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History of Spain

This is the history of Spain. See also the history of Europe and history of present-day nations and states.

It is traditional (only since 19th century) to start the history of modern Spain with the Visigoth kingdom. Although it is debatable whether there is continuity between it and the Kingdom of Castilla and Aragon after the 15th century, a discussion of modern Spain would be incomplete without a mention of the Visigoth Kingdom. Accordingly, Both it and Al Andalus have their own sections in this article, but should have full-blown articles of their own. The history of Spain just before the Visigoths belongs in the Roman Empire article. Before the Roman Empire, the Iberian Peninsula was never politically unified, see Preroman Iberia for a discussion of the indigenous groups and the colonies established by Eastern Mediterranean civilizations. Discussion of earlier periods probably belongs under prehistoric Europe.

Table of contents
1 Visigothic Spain
2 Al-Andalus
3 Reconquista: 8th-15th centuries
4 Spain under the Habsburgs: 16th-17th centuries
5 Spain under the Bourbons
6 Napoleonic Wars: War of Spanish Independence 1808-1812
7 Regency by Maria Cristina
8 Carlist Wars
9 Isabella II of Spain
10 Amadeus I of Savoy
11 The "disaster" of 1898
12 The "disaster" of Annual (1921)
13 The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera 1921-1930
14 Second Spanish Republic (1931-1939)
15 Spanish Civil War 1936-1939
16 The dictatorship of Franco 1936-1975
17 The transition to democracy 1975-1978

Visigothic Spain

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Germanic tribes invaded the former empire, several turned sedentary and created successor-kingdoms to the Romans in various parts of Europe. Iberia was taken over by the Visigoths after 410.

The Visigoths article is excellent, but it does not discuss Visigothic Spain in nearly as much detail as it was traditional in Spanish schools a few decades ago.


In 711 Arabs and Berbers converted to Islam, religion founded in the 7th century by prophet Muhammad, after dominating all the north of Africa, took advantage of a civil war in the Visigothic kingdoms in Iberia, jumped the Strait of Gibraltar, and by 718 dominated most of the peninsula. The Moorish advance into Europe was stopped at Poitiers (France) in 732.

The rulers of Al-Andalus were granted the rank of Emir by the Umayyad Caliph in Damascus. After the Umayyad were overthrown by the Abbasids, Abd-ar-rahman I declared Cordoba an independent emirate. Al-Andalus was rife with internal conflict between the Arab Umayyad rulers, the Berber (North African) commoners and the Visigoth-Roman Christian population.

In the 10th century Abd-ar-rahman III declared the Caliphate of Cordoba, effectively breaking all ties with the Egyptian and Syrian Caliphs. The Caliphate reached its peak around the year 1000, under Al-Mansur (a.k.a. Almanzor), who sacked Barcelona (985) and other Christian cities. After Almanzor's death the Caliphate plunged into a civil war and collapsed into the so-called "Taifa Kingdoms". Taifa kings competed against each other not only in war, but also in the protection of the arts. The Taifa kingdoms lost ground to the Christian realms in the north and, after the loss of Toledo in 1085, the Almoravides invaded Al-Andalus from North Africa and established an empire. In the 12th century the Almoravide empire broke up again, only to be taken over by the Almohade invasion. After the decisive battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, only the kingdom of Granada remained, until 1492.

Córdoba became one of the most beautiful and advanced cities of Europe, and an important scholarly center. (See also Abbadides, Almohades).

Reconquista: 8th-15th centuries

The expulsion of the Muslims was started by the first King of Asturias, named Pelayo (718-737), who started his fight against the Moors in the mountains of Covadonga. Later, his sons and descendants continued with his work until all of the Muslims were expelled. See Pelayo for more information.

While in the east of the peninsula, the Frankish emperors established the Marca Hispanica across the Pyrenees in part of what today is Catalonia, reconquering Girona in 785, Barcelona in 801.

The idea of the Reconquista as a single process spanning 8 centuries is historically inaccurate. The Christian realms in northern Spain warred against each other as much as against the Muslims. El Cid, the 11th-century hero of Spain's epic poem was banished by king Alfonso VI and found refuge with the Muslim king of Zaragoza. With the collapse of the Caliphate of Córdoba Al-Andalus broke apart into a number of small, warring domains, which contributed to the success of the southward expansionist drive of the Christian kingdoms. In the 11th century the Muslim realms asked for help from the North African Almoravides, who then took control of all of Al-Andalus and some Christian land. The Almohades were defeated in the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. By the mid-13th century Granada was the only independent Muslim realm in Spain, and the 13th and the 15th centuries were spent in internal strife among the Christian kingdoms. The reconquest of Spain was declared a crusade at the turn of the 13th century.

