Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763by Henry Kamen
From the late-fifteenth to the mid-eighteenth century, Spain was the most extensive empire the world had seen, stretching from Naples and the Netherlands to the Philippines. This provocative work of history attributes Spain's rise to power to the collaboration of international business interests, including Italian financiers, German technicians, and Dutch traders.
From the late-fifteenth to the mid-eighteenth century, Spain was the most extensive empire the world had seen, stretching from Naples and the Netherlands to the Philippines. This provocative work of history attributes Spain's rise to power to the collaboration of international business interests, including Italian financiers, German technicians, and Dutch traders. At the height of its power, the Spanish Empire was a global enterprise in which non-Spaniards Portuguese, Basque, Aztec, Genoese, Chinese, Flemish, West African, Incan, and Neapolitan played an essential role.
Challenging, persuasive, and unique in its thesis, Henry Kamen's Empire explores Spain's complex impact on world history with admirable clarity and intelligence.
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How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763
The money from our realms alone would not be sufficient to maintain so big an army and fleet against so powerful an enemy.
-- Ferdinand the Catholic, July 1509
In a small ceremony in the year 1492 at the university city of Salamanca, in north central Spain, Queen Isabella of Castile was presented with the first copy, just off the press, of the humanist Antonio de Nebrija's Grammar of the Castilian language. She was slightly puzzled, and asked to know for what it served. Five years before, she had been presented with a copy of the same author's textbook of Latin grammar, and had found that to be undeniably useful; it had certainly helped her with her own earnest and not always successful efforts to learn Latin. But a grammar of one's everyday spoken tongue, as distinct from the formal study of a language used by professional people and lawyers, was something different. No other European country had yet got round to producing such a thing. Before Nebrija could reply, the queen's confessor, Fray Hernando de Talavera, bishop of Avila, broke in and spoke on his behalf. 'After Your Highness has subjected barbarous peoples and nations of varied tongues,' he explained, 'with conquest will come the need for them to accept the laws that the conqueror imposes on the conquered, and among them will be our language.' It was a reply that the queen could understand, for in the preceding months she had been actively engaged in military operations in the lands to the south of Castile, and the idea of conquest was uppermost in her mind.
In the preface that he subsequently wrote for the Grammar. Nebrija followed through Talavera's line of thought and claimed that 'I have found one conclusion to be very true, that language always accompanies empire, both have always commenced, grown and flourished together.'
The sentiment was, by then, a commonplace; Nebrija copied the phrase from the Italian humanist Lorenzo Valla. The meaning of the reference was also no novelty, and reflected in good measure Nebrija's concern to advance his career by keeping on good terms with the government of the day. 'Language', in this context, was not limited to vocabulary and grammar. It implied, rather, the imposition of culture, customs and above all religion on subjected peoples. Language was power. Victors, as the Piedmontese humanist Giovanni Botero was to write a Century later, 'would do well to introduce their own tongues into the countries they have conquered, as the Romans did'. Over the next few generations, as Castilians came into contact with other peoples, they found that the problem of communication was a fundamental challenge. Talavera himself was to discover, from his experiences in the formerly Islamic territory of Granada, that conquest could not easily be followed by changes in laws or language. The task of understanding, and being understood, had to be resolved before power could be successfully imposed.
It was not an assignment that the Castilians could take on alone. Nebrija's Grammar, like everything he and his humanist colleagues in Castile did, leaned heavily on foreign influences and expertise. Since the 1470s Spain had begun receiving the new invention of the printing press, brought in by Germans. The entire printing industry in Spain until the early years of the next century was almost exclusively a foreign enterprise, with Germans predominating but with an occasional French and Italian printer as well. It helped to connect the Spanish peninsula to the cultural activity of the Renaissance in Europe. But it also had an important political role, for among the first pieces of work produced by the presses for distribution to the public in Castile were the texts of royal decrees. Isabella from the beginning extended her patronage to the presses, financed their work and protected them with special privileges. Spaniards, however, were slow to develop the new invention. Scholars found it hard to get native printers with the expertise to print their works. 'Alas,' lamented a Castilian humanist in 1514, 'that we have not yet been visited either by the prudence of an Aldus or the proficiency of a Froben!' The complaint was a reflection on one of the problems that came to affect Spain's political future profoundly: its technological inexperience. A single small example will serve. Though Castilians were the first to have contact with the natives of the New World, the first drawing from life of an American Indian was done not by a Castilian but by a German, Christoph Welditz, who encountered one in Spain in 1529. The first books to be published in the New World were also the work of a German, Hans Cromberger of Seville, whose agent, the Italian Giovanni Paoli, issued the first printed book in Mexico in 1539. In other respects as well, Castilians were slow to respond to the challenges of the age. Among the few pioneering Castilian printers was Miguel de Eguía, who complained a few years later that Spaniards depended on foreigners for printing and that authors had to wait for their books as if they were gifts from America.' Though native printers eventually set up successful businesses, over the next two generations those who wished their books to be well printed took them abroad personally to France, Flanders and Italy.
Foreign expertise was crucial. Fostered in its early stages by German printers, Renaissance learning in the Iberian peninsula owed its success in part to the training that Spanish scholars had received in Italy, in part to the numbers of Italian and Sicilian scholars who came to teach and sometimes to settle. The humanist Peter Martyr d'Anghiera, the papal diplomat Baldassare Castiglione, and the Sicilian scholar Luca di Marinis (known in Castile as Lucio Marineo Siculo) figured prominently among the Italian visitors. In addition to the strong native influences in peninsular culture, for the next half-century scholars from all parts of Spain looked to and accepted the literature and learning that came from abroad ...Empire
How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763. Copyright © by Henry Kamen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Henry Kamen is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in London and an emeritus professor of the Higher Council for Scientific Research in Barcelona. He is the author of Empire: How Spain Became a Great Power, 1492-1763, as well as several other books on Spain. He divides his time between Barcelona and the United States.
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