The Spanish Empire - the story of ups and downs

Traditionally, the term "empire" is commonly understood as a mighty power that unites different nations into a single state and relies on military force in its policy. The Spanish Empire fully met all these requirements from the 15th to the 20th century. For nearly five centuries, its flag flew over vast territories not only in Europe, but also in Asia, America, Africa and Oceania.

Spanish empire

Start building an empire

The event, which resulted in the formation of the Spanish Empire, is considered to be the Castillo-Aragonese Union, signed in 1479, a document that united two previously independent territories into a single state. The royal couple became its rulers - Ferdinand II and his wife Isabella I Catholic.

In 1492, the territory of the newly formed empire expanded significantly due to the annexation of the Iberian Peninsula, which was conquered by the Muslims as a result of the victorious completion of the Reconquista, a long struggle of Christians with the Moors of the Emirates.And then it included the first overseas colonies, acquired through the discovery of the American continent by Christopher Columbus.

Golden Age of the Spanish Empire

After the death of the royal couple, the grandson of Isabella I the Catholic, Karl V Habsburg, took the throne. He was the son of the duke of Burgun, Philip I the Beautiful, and the queen of Castile, Juana I the Mad. Despite the fact that this ruler was not a born Spaniard, it is considered that the Spanish Empire under Charles V experienced a golden age.

The capital of Madrid

His coronation as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, accomplished in 1530 by Pope Clement VII, was a real triumph. From now on, under his scepter entered Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and a large part of France, called Flanche-Comte. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this was a kind of Spanish intervention in Europe. After suppressing the rebellion of Castilian cities ten years before the coronation, he destroyed the last center of resistance to his power and managed to create an empire, which was not equal in Europe until Napoleon Bonaparte appeared on the historical scene.

Dynasty Spanish rulers

Charles V became the founder of the powerful Habsburg dynasty, who occupied the next two centuries the Spanish throne. The members of this family ruled the state, which, apart from Spain and its colonies, included the majority of European states. Their treasury owned the largest stock of gold at that time, thanks to which the capital Madrid surpassed all foreign cities in its pomp and was the largest cultural center.

However, it should not be assumed that the rule of the Habsburgs was a period of universal peace and prosperity. The Spanish empire, whose history began at the end of the 15th century, over the following centuries could not become a truly united state — its separatist tendencies were too strong.

Many of its territories did not want to put up with their subordination to Madrid and demanded independence. In this regard, both Karl V himself and subsequent members of the ruling dynasty had to wage constant wars. It was especially hard to resist such strong opponents as Italy and France. The wars with them continued for a long time and did not bring victory to any of the opposing sides.

Golden Age of the Spanish Empire

Emperor-helper of the Inquisition

After the death of Charles V, which followed in 1558, the Spanish throne was inherited by his grandson Philip II. Having received in childhood not only a religious, but also a fairly complete secular education, he nevertheless over the years became an extremely pious man. Moreover, this monarch built his rule in such a way that it went down in history as a period of extreme religious intolerance and rampant inquisition. With him throughout the whole of Europe, the Gentiles were persecuted not only by Catholics, but also by Protestants.

However, despite the many negative consequences caused by the clerical power, the Spanish Empire during the years of Philip II reached the peak of its economic development. In addition, he very successfully led military operations with external enemies. In particular, we can recall the brilliant victory of his squadron over the Turkish fleet, won in 1571. Thanks to her, the further advance of the Turks into Europe was suspended.

Battle with the English fleet

But Philip II was not always lucky. An example of this is the crushing defeat inflicted on his fleet, then called the Great Armada, in 1588 off the coast of England. The continuation of this battle followed already in the years of the rule of another Spanish monarch Philip IV.In 1654, the two greatest sea powers in those days resolved a dispute over the possession of colonies on the islands of the West Indies.

Spanish empire history

The initiator of hostilities was the famous politician and leader of the English Revolution, Oliver Cromwell. It was he who aimed the strike of the British fleet at the Spanish squadron guarding the approaches to Jamaica, which was already a Spanish colony at that time.

Island, which became the capital of pirates

Despite the fact that Philip IV threw all the reserves at his disposal against the war with England, the Spanish Empire, whose flag had been developing over the years of Jamaica, was defeated. Three years later, she attempted a rematch, but to no avail.

Not only did the Spaniards lose the island, which contemporaries called the pearl in the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, they made new enemies. The main port city of Jamaica - Port Royal - the British authorities put at the disposal of the pirates with the condition that from there they would attack the ships sailing under Spanish flags.

Overseas treasury

Over time, the Spanish Empire became the owner of numerous overseas colonies, however, they did not immediately bring real profit, and not all.At the first stage, these territories under its control were very unprofitable and served exclusively to raise state prestige.

Spanish Empire under Charles v

This situation changed dramatically in 1520, after a rich silver deposit was discovered in North America in the modern Mexican city of Guanajuato. After that, the major developments of this metal began in Potosi and Zacatecas, which inexpressibly enriched the treasury. And soon in the ports of Spain began to arrive from the colonies and ships laden with gold.

On the basis of the surviving historical documents, scientists made calculations that showed that during the 16th century, the Spaniards exported precious metals from their colonies for an amount equivalent to one and a half trillion US dollars at the 1990 exchange rate.

Economic downturn

However, oddly enough, such an abundance of gold in the country led to an economic decline, since the volumes of goods produced were significantly inferior to the amount of imported precious metals, and international trade had not yet reached the proper level. As a result, Spain was caught up in inflation.

This disastrous process, which began in the last quarter of the 16th century, continued in the next century. As many researchers note, his move was largely influenced by the expulsion from the country of the Moriscos - Muslims who were forcibly converted to Christianity, but who continued to practice Islam in secret, as well as the eternally guilty of all Jews. The fact is that both those and others, traditionally engaged in crafts and trade, had a very positive impact on the state of the economy.

Spanish empire flag

Spain in 1800

This year entered the history of the country, since it was the beginning of an economic upswing caused by a number of progressive reforms. In addition, he brought significant military successes. In particular, it should be noted the victory of the Spanish fleet over the British squadron, which attempted to land troops to capture the strategically important South American city of Cartagena.

Thanks to this, Spain has retained its colonial possessions in this part of the world for a whole century, although on the whole its international prestige has been considerably shaken. But even in the face of a significant increase in France, Austria, Great Britain, in 1800, the Spanish currency remained the strongest in the world.

Sunset of the empire

It is no coincidence that the golden age of the Spanish Empire is considered to be the years of Karl V.’s reign. The rulers who succeeded him could no longer maintain the prestige of the state at the same level, and the once omnipotent power gradually began to give up. Beginning on the continent, this process gradually became apparent in its overseas possessions. Year by year, its capital - Madrid - was losing its former glory.

Spain in 1800

The situation was greatly aggravated at the end of the nineteenth century. The reason for this was the increased by that time nationalist and anti-colonial attitudes, noted in a number of countries. Their consequence was the beginning of the Spanish-American war, in which the United States was the victor. The result of the defeat was the loss of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines and Cuba. By the end of the century, under the control of Spain, there were no more territories left either in Asia or in America.

Islands in the Pacific, Spain sold Germany, retaining under its control only part of the African colonies. In the 20th century, the development of their infrastructure was practically ceased. The only exceptions were extensive coffee plantations in Nigeria.However, these territories, like all of Equatorial Guinea, in 1968, under pressure from the UN, had to be recognized as independent. The five-century empire ceased to exist, becoming one of the ordinary European states.

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