MoboReader> Literature > The American Nation: A History — Volume 1: European Background of American History, 1300-1600

   Chapter 5 THE SPANISH MONARCHY IN THE AGE OF COLUMBUS

The American Nation: A History — Volume 1: European Background of American History, 1300-1600 By Edward Potts Cheyney Characters: 34834

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


(1474-1525)

The limits of Portuguese discovery and dominion were soon reached; and as the fifteenth century advanced, Spain emerged not only as one of the great powers of Europe but as the first exploring, conquering, and colonizing nation of America. A century before any other European state obtained a permanent foothold in the New World, Spain began the creation of a great colonial empire there, which was soon occupied by her settlers, administered by a department of her government, converted by her missionaries, and made famous throughout Europe by the wealth which it brought to the mother-country. Such a work at such a time could only be accomplished by a vigorous and rising nation, and, in fact, Spanish advancement in Europe during this period corresponded closely with her achievements in America. There are few recorded instances of a development so rapid and a transformation so complete as that which took place in Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella, between 1474 and 1516.

For a career destined to be scarcely inferior to that any of the great empires of history, Spain had at the beginning of this period an inadequate and undeveloped political organization. Even that royal power which was the condition precedent to distant conquest and colonial organization was new. Spanish national unity, royal absolutism, and religious uniformity, which were famous throughout Europe in the sixteenth century, were all of recent growth; the centralized control over all parts of her widely scattered colonies which Spain, above all colonizing countries, exercised, was a power attained and a policy adopted only at the moment of the acquisition of those colonies.

When, in 1474, Isabella inherited the crown of Castille, and, in 1479, her husband, Ferdinand, became king of Aragon, they united, by close personal and political bonds, what had formerly been near a score of domains, variously joined or detached.

The king of Aragon had already incorporated into a personal union three separate countries-the kingdom of Aragon, the kingdom of Valencia, and the ancient principality of Catalonia, each with its own body of representatives, its own law, its peculiar customs, and its separate administrative systems. Castile was in name a political unity, having one monarch and one body of estates. Nevertheless its provinces represented well-marked ancient divisions. Leon had once been a separate kingdom, and was still coupled with Castile itself in the full title of that monarchy; while Galicia, Asturias, and the three Basque provinces were inhabited by peoples of different political history, of different stock, and living under different customs. Navarre, Granada, and Portugal, although within the Iberian peninsula, were, at the accession of Ferdinand and Isabella, still independent; though the first was destined to be united to Aragon, the second to Castile, and even the third was to be amalgamated for eighty critical years with the greater monarchy. Thus Spain was a congeries of states, joined by the marriage bond of the two rulers of its principal divisions, but by no means yet a single monarchy or a united nation. It was the work of the Catholic sovereigns to carry this unification far towards completion by following common aims, by achieving success in many fields of common national interest, and by imposing the common royal power upon all divergent and warring classes and interests in the various Spanish states.

The personality of Ferdinand and Isabella was the first great factor in the strengthening of the monarchy; for they were both individuals of authority, energy, and ability. [Footnote: Burgenroth, Col. Letters and State Papers, Spain, I., 34, etc.] Their union was the next element; for the royal power of the united monarchies could be used to break down opposition in either. Great achievements in Spain and in Europe increased their authority and power by the prestige of success. Finally, the discoveries, conquests, and colonization of America gave a unique position to the rulers of these distant possessions. Not only did the products of the American mines American commercial taxation furnish a material basis of strength and influence; not only did a great commercial marine and a great navy grow up around the needs of intercourse with the colonies; but the romantic interest of the discoveries, the wild adventures, and the wonderful success of the conquistadores, and the extent of the colonies, filled the imagination and gave an ideal greatness to the monarchs in whose name these conquests were made, and by whom the New World was ruled.

