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AN HISTORICAL ESSAY ON MODERN SPAIN

RICHARD HERR


Chapter 3

The Making of Spain





1. Wherever one wishes to start an historical account, one cannot dismiss what went before. In the case of Spain this is especially true not only because a society at any moment is the product of its past but because Spaniards have long been deeply conscious of their history. Intellectuals have pondered Spain's evolution, partly out of dismay at witnessing its decline as a world power, but even illiterate peasants are familiar with the main lines of their national epic. One cannot conceive of a Spaniard who does not know in a vague way that Spain once belonged to the Roman Empire, that it was conquered by the Moors, that the Christians drove out the Moors in the Reconquista, that under Ferdinand and Isabel Columbus discovered America where Spain founded a vast empire, that Spanish arms fought the heresy of Luther, or that Spanish guerrillas foiled Napoleon's conquest of their country. These are collective memories that make Spain a nation.

While avoiding the all-embracing views of an Ortega y Gasset or a Castro, let us look at the origins of the major features of present-day Spain. We have little precise knowledge about pre-Roman days, but there is a widespread belief accepted by such an eminent historian as Sanchez Albornoz that the original Iberians or Celt-Iberians who inhabited the peninsula had a definite character that has been passed on to this day. They were heroic and stubborn--witness the bitter defense of Saguntum on the Mediterranean coast against Hannibal in 219 b.c., and the even more tenacious resistance of Numantia in present Old Castile against the Roman armies from 143 to 133 b.c. The populace of Numantia burned down the city and perished in the [36] flames rather than fall into Roman hands. Nowadays the Spaniard will say of a determined and stubborn person, "He is very Iberian."

To see a direct link between the heroism of these early sieges and Spain's fierce resistance to Napoleon or Republican tenacity in the Civil War seems far-fetched, however. Many peoples in highly emotional moments have demonstrated irrational self-sacrifice. What archeological and written evidence does show is that from earliest historical times the inhabitants of the peninsula were closely tied commercially to the major Mediterranean powers, whose traders came in search of its highly prized mineral and agricultural products. First Phoenicia and then the Greek states and then Carthage established political control over its eastern and southern ports. Finally Rome conquered eastern Spain from Carthage in the Second Punic War (218-201 b.c.). In the next two centuries the Roman legions slowly extended their authority over the hinterland until they pacified the entire peninsula, about the beginning of the Christian era.

For six hundred years, until the collapse of the Roman Empire, some or all of Spain was under Roman rule, longer than any other area outside Italy. The Roman legacy has marked the Spaniards more deeply than any other. The Romans spread urban life to the regions they conquered, founding cities, giving privileges to their ruling groups, and governing the countryside through them. Southern and eastern Spain have remained areas of urban agglomerations ruling over a more backward countryside. More important, Spain has inherited from its years under Rome both its language and its religion, the two characteristics that form the basis for the self-identity of modern European nations. "Hispanidad," the concept of a common Spanish heritage that Spain has used to attract its former American colonies to its cultural and diplomatic orbit, centers on the Spanish language and Catholic religion.

Although the Basques keep alive a pre-Roman language, the rest of the peninsula speaks Romance languages. Castilian is the tongue of the central region, from Asturias and Aragon south to Andalusia. The language of Galicia is Gallegan, closely related to Portuguese, which developed out of it. In the northeast Catalan is spoken, more akin to medieval Provencal than to Castilian. The local dialects of Valencia and the Balearic Islandis are variations of Catalan. Of the different languages, Castilian is spoken by the majority and was the one exported to America. It is the official language of Spain, and foreigners know it simply as "Spanish."

Tradition marks Spain as having received divine favor during the early propagation of the Christian faith under the Roman Empire and during the medieval defense of Europe against the encroachments of the heathen world. According to legend, James the Apostle, Santiago, whom medieval Spaniards believed to be the half brother of Christ, [37] came to Spain to preach the gospel. The Virgin Mary appeared to him in person on top of a pillar of jasper at the site of the present Zaragoza, and the Virgen del Pilar has remained one of the country's most beloved patrons. Christianity had a wide following in the peninsula and had produced many martyrs before it became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century. Later, in the ninth century, when Christians were holding out against the Moslems in a small corner of Spain, the belief spread that some peasants had discovered the body of Santiago, which by miracle had been transported to Spain from Jerusalem after his death. Santiago became the patron saint of the Reconquest, and the site of his tomb at Compostela was the goal of the most famous medieval pilgrimage of Western Europe. Christian soldiers in battle with the Moslems believed he watched over them, and they spread accounts of his appearances in person at the head of the Christian host.

