We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Apogee of Empire

Spain and New Spain in the Age of Charles III, 1759–1789

Stanley J. Stein and Barbara H. Stein

Publication Year: 2003

Once Europe's supreme maritime power, Spain by the mid-eighteenth century was facing fierce competition from England and France. England, in particular, had successfully mustered the financial resources necessary to confront its Atlantic rivals by mobilizing both aristocracy and merchant bourgeoisie in support of its imperial ambitions. Spain, meanwhile, remained overly dependent on the profits of its New World silver mines to finance both metropolitan and colonial imperatives, and England's naval superiority constantly threatened the vital flow of specie. When Charles III ascended the Spanish throne in 1759, then, after a quarter-century as ruler of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Spain and its colonial empire were seriously imperiled. Two hundred years of Hapsburg rule, followed by a half-century of ineffectual Bourbon "reforms," had done little to modernize Spain's increasingly antiquated political, social, economic, and intellectual institutions. Charles III, recognizing the pressing need to renovate these institutions, set his Italian staff—notably the Marqués de Esquilache, who became Secretary of the Consejo de Hacienda (the Exchequer)—to this formidable task. In Apogee of Empire, Stanley J. Stein and Barbara H. Stein trace the attempt, initially under Esquilache's direction, to reform the Spanish establishment and, later, to modify and modernize the relationship between the metropole and its colonies. Within Spain, Charles and his architects of reform had to be mindful of determining what adjustments could be made that would help Spain confront its enemies without also radically altering the Hapsburg inheritance. As described in impressive detail by the authors, the bitter, seven-year conflict that ensued between reformers and traditionalists ended in a coup in 1766 that forced Charles to send Esquilache back to Italy. After this setback at home, Charles still hoped to effect constructive change in Spain's imperial system, primarily through the incremental implementation of a policy of comercio libre (free-trade). These reforms, made half-heartedly at best, failed as well, and by 1789 Spain would find itself ill prepared for the coming decades of upheaval in Europe and America. An in-depth study of incremental response by an old imperial order to challenges at home and abroad, Apogee of Empire is also a sweeping account of the personalities, places, and policies that helped to shape the modern Atlantic world.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (54.5 KB)
pp. v-vi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (76.5 KB)
pp. vii-x

By the middle of the eighteenth century, three established European empires were on a collision course in the western Atlantic, with each determined either to preserve its territory or enlarge it at the expense of its competitors. Spain,...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (53.8 KB)
pp. xi-xii

In the course of research we have beneWted from the cooperation of many people and institutions. In Mexico, José Ignacio Rúbio Mañé and Beatriz Arteaga (Archivo General de la Nación), Ernesto de la Torre Villar (Biblioteca Nacional), Luís González y González, and Luís Muro (El Colegio de México), and...

List of Monetary Equivalents

pdf iconDownload PDF (52.5 KB)
pp. xiii

Part One: Stalemate in the Metropole

read more

1. From Naples to Madrid

pdf iconDownload PDF (192.7 KB)
pp. 3-36

A change of leadership at the highest political level in the eighteenth century often brought opportunity for policy changes, the introduction of new personnel, and renewed hope for the resolution of long-standing problems. Fernando VI’s death in August 1759 and the accession of his half-brother to the Spanish throne as Charles...

read more

2. Renovation under Esquilache

pdf iconDownload PDF (191.2 KB)
pp. 37-68

In the broad spectrum of reforms in the early years of Charles III’s regime, the historian detects the new bureaucratic cadres’ sensitivity to challenge and the possible rewards of loyal state service, as well as their uncommon (and potentially dangerous) disregard of the dangers of a rigorously pursued policy of renovation...

read more

3. The First Reglamento del Comercio Libre (1765)

pdf iconDownload PDF (107.3 KB)
pp. 69-80

In the Wrst quarter of 1765, Madrid seemed committed to reviewing its policies toward the overseas empire. The views of Esquilache’s Special Junta, its “Consulta original” of 14 February 1765, and the carefully formulated instructions that followed a month later to José de Gálvez, the visitador general dispatched to New Spain, should...

read more

4. Privilege and Power in Bourbon Spain: The Fall of Esquilache (1766)

pdf iconDownload PDF (213.2 KB)
pp. 81-116

Since the eighteenth century, mainly as a result of English and French experience, political systems in western Europe and the western portion of the North Atlantic have provided relatively open channels of communication between rulers and ruled, between government and people, elites and masses. The frittering away of systems..

