Catholic Monarchs and origins of empire
Coat of Arms of the Catholic Monarchs
With the marriage of the heirs apparent to their respective thrones Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile created a personal union that most scholars view as the foundation of the Spanish monarchy. Their dynastic alliance was important for a number of reasons, ruling jointly over a large aggregation of territories although not in a unitary fashion. They successfully pursued expansion in Iberia in the Christian Reconquest of the Muslim Kingdom of Granada, completed in 1492, for which Valencia-born Pope Alexander VI gave them the title of the Catholic Monarchs. Ferdinand of Aragon was particularly concerned with expansion in France and Italy, as well as conquests in North Africa.
With the Ottoman Turks controlling the choke points of the overland trade from Asia and the Middle East, both Spain and Portugal sought alternative routes. The Kingdom of Portugal had an advantage over the rest of Iberian, having earlier retaken territory from the Muslims. Portugal completed Christian reconquest in 1238 and settling the kingdom's boundaries. Portugal then began to seek further overseas expansion, first to the port of Ceuta (1415) and then by colonizing the Atlantic islands of Madeira (1418) and the Azores (1427-1452); it also began voyages down the west coast of Africa in the fifteenth century. Its rival Castile laid claim to the Canary Islands (1402) and retook territory from the Moors in 1462. The Christian rivals, Castile and Portugal, came to formal agreements over the division of new territories in the Treaty of Alcaçovas (1479), as well as securing the crown of Castile for Isabella, whose accession was challenged militarily by Portugal.
Following the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and first major settlement in the New World in 1493, Portugal and Castile divided the world by the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), which gave Portugal Africa and Asia and the Western Hemisphere to Spain. The voyage of Christopher Columbus, a Genoese mariner married to a Portuguese woman in Lisbon, obtained the support of Isabella of Castile, sailing west in 1492, seeking a route to the Indies. Columbus unexpectedly encountered the western hemisphere, populated by peoples he named "Indians." Subsequent voyages and full-scale settlements of Spaniards followed, with gold beginning to flow into Castile's coffers. Managing the expanding empire became an administrative issue. The reign of Ferdinand and Isabella began the professionalization of the apparatus of government in Spain, which led to a demand for men of letters (letrados) who were university graduates (licenciados), of Salamanca, Valladolid, Complutense and Alcalá. These lawyer-bureaucrats staffed the various councils of state, eventually including the Council of the Indies and Casa de Contratación, the two highest bodies in metropolitan Spain for the government of the empire in the New World, as well as royal government in The Indies.
Campaigns in North Africa
With the Christian reconquest completed in the Iberian peninsula, Spain began trying to take territory in Muslim North Africa. It had conquered Melilla in 1497, and further expansionism policy in North Africa was developed during the regency of Ferdinand the Catholic in Castile, stimulated by the Cardinal Cisneros. Several towns and outposts in the North African coast were conquered and occupied by Castile: Mazalquivir (1505), Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera (1508), Oran (1509), Algiers (1510), Bougie and Tripoli (1510). Tripoli was taken on 24–25 July, the feast of St. James, protector of Spain; the claim was made that 10,000 Muslims were killed and many captured. On the Atlantic coast, Spain took possession of the outpost of Santa Cruz de la Mar Pequeña (1476) with support from the Canary Islands, and it was retained until 1525 with the consent of the treaty of Cintra (1509). The Spanish conquest of Oran (1509) was won with much bloodshed: a third of its Muslim population—4,000 inhabitants— were massacred, and up to 8,000 were taken prisoner. The Zeiyanid sultans of Tlemcen quickly submitted to Spanish protectorate, and the two powers soon became allies. Cardinal Cisneros converted two mosques to Catholic use, and restored and expanded the town's fortifications. Oran, like other principal Algerian ports, was forced to accept a presidio (military outpost); it became a major naval base, a garrison city armed with traffic-commanding cannons and harquebuses. For about 200 years, Oran's inhabitants were virtually held captive in their fortress walls, ravaged by famine and plague; soldiers, too, were irregularly fed and paid. In 1792, Spain abandoned Oran, selling it to the Ottoman Empire.
