XVI Century Spain
The reigns of the Catholic Monarchs and the first two Habsburg (Carlos I and Felipe II) had great significance on the history of Spain.
A series of events put an end to the medieval era and gave rise to the birth of a new era in Spain, the Modern Age. The conquest of the Muslim territories ended and America was colonized. In addition, other relations were established between the monarchs and the nobles, which led to the establishment of an authoritarian monarchy in which kings increasingly intervened in the economy. Church privileges were also limited. In short, the Monarchy was strengthened, progressively centralizing power, and an empire emerged that for a long time dominated the world scene.
1504 the dying, Queen Isabel I of Castille, made her daughter, Princess Juana, married to Philip I of Habsburg, her heir, despite Juana showing signs of mental alienation. In her will, made in Medina del Campo, the queen made it clear that, if this alienation persisted, Isobel’s husband Fernando de Aragón would take over the regency until her grandson, Charles of Ghent, came of age.
Philip I “the Handsome”, husband of the princess, challenged the testamentary dispositions and the treaty of La Concordia de Salamanca (1505) annulled it. Juana and Philip would reign in Castile. After the death of Philip Cardinal Cisneros requested the presence of the old king of Aragon and Fernando was made regent again, this time for nine years due to Juana’s dementia. After the death of the king, the kingdom of Aragon was inherited by his grandson Carlos of Ghent, who unified the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon.
Charles of Ghent, born in 1500, due to a series of marriages and deaths became heir to the three most powerful royal houses in Europe: the Houses of Valois-Burgundy (Netherlands); Habsburg (Holy Roman Empire) and Trastámara (Spain).
From his paternal grandfather, Maximilian I – the Holy Roman Empire, he received Austria and the imperial throne of Germany. From his paternal grandmother, Mary of Burgundy he received The Low Countries, Luxemburg, Burgundy and French-Comté. From his maternal grandmother Isabel I, he received Castilla and the American possessions and from his maternal grandfather Aragon, Naples, Sicily and Sardinia.
The possession of so many territories fuelled the imperial ideas of Charles I of Spain and 5th of Germany; he wanted to unify all Christians under his person and spread the Catholic religion. However, the Empire could not be a State or a centralized monarchy. It was a legal unit with clashes both in the peninsula and in Europe. Charles was the object of hostility from many enemies. His reign was dominated by war, and particularly by three major simultaneous conflicts: the Habsburg-Valois Wars with France; the struggle to halt the Ottoman advance and the Protestant Reformation resulting in conflict with the German princes.
The wars with France
Charles won over Francis I of France in the election for the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor but with this Charles had deeply wounded the pride of a dangerous and powerful rival who would pursue a relentless policy of retribution for the rest of his life. The war with France which was mainly fought in Italy, resulted in the recovery of territory lost at the beginning of his reign and included the decisive defeat and capture of Francis I at the Battle of Pavia in 1525. France recovered and the wars continued for the remainder of Charles’s reign. Enormously expensive, they led to the development of the first modern professional army in Europe, the Spanish Tercios.
The struggle with the Ottoman Empire was fought in Hungary and the Mediterranean. After seizing most of eastern and central Hungary in 1526, the Ottomans’ advance was halted at their failed Siege of Vienna in 1529. A lengthy war of attrition, conducted on his behalf by his younger brother Ferdinand, continued for the rest of Charles’s reign. In the Mediterranean, although there were some successes, Charles was unable to prevent the Ottomans’ increasing naval dominance and the piratical activity of the Barbary Corsairs.
Charles opposed the Reformation and in Germany he was in conflict with the Protestant Princes of the Schmalkaldic League who were motivated by both religious and political opposition to him. He could not prevent the spread of Protestantism and although he won a decisive victory against the Princes at the Battle of Mühlberg, 1547, he was ultimately forced to concede the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, which divided Germany on confessional lines.
Charles I of Spain possessions in Europe
Possessions in the Americas
Things were nor easier at home either. He faced hostility when he arrived in Spain to take throne. One of the first revolts he had to confront in Spain was the ‘Comuneros’, or the conflict of the Communities. When Charles I arrived in Spain he didn’t speak Spanish and was surrounded by his Flemish advisers who occupied the main government positions to help him to carry out his imperial enterprises. Once crowned, Carlos I summoned Las Cortes (parliament) to vote through new taxes. The reaction in Castile was immediate and the protests reminded the king of his obligation to reside in the kingdom and to respect the laws.
