61 Spanish Empire Facts: An Unforgettable Affluent Kingdom! | Kidadl


61 Spanish Empire Facts: An Unforgettable Affluent Kingdom!

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Did you know the Spaniards were the first to engage in colonization?

The Spanish Empire occupied the world's fifth most powerful position from the 16th to 19th century. It came chronologically after the English, Mongol, Russian empires, and lastly, the Qing dynasty.

In present times, Spain is a southwestern European country popular for its scenic beauty, multi-cultural heritage, and delectable food. In fact, Spain currently ranks among one of the safest and peace-loving countries in the entire world. However, history sometimes has a different story to tell. 

Also regarded as the Catholic Empire or the Hispanic Empire, this empire was founded on April 17, 1492, when the seafarer, Christopher Columbus, set foot on the Caribbean islands. Columbus accidentally discovered the 'New World' after entering the western hemisphere, and as a result, Spanish settlements started with subsequent voyages. 

The position of the Spanish Empire was enhanced by the Habsburgs and the Spanish Bourbons. When Spain was at the helm of its power, New Spain was formed, and its territories included Central America, Mexico, the Isthmus of Panama, Florida, several parts of the West Indies, as well as the northwestern section of the present-day United States.

Through its conquests, the Spanish Empire eventually occupied around 10% of the earth's total landmass. Are you aware of the importance of Dec 6, 1978, in the history of Spain? On this day, the Spanish citizens offered formal approval of the Spanish Constitution. Every year, the nation celebrates this day as a public holiday. So, here are some astounding historical facts that helped to shape Spain's future.

If you want to uncover more interesting facts from the pages of Spain's past, then don't miss out on these Barcelona Spain facts and historical facts about Spain.

The Spaniards And North America Travel

The thirst for more power and wealth brought the Spaniards to the New World. Let's take a quick look at the Spanish plans and policies that contributed to enlarging Spain's empire.

The origin of Spain can be traced back to the time of the pre Romans when settlements were made on the Iberian Peninsula coast. Spain was unified as a dynasty by the Catholic monarchs, namely King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of the Castilian empire in 1479. The Spanish Empire prospered under the administration of the Hapsburg Dynasty.

In order to restrict the power, the Hapsburgs encouraged marriage within the royal family and inbreeding. Because of marriage politics, the grandson of the Catholic monarchs, King Charles I, became the first Spanish monarch and the Holy Roman Emperor. During his reign, three significant wars, namely the Ottoman-Hapsburg Wars, the Protestant Reformation, and the Italian Wars, took place. Charles ruled from 1519 to 1556.

Spanish colonization of America was driven by the aim of stimulating the economy of Spain by extracting all its rich resources, such as gold and silver. They eventually engaged in slave trading and targeted converting of the natives to Christianity. It was in the 15th century that Spanish colonization of North America began. During its colonial rule, Spain sponsored explorers, settlers, and conquerors to set sail for the 'New World'.

During this time, Christopher Columbus persuaded the Spanish nobility that he could reach the Indies by crossing the Atlantic Ocean. However, within six months of initiating the voyage, he came across the islands of the Caribbean Sea, mistaking it for the Indies. Later, Amerigo Vespucci reached further down to South America, and upon his return, they proved Columbus had actually discovered the 'New World'. 

Gradually, Spanish rule in both South and North America started with Spanish settlers. Spanish conquest of the continental landmass of the Americas destroyed the native civilizations of the New World, namely the Aztec Empire and the Inca Empire. Both were extremely powerful civilizations, but the Spanish conquistadors claimed their power after defeating them and killing their respective leaders. The survivors of the Inca and the Aztec Empire were converted to Christianity, and they were sworn to work obediently and loyally under the Spanish Crown. 

After the acquisition of the New World, the Spanish rulers implemented the encomienda system where the native Americans were used as laborers for mining gold and silver and cultivating crops like sugar. Introducing encomienda started the tradition of enslavement and oppression. The indigenous people suffered terribly at the hands of their new rulers.

