Spanish Empire

gigatos | January 22, 2022


The Spanish Empire (Latin: Imperium Hispanicum), historically known as the Hispanic Monarchy (Spanish: Monarquía Hispánica) and as the Catholic Monarchy (Spanish: Monarquía Católica), was one of the greatest empires in history. From the end of the 15th to the beginning of the 19th century, Spain controlled a huge overseas territory in the New World, the Asian archipelago of the Philippines, what they called “The Indies” (Spanish: Las Indias) and territories in Europe, Africa and Oceania. With Philip II of Spain and his successors, in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the Spanish Empire became “the empire on which the sun never sets” and reached its maximum extension in the 18th century. It was described as the first world empire in history (a description also given to the Portuguese empire) and one of the most powerful empires of the early modern period.

Castile became the dominant kingdom in Iberia because of its jurisdiction over the overseas empire of the Americas and the Philippines. The structure of the empire was established under the Spanish Habsburgs (1516 – 1700) and under the Spanish Bourbon monarchs, the empire was placed under greater control of the crown and increased its revenues from the Indies. The authority of the crown in the Indies was expanded by the papal grant of patronage powers, giving it power in the religious sphere. An important element in the formation of the Spanish empire was the dynastic union between Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, known as the Catholic Kings, which initiated political, religious and social cohesion, but not political unification. The Iberian kingdoms maintained their political identity, with particular administrative and legal configurations.

Although the Spanish sovereign”s power as a monarch varied from territory to territory, the monarch as such acted in a unitary manner over all the sovereign”s territories through a system of councils: unity did not mean uniformity. In 1580, when Philip II of Spain succeeded to the throne of Portugal (as Philip I), he created the Council of Portugal, which oversaw Portugal and its empire and “preserved laws, institutions and the monetary system, and united only in the sharing of a common sovereign. The Iberian Union remained in place until 1640, when Portugal re-established its independence under the House of Braganza.

Under Philip II (1556 – 1598), Spain, rather than the Habsburg Empire, was identified as the most powerful nation in the world, easily eclipsing France and England. Moreover, despite attacks from northern European states, Spain maintained its position of dominance with apparent ease. Philip II ruled over the largest maritime powers (Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands), Sicily and Naples, Franche-Comté (then the county of Burgundy), the Rhineland in Germany, an unbroken stretch of the Americas from the viceroyalty of New Spain bordering present-day Canada to Patagonia, trading ports throughout India and South Asia, the Spanish West Indies, and some holdings in Guinea and North Africa. He also had a claim to England by marriage.

The Spanish empire in the Americas was formed after conquering indigenous empires and claiming large tracts of land, beginning with Columbus in the Caribbean islands. In the early sixteenth century, it conquered and incorporated the Aztec and Inca empires, keeping indigenous elites loyal to the Spanish crown and converting to Christianity as intermediaries between their communities and the royal government. After a short period of delegation of power by the crown in the Americas, the crown asserted control over these territories and established the Council of the Indies to oversee the government there. The crown then established viceroyalties in the two main areas of settlement, New Spain (Mexico) and Peru, both regions of dense indigenous populations and mineral wealth. The Spanish Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation – the first circumnavigation of the Earth – laid the foundation for Spain”s Pacific Ocean empire and began the Spanish colonization of the Philippines.

The governance structure of its overseas empire was significantly reformed in the late eighteenth century by the Bourbon monarchs. The crown”s commercial monopoly was broken in the early seventeenth century, with the crown colluding with the merchant guild for tax purposes by circumventing the supposedly closed system. In the 17th century, the detour of silver revenues to pay for European consumer goods and the rising costs of defending its empire meant that “the tangible benefits of America to Spain were diminishing at a time when the costs of empire were rising sharply.”

The Bourbon monarchy attempted to expand trade opportunities within the empire, allowing trade between all the ports of the empire, and took other measures to boost economic activity for Spain. The Bourbons had inherited “an empire overrun by rivals, an economy stripped of manufactured goods, a crown deprived of revenue [and had attempted to reverse the situation by] taxing settlers, tightening control, and driving out foreigners. In so doing, they gained a revenue and lost an empire. Napoleon”s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula precipitated the Spanish-American Wars of Independence (1808 – 1826), resulting in the loss of its most valuable colonies. In its former colonies in the Americas, Spanish is the dominant language and Catholicism the main religion, inheriting the cultural legacy of the Spanish Empire.

With the marriage of the heirs apparent to their respective thrones, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile created a personal union that most scholars consider the foundation of the Spanish monarchy. Their dynastic alliance was important for a number of reasons, governing jointly a large aggregation of territories, but not in a unitary fashion. They successfully continued the expansion into Iberia in the Christian reconquest of the Muslim kingdom of Granada, completed in 1492. This conquest is often referred to as the “Reconquista” because of the different religions of the ruling class of the two kingdoms. Since the kingdom of Granada was the last Moorish kingdom in the peninsula, Pope Alexander VI, born in Valencia, gave them the title of Catholic Kings. However, it is important to realize that the kingdom of Granada and its surrounding kingdoms had been part of the Muslim caliphates for over seven centuries. The term “Reconquista” perpetuates a false idea that the peninsula somehow belonged to the Catholics. In reality, although religion may have played a role in the conquest, the fact is that the southward expansion was also partly motivated by traditional reasons, such as wealth and land. However, because of the emphasis on the religious aspect, the term “Christian reconquest” is still used to describe the event. Ferdinand of Aragon was particularly concerned with expansion into France and Italy, as well as conquests in North Africa.

With the Ottoman Turks controlling choke points for overland trade from Asia and the Middle East, Spain and Portugal sought alternative routes. The kingdom of Portugal had an advantage over the rest of the Iberian Peninsula, having previously recaptured territory from the Muslims. Portugal completed the Christian reconquest in 1238 and established the kingdom”s borders. Portugal then began to seek further expansion abroad, first at the port of Ceuta (it also began voyages to the west coast of Africa in the fifteenth century. Its rival, Castile claimed the Canary Islands (1402) and retook the territory from the Moors in 1462. The Christian rivals, Castile and Portugal, reached formal agreements on the division of new territories in the Treaty of Alcaçovas (1479), as well as obtaining the crown of Castile for Isabella, whose accession was contested militarily by Portugal.

After Columbus” voyage in 1492 and the first major settlement in the New World in 1493, Portugal and Castile divided the world between them in the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), which gave Africa and Asia to Portugal and the Western Hemisphere to Spain. The voyage of Christopher Columbus, a Genoese sailor married to a Portuguese woman in Lisbon, gained the support of Isabella of Castile, sailing west in 1492, seeking a route to the Indies. Columbus unexpectedly encountered the western hemisphere, populated by peoples he called “Indians. Subsequent voyages and large-scale Spanish settlements followed as gold began to flow into the coffers of Castile. Managing the expanding empire became an administrative problem. The reign of Ferdinand and Isabella initiated the professionalization of the governmental apparatus in Spain, which led to a demand for university-educated men of letters (letrados) (licenciados), from Salamanca, Valladolid, Complutense and Alcalá. These lawyer-bureaucrats composed the various state councils, including eventually the Council of the Indies and the Casa de Contratación, the two highest bodies in metropolitan Spain for the government of the empire in the New World, as well as the royal government in the Indies.

Conquest and subsequent colonization of Andalusia

When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquered the Iberian Peninsula, they had to implement policies to maintain control over the newly acquired territory. To do this, the monarchy implemented a system of encomienda. This iteration of the encomienda system was land-based, with tributaries and land rights granted to different noble families. This eventually led to a large landed aristocracy, a distinct ruling class that the crown later attempted to eliminate in its overseas colonies. By implementing this method of political organization, the Crown was able to implement new forms of private property without completely replacing already existing systems, such as communal use of resources. After the military and political conquest, emphasis was also placed on religious conquest, leading to the creation of the Spanish Inquisition. Although the Inquisition was technically a part of the Catholic Church, Ferdinand and Isabella formed a separate Spanish Inquisition, which led to the mass expulsion of Muslims and Jews from the peninsula. This religious judicial system was later adopted and transported to the Americas, although it played a less effective role there due to limited jurisdiction and vast territories.

Campaigns in North Africa

Once the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula was completed, Spain tried to take territories in Muslim North Africa. It had conquered Melilla in 1497, and a new expansionist policy in North Africa was developed during the regency of Ferdinand the Catholic in Castile, stimulated by Cardinal Cisneros. Several cities and outposts on the North African coast were conquered and occupied by Castile: Mazalquivir (1505), Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera (1508), Oran (1509), Algiers (1510), Bougie and Tripoli (1510). On the Atlantic coast, Spain took possession of the outpost of Santa Cruz de la Mar Pequeña (1476) with the support of the Canary Islands, and it was kept until 1525 following the signing of the Treaty of Cintra (1509).

Navarre and struggles for Italy

The Catholic Monarchs had developed a strategy of marrying off their children to isolate their long-time enemy: France. Spanish princesses married heirs from Portugal, England and the House of Habsburg. Following the same strategy, the Catholic Monarchs decided to support the Aragonese house of Naples against Charles VIII of France in the Italian wars starting in 1494. As king of Aragon, Ferdinand had been involved in the struggle against France and Venice for control of Italy; these conflicts became the focus of foreign policy during Ferdinand”s reign. In these confrontations, which established the supremacy of the Spanish Tercios on the battlefields of Europe, the armed forces of the Spanish kings acquired a reputation for invincibility that was to last until the mid-seventeenth century.

After the death of Queen Isabella in 1504 and her exclusion of Ferdinand from a new role in Castile, Ferdinand married Germaine de Foix in 1505, thus cementing an alliance with France. Had this couple had a surviving heir, the crown of Aragon would probably have been separated from Castile, inherited by Ferdinand and Isabella”s grandson Charles. Ferdinand adopted a more aggressive policy toward Italy, attempting to expand Spain”s sphere of influence in that country. Ferdinand”s first deployment of Spanish forces occurred during the war of the League of Cambrai against Venice, where Spanish soldiers distinguished themselves in the field alongside their French allies at the battle of Agnadel (1509). A year later, Ferdinand joined the Holy League against France, seeing a chance to take both Milan – to which he had a dynastic claim – and Navarre. This war was less successful than the war against Venice, and in 1516 France agreed to a truce that left Milan under its control and recognized Spanish control of Upper Navarre, which had effectively been a Spanish protectorate following a series of treaties in 1488, 1491, 1493, and 1495.

Canary Islands

Portugal obtained several papal bulls that recognized Portuguese control over the discovered territories, but Castile also obtained from the Pope the safeguard of its rights over the Canary Islands with the Romani Pontifex bulls of November 6, 1436 and Dominatur Dominus of April 30, 1437. The conquest of the Canary Islands, inhabited by the Guanches, began in 1402 under the reign of Henry III of Castile, by the Norman nobleman Jean de Béthencourt by virtue of a feudal agreement with the crown. The conquest was completed with the campaigns of the armies of the Crown of Castile between 1478 and 1496, when the islands of Gran Canaria (1478-1483), La Palma (1492-1493) and Tenerife (1494-1496) were subdued.

Rivalry with Portugal

The Portuguese tried in vain to keep their discovery of the Gold Coast (1471) in the Gulf of Guinea a secret, but the news soon caused a huge gold rush. The chronicler Pulgar wrote that the fame of the treasures of Guinea “spread to the ports of Andalusia in such a way that everyone tried to go there. Worthless trinkets, Moorish textiles and, above all, shells from the Canary Islands and Cape Verde were exchanged for gold, slaves, ivory and pepper from Guinea.

The War of the Castilian Succession (1475-1479) provided the Catholic Monarchs with an opportunity not only to attack the main source of Portuguese power, but also to take possession of this lucrative trade. The Crown officially organized this trade with Guinea: each caravel had to obtain a government license and pay a tax of one-fifth of its profits (a Guinea Customs Receiver was established in Seville in 1475 – the forerunner of the future and famous Casa de Contratación).

Castilian fleets fought in the Atlantic Ocean, temporarily occupying the Cape Verde Islands (1476), conquering the city of Ceuta in the Tingitana Peninsula in 1476 (but recaptured by the Portuguese), and even attacking the Azores Islands, only to be defeated at Praia. The turning point of the war came in 1478, however, when a Castilian fleet sent by King Ferdinand to conquer Gran Canaria lost men and ships to the Portuguese, who repulsed the attack, and a large Castilian armada – full of gold – was completely captured in the decisive battle of Guinea.

The Treaty of Alcáçovas (September 4, 1479), although securing the Castilian throne for the Catholic Monarchs, reflected the Castilian naval and colonial defeat: “War with Castile broke out violently in the Gulf until the Castilian fleet of thirty-five ships was defeated there in 1478. As a result of this naval victory, in the Treaty of Alcáçovas in 1479, Castile, while retaining its rights in the Canary Islands, recognized the Portuguese monopoly of fishing and navigation along the entire West African coast and Portugal”s rights over the islands of Madeira, the Azores and Cape Verde [plus the right to conquer the kingdom of Fez]. The treaty delimited the spheres of influence of the two countries, establishing the principle of the Mare Clausum. It was confirmed in 1481 by Pope Sixtus IV, in the papal bull Æterni regis (dated 21 June 1481).

However, this experience would prove beneficial for future Spanish expansion abroad, for as the Spaniards were excluded from the lands discovered or to be discovered from the Canary Islands southward – and therefore from the route to India around Africa – they sponsored Columbus”s voyage westward (1492) in search of Asia to trade in its spices, encountering instead the Americas. Thus, the limitations imposed by the Treaty of Alcáçovas were overcome and a new, more balanced division of the world was reached in the Treaty of Tordesillas between the two emerging maritime powers.

Travels to the New World and the Treaty of Tordesillas

Seven months before the Treaty of Alcaçovas, King John II of Aragon died and his son Ferdinand II of Aragon, married to Isabella I of Castile, inherited the thrones of the Crown of Aragon. Ferdinand and Isabella became known as the Catholic Monarchs, their marriage being a personal union that established a relationship between the crowns of Aragon and Castile, each with their own administrations, but governed jointly by the two monarchs.

Ferdinand and Isabella defeated the last Muslim king of Granada in 1492 after a ten-year war. The Catholic monarchs then negotiated with Christopher Columbus, a Genoese sailor attempting to reach Cipango (Japan) by sailing west. Castile was already engaged in an exploratory race with Portugal to reach the Far East by sea when Columbus made his bold proposal to Isabella. In the Capitulations of Santa Fe, dated April 17, 1492, Columbus obtained from the Catholic monarchs his appointment as viceroy and governor in the lands already discovered and which he would now discover; this was the first document to establish an administrative organization in the Indies. Columbus” discoveries inaugurated the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Spain”s claim to these lands was solidified by the papal bulls Inter caetera of May 4, 1493 and Dudum siquidem of September 26, 1493, which confirmed the sovereignty of the discovered and yet to be discovered territories.

The Portuguese wanted to maintain the Alcaçovas line of demarcation in the east-west direction along a latitude south of Cape Bojador, so a compromise was worked out and incorporated into the Treaty of Tordesillas, dated June 7, 1494, in which the globe was divided into two hemispheres dividing the Spanish and Portuguese claims. These actions gave Spain the exclusive right to establish colonies throughout the New World from north to south (later with the exception of Brazil, which the Portuguese commander Pedro Alvares Cabral encountered in 1500), as well as in the easternmost parts of Asia. The Treaty of Tordesillas was confirmed by Pope Julius II in the bull Ea quae pro bono pacis of January 24, 1506. The expansion and colonization of Spain was motivated by economic influences, national prestige, and a desire to spread Catholicism in the New World.

The Treaty of Tordesillas and the Treaty of Cintra (September 18, 1509) established the limits of the Kingdom of Fez for Portugal, and Castilian expansion was allowed outside these limits, starting with the conquest of Melilla in 1497.

For other European powers, the treaty between Spain and Portugal was not self-evident. Francis I of France observed that “The sun is heating up for me as well as for others and I am eager to see Adam”s will to know how he had divided the world”.