Growing discontent became the uprising of the Communities of Castile, or the Comuneros. Most of the cities in the central area of the kingdom (Segovia, Toledo, Salamanca …) rebelled against the authority of the monarch.
The social composition of the rebels was the lower nobility (hidalgos), urban middle classes, merchants and civil servants.
The causes of the rebellion are complex:
Before leaving for his coronation in Aachen, Carlos needed to persuade the Cortes –the representatives of the main Castillian towns called ‘procuradores’ of the level of taxes they will underwrite for his coronation travel expenses. They also had to debate how the Crown would begin to pay off the debts he had incurred in bribing the German Electors for his coronation as Emperor. He managed to obtain 300.000 ducats, some say by also bribing the procuradores but the Castillians were in a riotous mood. It was a very bad time for the unpopular king to abandon Spain. Carlos had neglected the requirement that he learn Spanish and respect the laws of the kingdom.
Charles left Adriano de Utrecht as governor of the kingdom in his absence. The Castilian aristocracy saw the handing over the administration of the kingdom to Flemish advisers as a humiliation and the urban bourgeoisie feared that they would return to the traditional policy of exporting raw wool to Flanders which would be detrimental to Castilian textile crafts.
In 1520 when Charles left, the revolt broke out in Toledo and soon spread to other cities. The royal authorities were deposed and replaced by new communal councillors. After the burning of Medina del Campo by the King’s troops, the insurrection became widespread.
The Comuneros created the Holy Board in Tordesillas, a rebel government, which demanded the withdrawal of taxes approved in the Cortes, respect for the laws of the kingdom and the expulsion of the Flemish councillors.
The Comuneros tried unsuccessfully to convince Juana (“the mad” and mother of Charles), held in a castle in Tordesillas, to lead the rebellion and support the Communities.
The Comuneros wanted: the return of the king to Spain; the exclusion of foreigners from public office; stronger representation in the Cortes; the reduction of taxes and Charles’ personal expenses; the limit the export of wool; Spain to be the headquarters of the Empire; Charles to learn Spanish and that he marry a Portuguese princes to unite the two kingdoms.
The rebellion caused social disorder and there were anti-aristocracy rebellions in some areas. At that point the nobility began to move away from the commoners and towards the Crown.
Internal dissensions and anti-sectoral radicalization of the movement weakened the Comuneros. After the defeat of the communal troops in Villalar in 1521, all the cities abandoned the movement, except Toledo which was finally overcome in 1522. The communal leaders Padilla, Bravo and Maldonado were executed. The communal defeat signalled the beginning of absolutism in Castile and the strengthening of the king’s power.
Las Germanias in the old kingdom of Valencia (Spain), were an armed brotherhood or association formed by the guilds with the permission of the King. They were armed in order to defend themselves from Berber pirates.
The causes of their rebellion are found in the economic crisis and epidemics that fell on the kingdom of Valencia, which came to join social discontent among artisans and small merchants faced with the urban oligarchy (large merchants) and the royalty.
The rebellion of the Germanias began in the city of Valencia in 1520, taking advantage of the fact that the nobility had fled the city due to the plague. Soon the revolt spread south of the kingdom. The Agermanats (members of the Germanias) also attacked the Moors for reasons of religious hatred and because they were accused of being submissive to the nobility and the Crown.
They wanted more democratization of the municipal posts, improvements of lease of the land by the peasants and a reduction of the privileges of the nobility.
Although Carlos V reacted slowly as Valencia was not as important as Castile for power in his kingdoms, he finally ordered the Viceroy to suppress the conflict. The conflict degenerated into a direct confrontation between Agermanats and the Valencian nobility. The rebellion was finally repressed in 1522.
There was another Germania in the Balearic Islands that was easily suffocated. The consequences of the failed rebellion was that Charles strengthened his position and the nobility became the great ally of the king. The urban bourgeoisie and the peasantry were marginalised.
Phillip II Possessions.
The Hispanic monarchy of Felipe II.
The Iberian unit<
Phillip II was the son of Charles and Isabel of Portugal. From a young age he was prepared to perform his position as king.