There was need for all the authority of the new sovereigns at the time of their accession in 1474. Under the weak rule of Isabella's brother, Castile had become a prey to disorder amounting almost to anarchy; in Galicia brigandage was so common as to be unresisted, except by townsmen staying within walls; in Andalusia private warfare among the great noble houses had let loose all the forces of disorder and violence; Isabella's claim to the crown was disputed and her rival upheld by foreign support. [Footnote: Maurenbrecher, Studien und Studien, 45, 46.] The united sovereigns met these difficulties with vigor, and the first two years of Isabella's rule in Castile gave repeated instances of victorious warfare, of successful assertion of authority, and of harsh justice. The turbulent districts were reduced to order and the foreign invader expelled.

The disorder in Andalusia seemed to demand personal action. In 1477, therefore, the two sovereigns made a formal entry into Seville, and the queen asserted her royal power in a way that could not be misunderstood. In true patriarchal fashion she established her tribunal in the Alcazar, sitting in a chair on an elevated platform surrounded by her council and officers, in all solemnity and according to traditional forms, listening to the complaints of high and low, rich and poor, and granting summary justice to all who claimed it, irrespective of rank or means. Her decrees were carried out, ill-doers forced to make amends, and turbulent nobles reduced to promising to keep the peace. The visit of Isabella to Seville may well be taken as the beginning of the work of the new monarchy in Spain. [Footnote: Perez, Los Reyes Catolicos in Sevilla, 1477-1478, p. 13.]

The next step towards an enforcement of royal authority taken by the new monarchs involved the acknowledgment of an institution seemingly independent of the monarchy. Spanish cities and communes had at various times formed hermandads, leagues or brotherhoods, to enforce order, to support themselves against great nobles, or to strengthen themselves for the carrying out of some object of common policy. Instances could be found in which their combined strength had been used against the king himself or his officials. On the other hand, their united power had been used efficaciously to form a sort of rural police, each city undertaking the protection of certain roads and stretches of country. [Footnote: Antequera, Hist. de la Legislacion Espanola, 194-197.]

Two influential ministers, with the approval of Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1476, obtained the agreement of the Cortes of Castile and of a junta of the towns for the formation of a santa hermandad, or "holy brotherhood," for three years, for which rules were drawn up, submitted to the monarchs, and filially promulgated. The nobles gave a reluctant assent to the requirements of these rules, so far as they affected their estates and vassals. Altogether two thousand horsemen were to be equipped, each horseman supported by a body of one hundred households. These were grouped into companies under eight captains and placed in detachments at certain distances along all the roads. Besides the armed soldiers of the brotherhood, a whole system of alcaldes was organized with exclusive jurisdiction over certain kinds of offences. A common treasury existed for the support of expenses.

When any theft, assault, arson, or rape was discovered or complained of, immediately the bells Were rung, and the nearest detachment of soldiers of the brotherhood started on a pursuit which was carried to the boundaries of the next district, where its detachment took up the pursuit, and so on until the culprit was seized or the boundaries of the kingdom reached. No town, house, or castle could refuse the right of search. When arrested, a decision of the nearest alcalde was given within five days. If convicted, the culprit had hand or foot cut off or was put to death. The favorite mode of execution in earlier times had been to bind the offender to a stake, and shoot him with arrows "till he died naturally"; but Isabella required that he should be hanged first, and that only then might his body be used as a target and a warning for others. The rapidity of pursuit and the certainty of capture of offenders, the promptitude of justice, and the barbarism of the punishments made a strong impression; and the combination of popular vengeance with official sanction made the hermandad an effective form of national police. It was introduced into Aragon in 1488.

Although this system seemed to emanate from the people, the general control over it was preserved by Ferdinand and Isabella by placing in influential positions in its administration trusted ministers of their own, and by joining themselves in its organization. When its work of insuring order was measurably accomplished and the people began to complain of its expense, the sovereigns were able to transfer the military force into a contingent for the Moorish war, and the treasury into an addition to the commissariat for the same purpose. In 1498 it was reduced to the proportions of a petty and inexpensive local police. It had proved itself, as utilized by these strong monarchs, a means of obtaining order and recruiting an army without cost to the royal treasury.