Papal Bulls and the Americas

Unlike the crown of Portugal, Spain had not sought papal permission for its explorations, but with the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492, the crown sought papal confirmation of their title to the new lands. With the defense of Catholicism and the propagation of the faith being the primary responsibility of the papacy, a number of papal bulls were issued that affected the powers of the crowns of Spain and Portugal in religious matters. The conversion of the inhabitants of the newly discovered lands was entrusted by the papacy to the rulers of Portugal and Spain through a series of papal actions. The Patronato real, or power of royal patronage for ecclesiastical positions, had precedents in Iberia during the Reconquista. In 1493, Pope Alexander of the Iberian kingdom of Valencia issued a series of bulls. The papal bull of Inter caetera conferred the government and jurisdiction of the newly found lands to the kings of Castile and Leon and their successors. Eximiae devotionis sinceritas granted the Catholic monarchs and their successors the same rights that the papacy had granted to Portugal, especially the right to nominate candidates for ecclesiastical posts in the newly discovered territories.

According to the Concord of Segovia of 1475, Ferdinand was mentioned in the bulls as King of Castile, and upon his death the title of the Indies was to be incorporated into the Crown of Castile. The territories were incorporated by the Catholic monarchs as jointly owned assets.

In the Treaty of Villafáfila of 1506, Ferdinand renounced not only the government of Castile in favor of his son-in-law Philip I of Castile, but also the lordship of the Indies, retaining half of the revenues of the Indian kingdoms. Joan of Castile and Philip immediately added to their titles the kingdoms of the Indies, the islands and the mainland of the oceanic sea. But the treaty of Villafáfila did not last long because of Philip”s death. Ferdinand returned as regent of Castile and as “lord of the Indies”.

According to the estate granted by papal bulls and the wills of Queen Isabella of Castile in 1504 and King Ferdinand of Aragon in 1516, these properties became the property of the Crown of Castile. This arrangement was ratified by successive monarchs, beginning with Charles I in 1519 in a decree that set out the legal status of the new overseas territories.

The lordship of the discovered territories, stipulated by the papal bulls, was exclusively for the kings of Castile and Leon. The legal form of the Indies was to change from “lordship” of the Catholic Kings, to “kingdoms” for the heirs of Castile. Although the Alexandrian bulls gave complete, free and omnipotent power to the Catholic monarchs, they did not govern them as private property but as public property through the public bodies and authorities of Castile. And when these territories were incorporated into the Crown of Castile, the royal power was subject to the laws of Castile.

The crown was the custodian of the tax levies for the support of the Catholic Church, in particular the tithe, which was taken from the products of agriculture and livestock. Indians were generally exempt from tithing. Although the Crown received these revenues, they were to be used for the direct support of the ecclesiastical hierarchy and pious establishments, so the Crown itself did not benefit financially from these revenues. The Crown”s obligation to support the Church sometimes resulted in the transfer of funds from the Royal Treasury to the Church when the tithe did not pay for church expenses.

In New Spain, the Franciscan bishop of Mexico Juan de Zumárraga and the first viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza created an institution in 1536 to train indigenous people for priestly ordination, the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco. The experiment was considered a failure, as the natives were considered too new in the faith to be ordained. Pope Paul III issued a bull, Sublimis Deus (1537), declaring that the natives were capable of becoming Christians, but the Mexican (1555) and Peruvian (1567-1568) provincial councils forbade the natives from ordination.

First settlements in the Americas

With the capitulations of Santa Fe, the Crown of Castile granted extensive power to Columbus, including exploration, colonization, political power and revenue, with sovereignty reserved for the Crown. The first voyage established the sovereignty of the Crown. The Crown assumed that Columbus” grandiose assessment of what he found was true. So Spain renegotiated the Treaty of Tordesillas with Portugal to protect their territory on the Spanish side of the line. The Crown reviewed its relationship with Columbus fairly quickly, and decided to apply more direct control over the territory as well as to end its privileges. Having learned its lesson, the Crown was much more cautious in specifying conditions for exploration, conquest and colonization in new areas.

The model that emerged from the Caribbean and was applied more broadly throughout the Spanish Indies was the exploration of an unknown area and the claiming of sovereignty for the crown; the conquest of indigenous peoples or takeover without direct violence; rule by Spaniards who obtained the labor of the natives via encomienda; and the existing colonies becoming the starting point for new explorations, conquests and settlements, followed by the institutions of settlement with officials appointed by the crown. The models established in the Caribbean were replicated throughout the expanding Spanish sphere, so that although the importance of the Caribbean faded quickly after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire and the Spanish conquest of Peru, many of those who participated in those conquests had begun their exploits in the Caribbean.

The first permanent European colonies in the New World were established in the Caribbean, initially on the island of Hispaniola, and later on Cuba and Puerto Rico. As a Genoese with ties to Portugal, Columbus considered that a colony should be based on the model of trading forts and factories, with paid employees to trade with the inhabitants and identify exploitable resources. However, Spanish colonization of the New World was based on a model of large permanent settlements, accompanied by the complex set of institutions and material life to replicate Castilian life in a different place. Columbus” second voyage in 1493 included a large contingent of settlers and goods to accomplish this. In Hispaniola, the city of Santo Domingo was founded in 1496 by Columbus” brother, Bartolomeo Columbus, and became a permanent city of hard stone.

Asserting Crown Control in the Americas

Although Columbus firmly asserted and believed that the lands he encountered were in Asia, the scarcity of material wealth and the relative lack of sophistication of native society meant that the Crown of Castile was initially unconcerned with the extensive powers granted to Columbus. As the Caribbean became a magnet for the Spanish colonies and Columbus and his extended Genoese family were not recognized as worthy officials, there was unrest among the Spanish colonists. The crown began to restrict the extensive powers it had granted to Columbus, first by appointment of royal governors and then by a high court or audiencia in 1511.

Columbus encountered the continent in 1498, and the Catholic Monarchs learned of his discovery in May 1499. Taking advantage of a revolt against Columbus in Hispaniola, they appointed Francisco de Bobadilla governor of the Indies with civil and criminal jurisdiction over the lands discovered by Columbus. Bobadilla, however, was soon replaced by Nicolás de Ovando in September 1501. Henceforth, the Crown would only allow individuals to travel to discover the territories of the Indies with a prior royal license, and after 1503, the Crown”s monopoly was ensured by the creation of the Casa de Contratación in Seville. Columbus” successors, however, sued the Crown until 1536 to enforce the Capitulations of Santa Fe in the pleitos colombinos.

In metropolitan Spain, the direction of the Americas was taken over by Bishop Fonseca between 1493 and 1516, and again between 1518 and 1524, after a brief period of rule by John the Savage. After 1504, the figure of the secretary was added, so between 1504 and 1507 Gaspar de Gricio took the lead, between 1508 and 1518 Lope de Conchillos followed him, and from 1519, Francisco de los Cobos.

In 1511, the junta of the Indies was constituted as a permanent committee belonging to the Council of Castile to deal with matters of the Indies, and this junta constituted the origin of the Council of the Indies, created in 1524. That same year, the crown established a permanent high court, or audiencia, in the most important city of the time, Santo Domingo, on the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Henceforth, oversight of the Indies was based both in Castile and with the officials of the colony”s new royal court. Also, as new areas were conquered and important Spanish colonies were established, other audiences were created.

After the colonization of Hispaniola, the Europeans looked for other places to establish new colonies, as there was little apparent wealth and the number of natives was decreasing. Hispaniola, less prosperous, made the Spaniards eager to seek new success in a new colony. From there, Juan Ponce de León conquered Puerto Rico (1508) and Diego Velázquez took Cuba.

In 1508, the Council of Navigators met in Burgos and recognized the need to establish colonies on the continent. The project was entrusted to Alonso de Ojeda and Diego de Nicuesa as governors. They were subordinate to the governor of Hispaniola, the new Diego Columbus, with the same legal authority as Ovando.

The first settlement on the continent was Santa María la Antigua del Darién in Castilla de Oro (today Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia), colonized by Vasco Núñez de Balboa in 1510. In 1513, Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama and led the first European expedition to see the Pacific Ocean from the west coast of the New World. In an action that would go down in history for a long time, Balboa claimed the Pacific Ocean and all adjacent lands for the Spanish Crown.

The judgment of Seville in May 1511 recognized the title of viceroy to Diego Columbus, but limited it to Hispaniola and the islands discovered by his father, Christopher Columbus. His power was nevertheless limited by royal officers and magistrates, constituting a dual system of government. The crown separated the territories located on the mainland, designated as Castilla de Oro, from the viceroyalty of Hispaniola. Establishing Pedrarias Dávila as lieutenant general of Castilla de Oro in 1513 with functions similar to those of a viceroy, Balboa remained but was subordinated as governor of Panama and Coiba on the Pacific coast. After the latter”s death, they returned to Castilla de Or. The territory of Castilla de Oro did not include Veragua (which was approximately between the Rio Chagres and Cape Gracias a Dios), as it was the subject of a lawsuit between the Crown and Diego Columbus, or the area further north, towards the Yucatán Peninsula, explored by Yáñez Pinzón and Solís in 1508-1509, because of its remoteness. The conflicts of the viceroy Columbus with the royal officers and with the audiencia, created in Santo Domingo in 1511, provoked his return to the peninsula in 1515.

Due to the matrimonial policy of the Catholic Kings (in Spanish, Reyes Católicos), their Habsburg grandson, Charles, inherited the Castilian empire in America and the possessions of the Crown of Aragon in the Mediterranean (including all of southern Italy). Charles was also Germanic Roman Emperor through his paternal line and, upon his abdication, his son Philip II of Spain also inherited Franche-Comté and the Habsburg Netherlands, turning these territories into the famous Spanish path in Western Europe. Philip centralized the administration of the Spanish empire in Madrid, initiating a cultural and political golden age for Spain (known in Spanish as the Siglo de Oro) while becoming the “prudent king”, and also inherited the Portuguese empire in 1580.

The Habsburgs pursued several objectives:

Spain stumbled upon an imperial reality without finding benefits at first. It did stimulate some trade and industry, but the commercial opportunities encountered were limited. Therefore, Spain began to invest in America with the creation of cities, as Spain was in America for religious reasons. Things began to change in the 1520s with the large-scale extraction of silver from the rich deposits in the Guanajuato region of Mexico, but it was the opening of silver mines in Zacatecas and Potosí in Mexico and in Alto Peru (modern Bolivia) in 1546 that became legendary. In the sixteenth century, Spain held the equivalent of $1.5 trillion (1990 terms) in gold and silver received from New Spain. These imports contributed to inflation in Spain and Europe in the last decades of the sixteenth century. The vast imports of silver also made local manufactures uncompetitive and eventually made Spain too dependent on foreign sources of raw materials and manufactured goods. “I learned a proverb here,” said a French traveler in 1603: “Everything is expensive in Spain except silver. The problems caused by inflation were discussed by scholars of the Salamanca school and arbitrators. The abundance of natural resources caused a decline in entrepreneurship because the profits from resource extraction were less risky. The rich preferred to invest their wealth in public debt (juros). The Habsburg dynasty spent Castilian and American wealth on wars throughout Europe in the name of Habsburg interests and repeatedly declared moratoria (bankruptcies) on their debt payments. These charges provoked a number of revolts in the Spanish Habsburg domains, including their Spanish kingdoms, but the rebellions were suppressed.

Charles I of Spain

With the death of Ferdinand II of Aragon and the supposed incompetence to rule of his daughter, Queen Joan of Castile and Aragon, Charles of Ghent became Charles I of Castile and Aragon. He was the first Habsburg monarch of Spain and co-ruler of Spain with his mother. Charles had been raised in Northern Europe and his interests remained those of Christian Europe. The continuing threat of the Ottoman Turks in the Mediterranean and Central Europe also occupied the monarch. Although not directly an heir, Charles was elected emperor of the Holy Roman Empire after the death of his grandfather Emperor Maximilian through lavish bribes to the prince-electors. Charles became the most powerful Christian ruler in Europe, but his Ottoman rival, Suleiman the Magnificent, challenged Charles for primacy in Europe. France made an unprecedented but pragmatic alliance with the Muslim Ottomans against the political power of the Habsburgs, and the Ottomans aided the German Protestant princes in the religious conflicts tearing apart Christian unity in northern Europe. At the same time, the overseas lands claimed by Spain in the New World proved to be a source of wealth, and the crown was able to exercise greater control over its overseas possessions in the political and religious spheres than was possible on the Iberian peninsula or in Europe. The conquests of the Aztec and Inca empires brought vast indigenous civilizations into the Spanish empire and mineral wealth, especially silver, was identified and exploited, becoming the economic engine of the crown. Under Charles, Spain and its overseas empire in the Americas became deeply intertwined, with the crown imposing Catholic exclusivity; exercising the crown”s primacy in political rule, unhindered by the claims of an existing aristocracy; and defending its claims against other European powers. In 1558, he abdicated his Spanish throne to his son, Philip, leaving the ongoing conflicts to his heir.

With the rise of Charles I in 1516 and his election as ruler of the Holy Roman Empire in 1519, Francis I of France found himself surrounded by Habsburg territories. He invaded the imperial possessions in Italy in 1521, inaugurating the second war of the Franco-Habsburg rivalry. The war was a disaster for France, which suffered defeat at the Battle of Bicoche (1522), the Battle of Pavia (1525), in which Francis I was captured and imprisoned in Madrid, and in the Battle of Landriano (1529) before Francis gave up and abandoned Milan to the Empire. Charles later gave the imperial fief of Milan to his Spanish son Philip.

The papacy and Charles had a complicated relationship. Charles” forces were victorious at the Battle of Pavia in 1525. Pope Clement VII switched sides and joined forces with France and the major Italian states against the Habsburg emperor, leading to the League of Cognac war. Charles became exhausted by the pope”s interference in what he considered purely secular affairs. In 1527, Charles” army in northern Italy, underpaid and eager to plunder the city of Rome, mutinied, marched south toward Rome and sacked the city. The sack of Rome, though unintentional by Charles, embarrassed the papacy enough that Clement and subsequent popes were much more circumspect in their dealings with the secular authorities. In 1533, Clement”s refusal to annul the first marriage of King Henry VIII of England to Charles”s aunt, Catherine of Aragon, may have been partly or wholly motivated by his reluctance to offend the emperor and perhaps have his city sacked for a second time. The Peace of Barcelona, signed between Charles V and the pope in 1529, established a more cordial relationship between the two rulers. Charles was effectively named the protector of the Catholic cause, and he was crowned king of Italy (Lombardy) by Medici Pope Clement VII in exchange for his intervention in the overthrow of the rebellious Florentine Republic.

The crowns of Castile and Aragon depended on Genoese bankers for their finances and the Genoese fleet helped the Spaniards fight the Ottomans in the Mediterranean.

By the 16th century, the Ottomans had become a threat to the Western European states. They had defeated the Eastern Christian Byzantine Empire and seized its capital, becoming the Ottoman capital. The Ottomans controlled a rich region of the eastern Mediterranean, with links to Asia, Egypt and India, and by the middle of the 16th century, they ruled a third of Europe. The Ottomans had created an impressive land and sea empire, with port cities and short and long range trade connections. Charles” great rival was Suleiman the Magnificent, whose reign coincided almost exactly with Charles”. A contemporary Spanish writer, Francisco López de Gómara, compared Charles unfavorably to Suleiman in the 1540s, saying that although wealthy and pursuing war, “the Turks were more successful in carrying out their plans than the Spaniards; they devoted themselves more fully to the order and discipline of war, they were better informed, they used their money more effectively.”

In 1535 Charles assembled an invasion force of 60,000 soldiers and 398 ships from the domains of the Habsburgs, Genoa, Portugal, the Papal States, and the Knights of St. John, and he invaded this force at Tunis in North Africa, from where the Ottomans and their privateers were launching several raids against the Christian states of the Mediterranean. The Habsburgs destroyed the Ottoman fleet in the port before laying siege to the fortress of La Goulette. After the Habsburg forces conquered the city of Tunis, they slaughtered 30,000 Muslim civilians.

Pope Paul III assembled a league composed of the Republic of Venice, the Duchy of Mantua, the Spanish Empire, Portugal, the Papal States, the Republic of Genoa and the Knights of St. John, but this coalition was defeated in 1538 at the Battle of Preveza, and was soon after dissolved.

