The Rise Of The Spanish Empire

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The rise of the Spanish empire began in 1492 (Cole, 282). With the discovery of two new continents Spanish conquistadors travelled to the new world. They traveled to Central America where they encountered the Aztec and Inca Empire. They used indigenous labor to mine precious metals. By 1510, 90% of the indigenous population had died within a generation (Cole, 283). With the decline of workers certain mines such as the mines of Hispaniola they became uneconomical to operate (Cole, 284). Yet mining continued to shape the Spanish colonies of Central and South America in fundamental ways (Cole, 284). Silver became their most valuable export. Between 1571 and 1586, silver production quadrupled, reaching its peak in the 1590s, when 10 million ounces of silver per year were arriving in Spain from the Americas. This allowed the Spanish Empire to become the richest empire in Europe and Spanish silver pesos became the de facto currency. In 1521 Charles V became Europe’s most powerful ruler. He is the member of the Habsburg family which means he was the ruler of Netherlands as well as the king of Bohemia, Hungary, Holy Roman Emperor, duke of Austria, duke of Milan, ruler of France-Comté, king of Spain and ruler of all the Spanish colonies in the New World. The empire shared no common language, culture or geographical borders making it hard for Charles V to control his empire.

During Charles V reign there was a great inflation of prices. There were two reasons for the inflation. There was a rose in population causing food prices to rise by greater demand. At the same time wages did not increase. The second reason is that the silver brought in to Europe by Spain. The increase of volume of money in circulation fueled the spiral of rising prices (Cole, 332). Governments were force to increase taxes to keep their revenue constant. Spain especially since war was getting increasingly expensive.

Wars played a big part in the fall of the Spanish Empire. In 1540s Charles V launched a military campaign against German Princes who were Lutheran but failed. There was also a revolt of the Netherlands and the Spanish Empire lost the northern Dutch Republic. In 1555 Charles V handed the reign over to his son Philip II. He launched an Armanda of ships to England in 1588 because English openly allied with Dutch rebels. The “Invincible Armanda” turned out to be quite conquerable. Spain suffered another defeated but this time to England. Spain also engaged in another war called The Thirty Years War that shifted the balance of power from Spain to France. In 1639 the navy of the United Netherlands annihilated the Spanish fleet causing Spain to lose it’s claim on the sea. The Peace of Westphalia, the peace treaty written to end the Thirty Year War, is evidence of Spain’s loss of power and France’s rise to become the predominant power in Europe. By the end of the Thirty Year War Spain’s treasure was empty. 4 million ducats out of the total revenue of 7 million were spend on military ventures (Cole, 338)

Spain lost many of it’s territories through revolts like the revolt of the Dutch Republic. In 1568, William the Silent led an unsuccessful revolt against Spain in the Netherlands. The Netherlands was important to Spain because it held a great deal of wealth especially with the port of Antwerp. Spain sent over 10,000 troops to control the spread of Protestantism. But the spread of Protestantism could not be stopped. In 1572, William was able to gather other Protestant allies such as France, Germany, and England and seize northern