Spanish Empire

This article needs cleanup.
This article needs to be edited to conform to a higher standard of article quality. After the article has been cleaned up, you may remove this message. For help, see How to Edit a Page and the style and How-to Directory .

Spain was the center of one of the first global empires. The 16th and 17th centuries are sometimes called "the Golden Age of Spain" (in Spanish, Siglo de Oro). Spain maintained its vast overseas empire until the 19th century. According to Henry Kamen , Spain was created by the Empire, rather than the Empire being created by Spain.


The countries that we now know as Portugal and Spain spent the Middle Ages after 722 in an intermittent struggle called the Reconquista. This struggle pitted the northern Christian kingdom against the Islamic kingdoms of the South.

In the Late Middle Ages, the Aragonese expansion southwards met with the Castilian advance northward in the provine of Murcia . Afterward, the Aragonese Empire focused in the Mediterranean, acting as far as Greece and Barbary.

The Castilians, meanwhile, kept power in the vassal kingdom of Granada by exacting tributes of gold, and, in so doing, ensured that gold from the Niger region of Africa entered Europe. Castile also interevened in Northern Africa itself, competing with the Portuguese Empire, by acquiring the Canary Islands from a Norman lord.

The Portuguese capture of Ceuta in 1415

Melilla, meanwhile was captured by Castile in 1497.

Reyes Católicos

The marriage of the Reyes Católicos (Ferdinand V of Castile and Isabella I of Aragon) created a confederation of reigns, each with their own administrations, but ruled by a common monarch. In 1492, Spain drove out the last Moorish king of Granada. After their victory, they negotiated with Cristopher Columbus, a genovesian sailor attempting to reach Asia by sailing west. Columbus instead inadvertently discovered the Americas, inaugurating an age of Spanish conquest and colonization of the continent. This Castilian Empire was the result of a period of rapid colonial expansion into the New World, as well as the Philippines and colonies in Africa.

After Columbus, the subjugation of the New World was led by a series of warrior-explorers called the Conquistadors (conquistador is Spanish for conqueror.) Native tribes were usually at war with one another and some of them were only too willing to form alliances with the Spanish in order to defeat powerful enemies, such as the Aztecs or Incas

The first Spanish conquest in the Americas was the island of Hispaniola. From there Juan Ponce de León conquered Puerto Rico and Diego Velázquez took Cuba. The first settlement on the mainland was Darién in Panama, settled by Vasco Núñez de Balboa in 1512.

The following material (originally from "island hopping" needs to be merged

The Spanish colonization of the Caribbean began when Christopher Columbus “discovered” the New World when he arrived on San Salvador in October of 1492. Queen Isabella of Spain felt obligated to rule over the islands of the pagans as a Christian monarch. Columbus was made an admiral and viceroy of the islands by Queen Isabella, and also he was given a large portion of any profits from ruling the islands.

Columbus soon thereafter started exploring the Caribbean with the help of some Lucayo Indians, and he found island of Cuba. When his flagship the Santa Maria was grounded he set sail to go back to Spain. He eventually returned to Spain, creating much excitement among the royals and soon a much larger expedition led by Columbus set sail for the New World. Seventeen ships, along with 1,500 men and many animals such as horses, sheep, and cattle and plants such as wheat, barley, grapes, and sugarcane landed in Dominica, and passed through a great number of other small Caribbean islands before reaching Hispaniola. He discovered the colony of Navidad deserted, so he founded Isabella and put his brother, Bartholeme, in charge of the colony so that Columbus could explore Jamaica and even more of Cuba. Hispaniola suffered as a colony, and by 1496 the colonists complained about Columbus’ rule when he returned to Spain.

Slavery first got a foothold in the Caribbean when Columbus negotiated peacefully with Francisco Roldan and his group of rebels from Hispaniola. The encomienda agreement allowed settlers to put Indians to work without having to pay them any wages. This illegal practice became the norm for Spanish colonies for centuries to come, being allowed both by Queen Isabella and Charles V who believed that slavery made the colonies profitable.