In 1543, Francis I of France announced his unprecedented alliance with the Islamic sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman the Magnificent, by occupying the Spanish-controlled city of Nice in concert with Ottoman Turkish forces. Henry VIII of England, who bore a greater grudge against France than he did against Charles for opposing his divorce, joined him in his invasion of France. Although the Spanish were defeated at the battle of Cerisoles in Savoy, the French army was unable to seriously threaten Spanish-controlled Milan, while suffering a defeat in the north at the hands of Henry, which forced it to accept unfavorable terms. The Austrians, led by Charles” younger brother Ferdinand, continued to fight the Ottomans in the east.

Spain”s presence in North Africa diminished during Charles” reign, although Tunis and its port, La Goulette, were taken in 1535. One after another, most of the Spanish possessions were lost: Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera (1522), Santa Cruz de Mar Pequeña (1524), Algiers (1529), Tripoli (1551), Bujia (1554), La Goulette and Tunis (1569).

The League of Smalkalde had allied itself with the French, and efforts in Germany to undermine the League had been repelled. Francis” defeat in 1544 led to the cancellation of the alliance with the Protestants, and Charles took advantage of this. He first tried the path of negotiation at the Council of Trent in 1545, but the Protestant leadership, feeling betrayed by the position taken by the Catholics at the council, went to war, led by the Saxon elector Maurice.

In response, Charles invaded Germany at the head of a mixed Dutch-Spanish army, hoping to restore imperial authority. The emperor personally inflicted a decisive defeat on the Protestants at the historic Battle of Mühlberg in 1547. In 1555 Charles signed the Peace of Augsburg with the Protestant states and restored stability in Germany on his principle of cuius regio, eius religio, an unpopular position with Spanish and Italian clerics. Charles”s involvement in Germany would establish a role for Spain as protector of the Habsburg Catholic cause in the Holy Roman Empire; the precedent would lead, seven decades later, to involvement in the war that would definitively end Spain as Europe”s leading power.

When Charles acceded to the Spanish throne, Spain”s overseas possessions in the New World were based in the Caribbean and the Spanish mainland and consisted of a rapidly declining indigenous population, few resources of value to the crown and a sparse Spanish settler population. The situation changed dramatically with the expedition of Hernán Cortés, who, with alliances with city-states hostile to the Aztecs and thousands of indigenous Mexican warriors, conquered the Aztec Empire (1519-1521). Following the pattern established in Spain during the Christian reconquest of Islamic Spain, and in the Caribbean, the first European colonies in the Americas, the conquerors divided the indigenous population into encomiendas of private property and exploited their labor. Central Mexico and later the Inca Empire of Peru gave Spain new indigenous populations to convert to Christianity and rule as vassals of the crown. Charles established the Council of the Indies in 1524 to oversee all of Castile”s overseas possessions. Charles appointed a viceroy to Mexico in 1535, capping the royal governance of the High Court, the Real Audiencia and the Treasury officials with the highest royal official. After the conquest of Peru in 1542, Charles also appointed a viceroy. Both officials were under the jurisdiction of the Council of the Indies. Charles enacted the new laws of 1542 to limit the power of the conquering group to form a hereditary aristocracy that could challenge the power of the crown.

In the mid-1530s, French privateers began regularly attacking Spanish ships and raiding Caribbean ports and coastal cities. The most coveted were Santo Domingo, Havana, Santiago and San Germán. Privateer port raids in Cuba and elsewhere in the region generally followed the ransom model, in which attackers seized villages and towns, kidnapped local residents and demanded payment for their release. If there were no hostages, the privateers demanded ransoms in exchange for the preservation of towns. Whether the ransoms were paid or not, the privateers pillaged, committed unspeakable violence against their victims, desecrated churches and holy images, and left smoldering reminders of their incursions.

In 1536, France and Spain resumed war and French privateers launched a series of attacks against Spanish colonies and ships in the Caribbean. The following year, a privateer ship appeared in Havana and demanded a ransom of 700 ducats. Spanish men-of-war arrived shortly afterwards and frightened the intruding ship, which returned shortly afterwards to demand a new ransom. Santiago was also attacked that year, and both cities were raided again in 1538. The waters off northwest Cuba became particularly attractive to pirates, as commercial ships returning to Spain had to cross the 90-mile strait between Key West and Havana. In 1537-1538, privateers captured and looted nine Spanish ships. While France and Spain were at peace until 1542, privateering activity across the line continued. When war broke out again, it echoed once more in the Caribbean. A particularly vicious French privateer attack took place in Havana in 1543. It took a bloody toll of 200 Spanish colonists killed. In all, between 1535 and 1563, French privateers had carried out some sixty attacks on Spanish colonies and captured more than seventeen Spanish ships in the region (1536-1547).

Philip II (1556-1598)

The reign of Philip II of Spain was extremely important, with major successes and failures. Philip was the only legitimate son of Charles V. He did not become Roman emperor, but shared the Habsburg possessions with his uncle Ferdinand. Philip treated Castile as the foundation of his empire, but the population of Castile was never large enough to provide the soldiers needed to defend the empire or the settlers to populate it. When he married Mary Tudor, England was allied with Spain. He seized the throne of Portugal in 1580, creating the Iberian Union and bringing the entire Iberian Peninsula under his personal rule.

According to one of his biographers, it was entirely due to Philip that the Indies were placed under the control of the crown, remaining Spanish until the wars of independence in the early nineteenth century and Catholic in the present day. His greatest failure was his inability to suppress the Dutch revolt, which was aided by his English and French rivals. His militant Catholicism also played a major role in his actions, as did his inability to understand imperial finances. He inherited his father”s debts and waged his own religious war, resulting in recurrent state bankruptcies and dependence on foreign bankers. Although there was a huge expansion of silver production in Peru and Mexico, it did not remain in the Indies or even in Spain itself, but rather largely in European trading houses. During Philip”s reign, scholars, called arbitrists, began to write analyses of this paradox of Spain”s impoverishment.

In the early years of his reign, “from 1558 to 1566, Philip II was primarily concerned with the Muslim allies of the Turks, based in Tripoli and Algiers, the bases from which the North African forces under the privateer Dragut attacked Christian shipping. In 1565, the Spanish defeated an Ottoman landing on the strategic island of Malta, defended by the Knights of St. John. The death of Suleiman the Magnificent the following year and his succession by his less capable son Selim the Drunkard emboldened Philip, who resolved to take the war to the Sultan himself. In 1571, Spanish and Venetian warships, joined by volunteers from all over Europe led by Charles” natural son, Don Juan of Austria, annihilated the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Lepanto. The battle ended the threat of Ottoman naval hegemony in the Mediterranean. After the battle, Philip and the Ottomans concluded truce agreements. The victory was facilitated by the participation of various military leaders and contingents from parts of Italy under Philip”s rule. German soldiers took part in the capture of Peñón del Vélez in North Africa in 1564. In 1575, German soldiers represented three quarters of Philip”s troops.

The Ottomans soon recovered. They reconquered Tunis in 1574, and they helped restore an ally, Abu Marwan Abd al-Malik I Saadi, to the throne of Morocco in 1576. The death of the Persian shah, Tahmasp I, was an opportunity for the Ottoman sultan to intervene in that country, so he agreed to a truce in the Mediterranean with Philip II in 1580. Nevertheless, the Spaniards at Lepanto had eliminated the best sailors from the Ottoman fleet, and the Ottoman Empire would never recover in quality what it could in numbers. Lepanto was the turning point in the control of the Mediterranean away from centuries of Turkish hegemony. In the western Mediterranean, Philip carried out a defensive policy with the construction of a series of armed garrisons and peace agreements with certain Muslim leaders of North Africa.

In the first half of the seventeenth century, Spanish ships attacked the Anatolian coast, defeating larger Ottoman fleets at the Battle of Cape Celidonio and the Battle of Cape Corvo. Larache and La Mamora on the Moroccan Atlantic coast and the island of Alhucemas in the Mediterranean were taken, but in the second half of the 17th century Larache and La Mamora were also lost.

When Philip succeeded his father, Spain was not at peace, for Henry II of France had ascended the throne in 1547 and immediately resumed conflict with Spain. Philip aggressively pursued war against France, crushing a French army at the Battle of Saint-Quentin in Picardy in 1558 and defeating Henry again at the Battle of Gravelines. The peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, signed in 1559, permanently recognized Spanish claims in Italy. In the celebrations following the treaty, Henri was killed by a spear in the eye. France was plagued for the next thirty years by chronic civil war and unrest (see Wars of Religion) and, during this period, prevented it from competing effectively with Spain and the Habsburg family in European power games. Freed from effective French opposition, Spain reached the height of its power and territorial reach in the period 1559-1643.

The time of rejoicing in Madrid was short-lived. In 1566, Calvinist riots in the Netherlands prompted the Duke of Alba to march into the country to restore order. In 1568 William of Orange, better known as William the Silent, made an unsuccessful attempt to drive Alba from the Netherlands. These battles were generally considered to mark the beginning of the Eighty Years” War, which ended with the independence of the United Provinces in 1648. The Spaniards, who derived great wealth from the Netherlands and in particular from the vital port of Antwerp, were committed to restoring order and maintaining their hold on the provinces. According to Luc-Normand Tellier, “it is estimated that the port of Antwerp earned the Spanish crown seven times more revenue than the Americas.

For Spain, the war became an endless quagmire, sometimes literally. In 1574, the Spanish army under Francisco de Valdez was repulsed from the siege of Leiden after the Dutch broke the dikes, causing major flooding. Alba”s son, Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo, committed shocking massacres in Mechelen, Zutphen, Naarden and Haarlem. In 1576, faced with the bills of his 80,000-man army of occupation in the Netherlands, the cost of his fleet that had won at Lepanto, and the growing threat of piracy on the high seas reducing his income from his American colonies, Philip was forced to accept bankruptcy. The Dutch army mutinied shortly thereafter, seizing Antwerp and pillaging the southern Netherlands. This “Spanish Fury” was used by William to strengthen his case for allying all the Dutch provinces with him. The Brussels Union was formed only to be dissolved later because of intolerance of the religious diversity of its members. The Calvinists began their wave of uncontrolled atrocities against Catholics. This division gave Spain the opportunity to send Alexander Farnese with 20,000 well-trained soldiers to the Netherlands. Groninge, Breda, Campen, Antwerp and Brussels, among others, were besieged. In January 1579, a group of Catholic nobles formed a League for the protection of their religion and property. Later that month, Friesland, Gelderland, Groningen, Holland, Overijssel, Utrecht and Zeeland formed the United Provinces, which became the present-day Dutch Netherlands. The remaining provinces became the Spanish Netherlands and in the 19th century Belgium. Farnese soon regained almost all the southern provinces for Spain.

Further north, the city of Maastricht was besieged on March 12, 1579. Farnese”s attackers dug a vast network of passages to enter the city under its walled defenses. The defenders also dug tunnels to meet them. The battles were fiercely fought in caves with limited maneuvering capabilities. Hundreds of besiegers were burned or suffocated to death when boiling water was poured into the tunnels or fires were lit to fill them with smoke. In an effort to undermine the city, 500 of Farnese”s men were killed when the explosives detonated prematurely. It took over four months, but the besiegers finally broke through the wall and entered the city at night. Catching the exhausted defenders asleep, they slaughtered 6,000 men, women and children. Of the city”s 30,000 inhabitants, only 400 survived. Maastricht was a major disaster for the Protestant cause and the Dutch began to turn on William of Orange. After several unsuccessful attempts, William was assassinated in 1584. The queen of England began to rescue the northern provinces and sent troops there in 1585. English forces under the Earl of Leicester and later Lord Willoughby confronted the Spanish in the Netherlands under Farnese in a series of largely indecisive actions that tied up large numbers of Spanish troops and allowed the Dutch to reorganize their defenses. The Spanish Armada suffered a defeat at the hands of the English in 1588 and the situation in the Netherlands became increasingly difficult to manage. Maurice of Nassau, William”s son, retook Deventer, Groninge, Nijmegen and Zutphen.

Spain had become involved in the religious war in France after the death of Henry II. In 1589, Henry III, the last of the Valois line, died assassinated outside the walls of Paris. His successor, Henry IV of Navarre, the first Bourbon king of France, was a man of great ability, winning key victories against the Catholic League at Arques (1589) and Ivry (1590). Committed to preventing Henri of Navarre from becoming king of France, the Spanish divided their army in the Netherlands and invaded France, relieving Paris in 1590 and Rouen in 1592.

On October 25, 1590, the Spaniards landed at Nantes. They established the port of Blavet as their operational base. On May 21, 1592, they defeated an Anglo-French army at the battle of Craon and, after driving out the English contingent, they completely derailed it at Ambrières. On November 6 of the same year, they took Brest. In 1593, the Spanish landed on Camaret and built the fort of the Pointe des Espagnols on the Crozon peninsula, dominating the entrance to the port of Brest. On October 1, an Anglo-French army began a siege of Fort Crozon, while an English fleet bombarded the place from the sea. The garrison could only hold out until November 15, while the auxiliary army, led by Juan del Águila, was unable to relieve the fort as it was blocked in Plomodiern. On the 19th, an assault by the besiegers put the garrison to the sword – only 13 survivors remained.

The Spaniards decided to organize a punitive expedition against England for helping the French. Thus, on July 26, 1595, three companies of musketeers under the command of Captain Carlos de Amésquita sailed in four galleys. They first made landfall in Penmarch to obtain supplies. On July 31, they left for England and disembarked on August 2 at Mount”s Bay, Cornwall. In two days, the expedition sacked and burned Mousehole (where only a pub survived), Newlyn, Paul and Penzance. They also cleared the heavy artillery of the English, then re-embarked on the galleys. On August 5, a day after returning to France, they found a Dutch squadron of 46 ships from which they managed to escape, but not before sinking two enemy ships. On August 10, Amésquita and his men landed victoriously at Blavet. The expedition left 20 dead, all in the skirmish against the Dutch.

In early June 1595, the Spanish governor of Milan, Juan Fernández de Velasco, crossed the Alps with an army of 12,000 men from Italy and Sicily. The French Catholic nobleman Charles, duke of Mayenne, joined him at Besançon, and the combined Spanish-Catholic League army pursued its objective with the capture of Dijon. King Henry managed to assemble 3,000 French soldiers and headed to Troyes to prevent the Spaniards from doing so. At the Battle of Fontaine-Francaise on June 5, 1595, the French surprised the Spanish and forced them to withdraw temporarily, and Velasco decided to retreat, believing that the numerically inferior French would wait for reinforcements. The French royal victory marked the end of the Catholic League.

The French also made some progress in an invasion of the Spanish Netherlands, led by Henri de La Tour d”Auvergne, duc de Bouillon and François d”Orléans-Longueville. The French took Ham and massacred the small Spanish garrison, angering the Spanish ranks. The Spanish launched a concerted offensive that year, taking Doullens, Cambrai and Le Catelet; at Doullens, the Spanish shouted “In memory of Ham” and massacred the entire population of the town (military and civilian) in an act of vengeance. The Spanish general in charge of the offensive, Carlos Coloma, proceeded to launch an invasion of France in 1596. From April 8 to 24, 1596, Coloma”s 15,000-strong Spanish army laid siege to Calais, which was held by 7,000 French soldiers under François d”Orléans. Relief forces from England and the United Provinces failed to lift the siege and Calais fell to Spain. The Army of Flanders won a resounding victory, and the Spanish – now in control of Calais and Dunkirk – controlled the English Channel.

In March 1597, the Spaniards succeeded in taking the city of Amiens through a ruse. King Henry IV immediately and quickly assembled an army of 12,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry (including 4,200 English soldiers) and laid siege to Amiens on May 13, facing 29,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry (5,500 at Amiens, 25,000 in relief). The relief force, commanded by Archduke Albert of Austria and Ernst von Mansfeld, repeatedly failed to dislodge the French besiegers and was forced to retreat. On September 25, 1597, the entire Spanish force at Amiens was forced to surrender and Henry was now in a strong position to negotiate peace terms.

In 1595, Hugh O”Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and Hugh O”Donnell had Spanish support when they led an Irish rebellion. In 1601, Spain landed soldiers on the coast of County Cork in support, but the groups failed to meet. Instead, the Spanish were cornered by the English at the siege of Kinsale, and they were finally defeated in 1602.