The Catholic Monarchs had developed a strategy of marriages for their children in order to isolate their long-time enemy: France. The Spanish princesses married the heirs of Portugal, England and the House of Habsburg. Following the same strategy, the Catholic Monarchs decided to support the Aragonese house of Naples against Charles VIII of France in the Italian Wars beginning in 1494. As King of Aragon, Ferdinand had been involved in the struggle against France and Venice for control of Italy; these conflicts became the center of Ferdinand's foreign policy as king. In these battles, which established the supremacy of the Spanish Tercios in European battlefields, the forces of the kings of Spain acquired a reputation for invincibility that would last until the mid-17th century.
After the death of Queen Isabella in 1504, and her exclusion of Ferdinand from a further role in Castile, Ferdinand married Germaine de Foix in 1505, cementing an alliance with France. Had that couple had a surviving heir, likely Aragon would have been split from Castile, which was inherited by Charles, Ferdinand and Isabella's grandson. Ferdinand adopted a more aggressive policy toward Italy, attempting to enlarge Spain's sphere of influence there. Ferdinand's first deployment of Spanish forces came in the War of the League of Cambrai against Venice, where the Spanish soldiers distinguished themselves on the field alongside their French allies at the Battle of Agnadello (1509). Only a year later, Ferdinand became part of the Holy League against France, seeing a chance at taking both Milan — to which he held a dynastic claim – and Navarre. This war was less of a success than the war against Venice, and in 1516, France agreed to a truce that left Milan in its control and recognized Spanish control of Upper Navarre, which had effectively been a Spanish protectorate following a series of treaties in 1488, 1491, 1493, and 1495.
Portugal obtained several Papal bulls that acknowledged Portuguese control over the discovered territories, but Castile also obtained from the Pope the safeguard of its rights to the Canary Islands with the bulls Romani Pontifex dated 6 November 1436 and Dominatur Dominus dated 30 April 1437. The conquest of the Canary Islands, inhabited by Guanche people, began in 1402 during the reign of Henry III of Castile, by Norman nobleman Jean de Béthencourt under a feudal agreement with the crown. The conquest was completed with the campaigns of the armies of the Crown of Castile between 1478 and 1496, when the islands of Gran Canaria (1478–1483), La Palma (1492–1493), and Tenerife (1494–1496) were subjugated.
Rivalry with Portugal
The Portuguese tried in vain to keep secret their discovery of the Gold Coast (1471) in the Gulf of Guinea, but the news quickly caused a huge gold rush. Chronicler Pulgar wrote that the fame of the treasures of Guinea "spread around the ports of Andalusia in such way that everybody tried to go there". Worthless trinkets, Moorish textiles, and above all, shells from the Canary and Cape Verde islands were exchanged for gold, slaves, ivory and Guinea pepper.
The War of the Castilian Succession (1475–79) provided the Catholic Monarchs with the opportunity not only to attack the main source of the Portuguese power, but also to take possession of this lucrative commerce. The Crown officially organized this trade with Guinea: every caravel had to secure a government license and to pay a tax on one-fifth of their profits (a receiver of the customs of Guinea was established in Seville in 1475 – the ancestor of the future and famous Casa de Contratación).
Iberian 'mare clausum' in the Age of Discovery
Castilian fleets fought in the Atlantic Ocean, temporarily occupying the Cape Verde islands (1476), conquering the city of Ceuta in Tingitana Peninsula in 1476 (but retaken by the Portuguese), and even attacked the Azores islands, being defeated at Praia. The turning point of the war came in 1478, however, when a Castilian fleet sent by King Ferdinand to conquer Gran Canaria lost men and ships to the Portuguese who expelled the attack, and a large Castilian armada—full of gold—was entirely captured in the decisive battle of Guinea.
The Treaty of Alcáçovas (4 September 1479), while assuring the Castilian throne to the Catholic Monarchs, reflected the Castilian naval and colonial defeat: "War with Castile broke out waged savagely in the Gulf [of Guinea] until the Castilian fleet of thirty-five sail was defeated there in 1478. As a result of this naval victory, at the Treaty of Alcáçovas in 1479 Castile, while retaining her rights in the Canaries, recognized the Portuguese monopoly of fishing and navigation along the whole west African coast and Portugal's rights over the Madeira, Azores and Cape Verde islands [plus the right to conquer the Kingdom of Fez ]." The treaty delimited the spheres of influence of the two countries, establishing the principle of the Mare clausum. It was confirmed in 1481 by the Pope Sixtus IV, in the papal bull Æterni regis (dated on 21 June 1481).