Upon the settlement of Hispaniola which was successful in the early 1500s, the colonists began searching elsewhere to begin new settlements. Those from the less prosperous Hispaniola were eager to search for new success in a new settlement. Thus began a pattern of ravaging the islands in a similar manner to what had taken place in Hispaniola. The process of island-hopping involved the soldiers rapidly moving through the island and fighting off any rebels, and terrorizing the native islanders. When gold was discovered, thousands of Spaniards flocked to the island, throwing the natives into the encomienda slavery. A few years later no more gold was to be found on the island and all the labor force (slaves) had died, so the colonists moved on to another island to start a new conquest.

The Golden Age of Spain

The 16th and 17th centuries are sometimes called "the Golden Age of Spain", but the European empire of Charles and its successors were not only Spaniard or Castilian. Their armies were made up of Germans and Italian, more than Spaniards.

As a result of the marriage politics of the Reyes Católicos, their grandson Charles inherited the Castilian empire in the Americas, the Aragonese Empire in the Mediterranean (including a large portion of modern Italy), as well as the crown of the Holy Roman Empire and of the Low Countries. Their Empire was constituted by inherited territories, not conquered. After defeating Castilian rebels in the Castilian War of the Communities , Charles was the most powerful man in Europe, his rule stretching over an empire not to be rivaled in size until Napoleon. Charles used his power to defend Catholicism against the Reformation and the Ottoman Empire. Charles attempted to quell the Protestant Reformation at the Diet of Worms but Luther refused to recant his "heresy." However, Charles's piety could not stop his mutinied troops of plundering the Holy See in the Sacco di Roma.

The most successful conquistador was Hernán Cortés, who in 1520-1521, with Amerindian allies, overran the mighty Aztec empire, thus making Mexico a part of the Spanish empire; this would be the basis of the colony of New Spain. Of comparable importance was the conquest of the Inca empire by Francisco Pizarro, which would become the Viceroyalty of Peru.

After this, rumours of golden cities (Cibola in North America, El Dorado in South America) caused several more expeditions to be sent out, but many of those returned without having found their goal, or having found it, finding it much less valuable than was hoped.

Some Spaniards, in particular the priest Bartolomé de Las Casas, defended Native Americans against the abuses of conquistadors. In 1542, new Spanish colonial laws were made to protect Indians. In 1552, Bartolomé de las Casas published "Short Account of the Destruction of the West Indies" (Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias), which was used by the other European colonial powers, rivals of Spain, to criticise Spain's role.

The one and only Charles V's son, Philip II of Spain parted the Austrian posessions with his brother Ferdinand. Philip treated Castile as the foundation of his empire, but the population of Castille (which was much less than that of France or England) was never great enough to provide the soldiers needed to support the Empire. He also inherited the Portuguese Empire and tried to marry Mary, the queen of England. It was said that in his domains, the sun never set.

Ferdinand Magellan, Juan Sebastián Elcano, circumnavigation, Pigafetta , Andrés de Urdaneta , Galeón de Manila, Moros (Philippines), Asiento de negros, Battle of Trafalgar, Mulatto, Mestizo, Lepanto, Fugger, German colonization of the Americas, triangular trade, Libertadores,Spanish America, Plazas de soberanía, Gibraltar, Spanish language, Chabacano, Papiamento, pichinglis , battle of Ayacucho, General Prim in the Americas, These are all cruel conquistadors.

After the Treaties of Utrecht (April 11, 1713), Spain would recover of fast and effective form. The century XVIII will be a century of prosperity for the overseas Spanish Empire.

Spain lost her posessions on the mainland of America with the independence movements of the early 19th century, especially with the power vacuum during the Peninsula War; at the end of the century most of the remaining Spanish Empire ( Cuba, Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam ) was lost in the Spanish American War in 1898.

Spanish Morocco

colonisation of Western Sahara, and Equatorial Guinea was attempted as a substitute for the loss of the Americas.

battle of Annual,

Manuel de Iradier

Last updated: 02-05-2005 08:08:26