The vigor of the royal administration, however, expressed itself rather in the development of purely royal organs than in those which were so largely popular as the hermandad. A group of royal councils became, under Ferdinand and Isabella, the most powerful instruments of the royal will, the most effective means for obtaining additional power and beating down all opposition. Early in the reign, the old royal council, which traditionally consisted of twelve members, including representatives of each of the three orders of the state, was reconstituted so as to consist of one ecclesiastic, three nobles, and eight or nine letrados, or lawyers. [Footnote: Cortes de los Antiguos Reinos, 112, etc.] The last class, who made up its majority, were men learned in the Roman law, and therefore devoted to the idea of absolute monarchy; without connection with the church or the nobility, and therefore interested in the strengthening of the kingship against both; shrewd, trained, capable, and hard working.

From this time forward the council, in constant attendance on the king, well organized, provided with a corps of clerks and officers, and holding daily sessions, became the serviceable and effective auxiliary of royal power. It had duties of consultation, advice, and in some cases decision, on matters of internal and external policy, of legislation and administration; and, in fact, of action in the whole sphere of the affairs of state. In time the council was gradually subdivided into three bodies: the Council of Justice, the Council of State, and the Council of the Finances, whose functions were indicated by their titles. The first of these was, in a certain sense, the direct representative of the old single royal council, and was frequently known as the Council of Castile. Its president was always considered the highest personage in the kingdom, next the king; its members were of that class of letrados whom the king could most securely rely on, and to it fell the duty of enforcing the royal supremacy as against all ancient claims, privileges, and liberties.

In addition to these outgrowths from the primitive council of the king, new councils were created from time to time, analogous in powers, but holding oversight over special spheres of national interest. Some of these were temporary, others permanent. Among them were the Council of the Hermandad, which lasted only for the twenty-two years of the existence of that institution; the Council of the Suprema, or of the Inquisition; the Council of the Military Orders, the Council of the Indies, and the Council of Aragon. [Footnote: Antequera, Hist. de la Legislation Espanola, 347, 348.] These great administrative boards were a characteristic part of the Spanish system of government, a natural outgrowth of its wide-spread fields of action.

The Council of the Indies was constituted in 1511, under the presidency of Juan de Fonseca, archdeacon of Seville, and was exactly analogous to the other councils. It accompanied the king, and had under him all ultimate control in policy, in jurisdiction, and in legislation over the Spanish possessions in America and in the East. Its members were habitually drawn from those men who had had experience as public servants in the West Indies or in the Philippines. The more direct oversight of individual voyages to the Indies, the regulation of details of colonial affairs, and a large sphere of general activity were possessed by the powerful Casa le Contractacion at Seville. A Bureau of Pilots also existed, whose office it was to collect nautical information, provide charts, and give assistance to Spanish navigators. But both of these offices were under the control of the Council of the Indies. [Footnote: J. de Veitia Linage, The Spanish Rule of Trade to the West Indies, trans. by Captain J. Stevens, book I., chap. iii.]

All these councils were stronger in discussion than the execution; their archives came to include a vast mass of records and special reports on subjects falling within their respective fields, and their procedure favored penetrating investigation and full debate. But decision was hard to come at, and the consciousness that final decision after all rested with the king paralyzed effectiveness. The custom of submitting all questions of policy to investigation by the appropriate council became invariable in later Spanish history, and it resulted in cumbrous ineffectiveness. Interminable inquiry and discussion ended frequently only in suspension of judgment or a divided report. Points of policy of imminent importance had to await a dilatory investigation and equivocal conclusions. This impotence of the central organs of government did not come in the time of Ferdinand and Isabella and their immediate successors, and the growing inefficiency of the councils was long overcome by the resolution of the monarchs. Nevertheless the system was part of the price paid for centralized government, acting independently of local initiative or independence.