With this declaration came the urge for religious purity in Spain, which was capitalized on by the "Catholic monarchs" (Reyes Católicos in Spanish) Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon in order to justify their invasion of Granada, the expulsion of the Jews and the forceful conversion of the Moors. In the 15th century, the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were united under Isabella and Ferdinand. These two able rulers ruled jointly and worked to consolidate the power of the monarchy at the expense of the nobility. During their reign, the castles of many nobles (symbols of aristocratic independence from the monarchy) were demolished, and a system of regular taxation was established. Ferdinand and Isabella established the basis for the unification of Spain religiously as well as politically and economically. Under their rule the Muslims were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula. Aragon was at that time already an important maritime power in the Mediterranean, and Castile was in competition with Portugal for domination of the Atlantic Ocean. After the final conquest of the last Moorish stronghold at Granada in 1492, Spain started financing voyages of exploration. Those of Christopher Columbus brought a New World to Europe's attention, and were followed by the Conquistadores who brought the native empires of Mesoamerica and the Inca under Spanish Control. At the same time, the Jews of Spain were ordered on March 30, 1492 to convert to Christianity or be exiled from the country.

Through a policy of alliances with other European nobility and the conquest of most of South America and the West Indies, Spain began to establish itself as an empire. The Treaty of Tordesillas, negotiated by Pope Alexander VI between Portugal and Spain, effectively divided up the non-European world between these two budding empires. Massive amounts of gold and silver were imported from the New World into Spain's coffers. However, in the long run this hurt the Spanish economy much more than it helped it. The bullion caused high inflation rates, which undermined the value of Spain's currency. Additionally, Spain became dependent on her colonies for income, and when Queen Elizabeth I of England began to capture Spanish vessels on the way to and from the New World, Spain suffered massive economic losses. These effects, combined with the expulsion of Spain's most economically vital classes in the late 15th century (the Jews and the Moors), caused Spain's econmoy to collapse several times in the 16th century, brining the Golden Age of Spain to a close.

Spain under the Habsburgs: 16th-17th centuries

Spain's powerful world empire of the 16th and 17th centuries reached its height and declined under the Hapsburgs. The Spanish empire reached its maximum extent under Charles I, who was also (as Charles V) emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. (See Castilian War of the Communities) Under his sucessor Philip II, rising inflation, the expulsion of the Jews and Moors from Spain, and the dependency of Spain on New World gold and silver combined to cause multiple bankruptcies and economic crashes in Spain. The riches of America were directed to pay the loans of European bankers like the Fugger, that funded the costly wars in defense of Catholicism and the dynastic interests. Under Phillip II Spain also suffered the inglorious defeat of its Armada As the Spanish Hapsburgs declined, they ultimately yielded command of the seas to England.

The Habsburg dynasty became extinct in Spain and the War of the Spanish Succession ensued in which the other European powers tried to assume control of the Spanish monarchy. King Louis XIV of France eventually "won" the War the of Spanish Succession, and control of Spain passed to the Bourbon dynasty.

Spain under the Bourbons

Philip V, the first Bourbon king, of French origin, signed the Decreto de Nueva Planta in 1715, a new law that revoked most of the historical rights and privileges of the different kingdoms that conformed the Spanish Crown, unifying them under the laws of Castile, where the Cortes had been more receptive to the royal wish. Spain became culturally and politically a follower of France. The rule of the Spanish Bourbons continued under Ferdinand VI and Charles III. His son Charles IV was truly incompetent (some say mentally handicapped), and under his reign Spain fell to the armies of Napoleon.

Under the Bonapartes, Spain failed to embrace the mercantile and industrial revolutions of the 18th century, and also failed to absorb the ideals that of the Enlightenment that were revolutionizing European thought. These missed opportunities, combined with the economic failures of the 17th century, caused the country to fall desperately behind Britain, France, and Germany in economic and political power.