Faced with wars against France, England, and the United Provinces, each led by capable leaders, the bankrupt Spanish empire found itself competing with powerful adversaries. Continued piracy against its Atlantic expeditions and costly colonial ventures forced Spain to renegotiate its debts in 1596. Philip had been forced into bankruptcy in 1557, 1560, 1575 and 1598. The crown attempted to reduce its exposure to conflict, signing the Treaty of Vervins with France for the first time in 1598, recognizing Henry IV (since 1593 a Catholic) as king of France, and restoring many of the stipulations of the earlier Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis.

Under Philip II, royal power over the Indies increased, but the crown knew little about its overseas possessions in the Indies. Although the Council of the Indies was given oversight, it acted without the advice of senior officials with direct colonial experience. Another serious problem was that the Crown did not know what Spanish laws were in force there. To remedy the situation, Philip appointed Juan de Ovando as president of the council to advise. Ovando appointed a “chronicler and cosmographer of the Indies,” Juan López de Velasco, to gather information about the crown”s holdings, which resulted in the Relaciones geográficas in the 1580s.

The crown sought greater control over the encomenderos, who had attempted to establish themselves as a local aristocracy; to strengthen the power of the ecclesiastical hierarchy; to shore up religious orthodoxy through the creation of the Inquisition in Lima and Mexico City (and to increase revenues from silver mines in Peru and Mexico, discovered in the 1540s. Of particular importance in Peru was the appointment by the crown of two capable viceroys, Don Francisco de Toledo as viceroy of Peru (1569-1581), and in Mexico, Don Martín Enríquez (1568-1580), who was later appointed viceroy to replace Toledo. There, after decades of political turmoil, with ineffective viceroys and encomenderos exercising undue power, weak royal institutions, a renegade Inca state existing in Vilcabamba, and declining revenues from the Potosí silver mine, Toledo”s appointment had been an important step for royal control. He built on the reforms attempted under previous viceroys, but he was often credited with a major transformation of the crown”s rule in Peru. Toledo formalized the Andean commoners” labor project, the mita, to ensure a supply of labor for both the silver mine at Potosí and the mercury mine at Huancavelica. He established administrative districts of corregimiento and resettled Andean natives in reducciones to better govern them. Under Toledo, the last bastion of the Inca state was destroyed and the last Inca emperor, Tupac Amaru I, was executed. The money from Potosi flowed into the coffers in Spain and paid for the Spanish wars in Europe. In Mexico, Viceroy Enriquez organized the defense of the northern frontier against the nomadic and warlike indigenous groups that attacked the silver transportation lines from the northern mines. In the religious sphere, the crown sought to control the power of religious orders with the Ordenanza del Patronazgo, ordering monks to abandon their Indian parishes and turn them over to diocesan clergy, who were more closely controlled by the crown.

The Crown extended its global claims and defended those already existing in the Indies. Transpacific explorations had led Spain to claim the Philippines and to establish Spanish colonies and trade with Mexico. The viceroyalty of Mexico had jurisdiction over the Philippines, which became the warehouse for Asian trade. Philip”s succession to the Portuguese crown in 1580 complicated the situation on the ground in the Indies between the Spanish and Portuguese colonists, although Brazil and Spanish America were administered by separate councils in Spain. Spain faced English encroachment on Spanish maritime control in the Indies, particularly by Sir Francis Drake and his cousin John Hawkins. Drake narrowly escaped death when Hawkins” ships were pinned down between Spanish galleons and shore batteries at San Juan de Ulúa (in present-day Mexico). In January 1586, with Martin Frobisher, Drake led a raid to sack Santo Domingo on Hispaniola, and he sacked Cartagena de Indias several weeks later. The Spanish defeated Drake and Hawkins” fleet in 1595 at San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Spain regained control of the Isthmus of Panama by moving the main port there from Nombre de Dios to Portobelo.

With the conquest and colonization of the Philippines, the Spanish Empire reached its peak. In 1564, Miguel López de Legazpi was commissioned by the Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico), Don Luis de Velasco, to lead an expedition to the Pacific Ocean to find the Moluccas, where previous explorers Fernando de Magellan and Ruy López de Villalobos had landed in 1521 and 1543, respectively. Sailing west to reach the sources of spices continued to be a necessity with the Ottomans still controlling the main crossing points in Central Asia. It was not known how the agreement between Spain and Portugal dividing the Atlantic world had affected discoveries across the Pacific. Spain had ceded its rights to the “Spice Islands” to Portugal in the Treaty of Saragossa in 1529, but the name was vague, as were their exact boundaries. The Legazpi expedition was commanded by King Philip II, whose Philippines had been named earlier by Ruy López de Villalobos, when Philip was heir to the throne. The king declared that “the main purpose of this expedition is to establish the return route from the western islands, as it is already known that the route to these islands is quite short. The Viceroy died in July 1564, but the Audiencia and López de Legazpi completed the preparations for the expedition. In embarking on the expedition, Spain lacked maps or information to guide the king”s decision to allow the expedition. This realization later led to the creation of reports of the different regions of the empire, the relaciones geográficas. The Philippines fell under the jurisdiction of the Viceroyalty of Mexico, and once the Manila galleon crossings between Manila and Acapulco were established, Mexico became the Philippines” link to the larger Spanish Empire.

Spanish colonization began in earnest when Lopez de Legazpi arrived from Mexico in 1565 and formed the first settlements in Cebu. Beginning with only five ships and five hundred men accompanied by Augustinian friars, and reinforced in 1567 with two hundred soldiers, he was able to repel the Portuguese and lay the foundation for colonization of the archipelago. In 1571, the Spaniards, their Mexican recruits and their Filipino (Visayan) allies attacked and occupied Maynila, a vassal state of the Sultanate of Brunei, and negotiated the incorporation of the Kingdom of Tondo, which had been freed from the control of the Sultanate of Brunei and from whom their princess, Gandarapa, had had a tragic romance with the Mexican-born conquistador and grandson of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, Juan de Salcedo. The combined Spanish-Mexican-Philippine forces also built a Christian fortified city on the burned out ruins of Muslim Maynila and made it the new capital of the Spanish Indies and renamed it Manila. The Spanish were few in number, life was difficult, and they were often outnumbered by their Latin American recruits and Filipino allies. They attempted to mobilize subordinate populations through encomiendas. Unlike the Caribbean, where the indigenous populations quickly disappeared, the indigenous populations remained robust in the Philippines. One Spaniard described the climate as “cuarto meses de polvo, cuartro meses de lodo, y cuartro meses de todo” (four months of dust, four months of mud and four months of everything).

Legazpi built a fort in Manila and made overtures of friendship to Lakan Dula, Lakan of Tondo, who accepted. The former ruler of Maynila, the Muslim rajah, Rajah Sulayman, who was a vassal of the Sultan of Brunei, refused to submit to Legazpi but did not gain the support of Lakan Dula or the settlements of Pampangan and Pangasinan in the north. When Tarik Sulayman and a force of Kapampangan and Tagalog Muslim warriors attacked the Spaniards in the battle of Bangkusay, he was finally defeated and killed. The Spaniards also repelled an attack by the Chinese pirate warlord Limahong. Simultaneously, the establishment of a Christianized Philippines attracted Chinese traders who exchanged their silk for Mexican silver, Indian and Malay traders who also settled in the Philippines, trading their spices and gems for the same Mexican silver. The Philippines became a center of Christian missionary activity that was also directed to Japan and the Philippines even accepted Christian converts from Japan after the shoguns persecuted them. Most of the soldiers and settlers sent by the Spanish to the Philippines came from Mexico or Peru and very few came directly from Spain.

In 1578, the Castilian War broke out between the Christian Spaniards and the Muslim Bruneians for control of the Philippine archipelago. The Spaniards were joined by the newly Christianized non-Muslim Visayans of the Kedatuan of Madja – who were animists and the Kingdom of Cebu who were Hindus, plus the Kingdom of Butuan (who were from northern Mindanao and were Hindus with a Buddhist monarchy), as well as the remnants of the Kedatuan of Dapitan who were also animists and had previously waged war against the Islamic nations of the Sultanate of Sulu and the Kingdom of Maynila. They fought against the Sultanate of Brunei and its allies, the Bruneian puppet states of Maynila and Sulu, which had dynastic ties to Brunei. The Spanish, their Mexican recruits and Filipino allies attacked Brunei and seized its capital, Kota Batu. This was achieved in part with the help of two nobles, Pengiran Seri Lela and Pengiran Seri Ratna. The former had gone to Manila to offer Brunei as a vassal of Spain to help him recover the throne usurped by his brother, Saiful Rijal. The Spaniards agreed that if they succeeded in conquering Brunei, Pengiran Seri Lela would indeed become the sultan, while Pengiran Seri Ratna would be the new Bendahara. In March 1578, the Spanish fleet, led by De Sande himself, acting as Capitán General, began its voyage to Brunei. The expedition included 400 Spaniards and Mexicans, 1,500 Filipinos and 300 Borneans. The campaign was one of many, which also included actions in Mindanao and Sulu.

The Spaniards succeeded in invading the capital on 16 April 1578, with the help of Pengiran Seri Lela and Pengiran Seri Ratna. Sultan Saiful Rijal and Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Abdul Kahar were forced to flee to Meragang and then to Jerudong. At Jerudong, they planned to drive the conquering army away from Brunei. The Spaniards suffered heavy losses due to an epidemic of cholera or dysentery. They were so weakened by the disease that they decided to abandon Brunei and return to Manila on June 26, 1578, after only 72 days. Before doing so, they burned the mosque, a tall structure with a five-tiered roof.

Pengiran Seri Lela died in August-September 1578, probably from the same illness that had struck his Spanish allies, although it is suspected that he may have been poisoned by the ruling sultan. Seri Lela”s daughter, a Bruneian princess, left with the Spaniards and married a Tagalog Christian named Agustín de Legazpi de Tondo, and had children in the Philippines.

In 1587, Magat Salamat, one of Lakan Dula”s children, as well as Lakan Dula”s nephew and the lords of the neighboring regions of Tondo, Pandacan, Marikina, Candaba, Navotas and Bulacan, were executed when the Tondo conspiracy of 1587-1588 failed; a planned grand alliance with the Japanese Christian captain, Gayo, and the Sultan of Brunei would have restored the ancient aristocracy. Its failure led to the hanging of Agustín de Legazpi and the execution of Magat Salamat (the crown prince of Tondo). Later, some of the conspirators were exiled to Guam or Guerrero, Mexico.

The Spaniards then led the Hispano-Moro conflict for centuries against the sultanates of Maguindanao, Lanao and Sulu. War was also waged against the sultanate of Ternate and Tidore (in response to Ternatean slavery and piracy against Spain”s allies: Bohol and Butuan). During the Spanish-Moro conflict, the Muslim Moros of Mindanao carried out acts of piracy and raids against the Christian colonies in the Philippines. The Spanish retaliated by establishing Christian cities such as Zamboanga City on Muslim Mindanao. The Spaniards viewed their war with the Muslims in Southeast Asia as an extension of the Reconquista, a centuries-long campaign to recapture and re-Christianize the Spanish homeland invaded by the Muslims of the Umayyad Caliphate. The Spanish expeditions to the Philippines were also part of a larger Iberian-Islamic global conflict that included a rivalry with the Ottoman caliphate, which had a center of operations in its neighboring vassal, the Sultanate of Aceh.

In 1593, the Governor General of the Philippines, Luis Perez Dasmariñas, set out to conquer Cambodia, triggering the Spanish-Cambodian War. Some 120 Spaniards, Japanese and Filipinos, sailing in three junks, launched an expedition to Cambodia. After an altercation between members of the Spanish expedition and some Chinese merchants at the port, resulting in some Chinese deaths, the Spaniards were forced to confront the new king Anacaparan, burning much of his capital while defeating him. In 1599, Malay Muslim merchants defeated and slaughtered almost the entire contingent of Spanish troops in Cambodia, ending Spanish plans for conquest. Another expedition, to conquer Mindanao, also failed. In 1603, during a Chinese rebellion, Perez Dasmariñas was beheaded and his head was taken to Manila along with those of several other Spanish soldiers.

In 1580, King Philip saw an opportunity to strengthen his position in Iberia when the last member of the Portuguese royal family, Cardinal Henry of Portugal, died. Philip asserted his claim to the Portuguese throne and in June sent the Duke of Alba with an army to Lisbon to ensure his succession. He established the Council of Portugal, modeled on the royal councils, the Council of Castile, the Council of Aragon and the Council of the Indies, which oversaw particular jurisdictions, but all under the same monarch. In Portugal, the Duke of Alba and the Spanish occupation were hardly more popular in Lisbon than in Rotterdam. The combined Spanish and Portuguese empires in Philip”s hands included almost the entire explored New World as well as a vast trading empire in Africa and Asia. In 1582, when Philip II brought his court back to Madrid from the Atlantic port of Lisbon, where he had temporarily settled to pacify his new Portuguese kingdom, the pattern was sealed, despite what every observer privately noted. “Maritime power is more important to the Spanish ruler than any other prince,” wrote one commentator, “for it is only through maritime power that a single community can be created out of so many people so far apart.” A writer on tactics in 1638 observed, “The most suitable power for the arms of Spain is that which is placed on the seas, but this matter of state is so well known that I should not discuss it, even if I thought it expedient to do so.” Portugal and its kingdoms, including Brazil and its African colonies, were under the rule of the Spanish monarch.

Portugal needed an extensive occupation force to keep it under control, and Spain was still reeling from the bankruptcy of 1576. In 1584 William the Silent had been assassinated by a half-deranged Catholic, and the death of the popular leader of the Dutch resistance was supposed to end the war but did not. By 1585, Queen Elizabeth I of England had sent support to Protestant causes in the Netherlands and France, and Sir Francis Drake was launching attacks on Spanish merchants in the Caribbean and the Pacific, as well as a particularly aggressive attack on the port of Cadiz.

Portugal was involved in Spain”s conflicts with its rivals. In 1588, hoping to stop Elizabeth”s intervention, Philip had sent the Spanish Armada to invade England. Unfavorable weather, plus heavily armed and maneuverable English ships, and the fact that the English had been warned by their spies in the Netherlands and were ready for the attack resulted in a defeat for the Armada. However, the failure of the Drake-Norreys expedition to Portugal and the Azores in 1589 marked a turning point in the Anglo-Spanish war of 1585-1604. Spanish fleets became more efficient at transporting vastly increased quantities of silver and gold from the Americas, while English attacks suffered costly failures.

During the reign of Philip IV (Philip III of Portugal) in 1640, the Portuguese revolted and fought for their independence from the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. The Council of Portugal was then dissolved.

Philip III (1598-1621)

The successor of Philip II, Philip III, made the chief minister Francisco Gomez de Sandoval y Rojas, duke of Lerma, a favorite, the first of the validos (“most worthy”). Philip sought to reduce foreign conflicts, because even the vast revenues could not support the almost bankrupt kingdom. The kingdom of England, suffering from a series of repulsions at sea and a guerrilla war by the Catholics of Ireland, supported by Spain, accepted the Treaty of London, of 1604, following the accession to the throne of the more docile King James I Stuart. Philip”s chief minister, the Duke of Lerma, also led Spain to peace with the Netherlands in 1609, although the conflict was to reappear later.

Peace with England and France gave Spain the opportunity to focus its energies on re-establishing its dominance in the Dutch provinces. The Dutch, led by Maurice de Nassau, son of William the Silent and perhaps the greatest strategist of his time, had succeeded in taking a number of border towns since 1590, including the fortress of Breda. However, the Genoese nobleman Ambrogio Spinola, commanding an army of Italian mercenaries, fought on behalf of Spain and repeatedly defeated the Dutch. He was only prevented from conquering the Netherlands by the last Spanish bankruptcy in 1607. In 1609, the Twelve Year Truce was signed between Spain and the United Provinces. Finally, Spain was at peace – the Pax Hispanica.