Most of the population was afflicted by epidemics like smallpox and measles spread by the Spanish colonizers, while many were killed mercilessly in wars and raids. The Spanish rulers engaged in importing kidnapped slaves from Africa to Spanish ships owing to an inadequate labor force. The African slaves were equally maltreated.

Spain's Rivalry With Portugal

The Spanish Empire wielded so much power that its rule extended for almost five centuries. The peak of its rule was witnessed between the 16th century and 18th century. However, Spain and Portugal couldn't see eye to eye as both contested to attain supremacy.

Initially, both the Portuguese Empire and Spanish Empire were united provinces ruled in communion as they entered marriage alliances. Spain and Portugal were ruled jointly by the Crown. However, the relationship soured up when Portugal came across the Gold Coast of the Gulf of Guinea. Contest for power led to the War of the Castilian Succession that continued from 1475 to 1479 and the Battle of Guinea of 1478.

Finally, on Sept 4, 1479, the War of Succession finished with the signing of the Treaty of Alcáçovas between the monarchs of Aragon and Castile and Alfonso V of Portugal. In the war, Spain lost to the Portuguese forces on the sea on one side, while the Castilians emerged victorious on land. However, the settlement between the two major powers ended the feud.

Spanish Colonization And America

The conquest of America proved to be a landmark in the history of Spanish colonization. Spain became heavily dependent on its colonies for its economy and political benefits. Here are some events that finally brought about the downfall of the great Spanish Empire.

The Spanish not only strove to contain its power within their royal family but also enhance it by entering into alliances with other European powers. Royal marriages allowed the Spanish to exercise control over some of the other European territories. Spanish colonization was not only restricted to North America. The Spanish Empire also colonized several other countries and some parts of Europe and Africa. Some colonies of the Spanish Empire include the Philippines, California, Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Belgium, Costa Rica, Florida, Italy, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and others. 

The Spanish Inquisition was established in Mexico City and Lima so that the Crown could exercise greater religious, political, and economic power in America. However, right from the early 19th century, Spain was in the face of social and political challenges. Spain was caught up in political turmoil that resulted in the loss of control over the Spanish American empires. War sparked off between the British Empire and Spain with the Battle of Cape Santa Maria in 1803, which was followed by a succession of battles. In 1805, the British defeated the naval forces of Spain in the Battle of Trafalgar. 

After Britain, former ally France, turned on Spain with a war led by Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon's invasion sparked riots and uprisings among the people of Spain that led to guerilla warfare. The Spanish army emerged victorious against France in the Battle of Bailén. The Spanish King Ferdinand VII was abdicated from the throne but was later restored in 1814. 

During this time span, the natives of Spanish America engaged in a series of revolts and civil war as people were divided in their opinions of being governed under the Spanish monarchy. One by one, the Spanish colonies were dismantling. Colonies in South America, like Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela, already started gaining independence from the Spanish monarchy. In 1810, Mexico was also declared independent by Miguel Hidalgo, but official independence was gained in 1821. Several colonized regions in Central America won freedom from the Spanish Empire following the Mexican example. 

The Philippine Revolution and the Cuban War of Independence paved the way for the Spanish American War, where the Spanish Pacific fleet was completely crushed by the American navy in 1898. A chain of victories piled up against the Spanish fleet, weakening the empire to its core. In 1898, Spain ultimately lost its global supremacy with its signing of the Treaty of Paris and defeat in the Spanish American War.

Spain is a southwestern European country

Imperial Economic Policy For America

Here are some significant details about the political, religious, and imperial economic policies implemented by the Spanish Empire to govern America efficiently.

To strengthen and maintain its control over the colonies, Spain implemented aggressive military control. It was in 1585 that Philip II built a fleet for the Spanish Empire. Hence, in 1588, the Spanish Armada was launched to step up the defense. The armada comprised around 150 ships maneuvered by 18,000 men. The armada, armed with firepower, was believed to be the largest and the most invincible fleet in the world.

