It's relatively easy to find estimates for the number of people killed by the Catholic Inquisition; one just needs to check the Wikipedia page, regardless of the doubts on the true numbers.

However, there are several historical references of Protestant Inquisition-style tribunals, e.g. in Scotland. Furthermore, there are also historical references showing that even among different Protestant currents, Protestants were killed.

I'm looking for estimates of how many Christians (Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, etc.) were killed in newly Protestant countries.

Any help would be appreciated.

  • 5
    I wonder if the Salem Witch Trials count....
    – Spencer
    Feb 27, 2018 at 0:26
  • 2
    @Spencer: Witch trials were a thing through much of Europe at about that time. Feb 27, 2018 at 5:05
  • 1
    @Pieter Nevertheless, I wonder if OP wishes to include the ones conducted by Protestant authorities.
    – Spencer
    Feb 27, 2018 at 14:07
  • It's worth keeping in mind that the structure of Protestant religious persecution was usually significantly different than Catholic due to the differing organization of the respective churches. No matter how much they might have wanted one, many Protestant denominations couldn't easily field an Inquisition. (And even in Catholic countries, the nature of the Inquisition varied widely.)
    – Mark Olson
    Mar 9, 2021 at 16:51
  • @MarkOlson - What do you mean by "they couldn't easily field an Inquisition"?
    – brilliant
    Jan 17, 2023 at 4:24

2 Answers 2


I suspect that the phrase “Protestant inquisition style tribunals” has created a difficulty because there are no such references to be found on Wikipedia. Yes, there is lots of information on the Scottish and English Protestant Reformations, but nothing about any sort of “inquisition” against Catholics. Yes, King Henry VIII started off a terrible purge against Catholic abbeys, stripping them of all their wealth so he could swell his own coffers. And right here, where I live, is physical evidence of four abbeys that he destroyed. But “inquisitions” where individuals were tortured in order to force a conversion?

Some unfortunates ended up in the Tower of London on trumped-up political charges but I don’t think the Protestant reformers went around from country to country trying to force conversions. However, civil war did result, mainly because of the efforts of King Charles I to introduce reforms designed to return to papal practice (source).

This resulted in the Bishop’s Wars from 1639-1640:

After the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, Scotland regained its kirk, but also the bishops. Particularly in the south-west many of the people here began to attend illegal field conventicles. Suppression of these assemblies in the 1680s known as "the Killing Time". After the "Glorious Revolution" in 1688 Presbyterianism was restored.

There were approximately 500 casualties and losses out of a total of 35,000 soldiers (source).

Of greater significance was the War of the Three Kingdoms (which was a civil war) between 1639 and 1651 under King Charles I.

These wars included the Bishops' Wars of 1639 and 1640; the Irish Rebellion of 1641; Confederate Ireland, 1642–1649; the Scottish Civil War of 1644–1645; and the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649 (collectively the Eleven Years War or Irish Confederate Wars); and the First, Second and Third English Civil Wars of 1642–1646, 1648–1649 and 1650–1651.

Army casualties and losses came to a total of approximately 50,000 English and Welsh and 34,000 others. Also there were 127,000 noncombat English and Welsh deaths (including some 40,000 civilians) (source).

Although religious issues were significant, the resulting civil war did not come under the category of “Protestant Inquisition style tribunals”. I hope that may be of some (belated) help.

  • 5
    Under Elizabeth I performing Mass was made criminal offense en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penal_law_(British) In 1584 even being in England was made high treason for a priest. A number for clergymen, and also laypersons harbouring them were tortured and executed. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Clitherow So this was a state-run persecution, motivated in part by political reasons, but still shared some elements with inquisition practices.
    – b.Lorenz
    Dec 18, 2018 at 21:25
  • 1
    Is it not true that "trying to convert" was not needed, as those people were supposed to be simply killed if found?
    – user8690
    Dec 19, 2018 at 10:04
  • 3
    Persecution (of Protestants) under Queen Mary then persecution of Catholics under Queen Elizabeth 1 happened. But I don't believe thousands of people were imprisoned, tortured and put to the flames as happened in the three different Catholic inquisitions in Europe. Most bloodshed came later because of King Charles 1 when civil war broke out, but this was not a Catholic-style inquisition. I live in Scotland and am aware of the terrible history of that time. What Catholics and Protestants did to each other was shameful and dishonoured God. Thousands (Catholic and Protestant) died in the wars.
    – Lesley
    Dec 19, 2018 at 10:11
  • I am not sure OP was only referring to UK in the question (“newly protestant countries” actually imply that all over the world)
    – Greg
    Feb 14, 2021 at 13:05
  • @b.Lorenz That's OK, the Catholic inquisitions were also motivated by similar political considerations.
    – Spencer
    Feb 14, 2021 at 14:23

To answer the question we must first consider which countries became Protestant around the time of the Reformation. There were eight (I think): Scotland, England, (Ireland, sort of of), Switzerland (parts), the Netherlands, Germany (parts), Denmark, and Sweden.

Did any of these countries set up “Inquisition-style” tribunals, and if so, how many people lost their lives through them?

I don’t think that any of these countries set up “inquisition-style” tribunals during the sixteenth century, so the answer to the question in that sense would be zero.