The Romance language and Christian religion penetrated Spanish society deeply enough to be preserved through defeat and domination by outside invaders in the millennium after the collapse of the Roman Empire. As in other parts of the Western empire, in the fifth and sixth centuries, Germanic tribes invaded and settled in the Iberian peninsula. The tribe that obtained lasting dominion of Spain was the Visigoths, who appeared across the Pyrenees about 414 a.d. on the heels of several other groups. The Visigoths had previously wandered through eastern and southern Europe and adopted the Aryan form of Christianity, which had been declared a heresy by the Council of Nicea. Because of the religious difference, their Spanish subjects opposed their dominion for over a century. Finally, to bring peace to the land, the Visigothic king Recaredo converted to Catholicism in 587, and soon the other Visigoths followed his example.

The inhabitants of Spain showed an even more tenacious devotion to their faith and their language under the next invaders, the Moslems or "Moors" who entered Spain in 711 across the Strait of Gibraltar. The Moslems conquered all but a corner of northwest Spain in seven years; the Christians fought intermittently for nearly eight centuries to drive them out. King Pelayo turning back the onrushing Moslems with divine help at the Cave of Covadonga in Asturias in 718; the capture of Toledo in 1085 by Alfonso VI of Castile, that of Zaragoza by Alfonso I of Aragon in 1118; the glorious Christian victory at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212; the Catalan conquest of the Balearic Islands and Valencia under James I of Aragon and that of Andalusia by Ferdinand III of Castile (San Fernando) in the thirteenth century; and finally the triumphant entry into Granada of Ferdinand and Isabel on January 2, 1492 marking the expulsion of the last Moslem ruler from the peninsula--these are glories that every child learns in school. They represent the enduring assertion of European civilization against an [38] alien culture imposed by the sword. The long centuries of perilous frontier life and intermittent warfare, carried on in the name of the Christian faith, imbued Spaniards with a crusading tradition that identified their existence as a people with the duty to defend and propagate Christianity by force of arms. In the thirteenth century one Spaniard, Santo Domingo, founded the Dominican order dedicated to rooting out heresy. In the sixteenth another, San Ignacio de Loyola, established the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), which opposed the Protestant Reformation.

The Reconquest represented more than an armed conflict. Since Christian society was organized for war, a military and noble ethic spread through it. A powerful aristocracy emerged based on royal grants of land and jurisdiction in the reconquered territories, especially Andalusia, and beneath it grew up a numerous class of hidalgos or nobles, since everyone with a horse could seek fame, riches, and noble status by fighting the Moslems. It has been argued that Spain's later economic backwardness is due to a general aspiration to noble life and scorn of productive labor imbued by the Reconquest, a theory that is hard to test historically. The long contact with a different and in ways higher culture had other, more positive results. The Moslems developed a complex irrigation system which afterwards remained the basis of the prosperous agriculture of the Mediterranean and Andalusia vegas. They also brought to Spain classical learning that Europe had lost during the Dark Ages; Aristotelian philosophy penetrated Western Europe via Moslem Cordoba. Even the Christian concept of the crusade was largely a response to the Moslem holy war. Finally the Reconquest bequeathed to Spain a populace of mixed religions. When their rulers were driven out, most Moslems stayed behind, a good proportion of them descendants of Christians who had converted to Islam, and there were in addition many Jews, whose forefathers came even before the Moslems. Whether these three faiths could survive together after the Reconquest became the most critical issue in Spain.

