Torquemada's name, as part of the Black Legend of the Spanish Inquisition, has become a byword for cruelty and fanaticism in the service of religion. He was born in 1420 in the village of Torquemada (Latin turris cremata, "burnt tower") near the northern Spanish city of Valladolid, and may have had Jewish ancestry: the contemporary historian Hernando del Pulgar, writing of Torquemada's uncle Juan de Torquemada, said that his ancestor Alvar Fernández de Torquemada had married a first-generation Jewish convert. After distinguished service as a monk and scholar, Torquemada grew close to the rulers—Ferdinand and Isabella of Castile—of the newly created kingdom of Spain, and was appointed Inquisitor General in 1482. The extension of his power over the whole of Spain was assisted by the murder of the Inquisitor Pedro de Arbués in Saragossa in 1485, which was attributed to heretics and Jews, and by the alleged ritual murder of the so-called Santo Niño de La Guardia or Holy Child of La Guardia in 1491, which was again attributed to Jews. In 1492 he was one of the chief movers of the mass expulsion of Jews from Spain. Torquemada is probably more important as a figure of anti-Catholic myth and propaganda than as a figure of sober history, but there is no doubt that he and the Spanish Inquisition were responsible for gross injustice and enormous suffering in their use of torture, anonymous denunciation, and execution by fire in the so-called auto de fe, or "act of faith."
A modern allusion to Torquemada
Using the connotation of "torturer," "Torquemada" was the pseudonym of a long-running compiler of crossword puzzles for The Times. Subsequent compilers took pseudonyms from other inquisitors. Azed, the compiler of the crossword of that name in The Observer, is punningly based on Deza, being both a reversal of the name and a reference to the alphabet.