If the question is broadened out to ask how many people lost their lives judicially for religion (as opposed to being killed in war, or murdered, or executed for other reasons), then obviously the answer is non-zero, Michael Servetus in Geneva being a case in point.

In England a number of Roman Catholics were put to death under Elizabeth, listed here, but also some Protestants such as John Penry.

In Scotland, there was a Roman Catholic inquisition of sorts in the fifteen century (see Laurence of Lindores), and Paul Kravar (Craw) and others were put to dead. This seems to have lapsed in the sixteenth century, and Cardinal David Beaton, although an occasional persecutor of Protestants, did not attempt anything systematic. His successor, Archbishop John Hamilton, was even less inclined to this, and the two Protestant martyrdoms during his tenure (Adam Wallace and Walter Milne) are rather puzzling.

After the Reformation of 1560, the Mass was prohibited on pain of death, but this was never inflicted (see, for example, Thomas McCrie, Life of John Knox (1855 edn.), pp. 175-6, 226). The Dominican friar John Black was murdered at the same time as David Riccio, but there were no judicial executions. There was a Roman priest executed around the 1580s, but arguably for some political misdemeanour, and then there was the famous case of John Ogilvie in 1615.

In speaking of “inquisition-style” tribunals in Scotland, the OP is probably thinking of the covenanting period of the 1670s and 1680s. There were certainly resemblances, with people being apprehended, brought directly before the supreme court which was the Privy Council (which included bishops), and tortured. But there were also differences, and one would need to think carefully before equating the two. Quakers and Romanists were imprisoned at that stage, but all the people put to death were Presbyterians. However, this was more than a century after the Scottish Reformation, and not very relevant to the question.

Edit: In answer to some of the comments below, I have checked a few works, and scholars of the European Reformation commonly deal with it under the geographical headings broadly associated with modern countries. Thus in ‘The Reformation in National Context’, ed. Bob Scribner et. al. (Cambridge University Press, 1994), the chapters are entitled: 1. Germany; 2. Switzerland; 3. France; 4. The Low Countries; 5. England; 6. Scotland; 7. Scandinavia; 8. Bohemia; 9. Hungary; 10. Poland; 11. Italy; 12. Spain. It is understood, of course, that most of these geographical ‘regions’ had very different political arrangements in the sixteenth century, but it is convenient to work with modern labels.

In eight of these divisions (Germany, Switzerland, The Low Countries, England, Scotland, Scandinavia, Bohemia, Hungary) there were sovereign entities which accepted Protestantism in the sixteenth century, and which would have to be considered in connection with the OP’s question and religious persecution. In addition to what I said above about Scotland, it would appear from the relevant chapter in Scribner (pp. 1191-21) that there was no systematic religious persecution in Lutheran Denmark.

  • 1
    Modern country boundaries are irrelevant in the 1500's, as those sovereign entities didn't exist. as clearly evidenced in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, and perhaps most explicitly in its prelude and Article CXXVIII listing the major allies of the Holy Roman Emperor and the King of France, the hundreds states of the Holy Roman Empire were sufficiently sovereign as to have the right to make their own foreign and religious policy, and sign their own treaties. Feb 18, 2021 at 12:30
  • 2
    Article LXIV of the Treaty above [my emphasis]: "And to prevent for the future any Differences arising in the Politick State, all and every one of the Electors, Princes and States of the Roman Empire, are so establish'd and confirm'd in their antient Rights, Prerogatives, Libertys, Privileges, free exercise of Territorial Right, as well Ecclesiastick, as Politick Lordships, Regales, by virtue of this present Transaction: that they never can or ought to be molested therein by any whomsoever upon any manner of pretence." Feb 18, 2021 at 12:43
  • Yes, Germany is obviously a problem in that connection, and Switzerland too, so they would have to be analysed state by state (which would be a lot of work) but one could at least restrict to states that became Protestant. The other countries that I listed were recognised entities in the sixteenth century.
    – user558840
    Feb 18, 2021 at 13:12
  • 1
    You say "Cardinal David Beaton, although an occasional persecutor of Protestants, did not attempt anything systematic". Random burnings are just as evil as systematic ones. James Resby, an English Lollard, was burnt at Perth in 1407; Paul Crawar, a Bohemian physician, was burn at St Andrews in 1433. The first Scottish Reformer was Patrick Hamilton, a cousin of James V, burned alive at St Andrews in 1528 by Achb. James Beaton. His nephew, David Beaton, Cardinal then Achb. had George Wishart burnt alive at St Andrews castle gate in 1546; the last of his wicked acts against Protestants as this
    – Anne
    Jan 17, 2023 at 12:37
  • 1
    led to his murder by two enraged Protestants. Details of the Scottish situation are in this book I have, “Scotland’s True Glory”, written by former Rector of Kirkcaldy High School, John Rose in 1932, Marshall, Morgan & Scott, chapter XV dealing with those points in my comment. And, later, “The Killing Times” in Scotland are full of politico-religious horrors. Try reading “The Lion of the Covenant: the story of Richard Cameron” by Maurice Grant, EP 1997. (Cameron circa 1560 till 20 July 1680)
    – Anne
    Jan 17, 2023 at 12:37

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