Spanish Empire Study Program

Overview     Reading     Study Aids     Questions    

The Spanish Empire Study Program covers the History of Spain from the Visigoth era, through the Reconquista to the Napoleonic Wars. It also features stories from the Age of Exploration and Revolutionary Eras of Latin America. The Spanish Empire study program includes:

Note: Most histories of Spain are written from a viewpoint that is biased against traditional Spanish institutions. An explanation of the Black Legend and its effects on Spanish history is given HERE.

Why Study the Spanish Empire

Much of the history of Spain is glorious and the story of the rise and fall of the Spanish Empire is one of the most fascinating episodes in world history. During the late Middle Ages Spain was a great power in Europe and its empire was the largest in the World. Spanish and Portuguese explorers discovered the New World and established sea-routes to Asia and their stories are among the most dramatic and consequential in world History.

The history of Christian Spain was deeply influenced by centuries of conflict with the Moslem Moors who occupied parts of the Peninsula for over 700 years. Spanish Christians fought relentlessly to reclaim their land from a hostile power, and their long struggle hardened the Spaniards into bold but chivalrous warriors with a fierce loyalty to the Church.

The Spanish and Portuguese proved themselves not only the most courageous warriors in Europe during the Middle Ages but also the best sailors. The tremendous advances in ship-building and navigation that led to the discovery of America and the opening of trade routes to Asia are mostly attributed to Iberians.

Spaniard adventurers and missionaries settled and civilized much of the New World in only a few generations. There were unquestionably cruel abuses of natives but neither the King of Spain or the Church condoned their mistreatment and both took measures to assure that the indigenous population would be protected. But good intentions could not always prevail. Nevertheless, the Catholic religious orders did Christianize many of the natives, there was much intermarriage between natives and Spaniards, and Spanish rule was generally peaceful.

The fortunes of the Spanish Empire declined by the 18th century, partly due to the growing influence of British sea-power and partly due to misrule by the Spanish Bourbons. The wealth of the Americas was siphoned off to corrupt trading monopolies and scarcely benefitted Spaniards in either Spain or Latin America. Yet the proud Spanish still preferred their traditional way of life to revolution and 'liberal' institutions. Spanish patriots were more effective in resisting Napoleon than any other country in Europe and they continued their quixotic fight for Christian monarchy over Republican oligarchs well into the 20th century.

Reading Recommendations

The following links provide information about reading options for Spain and Latin America. Details about 'core' reading recommendations are listed below.

Spanish History—The first five divisions of the Spanish Empire program cover the history of the Iberian Peninsula from Roman times to the 19th century. These two comprehensive histories cover the essentials of the history of Spain.

Because of the unavoidable Black Legend bias in virtually all Spanish histories, we also suggest reading the Spanish Empire Era Summaries for a somewhat more balanced view.

Latin America—The final three units focus on Histories of Mexico and South America with an emphasis on the age of Revolution in the early 19th century. These books give a good overview of events.

Advanced Students—In addition to the histories listed above, the Spanish Empire Library includes some excellent books of general interest, many dealing with Spanish and Portuguese exploration. Several that are likely to interest a broad range of readers are listed below. All are action packed and full of fascinating historical details.

Spanish Exploration—Spanish Exploration is one of the most interesting, but under-studied periods of world history. Fortunately the Spanish Empire Library features two outstanding series — by Frederick Ober and George Towle — that cover the adventures of Columbus, Balboa, Cortez, Magellan and many more. These series feature some of the greatest adventure stories ever told, and give terrific insights into the lives of the natives as well as the explorers. Just a few of these wonderful books are listed below. There are 16 titles in all.

Study Aids

Study Aids are provided to help students review important characters and events. Some resources relate to the entire program and others to specific historical eras.

Historical Maps Outline Maps
Timeline Major Characters
Wars and Battles Era Summaries

Study Aids organized by Historical Era

Review Questions

Students who are using the Heritage Quest Quiz Game to study Spanish History may find these review questions helpful. (The app can be installed for free from the Google Play Store).

The worksheets listed below include at least 20 sample questions from each division. They can be printed and assigned as homework. Students can use the Quiz program to find answers as they earn knowledge medals.

Romans and Visigoths Q/A Reconquista Q/A
United Spain Q/A Hapsburg Spain Q/A
Bourbon Spain Q/A New Spain Q/A
Mexico Q/A South America Q/A

Historical Bias and the Black Legend

In spite of the historic achievements of the Spaniards, many histories of Spain, especially those written in English, suffer from anti-Spanish or anti-Catholic biases and distortions. From the age of the Reformation, the interests of Spain were largely in conflict with those of the rulers of English so when entrusted to the pens of Semitic or British writers, the story of Spain and its dominions does not fare well. According to Wikipedia, the "Black Legend" refers to:

"A style of historical writing that demonizes the Spanish Empire in a politically motivated attempt to morally disqualify Spain and its people, and to incite animosity against Spanish rule. The Black Legend particularly exaggerates the treatment of the indigenous subjects in the territories of the Spanish Empire and non-Catholics in its European territories."

This summarizes the tone of much historical writing on the subject of Spain and Latin America. The anti-Spanish bias is evident when covering topics such as the Catholic Church and the Spanish Inquisition, but at least it is fairly obvious. More subtle and therefore more misleading is its bias in favor of liberal Republican government over traditional monarchy. The Revolutionary governments imposed on Spaniards in both Spain and Latin American were exceedingly corrupt and deeply unpopular, and were authoritarian rather than democratic. Yet in most Spanish histories the overthrow of the legitimate government and confiscation of Church and community property is hailed as 'liberation'. The corrupt secret societies and oligarchies behind 'revolutionary' movements are never disclosed and the motives of 'patriots' are never questioned.

The Protestant Reformation occurred in England at a time when the forces opposed to the Catholic Church were nationalistic, but still strongly Christian. The forces opposed to the Church in the 19th century, however, were atheistic and in virtually all cases controlled by secret societies and criminal cabals. In truth, most of the 'Liberal Republicans' in Spanish dominions sought only to plunder the Church and private property, and cared nothing for 'religious liberty'.

It is difficult for liberty-loving Anglo-Saxons, committed to religious freedom and constitutional, republican forms of government, to see the problems of undermining a traditional Christian monarchy with an atheistic regime controlled by secret societies and criminal elements. So English writers tend to support the fine words and liberal promises of Spanish republicans in spite of centuries of horrid corruption and abuse. When reading stories of the liberal 'Patriots' of 19th century Spain and Latin America, keep these distortions in mind.

Read the study page on Causes of Political Unrest in Mexico for more information about the criminal cartels behind 'Mexican Independence'.