The preponderance of power that was being obtained by the sovereigns in the affairs of central government by means of the royal councils was gained in the local affairs of provinces, towns, and communes, by the appointment of corregidores. Such officials were appointed from time to time by earlier sovereigns to represent them in various towns, but the system had never been extended widely. In 1480 the king and queen sent one or more corregidores into every self-governing town and city in Castile where such officials did not exist already. [Footnote: Pulgar, Cronita de los Reyes, II., chap. xcv.] They were to act alongside of the older local regidores and alcaldes as special representatives of the crown, defending its rights and claims, and fulfilling its duties of general oversight and protection. As a matter of fact, the great work they accomplished was the enforcement of royal supremacy over local privileges. Little by little they extended their powers and encroached upon the local self-government, bringing to bear all the weight of the central government upon local conditions. [Footnote: Mariejol, L'Espagne sous Ferdinand et Isabelle, 172-174.] The steady pressure of the corregidores was supplemented by the periodical visits of the pesquidores, veidores, or inspectors, whose duty it from time to time to visit the various localities, examining into the conduct of the corregidores and other officials, listening to complaints against them, reporting on the revenues, condition of the roads, and other local conditions and needs.

Councils, corregidores, inspectors, and various other instruments of royal power fast sapped the strength of older institutions and gave authority and efficiency to the royal government; but they were expensive and the crown was poor. Moreover, these institutions were only the permanent elements in a policy which had a thousand temporary occasions of expense. Not even Ferdinand and Isabella could carry out so vigorous a regime unless provided with larger revenues. They determined, therefore, to emancipate the crown from its poverty. A few years after their accession they felt themselves strong enough, supported by the representatives of the towns, in the Cortes of Toledo, to convoke the great nobles and churchmen of the kingdom and demand from them an investigation into the conditions under which the ancient domains of the crown had been alienated. [Footnote: Pulgar, Cr

onica de los Reyes, II, chap. xcv.; Calmeiro, Introduction to Cortes de los Antiguos Reinos, II., 63, 64.] The Cardinal Pedro de Mendoza and the queen's confessor, Ferdinand de Talavera, were appointed to judge of the propriety of the gifts of former sovereigns. They did their work so adequately that pension after pension, estate after estate, endowment after endowment, were resumed by the crown. These resumptions were principally to the loss of the great noble families which had enriched themselves at the expense of the crown. None, it is true, were impoverished thereby, but a more normal relation of comparative income between sovereign and subject was established in the process. [Footnote: Mariejol, L'Espagne sous Ferdinand et Isabelle, vi., 24.] Another and more permanent addition to the royal income was made by the absorption into the crown of the grand masterships of the three military orders which existed in Castile, the Knights of Santiago, of Calatrava, and of Alcantara. In the course of three centuries of conquest from the Moslems these orders had added estate to estate, territory to territory, town to town, benefice to benefice, till their possessions extended widely through Spain, their income perhaps equalled that of the king, and their rule as landlords extended over almost a million people, or one-third the population of Castile. [Footnote: Vicente de la Fuente, Hist Generale de Espana, V., 79.] At the head of each of these orders was a grand master, whose rich income, military following, and prestige made him one of the greatest nobles in Europe. There was reason in the claim that these grand masterships were antagonistic to royalty. Those who held them were the most turbulent nobles of Spain, and in earlier times had been the leaders in many a revolt against the crown. Their military system was co-ordinate with, and sometimes in conflict with, that of the king; their estates surrounded royal fortresses and sometimes excluded royal forces from frontier districts.

In 1487 when the grand mastership of the order of Calatrava became vacant, Ferdinand presented himself in the chapter of the commanders of the order, exhibited a papal bull giving him the administration of the order, and forced the assembly to elect him grand master. In 1494, with less formality, the grand master of Alcantara was induced to resign to the king his office, receiving, in recompense, the dignity of archbishop of Seville. Two years later, when the grand master of the order of Santiago died, Ferdinand had himself elected without difficulty. [Footnote: Maurenbrecher, Studien und Skizzen, 54.] Some time after this Isabella issued a pragmatic decree, declaring that the grand masterships of the orders should always be annexed to crown. These dignities were of great value; not only did they bring in a princely income, but they practically extended the estates and patronage of the crown by all the broad lands, cities, and villages, the offices, honors, and benefices with which the piety and chivalry of three centuries had endowed the orders.