Spain recovered well during the truce, putting her finances in order and doing much to restore her prestige and stability in preparation for the last great war in which she would play a leading role. The duke of Lerma (and to a large extent Philip II) was not interested in the affairs of his ally, Austria. In 1618, the king replaced him with Don Baltasar de Zúñiga, a former ambassador to Vienna. Don Balthasar believed that the key to restraining the resurgence of the French and eliminating the Dutch was a closer alliance with the Habsburg monarchy. In 1618, beginning with the Defenestration of Prague, Austria and the Germanic Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, embarked on a campaign against the Protestant Union and Bohemia. Don Balthasar encouraged Philip to join the Austrian Habsburgs in the war, and Spinola, the rising star of the Spanish army in the Netherlands, was sent to lead the army of Flanders to intervene. Thus, Spain entered the Thirty Years” War.

Philip IV (1621-1665)

When Philip IV succeeded his father in 1621, Spain was clearly in economic and political decline, a source of consternation. The learned arbiters sent the king more analyses of Spain”s problems and possible solutions. To illustrate the precarious economic situation of Spain at the time, it was in fact Dutch bankers who financed the East India merchants of Seville. At the same time, all over the world, Dutch entrepreneurship and colonies were undermining Spanish and Portuguese hegemony. The Dutch were religiously tolerant and non-evangelical, focusing on trade, as opposed to Spain”s long-standing defense of Catholicism. A Dutch proverb said, “Christ is good, trade is better!”

Spain sorely needed time and peace to restore its finances and rebuild its economy. In 1622, Don Balthasar was replaced by Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, a reasonably honest and capable man. After some initial setbacks, the Bohemians were defeated at White Mountain in 1621 and at Stadtlohn in 1623. War with the Netherlands resumed in 1621 with Spinola taking the fortress of Breda in 1625. The intervention of Christian IV of Denmark in the war threatened the Spanish position, but the victory of the imperial general Albert of Wallenstein over the Danes at the bridge of Dessau and again at Lutter (both in 1626), eliminated this threat.

There was hope in Madrid that the Netherlands might finally be reintegrated into the Empire, and after the defeat of Denmark, the Protestants in Germany seemed crushed. France was again involved in its own instabilities (the siege of La Rochelle began in 1627), and Spain”s eminence seemed clear. Count-Duke Olivares asserted, “God is Spanish and is fighting for our nation in our day.

Olivares realized that Spain had to reform, and to reform it needed peace, above all with the Dutch United Provinces. Olivares aimed, however, at “peace with honor,” which in practice meant a peace settlement that would have restored to Spain something of its predominant position in the Netherlands. This was unacceptable to the United Provinces, and the inevitable consequence was the constant hope that one more victory would finally result in a “peace with honor,” perpetuating the ruinous war Olivares had wanted to avoid in the first place. In 1625, Olivares proposed the Union of Arms, which aimed to increase the revenues of the Indies and other Iberian kingdoms for imperial defense, which met with strong opposition. The Union of Arms was the starting point for a major revolt in Catalonia in 1640. This unrest also seemed an opportune moment for the Portuguese to revolt against Habsburg rule, with the Duke of Braganza proclaimed John IV of Portugal.

As Spinola and the Spanish army concentrated on the Netherlands, the war seemed to be going in Spain”s favor. But in 1627, the Castilian economy collapsed. The Habsburgs had devalued their currency to pay for the war and prices had skyrocketed, as they had in previous years in Austria. Until 1631, parts of Castile operated on a barter economy because of the currency crisis, and the government was unable to collect meaningful taxes from the peasantry and had to depend on revenues from its colonies. The Spanish armies, like others in the German territories, resorted to “paying themselves” in the field.

Olivares had supported some tax reforms in Spain while waiting for the end of the war, was blamed for another embarrassing and fruitless war in Italy. The Dutch, who during the twelve-year truce had made it a priority to increase their navy (which would show its maturing power at the battle of Gibraltar 1607), succeeded in dealing a major blow to Spanish maritime trade with the capture by Captain Piet Hein of the Spanish galleon fleet on which Spain had become dependent after the economic collapse.

Spanish military resources were stretched across Europe and also at sea as they sought to protect maritime trade against the vastly improved Dutch and French fleets, while being occupied by the Ottoman and associated barbarian pirate threat in the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, the goal of stifling Dutch shipping was achieved by the Dunkirkers with considerable success. In 1625, a Spanish-Portuguese fleet, led by Admiral Fadrique de Toledo, regained the strategically vital Brazilian city of Salvador da Bahia from the Dutch. Elsewhere, isolated and understaffed Portuguese forts in Africa and Asia proved vulnerable to Dutch and English raids and takeovers or simply bypassed as important trading ports.

In 1630, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, one of the most famous commanders in history, landed in Germany and delivered the port of Stralsund, the last continental stronghold of the belligerent German forces to the emperor. Gustavus then marched south and won notable victories at Breitenfeld and Lützen, attracting more Protestant support with every step he took. Spain was now deeply involved in safeguarding their Austrian allies from the Swedes, who continued to be very successful despite Gustavus” death at Lützen in 1632. In early September 1634, a Spanish army that had marched from Italy linked up with the Imperials at the town of Nördlingen, bringing their total to 33,000 men. Having seriously underestimated the number of experienced Spanish soldiers in the reinforcements, the commanders of the Protestant armies of the Heilbronn League decided to propose the battle. The experienced Spanish infantry – who had not been present at any of the battles that had resulted in Swedish victories – were primarily responsible for the complete rout of the enemy army, which lost 21,000 of its 25,000 men wounded (compared with only 3,500 for the Catholics).

Alarmed by the Spanish success at Nördlingen and the probable collapse of the Swedish military effort, Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister of Louis XIII, realized that it would be necessary to turn the existing cold war into a hot war if Spain, in collaboration with Habsburg Austria, were to be prevented from dominating Europe. The French won the Battle of Avins in Belgium on May 20, 1635, an early success, but the Spanish defeated a joint Franco-Dutch invasion of the Spanish Netherlands before the Spanish and imperial armies crossed Picardy, Burgundy and Champagne. However, the Spanish offensive stalled before Paris could be targeted, and the French launched counterattacks that pushed the Spanish back into Flanders.

At the Battle of the Dunes in 1639, a Spanish fleet carrying troops was destroyed off the English coast, and the Spanish found themselves unable to adequately supply and reinforce their forces in the Netherlands. The Army of Flanders, representing the best Spanish soldiers and leaders, faced a French assault led by Louis II of Bourbon, Prince of Conde in northern France at Rocroi in 1643. The Spanish, led by Francisco de Melo, were defeated by the French. After a fierce battle, the Spaniards were forced to surrender on honorable terms. As a result, while the defeat was not a rout, the high status of the Flanders army ended at Rocroi. The defeat at Rocroi also led to the dismissal of the besieged Olivares, who was confined to his estates by order of the king and died two years later. The Peace of Westphalia ended the Spanish Eighty Years” War in 1648, with Spain recognizing the independence of the seven United Provinces of the Netherlands.

In 1640, Spain had already experienced the loss of Portugal, following its revolt against Spanish rule, which ended the Iberian Union and the creation of the House of Braganza under King John IV of Portugal. He had received broad support from the Portuguese people, and Spain could not respond, as it was at war with France and Catalonia had revolted that year. Spain and Portugal coexisted in a de facto state of peace from 1644 to 1656. Upon John”s death in 1656, the Spaniards attempted to wrest Portugal from his son Alfonso VI of Portugal, but were defeated at Ameixial (1663) and Montes Claros (1665), leading to Spain”s recognition of Portugal”s independence in 1668, during the regency of Philip IV”s young heir, Charles II, who was seven years old at the time.

The war with France continued for another eleven years. Although France had suffered a civil war from 1648 to 1652 (see the Fronde), Spain had been exhausted by the Thirty Years” War and ongoing revolts. With the end of the war against the United Provinces in 1648, the Spanish drove the French out of Naples and Catalonia in 1652, recaptured Dunkirk and occupied several forts in northern France that they held until peace. The war ended shortly after the Battle of the Dunes (1658), where the French army under Viscount Turenne retook Dunkirk. Spain accepted the Peace of the Pyrenees in 1659, which ceded to France the Spanish territory of the Netherlands of Artois and the northern Catalan county of Roussillon. Some 200,000 to 300,000 Frenchmen were killed or wounded in the struggle against Spain from 1635 to 1659.

In the Indies, Spanish claims were effectively challenged in the Caribbean by the English, French and Dutch, who all established colonies

permanent, after raids and trade in the late 16th century. Although the loss of the islands barely diminished its American territories, the islands were strategically located and held long-term political, military and economic advantages. The main Spanish strongholds in the Caribbean, Cuba and Puerto Rico, remained in the hands of the crown, but the Windward and Leeward Islands, which Spain claimed but did not occupy, were vulnerable. The English established themselves in St. Kitts (1623-25), Barbados (1627), Nevis (1628), Antigua (1632) and Montserrat (1632), and they took Jamaica in 1655. The French settled in the West Indies in Martinique and Guadeloupe in 1635. The Dutch acquired commercial bases in Curaçao, St. Eustatius and St. Martin.

Charles II and the end of the Habsburg era in Spain

Detailed article: Charles II of Spain

The Spain that the sickly young Charles II (1661-1700) inherited was clearly in decline and there were immediately more losses. Charles became monarch in 1665 at the age of four, so a regency of his mother and a five-member government junta ruled in his name, headed by his natural half-brother John of Austria. Under the regency, Louis XIV of France prosecuted the War of Devolution against the Spanish Netherlands in 1667-1668, losing considerable prestige and territory, including the cities of Lille and Charleroi. In the Franco-Dutch War of 1672-1678, Spain lost even more territory when it came to the aid of its former Dutch enemies, notably Franche-Comté.

In the Nine Years” War (1688-1697), Louis XIV again invaded the Spanish Netherlands. French forces led by the Duke of Luxembourg defeated the Spanish at Fleurus (1690) and defeated Dutch forces under William III of Orange, who was fighting on the Spanish side. The war ended with most of the Spanish Netherlands under French occupation, including the important cities of Ghent and Luxembourg. The war revealed to Europe the vulnerability of the Spanish defenses and bureaucracy. Moreover, the inefficient Spanish Habsburg government took no steps to improve them.

Spain suffered extreme decadence and stagnation in the last decades of the seventeenth century. While the rest of Western Europe was undergoing major changes in government and society – the Glorious Revolution in England and the reign of the Sun King in France – Spain remained adrift. The Spanish bureaucracy that had been built around the charismatic, industrious and intelligent Charles I and Philip II required a strong, hard-working monarch, but the weakness and lack of interest of Philip III and Philip IV had contributed to Spain”s decline. Charles II was a childless and weak ruler, known as the “Bewitched”. In his last will and testament, he left his throne to a French prince, the Bourbon Philip of Anjou, rather than to another Habsburg. This led to the War of the Spanish Succession, with the Austrian Habsburgs and the British challenging Charles II”s choice of a Bourbon prince to succeed him as king.

At the end of its imperial reign, Spain called its overseas possessions in the Americas and the Philippines “the Indies,” an enduring vestige of Columbus” notion that he had reached Asia by sailing west. When these territories reached a high level of importance, the crown established the Council of the Indies in 1524, following the conquest of the Aztec Empire, asserting permanent royal control over its possessions. Regions with dense indigenous populations and sources of mineral wealth that attracted Spanish settlers became colonial centers, while those without these resources were peripheral to the crown”s interest. Once the regions were integrated into the empire and their importance was assessed, the overseas possessions came under the control of the crown to a greater or lesser degree. The crown learned its lesson with the reign of Christopher Columbus and his heirs in the Caribbean, and they never thereafter granted great powers to explorers and conquerors. The Catholic Kings” conquest of Granada in 1492 and their expulsion of the Jews “were militant expressions of the religious state at the time of the beginning of American colonization. The power of the crown in the religious sphere was absolute in its overseas possessions thanks to the Papacy”s grant of the Patronato real, and “Catholicism was indissolubly linked to royal authority.” The relationship between church and state was established in the era of conquest and remained stable until the end of the Habsburg era in 1700, when the Bourbon monarchs implemented major reforms and changed the relationship between the crown and the altar.

The Crown”s administration of its overseas empire was implemented by royal officials in both the civil and religious spheres, often with overlapping jurisdictions. The crown could administer the empire in India by using indigenous elites as intermediaries with the large indigenous populations. The administrative costs of the empire remained low, with a small number of Spanish officials generally paying low salaries. The crown”s policy of maintaining a closed trading system limited to one port in Spain and only a few in the Indies was in practice not closed, with European trading houses supplying Spanish merchants in the Spanish port of Seville with high quality textiles and other manufactured goods that Spain itself could not supply. Much of the money from India was diverted to these European merchant houses. Crown officials in the Indies allowed the creation of an entire trading system in which they could coerce the native population to participate while reaping profits themselves in cooperation with the merchants.

Explorers, conquerors and expansion of the empire

After Columbus, the Spanish colonization of the Americas was led by a series of soldiers of fortune and explorers called conquistadors. The Spanish forces, in addition to significant advantages in weaponry and horsemanship, exploited rivalries between indigenous peoples, tribes and competing nations, some of whom were willing to form alliances with the Spanish in order to defeat their more powerful enemies, such as the Aztecs or Incas – a tactic that would be widely used by later European colonial powers. The Spanish conquest was also aided by the spread of diseases (e.g., smallpox), common in Europe but never present in the New World, which reduced the indigenous populations of the Americas. This sometimes caused a shortage of labor for plantations and public works, and so the colonists initiated the Atlantic slave trade in an informal and gradual manner at first. (see Demographic History of the American Indians)

One of the most accomplished conquistadors was Hernán Cortés, who, at the head of a relatively small Spanish force but with local translators and the crucial support of thousands of native allies, succeeded in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in campaigns from 1519-1521. This territory later became the Viceroyalty of New Spain, now Mexico. Equally important was the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire by Francisco Pizarro, which became the Viceroyalty of Peru.

After the conquest of Mexico, the rumors of the cities of gold (Quivira and Cíbola in North America and El Dorado in South America) motivated several other expeditions. Many of these returned without having found their objective, or finding it much less valuable than expected. In fact, the New World colonies only began to generate a substantial part of the Crown”s income with the creation of mines such as Potosi (Bolivia) and Zacatecas (Mexico), both of which began in 1546. By the end of the 16th century, silver from the Americas accounted for one-fifth of Spain”s total budget.

Other Spanish colonies were gradually established in the New World: New Granada in the 1530s (later the Viceroyalty of New Granada in 1717 and today Colombia), Lima in 1535 as the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru, Buenos Aires in 1536 (later in the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata in 1776), and Santiago in 1541.

Florida was settled in 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés when he founded Saint Augustine, and then quickly defeated an attempt by French Captain Jean Ribault and 150 of his compatriots to establish a French presence in the Spanish territory of Florida. Saint Augustine soon became a strategic defensive base for Spanish ships filled with gold and silver sent to Spain from its New World states.

The Portuguese sailor who sailed for Castile, Fernando de Magellan, died while in the Philippines commanding a Castilian expedition in 1522, was the first to circumnavigate the globe. The Basque commander Juan Sebastián Elcano led the expedition to success. Spain sought to assert their rights in the Moluccas, which led to a conflict with the Portuguese, but the problem was resolved with the Treaty of Zaragoza (1525), establishing the location of the Tordesillas antimeridian, which would divide the world into two equal hemispheres. From then on, maritime expeditions led to the discovery of several archipelagos in the South Pacific such as the Pitcairn Islands, the Marquesas, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands or New Guinea, which Spain claimed.

Most important in the exploration of the Pacific was the claim on the Philippines, which was populated and strategically located for the Spanish colony of Manila and the warehouse for trade with China. On April 27, 1565, the first permanent Spanish colony in the Philippines was founded by Miguel López de Legazpi and the Manila galleon service was inaugurated. The Manila galleons shipped goods from all over Asia across the Pacific to Acapulco on the coast of Mexico. From there, the goods were transshipped through Mexico to the Spanish treasure fleets for shipment to Spain. The Spanish trading port of Manila facilitated this trade in 1572. Although Spain claimed islands in the Pacific, it did not encounter or claim the Hawaiian Islands. Control of Guam, the Mariana Islands, the Caroline Islands and Palau came later, from the late 17th century, and remained under Spanish control until 1898.

In the 18th century, Spain was concerned about Russian and British expansion in the Pacific Northwest of North America and sent expeditions to explore and further strengthen Spanish claims to the region.

