Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The History of Spain, Part 2

The Unification of Spain
The unification of Spain came very slowly because the many mountain ranges tended to isolate towns and villages and to separate region from region. Spain is the most mountainous country in Europe after Switzerland. Additionally, the inhabitants of the Peninsula didn't think in national terms. They were concerned only about the events of their region and the immediate circumstances of their lives. 

The first step toward Spain's unification came when Isabel, the Princess of Castilla, married Fernando, the Prince of Aragon.  Later, when they became the Catholic Monarchs (Reyes Católicos), these 2 largest regions of the north were brought together.  All that remianed of the great Moorish empire in Spain was the stronghold in Granada under the last Moorish sultan, Boadil.  In 1492, this fell to the Catholic Kings.

Queen Isabel created the Santa Hermandad and charged this organization with the protection of the rural populations and the reorganization of the Inquisituion.  The Inquisition was to mantain the religious unity of Spain by dealing with apostasy (non-belief), heresy (false belief) and infidels (non-Christians). In 1492, all Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain.

Under the reign of Isabel and Fernando Spain became the most powerful nation in Europe. This greatest was sustained over the next century by the flow of gold and other resources from the New World. It was Queen Isabel who helped the Portuguese navegator, Christoper Columbus (Cristóbal Colón) by providing him with 3 ships: La Pinta, la Niña and the Santa Maria. These set sail from Sevilla on August 3, 1492 and on October 12 of the same year, Columbus and his men stepped onto the dry land of Watling Island, believing at first that they had come to the East Indies.

Carlos V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire
Under the Spaniard Carlos V, Spain enjoyed much prosperity. He was the grandson of Isabel and Fernando and his Hapsburg dynasty (House of Austria) exercised great influence in Spain and throughout Europe until about 1700.  During his time as Emperor, Spain acquired holdings in Germany, Austria, Italy, Holland, America, North Africa, and islands in the South Pacific. This was an age of great discoveries and conquests, missionary activity, horticultural experimentation, and high achievements in the arts, music and literature. The story of Don Juan Tenorio is set in this time period.

Carlos V withdrew to a monastery in 1556 after delivering power to his son, Felipe II.  Felipe II ruled from El Escorial northwest of Madrid (shown).  It was his most fervent ambition to end the Protestant Revolt against the Roman Catholic Church. His efforts took on their most cruel form in the Netherlands where he had appointed additional bishops and posted many Spanish troops to deal with the Calvinists who were smuggling through the Dutch ports.

It was during the reign of Felipe II that the famous Battle of Lepanto took place against the Ottoman Turks.  This battle decisively ended Ottoman control of the Mediterranean. The Spanish author of Don Quijote de La Mancha, Miguel de Cervantes, lost an arm in the Battle. This victory is recognized as one of the high points of Felipe's reign. However, during Felipe's reign, the Spanish Armada suffered its greatest naval defeat with the destruction of the Armada in 1558 by the English, Spain's chief rival on the seas.

Time of Decline
Felipe II died in 1598 and his succesors Felipe II and Felipe IV were weak rulers. Under their reigns Spain experienced many military defeats, lost land holdings and experiened economic ruin. Control of the seas fell to England.  Many adventurous and talented individuals immigrated to the Spanish colonies in the New World.

As is often the case, a time of decline forces innovations and new or improved infrastructures.  This was the case with Carlos III who came to power in 1759. He developed a nationalized system of education and estabished mail service.  During his reign industry and commerce began to expaqnd and needed reforms were instituted. Unfortunately, all the advances of Carols II were undone by his son, Carlos IV who was a very weak monarch. During his reign, Napoleaon invaded Spain and made his brother king.

The War of Independence (La Guerra de Independencia)

On May 2, 1808 the citizens of Madrid (madrileños) rebeled against Napoleon's forces and the War for Independence began. This war is also called the "Peninsular War" and is immortalized in Goya's The Second of May, a depiction of the charge of the Mamelukes, the French Imperial Guard in the plaza called the Puerta de Sol. This painting has a companion, The Third of May which depicts the execution of rebels by French troops. The war lasted for 5 years. With England's help, Spain eventually defeated the French. British troops under the duke of Wellington advanced from Portugal and the French were expelled from Spain. May 2 is considered a national holiday in Spain.

(Coming soon ... Part 3, which covers the history of Spain from 1833 to the present.)

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