Napoleonic Wars: War of Spanish Independence 1808-1812

The Napoleonic invasion gave the opportunity to the American colonies to claim their independence (See Libertadores). In 1812 the Cortes took refuge at Cadiz and created the first modern Spanish constitution, informally named as La Pepa. This constitution was revoked by the returning king Ferdinand VII.

1820-1823 [Trienio Liberal] - After the pronunciamento (coup d'etat) by Riego, the king was forced to accept the liberal Constitution.

1823-1833 [Decada ominosa] - Another coup d'etat revoked the Constitution, executed Riego, and restored Ferdinand VII as absolute monarch.

Regency by Maria Cristina

Carlist Wars

see also Tomás de Zumalacárregui

Isabella II of Spain

Amadeus I of Savoy

1st Spanish Republic

[The Restoration]

Alfonso XII -

Don Manuel Ruiz Zorilla

The "disaster" of 1898

By 1898, Spain had lost most of its colonial possessions. Then Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam were lost to the United States. (See also: Spanish-American War) Spain's colonial possessions were reduced to Spanish Morocco, Western Sahara and Equatorial Guinea.

Alfonso XIII -

The "disaster" of Annual (1921)

Mistreatment of the Moorish population in Morocco led to an uprising and the loss of all North African possessions except for the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in 1921. Abd el-Krim, Annual. In order to avoid accountability, the king Alfonso XIII decided to support the dictatorship of general Miguel Primo de Rivera.

The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera 1921-1930

The dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera collapsed in 1930. Disgusted with the king's involvement in it, urban population voted for republican parties in the municipal elections of April 1931. The king was forced to resign and a republic was established.

Second Spanish Republic (1931-1939)

First time women are allowed to vote in general elections. Autonomy devolved to the Basque country and to Catalonia.

Spanish Civil War 1936-1939

A right wing coup d'etat by Francisco Franco and other generals starts the Spanish Civil War against the Republic.

The dictatorship of Franco 1936-1975

Spain remained neutral in World Wars I and II, but suffered through a devastating Civil War (1936-39). During Franco's rule, Spain remained largely economically and culturally isolated from the outside world, but slowly began to catch up economically with its European neighbors.

Under Franco, Spain actively sought the return of Gibraltar by the UK, and gained some support for its cause at the United Nations. During the 1960s, Spain began imposing restrictions on Gibraltar, culminating in the closure of the border in 1969. It was not fully reopened until 1985.

Spain also relinquished its colonies in Africa, with Spanish rule in Morocco ending in 1956. Spanish Guinea was granted independence as Equatorial Guinea in 1968, while the Moroccan enclave of Ifni had been ceded to Morocco in 1969.

The latter years of Franco's rule saw some economic and political liberalisation, the so called Spanish Miracle, including the birth of a tourism industry. Francisco Franco ruled until his death on November 20th 1975 when control was given to King Juan Carlos.

In the last few months before Franco's death, the Spanish state went into a paralysis. This was capitalized upon by King Hassan of Morocco, who ordered the 'Green March' into Western Sahara, Spain's last colonial possession.

The transition to democracy 1975-1978

At present, Spain is a constitutional monarchy, and is comprised of 17 autonomous communities (Andalucía, Aragón, Asturias, Illes Balears, Islas Canarias, Cantabria, Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha, Catalunya, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, País Vasco, Comunitat Valenciana, Navarra, Ceuta and Melilla). One of the most important problems facing Spain today is ETA's terrorism - this illegal organization defends Basque independence through violent means, which is condemned by both Central and Basque government, although there is tension between these governments since PNV (the party presently governing Basque Country) longs for greater autonomy from Spain, including the possibility of independence, something Spanish government doesn't accept.

[Spain 1978-1982] The Union del Centro Democrático governments. 1981 The 23-F coup d'etat attempt. On February 23 Antonio Tejero, with members of the Guardia Civil entered the Spanish Congress of Deputies, and stoped the session, where Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo was going to be named president of the government. Officially, the coup d'etat failed thanks to King Juan Carlos.

[Spain 1982-1996] The Socialist governments. Spain joins the NATO. 1986 Spains enters the European Union. 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Expo 92 in Seville.

[Spain 1996-2002] The Partido Popular governments of José María Aznar. 1999 Spains abandons the peseta and adopts the new euro currency.

See also: List of Spanish monarchs - Kings of Spain family tree