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, a time of political unrest and economic hardship, preachers aroused the Christian populace against the Jews. Some Jews converted voluntarily, but on repeated occasions Christians invaded the Jewish quarters of the cities and dragged Jews forcibly to baptism. In succeeding decades, the evident lack of enthusiasm for their new religion of many of these converted Jews or conversos, as well as their frequent economic and social success, roused suspicion and hatred among old Christians. Finally to bring order to the cities and to take justice out of the hands of mobs, in 1482 Ferdinand and Isabel obtained papal permission to establish an Inquisition in their realms, an ecclesiastical tribunal under close royal supervision whose duty was to discover and punish baptized Christians who accepted heretical beliefs or practiced non-Christian [39] rites. It went promptly to work against the suspect conversos. There remained the Moslems and the unconverted Jews. No sooner did Granada fall than Ferdinand and Isabel ordered all Jews who would not accept baptism expelled from Spain. The decree resulted in driving out approximately 120,000 to 150,000 people, including some of the economically most valuable subjects, merchants and bankers from whose loss Spain never fully recovered. Ten years later the monarchs expelled from Castile the Moslems who would not become Christian, but this time most persons involved preferred conversion to exile. The Moslem converts became known as moriscos.

Despite the activities of the Inquisition, suspicion and jealousy of the conversos and moriscos remained. As the sixteenth century advanced, persons with Jewish ancestry, no matter how remote, were systematically barred from church and royal offices, from universities, and from other professions. Candidates for such positions had to prove their "purity of blood" (limpieza de sangre). Many a well-born Spaniard trembled lest someone discover a stain in his past that would disgrace him and ruin his family. The moriscos, most of whom were peasants or agricultural laborers, were not molested until the reign of Philip II (1556-98). When he threatened them with persecution for their Islamic practices, they revolted in Granada in 1568 but were defeated. Thereafter they were suspected of being secretly in league with Spain's enemy, the Turks. In 1609 Philip III (1598-1621) finally decided to eliminate this threat and cater to public feeling by expelling the moriscos. About 275,000 people were embarked for Africa, roughly 5 percent of the population of the country. But in Valencia they were 40 percent of the population, the main labor supply of its agriculture, and their departure left much of the region deserted.

With this history as a background, it is easy to understand why the Protestant Reformation found few converts in Spain, why the Habsburg kings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries could involve the country beyond its strength in wars to uphold the Catholic cause in Europe, and why Spaniards took seriously their duty to convert the inhabitants of the new world. The identification of Catholicism with Spanishness penetrated all layers of society. Even today most conservatives share Franco's feeling, "In Spain you are a Catholic or you are nothing."(1)

What Catholicism has meant for the character and history of Spaniards defies rigorous definition. Anticlerical Spaniards like to blame Spain's Catholicism for its economic backwardness, political instability, and social violence, but this is only a facile explanation for a highly complex problem. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the tests [40] for purity of blood and the activities of the Inquisition made Spaniards suspicious and secretive. On the other hand, a foreigner today gets the impression that their immersion in Catholic doctrine and practices makes Spaniards more tolerant of human frailty than north European Protestants, more willing to discuss their feelings with friends, more ready to accept others as equals regardless of their success or failure in life or their social or economic status. Yet even if such impressions could be proved, one cannot easily see how these qualities can account for the course of Spain's history.

2. The political unity of Spain has also been the product of a long-drawn-out process. Unity is usually traced back to the Romans, but in fact the peninsula was divided into three provinces under the empire. The economic and cultural centers and main lines of communication lay along the Mediterranean coast, present-day Andalusia, and through the western part of the peninsula, including Portugal. There was no administrative center to Roman Spain. The present form of unity, with Castile as the center of authority, first appeared under the Visigoths, when they set up their capital at Toledo in the middle of the sixth century.

The Moslem invasion destroyed the Visigothic achievement, and political unity was not reestablished for a thousand years; of the whole peninsula, never permanently. The Christian Reconquest produced a variety of kingdoms. The earliest ones lay in a belt across northern Spain: Galicia, Asturias, the Basque Provinces, Navarre, Aragon, and Catalonia. They spoke different languages, had different customs, and developed different political systems. As the Reconquest proceeded and these kingdoms incorporated new territories, political boundaries changed in kaleidoscopic fashion until in the thirteenth century three major regions emerged: Leon and Castile (or simply "Castile"), geographically largest and most central, which incorporated the northern coast, the central plateaus, and the valley of the Guadalquivir; Aragon, which united with Catalonia and took over Valencia and territories beyond the sea, the Balearic Islands, and for a while parts of Italy; and finally Portugal, which broke off from Castile in the twelfth century and was able to maintain its independence with support from England and France, except for the period between 1580 and 1640.

