Historical Eras of Spanish Empire

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

Romans and Visigoths—300 B.C. to 750

Phoenician Colonies to Moorish Conquest

Phoenicians in Spain—From Biblical times, many of the coastal cities of Spain were under the influence of Phoenician traders. Phoenicia controlled trade throughout the Mediterranean not by ruling over colonies, but by wielding influence through gold and intermarriage with the ruling classes of strategic cities. Over centuries its network of ports and trading partners extended all over the Mediterranean and as far as the British Isles. Spain contained several important Phoenician trading centers, most notably Cadiz, and the nearby Tartessos region in the southwest is thought to have been the wealthy mining region of 'Tarshish' from the Bible.

By the fourth century B.C., the Phoenician capital of Tyre was destroyed and the Greeks rose as trading rivals in the east but Carthage continued to wield great influence in the Western Mediterranean. It was not until the Punic Wars, a centuries long conflict with Rome, that the Phoenicians lost their colonies in Spain as well as their home port in Africa. At the beginning of the conflict the coastal regions of Hispania were controlled Carthage and it was from Spain that Hannibal marched across the Alps into Italy.

When Rome finally vanquished the city of Carthage she inherited the Phoenician trading ports in Spain but it took many years to subdue the entire Peninsula. And when the last stronghold of the great Canaanite nation fell it is not unlikely that many of its people fled to Spain and surrounding areas, intending to blend in with the native peoples. For example there is evidence that some of the Sephardic Jews of Spain, who played such an important role in the later history of the Peninsula, were descended from Carthaginian exiles.

Roman Conquest of Hispania—Rome supposedly drove Carthage out of Spain and took control of the region during the Second Punic War, yet at the time the ports that Rome controlled consisted of only a fraction of the Iberian Peninsula. The first conflicts with the interior tribes began by the 2nd century B.C., but it took several generations to subdue most of the Peninsula and some regions held out for over a century.

It is difficult to make broad generalizations regarding the course of the conflict, partly because it lasted for decades, and partly because the country was very diverse in terms of both geography and ethnicity. The coastal cities were populated by relatively civilized peoples, including Carthaginians, Greeks, Turdetani, and Celt-Iberian but the inland regions were populated by autonomous peoples. The Roman generals included both admirable leaders such as Scipio Africanus and Sertorius and treacherous butchers, such as Lucullus. Some regions submitted peacefully to Roman rule, while others held out for generations and in some cases, most famously that of Numantia, they annihilated themselves rather than submit.

The conquest of Hispania was a contentious project that played a large role in the political problems of Italy during the late Republican age. Once Spain was finally 'pacified', however, it became thoroughly Romanized, and for much of the Imperial era was one of the most prosperous regions of the empire. It played an important role during the age of the Caesars and produced a number of famous Romans, including Trajan, Hadrian , Seneca, Martial and others.

Visigoth Spain—By the fifth century the Roman Empire had broken up into fiefdoms controlled by foederati, mainly from Germanic nations. Various tribes including the Suevi, Alans, Franks, Visigoths, and Vandals claimed sovereignty of Spanish territories, but eventually the Visigoths emerged as the dominant regional power. The Visigoth kingdom settled first in southern France, but eventually moved their capital to Toledo in central Spain.

The Visigoths kings reigned in Spain for 300 years, from the early 400's to 711. Instead of a strictly hereditary monarchy, however, their kings were elected from among the nobles. This method produced a few notable leaders including Good King Wamba and Recared, but generally weakened the power of the monarchy. Contentious elections resulted in a number of damaging civil wars and Roderic, the last king of the Visigoths assumed the throne during such a period of internal conflict and the resulting divisions resulted in the collapse of the Visigoth kingdom at the hands of the Moorish invaders.

During the early years of the Visigoth Empire, the ruling nobles were Arian Christians and most of the Roman-Iberian citizens were Catholics. King Recared's conversion to Catholicism, shortly after the fall of the Vandal kingdom in Africa signaled the end of Arianism as a major threat to Catholic Orthodoxy. It also, however, resulted in a worsening of Visigoth relations with the Jews, since Spanish Jews had contentious relationships with Catholics. The Third Council of Toledo in 589 A.D. proscribed the Arian heresy, but put restrictions on Jews who held Christian subjects in slavery. The discontent of Spanish Jews under the Catholic Visigoth government was in important factor in the eventual overthrow of the Visigoth kingdom.