Order of the colonial society – social structure and legal status

Codes regulated the status of individuals and groups in the empire in both the civil and religious spheres, with Spaniards (of Peninsular and American origin) monopolizing positions of economic privilege and political power. Royal law and Catholicism codified and maintained hierarchies of class and race, while all were subjects of the crown and mandated to be Catholic. The crown took active steps to establish and maintain Catholicism by evangelizing the pagan native populations, as well as the previously non-Christian African slaves, and incorporating them into Christianity. Catholicism remained the dominant religion in Hispanic America. The Crown also imposed restrictions on emigration to the Americas, excluding Jews and crypto-Jews, Protestants and foreigners, using the Casa de Contratación to screen potential emigrants and issue travel licenses.

The portrait on the right was probably used as a souvenir. For those who traveled to and from the New World, it was common to bring back souvenirs as there was a great interest in what the New World meant. The terrain would be significantly different, but the focus was on the emerging mixed races. Not only were there whites mixing with blacks, but there were also natives mixing with both whites and blacks. From a Spanish perspective, caste paintings would most likely have provided some sort of meaning to the madness of mixed races. There were also political implications of this portrait. The mixed-race child appears to be literate with a satisfied smile in front of his father alluding to the opportunity the child has because of his father being European.

A central issue from the time of first contact with the indigenous populations was their relationship with the Crown and Christianity. Once these issues were resolved theologically, in practice the Crown sought to protect its new vassals. It did so by dividing the peoples of the Americas into the República de Indios, the indigenous peoples and the República de Españoles. The República de Españoles was the entire Hispanic sector, composed of Spaniards, but also Africans (slaves and free), as well as mixed castas.

Within the República de Indios, men were explicitly excluded from ordination to the Catholic priesthood and from the obligation of military service as well as from the jurisdiction of the Inquisition. Indians under colonial rule who lived in the pueblos de indios enjoyed the protection of the crown due to their status as legal minors. Due to the lack of prior exposure to the Catholic faith, Queen Isabella had declared all indigenous peoples her subjects. This differed from the peoples of the African continent because these populations had theoretically been exposed to Catholicism and had chosen not to follow it. This religious differentiation was important because it gave the indigenous communities legal protection from the members of the República de Españoles. In fact, an often overlooked aspect of the colonial legal system was that members of the pueblos de indios could appeal to the crown and bypass the legal system of the Républica de Españoles. The status of the indigenous people as legal minors prevented them from becoming priests, but the republica de indios operated with a fair amount of autonomy. The missionaries also acted as guardians against encomendero exploitation. Indian communities enjoyed protection of traditional lands through the creation of community lands that could not be alienated, the fondo legal. They managed their own affairs internally through the Indian city government under the supervision of royal officials, the corregidores and alcaldes mayores. Although indigenous men were not allowed to become priests, indigenous communities created religious brotherhoods under the supervision of priests, which functioned as burial societies for their individual members, but also held community celebrations for their patron saint. Blacks also had separate brotherhoods, which also contributed to community formation and cohesion, reinforcing identity within a Christian institution.

Conquest and evangelization were inseparable in Spanish America. The first orders to make the journey to the Americas were the Franciscans, led by Pedro de Gante. The Franciscans believed that living a spiritual life of poverty and holiness was the best way to be an example that would inspire others to convert. The friars entered the cities barefoot to show their surrender to God in a kind of conversion theater. With this began the practice of evangelizing the peoples of the New World, supported by the Spanish government. The religious orders in Spanish America had their own internal structures and were organizationally autonomous, but were nevertheless very important to the structure of colonial society. They had their own resources and hierarchies. Although some orders took vows of poverty, as the second wave of friars arrived in America and their numbers increased, the orders began to accumulate wealth and thus became key economic players. The church, as a wealthy power, owned huge estates and built large buildings such as gilded monasteries and cathedrals. The priests themselves also became rich landowners. Orders such as the Franciscans also established schools for indigenous elites as well as hired indigenous workers, thus changing the dynamics of indigenous communities and their relationship with the Spanish.

After the fall of the Aztec and Inca Empires, the rulers of the empires were replaced by the Spanish monarchy, while retaining much of the indigenous hierarchical structures. The crown recognized the noble status of the Indian elites, granting them an exemption from the head tax and the right to use the noble titles don and doña. The indigenous nobles were a key group for the administration of the Spanish Empire, as they served as intermediaries between the crown”s officials and the indigenous communities. Indigenous nobles could serve on cabildos, ride horses and carry firearms. The crown”s recognition of indigenous elites as nobles meant that these men were incorporated into the colonial system with privileges that separated them from Indian commoners. Indian nobles were thus crucial to the governance of the huge indigenous population. Through their continued loyalty to the crown, they maintained their positions of power within their communities but also served as agents of colonial governance. The use of local elites by the Spanish Empire to govern large populations ethnically distinct from the rulers had long been practiced by earlier empires. Indian caciques were crucial in the early Spanish period, especially when the economy was still based on extracting tributes and labor from ordinary Indians who had rendered goods and services to their overlords in the pre-Hispanic period. The caciques mobilized their populations for encomenderos and, later, repartimiento recipients chosen by the crown. The nobles became the officers of the cabildo in the indigenous communities, settling internal affairs and defending the rights of the communities in court. In Mexico, this was facilitated by the creation in 1599 of the General Court of the Indians (Juzgado General de Indios), which heard legal disputes in which indigenous communities and individuals were involved. With the legal mechanisms for resolving disputes, there were relatively few outbreaks of violence and rebellion against the Crown”s authority. The eighteenth century rebellions in the long peaceful regions of Mexico, the Tzeltal Rebellion of 1712 and most dramatically in Peru with the Tupac Amaru Revolt (1780-1781) saw indigenous nobles leading uprisings against the Spanish state.

In the República de Españoles, class and race hierarchies were codified in the institutional structures. Spaniards emigrating to the Indies had to be old Christians of pure Christian heritage, with the crown excluding new Christians, converts from Judaism and their descendants, because of their suspect religious status. The crown established the Inquisition in Mexico and Peru in 1571, and later in Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), to protect Catholics from the influence of crypto-Jews, Protestants and foreigners. Church practices established and maintained racial hierarchies by recording baptism, marriage and burial were kept separate records for different racial groups. Churches were also physically divided by race.

Racial mixing (mestizaje) was a fact of colonial society, with the three racial groups, white Europeans (españoles), Africans (negros) and Indians (indios) producing mixed-race offspring, or castas. There was a pyramid of racial status with the top being the small number of white Europeans (españoles), a slightly larger number of mixed-race castas, who, like the whites were mainly in urban dwellings, and the largest populations were Indians living in communities in the countryside. Although the Indians were part of the Repúbica de Indios, their offspring from unions with Españoles and Africans were castas. White-Indian mixtures were more socially acceptable in the Hispanic sphere, with the possibility over several generations of mixed-race descendants being classified as Español. A descendant of African descent could never remove the “stain” from their racial heritage, as Africans were considered “natural slaves.” The eighteenth century paintings represented the elites” ideas of the sistema de castas in a hierarchical order, but there was a certain fluidity to the system rather than absolute rigidity.

The criminal justice system in Spanish cities meted out justice according to the severity of the crime and the class, race, age, health and gender of the accused. Non-whites (blacks and mixed castas) were punished much more often and more severely, while Indians, considered legal minors, were expected to behave no better and were punished more leniently. Royal and municipal legislation attempted to control the behavior of black slaves, who were subject to a curfew, could not carry weapons, and were forbidden to flee their masters. As the urban, white, lower-class (plebeian) population grew, it too became increasingly subject to arrest and criminal punishment. Capital punishment was rarely used, with the exception of sodomy and recalcitrant prisoners of the Inquisition, whose deviation from Christian orthodoxy was considered extreme. However, only the civil sphere could apply capital punishment and prisoners were “released”, i.e. handed over to the civil authorities. Often, criminals served sentences of forced labor in textile workshops (obrajes), presidio services at the border and as sailors on royal ships. Royal pardons for common criminals were often granted during the celebration of a royal wedding, coronation or birth.

Elite Spanish men had access to special corporate protections (fueros) and enjoyed exemptions because of their membership in a particular group. An important privilege was their trial by their society”s court. Members of the clergy who held the fuero eclesiástico were tried in ecclesiastical courts, whether the offense was civil or criminal. In the eighteenth century, the crown established a standing army and, with it, special privileges (fuero militar). The privilege granted to the military was the first fuero extended to non-whites who served the crown. Indians enjoyed a form of corporate privilege through their membership in indigenous communities. In central Mexico, the crown created a special Indian court (Juzgado General de Indios) and the costs of justice, including access to lawyers, were financed by a special tax. The crown extended the peninsular institution of the merchant guild (consulado) first established in Spain, including Seville (1543), and later established it in Mexico City and Peru. Consulado membership was dominated by Spaniards born in the peninsula, usually members of transatlantic trading houses. The consulate courts heard disputes over contracts, bankruptcy, shipping, insurance, etc. The transatlantic trade remained in the hands of merchant families based in Spain and the Indies. The men from the Indies were often younger relatives of Spanish merchants, who often married wealthy women of American descent. American-born Spanish men (criollos) generally did not trade but owned land, entered the priesthood, or became professionals. Within elite families, Spaniards and criollos born in the peninsula were often relatives.

The regulation of the social system perpetuated the privileged status of the rich white elite men against the vast indigenous populations and the smaller but still significant number of mixed-race castas. In the Bourbon era, for the first time, a distinction was made between Spaniards of Iberian and American origin. During the Habsburg era, in law and in common language, they were grouped together without distinction. More and more Spaniards born in America developed a decidedly local orientation, with Spaniards born in the peninsula (Peninsulares) increasingly seen as foreigners and resentful, but this was a development in the late colonial period. The resentment against the Peninsulares was due to a deliberate change in crown policy, which systematically favored them over the American-born criollos for high positions in the civil and religious hierarchies. This left the criollos only with membership in a city cabildo. When the secularist Bourbon monarchy pursued policies that strengthened secular royal power over religious power, it attacked the fuero eclesiástico, which for many lower clergy was an important privilege. Parish priests who had functioned as royal officials as well as clerics in the Indian cities lost their privileged position. At the same time, the crown created a standing army and promoted militias for the defense of the empire, creating a new avenue of privilege for creole men and castas, but excluding native men from conscription or voluntary service.

The Spanish Empire enjoyed favorable factor endowments in its overseas possessions with their large, exploitable native populations and rich mineral areas. Given this, the crown attempted to create and maintain a classic closed trading system, keeping competitors away and wealth within the empire. While the Habsburgs were determined to maintain a state monopoly in theory, in reality the empire was a porous economic kingdom and smuggling was widespread. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries under the Habsburgs, Spain experienced a gradual decline in economic conditions, especially in relation to the industrial development of its French, Dutch and English rivals. Many of the goods exported to the Empire came from manufacturers in northwestern Europe, rather than from Spain. But illicit trade activities became part of the Empire”s administrative structure. Supported by large flows of money from America, the trade prohibited by Spanish mercantilist trade restrictions flourished, as it provided a source of income for crown officials and private merchants. The local administrative structure of Buenos Aires, for example, was created through its supervision of legal and illegal trade. In the eighteenth century, the Crown attempted to reverse itself under the Bourbon monarchs. The Crown”s pursuit of wars to maintain and expand territory, defend the Catholic faith and eradicate Protestantism, and beat back the Ottoman Turkish force exceeded its ability to pay for it all, despite the enormous production of silver in Peru and Mexico. Most of these flows paid mercenaries in the European wars of religion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and in the hands of foreign merchants to pay for consumer goods manufactured in northern Europe. Paradoxically, the wealth of the Indies impoverished Spain and enriched Northern Europe.

This was well recognized in Spain, with writers on political economy, arbitrators sending the crown long analyses in the form of “memorials, perceived problems and with proposed solutions. According to these thinkers, “the royal expenses must be regulated, the sale of the post stopped, the growth of the church curbed. The tax system must be revised, special concessions must be granted to agricultural workers, rivers must be made navigable and arid lands irrigated. In this way alone, Castile”s productivity could increase, its trade restored and its humiliating dependence on foreigners, the Dutch and the Genoese, ended.

From the earliest days of the Caribbean and the era of conquest, the crown attempted to control trade between Spain and the Indies with restrictive policies enforced by the Chamber of Commerce (est. 1503) in Seville. Navigation was done through particular ports in Spain (Seville, then Cadiz), in Spanish America (Veracruz, Acapulco, Havana, Cartagena de Indias and Callao

The crown established the system of treasure fleets (flota) to protect the transportation of money to Seville (later Cadiz). Merchants in Seville transported consumer goods produced in other European countries, registered and taxed by the Chamber of Commerce, to the Indies. Other European commercial interests came to dominate the supply side, with Spanish trading houses and their guilds (consulados) in Spain and the Indies acting as mere middlemen, reaping a slice of the profits. However, these profits did not foster the Spanish economic development of a manufacturing sector, its economy remaining based on agriculture. The wealth of the Indies led to prosperity in northern Europe, especially in the Netherlands and England, both of which were Protestant. As Spain”s power weakened in the 17th century, England, the Netherlands and the French took advantage of it overseas by seizing Caribbean islands, which became the bases for a burgeoning smuggling trade in Spanish America. Crown officials who were supposed to suppress the contraband trade were quite often in cahoots with the foreigners, as it was a source of personal enrichment. In Spain, the Crown itself participated in collusion with foreign trading houses, as they paid fines, “intended to establish compensation to the state for losses due to fraud.” It became a calculated risk for the trading houses to do business; for the crown, it gained income it would otherwise have lost. Foreign merchants were part of the supposed monopoly system of trade. The transfer of the Chamber of Commerce from Seville to Cadiz allowed even easier access of foreign trading houses to Spanish commerce.

During the Bourbon era, economic reforms sought to reverse the pattern that left Spain impoverished with no manufacturing sector and its colonies in need of manufactured goods supplied by other nations. It attempted to restructure itself into a closed trading system, but was hampered by the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. The treaty ending the War of the Spanish Succession with a victory for the French candidate Bourbon to the throne provided that the British could legally trade by license (asiento) in African slaves to Spanish America. This provision undermined the possibility of a revamped Spanish monopoly system. Merchants also took advantage of the opportunity to engage in the smuggling of their manufactured goods. The crown”s policy was to make legal trade more attractive than smuggling by instituting free trade (comercio libre) in 1778, allowing Spanish-American ports to trade with each other and with any port in Spain. He aimed to reorganize a closed Spanish system and outflank the increasingly powerful British empire. Silver production resumed in the 18th century, with output far exceeding previous production. The crown reduced taxes on mercury, which meant that more pure silver could be refined. Silver mining absorbed most of the available capital in Mexico and Peru, and the crown emphasized the production of precious metals that were sent to Spain. There was some economic development in the Indies for food supply, but a diversified economy did not emerge. The economic reforms of the Bourbon era were shaped by geopolitical developments in Europe. The Bourbon reforms arose from the War of the Spanish Succession. In turn, the Crown”s attempt to tighten its control over its colonial markets in the Americas led to further conflict with other European powers competing for access to those markets. After triggering a series of skirmishes during the 1700s over its stricter policies, Spain”s reformed trading system led to war with Britain in 1796. In the Americas, meanwhile, the economic policies adopted under the Bourbons had different impacts in different regions. On the one hand, silver production in New Spain increased sharply and led to economic growth. But much of the benefits of the revitalized mining sector went to mining elites and state officials, while in rural New Spain conditions for rural workers deteriorated, contributing to social unrest that would impact later revolts.

With the death in 1700 of Charles II of Spain without children, the Spanish crown was contested in the War of the Spanish Succession. Under the Treaties of Utrecht (April 11, 1713) ending the war, the French prince of the House of Bourbon, Philip of Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV of France, became King Philip V. He retained the Spanish overseas empire in the Americas and the Philippines. The act ceded compensation to those who had supported a Habsburg for the Spanish monarchy, giving the European territory of the Spanish Netherlands, Naples, Milan and Sardinia to Austria, Sicily and parts of Milan to the Duchy of Savoy, and Gibraltar and Minorca to the Kingdom of Great Britain. The treaty also granted the British the exclusive right to trade slaves in Spanish America for thirty years, the asiento, as well as authorized voyages to ports in Spanish colonial possessions, openings, for both legal and illegal trade.