Spain developed competitive relationships with England in the fields of trading and religion. The Spanish Catholics were engaged in a constant tussle with the English Protestants. The English sailors rooted for the Spanish ships and plundered and destroyed them. In 1587, over 20 Spanish vessels were burned down by the forces of Sir Francis Drake. With time, the English onslaughts on Spain escalated. The English received support from the rebels of the Dutch Republic.

The Spanish government implemented unjust taxation policies that burdened the poor sections of society. Natives of the Philippines and the American colonies had to accommodate the taxation policies for two main reasons. One as a mark of acceptance of the sovereignty of the Spanish Empire and to make up for the cost of pacification and suppressing hostilities. Some of these taxes included Sanctorum, Tributo, Donativo, and a few others.

Additional monetary expenses that were incurred because of the battles and the construction of the Spanish Armada crippled the Spanish economy. Although Spain made an immense fortune from the gold and silver extracted from the American colonies, this influx of enormous wealth actually contributed to inflation as the prices of goods available in the markets sky-rocketed. All these factors contributed to the ultimate bankruptcy of the Spanish Empire.

One of the unique aspects of colonizing New Mexico was that the Spanish promoted their culture and religion by conversion to Catholicism. In fact, after colonization, the natives were taught to speak Spanish. Unlike the other colonies in New Spain, New Mexico had very little to offer in terms of wealth. So, they set up several religious missionaries and headquarters to propagate Christianity.

For instance, missions functioning under the control of St. Francis were set up in modern-day Texas, along with presidios and garrisons occupied by Spanish soldiers. They implemented this design to maintain a stronghold on the natives while also protecting the territories. They also adopted a regressive racial hierarchical system that helped to manifest colonial authority. 

To ensure smooth administration of the American colonies, they set a new formal governing body up. Also, forts were built to defend and protect the Spanish territories. Did you know that Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest Spanish fort in the US? The construction of the fort began in 1672, extending for the next 23 years to be completed in 1695. They erected the fort to safeguard the city of St. Augustine in Florida from external attacks and invasions.

Spain's Pacific Journey And The Impact On Trade

Spain has significantly left its mark on the pages of world history as a strong global empire. Trading was one of the most important factors that made the Spanish Empire so powerful.

The occupation of the New World benefitted the Spanish government, as it entitled them to the riches and abundant precious metals found in America. According to historians, New Spain brought back gold and silver over 180 tons (163.29 met ton) and 16,000 tons (14514.96 met ton), respectively, between 1500 to 1650.

Initially, trading between Spain and the viceroyalties living in the colonies was established in the Americas. The audience, who had judicial, executive, and governing powers invested in them, controlled their powers. They kept the viceroyalties in check. Since New Spain had received bulks of these precious metals, it emerged as one of the world's wealthiest nations of the time. However, these metals extracted from the New World were depleted, which affected the Spanish economy severely.

The contributions of Spain in trade and commerce are unparalleled, as it was the first country to start intercontinental trading via oceans. This opened up several trade routes and helped trade to flourish in many countries. Spain conducted trading mainly with the viceroyalties living in the New World, who were basically the rulers of the territories. Not only did they avail the trade routes of the Atlantic Ocean, but they also maintained trade relations with Mexico and the Asian countries, for which alternative routes opened up in the Pacific Ocean as well.

They exchanged gold and silver for spices, silk, gems, and porcelain. The items commonly traded with the natives included dried meat, leather, and buffalo robes. In return, they received sword blades, horses, wool blankets, turquoise, horse gear, and other agricultural products such as bread, dried pumpkin, and corn. The Spanish also engaged in slave trading.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for Spanish Empire facts then why not take a look at Spain Government facts, or facts about Christmas in Spain.

Kidadl Team
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Kidadl Team

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