- Explain why the Spanish Habsburgs grew increasingly feeble as a family
- Spain was ruled by the major branch of the Habsburg dynasty over the 16th and 17th centuries. In this period, it dominated Europe politically and militarily, but experienced a gradual decline of influence in the second half of the 17th century under the later Habsburg kings.
- When Spain’s first Habsburg ruler, Charles I, became king of Spain in 1516, Spain became central to the dynastic struggles of Europe. Under Charles I, Spain colonized big parts of the Americas and established itself as the first modern global empire.
- Under Philip II, the Spanish empire included territories on every continent then known to Europeans. During his reign, Spain reached the height of its influence and power.
- Under Philip III, a ten-year truce with the Dutch was overshadowed in 1618 by Spain’s involvement in the European-wide Thirty Years’ War. Additionally, paying for the budget deficits by the mass minting of currency caused an enormous economic crisis.
- Under Philip IV, much of the policy was conducted by the minister Gaspar de Guzmán. Portugal was lost to the crown for good; in Italy and most of Catalonia, French forces were expelled and Catalonia’s independence was suppressed.
- Charles’ II mental and physical disabilities, caused most likely by the generations of inbreeding among the Spanish Habsburgs, enabled power games on the court and meant that Spain was essentially left leaderless and gradually reduced to a second-rank power.
A Spanish fleet of 130 ships that sailed from A Coruña in August 1588 with the purpose of escorting an army from Flanders to invade England. The strategic aim was to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I of England and the Tudor establishment of Protestantism in England.
The property of being from the same kinship as another person. In that aspect, consanguinity is the quality of being descended from the same ancestor as another person. The laws of many jurisdictions set out degrees of consanguinity in relation to prohibited sexual relations and marriage parties.
Spanish Golden Age
A period of flourishing in arts and literature in Spain, coinciding with the political rise and decline of the Spanish Habsburg dynasty. It does not imply precise dates and is usually considered to have lasted longer than an actual century.
Spain under the Habsburgs
Spain was ruled by the major branch of the Habsburg dynasty over the 16th and 17th centuries. In this period, “Spain” or “the Spains” covered the entire peninsula, politically a confederacy comprising several nominally independent kingdoms in personal union: Aragon, Castile, León, Navarre and, from 1580, Portugal. At the time, the term “Monarchia Catholica” (Catholic Monarchy) remained in use for the monarchy under the Spanish Habsburgs. However, Spain as a unified state came into being by right only after the death of Charles II in 1700, the last ruler of Spain of the Habsburg dynasty.
Under the Habsburgs, Spain dominated Europe politically and militarily, but experienced a gradual decline of influence in the second half of the 17th century under the later Habsburg kings. The Habsburg years were also a Spanish Golden Age of cultural efflorescence.
The Global Power
When Spain’s first Habsburg ruler, Charles I, became king of Spain in 1516, Spain became central to the dynastic struggles of Europe. After becoming king of Spain, Charles also became Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and because of his widely scattered domains was not often in Spain. As he approached the end of his life he made provision for the division of the Habsburg inheritance into two parts. On the one hand was Spain, its possessions in Europe, North Africa, the Americas, and the Netherlands. On the other hand there was the Holy Roman Empire. This was to create enormous difficulties for his son Philip II of Spain.
The Aztec and Inca Empires were conquered during Charles’s reign, from 1519 to 1521 and 1540 to 1558, respectively. Spanish settlements were established in the New World: Mexico City, the most important colonial city established in 1524 to be the primary center of administration in the New World; Florida, colonized in the 1560s; Buenos Aires, established in 1536; and New Granada (modern Colombia), colonized in the 1530s. The Spanish Empire abroad became the source of Spanish wealth and power in Europe. But as precious metal shipments rapidly expanded late in the century this contributed to the general inflation that was affecting the whole of Europe. Instead of fueling the Spanish economy, American silver made the country increasingly dependent on foreign sources of raw materials and manufactured goods.
