SPAIN - PREHISTORY - RENAISSANCE TO THE 19th CENTURY
Rise as a
world power: From the Renaissance to the 19th century
The unification of the kingdoms of Aragón, Castile, León,
and Navarre laid the basis for modern Spain and the
Spanish Empire. Spain became Europe's leading power
throughout the 16th century and first part of the 17th
century, a position reinforced by trade and wealth from
Spain reached its apogee during the reigns of the first
two Spanish Habsburgs (Charles I (1516-1556) and Philip II
(1556-1598)). Included in this period are the last Italian
Wars, the Dutch revolt, military actions against the
Ottomans, the Anglo-Spanish war and war with France.
The galleon became synonymous with the riches of the
Spanish Empire The Spanish Empire expanded to include
nearly all of South and Central America, Mexico, southern
portions of today's United States, the Philippines in
Eastern Asia, the Iberian peninsula (including the
Portuguese empire ( from 1580 ), southern Italy, Sicily,
as well as parts of modern Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg,
and the Netherlands.
It was the first empire about which it was said that the
sun did not set. This was an age of discovery, with daring
explorations by sea and by land, the opening up of new
trade routes across oceans, conquests and the beginning of
European colonialism. Along with the arrival of precious
metals, spices, luxuries, and new agricultural plants,
Spanish explorers and others brought back knowledge that
transformed the European understanding of the world.
Of note was the cultural efflorescence now known as the
Spanish Golden Age and the intellectual movement known as
the School of Salamanca?
A lingering "decline of Spain" set in during the 17th
century, involving political, social and economic factors,
but a key was the strain of continuing military efforts in
Europe. Spain's military was generally successful in
defending the scattered Habsburg Empire, but these
commitments ultimately bankrupted Spain during the vast
Thirty Years War.
By 1640, with forces stretched across Europe, Spain's
reverses included the permanent loss of Portugal and its
Controversy over succession to the throne consumed the
first years of the 18th century. The War of Spanish
Succession (1701-1714), a wide ranging international
conflict combined with a civil war, finally cost Spain its
European possessions and its position as a leading power
on the Continent (although it retained its overseas
During this war, a new dynasty—the French Bourbons—was
installed, and with it a true Spanish state was
established when the first Bourbon king Philip V of Spain
in 1707 unified the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon into a
single, unified Kingdom of Spain, abolishing many of the
regional privileges (fueros).
The 18th century saw a gradual recovery and increasing
prosperity. The new Bourbon monarchy drew on the French
system of modernizing administration and the economy.
Towards the end of the century, trade finally began
growing strongly. Spain's military assistance for the
rebellious British colonies in the American War of
Independence won Spain renewed international standing.
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