The major step in the creation of the present boundaries was the union of Castile and Aragon, accomplished by the marriage in 1469 of the heirs of the two kingdoms, Isabel of Castile (ruled 1474-1504) and Ferdinand of Aragon (1479-1516). In many ways this momentous occasion was fortuitous. Had Ferdinand's rival for Isabel's hand, King Alfonso of Portugal, carried off the future queen of Castile, Spain as [41] we know it might never have existed. Alfonso had many backers, but for reasons of state Isabel chose the handsome young Ferdinand, and together they defeated the Portuguese armies. After another war of ten years against the Moslems, they added Granada. Finally in 1515 Ferdinand conquered that part of Navarre that lay south of the Pyrenees.

The union of Spain was, however, purely dynastic, Ferdinand and Isabel and their successors maintained separate governmental institutions and legal systems in their kingdoms. Like other parts of Europe, every kingdom or province of Spain had its own rights and privileges which protected the authority of the local dominant classes and limited the powers of the king, especially in matters of taxation and military recruitment. Known as their fueros, these privileges were especially strong in the Basque provinces, Navarre, and the states of the Crown of Aragon (the kingdoms of Aragon and Valencia and the principality of Catalonia). Each of the states of the Crown of Aragon had a parliament known as the Cortes, meeting in separate chambers or estates representing the different legal classes. They had great authority in granting subsidies and voting laws. Liberal Spaniards who later looked back on the Middle Ages as a time of national greatness and public liberty liked to recall the legendary oath of allegiance of the Cortes of Aragon to each new king: "We who are as good as you swear to you who are no better than we to accept you as our king and sovereign lord, provided you observe all our liberties and laws; but if not, not."

Castile had very little of this kind of formal liberty. Here the Cortes had never obtained the power to approve laws. Since the clergy and nobility did not pay direct taxes, they took little interest in strengthening the Cortes, and the institution developed into an assembly of representatives of the leading Castilian cities. Never a strong body, by the sixteenth century it ceased to have any serious role in government. The individual cities had a more effective independence, but Ferdinand and Isabel established their own representatives in each city of Castile, the corregidor, who enforced royal authority. Thus the crown gained control of the formal institutions of Castile, and the only effective check on its power could come from the great aristocratic families, headed by the grandees, and from the church, both of whom had vast wealth in the form of extensive holdings of land obtained during the Reconquest. After Ferdinand and Isabel brought order to Castile, the clergy and aristocracy no longer posed a direct threat to the crown, but the kings did little to reduce the wealth of these groups or the income that they obtained from the commoners over whom the crown had given them seigneurial jurisdiction. Instead the rulers of the next two centuries used Castilian aristocrats and clergymen as advisers and administrators. It is not surprising that these two classes remained [42] powerful, or that they were able to escape taxes while the commoners, both urban and rural, were more and more heavily burdened.

The only son of Ferdinand and Isabel, Juan, died in 1497. His premature death changed the course of history as much as did the marriage of his parents. (Sanchez Albornoz goes so far as to call the delicate Renaissance sarcophagus of Juan at Ávila the "tomb of Spain.")(2) The heritage of Ferdinand and Isabel fell instead to a daughter, Juana, whom for reasons of diplomacy they had married to Philip of Habsburg, heir to Austria and the Low Countries. After the death of Ferdinand and Isabel, Juana's son Charles, Duke of Burgundy, became the first Habsburg ruler of Spain in 1517. He inherited Austria in 1519 and was elected Holy Roman Emperor as Charles V (he was Charles I of Spain [1517-56]). When Charles demanded a grant to pay for the bribes involved in his election, the cities of Castile, angry at the demands of this foreigner, formed a league known as the Comuneros and rose in revolt in 1520. They fought briefly and unsuccessfully. The Castilian aristocrats turned against them when they threatened a social revolution, and provided arms for Charles to put down the rebels. The revolt of the Comuneros was the last time Castile seriously tried to resist its king.

The two centuries following the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabel brought Spain to the pinnacle of European power and subsequently saw it decline to be the plaything of England, France, and the Netherlands. This saga is the best-known part of Spanish history; it preoccupied Spaniards then and has ever since. The political unity and domestic peace achieved by Ferdinand and Isabel gave Spain the basis for European power, but its supremacy resulted from Columbus' discovery of the Antilles for the crown of Castile. When a generation later Spaniards extended their conquests to the mainland of America, they found in the Inca and Aztec empires territories that rewarded them beyond all expectations. The gold and silver mines of Peru and Mexico made the king of Spain the wealthiest ruler in Europe in the sixteenth century.

