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Spain and Portugal were the two most influential empires during the Age of Exploration. Read more about the empires in the Google Slides presentation.
Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, known collectively as the Catholic Monarchs, had a profound and lasting impact on Spain during the late 15th century. Their marriage in 1469 united the two powerful kingdoms, laying the groundwork for the unification of Spain. The duo played a pivotal role in the completion of the Reconquista, reclaiming the Iberian Peninsula from Muslim rule in 1492 with the capture of Granada. This achievement marked a significant moment in Spanish history.
Ferdinand and Isabella’s reign also witnessed the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition in 1478, aimed at maintaining religious orthodoxy and ensuring the Catholic faith’s dominance. The expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain in 1492, following the Alhambra Decree, reflected their commitment to religious unity.
Furthermore, the monarchs sponsored Christopher Columbus’s historic voyage in 1492, leading to the discovery of the Americas and opening a new era of exploration and colonization. This event laid the foundation for Spain’s emergence as a global colonial power.
The Catholic Monarchs’ patronage of the arts and sciences, as well as their administrative reforms, contributed to the flourishing of Spanish culture and governance. Their legacy endures in Spain’s identity as a Catholic nation with a significant impact on European and world history.
The Reconquista, spanning nearly eight centuries from the early 8th to the late 15th century, was a protracted and complex series of military campaigns aimed at the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from Muslim rule. Triggered by the Islamic Umayyad conquests in the 8th century, various Christian kingdoms in the region, such as Asturias, Leon, and Castile, gradually pushed southward, reclaiming territories.
The turning point came in 1085 when the city of Toledo was recaptured by King Alfonso VI of Castile. Over the centuries, Christian monarchs, including Ferdinand III, Alfonso X, and James I of Aragon, continued the Reconquista, steadily gaining ground. The fall of Granada in 1492, under the joint rule of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, marked the symbolic end of the Reconquista and the completion of Christian domination on the peninsula.
The Reconquista had profound cultural, religious, and social implications. It led to a blending of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish cultures, contributing to the unique cultural heritage of the Iberian Peninsula. The coexistence and clashes during this period shaped the diverse history of Spain and Portugal and set the stage for the Age of Exploration and the global influence these nations would later exert.
The Spanish Inquisition, established in 1478 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, was a judicial institution aimed at ensuring religious orthodoxy and purity within the newly unified Kingdom of Spain. Primarily focused on the conversion of Jews and Muslims to Christianity, the Inquisition operated through a network of tribunals with broad powers of investigation and punishment.
One of its infamous features was the use of torture to extract confessions from those accused of heresy or religious non-conformity. The Alhambra Decree of 1492, issued in the same year Christopher Columbus set sail for the Americas, mandated the expulsion of Jews from Spain, intensifying the Inquisition’s efforts to enforce religious conformity.
The Spanish Inquisition played a significant role in shaping Spain’s religious identity and maintaining the dominance of Catholicism. It also contributed to a climate of fear and suspicion, affecting not only religious minorities but also intellectuals and free thinkers. While it persisted for centuries, its methods and severity waned over time, and by the 19th century, the Inquisition was officially abolished. The impact of the Spanish Inquisition on Spain’s history is a complex and controversial aspect of the nation’s past.
Charles V, born in 1500, was a powerful ruler who became the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain during a pivotal period in European history. As the heir to the Habsburg dynasty and the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella, Charles inherited vast territories, including Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Low Countries (modern Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg). His reign, which began in 1519, coincided with the tumultuous period of the Reformation.
Charles V faced significant challenges, particularly from the spread of Protestantism. The Protestant Reformation, led by figures like Martin Luther, threatened the Catholic Church and the unity of the Holy Roman Empire. Charles attempted to quell the religious tensions through the Diet of Worms in 1521, where Luther refused to recant his views.
Additionally, Charles V confronted external threats, including conflicts with France over control of Italy and the Ottoman Turks over Eastern Europe. Unable to manage Spain’s colonies and the massive European empire, Charles abdicated his throne and retired to a monastery. He left the Holy Roman Empire to his brother, Ferdinand I, and Spain, Burgundy, Sicily, and the Netherlands to his son, Phillip II.
Philip II, the son of Charles V, ascended to the throne of Spain in 1556 and inherited an empire that spanned continents. His reign is characterized by a fervent dedication to Catholicism and a commitment to maintaining the Spanish Habsburg hegemony. Philip faced numerous challenges, including the ongoing conflicts with Protestant powers, notably the Eighty Years’ War with the Dutch Revolt and the Anglo-Spanish War against Elizabethan England.
