Spain: History for Young Readers - Frederick Ober

When Spain was Great

Although Queen Isabella assumed all responsibility for the first voyage of Columbus, and is said to have declared, "I am ready to pawn my jewels for the expenses," yet the treasury of Aragon has the credit of providing the necessary funds. Already fifty-six years of age when he started on this voyage, Columbus had spent eighteen of the best years of his life supplicating at courts and pleading for recognition; so he was no longer blessed with health and vigour. Returning from the first triumphant achievement early in 1493, the same year he sailed from Cadiz with a larger fleet, and discovered islands farther to the south than those which he first saw and landed on, as well as the island of Jamaica. In 1498 yet another voyage revealed the island of Trinidad and a portion of the north coast of South America; but, through the course of events which we can not follow in this history, he was sent home to Spain in chains by his enemy, Bobadilla. The queen, though she received him with distinction, and did all she could to soothe his wounded sensibilities, yet was unable to secure him another command until 1502, when he sailed on his last and most disastrous voyage, which ended in the wreck of his ships on the north coast of Jamaica, and his final return to Spain, worn with disease and broken-hearted from abuse. Two years after the death of Isabella he too departed this life, in the year 1506, at the city of Valladolid, where the house in which he died is still pointed out to the stranger. His remains were at first deposited in Valladolid, then taken to Seville, and about the year 1540 transported to Santo Domingo, in accordance with his last request.

Following closely in the wake of Columbus were other voyagers and other discoverers, notably Americus Vespucci, who, together with a valiant Spaniard named Ojeda, sailed along the north coast of South America from the Pearl Islands to the Gulf of Maracaibo, in the year 1499, trading with the natives, and finally returning with a rich cargo of pearls and other valuable products of their barter. They not only obtained the beautiful pearls which unfortunate Columbus had somehow overlooked the year before, but they first saw those curious people, the Lake Dwellers, in the Gulf of Maracaibo, whose settlements over the water suggested the name by which the region adjacent is known to-day, of Venezuela, or Little Venice. Americus Vespucci was further rewarded, on his return, by being appointed chart-maker to the king, and eventually his name came to be applied to the continent discovered by Columbus in 1498. That, at least, was long held to be the case, but of late years it has been noticed that the word "America" may have been derived from the native name of one of the provinces on that coast, Americapan.

So we might go on tracing the extension of Spanish conquests, until these pages, which we have dedicated to outlining the history of Spain, would be filled with the doings of her valiant sons, and the numerous adventurers attracted to her service by the reports of her growing greatness. But still we can not ignore these brave conquistadores who sought fame and riches in the New World, the path to which had been opened by Columbus. Two or three years after the death of Columbus the gallant Ponce de Leon, then governor of a province of Santo Domingo, went across the channel and conquered Puerto Rico, whence, in 1512, he sailed to the discovery of Florida, after his romantic search for the fabled "Fountain of Youth." To note how, when once started, the stream of exploration and conquest flowed on unimpeded, we have but to, turn to the island of Santo Domingo, discovered by Columbus in 1492, and where the first schemes of colonization were carried out.

In the year 1509 the son of Columbus, Don Diego, was appointed governor and viceroy of the island, in tardy recognition of the claim of his father to the title of "High Admiral of the Ocean-Sea." In 1511 one Velasquez sailed over to Cuba and there established a colony, and with him, among others who subsequently became famous, was an obscure individual named Hernando Cortes, who, fired by the reports of a new land discovered to the west, was placed in command of an expedition, by Velasquez, who fitted it out; and the result was the ultimate conquest of the vast territory of Mexico, which was first brought to notice by Hernandez de Cordova in 1517. From this conquest, which was not achieved until about 1521–22, flowed millions and millions in treasure to fill the coffers of Spain. Cor tes himself, a man of humble origin, was born in Spain in 1485, only seven years before Columbus sailed on his first voyage; yet he added a kingdom to the realms of Spain before he was forty years of age!

In the year 1513 the brave but unfortunate Vasco Nunez de Balboa, from a high point in the Isthmus of Darien, saw, first of all Europeans, the vast Pacific; yet it was not until nearly twenty years afterward that Francisco Pizarro, the ignorant soldier, who was born in the same province as Cortes, in Spain, and who had served with Gonsalvo de Cordova in Italy, subjugated the native people of Peru, and made himself a virtual king. By the conquest of Peru and the murder of the Inca by Pizarro more than fifteen million dollars in treasure was secured, and ultimately the mines of that country enriched Spain for many, many years.

