restricted access 14. The Imperial Context: The Hispanic World in the Age of the Habsburg Kings
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CHAPTER 14 The Imperial Context: The Hispanic World in the Age of the Habsburg Kings The Reign of Philip II (1556-98) The reign of Philip II was a transitional period in Hispanic history. The shift began in 1556 when the bequests of the Emperor Charles gave the Habsburg patrimonies in eastern Europe to the Austrian branch of the family, leaving to Philip Spain, the Low Countries, Franche-Compte, the Italian possessions of Aragon, and the Indies. Three years later Philipreturned to Spain from the Netherlands, where he had been commanding Spanish forces fighting the French. He was a Spaniard by birth and upbringingand never left his home again. In 1560 he established the royal court permanently in Madrid,in the heart of Castile. Hewas welcomed home, so to speak, by swellingquantities of treasure arrivingfrom the Indies, which, toward the end of his reign, accounted for about 20 percent of crown revenues. In 1571, the victory of Spanish and Italian naval forces at Lepanto ended the Turkish threat in the Mediterranean.This sequence of events symbolized the emergenceof an empire whose character was distinctively Spanish ,whose center wasCastile, and whose main interests lay in the Atlantic world. Philip's purposes as king were several. As a Christian prince he felt obliged to give justice and good government, as he saw them, to all his subjects. As a devout Catholic he intended to extirpate heresy and heterodoxy in his realms and to defend the Holy Religion wherever his influence extended. Although a Spaniard, he was also a Habsburg and therefore committed to defending the family patrimonies in other parts of Europe. Hisaims struck a responsive chord in the hearts and minds of his Spanish subjects, especially his championship of Catholic orthodoxy. 291 2 9 2 T H E I M P E R I A L C O N T E X T Philip applied a considerable array of abilities to the exercise of kingship. He possessed a powerful mind, and he had been apprenticed in his craft by his father. Hewas certainly one of the most diligent princes in history, working interminable hours and givinghis personal attention to every detail. But he also had an arbitrary turn of mind and a conviction that he ruled directly by God's will. He deliberated at great length before acting on matters large and small, a quality that won him the sobriquet "the Prudent," but that some of his modern critics characterize as indecisiveness and procrastination. During his long reign the constitution and government of Spain acquired the indelible stamp of his personality. King Sebastian of Portugal, El Ksar-el-Kebir, and the Union of the Hispanic Crowns King Sebastian (1557-78) did not have the abilities, the resources,or the opportunities that gained lasting fame for his Spanish contemporary. He possessed, nevertheless, certain eccentricities that indirectly had profound effects on Hispanic imperial affairs. As a youth he was headstrong and much given to morbid religiosity and to violent and martial exercises. Inspired by the Christian victory at Lepanto,he conceived a new Portuguese crusade in Africa. Against all sound advice, including cautions from Philip II, in 1578 he led a great host across the water to Africa and to a confrontation with the forces of Islam on the field of El Ksar-el-Kebir (Alcacer Quibir, or the Battle of the Three Kings). After four hours of striving under the burning Saharan sun, 8000 Christians lay dead and another 15,000 fell captive to the Moors. Sebastian himself disappeared from the ken of Europeans, although it is believed that he perished in battle or in a Moroccan prison. The disaster at El Ksar led to the realization of an ancient Hispanic dream, one Monarchia Hispania. Sebastian had not produced an heir, and his death left the Portuguese succession beclouded. The claimants to the throne included Philip II of Spain,whose mother was a Portuguese princess of the blood. Philip reinforced his dynastic claims with distributions of Mexican "silver bullets" (silver pesos) among influential Portuguese and by invading Portugal with a Spanish army. In 1581 the Portuguese cortes crowned him Philip I. As he himself said of his new realm, "I inherited it, I bought it, and I conquered it."1 By conjoining under his rule Spain and Portugal and their dominions in Africa, Asia, and America, he created the first empire on which the sun never set. The contemporary Spanish theologian and geographer Antonio Vazquez de Espinosa put it in more timely...


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Subject Headings

  • America -- Discovery and exploration -- Spanish.
  • America -- Discovery and exploration -- Portuguese.
  • Latin America -- History -- To 1830.
  • Spain -- Colonies -- America -- History.
  • Portugal -- Colonies -- America -- History.
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