A central event during Philip’s rule was the failed attempt to invade England with the Spanish Armada in 1588. This military campaign aimed to restore Catholicism in England under Queen Elizabeth I. However, adverse weather conditions and the English navy’s resilience resulted in a significant defeat for the Spanish.
Philip II’s reign was marked by a relentless pursuit of centralized control and a fervent belief in the divine right of kings. He implemented the Inquisition rigorously, suppressing dissent and heresy, and established a vast bureaucracy to govern his far-reaching territories. The economic strain of constant warfare and the reliance on American silver mines also played a role in Spain’s economic decline during his reign.
Spain and Portugal: Phillip II/Philip I
Philip II of Spain became King of Portugal through a complex series of events that unfolded in the late 16th century. The Portuguese succession crisis of 1580 played a pivotal role in Philip’s accession to the Portuguese throne.
In 1578, King Sebastian I of Portugal died without leaving an heir, leading to a power vacuum. The closest claimants to the throne were King Philip II of Spain, who was a great-nephew of Manuel I of Portugal, and King Henry, the Cardinal-King of Portugal. The Portuguese nobility was divided in their loyalties and support for these claimants.
In 1580, during the Battle of Alcácer Quibir in North Africa, King Sebastian’s army suffered a devastating defeat against the Moors, and Sebastian himself was presumed dead. With the young king missing or deceased, Portugal was left without a clear successor.
Amid the confusion and uncertainty, Philip II of Spain pressed his claim to the Portuguese throne. The Cortes (Portuguese assembly) recognized Philip as Philip I of Portugal in 1581. However, his rule was not universally accepted, leading to resistance and opposition, particularly from the Portuguese nobility.
Philip’s reign as King of Portugal continued until 1640 when the Portuguese Restoration War resulted in the end of the Iberian Union. The Duke of Braganza, John IV, was crowned as the new King of Portugal, marking the restoration of Portuguese independence and the end of Philip II’s direct rule over Portugal.
The Dutch War of Independence, also known as the Eighty Years’ War, was a long struggle where Dutch Protestants fought for their freedom from Spanish rule. It began in 1568 and lasted until 1648. The Spanish Habsburgs, led by Philip II, wanted to suppress Protestantism in the Low Countries (modern Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg). However, the Dutch, mainly Calvinists, resisted. Key events included the Siege of Leiden (1573-1574) and the Dutch fleet’s victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588. The Union of Utrecht in 1579 formally declared the independence of seven northern provinces from Spanish control. The war continued, with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 finally recognizing the Dutch Republic’s independence, marking the success of the Dutch Protestants in breaking free from Spanish rule.
The reign of Philip II marked a significant period in Spanish history, characterized by both imperial expansion and eventual decline. Despite initial successes, such as the acquisition of territories in the Americas and the Philippines, the latter years of Philip’s rule witnessed a gradual weakening of the Spanish Empire. The costly military engagements, including the Eighty Years’ War with the Dutch and the conflict against the Ottoman Empire, strained Spain’s resources. The influx of silver from the Americas, while initially contributing to economic prosperity, eventually led to inflation and economic challenges. Additionally, the imposition of heavy taxes to fund military campaigns created discontent among the population. The ill-fated Spanish Armada’s defeat in 1588 against England further symbolized the waning strength of the empire. Social and religious tensions, combined with economic hardships, contributed to internal strife. By the end of Philip II’s rule in 1598, the Spanish Empire faced a complex web of challenges, setting the stage for the broader decline that would continue into the following centuries.
Portugal’s Age of Discovery marked a remarkable era as it ventured into uncharted waters, dominating coastal Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Spice Islands. Spearheaded by explorers like Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan, Portuguese sailors established crucial sea routes, linking Europe to the lucrative trade of spices, gold, and other commodities. The strategic control of key ports and territories, such as Goa in India and Malacca in Southeast Asia, solidified Portugal’s influence.
However, this dominance faced challenges over time. Rival European powers, particularly the Dutch and the British, sought to compete for control of these lucrative trade routes. Portuguese power in the Indian Ocean began to wane in the 17th century as the Dutch East India Company and others aggressively encroached on Portuguese territories.
The loss of Malacca to the Dutch in 1641 and the decline of Portuguese influence in the Indian Ocean marked a turning point. Similarly, in the Spice Islands (Moluccas), the Portuguese were gradually eclipsed by the Dutch in the early 17th century, ultimately losing control of this vital source of spices.
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