When once such foundations had been laid, the crown extended rapidly its aggressions upon the old powers, privileges, and customs of classes and local bodies. To the nobility were interdicted the possession of fortified castles, the practice of private warfare, the use of artillery, the duel, [Footnote: Mariejol, L'Espagne sous Ferdinand et Isabelle, 35.] the use of quasi-royal formulas in their documents, [Footnote: Cortes de los Antiguos Reinos, IV., 191, 192.] and other proud old feudal customs. No slight influence was exercised upon the nobility by the increasing ceremony, size, and expenditure of the court, to which they came to be attached in positions of nominal service and honorable dependence, a position altogether favorable to the supremacy of the monarchs and unfavorable to the independence of the nobility.

Side by side with the consolidation of royal power went the creation of the territorial unity of the Spanish peninsula. The greatest step was the conquest of Granada. Rich, warlike, and proud, this ancient Moorish state resisted the persistent attacks of the Catholic sovereigns for eleven years, from 1481 to 1492. [Footnote: Prescott, Ferdinand and Isabella, chap. ix.] At least once Ferdinand wearied of the struggle and the expense, and longed to turn the efforts of the united Castilian and Aragonese arms eastward, where the natural ambitions of his own kingdom drew him towards France, Italy, and the islands of the Mediterranean. [Footnote: Mariejol, L'Espagne sous Ferdinand et Isabelle, 63.] Isabella's determination, however, never wavered, and in 1492 Granada opened her gates to her conquerors, the Moorish dynasty disappeared from Spain, and their mountains and plains were added to the kingdom of Castile.

In the very next year Ferdinand reunited to his dominions, by amicable treaty with the king of France, the two northern provinces of Catalonia, Cerdagne and Roussillon-which had been detached for thirty years. There remained Portugal and Navarre. The first of these independent kingdoms had already attained a degree of national independence, power, and wealth which prevented its absorption, though it was in the days of Spain's greatest power to be dragged for eighty years in her train. Navarre, balanced on the Pyrenees, had long been drawn alternately to France and to Aragon. In the closing years of the fifteenth and the opening years of the sixteenth century, neutrality became impossible; and in 1512 a powerful Spanish army under the duke of Alva marched into Navarre; its castles and towns capitulated, the latter under a promise of the maintenance of their privileges; the king retreated to the trans-Pyrenean part of his kingdom, and Ferdinand added to his other titles that of king of Navarre. [Footnote: Boissonade, Reunion de la Navarre a la Castille.] By the time of the death of Ferdinand, the unity of the peninsula, except for Portugal, was complete. The immediate successors of the Catholic sovereigns wore the crowns of all the countries that ever have made part of Spain.

Just as Spain became territorially one, she was made homogeneous in race and religion so as ultimately to become a land of one race and one faith. The Jew and the Moor were both destined to disappear; every element alien in blood and every element unorthodox in religion to be driven out of the land. This complete purity of blood and unity of belief were only attained long afterwards, in a period when Spain had little else than her orthodoxy to pride herself upon, but they were well begun in the time of the Catholic sovereigns.

The Jews were the first to meet with serious persecution. They were very numerous: in one town, Ciudad Real, an assessment at one time showed 8828 heads of families, or other adult males of the Jewish race. [Footnote: Lea, The Moriscos of Spain, 383.] They were famous as physicians and merchants, and, as in other lands, were often money- lenders. From time to time waves of religious antagonism swept over the country, and under the terrible pressure of slaughter and imminent danger, great numbers of Jews were baptized and became conversos, or "New Christians." These converts, freed from the disabilities of their religion and gifted with superior natural abilities, rapidly attained to high positions in church and state. Intermarriages between the New Christians and those of Castilian blood were frequent, and many families of great eminence had Jewish blood in their veins.

