Spain's Road to Empire: The Making of a World Power, 1492-1763
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How did a barren, thinly populated country, somewhat isolated from the rest of Europe become the world's first superpower? Henry Kamen's tremendous new book takes full advantage of its great theme to recreate the dazzling world of militant Castile from the fall of Moorish Granada and Columbus' first voyage to the imperial collapse over three centuries later. There is no better account in English of this immense, brutal adventure - a ceaseless quest for land, gold and slaves that made Spain, both for its conquered people and much of the rest of Europe, into a rapacious nightmare.
process began very soon after the coming of the Spaniards, and took many shapes and forms, all of them exhaustively studied by modern historians. A careful study of the case of the Valle del Mezquital in central Mexico gives one indication of the consequences on the environment of the New World. By the end of the sixteenth century the native population here had declined ninety per cent from pre-contact levels. By this time the Indians were no longer in possession of the land, and Spaniards had
to 108 ships of war at sea, without counting the vessels at Flanders. If we lacked this maritime strength not only would we lose the kingdoms we possess but in Madrid itself religion would perish, which is the principal question we should consider. This very year of 1626 we have had two royal armies in Flanders and one in the Palatinate, and all the power of France, England, Sweden, Venice, Savoy, Denmark, Holland, Brandenburg, and Saxony could not save Breda from our victorious arms.112 The
of the compass to defend the Spaniards in the peninsula against French invasion forces. Neapolitans, Germans, Irish and Belgians headed for Catalonia to defend the empire in its homeland. In the same decade the best warships from the Dunkirk fleet were ordered to come to the peninsula to defend Spain. In 1641 the Belgians sailed out into the Atlantic from their base at Cadiz and brought the silver-laden fleet from America safely home. In 1643 they performed a similar duty, escorting the
contributed generously to crown finances. The English ambassador to the emperor observed in 1520 that ‘nervus belli est pecunia, which he will not have without Spain’.22 And the Castilians, despite repeated criticisms, continued on the whole to be generous. But Charles never gave them any special place in the organization of his various territories, which he continued to treat on an equal basis. He explained to the 1523 Cortes that ‘we intend, as is reasonable, to be served conjointly by all the
on the Mexica chiefs during a festival. Cortés hurried back to the capital. ‘There were over one thousand three hundred soldiers,’ writes Diaz, ‘counting Narváez's people and our own, also some ninety-six horses, eighty bowmen and as many musketeers. In addition the Tlaxcalan chiefs gave us two thousand warriors. We arrived at Mexico on 24 June 1520.’ However, they found the city openly in revolt against the Spaniards, and after bitter fighting in the streets were forced to consider withdrawing.