The Moorish Conquest—Soon after the death of the prophet, the followers of Mohammed began a campaign of conquest, and within sixty years were masters of Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Persia, Egypt, and North Africa. By 710 the region of North Africa directly across from Spain was held by Musa bin Nusair, an Arab general. Several refugees from the Visigoth Civil War fled to North Africa and asked Musa to help them overthrow Roderic. He therefore sent a Moorish army under Tariq ibn Ziyad to southern Spain and a great battle was fought near the Guadalete River. The Moors won a crushing victory over Roderick, and then, probably due to treachery, were able to take most important Visigoth towns unopposed. A few towns held out against the Moors, but within a few years the invaders had taken almost all the Peninsula and were making their way into Gaul. Their advance was checked by the Franks at the battle of Tours.

The only region of the Spanish peninsula that held off the Moslem hordes was a mountainous region in the Northwest that was under the sway of the Franks. The Christian Kingdom of Asturias was founded by Pelayo, a Visigoth noble, one of a number of heroes who resisted the onslaught. There number were few, but they were protected by Mountains, and more importantly, by their Frankish allies. In this modest kingdom in Northwest Spain the Christian resistance to Moorish Spain awaited its opportunity to reclaim its lost realm.

Reconquista—750 to 1400

Caliphate of Cordova to Pogroms of Seville

Christians lived under Moorish rule in Spain for hundreds of years but their fortunes improved over time. For the first three centuries, the Cordova Caliphate was dominant but once it began to decline the Christian kingdoms in the north were able to reclaim much territory. There were at least five distinct phases of Moorish rule. The 'Reconquista' unit will focus on the middle three periods.

711-755Moorish Conquest of Spain
755-929Rise of Cordova Caliphate: Golden Age of Moorish Spain.
929-1031Decline of Cordova Caliphate: Age of Viziers and Civil War
1040-1248Almoravid and Almohod Emirates: breakup of Moorish kingdoms.
1230-1492Emirate of Granada: vassal state to Kingdom of Castile.

Cordoba Caliphate (755-929) — Forty years after the Moorish conquest of Spain there was a Moslem Civil war over leadership of the Caliphate in Damascus. After treacherously murdering most of the royal family, the Abbasids succeeded in overthrowing the Umayyads. One Umayyad Prince, however, escaped the massacre and fled to Spain. Abderrahman I was declared emir of Spain made his capital in Cordoba. For over two hundred years that city thrived as the commercial and cultural capital of Moorish Spain.

The Golden Age of the Cordoba Emirate in Spain (755-950) corresponded the the Dark Ages in Europe. In the early years the Franks ruled territory in northern Spain and Charlemagne made numerous forays into Moorish territory. But do to Viking raids throughout Europe and the collapse of the Frankish Empire the fortunes of Christendom were at a low ebb. Meanwhile, the Caliphate of Cordova, under the rule of Arab princes and Jewish merchants, was the most prosperous region in Europe.

During this period there remained a large population of Christians living within the caliphate who paid special taxes while being denied full rights of citizenship. But most Umayyad rulers were not inclined to take aggressive measures against them and tolerated the Christian kingdom to the north. Unfortunately, the fanatical Berbers that later came to power were less tolerant than the Arabs and forced Spanish Christians to defend their rights.

Almanzor, Almoravids, and Almohads (929-1250) — As the authority of the Caliphate waned over the centuries a great Moorish general arose by the name of Almanzor. He consolidated Moslem influence and pressed his armies far into Christian territory. During his period of influence (970-1002 A.D.), Moorish power reached its greatest extent. Because of the common threat, the Christian kingdoms united and successfully reclaimed some of their lost territory. But Almanzor's usurpation of power had strained Moslem unity and when he died without a clear successor, the Moorish states fell into civil war. The Cordova Caliphate collapsed entirely in 1031, and this opened the door for significant Christian gains against the disunited Moorish kingdoms.

In order to defend themselves against the Christians, the Moorish princes called upon the Almoravid Berbers, a move they soon regretted. Great armies of Berbers crossed into Spain but they were of little help in reconquering Christian territory. Instead they deposed the Moorish rulers who had called for their aid. The Almoravids, like the Alhomads who followed them, were desert warriors of a stern faith who despised the luxury-loving and religiously indifferent Moorish nobles. The prosperous trading culture of Al-Andalus declined quickly under the new leadership and many inhabitants preferred Christian rule to that of their new overlords.

