publication Number3529029

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