Spain History - Birth of Spain - (1479 - 1517)

Prior to their ultimate goal the royal couple proceeded to cement their hold on their kingdom. The two main problem areas outside that of the Moors was the power of the Church and the other was often the rebel nobility within their own ranks. They forced the nobles out of the parliaments and took control of the Santa Hermandades. (This name refers to bands of crossbow men who acted as policemen and were paid by the town elders). These now became a form of national vigilante force principally serving the royal interests. However, the nobles were well established and they contributed 2 per cent of the population and owning 97 per cent of the land. One such noble was the Duke of Infantado who controlled 900 villages and 90,000 peasants. The income from such lands was tied to the wool trade which was exported.

The Bishop of Toledo led the Church, and he was not only the second power to the King but also very corrupt and with little human consideration. Under the guise of reforming these abuses, Hernando Talvera was appointed to do the King's will. Both England and France had during their histories already persecuted the Jews so it was not difficult for the Queen to obtain the Pope's agreement in 1478 to set up the Inquisition under the acceptable pretext of weeding out questionable Christians. These were basically Jews who had converted by accepting the Christian faith and had acquired titles and property. The first auto de fe took place in 1481 in Seville and six heretics were burned. In the 1480s there were some 2,000 executions dealt out by the Inquisition. The victims chosen for religious examination, after being tortured and relieved of their wealth and possessions they were sometimes fortunate enough to keep their lives.

Cardinal Cisneros was appointed confessor to the Queen and he introduced reforms within the church that caused over 1,000 priests to flee the country with their mistresses rather than conform to the new rules. This Cardinal also ruled the Inquisition and the Muslims were the next in line with 300,000 converted to Christianity in mass ceremonies with their language, dress style, books, all banned. Curiously, this Cardinal was also a Renaissance man at heart and he was responsible for introducing Universities, the Polyglot Bible which was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. He also furthered the use of the Castellan language as the official one of the Court in all matters of teaching.

In the year 1491 the armies of King Fernando and Queen Isabel built a base camp at short distance from Granada at Santa Fe. This was in preparation for a determined siege on the last part of the Iberian Peninsular to be under Moor control. Granada contained an estimated 60,000 inhabitants. The earlier fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1453 had inspired the Christians and the crusade lasted ten years (1482-1492), and was greatly assisted by the internal power struggles within the ruling Moors in Granada. Money was short and Queen Isabel even pawned the crown jewels to raise money to keep the campaign in the field. In 1487 Málaga fell to the Christians and later so did Almeria. The Muslim ruler Boabdil of Granada agreed to surrender against generous terms in November of 1491. The town inhabitants revolted on hearing this news and let the Christian forces march in on January the 2nd of 1492. The Spanish kept their word and gave Boabdil 30,000 gold coins and a large piece of land to the south of Granada. As he left the city crying his mother said You do well to weep as a woman for that you could not defend as a man.

Three months after the surrender an edict was issued stating that any Jew who did not accept Christian baptism was to be expelled. Any religion other than Catholicism was considered to be treasonable and all possessions to be confiscated. There is a story that the crusade had been greatly financed by two Jews who were then also refused royal leniency and lost all. It is estimated that some 50,000 converted to the Christianity whilst 200,000 fled to North Africa and elsewhere becoming known as Sephardic Jews. With this act Spain lost its main urban middle class and wealth fell into the hands of the church and the crown. Interestingly, in 1982 Spain passed a law inviting Sephardic Jews to become Spanish after 490 years in exile.

In was also in 1492 that a recently newcomer to the court finally received approval for his ambitious exploration plans. Christopher Columbus (Crístobal Colón), originating possibly from Genoa, and arriving in Spain via Madeira and Lisbon, had succeeded in eventually winning Queen Isabel's consent so that on August the 3rd three small ships with 120 men left the port of Palos. He returned victorious and was financed for a second expedition in 1493, consisted of 17 larger ships with 1,500 men. However, in 1500 Columbus fell into temporary disgrace and was relieved of his command of Hispaniola and returned to Spain in chains. On arrival back in Spain he was then pardoned and set free.