The conversos were under constant suspicion of being Christians only formally; it was believed that in their hearts they retained their ancient faith and secretly performed its rites; they were credited with antagonism to Christianity and suspected of practising sorcery to destroy the "Old Christians." There was some basis for the first, at least, of these suspicions. Many doubtless failed to abandon completely their ancestral ceremonies; and not only they but even some Old Christians felt the attraction of their mysterious and ancient traditions. [Footnote: Mariejol, L'Espagne sous Ferdinand et Isabelle, 44.] The practice of Jewish rites, known as "Judaizing," under the wide relationships and high connections of the conversos, long went on unchecked. In 1475 the pope conferred on his legate in Castile full inquisitorial powers to prosecute and punish "Judaizing" Christians; but the mandate was not carried out. [Footnote: Lea, in Am. Hist. Rev., October, 1895, p. 48.]

In 1480, however, the Catholic sovereigns requested from the pope authorization for the appointment by themselves of inquisitors to root out this heresy. A bull for the purpose was granted them, and on September 27, 1480, the Spanish Inquisition was established at Seville. In January, 1481, it began its work, and branches were gradually established in other centres till it had extended its tribunals to cover all Castile. Its work proved heavy; in its first eight years the tribunal of Seville alone put to death seven hundred persons and condemned five thousand more to severe penalties. [Footnote: Bernaldez, Hist. de los Reyes, chap. xliv., quoted by Mariejol, L'Espagne, 46.] One of the great councils of the realm was formed to direct its operations, at the head of which was the inquisitor-general. The third in the line of inquisitors-general extended the Inquisition to America.

The authority of the Inquisition extended only over baptized persons; and, therefore, Jews who had never given up their religion, although under many disabilities, were not subject to its jurisdiction; but immunity to unconverted Jews could not consistently be continued during a harsh persecution of Judaizing Christians, and from the commencement of the work of the Inquisition pressure was brought to bear by clergy and populace upon the sovereigns to force all Jews either to be baptized or to emigrate. [Footnote: Lea, Religious History of Spain, 437.] The policy of enforced conversion or expulsion was steadily advocated by the inquisitors; since, if the Jews were baptized they would come under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition; if they left the country, Spain would be free from the reproach of harboring heretics.

Isabella seems to have hesitated to carry out this policy, as well she might. But the tide of popular hatred rose higher and higher, driven on by the famous case of El Santo Nino de la Guardia, the reputed murder of a Christian child by Jews to obtain its heart for purposes of sorcery. [Footnote: Lea, Religious History of Spain, 437-468.] Finally, by the edict of March 31, 1492, all Jews were expelled from Spain, as they had been from England as early as 1290, and successively from many other states of Europe at intervening periods. [Footnote: Amador de los Rios, Los Judios de Espana y Portugal, III., 603.] The same year that saw the discovery of America and the capture of Granada saw the expulsion of some one hundred thousand Jews and the enforced baptism of the fifty thousand that remained. [Footnote: Isidore Loeb, in Revue des Etudes Juives, 1887, p. 182, quoted in Lea, The Moriscos of Spain, 16.] One great and costly step had been made in the direction of unity of race and religion in Spain.

The Moors in Spain were still more numerous than the Jews, though more concentrated. Through the later mediaeval centuries, in the process of reconquest, Moorish populations which made formal surrender were preserved as subjects of the Christian kings; while those that were taken prisoners in battle were retained as slaves. Both classes, protected by the laws in their religion and their property, [Footnote: Las Siete Partidas, pt. i., tit. v., ley 23, etc., quoted in Lea, The Moriscos of Spain, 2.] frequently still practised their Mohammedan faith. Practically the whole rural population of the kingdom of Valencia was Moorish, and in the cities of the southern provinces of Castile they made a considerable part of the population. In the century and a half of peace just preceding the war with Granada they increased steadily in numbers and in economic value to Spain.