However, this experience would prove to be profitable for future Spanish overseas expansion, because as the Spaniards were excluded from the lands discovered or to be discovered from the Canaries southward — and consequently from the road to India around Africa — they sponsored the voyage of Columbus towards the west (1492) in search of Asia to trade in its spices, encountering the Americas instead. Thus, the limitations imposed by the Alcáçovas treaty were overcome and a new and more balanced division of the world would be reached in the Treaty of Tordesillas between both emerging maritime powers.
New World Voyages and the Treaty of Tordesillas
The return of Columbus, 1493
Castile and Portugal divided the world in The Treaty of Tordesillas.
Seven months before the treaty of Alcaçovas, King John II of Aragon died, and his son Ferdinand II of Aragon, married to the Isabella I of Castile, inherited the thrones of the Crown of Aragon. The two became known as the Catholic Monarchs, with their marriage a personal union that created a relationship between the Crown of Aragon and Castile, each with their own administrations, but ruled jointly by the two monarchs.
Ferdinand and Isabella defeated the last Muslim king out of Granada in 1492 after a ten-year war. The Catholic Monarchs then negotiated with Christopher Columbus, a Genoese sailor attempting to reach Cipangu (Japan) by sailing west. Castile was already engaged in a race of exploration with Portugal to reach the Far East by sea when Columbus made his bold proposal to Isabella. In the Capitulations of Santa Fe, dated on 17 April 1492, Christopher Columbus obtained from the Catholic Monarchs his appointment as viceroy and governor in the lands already discovered and that he might discover thenceforth; thereby, it was the first document to establish an administrative organization in the Indies. Columbus' discoveries inaugurated the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Spain's claim to these lands was solidified by the Inter caetera papal bull dated 4 May 1493, and Dudum siquidem on 26 September 1493, which vested the sovereignty of the territories discovered and to be discovered.
Since the Portuguese wanted to keep the line of demarcation of Alcaçovas running east and west along a latitude south of Cape Bojador, a compromise was worked out and incorporated in the Treaty of Tordesillas, dated on 7 June 1494, in which the globe was split into two hemispheres dividing Spanish and Portuguese claims. These actions gave Spain exclusive rights to establish colonies in all of the New World from north to south (later with the exception of Brazil, which Portuguese commander Pedro Alvares Cabral encountered in 1500), as well as the easternmost parts of Asia. The treaty of Tordesillas was confirmed by Pope Julius II in the bull Ea quae pro bono pacis on 24 January 1506. Spain's expansion and colonization was driven by economic influences, for national prestige, and a desire to spread Catholicism to the New World.
The treaty of Tordesillas and the treaty of Cintra (18 September 1509) established the limits of the Kingdom of Fez for Portugal, and the Castilian expansion was allowed outside these limits, beginning with the conquest of Melilla in 1497.
Other European powers did not see the treaty between Spain and Portugal as binding on themselves. Francis I of France observed "The sun shines for me as for others and I should very much like to see the clause in Adam's will that excludes me from a share of the world."
Papal Bulls and the Americas
Iberian-born pope Alexander VI
promulgated bulls that invested the Spanish monarchs with ecclesiastical power in the newly found lands overseas.
Unlike the crown of Portugal, Spain had not sought papal authorization for its explorations, but with Christopher Columbus's voyage in 1492, the crown sought papal confirmation of their title to the new lands. Since the defense of Catholicism and propagation of the faith was the papacy's primary responsibility, there were a number of papal bulls promulgated that affected the powers of the crowns of Spain and Portugal in the religious sphere. Converting the inhabitants of in the newly discovered lands was entrusted by the papacy to the rulers of Portugal and Spain, through a series of papal actions. The Patronato real, or power of royal patronage for ecclesiastical positions had precedents in Iberia during the reconquest. In 1493 Pope Alexander, from the Iberian Kingdom of Valencia, issued a series of bulls. The papal bull of Inter caetera vested the government and jurisdiction of newly found lands in the kings of Castile and León and their successors. Eximiae devotionis sinceritas granted the Catholic monarchs and their successors the same rights that the papacy had granted Portugal, in particular the right of presentation of candidates for ecclesiastical positions in the newly discovered territories.
According to the Concord of Segovia of 1475, Ferdinand was mentioned in the bulls as king of Castile, and upon his death the title of the Indies was to be incorporated into the Crown of Castile. The territories were incorporated by the Catholic Monarchs as jointly held assets.