Unfortunately for Spain its rulers consumed this wealth in European wars. Charles V dragged Castile into the conflicts in which his central European lands involved him, against France, the Ottoman Empire, and eventually the German Protestants. Thus began a long bloodletting of Castile that marked the two centuries of Habsburg rule. Charles abdicated in 1556, leaving to his son Philip II Castile, Aragon, the Low Countries, provinces in Italy, and the empire in America. Charles' brother received the Austrian lands and became the next Holy Roman Emperor. The Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs [43] remained close allies until the last Habsburg king of Spain died in 1700, and the alliance committed Spain to nearly continuous war in Germany and Italy. More serious was a revolt of the Low Countries against Philip II. They rose in 1566 to resist his attempts to stamp out the Protestant religion in their lands and to tax them to support his wars. The struggle continued intermittently for eighty years and hurt the rulers of Spain on the seas and in their colonies. Spain finally recognized the independence of the northern provinces, or Netherlands, in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, but it managed to keep the southern provinces (roughly present-day Belgium).

By the seventeenth century, Spain's wars were proving to be a drain to which its resources were unequal. After 1600 the output of the American mines declined while armies got ever costlier. The Peace of the Pyrenees between Spain and France (1660) marked the temporary end of Spain as a great European power. Henceforth France under Louis XIV took its place at the head of Europe. The treaty gave to France the portion of Catalonia lying north of the Pyrenees, and in the next decades Louis XIV gradually nibbled away at Spain's remaining territory in the Low Countries.

The domestic history of Spain during these centuries centers on a gradual process whereby the crown sought to extend to the rest of the peninsula the control it had over Castile. The process was not consciously planned but resulted from the need of the kings to seek money wherever they could for their armies. Under Philip II the difficulties of running an empire made up of kingdoms with different laws and privileges became evident. In 1591 the Aragonese nobility incited a rebellion in Zaragoza because Philip proposed to infringe their liberties. A Castilian army quelled the revolt. Philip was legally minded enough to maintain most of the Aragonese fueros, but he insisted on the right to name Castilians as viceroys. The gradual extension of Castilian personnel into the administration of the other territories was, in fact, to be the most successful method of the monarchs for increasing their control over their non-Castilian subjects.

The next major incident was far more serious. After 1635 Philip IV (1621-65) was engaged in war with France both along the Pyrenees and the Rhine, where the French enjoyed the alliance of the Dutch and other Protestant states. Fearing the invasion of Catalonia, Philip and his minister the Count-Duke of Olivares sent a Castilian army to the Catalan frontier, which they billeted on the countryside in the winter 1639-40. Olivares also proposed to change the Catalan constitution in order to allow the king to levy higher taxes in support of the war. In May 1640 Catalan peasants rose against the Castilian troops, and the rebels captured Barcelona and murdered the viceroy. The Catalans declared themselves at first an independent republic and then [44] subjects of the king of France. Peninsular unity had been destroyed. After a long struggle Philip IV recovered control of Catalonia in 1652, but only at the expense of reaffirming all its fueros.

Accompanying the revolt of the Catalans was another by the Portuguese. Philip II had inherited Portugal in 1580, thereby completing the long-dreamed-of unity of the peninsula. As was the case in Aragon, he promised to maintain the local Cortes and liberties, but his successors violated his promises. They named Castilians to Portuguese offices and sought ways to raise Portugal's contribution to their war chest. In December 1640 a rebellion began in Lisbon which declared one of their own aristocrats to be king of Portugal. Despite efforts lasting twenty-eight years, Spain never recovered the land to the west. Help from France and England, Portugal's traditional allies, provided the margin needed to resist the Spanish armies. The natural desire of Spain's rulers to reestablish Iberian unity as it had been in Visigothic days had been thwarted by the Habsburgs' commitment to fight in central Europe.

Half a century later, effective unity of the remainder of the peninsula did come about as the result of a change of dynasty. Charles II (1665-1700), the only surviving son of Philip IV, was mentally retarded and failed to beget children. On his death he willed his lands to the grandson of Louis XIV, the Duke of Anjou, who had a claim to the throne through Louis XIV's marriage to a daughter of Philip IV. The Duke of Anjou mounted Spain's throne as Philip V, the first Spanish king of the House of Bourbon, which was to reign in Spain until 1931. The Bourbons did not obtain Spain without a struggle, however, for the Habsburgs of Austria put up a rival claimant to the throne in the Archduke Charles, a great-grandson of Philip III. Charles found allies in Great Britain and the Netherlands, who feared the combined maritime and colonial power that would result if France and Spain should be united.

