Spanish History

Spanish History
  • Prehistory and Protohistory
  • Ancient History
  • From Carthage to Roman Hispania
  • Visigothic Spain
  • Muslim Spain and the Reconquest
  • Lower Middle Ages
  • Imperial Spain
  • Discovery of the Americas
  • 18th Century Spain
  • Effects of the French Revolution
  • The Second Republic and Civil War
  • Restoration to Democratic Rule

Discovery of the Americas

In the year 1492, the fleet sent out by the Crown of Castile under command of Christopher Columbus spotted the American continent. The discovery of the Americas marked the beginning of an extremely significant imperial transoceanic expansion campaign.

The Canary Islands became part of Spanish territory in 1495. From 1519 to 1521 the Aztec empire, in what today is Mexico, was conquered by Hernán Cortés and later on from 1519 to 1521, the Inca Empire in Peru was destroyed by Francisco Pizarro, making way for two of Spain's most important viceroyalties, Mexico on the Atlantic, and Peru on the Pacific. These conquests were two of the bloodiest events in history. By the mid 16th Century, the Spanish Empire controlled Central America, Cuba, the territory today known as Florida, most of the South American continent and the Phillipine Islands in Asia.

The events that had unfolded throughout Spanish history at that point in time had left the Spanish especially well prepared to embark on such a campaign of conquest, occupation and exploitation of new lands. With the discovery of mines in America , gold and silver poured into Spain, greatly increasing the empire's wealth. This was Spain's Golden Age; the empire possessed a sprawling empire and its already solid economy was strengthened by riches pouring in from the colonies. It had acquired vast naval and shipbuilding experience with the exploration of the trade routes and was also very much advanced in regard to science, geography, mathematics, astronomy. This scientific progress was due to the combination of the three cultures that had made their home on the peninsula.

Expansion into Europe was also on the Spanish agenda and the kingdom was rapidly gaining strength as a major European power. Its major opponents were Portugal , which barred Spanish conquests of African territory, France and Italy . Spain 's hegemony in Europe was reasserted with the conquest of the Kingdom of Naples , and when Navarre was incorporated into the Kingdom.

Upon Isabel's death in 1504, her daughter Joanna, who was mentally deranged, succeeded to the throne. Joanna was married to the German emperor's son, Philip of Burgundy. Their son, Charles became the first king of a united Spain in 1516. After his retirement in 1556 the kingdom was split between the Spanish and the Austrian line of the Habsburg family.

Spain prospered economically under the Habsburg crown thanks to flourishing trade with the American colonies. However, in an effort to preserve Catholicism and absolute rule, Spanish king Phillip II got Spain involved in wars with France, England and the Netherlands. Continuous warring activities over an extended period of time took their economic toll on Spain and the empire began to dwindle. The country with the "Invincible Armada" was in decline. King Phillip IV was forced to acknowledge the independence of the Netherlands (Westphalia Treaty 1648) and of Portugal in 1668. Although Catalonia managed to be regained 1652, the death of Carlos II in 1699 began the European conflict of succession over the Spanish throne.