In the Treaty of Villafáfila of 1506, Ferdinand renounced not only the government of Castile in favor of his son-in-law Philip I of Castile but also the lordship of the Indies, withholding a half of the income of the kingdoms of the Indies. Joanna of Castile and Philip immediately added to their
titles the kingdoms of Indies, Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea. But the Treaty of Villafáfila did not hold for long because of the death of Philip; Ferdinand returned as regent of Castile and as "lord the Indies".
According to the domain granted by Papal bulls and the wills of queen Isabella of Castile in 1504 and king Ferdinand of Aragon in 1516, such property became held by the Crown of Castile. This arrangement was ratified by successive monarchs, beginning with Charles I in 1519 in a decree that spelled out the juridical status of the new overseas territories.
The lordship of the discovered territories conveyed by papal bulls was private to the kings of Castile and León. The political condition of the Indies were to transform from "Lordship" of the Catholic Monarchs to "Kingdoms" for the heirs of Castile. Although the Alexandrine Bulls gave full, free and omnipotent power to the Catholic Monarchs, they did not rule them as a private property but as a public property through the public bodies and authorities from Castile, and when those territories were incorporated into the Crown of Castile the royal power was subject to the laws of Castile.
The crown was the guardian of levies for the support of the Catholic Church, in particular the tithe, which was levied on the products of agriculture and ranching. In general, Indians were exempt from the tithe. Although the crown received these revenues, they were to be used for the direct support of the ecclesiastical hierarchy and pious establishments, so that the crown itself did not benefit financially from this income. The crown's obligation to support the Church sometimes resulted in funds from the royal treasury being transferred to the Church when the tithes fell short of paying ecclesiastical expenses.
In New Spain, the Franciscan Bishop of Mexico Juan de Zumárraga and the first viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza established an institution in 1536 to train natives for ordination to the priesthood, the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco. The experiment was deemed a failure, with the natives considered too new in the faith to be ordained. Pope Paul III did issue a bull, Sublimis Deus (1537), declaring that natives were capable of becoming Christians, but Mexican (1555) and Peruvian (1567–68) provincial councils banned natives from ordination.
First settlements in the Americas
Columbus landing in 1492 planting the flag of Spain, by John Vanderlyn
, Dominican Republic. Founded in 1502, the city is the oldest continuously-inhabited European settlement in the New World.
, Venezuela. Founded in 1510, the city is the oldest continuously-inhabited European city in the continental Americas.
With the Capitulations of Santa Fe, the Crown of Castile granted expansive power to Christopher Columbus, including exploration, settlement, political power, and revenues, with sovereignty reserved to the Crown. The first voyage established sovereignty for the crown, and the crown acted on the assumption that Columbus's grandiose assessment of what he found was true, so Spain negotiated the Treaty of Tordesillas with Portugal to protect their territory on the Spanish side of the line. The crown fairly quickly reassessed its relationship with Columbus and moved to assert more direct crown control over the territory and extinguish his privileges. With that lesson learned, the crown was far more prudent in the specifying the terms of exploration, conquest, and settlement in new areas.
The pattern in the Caribbean that played out over the larger Spanish Indies was exploration of an unknown area and claim of sovereignty for the crown; conquest of indigenous peoples or assumption of control without direct violence; settlement by Spaniards who were awarded the labour of indigenous people via the encomienda; and the existing settlements becoming the launch point for further exploration, conquest, and settlement, followed by the establishment institutions with officials appointed by the crown. The patterns set in the Caribbean were replicated throughout the expanding Spanish sphere, so although the importance of the Caribbean quickly faded after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire and the Spanish conquest of the Incas, many of those participating in those conquests had started their exploits in the Caribbean.
The first permanent European settlements in the New World were established in the Caribbean, initially on the island of Hispaniola, later Cuba and Puerto Rico. As a Genoese with the connections to Portugal, Columbus considered settlement to be on the pattern of trading forts and factories, with salaried employees to trade with locals and to identify exploitable resources. However, Spanish settlement in the New World was based on a pattern of a large, permanent settlements with the entire complex of institutions and material life to replicate Castilian life in a different venue. Columbus's second voyage in 1493 had a large contingent of settlers and goods to accomplish that. On Hispaniola, the city of Santo Domingo was founded in 1496 by Christopher Columbus's brother Bartholomew Columbus and became a stone-built, permanent city.
