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About this book

At its peak the Spanish empire stretched from Italy and the Netherlands to Peru and the Philippines. Its influence remains very significant to the history of Europe and the Americas. Maltby provides a concise and readable history of the empire's dramatic rise and fall, with special emphasis on the economy, institutions and intellectual movements.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
European colonialism, the centuries-long rule of European nations over societies thousands of miles from their shores, has few if any parallels in the history of humankind. No other civilization with the possible exception of Han Dynasty China attempted such a thing, and the Chinese experiment had few long lasting consequences. In contrast, European colonialism shaped the contours of the modern world by helping to foster global integration or globalization, a movement which until the mid-twentieth century proceeded largely on Europe’s terms.
William S. Maltby

1. Imperial Beginnings

Abstract
No conqueror created the Spanish empire, nor was its development the result of policy decisions taken by a king or his ministers. It evolved from the process that created Spain itself. Until late in the Middle Ages, Spain had been little more than a geographic expression. The Romans, after conquering its many tribes, divided the Iberian Peninsula into two provinces. In the fifth century the Visigoths established a kingdom centered at Toledo. They collected tribute and introduced elements of Germanic law, but did little to interfere with local or regional centers of power. Then, at the beginning of the eighth century, the armies of al-Islam swept over the Iberian Peninsula leaving a handful of Christian communities clinging to its mountainous northern fringe. Almost immediately the inhabitants of those tiny kingdoms began to re-encroach upon the lands that had been conquered by the Muslims. It was the beginning of what has been called the Reconquest, a struggle of nearly 800 years that ended only with the extinction of Muslim Granada in 1492. The experience of those centuries forged Spain, itself an uneasy alliance of many cultures, but relentlessly devoted to expansion.
William S. Maltby

2. The Creation of an Empire in Europe

Abstract
Important as the discovery of America proved to be, the founding of its first colonies was never a major preoccupation of Ferdinand and Isabella. Their highest priorities remained the ordering of Castile and the protection of their realms from European challengers. With the settlement of their disputes with Portugal, the greatest threat to Spanish interests remained France. The French held the Catalan counties of Cerdanya and Rosellón (Cerdagne and Roussillon), while a French family, the Albret, ruled Navarre, the tiny kingdom that straddled the western passes of the Pyrenees. Both regions offered the French easy military access to the Iberian peninsula. The kings of France also claimed the Aragonese kingdom of Naples, based on their descent from the Angevin dynasty that had ruled there until it was supplanted by Alfonso the Magnanimous of Aragon in 1443. A cadet branch of the Aragonese dynasty had ruled there ever since, and although Naples was not part of Ferdinand’s patrimony, he was obligated by kinship and treaty to protect it. From 1492 until his death Ferdinand therefore devoted most of his attention to Europe. Although he could not have foreseen it, his military, diplomatic, and dynastic policies became the foundations of a vast Spanish empire in Europe.
William S. Maltby

3. The Conquest of America

Abstract
When Charles of Habsburg ascended the throne of Castile in 1517, the kingdom’s empire in the New World had grown little since the days of Columbus. The original colony on Hispaniola had been reorganized and Cuba conquered. In 1509, the unofficial expedition under Balboa established a colony on the Isthmus of Panama and discovered the Pacific Ocean. Four years later Balboa was superceded and then executed by a legally sanctioned force under Pedro Arias (Pedrarias) de Avila. No great wealth was found in any of these places. Then within two decades a new wave of conquests toppled the great stone-age empires of Mexico and Peru and added them, together with their enormous wealth, to the patrimony of Castile. The forces that achieved these conquests were tiny by any standard, European or American, and were first launched by military entrepreneurs with little or no royal participation. Years elapsed before the Crown established its authority in the new territories. By this time millions had died and ancient cultures had perished, some of them virtually without a trace, while a flood of gold and silver wrung from the mountains of the New World enriched the Spanish treasury. Few episodes in history have been the subject of more vivid historical narratives, but the reasons for European success remain the subject of controversy.
William S. Maltby

4. Imperial Organization under the Habsburgs

Abstract
The Habsburgs governed the Spanish empire according to principles that had been universally accepted in Western Europe during the middle ages but are largely foreign to modern political thought. They—and their subjects—believed that all political authority was an extension of God’s sovereignty. Kings ruled by divine grace as God’s surrogates on earth, subject only to the restrictions imposed by divine and natural law. Any other form of government was by definition illegitimate. In theory the king’s power was therefore absolute. He was commander-in-chief in time of war, royal officials served entirely at his pleasure, and his edicts formed the basis of all legislation, but he could not exercise his power arbitrarily. His decrees could not violate moral and natural law as defined by the church, nor could they be inconsistent with the great body of legal rulings that had evolved in Spain since Roman times.
William S. Maltby

5. Imperial Policy

Abstract
The Spanish Empire of the sixteenth century possessed enviable strengths. Its institutions were well-crafted and deeply rooted in its history and culture. Both Charles V and his son, Philip II, were intelligent, capable rulers whose administrators, soldiers, and diplomats were envied by other states. Above all, Spain’s wealth in gold and silver exceeded that of any empire the world had yet seen, but by the time Philip died in 1598, the financial and military resources of his empire had already been stretched to their limits and the domestic economy of Spain itself was in serious disarray. Seventy years later Spain had ceased to be Europe’s greatest power, although much of its empire would survive into the nineteenth century. The cause of this decline was an imperial policy which, if defensive in theory, involved the Spanish Habsburgs in two destructive conflicts: the Revolt of the Netherlands, which evolved into a general northern European struggle that lasted for more than 80 years, and the contest with Islam in the Mediterranean.
William S. Maltby

6. Imperial Decline

Abstract
In retrospect it is easy to criticize the empire’s leaders for pursuing an expensive foreign policy with inadequate resources. They would have responded that their many enemies left them no choice, and they may have been right. Empires attract rivals even as they generate dissidents within, and as the Romans, Turks, British, and others have discovered, allowing an empire to unravel can create more problems than it solves. Having inherited his empire, Philip II and his successors felt obliged to sustain it. They may also have believed, at least in the beginning, that with crown revenues greater than those of any other European country they could succeed. Such illusions, if they existed, did not long survive.
William S. Maltby

7. The Bourbons

Abstract
The death of Charles II on November 1, 1700 marked the end of the Habsburg dynasty in Spain and the beginning of a gradual but revolutionary transformation in imperial government. On his deathbed Charles staunchly resisted the influence of his Austrian queen and chose Duke Philip of Anjou, second son of the French dauphin and grandson of Louis XIV, to succeed him. The choice had been difficult and would lead to a world war of 12 years’ duration.
William S. Maltby

8. The End of the Empire

Abstract
The independence of Spanish America did not arise from ideological conviction or from a widespread desire to be free of Spain. Many Creoles had long resented Bourbon authoritarianism and what they saw as indifference to colonial interests. Some had lost faith in the moral legitimacy of Bourbon rule, but with the exception of a few bold spirits who had imbibed the rhetoric of the French and American revolutions there was little support for independence in the colonies prior to 1808. America, in other words, did not try to break with Spain; the Spanish monarchy deserted America.
William S. Maltby
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