Spain Modern History

The Spain in the modern age

According to, the era of Ferdinand and Isabella was the golden age of Spanish history: the fall of Granada (1492) and the reconquest thus ended, the war against the Muslims was brought to the North African coast (taking Oran and Bugia [od. Béjaïa], 1509; Tripoli, 1511; subjugation of Algiers and Tunis). Ferdinand of Aragon intervened in the great European contest for dominance in Italy, conquering the South (1504); in 1512 with the annexation of Spanish Navarre, unity was also achieved on the side of the Pyrenees. At the end of the 15th century. the Spanish Inquisition was gradually introduced, which hit with particular severity the Jewish and Muslim religious minorities, considered extraneous to Spanish culture and disturbing the regained Christian unity: in 1492 the Jews were expelled from the country; many Marranos and their descendants were condemned to the stake; proscribed Islam (1502), the Moriscos will also be expelled, between 1609 and 1614, by order of Philip III.

● The discoveries of C. Colombo offered the Spain new domains: between the 16th and 18th centuries, all current continental Latin America would have been placed under Spanish sovereignty (excluding Brazil, colonized by the Portuguese, and other small areas). The rise of the colonial empire in America also strengthened the European position of the country, which seemed to become of absolute hegemony under the reign of Charles V (1516-56) due to the unification of Castile and Aragon with the Empire and with the inherited domains of Habsburg ; even when, with the abdication of Charles V and the advent of Philip II (1556), it returned to being a distinct political individuality, the Spain could still be at the head of European politics for a few decades, achieving the absolute peninsular unity (1581, conquest of Portugal) and to associate their hegemonic interests with the religious movement of the Counter-Reformation.

● But in this splendor there were hidden reasons of profound and rapid decline: under Charles V, the association with states with a totally different structure forced the Spain to feed, with the wealth of the New World, conflicts that distracted it from its immediate interests (wars with France, collapse of dominion in Africa, fight against Lutheran religious movements). Under Philip II, state centralization, religious intolerance (1566, revolt of the Moriscos), the worsening of the economic crisis, common to all of Europe and caused by the excessive flow of American precious metals, struck the Spanish power to death. Philip II’s policy failed in France (advent of Henry IV, former Calvinist, and peace of Vervins of 1598), in Netherlands, rebelled for thirty years, in England (1588, destruction of the Invencible Armada).

● The successors Philip III (1598-1621) and Philip IV (1621-65) were forced to recognize the independence of the Netherlands and that of Portugal (1640) and in vain, after the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), they tried to continue the Thirty Years War on their own: with the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659) they were forced to abandon Artois, Luxembourg, some strongholds in Flanders, Roussillon and Cerdaña to France. Charles II (1665-1700) had to cede other strongholds in Flanders and Franche-Comté to France and, on his death without male heirs, the war of succession of Spain revealed how the country, a century before the dominant power in Europe, had fallen into a mere ‘object’ of international politics.

The American colonial empire

The American dominions of the Spain were organized in their general lines by the middle of the 16th century, according to the centralized model that was affirming itself in the motherland. The Consejo de Indias was the highest legislative, administrative and judicial body of the colonial government. Respectively in 1535 and in 1542 the vicerooms of the New Spain (Mexico, Central America and the Venezuelan coast) and Peru (Isthmus of Panama and all the Spanish domains to the South of this), at the head of which were placed the viceroys, officials appointed (by the Consejo de Indias with the consent of the king) for a fixed and revocable period, which was conferred the supreme civil and military authority. Subordinated to the viceroys, the general captains exercised the same prerogatives on smaller territorial entities. Viceroy and general captains were assisted by the Audiencias, collegial bodies with judicial and consultative powers; Audiencias not directly chaired by a viceroy or a captain general were led by a magistrate (president) and exercised power over smaller territorial entities. The provincial administration was organized in the corregimientos or alcaldías mayores, governed by a corregidor or an alcalde; at the municipal level was transferred to the New World cabildo (or ayuntamiento), a sort of city council, the only colonial institution of which the Creoles (Spaniards born in America) could belong, as the main political, military and ecclesiastical positions reserved for the Spaniards.

● In the 18th century, after the advent of the Bourbon dynasty, the viceroyalty of Nueva Granada (now Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador) and of Río de la Plata (Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia) were established), new Audiencias were created and the system of stewardship was introduced, which replaced the old provincial divisions. After 1756 the monopoly of Cadiz and Seville, the only ports authorized for trade with Hispanic America, was abolished and intercolonial trade was authorized.

Spain Modern History