Christine Caldwell Ames says critique (and distortion) of this history has been going on a long time.
It’s been going on since the inquisitions themselves – that is, the kind of resistances that we see occasionally happen to individual trials. That begins a series of questions among Christians: should we be policing faith? What does it mean to police faith, in particular instances or again in general? And so from the Middle Ages themselves, people complain about the inquisition, they see it as something that is potentially contrary to the Christian faith. Again, they don’t always or universally think this, but we see that question begin to be asked.
And that begins then centuries of critique of inquisition that really ramp up later in the modern period, when we get what we call the Black Legend of the Spanish Inquisition that is related to, say, English Gothic novels that use inquisitors as villains. And it’s been very hard for historians to distinguish, particularly I think for popular audiences, the realities – again, in some way, the tedious and the inefficient realities of medieval inquisitions – with the kind of Black Legend that developed in which inquisition was [an] insistent, constant, all-seeing, all-powerful institution that policed belief.