With the Moorish government in perpetual disarray and warring factions in both Spain and Africa the Mohammedans continued to lose territory. Eventually in 1212 they were utterly defeated at Las Navas de Tolosa. In this cataclysmic battle the united Christians defeated an enormous army of Spanish Moors and Moslem Berbers. This effectively destroyed the power of the Moors and by 1300 the Spaniards controlled the entire Iberian Peninsula save only the vassal state of Granada.

Rise of the Christian Kingdoms (711-1000) — Several Christian kingdoms arose in the north of Spain in the centuries after the Moorish conquest but they were of little importance until after the fall of the Cordova Caliphate. The legendary leader of the exiles that fled north after the battle of Guadalete was Pelayo, a Visigoth prince. The kingdom of Asturias that he established, however, was composed of Basques, Celt-Iberians, Roman Spaniards, Suevi, and Franks, as well as Visigoths. And it was not an independent kingdom, but rather, a vassal state of the Frankish Empire.

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The region south of Asturias was Leon. Christians gained tentative control of this strategic region early on, and expanded due largely to Christian migration from Moorish domains. In 910 the Austarian king moved his capital to Leon and claimed more territory to the south. Castile, which rose to great importance in later years, was a duchy of Asturias that was "declared independent" by Fernan Gonsalez in 932 with its capital in Burgos.

Other Christian kingdoms in the north were Navarre, which became independent of the Frankish empire in 837, and Aragon, which split from Navarre in 1035 and expanded its borders to the south. Far to the west were Galicia and Portugal, vassal kingdoms of Leon. By the tenth century, the Christian kingdoms of Leon, Castile, Navarre, Aragon, Galicia and Portugal together controlled all of Northern Spain.

Victories against the Moors (1000-1184) — The Christians kingdoms of the north were able to gain significant territory even while the power of the Cordoba Caliphate was at its height mainly because the regions they dominated were poor and sparsely populated. The Moors controlled the cosmopolitan and prosperous coastal regions, and cared little for the undeveloped hinterlands of the north. In the late 900's, the Moslem general Almanzor briefly retook Christian territory but could not hold it. The Cordova caliphate collapsed shortly thereafter and divided in to warring Moslem kingdoms (called Taifas).

Soon afterward the breakup of the Cordova caliphate, Ferdinand I of Leon united Galicia and Castile under the Crown of Leon. Upon his death his son Alfonso VI gained control of all three kingdoms under the Crown of Castile. It was during this period that the famous El Cid, a knight loyal to Alfonso's vanquished brother, was banished from Castile. Eventually, however, Cid and Alfonso were reconciled and in 1085 they reconquered the old Visigoth capital of Toledo, a terrific blow to the Moors. It was the fall of Toledo that inspired the Moorish princes to call upon the Almoravid Berbers, a development with disastrous consequences that only weakened the Moslem hold on Spain.

During this period Christian vs. Moslem wars were common, but so were palace insurrections and civil war. Various claimants in both Christian and Moslem courts would align themselves with infidel enemies of their rivals to better their own situations. Overall, however, the tide was in favor of the Christians. It was during this era that the great Spanish hero El Cid lived and his conquest of Valencia was a turning points in the struggle for Christian control of Spain. The 'Song of El Cid', a ballad written in his honor, is considered the first great poem in the Spanish language.

Rise of Castile and Aragon (1184-1350) — The twelfth and thirteenth centuries saw more dramatic losses in Moorish territory. The Almohads replaced the Almoravids as the ruling dynasty and raised their capital in Seville but they never succeeded in uniting the Moors or reversing Christian advancements. They brought an enormous army of over 500,000 Berbers from Africa but were utterly routed at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. After this disaster the Moors were everywhere on the defensive and in the years following the Christians gained nearly the whole Peninsula.

The Christian victories against the Moors continued throughout the thirteenth century, especially under the kings of Aragon and Castile. James I of Aragon, who reigned over sixty years, added the prosperous coastal region of Catalonia and the Balearic Islands his domains. In the far west Afonso Henriques, rose to power and established the kingdom of Portugal. And the greatest Christian warrior of all, St. Ferdinand III of Castile (St. Ferdinand), conquered the Moorish strongholds of Seville and Cordoba. He also brought Dominican and Franciscan orders to former Moorish territory to help re-Christianize southern Spain.

By 1236 Granada, the last Moorish kingdom in Spain, became a vassal state of Castile. And in spite of its precarious situation, over two hundred years passed before this last community of Moors was driven from the Iberian peninsula.

