The Spanish Inquisition (Monty Python)

The Spanish Inquisition (Monty Python)

"The Spanish Inquisition" is a series of sketches in Monty Python's Flying Circus, Series 2 Episode 2, first broadcast 22 September 1970, parodying the real-life Spanish Inquisition. This episode is itself entitled "The Spanish Inquisition". The sketches are notable for their principal catchphrase, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"


Plot synopsis

This is a recurring sketch always predicated on an unrelated sketch in which one character expresses irritation at being questioned by another, retorting exasperatedly, "I didn't expect this kind of Spanish Inquisition!" At this point, the Inquisition — consisting of Cardinal Ximénez (Michael Palin), and his assistants Cardinal Biggles (Terry Jones), and Cardinal Fang (Terry Gilliam) — burst into the room to the sound of a jarring musical sting. Ximénez shouts, with a particular and high-pitched emphasis on the first syllable: "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

After entering, the Inquisition trio frequently get bogged down in recitations. In their first appearance, for example, Ximénez has trouble with listing their weapons: "Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms—oh damn!" Ximénez states the number of weapons they have ("Our two/three/four weapons are..."), then lists one more than he had counted, before starting again using a higher number. After several attempts, Ximénez states: "I'll come in again...", and herds the Inquisition back off the set. The straight man delivers the cue line again, the Inquisition bursts back in (complete with jarring chord), and the introduction is tried again. This is repeated two or three times before Ximénez relents, skipping the recitation and continuing further into Inquisition activity.

Ximénez repeatedly runs into the problem of not being able to torture anyone effectively. When he calls for "the rack," Cardinal Biggles produces a dish-drying rack. When poking the victim with soft cushions produces no confession, Ximénez inquires whether his assistants had got all the stuffing together into one end of the cushions, for supposed maximum effectiveness. Failing that, Ximénez forces the victim to sit in the "comfy chair," and states that the victim will get "only a cup of coffee at 11" o'clock and makes the torture "worse by shouting a lot."[1]

At the very end of the show, in "Court Charades", the Inquisitors are caught by surprise when a defendant (who is also a judge from another court) in session at the Old Bailey says: "Blimey, I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!" The whole court rises and looks expectantly at the witness entrance door, obviously expecting the Spanish Inquisition to appear. As the closing credits roll the Inquisitors race to the Old Bailey by double-decker bus, to the tune of "Devil's Galop", only to arrive just as the words "THE END" appear. Ximénez has just enough time to say, breathlessly, "NO-body expects the Spa... oh, bugger." before the episode ends.[2]

Related sketches

Cardinal Ximénez briefly appears two episodes later ("The Buzz Aldrin Show") in a vox pop, again displaying difficulty counting (in this instance, the kinds of aftershave he uses). Later in that episode during the "Police Constable Pan Am Sketch", the policeman tells a chemist "one more peep out of you and I'll do you for heresy", with the chemist (played by Palin) responding that he "didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition"; except that instead of the Spanish Inquisition arriving, PC Pan Am (played by Graham Chapman) simply tells the chemist to shut up.

In the "Trouble at t' Mill" sketch, Graham Chapman states in a parody of Yorkshire dialect that "One o' t' cross beams's gone out o' skew on t' treadle." When questioned as to his meaning, he attempts to reiterate it using Received Pronunciation: "One of the cross-beams has gone out of skew on the treadle!", but then becomes impatient, saying, "I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition!" This is the cue for a sketch in the Spanish Inquisition series.[3]

A precursor

The 'number of weapons' joke echoes a similar joke in the first episode "The Man and The Hour"[4] of the BBC sitcom Dad's Army, broadcast in July 1968. Captain Mainwaring says "We have one invaluable weapon in our armoury: ingenuity and improvisation", to which Private Frazer replies "That's two."

In popular culture

An anonymous demonstrator referencing the sketch in the 2011 Spanish protests
  • In Issue #3 (January 1976, shortly after Monty Python began being broadcast in the U.S.) of the comic book title Batman Family [featuring the joint exploits of Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) and Robin (Dick Grayson)] the story "Isle of a Thousand Thrills" borrowed the scenario of a land where anything anybody thinks of is quickly brought to life. In response to visitors' anxious questions before the nature of their situation is understood, Batgirl replies, "Calm down, everyone! We haven't had time to wonder about all those questions! I didn't expect some kind of Spanish Inquisition...". Immediately six Inquisitors appear, one of whom cries, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition...because our chief weapon is surprise!"
  • The Doogie Howser episode (Season 2, Episode 19, aired 1991-02-13) is entitled "Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition".
  • In the Not The Nine O'Clock News sketch on the new film The Life of Christ (itself a reference to Python's 1979 Life of Brian), the Bishop (Rowan Atkinson) who is being harangued for this parody of Pythonism professes himself surprised at the furor, saying: "Well, I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition."
  • In the 1998 film Sliding Doors, the skit plays a central role: James (John Hannah) exhorts Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) to "remember what the Monty Python boys say..." - referring to the phrase "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition". Later, James and Helen and friends laugh over the skit in a pub.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode entitled Him (Season 7, Episode 6, aired November 5, 2002), Dawn Summers (Michelle Trachtenberg) is called into the principal's office to answer some questions about a boy who fell down the stairs under suspicious circumstances. Afterwards, Dawn's heartthrob, RJ, said, "That sucks, facin' the whole inquisition thing." Dawn replied, "Yeah, 'No one expects the Spanish Inquisition'. God, it's like I have a disease or something."
  • In 2004 when Abbey National was to be sold to the Banco Santander Central Hispano. A newspaper headline announced: "Nobody expects the Spanish acquisition!"[5]
  • In Neal Stephenson's 2004 novel The Confusion, a group of characters are detained and subjected to torture by Spanish religious authorities in Seventeenth-Century Mexico, prompting one of them to exclaim, "I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!"
  • The Boston Globe reported on October 5, 2009, that the newly announced Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Carol W. Greider of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was asked if she had expected to win the honor. She replied: "It's like the Monty Python sketch, 'Nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition!'"
  • In the videogame "Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines", when being asked if the Malkavian character knows the punishment for breaking the Masquerade, the player is given the option to reply "the comfy chair".
  • In the simulation game Tropico 3, when the player issues the edict "Inquisition", the description declares that "Nobody expects the Tropican inquisition!"
  • In May 2011 during the "Real Democracy Now" protests in Madrid's Plaza de la Puerta del Sol an anonymous demonstrator carried a placard bearing the phrase "Nobody expects the #SpanishRevolution"
  • In the video game Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II – Retribution, the character Inquisitor Andrastia has "my chief weapons are surprise and fear" as one of her lines. At some point on the plot, another character elaborates: "We have lost the element of surprise and they do not fear us. Perhaps they will appreciate our devotion to the Emperor and ruthless efficiency."[6]
  • In the videogame "Zork Zero", the torture room has a comfy chair in it. Sitting in this chair leads to death, because it's so comfortable that you don't ever want to stand up again.


  1. ^ The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus: All The Words, Volume One. New York: Pantheon Books. 1989. p. 198. 
  2. ^ "Bugger" was a strong word for a BBC comedy show in 1970, and some BBC regions omitted it from the broadcast.
  3. ^ Python, Monty (2009). "The Spanish Inquisition". The Spanish Inquisition (script). Retrieved 27 March 2010. 
  4. ^ "The Man and The Hour" trivia at
  5. ^ Louth, Nick. "BAA: Nobody expected the Spanish acquisition", MSN Money, 13 June 2006.
  6. ^ Youtube video (spoilers): Imperial mission on planet Typhon

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