The War of the Spanish Succession which ensued turned into a major European and colonial conflict. The Peace of Utrecht that terminated it in 1713 was a compromise. Philip V kept the crowns of Castile and Aragon and with them the overseas colonies, for despite Spain's many defeats in Europe, it had preserved its empire virtually intact; but he gave up to Austria Spain's remaining possessions in Italy and the Low Countries, and to Great Britain the island of Menorca and the fortress of Gibraltar. The British navy had captured Gibraltar, which was weakly defended, in the name of the Archduke Charles in 1704. During the war, the British came to realize its possibilities as a naval base at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea and, when peace was negotiated, they insisted on keeping it for themselves. Spain recovered Menorca in 1783, but Gibraltar has remained British to this day. The occupation of this corner of the peninsula by a foreign power [45] has been a thorn in the side of Spaniards, embittering relations between the two countries and helping to keep alive in Spanish minds an image of England as the primary national enemy.

Domestically the war put an apparent end to the problem of unifying the kingdoms of Aragon with Castile. After some hesitation at the beginning of the war, the Cortes of Aragon, Valencia, and Catalonia recognized the Archduke Charles as their rightful king, placing more confidence in a Habsburg than in an heir of Louis XIV to respect their fueros. Even with the help of Britain and Austria, however, these kingdoms proved no match for the armies of Castile who fought for Philip V, partly because, as on earlier occasions, they did little to help each other. The Castilians conquered Valencia and Aragon in 1707. Catalonia held out alone, even after Britain and Austria recognized Philip. In the summer of 1714 Barcelona withstood a glorious but futile siege, hoping to the end for British help that never arrived. Philip V retaliated for the disloyalty of these kingdoms by abolishing their fueros. The cortes of the three kingdoms disappeared. In the future their major cities would be instructed to send representatives to the Cortes of Castile. Military officers directly subordinate to the king called captains general replaced the viceroys, and the king sent corregidores to the cities. The tax systems were altered so that the crown would get a proper amount from each territory. Only the Basque Provinces and Navarre now preserved their traditional privileges.

Catalans were particularly bitter over the outcome. Twice in the past century they had fought valiantly to maintain their fueros against the encroachment of Castilians, whom they looked upon as foreign conquerors, and twice they had been abandoned by their non-Spanish allies, while the kingdoms of Valencia and Aragon failed to come to their support. Forgetting the essentially aristocratic nature of the fueros they had lost, Catalans who opposed the policies of Madrid in the future would excite the resentment of their fellow citizens by recalling the heroic resistance of their forefathers against Castilian tyranny in 1640-52 and 1705-14.

At last the crown had achieved the institutional unification which was the logical result of the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabel. Centralization was the objective of every European monarch in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for it was a vital necessity for self-defense in this age of increasingly expensive wars. The states that failed to centralize became the pawn of their powerful neighbors. The most obvious example was the Holy Roman Empire defeated by France in the seventeenth century, but Spain also suffered from its disunity. Now Philip V's achievement made it the first major nation to achieve a unified government. Louis XIV has the reputation for creating a centralized absolute authority, yet long after Philip V abolished the Cortes of Aragon large areas of France kept their local estates and voted their [46] own taxes. Britain achieved unity similar to Spain's by the Act of Union of 1702, which incorporated Scottish representatives into the English parliament, but here constitutional power was divided between crown and parliament, and the central government lacked effective control over local authorities.

3. Because of internal conflicts and foreign wars, the country that Philip V finally managed to unify was vastly different from the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile brought together by Ferdinand and Isabel. In 1500 Castile had been a flourishing land of wealthy and populous cities, while Catalonia, which was the economic center of the crown of Aragon, had declined from its earlier greatness as the dominant power in the western Mediterranean. The wealth of Castile rested on its production of wheat, wine, and olive oil, but most especially on the export of its fine merino wool. The city of Burgos, which monopolized this trade, had a prosperous merchant class, while the fairs of Medina del Campo attracted traders from throughout Europe.