Trastamaras and the Riots of 1391—The Trastamaras were the royal house of Castile from which both Isabella and Ferdinand descended. They rose to power in the fourteenth century following the unpopular reign of 'Pedro the Cruel' of Castile. He was a widely-hated tyrant who murdered several family members, instigated civil wars, allied himself with Jewish usurers and impoverished his country. He was eventually overthrown by his illegitimate half-brother Henry Trastamara who founded the Trastamara dynasty.

Henry Trastamara reigned for ten years, and during that time one of his closest advisors was a Jewish tax-collector, Joseph Pichon of Seville. Pichon was popular with Christians for his leniency and unpopular with Jews because of his favor with the king. Shortly after Henry died the Jews of Seville arranged the execution of Pichon. This act of treachery set into motion a process of retaliation between the Trastamara kings and Spanish Jews that led to a widespread massacre of Jews in 1391, the most notorious pogrom in Spanish history.

Anti-Jewish riots began in Seville after the "accidental" death of John I, the Trastamara king who had stripped the Jews of their privileges. Goaded on by anti-Jewish preachers, the Jewish quarter in Seville was burned and thousands were massacred throughout Spain. Thousands others sought to save their lives by conversion to Christianity, but such forced conversions created more problems than they solved. This was one of many instances when the whole Jewish community in Spain paid a heavy price for the malicious actions of a few of their numbers.

United Spain—1350 to 1520

Trastamara Kings to Death of Ferdinand

The reign of Isabel and Ferdinand (1474 to 1516) was a critical period for Spain and its major events, including the Unification of Spain, the Conquest of Granada, the Inquisition, the Expulsion of Jews, and the Discovery of America affected all of Europe. Several of these events concerned conflicts between the Spanish Jews and the Catholic Church. They are therefore controversial and most Spanish histories (including those in the Heritage Library) are written from an anti-Spanish-Catholic point of view. This bias is so commonplace it is called the "Black Legend". (Read more about the Black Legend here).

The Jews of Spain—Before recounting the history of fifteenth century Spain, therefore, it may be helpful to provide some background on the 'Sephardic' Jews of Spanish history, and their history of conflict with the Catholic Church and Spanish governments.

Spanish Jews inhabited the Iberian Peninsula since the age of Solomon when they engaged in trade with 'Tarshish'. The semitic population in the region likely increased following the fall of Carthage but there is little detailed history of the Sephardi during Roman times. By the Visigoth era, however, Spanish Jews were a prosperous upper class already well established as traders, land-owners, financiers, doctors, and tax-collectors. Serious conflicts between Jews and the Catholic Church in Spain go at least as far back as the sixth century when the Third Council of Toledo put restrictions on Jewish activities and ownership of Christian slaves.

The Spanish Jews were suspected to have taken sides in the Visigoth Civil War against Roderic and to have assisted the Moors in their conquest of Spain. It is certain that Jews considered Moorish Spain to have been a Golden Age and several Jews held high offices of state during the Cordoba Caliphate. So the suspicion of Jewish preference for Moorish rather than Christian rule was a long-standing cause of concern. But there are several other deep-rooted factors that poisoned Jewish-Christian relationships in Spain.

  1. Spanish Jews did not assimilate but rather existed as a 'state-within-a-state'. The Jews were cosmopolitan with commercial connections to many other regions, so their loyalty to local governments was often in question.
  2. The history of antagonism between Spanish Jews and Christians involved extremely serious accusations of bigotry, envy, slander, persecution and pogroms on one side, and of heresy, exploitation, usury, treachery, and ritual murder on the other. No middle ground was possible between these viewpoints.
  3. Most Jews, especially those involved in trade, medicine, tax-farming and money-lending, associated primarily with the wealthy and powerful. And many Christian leaders, including kings, bishops, and even popes effectively protected the Jews and took their side in conflicts. So the discord between Christians and Jews was largely class-based rather than strictly religious.

All these factors fed into strong anti-Jewish sentiment among most Christian commoners and a corresponding contempt for working-classes Christians among many Jews. At the same time, Jews often served as financiers and advisors to Spanish kings, including Isabella and Ferdinand. And a significant number of Jews did convert to Christianity, especially after the disastrous massacres of 1391. A number of well-known saints, including Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and many Jesuits were 'conversos' of Jewish heritage. In fact, even Tomas Torquemada, 'The Grand Inquisitor' himself was of Jewish ancestry.