Philip II became king on Charles I’s abdication in 1556. During his reign, there were several separate state bankruptcies, which were partly the cause for the declaration of independence that created the Dutch Republic in 1581. A devout Catholic, Philip organized a huge naval expedition against Protestant England in 1588, known usually as the Spanish Armada, which was unsuccessful, mostly due to storms and grave logistical problems. Despite these problems, the growing inflow of New World silver from the mid-16th century, the justified military reputation of the Spanish infantry, and even the quick recovery of the navy from its Armada disaster made Spain the leading European power, a novel situation of which its citizens were only just becoming aware. The Iberian Union with Portugal in 1580 not only unified the peninsula, but added that country’s worldwide resources to the Spanish crown.
The Gradual Decline
However, economic and administrative problems multiplied in Castile, and the weakness of the native economy became evident in the following century. Rising inflation, financially draining wars in Europe, the ongoing aftermath of the expulsion of the Jews and Moors from Spain, and Spain’s growing dependency on the gold and silver imports combined to cause several bankruptcies that caused an economic crisis in the country, especially in heavily burdened Castile.
Faced with wars against England, France, and the Netherlands, the Spanish government found that neither the New World silver nor steadily increasing taxes were enough to cover their expenses, and went bankrupt again in 1596. Furthermore, the great plague of 1596–1602 killed 600,000 to 700,000 people, or about 10% of the population. Altogether more than 1,250,000 deaths resulted from the extreme incidence of plague in 17th century Spain. Economically, the plague destroyed the labor force, and created a psychological blow to an already problematic Spain.
Philip II died in 1598, and was succeeded by his son Philip III. In his reign (1598–1621) a ten-year truce with the Dutch was overshadowed in 1618 by Spain’s involvement in the European-wide Thirty Years’ War. Philip III had no interest in politics or government, preferring to engage in lavish court festivities, religious indulgences, and the theater. His government resorted to a tactic that had been resolutely resisted by Philip II, paying for the budget deficits by the mass minting of increasingly worthless vellones (the currency), causing inflation. In 1607, the government faced another bankruptcy.
Philip III was succeeded in 1621 by his son Philip IV of Spain (reigned 1621–1665). Much of the policy was conducted by the minister Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares. In 1640, with the war in Central Europe having no clear winner except the French, both Portugal and Catalonia rebelled. Portugal was lost to the crown for good; in Italy and most of Catalonia, French forces were expelled and Catalonia’s independence was suppressed.
Charles II (1665–1700), the last of the Habsburgs in Spain, was three years old when his father, Philip IV, died in 1665. The Council of Castile appointed Philip’s second wife and Charles’s mother, Mariana of Austria, regent for the minor king. As regent, Mariana managed the country’s affairs through a series of favorites (“validos”), whose merits usually amounted to no more than meeting her fancy. Spain was essentially left leaderless and was gradually being reduced to a second-rank power.
The Spanish branch of the Habsburg royal family was noted for extreme consanguinity. Well aware that they owed their power to fortunate marriages, they married between themselves to protect their gains. Charles’s father and his mother, Mariana, were actually uncle and niece. Charles was physically and mentally disabled and infertile, possibly in consequence of this massive inbreeding. Due to the deaths of his half brothers, he was the last member of the male Spanish Habsburg line. He did not learn to speak until the age of four nor to walk until the age of eight, and was treated as virtually an infant until he was ten years old. His jaw was so badly deformed (an extreme example of the so-called Habsburg jaw) that he could barely speak or chew. Fearing the frail child would be overtaxed, his caretakers did not force Charles to attend school.
The Habsburg dynasty became extinct in Spain with Charles II’s death in 1700, and the War of the Spanish Succession ensued, in which the other European powers tried to assume power over the Spanish monarchy. The control of Spain was allowed to pass to the Bourbon dynasty.