So, as we have seen, Spain was prolific in men of force and gallantry, who poured out their blood freely for her sake, and who ventured their lives rashly in the expeditions she sent forth. The long wars with the Moors, lasting for centuries, had brought forth a race of soldiers unequalled perhaps in any other country at that time. They seem to have been bred and nurtured for these very deeds of risk and heroism which were born of their encounters with the natives of the New World; for self-denial, for intrepidity under almost insuperable difficulties. They were also fierce and cruel—how fierce and how cruel it is only necessary to read of the conquest of Mexico by Cortes; of the conquest of Peru by Pizarro; yes, of the treatment of the innocent natives by Columbus himself, who initiated the system of slavery, by which eventually they were extinguished in the West Indies. Humanity was foreign to their nature; long familiarity with the bloody work of the Inquisition in the home country, the persecution of Moor and Jews, the scenes of rapine and massacre they had witnessed and heard reported by their fathers, had accustomed these conquistadores to cruelty and merciless oppression. Even the gentlest and most merciful of them were so only by comparison, for their progress, everywhere could be traced by ruin and desolation, by ravaged homes and murdered men, women, and children.

Contemporaneously with her conquests in the New World, Spain herself acquired increasing territory in Europe, not alone by force of arms, but chiefly through matrimonial alliances and succession to power. To understand how this came about, we must retrace our course and bestow a parting glance upon the affairs of Isabella and Ferdinand. This royal pair, under whom Spain had at last become consolidated into a veritable kingdom, with a union of interests if not unity of purpose always, had five children born to them: Juan, the only son, born 1478, who married a daughter of Maximilian, Emperor of Germany, but died without heirs, in 1497; Isabella, born 1470, married twice, to two princes of. Portugal, whose only child lived but two years; Juana, born 1479, married to the Archduke Philip, son of Maximilian, who had two sons, Charles and Ferdinand; Mary, born 1482, and Catherine, born 1485, who became the unfortunate wife of Henry VIII of England, and from whom she was divorced in 1533.

By the death of Juan in 1497, of Isabella in 1498, and of the latter's child two years later, the succession to the throne now devolved upon Juana, in accordance with the will of her mother, Isabella, executed in October, 1504. King Ferdinand, who had so successfully administered the affairs of the crown of Castile during thirty years, was appointed regent until Juana's elder son, Charles, should attain to his majority.

Though at first there was a disagreement between Ferdinand and Philip, Juana's husband, as to the regency, all difficulties were settled in 1505 by mutual agreement, and the next year, by the sudden death of the young archduke, the king became sole regent and virtually ruler over all Spain. Juana, the bereaved "lady proprietor," was crazed, by this affliction, smiting upon a mind already diseased, and until her death, forty-seven years after, took no part in the affairs of the kingdom. As Juana loca, or "Crazy Jane," she is known to history. She became most insanely jealous respecting her dead husband's remains, would not allow them interred, and journeyed with them from place to place, always in the night; for, she mournfully said, "A widow who has lost the sun of her own soul should never expose herself to the light of day." Thus she lived in mental darkness, in her palace of Tordesillas, for nearly half a century, an object of pity and commiseration.

Left at liberty to pursue his conquests where he would, Ferdinand first turned to matrimony, and married Germaine, a frivolous niece of Louis XII of France, in 1506. Three years later his great cardinal, Ximenes, waged war on Oran, a port on the African coast, equipped an army at his own expense—or rather from the revenues he derived from his position as Primate of Spain—and took the Moorish stronghold after great slaughter on both sides. The figure of this austere and virtuous cardinal, who so faithfully served first Isabella, then Ferdinand, Juana, and finally Charles, and who found time to attend to affairs of state and to purge the kingdom of its heretics through inquisitorial fires, to carry on a war at his own cost, to found a university, to cause to be translated the famous Complutensian Bible, which employed men of learning fifteen years at the task—his is one of the sturdiest and strongest of this epoch. The University of Alcala, founded in 1500, and the renowned Bible, the last portion of which was printed in 1517, are but two of the many monuments he erected during his life.

In the year 1511 the Holy League was formed between Ferdinand and Pope Julius II, Venice, and Henry VIII of England, against the French, by which Spain was the gainer; and in 1512 Navarre was annexed to Aragon, thus welding the northern kingdoms into one. In December, 1515, Gonsalvo de Cordova, the "Great Captain," who had won Ferdinand's victories in Italy, passed away; to be followed but a month later by his sovereign, who expired on a morning in January, 1516, in a wretched tenement where he had been overtaken by heart disease.

He was in his sixty-fourth year; his reign had endured forty-one years, and at his death he left a reputation for ability, wisdom in diplomacy, sincere interest in the affairs of his people, and economy in the administration of the vast dominions embraced under his kingship over Spain, Naples, and the two Americas.

For more than twenty years he had borne the title bestowed upon him by Pope Alexander, in 1494, and as the great King of Spain, Ferdinand "the Catholic," he has passed down to history and the present time. His remains were taken to Granada, where they were at first deposited within the Alhambra; but to-day all that is earthly of Ferdinand and his glorious consort repose in the magnificent marble tomb in the royal chapel of Granada, which with its exquisite carvings and memorial effigies, was executed by world-famous artists at the command of Charles, the son of Juana loca  the demented queen.