Spain”s economic and demographic recovery had begun slowly in the last decades of Habsburg rule, as evidenced by the growth of its trade convoys and the much faster growth of illicit trade during the period. (This growth was slower than the growth of the illicit trade of northern rivals in the empire”s markets.) However, this recovery did not translate into institutional improvement, but rather into “quick fixes for permanent problems. This legacy of neglect was reflected in the early years of the Bourbon reign, during which the army was misused in the War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718-1720). After the war, the new Bourbon monarchy adopted a much more cautious approach to international relations, relying on a family alliance with the Bourbons of France, and continuing to pursue a program of institutional renewal.

The Crown”s program of enacting reforms that promoted administrative control and efficiency in the metropolis at the expense of the interests of the colonies undermined the loyalty of Creole elites to the Crown. When Napoleon Bonaparte”s French forces invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 1808, Napoleon ousted the Spanish Bourbon monarchy, placing his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne. There was a crisis of legitimacy of the crown”s rule in Spanish America, leading to the Spanish-American wars of independence (1808-1826).

Bourbon reforms

The broader intentions of the Spanish Bourbons were to reorganize the institutions of the empire to better administer it for the benefit of Spain and the crown. They sought to increase revenues and assert greater control of the crown, including over the Catholic Church. The centralization of power was to be for the benefit of the crown and the metropolis and for the defense of its empire against foreign incursions. From Spain”s point of view, the structures of colonial rule under the Habsburgs no longer worked to Spain”s advantage, with much of the wealth being retained in Spanish America and going to other European powers. The presence of other European powers in the Caribbean, with the English in Barbados (1627), St. Kitts (1623-5) and Jamaica (1655), the Dutch in Curaçao and the French in St. Domingue (Haiti) (1697), Martinique and Guadeloupe had broken the integrity of the closed Spanish mercantile system and established successful sugar colonies.

At the beginning of his reign, the first Spanish Bourbon, King Philip V, reorganized the government to strengthen the executive power of the monarch as it was done in France, instead of the deliberative and polysynodial system of Councils.

Philip”s government created a Ministry of the Navy and the Indies (1714) and established commercial companies, the Honduras Company (1714), a Caracas company, the Guipuscoan Company (1728) and the most successful, the Havana Company (1740).

In 1717-1718, the governing structures of the Indies, the Consejo de Indias and the Casa de Contratación, which governed investments in the cumbersome Spanish treasure fleets, were transferred from Seville to Cadiz, where foreign trading houses had easier access to the Indies trade. Cadiz became the sole port for all Indian trade (see flota system). Individual crossings at regular intervals were slow to displace traditional armed convoys, but by the 1760s there were regular ships plying the Atlantic from Cadiz to Havana and Puerto Rico, and at longer intervals to the Rio de la Plata, where an additional viceroyalty was created in 1776. The smuggling trade that had been the lifeblood of the Habsburg empire diminished in proportion to the shipping recorded (a shipping register having been established in 1735).

Two upheavals registered unease in Spanish America and at the same time demonstrated the renewed resilience of the reformed system: the Tupac Amaru uprising in Peru in 1780 and the rebellion of the comuneros of New Granada, both partly in response to tighter and more effective control.

In 1783, in order to maintain the exploitation of the American colonies while preventing possible independence movements, the Count of Aranda, prime minister of the Spanish king Charles III, proposed a plan for the political transformation of Spanish America. The king of Spain would have kept directly only supports in South America, Cuba and Puerto Rico, and he would have become emperor and suzerain of three kings chosen among the infants of Spain and paying him tribute: that of New Spain, which would send him bars of silver, that of Tierra del Fuego (Colombia and Venezuela), which would be paid in spices and tobacco, and that of Peru, which would send gold ingots. Charles III was too cautious to accept this project, but it has sometimes been considered premonitory and might have saved the countries of Spanish America from the bloody chapters of the conquest of their independence

The prosperity of the 18th century

The eighteenth century was a century of prosperity for the overseas Spanish Empire, with domestic trade increasing steadily, especially in the second half of the century under the Bourbon reforms. Spain”s crucial victory at the Battle of Cartagena de Indias (1741) against a massive British fleet and army in the Caribbean port of Cartagena de Indias, one of many successful battles against the British, helped Spain secure its dominance of the Americas into the nineteenth century. But different regions fared differently under Bourbon rule, and although New Spain was particularly prosperous, it was also marked by great inequality of wealth. Silver production exploded in New Spain in the eighteenth century, more than tripling between the beginning of the century and the 1750s. Both the economy and the population grew, both centered around Mexico City. But while mine owners and the crown benefited from the booming silver economy, most of the population in rural Bajío faced rising land prices and falling wages. As a result, many were evicted from their lands.

The British Armada of 1741 was the largest ever assembled prior to the Normandy landing, outnumbering even the Great Armada of Philip II by over 60 ships. The British fleet of 195 ships, 32,000 soldiers and 3,000 pieces of artillery commanded by Admiral Edward Vernon was defeated by Admiral Blas de Lezo. The Battle of Cartagena de Indias was one of the most decisive Spanish victories against the unsuccessful British attempts to take control of the Spanish mainland. There were many successful battles that helped Spain secure its dominance of the Americas until the 19th century. Historian Reed Browning described the British expedition to Cartagena as “stupidly disastrous” and quotes Horace Walpole, whose father was Vernon”s bitter enemy, writing in 1744: “We have already lost seven millions of silver and 30,000 men in the Spanish war, and all the fruit of all that blood and treasure is the glory of having Admiral Vernon”s head on the cabin boards!”

With a Bourbon monarchy came a repertoire of Bourbon mercantilist ideas based on a centralized state, implemented slowly in America at first, but with increasing momentum over the course of the century. Shipping increased rapidly from the mid-1740s until the Seven Years” War (1756-1763), reflecting in part the Bourbon success in controlling illicit trade. With the relaxation of trade controls after the Seven Years” War, maritime trade within the empire began to expand again, reaching an extraordinary growth rate in the 1780s.

The end of Cadiz”s monopoly on trade with America brought about a renaissance of Spanish manufactured goods. Most notable was the rapidly growing textile industry of Catalonia, which by the mid-1780s was seeing the first signs of industrialization. This saw the emergence of a small, politically active business class in Barcelona. This isolated pocket of advanced economic development contrasted sharply with the relative backwardness of most of the country. Most of the improvements occurred in and around some of the larger coastal cities and islands, such as Cuba, with its tobacco plantations, and a resumption of the growth of precious metal mining in America.

On the other hand, most of rural Spain and its empire, where the vast majority of the population lived, lived in conditions relatively backward by eighteenth-century Western European standards, reinforcing old customs and isolation. Agricultural productivity remained low despite efforts to introduce new techniques to what was for the most part an uninterested and exploited group of peasants and workers. Governments were inconsistent in their policies. Although there were substantial improvements in the late eighteenth century, Spain was still an economic backwater. Under mercantile trade agreements, it struggled to supply the goods demanded by the rapidly growing markets of its empire and to provide adequate outlets for return trade.

From an opposite point of view according to the above mentioned “delay”, the naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt traveled extensively through the Spanish Americas, exploring and describing it for the first time from a modern scientific point of view between 1799 and 1804. In his work Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain containing research on the geography of Mexico, he said that the Indians of New Spain lived in better conditions than any Russian or German peasant in Europe. According to Humboldt, despite the fact that Indian farmers were poor, under Spanish rule they were free and slavery was non-existent, their conditions were much better than those of any other peasant or farmer in advanced northern Europe.

Humboldt also published a comparative analysis of bread and meat consumption in New Spain (Mexico) compared to other European cities such as Paris. Mexico City consumed 189 pounds of meat per person per year, compared to 163 pounds consumed by the inhabitants of Paris, Mexicans also consumed almost the same amount of bread as any European city, with 363 kilograms of bread per person per year compared to 377 kilograms consumed in Paris. Caracas consumed seven times more meat per person than Paris. Von Humboldt also stated that the average income during this period was four times the European income and that the cities of New Spain were richer than many European cities.

Contestation with other empires

The Spanish empire had not yet returned to first-rate power status, but it had recovered and even expanded its territories considerably since the dark days of the early eighteenth century when it was, especially in continental matters, at the mercy of political agreements from other powers. The relatively more peaceful century under the new monarchy had allowed it to rebuild itself and begin the long process of modernizing its institutions and economy, and the demographic decline of the 17th century had been reversed. It was a middle-ranking power with great claims to power that could not be ignored. But time was against it.

The Bourbon institutional reforms paid off militarily when Spanish forces easily recaptured Naples and Sicily from the Austrians in 1734 during the War of the Polish Succession and during the War of Jenkins” Ear (1739-42) thwarting British efforts to seize the strategic cities of Cartagena de Indias and Santiago de Cuba by defeating a massive British army and navy led by Edward Vernon, thus ending Britain”s ambitions on the Spanish continent.

In 1742, the War of Jenkins” Ear merged with the larger War of the Austrian Succession and the third American intercolonial war in North America. The British, also occupied by France, were unable to capture Spanish convoys, and Spanish privateers attacked British merchant shipping along the triangular trade routes. In Europe, Spain had been trying to drive Maria Theresa of Lombardy out of northern Italy since 1741, but faced opposition from Charles Emanuel III of Sardinia, and the war in northern Italy remained undecided throughout the period to 1746.

By the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, Spain gained Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla in northern Italy. In addition, although Spain was defeated in the invasion of Portugal and lost some territory to British forces toward the end of the Seven Years” War (1756-1763), Spain quickly recouped these losses and seized the British naval base in the Bahamas during the American War of Independence (1775-1783).

Spain contributed to the independence of the thirteen British colonies (which formed the United States) with France. The Spanish governor of Louisiana (New Spain) Bernardo de Gálvez led the Spanish policy against Great Britain, which sought to take the Spanish treasury and territory. Spain and France were allied because of the Family Pact conducted by both countries against Britain. Gálvez took measures against British smuggling in the Caribbean Sea and promoted trade with France. Under royal orders from Charles III of Spain, Gálvez continued aid operations to supply the American rebels. The British blocked the colonial ports of the Thirteen Colonies, and the Spanish-controlled New Orleans route to the Mississippi River was an effective alternative for supplying the American rebels. Spain actively supported the Thirteen Colonies throughout the American War of Independence, beginning in 1776 by jointly financing Roderigue Hortalez and Co, a trading company that provided essential military supplies, throughout the financing of the final siege of Yorktown in 1781 with a collection of gold and silver from Havana.

Spanish aid was delivered to the colonies via four main routes: (1) from French ports with funding from Roderigue Hortalez and Co, (2) through the port of New Orleans and up the Mississippi River, (3) into warehouses in Havana, and (4) from the Spanish northwestern port of Bilbao, through the Gardoqui family trading company, which supplied important war materials.

Britain economically blocked the thirteen colonies, so that the American public debt increased considerably. Spain, through the Gardoqui family, sent 120,000 silver coins of eight, known as the Spanish eight or dollar, the coin on which the original U.S. dollar was based, and it remained valid in the U.S. until the Coinage Act of 1857 (in fact, the Spanish dollar or Carolus became the world”s first currency in the 18th century).

The American Continental Army that won the battles of Saratoga was partially equipped and armed by Spain. Spain had the opportunity to recover the territories lost to Great Britain during the Seven Years” War, especially Florida. Galvez assembled an army from all over Spanish America, about 7,000 men. The governor of Spanish Louisiana prepared an offensive against the British in the Gulf Coast Campaign to control the lower Mississippi and Florida. Gálvez accomplished the conquest of West Florida in 1781 with the successful siege of Pensacola.

Shortly thereafter, Gálvez conquered the island of New Providence in the Bahamas, abandoning the last plan of British resistance, which maintained the Spanish domination of the Caribbean and accelerated the triumph of the American army. Jamaica was the last important British stronghold in the Caribbean. Gálvez organized a landing on the island; however, the Peace of Paris (1783) was concluded and the invasion cancelled.

Most of the territory of present-day Brazil had been claimed as Spanish when exploration began with the navigation of the length of the Amazon in 1541-1542 by Francisco de Orellana. Numerous Spanish expeditions had explored large parts of this vast region, especially those near the Spanish colonies. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Spanish soldiers, missionaries and adventurers also established pioneer communities, mainly in Paraná, Santa Catarina and São Paulo, and forts on the northeast coast threatened by the French and Dutch.

As the Luso-Brazilian colony expanded, following the exploits of the Bandeirantes, these isolated Spanish groups were finally integrated into Brazilian society. Only a few Castilians who had been displaced from the contested areas of the Pampa of Rio Grande do Sul left a significant influence on the formation of the gaucho, when they mixed with Indian, Portuguese and black groups who arrived in the region during the eighteenth century. The Spaniards were prevented by their laws from enslaving the indigenous peoples, leaving them without commercial interest deep in the interior of the Amazon basin. The Laws of Burgos (1512) and the New Laws (1542) were intended to protect the interests of the indigenous peoples. The Portuguese-Brazilian slavers, the Bandeirantes, had the advantage of access from the mouth of the Amazon River, which was on the Portuguese side of the Tordesillas line. A famous attack on a Spanish mission in 1628 resulted in the enslavement of about 60,000 natives.

Over time, there was in fact a self-financed occupation force. By the 18th century, much of the Spanish territory was under de facto Portuguese-Brazilian control. This reality was recognized with the legal transfer of sovereignty in 1750 of most of the Amazon basin and surrounding areas to Portugal in the Treaty of Madrid. This colony sowed the seeds of the Guaraní War in 1756.

Spain claimed all of North America in the Age of Discovery, but the claims were not translated into occupation until a major resource was discovered and Spanish colonization and crown rule were established. The French had established an empire in northern North America and took some islands in the Caribbean. The English established colonies on the east coast of North America as well as in northern North America and on some Caribbean islands. In the eighteenth century, the Spanish crown realized that its territorial claims had to be defended, especially in the wake of its visible weakness during the Seven Years” War when Britain took the important Spanish ports of Havana and Manila. Another important factor was that the Russian empire had expanded into North America from the mid-eighteenth century, with fur-trading colonies in what is now Alaska and forts as far south as Fort Ross, California. Britain was also expanding into areas that Spain claimed as its territory on the Pacific coast. Taking steps to consolidate its tenuous claim to California, Spain began planning California missions in 1769. Spain also began a series of voyages to the Pacific Northwest, where Russia and Britain were encroaching on claimed territory. The Spanish expeditions to the Pacific Northwest, with Alessandro Malaspina and others heading for Spain, came too late for Spain to assert its sovereignty in the Pacific Northwest. The Nootka Crisis (1789-1791) almost brought Spain and Britain to war. It was a dispute over claims in the Pacific Northwest, where neither nation had established permanent settlements. The crisis could have led to war, but it was resolved in the Convention of Nootka, in which Spain and Britain agreed not to establish settlements and allowed free access to Nootka Sound on the west coast of what is now Vancouver Island. In 1806, Baron Nikolai Rezanov attempted to negotiate a treaty between the Russian-American company and the viceroyalty of New Spain, but his unexpected death in 1807 ended any hope of a treaty. Spain renounced its claims in western North America in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, ceding its rights there to the United States, allowing the United States to purchase Florida, and establishing a boundary between New Spain and the United States by the time negotiations between the two nations took place, Spain”s resources were depleted due to the Spanish-American wars of independence.

In 1808, Napoleonic forces invaded the Iberian Peninsula, causing the Portuguese royal family to flee to Brazil and the king of Spain to abdicate. Napoleon placed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, on the Spanish throne, (Spain was already ruled by a French dynasty, but the Napoleonic dynasty had no legitimacy in the eyes of the colonists, it was the ideal pretext to take their independence which they had already dreamed of since the arrival of the French at the head of Spain with the Bourbon dynasty).