All this changed in the next centuries. Because Castile was taxed more heavily than Aragon, the continual warfare of the Habsburg kings exhausted its economy. In 1610 the French ambassador estimated that Castile paid fifty times as much in taxes as Aragon, although its population was only six times greater. Besides heavy taxes, the rural Castilians suffered from the royal policy adopted by Ferdinand and Isabel of encouraging sheep grazing at the expense of agriculture. The export of wool brought valuable foreign exchange, and the annual migration of the flocks of sheep along the royally protected sheepwalks made them easy to tax. The rulers took the facile expedient for increasing their income of favoring the official guild of owners of migrant sheep, the Mesta. They gave it a perpetual guarantee of its sheepwalks and of the use of any pastures it had ever rented, and the right to try disputes with peasants in its own courts. Attracted by such conditions, large landowners preferred to turn their lands over to grazing.

Many of the Castilian peasants, who were heavily taxed, frequently in debt, and threatened with the loss of their lands, turned to careers in the church or the army or fled to look for jobs in the cities. They migrated south to Andalusia, where production for America offered employment. Many young men of marrying age joined the armies and went to central Europe, and less than a third returned. Large numbers of people perished in the epidemics which swept through Spanish cities in 1596-1602, 1647-52, and 1676-85. By the seventeenth century New and Old Castile were losing population and their once flourishing cities were becoming deserted. (Burgos fell from 13,000 to 3000 population during the first half of the century.) Castile could no longer [47] furnish the men needed for its armies, any more than it could pay them. Little wonder that in 1640 Olivares sought desperately to tap the resources of Catalonia and Portugal.

Most lacking of all was a middle class engaged in commerce and manufacture. Whereas the aristocracy and the church kept their lands, Castilian manufacture was in decline by 1600, except for artisan production that furnished the needs of local markets. Persons who amassed wealth preferred to invest it in government securities (juros) or to buy land and a title. "There are but two families in the world, the haves and the have-nots," Sancho Panza's grandmother said. Castile had become a land of rich and poor and little in between.

The decline of Castile produced a lasting revolution in the human geography of Spain. In the sixteenth century the Castilian heartland dominated the peninsula by the weight of its population. In 1550 the crown of Castile probably had over 6 million inhabitants, that of Aragon and Navarre only about 1 million. This means that Castile, with 77 percent of the area of Spain, had about 86 percent of the population; it had a density of seventeen persons per square kilometer, Aragon and Navarre only nine. After rising to around 7 million inhabitants at the end of the century, Castile lost population after 1600, dropping to perhaps 5 million in 1715. While Castile was being humanly exhausted, the economy of eastern Spain began to revive in the late seventeenth century, headed by the once famous Catalan woolen industry. Improving economic conditions in Catalonia lowered mortality rates among the population and attracted immigrants from France and southern Spain. The population began to rise and continued to do so at a more rapid pace in the eighteenth century. Other regions in the north and east experienced similar developments. It is an ironic fact that when Philip V finally asserted Castilian sovereignty over the kingdoms of Aragon, the economic and demographic position of Castile vis-a-vis Aragon was growing progressively weaker. By the end of the eighteenth century, for which we have reliable figures, Castile had 7.6 million people, only 75 percent of the 10.2 million population of peninsular Spain. (The Balearic and Canary Islands had 360,000 more.) Furthermore, within the area of Castile, half the population was located in the northern coastal provinces and Andalusia. Aragon itself was barren by comparison with Catalonia and Valencia. Except for the part of Old Castile running north from Valladolid to the sea, the Castilian mesetas and Aragon had less than twenty inhabitants per square kilometer, despite a steady growth in the eighteenth century, while the coastal regions and Andalusia averaged over thirty. In direct contrast with the sixteenth century, Spain now presented the phenomenon of an empty center ruling politically over heavily peopled areas looking outward to the sea. In the eyes of the world, which was used to looking at Castile as if it were Spain, the country appeared in dismal decline, as its recent [48] series of military defeats seemed to prove. The eighteenth-century was to show that appearances were misleading, for Spain was to experience a revival in which the forgotten lands of the periphery were to take the lead.