After the abdication of Charles I in 1556, Phillip governed the empire integrated by the kingdoms and territories of Castile, Aragon, Navarra, the Franche-Comté, the Netherlands, Sicily, Sardinia, Milan, Naples, Oran, Tunisia, all the conquered Americas and the Philippines These vast territories were joined by Portugal and its Afro-Asian empire in 1580. With Philip II (1556-1598) Spanish hegemony reaches its peak.
However, on his abdication Charles gave his brother, Fernando, the German Empire and the Habsburg possessions in Austria. Henceforth, two branches of the same dynasty would rule in Madrid and Vienna.
After traveling through Italy and the Netherlands Phillip II settled in the new capital, Madrid, from where he assiduously ruled his enormous empire. Unlike what happened with his father Carlos I, Felipe II remained settled at the centre of the Empire.
His internal politics were based in absolutism and religious intolerance, which prompted the rebellion of the Moriscos en las Alpujarras en Granada and the rebellion of Aragon.
The rebellion of the Moriscos started in 1568 in las Alpujarras and it was caused by a law that forced the Moriscos to abandon their language, clothing and Muslim traditions. They were defeated in 1570 and were exiled to different parts of Castilla.
The other internal problems of the reign of Felipe II were the death of his son, the crown prince Charles in 1568, who had been arrested due to his contacts with the members of an alleged succession conspiracy promoted by the nobility and the powerful figure of Phillip’s secretary, Antonio Pérez. The latter was involved in several plots and in the killing of the secretary of the half-brother of the King, Don Juan of Austria. He was finally accused of corruption and dismissed in 1579 but he escaped in 1590 and took refuge in Aragon. The King sent in the Inquisition which prompted a revolt in the capital, Zaragoza, in which the viceroy was killed. Philip II sent in the army in 1591 but Antonio Perez managed to escape dressed as a woman, fled the country and became an active propagandist against Phillip. He was supported by the King’s enemies abroad and was a key element in the creation of the “Black Legend.”
His successive marriages were an important part of his foreign policy. He married Maria of Portugal in 1543 and, after her death, with Mary Tudor, Queen of England, in 1554. The early death of the Queen who had brought back Catholicism to the island, led Phillip to marry the French Isabel de Valois in 1559. When he was again widowed and without male heirs, he married for the fourth time, in 1570, with his niece Ana de Austria who became mother of the successor to the Spanish throne, Phillip III.
The idea of religious unity marked the policy of Philip II. He did not hesitate to intervene in the face of the threat of Berber and Turkish incursions on the Mediterranean coast. Felipe II obtained a great victory, although not the definitive one, in the battle of Lepanto in 1571.
In Europe he faced off France for control of Italy (Naples and the Milanese). The peace in Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559 was favourable to Spanish interests in the Italian peninsula.
After the death of his wife, Maria Tudor, relations became increasingly hostile with England, which supported the Protestant rebels in the Netherlands. The attempt to invade the island in 1588 with the Invincible Navy ended with a great failure that began the decline of Spanish naval power in the Atlantic.
Phillip II could not resolve political or religious issues generated by the Calvinist revolt in the Netherlands. None of the successive governors could settle the rebellion, eventually leading to the independence of the United Provinces (now the Netherlands) in the 17th century.
One of his greatest triumphs was to achieve Iberian unity with the annexation of Portugal and its domains, by asserting his inheritance rights in the Cortes de Tomar in 1581, after the death of the Portuguese King, Sebastian. Phillip II was uncle of the deceased and direct descendant of King Manuel I of Portugal by direct line and claimed his rights to the throne.
An important part of the nobility and the great Portuguese merchants favoured the Spanish claim. The Iberian union could bring important political and economic benefits. However, the Portuguese popular classes did not welcome the annexation to Spain.
Phillip II commissioned the Duke of Alba to invade Portugal. Castilian troops arrived in Lisbon with little resistance.The Portuguese Courts meeting in Tomar proclaimed Philip II King in 1581. He became Philip I of Portugal, remaining in Lisbon for three years.
To achieve annexation and learning from his father’s mistakes in the Comuneros revolt, Phillip undertook to maintain and respect the privileges, customs and privileges of the Portuguese. He also pledged to keep in place all central and local administration officials as well as the armies and navies that controlled the Portuguese empire.
A Council of Portugal was created and customs duties with Castile were abolished. Portugal and Spain were united for nearly 60 years until 1640.
Phillip II died in El Escorial in 1598. In Spain he is remembered as an important and wise king. After him the decline of the Spanish empire started.
XVI Century Spain