To top it all off, Napoleon abolished the benefits of the clergy in the Empire; as a result, he was excommunicated, provoking the uprising of the Spanish people, the Spanish War of Independence, a guerrilla war that Napoleon nicknamed his “ulcer. During the war, about 180,000 imperial soldiers (mainly French, “secular” Spaniards and Egyptians) were killed by Spanish guerrillas and 390,000 regular “Spanish Catholics” by the imperialists, including militias, massacres of civilians, famines and epidemics (it lost about 1

The war was immortalized by the painter Goya. The French invasion also triggered in many places in Spanish America a crisis of legitimacy of the crown”s rule and movements that led to political independence. In Spain, political uncertainty lasted for more than a decade and unrest for several decades, with civil wars over succession disputes, a republic and finally a liberal democracy. The resistance coalesced around juntas, special emergency governments. A central junta, supreme and governing the Kingdom, ruling in the name of Ferdinand VII, was created on September 25, 1808, to coordinate efforts among the various juntas.

Spanish-American conflicts and independence 1810-1833

The idea of a distinct identity for Spanish America was developed in modern historical literature, but the idea of complete Spanish-American independence from the Spanish Empire was not widespread at the time and political independence was not inevitable. Historian Brian Hamnett argues that if the Spanish monarchy and Spanish liberals had been more flexible about the place of overseas possessions, the empire would not have collapsed. The juntas emerged in Spanish America as Spain faced a political crisis due to the invasion of Napoleon Bonaparte and the abdication of Ferdinand VII. The Hispanic Americans reacted in much the same way as the Spaniards on the peninsula, legitimizing their actions through traditional law, according to which sovereignty reverted to the people in the absence of a legitimate king.

The majority of Hispanic Americans continued to support the idea of maintaining a monarchy, but did not support the continuation of the absolute monarchy under Ferdinand VII. Hispanic Americans wanted self-government. The juntas of the Americas did not accept the governments of the Europeans – neither the government set up for Spain by the French nor the various Spanish governments set up in response to the French invasion. The juntas did not accept the Spanish regency, isolated under siege in the city of Cadiz (1810-1812). They also rejected the Spanish constitution of 1812, even though the constitution granted Spanish citizenship to those in territories that had belonged to the Spanish monarchy in both hemispheres. The Spanish Liberal Constitution of 1812 recognized the indigenous peoples of the Americas as Spanish citizens. But the acquisition of citizenship for any casta of the African American peoples of the Americas was by naturalization – excluding slaves.

A long period of wars followed in America from 1811 to 1829. In South America, this period of wars led to the independence of Argentina (1810), Venezuela (1810), Chile (1810), Paraguay (1811) and Uruguay (1815, but later ruled by Brazil until 1828). José de San Martín campaigned for independence in Chile (1818) and Peru (1821). Further north, Simón Bolívar led forces that won independence between 1811 and 1826 for the region that became Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia (then Alto Perú). Panama declared its independence in 1821 and merged with the Republic of Gran Colombia (1821-1903).

In the viceroyalty of New Spain, the free-spirited lay priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla declared Mexico”s freedom in 1810 in the Grito de Dolores. Independence was actually won in 1821 by a royalist army officer turned insurgent, Agustin de Iturbide, in alliance with the insurgent Vicente Guerrero and under the Iguala plan. The conservative Catholic hierarchy in New Spain supported Mexican independence largely because they found the liberal Spanish constitution of 1812 abhorrent. The Central American provinces became independent via Mexican independence in 1821 and joined Mexico for a brief period (1822-1823), but chose their own path when Mexico became a republic in 1824.

The Spanish coastal fortifications of Veracruz, Callao, and Chiloé were the bases that held out until 1825 and 1826 respectively. In Spanish America, royalist guerrillas continued the war in several countries, and Spain launched attempts to retake Venezuela in 1827 and Mexico in 1829. Spain abandoned all plans for military reconquest upon the death of King Ferdinand VII in 1833. Finally, the Spanish government went so far as to renounce its sovereignty over all of continental America in 1836.


The issue of labor was also important in Cuba. Slaves were imported for a long time despite the official ban. About half a million people arrived in this way after 1820. In addition, some 100,000 workers from Asia immigrated. There was also a large immigration of Europeans; in the second half of the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of them, mainly from Spain, arrived in Cuba.

The island did not take part in the rebellion of the colonies against the Spanish crown in the 1820s. While there were Cubans who resented the arbitrariness of Spanish colonial rule, there was no real national movement. The conflict of interests between the sugar oligarchy on the one hand and ordinary Cubans on the other was too great. In the 1870s (a brief republic was proclaimed in Spain) the Spanish government showed understanding for the Cuban reform movement, which aspired to greater autonomy for Cuba. However, when this hope was dashed by the conservative Spanish governments, which ceased to support the reforms, an insurrection broke out, which led to the Ten Years” War. The insurgents proclaimed a republic but could only control the eastern part of Cuba, which was less populated than the other part and had no real economic value. The big sugar owners in the western part feared that this rebellion would lead to a social revolution and the abolition of slavery. Peace returned after an agreement was reached in 1878. The 1890s were marked by new tensions that led to a new war and the end of Spanish rule.

Loss of the rest of the Indies (1865-1899)

Santo Domingo also declared its independence in 1821 and began negotiating its inclusion in the Bolivarian Republic of Gran Colombia, but was soon occupied by Haiti, which ruled it until a revolution in 1844. After 17 years of independence, in 1861, Santo Domingo became a colony again due to Haitian aggression, making it the only former colony that Spain took back. However, Captain General José de la Gándara y Navarro encountered opposition to his occupation of the island after his troops were faced with guerrilla uprisings and yellow fever. A total of 10,888 of Gándara”s forces fell in battle against Dominican guerrillas. The disease was more devastating, killing 30,000.

After 1865, only Cuba and Puerto Rico and the Spanish East Indies (the Philippines, Guam, and nearby Pacific islands) remained under Spanish control in the Indies. The Cuban War of Independence was interrupted by the American intervention in what became the Spanish-American War in 1898. Spain also lost Puerto Rico and the Philippines in this conflict. The following year, Spain then sold its remaining Pacific Ocean possessions to Germany under the German-Spanish treaty, retaining only its African territories.

Spain in the post-Napoleonic era was in political crisis, as the French invasion and restoration of the Spanish monarchy under the autocratic Ferdinand VII had shattered any traditional consensus on sovereignty, fragmented the country politically and regionally, and sparked wars and conflicts between progressives, liberals and conservatives. The instability hampered Spain”s development, which had begun to accelerate in the eighteenth century. A brief period of improvement occurred in the 1870s when the able Alfonso XII of Spain and his thoughtful ministers succeeded in reviving Spanish politics and prestige, which had been interrupted by Alfonso”s untimely death.

A growing level of nationalist and anti-colonial uprisings in various colonies culminated in the Spanish-American War of 1898, which was fought mainly in Cuba. The military defeat was followed by the independence of Cuba and the cession of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the United States, which received $20 million in compensation for the Philippines. On June 2, 1899, the Second Philippine Expeditionary Battalion Cazadores, the last Spanish garrison in the Philippines, which had been under siege in Baler, Aurora at the end of the war, was withdrawn, thus ending about 300 years of Spanish hegemony in the archipelago.

Territories in Africa (1885-1975)

By the end of the seventeenth century, only Melilla, Alhucemas, Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera (which had been recaptured in 1564), Ceuta (which had been part of the Portuguese empire since 1415, chose to retain its ties to Spain once the Iberian Union was over; Ceuta”s formal allegiance to Spain was recognized by the Treaty of Lisbon in 1668), Oran and Mazalquivir remained as Spanish territory in Africa. The latter cities were lost in 1708, recaptured in 1732 and sold back by Charles IV in 1792.

In 1778, Fernando Poo Island (now Bioko), the adjacent islets and the commercial rights on the mainland between the Niger and the Ogooué rivers were ceded to Spain by the Portuguese in exchange for territory in South America (Treaty of El Pardo). In the 19th century, some Spanish explorers and missionaries crossed this area, including Manuel Iradier.

In 1848, Spanish troops conquered the Islas Chafarinas.

In 1860, after the Tetuan War, Morocco ceded Sidi Ifni to Spain under the Treaty of Tangier, on the basis of the former outpost of Santa Cruz de la Mar Pequeña, considered Sidi Ifni. The following decades of Franco-Spanish collaboration led to the creation and extension of Spanish protectorates south of the city, and Spanish influence gained international recognition at the Berlin Conference of 1884: Spain administered Sidi Ifni and the Western Sahara jointly. Spain also claimed a protectorate over the coasts of Guinea, from Cape Boujdour to Cape Blanc, and even attempted to assert a claim over the Adrar and Tiris regions of Mauritania. Río Muni became a protectorate in 1885 and a colony in 1900. Conflicting claims to Guinean lands were settled in 1900 by the Treaty of Paris, as a result of which Spain had only 26,000 square kilometers of the 300,000 extending eastward to the Oubangui River that they initially claimed.

After a brief war in 1893, Spain extended its influence south of Melilla.

In 1911, Morocco was divided between the French and the Spanish. The Berbers of the Rif rebelled, led by Abdelkrim, a former officer of the Spanish administration. The Battle of Anoual (1921) during the Rif war was a sudden, severe and almost fatal military defeat suffered by the Spanish army against the Moroccan insurgents. A leading Spanish politician forcefully declared: “We are in the most acute period of Spanish decadence”. After the catastrophe of Annual, the landing of Al Hoceima took place in September 1925 in the bay of Al Hoceima. The Spanish army and navy, with a small collaboration of an allied French contingent, put an end to the Rif war. It is considered the first successful amphibious landing in history supported by air power and sea tanks.

In 1923, Tangier was declared an international city under joint French, Spanish, British and Italian administration.

In 1926 Bioko and Rio Muni were united as a colony of Spanish Guinea, a status that lasted until 1959. In 1931, after the fall of the monarchy, the African colonies became part of the Second Spanish Republic. In 1934, under the government of Prime Minister Alejandro Lerroux, Spanish troops led by General Osvaldo Capaz landed in Sidi Ifni and occupied the territory, which had been ceded de jure by Morocco in 1860. Five years later, Francisco Franco, a general of the African Army, revolted against the Republican government and started the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). During World War II, the French Vichy presence in Tangier was defeated by Franco”s Spanish presence.

Spain lacked the wealth and interest to develop an extensive economic infrastructure in its African colonies during the first half of the twentieth century. However, through a paternalistic system, especially on the island of Bioko, Spain developed large cocoa plantations for which thousands of Nigerian workers were imported as laborers.

In 1956, when French Morocco became independent, Spain returned Spanish Morocco to the new nation, but retained control of Sidi Ifni, the Tarfaya region and the Spanish Sahara. The Moroccan sultan (future king) Mohammed V was interested in these territories and invaded the Spanish Sahara in 1957, in the Ifni War, or in Spain, the Forgotten War (la Guerra Olvidada). In 1958, Spain ceded Tarfaya to Mohammed V and joined the previously separate districts of Seguia el-Hamra (in the north) and Río de Oro (in the south) to form the province of Spanish Sahara.

In 1959, the Spanish territory of the Gulf of Guinea was created with a status similar to the provinces of metropolitan Spain. As a Spanish equatorial region, it was ruled by a governor general with military and civilian powers. The first local elections were held in 1959 and the first Equatorial Guinean representatives were elected to the Spanish Parliament. Under the Basic Law of December 1963, limited autonomy was authorized by a joint legislative body for the territory”s two provinces. The name of the country was changed to Equatorial Guinea. In March 1968, under pressure from Equatorial Guinean nationalists and the United Nations, Spain announced that it would grant the country independence.

In 1969, under international pressure, Spain returned Sidi Ifni to Morocco. Spanish control of the Spanish Sahara continued until the 1975 Green March led to a withdrawal under Moroccan military pressure. The future of this former Spanish colony remains uncertain.

The Canary Islands and the Spanish cities of the African continent are considered an equal part of Spain and the European Union but have a different tax system.

Morocco still claims Ceuta, Melilla and plazas de soberanía even though they are internationally recognized as administrative divisions of Spain. The Isla Persil was occupied on July 11, 2002 by Moroccan gendarmerie and troops, who were expelled by Spanish naval forces in a bloodless operation.

Although the Spanish Empire declined from its peak in the mid-seventeenth century, it remained a marvel to other Europeans for its geographical extent. Writing in 1738, the English poet Samuel Johnson wondered, “Has heaven reserved, out of pity for the poor,

The Spanish Empire left an enormous linguistic, religious, political, cultural and urban architectural legacy in the Western Hemisphere. With more than 470 million native speakers today, Spanish is the second most widely spoken native language in the world, following the introduction of the Castilian language (“Castellano”) from the Iberian Peninsula to Spanish America, later expanded by the successor governments of the independent republics. In the Philippines, the Spanish-American War (1898) placed the islands under American jurisdiction, with English being imposed in schools and Spanish becoming a secondary official language.

An important cultural legacy of the Spanish empire abroad was Roman Catholicism, which remained the primary religious faith in Spanish America and the Philippines. Christian evangelization of indigenous peoples was a key responsibility of the crown and a justification for its imperial expansion. Although the natives were considered neophytes and insufficiently mature in their faith for native men to be ordained priests, the natives were part of the Catholic faith community. Catholic orthodoxy imposed by the Inquisition, particularly targeting crypto-Jews and Protestants, it was not until after their independence in the nineteenth century that the Spanish-American republics allowed religious tolerance of other faiths. Respect for Catholic holidays often has strong regional expressions and remains important in many parts of Hispanic America. Celebrations include Day of the Dead, Carnival, Holy Week, Corpus Christi, Epiphany and national saints” days, such as the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico.

Politically, the colonial era strongly influenced modern Spanish America. The territorial divisions of the empire in Spanish America became the basis for the borders between the new republics after independence and the state divisions within countries. It is often argued that the rise of caudillism during and after the independence movements in Latin America created a legacy of authoritarianism in the region. There was no significant development of representative institutions during the colonial era and the executive branch was often strengthened over the legislative branch during the national period. Unfortunately, this led to a popular misconception that the colonial legacy led the region to have an extremely oppressed proletariat. Revolts and riots were often seen as evidence of this alleged extreme oppression. However, the culture of revolt against an unpopular government is not simply a confirmation of widespread authoritarianism. The colonial legacy left a political culture of revolt, but not always as a last desperate act. Civil unrest in the region is seen by some as a form of political involvement. While the political context of the political revolutions in Spanish America is understood as one in which liberal elites clashed to form new national political structures, so too were those elites responding to the mass political mobilization and participation of the lower classes.

Hundreds of cities in the Americas were founded under Spanish rule, and the colonial centers and buildings of many of them are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites that attract tourists. The physical heritage includes universities, forts, towns, cathedrals, schools, hospitals, missions, government buildings and colonial residences, many of which still exist today. A number of today”s roads, canals, ports or bridges are located where Spanish engineers built them centuries ago. The oldest universities in the Americas were founded by Spanish scholars and Catholic missionaries. The Spanish Empire also left a vast cultural and linguistic legacy. The cultural legacy is also present in music, cuisine and fashion, some of which have been granted intangible cultural heritage status by UNESCO.

The long colonial period in Spanish America resulted in a mixture of indigenous, European, and African peoples who were racially classified and hierarchically ranked, so there was a mixed-race society in the Spanish and Portuguese Americas compared to the distinctly separate settler colonies of the British and French in North America.

Together with the Portuguese Empire, the Spanish Empire laid the foundation for truly global trade by opening up the great transoceanic trade routes and exploring territories and oceans unknown to Western knowledge. The Spanish eight coin became the world”s first global currency.

One of the characteristics of this trade was the exchange of a great variety of plants and domestic animals between the Old World and the New in the Colombian exchange. Some of the crops that were introduced to America were grapes, wheat, barley, apples and citrus fruits. Animals that were introduced to the New World were horses, donkeys, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens. The Old World received from America such things as corn, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, tobacco, beans, squash, cocoa (chocolate), vanilla, avocados, pineapples, rubber, peanuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, pecans, blueberries, strawberries, quinoa, amaranth, chia, agave and others. The result of these exchanges was to considerably improve the agricultural potential not only in America, but also in Europe and Asia. Diseases caused by Europeans and Africans, such as smallpox, measles, typhus and others, devastated almost all native populations that had no immunity, and syphilis was traded from the New World to the Old.

There were also cultural influences, which can be seen in everything from architecture to food, music, art and law, from southern Argentina and Chile to the United States of America and the Philippines. The complex origins and contacts of different peoples resulted in cultural influences coming together in the varied forms so evident today in the former colonial areas.

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  1. Empire espagnol
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