Part Two: The Colonial Option

read more

5. Flotas to New Spain: The Last Phase, 1757-1778

pdf iconDownload PDF (176.1 KB)
pp. 119-142

By now it is evident that, unlike other eighteenth-century imperial trading systems, the Spanish transatlantic system of managed trade operated until the last quarter of the century out of a single metropolitan port, Cadiz, where merchants had acquired “an exclusive trading right each exercises with his own...

read more

6. The Second Reglamento del Comercio Libre (1778)

pdf iconDownload PDF (239.6 KB)
pp. 143-185

The Atlantic economy to which the young Ulloa was Wrst exposed in the 1730s had changed dramatically by the 1770s when the mature Ulloa brought his extraordinarily valuable convoy safely into the Bay of Cadiz. Both shores of the Atlantic were now in a phase of rapid expansion. Europe’s exports of manufactures were...

read more

7. The Aftermath in Spain

pdf iconDownload PDF (225.7 KB)
pp. 186-222

In evaluating the repercussions of the comprehensive October 1778 statute on colonial trade, one must take into account the broad policy considerations of the Spanish state for the metropolitan and colonial economies. Probably because of the virtual stalemate in the metropole in the aftermath of the fall of Esquilache...

read more

8. A Colonial Response to Comercio Libre: New Spain

pdf iconDownload PDF (263.2 KB)
pp. 223-266

On reviewing data for those sectors of the economy of New Spain closely watched by bureaucrats and businessmen in the metropole seeking to gauge the impact of the comercio libre of 1778, there were grounds for their guarded optimism by 1787. Colony watchers in the metropole paid attention to at least two statistical series, the output of the Mexico..

read more

9. Incorporating New Spain into Comercio Libre (1789)

pdf iconDownload PDF (223.0 KB)
pp. 267-304

As Spain’s dependence upon New Spain’s pesos fuertes deepened in the 1780s, the commercial and Wnancial interests of Cadiz and Mexico City monopolizing that colony’s external trade necessitated sensitive handling by state authorities. By 1787, four years after a long war in the Atlantic and an extraordinary short-term postwar...

read more

10. The French Connection: Spanish Trade Policy and France

pdf iconDownload PDF (202.0 KB)
pp. 305-337

At the end of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48), French merchants and shippers could expand only inside Spain’s transatlantic trading system, now centered on Cadiz, not Sevilla. They exploited trade concessions by the Spanish Hapsburg governments in the last half of the seventeenth century that eVectively...

read more

11. Euphoria and Pessimism

pdf iconDownload PDF (129.2 KB)
pp. 338-350

The closing years of Charles III’s long reign were a time of stocktaking, drawing up a balance sheet of what Spain’s political class and leading policymakers had managed to achieve. Charles’s life (1716–88) spanned most of the Wrst century of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty, which many hoped would bestir both the metropole..

read more

12. By Way of Conclusion

pdf iconDownload PDF (84.1 KB)
pp. 351-356

Monographs by their nature emphasize detail to be convincing. Hence the detail should Wt into a wider context to avoid irrelevance. In a long retrospective view, eighteenth-century Spain could not recover from the eVects of the drawn-out, wasting conXict with the Netherlands that ended in the middle of the seventeenth..


pdf iconDownload PDF (369.4 KB)
pp. 357-424


pdf iconDownload PDF (133.0 KB)
pp. 425-442


pdf iconDownload PDF (1.9 MB)
pp. 443-464

E-ISBN-13: 9780801881565
E-ISBN-10: 0801881560
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801873393
Print-ISBN-10: 0801873398

Page Count: 480
Publication Year: 2003

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Spain -- Commerce -- America -- History -- 18th century.
  • Spain -- Colonies -- America -- Commerce -- History -- 18th century.
  • America -- Commerce -- Spain -- History -- 18th century.
  • Spain -- Commercial policy -- History -- 18th century.
  • Spain -- Economic conditions -- 18th century.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access