The conquest of Granada, in 1492, brought the population of that country under the rule of Ferdinand and Isabella. The old body of Moorish subjects of Aragon and Castile, now reinforced by all the teeming population of the south, made an element of the population of united Spain of infinite promise. They were skilful, industrious, temperate, and moral; their agriculture and manufactures were far more advanced than those of the Christians, and they were more laborious, thrifty, and peaceable. They might be relied upon to furnish through taxation a steady and abundant income to the crown, and through their labor to make the landed estates of the nobles profitable.

Though treaty guarantees and the permanent material interests of the new sovereigns alike favored the protection and pacification of the Moorish inhabitants of Granada, other motives antagonized this policy. Religious enthusiasm and racial antipathy, as well as immediate greed, urged a disregard of the terms of capitulation, or, at least, such an interpretation of them as would drive the Moors either to conversion or exile. The latitudinarianism of earlier centuries had disappeared. The whole spirit of the time was now averse to tolerance or anything approaching local, national, or religious independence. At first, under Talavera, a sincere, earnest, and partially successful effort was made to convert the Moors individually to Christianity; but soon a demand arose and became ever more urgent that the Moors, like the Jews, should be given the simple and immediate alternative of baptism or exile. In 1500 this policy was adopted in Granada; in 1502, by royal edict signed by Isabella, it was applied to all the dominions of the Castilian crown; and in 1525 it was promulgated in Aragon, Valencia, and Catalonia. As a result many of the Moors emigrated to Africa; the rest became Moriscos-that is to say, Christians in religion, although Moors in blood. Thus religious uniformity was attained in Spain. In theory, at least, every inhabitant of the united kingdom was a Catholic Christian. But the enforced Christianity required of the Moriscos produced only an outward and imperfect conformity, and the problem of this alien element remained long unsolved to plague the Spanish monarchs, and to bring untold misery on the Moriscos themselves. [Footnote: Lea, The Moriscos of Spain, chaps. v.-xi.]

Thus the fragmentary and embryonic group of Iberian nations of the fifteenth century grew into the powerful Spanish monarchy of the sixteenth. A single centralized government was created, and the divided currents of national life were gathered by it into one great stream. Notwithstanding many survivals of mediaeval conditions and later reversions to the earlier type, internal warfare and domestic disorder disappeared from the peninsula, and divergence of foreign policy no longer weakened its influence in Europe. The absolute monarchy was founded, and whatever there was of ability, enterprise, and wealth in Spain came under its control. The sovereign was in a position to give patronage to voyages of adventure, to legislate for distant dominions, and to make the most remote Spanish possessions contributory to the general objects of Spanish policy.

Spain stood out as one of the greatest states in Europe. With her close approximation to a united nationality, her all-powerful monarchy, her highly elaborate bureaucracy, her increasing body of law, soon to be codified into a great whole, her nascent literature, her military gifts and resources, the wealth and romance of the Indies, she stood on the threshold of the sixteenth century with imposing power and dignity. The part she played during that century was a conspicuous one. Her generals and her troops became the most famous and the most successful in Europe. Her diplomatic representatives were able to take the highest tone and to win most successes among European states, in the international intrigues of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. She was rich enough to pension or bribe the ministers and courtiers of half the courts of Europe, and even to dazzle the eyes and impose upon the judgment of such a sovereign as James I. of England. Her literature and her art flourished with her political greatness, and she had all the external appearance of a great, cultured, and flourishing nation.

We know now, as was recognized by some observers even then, that Spain was a hollow shell. After the reign of Charles V. population stood stationary, or declined, and wealth decreased. Philip II. enforced orthodoxy, excluded all non-Catholic literature, and summoned home all Spanish students in foreign universities, thus dooming Spain to intellectual stagnation. She exhausted her resources in unwise or hopeless foreign struggles, like the war of conquest of Italy and the effort to reconquer the Netherlands; she wasted her peculiar opportunities by driving from her borders the enterprising Jews and industrious Moriscos, and by allowing commerce and finance to fall into the hands of foreigners. But most of these errors were, at the death of Ferdinand, in 1516, still in the future; and the Spanish monarchy and nation had much of the reality as well as the appearance of greatness.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares