Rise And Fall Of Spain Essay, Research Paper
In 1490 there was no such country as Spain, yet within a century it had become the most powerful nation in Europe and within another had sunk to the status of a third-rate power. Describe and analyze the major social, economic, and political reasons for Spain?s rise and fall.
?In 1490 there was no such country as Spain, yet within a century it had become the most powerful nation in Europe and within another had sunk to the status of a third-rate power.? Spain experienced a social, economic, and political golden age during the sixteenth century. However, due to bad planning and decisions, Spain declined as a superior power.
The marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille, in 1469, eventually united Spain under one crown and enabled the country to achieve a successful and productive monarchy. This marriage provided the financial means to fund foreign ventures as well as the royal support needed to maintain power overseas. The discovery of new lands was the major factor contributing to Spain?s success. In 1492, Christopher Columbus, sailing for Spain, discovered land in the Bahamas, which he named San Salvador and claimed for the Spanish Monarchy. His claims paved the way for future Spanish imperialism.
Due to a rigid social structure in Spain, dominated by nobility, young, ambitious men sought to advance, socially and economically, through overseas expeditions. In 1519, conquistador Hernando Cortez invaded Mexico. Within three years, he captured the Aztec Empire, plundered their enormous amount of wealth, captured the Aztec leader, Montezuma, and claimed the land as New Spain. In the same year, Ferdinand Magellan was commissioned to find a new route to Asia, and in doing so sailed around the world, giving the Spanish cutting edge knowledge about sailing and the general geography of the world. Other young Spanish explorers came to the Americas and conquered large amounts of land, in the name of Spain. Between 1531 and 1536, Francisco Pizzaro entered and seized the rich Incan Empire in South America, naming it Peru. At its peak, Spain conquered four viceroyalties in the New World: New Spain, Peru, New Granada, and La Plata, all of which existed and had laborers solely for the benefit of the monarchy.
Riches from the New World poured into Spain?s port of Seville because Spanish expansion was based on finding and bringing precious metals back to the monarchy. The Spanish government seized all of the riches, including the silver mines, of the extremely wealthy Aztecs and in Peru, the Spaniards utilized the richest silver mines in all of the New World. Spain had led the world market of silver and gold. Charles V, successor to the Spanish throne after Ferdinand and Isabella?s death, received a substantial amount of revenue from Spain?s overseas colonies, such as the Spanish Indies. The merge of the Portuguese and Spanish crowns, in 1580, caused an increase in Spanish overseas power due to the fact that Portugal already possessed many colonies in the Americas. Due to a Spanish influence felt worldwide during the sixteenth century, this period of time has often been considered Spain?s ?Golden Century.?
Nevertheless, Spain?s success ended as a result of carelessness among the monarchy and the nobility. Instead of investing, trading, and expanding, to perpetuate and uphold the prosperous economy, the Spanish aristocracy unwisely hoarded the enormous influx of money into the Spanish economy, under the assumption that their money would last forever. The middle class was unsuccessful in gaining wealth due to the aristocracy?s accumulation of the riches that entered Spain. Additionally, precious metals being transported from the Americas often didn?t reach Spain, because the unprotected Spanish ships were pillaged by English fleets. In an effort to remedy the wealth Spain lost due to its lack of guards onboard, King Philip II, current king of Spain, wasted more money by building the Spanish Armada. The Spanish fleet consisted of state of the art vessels, but wasn?t manned by skilled seamen, nor did it have the maneuverability to successfully defend boats transporting metals to Spain. Smaller, more maneuverable English fleets, manned by skilled seamen destroyed the Armada, and all the money spent on it was wasted. The loss of it, as well as other regretful decisions, such as the expulsion of the Jews and Muslims, who made up a large part of the successful middle class of Spain, by Isabella and Ferdinand, largely marked the downfall of the Spanish Empire. In addition to the economic and political consequences of the Armada?s loss, it was also an enormous psychological failure.
Spain experienced a steady population growth with its increased success. A larger population demanded greater amounts of food, goods, and services. This new need, as well as the requirements of overseas colonies, had trouble being met, especially with the absence of the Jews and Muslims from the middle class, some of who were the best merchants, bankers, farmers, and businessmen of Spain. Due to greater demand, prices rose. However, the rise of prices disabled Spain from competing in the foreign market, with cheaper products made elsewhere. The formerly strong Spanish economy was badly hurt and major Spanish industries, such as the textile industry, greatly suffered.
Inflation completely ruined the Spanish economy. Several times between 1557 and 1647, Philip II and his successors were forced to repudiate the national debt, which undermined government confidence. Also, Philip had to pay debts to his armies and foreigners, but to pay them he produced more money, making the money worth less. In addition, the price increase occurred to quickly for people to afford, particularly the lower classes, and lastly, the flow of gold and silver into the economy only further decreased the value of money. By the seventeenth century, Spain?s economy was bankrupt due to the sharp inflation that occurred as a result of an accumulation of factors.
Spain was of the most successful European countries during the sixteenth century. Nevertheless, the irresponsible decisions of King Philip II and the aristocracy had detrimental social, economic, and political effects on the excellence of Spain, causing it to sink to the status of a third-rate power.