"For God, Spain and to make us rich!"
Quotes attributed to the Conquistadores.
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The Spanish Empire
The Spanish Empire, often referred to as the Spanish Colonial Empire, was the first of the European empires that began to appear in the course of the Modern Age, it being one of the most important players of Europe for the remainder of the XVI, XVII, XVIII and partially the XIX century. A common misconception is that of the very adjective of Colonial, something that was spoken by the English, Dutch and French about the Empire in its overseas possessions and became internalized for the next centuries. The proper term of colony (which had changed its meaning from a neutral term to the derogative and negative conception of now) was never given to the territory in America, instead they were referred to as kingdoms, hence the need of Viceroys to administrate the territory. Often an enemy of France until the rise of the Bourbons, but its longest and most regarded archnemesis was The British Empire, which in its beginnings was also meant to actively dry the Spanish of the gold they got from America.
The House of Trastamara
Isabel and Fernando, The Catholic Monarchs (1470s-1500s)Unified the Peninsula (minus Portugal), undermined the power of aristocrats, renewed the army and put an end to both the Reconquista and the Spanish Middle Ages. Also, they funded a certain Christopher Columbus for an extravagant new route to the Indias. But.. Why were the Spanish and Portuguese the ones to first sail to the New World? Why not France, England, The Ottoman Empire, or even beyond that, Ming China or the Mughals? The reasons behind that are what is called amongst historians the Iberian Privilege: in the XIV century, a short cold snap of the European climate affected all of northern Europe, producing shortages of food and famine across those regions and overpopulation of the cities; then came the Black Death, which went from northern Italy across all of the trade network of Europe. You can guess what happened to the people of the North when plague came with famine. But the Iberian Peninsula, being in the Mediterranean and at the end of the land roads of trade, didn't suffer that much from the population crisis, instead, as the Reconquista continued, the Iberian kingdoms found themselves richer and with more land. With an undiminished population, their growth was secured. What's more, their position meant they were in permanent touch with the Mediterranean and Northern nautical techniques. Then came the XV century, this century was marked with the infamous HundredYearsWar between the French and English that started the last century, the inner conflicts that had wracked the Holy Roman Empire, the rise of the Ottomans at the east and the beginning of the isolationist policy of China. By the latter half of the fifteenth century, the then Queen Isabel chose to marry King Fernando, which was reported to be a love match between the two, and with it, the crowns of the kingdom of Castile, largest in Hispania, and the kingdom of Aragon, joint with the kingdom of Naples; Spain thus became a prime power that not only was strong militarily, but economically. This union, while it suffered a rebellion, was able to finish the Reconquista once and for all, annexing the territory of Granada, today southern Spain. A major factor is that, due to their crushing of the opposition and their coordination, the Catholic Monarchs were able to wield a great amount power in practice, not just in title. The monarchs then decided to choose good marriages for their children, deciding to marry their daughter, Juana, to Felipe "the Handsome", a noble of the House of Habsburg whose heritage included the territories once held by the duchy of Burgundy (from which the Spanish used their flags) and the Habsburg possessions. After the fall of Constantinople, the Catholic Kings financed the expedition of Christopher Columbus, who was rejected by the Portuguese, to find land that would become a part of the crown and that which he would become a direct Viceroy.
Juana I, "The Mad Queen" (1504-1516)Her short reign saw the roots of an ill-fated alliance with England and the HRE, but is best remembered for her going apeshit crazy and getting imprisoned in a tower afterwards by her late husband, who is...
Felipe I, "The Handsome" (1506)Brief as he was, and never getting to reign alone, is just remembered for being a jerk and totally disregarding the queen in his endless affairs, thus starting a long tradition. Once both Juana and Felipe were offed for different reasons, Fernando took again the crown he shared with the now deceased Isabel and, before dying, left the kingdom of Aragon and Naples as inheritance to the kingdom of Castile, thereby joining the two countries into a single power under a single person. That person was Charles I of Spain and V of Austria. Last Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to be crowned by the Pope himself. At the moment of his ascension, the Spanish Conquistadores began to enter into the territories held by the Aztec Empire and the Inca Empire, who took advantage of the fragmentary state of the two states and managed, by turning the very native population against their overlords, conquer most of modern México and Perú.