4. Looking back at the Habsburg centuries, Spaniards naturally fix their attention on their country's great colonial expansion and its dominance in Europe. They are dismayed by its subsequent decline, in part confusing Castile with all Spain, as did contemporaries. That a country of between 7 and 8 million people should find it impossible to remain the dominant power in Europe, where France had over 15 million and the Germanies perhaps 20 million, is hardly surprising. The great miracle was Spain's power in the sixteenth century, attributable as much to domestic peace in a time when other countries were suffering civil wars as to its American treasure.

Spain's preeminence in these years was not only military and political. The Golden Age (Siglo de Oro), from the reign of Philip II through that of Philip IV, saw a flowering of Spanish art and letters" which has seldom been equaled in any country. Whether one looks at religious art like the Interior Castle of the mystic Santa Teresa of Ávila, El Greco's paintings of apostles and saints, and Zurbaran's portraits of elegant friars, or whether one prefers worldly art like the picaresque novel Lazarillo de Tormes, Don Quixote, and the theater of Lope de Vega, one can choose from universal masterpieces. The spirit that dominates most of this art is an exhalted realism, Painting does not idealize saints, martyrs, or classic deities, but renders them as ordinary people with their flaws and passions; for instance, the paintings of Mary Magdalen and Saint Bartholomew by Ribera or Vulcan's forge by Velazquez. Velazquez's official portraits of Philip IV reveal not an arrogant lord or distant ruler but a sorely troubled and vacillating man. In Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the hidalgo and the peasant, Cervantes fashioned opposite sides of the same coin.

In art Spaniards seemed to express a deep subconscious conviction that beneath the everyday distinction between social classes, between past and present, and between human and divine lies hidden the ultimate unity of creation. In El Greco's painting, "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz," Saint Augustine and Saint Stephen, dressed as dignitaries of the church, are burying the body of the count and Saint Francis and Saint Dominic mingle with the real living nobles who watch as mourners, while in the top half of the canvas an almost naked Saint John the Baptist pleads with Christ and Mary for the acceptance of the count's soul. Half the mourners are looking down at the body, the others upward to heaven, for the two realms are intimately joined [49] together in their consciousness as in the artistic representation. Or another case--the palace of El Escorial, built by Philip II to be his residence. It is a massive, harshly geometric granite structure in the form of the gridiron on which Saint Laurence, to whom it is dedicated, suffered martyrdom. At its center is a vast Renaissance church, and most of the rest houses a monastery. The royal quarters are a few rooms in one wing, and the king's bed was placed so that, through a small window, he could watch mass being said at the high altar. The king lived like a monk, a simple servant of God, though ruler of the largest empire in the world. Finally, one can look at Velazquez's painting, "The Spinners" ("Las Hilanderas"). In the foreground the women of a tapestry factory are spinning. Through an arch one sees aristocratic ladies who have come to buy a tapestry. Beyond them the figures of Minerva and Arachne are visible in the tapestry on display, painted to appear no less real than the living persons. Yet Velazquez put the common women in the foreground and the goddess at the back, purposely inverting the normal hierarchy. It is this mystical union of the supernatural with the natural, of king and monk, of ladies and spinners that marks the artistic creations of the time, gives them their greatness, and permits us to sense through them an age when fortune and poverty, and heaven and earth, were inseparable in everyday consciousness.

By the end of the seventeenth century the Golden Age had passed. It bequeathed to later generations a legacy of human creativity that has formed the minds of educated Spaniards ever since. As with so much of Spain's legacy to modern times, however, it was a mixed blessing. In art, in war, in trade and industry, and in empire building, Spain's present was to seem forever dwarfed by its past. The enduring sense of anguish that Americo Castro finds in Spaniards must have come largely from a feeling of inadequacy instilled by their history. It became easy for Spaniards to say with Sanchez Albornoz that the Habsburgs had brought about the ruin of Spain, or with Americo Castro that the national character was not suited for modern times, and thus to wash their own hands of responsibility for their fate. And yet they could have realized that the seventeenth century had changed the domestic structure of the country and its international position to such an extent that henceforth its problems would differ greatly from those of the Habsburg period. Had they done so, they would not have searched for the explanation of its subsequent history so exclusively in the past.


Notes for Chapter Three

1. Quoted in Henri Massis, "L'Espagne qui renait; Franco nous a dit," Candide, August 18, 1938, p. 4.

2. Sanchez Albornoz, illustration facing Vol. II, p. 128.