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Spanish Empire

The Spanish Empire, sometimes called "the golden age of Spain" was a period of rapid colonial expansion that spread Spainish domination to much of the New World, as well as the Philippines and colonies in Africa. From the 16th century to the 19th century Spain, with its vast empire, was a global superpower.

Table of contents
1 Precedents
2 Beginnings
3 The Empire in Europe (Monarchia Hispanica)
4 See also


The Christian kingdoms in the North of what we know as Spain spent the Middle Ages after 722 in an intermittent struggle, known as Reconquista, against the Islamic kingdoms of the South. In the Late Middle Ages, the Aragonese expansion southwards had met in Murcia with the Castilian advance. Since them, the Aragonese empire focused in the Mediterranean, acting as far as Greece and in Barbary.

It was in the interest of Castile to keep a last remnant of Moorish power as the vassal kingdom of Granada so that, through the tributes, gold from the Niger region of Africa would enter Europe. Nevertheless, Castile also intervened in Northern Africa, competing with the Portuguese Empire, and acquired the Canary Islands from its Norman lord.


In 1492, the Reyes Católicos (Ferdinand V of Castile and Isabella I of Aragon) drove out the last Moorish king of Granada. After their victory, they negotiated with Cristopher Columbus, a 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.

After Columbus, the subjugation of the New World was led by a series of warrior-explorers called the Conquistadors (conquistador is Spanish for conqueror.) The new kingdom of Spain had just emerged from the union of the Castile and Aragon, its religious zeal and convictions of ethnic superiority strenghted by the Reconquista.

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

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, singularly 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 Empire in Europe (Monarchia Hispanica)

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. Charles was the most powerful man in Europe, his rule stretching over an empire not to be rivaled in size until Napoleon. After defeating Castilian rebels in the Castilian War of the Communities, he treated Castile as the foundation of his empire. Charles used his power to defend Catholicism against the Reformation and the Turkish 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.

His son, Philip II of Spain parted the Austrian posessions with his brother Ferdinand. It was said that in his domains, the sun never set. He also inherited the Portuguese Empire and tried to marry Mary, the queen of England.

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 was lost in the Spanish American War.

See also

(Try to incorporate them in the article) Mulatto, Mestizo, Lepanto, Ferdinand Magellan, Juan Sebastián Elcano, circumnavigation, Pigafetta, Andrés de Urdaneta, Galeón de Manila, Moros (Philippines), Asiento de negros, Trafalgar, Spanish War of Sucession, Fugger, German colonization of the Americas, triangular trade, Libertadores, battle of Annual, Western Sahara, Spanish America, Equatorial Guinea, Ceuta, Melilla, Plazas de soberanía, Gibraltar, Spanish language, Chabacano, Papiamento, pichinglis, battle of Ayacucho, General Prim in the Americas, Manuel de Iradier