Meanwhile, an equally important event took place in Rome in 1493 when Rodrigo Borgia, the elected Pope Alexander VI issued his edict. He was to become a good ally to the Spanish throne for he proclaimed that all lands 100 leagues west of Cape Verde Island were to be considered Spanish possessions. However in the following year an adjustment was made in the Treaty of Tordesillas to 370 leagues which enabled Portugal to claim Brazil as their own. In 1499 Alonso de Ojeda finds the Guinanas and Venezuela and the following year Diego Diaz explores some of the Brazilian coastline. In 1503 the Spanish throne established the Casa de Contratación in Seville with the sole rights on all trading with these newly discovered possessions.

Another problem on the horizon was the ambitious territorial desires shown by France under King Charles III. In 1495 Spain joined with Milan, Venice and the Pope to form the Holy League whose aim was to protect each other from invasion from France. The French army entered Naples the same year but the Holy League drove them quickly back to France. But the French returned to take both Rome and Naples in 1501. In 1509 Alonso de Ojen established the town of San Sebastián in Columbia.

The Spanish Empire was growing with their American discoveries whilst in 1504 in the Mediterranean the Spanish were granted Sicily and Sardinia after their final tussle with France over Naples at Garigliano in 1503. With usual royal manipulation the offspring of King Fernando and Isabel were used to make political marriages. At a double event their son Juan married Princess Margaret of Hapsburg, and their elder daughter married Archduke Philip of Hapsburg. Another daughter Catarina married Henry VII of England and after his death to King Henry VIII giving birth to the future Queen of England, Mary Tudor. These claculated moves crumbled when their son died at a young age and without heir. Their daughter who was to shortly inherited the Spanish throne found her young husband Felipe the Fair of Burgundy and the heir to the Holy Roman Empire also to be a rampant womanizer. Unable to accept his various mistresses and amours, she became quite deranged thus justifying her nickname Juana la Loca (Joanna the Mad).

When Queen Isabel died in 1504 she had previously appointed her husband King Fernando as her mad daughter's Regent over the throne of Castille. Felipe then gained support and forced Fernando to relinquish his powers and Juana was crowned Queen only for her husband Felipe to die two months later. Juana remained Queen with her father as Regent until his death in 1516. In 1512 Fernando managed to annex the state of Navarra thereby completing the land unification of Spain. Also, the Castilian army was modernized and was to become an unbeatable force for the next 100 years. This also continued to be a time for exploration and discovery in the Americas with Vasco Nuñez de Balboa crossing the breath of the new territory. On discovering the Pacific Ocean in 1513 (which he did not name), he had confirmed the fact that the Americas was a new separate continent having already founded in 1510 the city of Darién (now named Panama). The honour of this discovery in history went to Fernão de Magalhais who passed around the Cape Horn and carried on through the Indian Ocean, returning home from his epic voyage proving for the first time that the world was spherical.

The exploration continued at a fast pace and in 1511 the Islands of Puerto Rico and Cuba were conquered. In 1512 Juan Ponce de León encountered land which is now named Florida. In 1517 Francisco Hernandez de Córdoba discovers Yucatán in Mexico. In the same year the explorer Vasco Nuñez de Bilboa was beheaded by his enemies. Two years later the infamous explorer Hernán Cortez led 600 men against the Aztecs nation in Mexico and with little effort made a prisoner of their ruler Emperor Montezuma II, removing the first of many parts of their hoard of gold. This was to set the trend for many years when the principal object of future expeditions was to return with gold in any form. In the same year Alvárez Pineda mapped the Gulf of Mexico, in 1521 Francisco de Gordillo explored northward to South Carolina and in 1522 Spanish explorers also reached Peru and in 1932 Francisco Pizarro captured the Inca Emperor, Atahualpa. However, all these new discoveries were not to be without problems for in 1524 the Spanish had to deal with native revolts in Mexico, Salvador and Honduras.


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