The House of Habsburgh
Carlos I, "The Kaiser" (1516-1556)Arrived to Spain without a grasp of culture, society or language, for that matter and faced quite a few rebellions for it, which he crushed promptly. Protestants were tougher, though, when Martin Luther nailed his theses under his nose. Cue the endless religious wars funded with the extensive resources of the Spanish empire. Also, when he understood he couldn't win he resigned to his son and retired into a monastery.
Felipe II, "the Cautious" (1556-1598)As the religious wars escalated into political wars, he attempted an alliance with England that twice ended very badly. Also remembered for annexing Portugal. And for allegedly building the Escorial Palace to seal a hellgate, filling it with Catholic art and relics. Incidentally, all kings of Spain after him are buried there. An archipelago in the Western Pacific was named in his honor.
Felipe III, "the Pious" (1598-1621)Best remembered for expelling all non-Catholics from Spain, namely Muslims. And gypsies.
Felipe IV, "the Great" (1621-1665)Under the advice of the Count Duke of Olivares, tried to extend the war effort from Castile to the whole realm, which prompted rebellions in Portugal and Catalonia that led to the former's independence and the latter's annexation to France. Catalonia was re-taken, albeit cut to a size, Portugal didn't.
Carlos II, "the Bewitched" (1665-1699)Born with serious deformities both physically and psychologically (He was deemed as "retarded"), he was not very able to reign, and was also sterile. And, apparently, he was aware of how much of a failure he was regarded as. His death meant war.
The House of Bourbon
Felipe V, "the Animous" (1700-1746)The Crown cost him Gibraltar and Minorca, of which only the latter was re-taken in a later war. Also, he famously suppressed medieval rights as a punishment for supporting the other guy in Aragon (namely, Catalonia and Valencia), which started a long tradition of animosity between the Bourbons and those regions.
Luis I, "The Beloved" (1724)You would be hard-pressed to find any reference to him in general history books, as he didn't last a year as a king. After his death, his father took the crown again.
Fernando VI, "The Fair" (1746-1759)Not very often remembered, if at all. Didn't wage wars, nor alliances, nor anything. His reign was mostly domestic and peaceful, which, apart for being unusual for a European country of the time, doesn't grant many pages in history books.
Carlos III, "The Mayor of Madrid" (1759-1788)Best remembered for his somewhat unusual interest in urbanism, he reformed most of Madrid into the neo-Classical style for which it is known.
Carlos IV, "The Hunter" (1788-1808)He was more interested in clocks than politics, too bad The French Revolution and, later, a certain Napoleon Bonaparte were knocking into the door as his own scheming son wanted his head on a spear. Although at least he ended better than his French cousin, who also was an amateur clockmaker.
The House of Bonaparte
José I, "Pepe Bottles" (1808-1813)Imposed by his brother, Napoleon, he was disliked by near everyone from the Spanish America (which declared independence so they hadn't to have him as king, mind you) to peninsular society, making 0% Approval Rating a Deconstructed Trope in Real Life, as it kickstarted an insurgence war that bleed French resources and, by the time the Russian campaign kick off, led directly to the downfall of the first French Empire.
The First Restoration of the House of Bourbon
Fernando VII, "the Desired", aka "the Felon King" (1813-1833)Crushed the Spanish liberals, abolished the constitution his Spanish supporters approved on his absence, empowered American revolutionaries by denying the colonies the seats on the parliament the aforementioned constitution granted them on the envisioned constitutional monarchy, re-implanted The Spanish Inquisition, abolished by said liberals, inadvertently granted independence to the American colonies by upsetting the military intended to fight the revolutionaries and getting them to revolt against him, swore the previously abolished constitution when they managed to corner him and secretly schemed with foreign authoritarian powers to crush them once and for all. Which he did. After that, followed ten years known as the "ominous ten years". In his deathbed, he changed his last will so his daughter could reign (a very liberal standpoint, for a king that fiercely clung to authoritarian, medieval-like monarchy) instead of his even-more-authoritarian brother. Widely considered one of the worst and most faithless kings in history.
The Kingdom of Spain