Assertion of Crown control in the Americas
Although Columbus staunchly asserted and believed that the lands he encountered were in Asia, the paucity of material wealth and the relative lack of complexity of indigenous society meant that the Crown of Castile initially was not concerned with the extensive powers granted Columbus. As the Caribbean became a draw for Spanish settlement and as Columbus and his extended Genoese family failed to be recognized as officials worthy of the titles they held, there was unrest among Spanish settlers. The crown began to curtail the expansive powers that they had granted Columbus, first by appointment of royal governors and then a high court or Audiencia in 1511.
Columbus encountered the mainland in 1498, and the Catholic Monarchs learned of his discovery in May 1499. Taking advantage of a revolt against Columbus in Hispaniola, they appointed Francisco de Bobadilla as governor of the Indies with civil and criminal jurisdiction over the lands discovered by Columbus. Bobadilla, however, was soon replaced by Frey Nicolás de Ovando in September 1501. Henceforth, the Crown would authorize to individuals voyages to discover territories in the Indies only with previous royal license, and after 1503 the monopoly of the Crown was assured by the establishment of Casa de Contratación (House of Trade) at Seville. The successors of Columbus, however, litigated against the Crown until 1536 for the fulfillment of the Capitulations of Santa Fe in the pleitos colombinos.
Spanish territories in the New World
In metropolitan Spain, the direction of the Americas was taken over by the Bishop Fonseca between 1493 and 1516, and again between 1518 and 1524, after a brief period of rule by Jean le Sauvage. After 1504 the figure of the secretary was added, so between 1504 and 1507 Gaspar de Gricio took charge, between 1508 and 1518 Lope de Conchillos followed him, and from 1519, Francisco de los Cobos.
In 1511, the Junta of The Indies was constituted as a standing committee belonging to the Council of Castile to address issues of the Indies, and this junta constituted the origin of the Council of the Indies, established in 1524. That same year, the crown established a permanent high court, or audiencia, in the most important city at the time, Santo Domingo, on the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Now oversight of the Indies was based both in Castile and with officials of the new royal court in the colony. As new areas were conquered and significant Spanish settlements were established, likewise other audiencias were established.
Following the settlement of Hispaniola, Europeans began searching elsewhere to begin new settlements, since there was little apparent wealth and the numbers of indigenous were declining. Those from the less prosperous Hispaniola were eager to search for new success in a new settlement. From there Juan Ponce de León conquered Puerto Rico (1508) and Diego Velázquez took Cuba.
In 1508, the Board of Navigators met in Burgos and concurred on the need to establish settlements on the mainland, a project entrusted to Alonso de Ojeda and Diego de Nicuesa as governors. They were subordinated to the governor of Hispaniola, the newly appointed Diego Columbus, with the same legal authority as Ovando.
The first settlement on the mainland was Santa María la Antigua del Darién in Castilla de Oro (now Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia), settled by Vasco Núñez de Balboa in 1510. In 1513, Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama, and led the first European expedition to see the Pacific Ocean from the West coast of the New World. In an action with enduring historical import, Balboa claimed the Pacific Ocean and all the lands adjoining it for the Spanish Crown.
The judgment of Seville of May 1511 recognized the viceregal title to Diego Columbus, but limited it to Hispaniola and to the islands discovered by his father, Christopher Columbus; his power was nevertheless limited by royal officers and magistrates constituting a dual regime of government. The crown separated the territories of the mainland, designated as Castilla de Oro, from the viceroy of Hispaniola, establishing Pedrarias Dávila as General Lieutenant in 1513 with functions similar to those of a viceroy, while Balboa remained but was subordinated as governor of Panama and Coiba on the Pacific Coast; after his death, they returned to Castilla de Oro. The territory of Castilla de Oro did not include Veragua (which was comprised approximately between the Chagres River and cape Gracias a Dios), as it was subject to a lawsuit between the Crown and Diego Columbus, or the region farther north, towards the Yucatán peninsula, explored by Yáñez Pinzón and Solís in 1508–1509, due to its remoteness. The conflicts of the viceroy Columbus with the royal officers and with the Audiencia, created in Santo Domingo in 1511, caused his return to the Peninsula in 1515.