Union of Castile and Aragon—Isabel of Castile was born sixty years after the 1391 pogroms and by that time civil wars and anarchy had returned to the Peninsula. Both her father John II and her elder bother Henry IV were weak kings who squandered the wealth of the kingdom leaving Castile deeply in debt. Since Henry was childless, Isabel was named as heir to the throne and she accepted on the condition that she could choose her own spouse. Her choice was Ferdinand, prince of Aragon, the second largest kingdom in Spain. Their union brought most of the peninsula, excepting Portugal, under a united crown.

Isabela's first task upon coming to the throne was to fend off other claimants by fighting a three year War with Portugal. Due to Ferdinand's military ability, Isabella's skillful management of domestic difficulties, and the help of key advisors the Catholic monarchs succeeded in their endeavors. The young couple united the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, pacified the Spanish nobles, made peace with Portugal, and brought competent leadership to the Peninsula for the first time in memory.

The measures that needed to be taken to restore order in the kingdom of Castile after years of misrule were very significant. The kingdom was deeply in debt and somewhat lawless. Isabella's reforms include changes in land management and the establishment of local militias to restore law and order. During this period she relied on both Jewish and Catholic advisors. Some of her most important advisors included her confessors Tomas Torquemada and Cardinal Cisneros Ximenes, and her Jewish financial advisors Don Abraham Seneor and Isaac Abravanel.

From the beginning Isabella and Ferdinand were popular with the people and this was their greatest defense against the schemes of the nobles. After putting the kingdom of Spain on solid footing, Isabella put her energies into making marriage alliances with her five children. She succeeded in marrying a son and a daughter into the Hapsburg dynasty, and other daughters into Portuguese and English royal houses. But in her last years tragedy struck. Her only son, heir to the Spanish throne, died suspiciously at an early age. Her eldest daughter also died and another daughter went mad. Isabella herself preceded Ferdinand in death after a commendable reign of thirty years.

The Fall of Granada —While Isabella is credited with managing the domestic affairs of state, it was Ferdinand's martial ability that resulted in the successful conquest of Granada, the last Moorish stronghold in Spain. Granada had existed as a vassal state of Castile for over 250 years, but a strong leader and unified country were needed in order to motivate the Spanish barons to fight against the Moors instead of each other.

The conquest began in 1482 after a border skirmish when Ferdinand retaliated for Moorish aggression by taking the town of Alhama. From that point on, the Spaniards returned every spring and gradually conquered Moorish territory. The critical port town of Malaga was taken in 1487 and the capital city of Granada fell in 1492.

The original terms of surrender allowed the Moors to remain in Spain and practice their religion. But seven years later the Spanish monarchs reneged on the agreement and insisted on conversion or exile. The change in policy was motivated by the fear of Ottoman pirates who threatened coastal towns in Spanish dominions. Isabel and Ferdinand believed that the potential for treachery by Spanish Mohammedans was too great a threat to the Christian realm.

Conversos and the Inquisition—By the time Isabel and Ferdinand came to the throne, thousands of Jews had converted to Christianity. Unfortunately, many Jews felt they had no choice but to convert so there were many false conversions. Most of the false converts were harmless but others were malicious, inclined to treachery when they rose to important positions in the Church or government. Besides treason and injury, other problems with conversos arose when their Jewish relations pressured them to apostatize or retaliated against them for "informing" on them.

These problems existed long before Isabella and Ferdinand came to the throne, but as they fended off rival claimants and contemplated war with Granada, they decided they needed to deal with internal threats. The Spanish Inquisition was established early in their reign to deal with the problem of false converts. The monarchs believed a Church tribunal was the only way to guarantee the safety of true and blameless converts as well as to expose the perfidious ones. Several influential conversos recommended ths course of action to Isabella, and Tomas Torquemada himself, the 'Grand Inquisitor' was himself a converso.

From the Jewish point-of-view the attempt to ferret out false converts was a vicious witch hunt. The inquisition was set up to reward confessions, but authentic confessions frequently involved implicating others so the whole process opened the door to all forms of recrimination and exposure. Historians disagree about the number condemned by the inquisition, and the seriousness of the charges against them. Most who confessed to false conversions were offered leniency, but even so, the entire process caused enormous dissention within Jewish and Crypto-Jewish communities. For this reason exaggerated accounts of inquisitorial tortures are a standard part of the 'Black Legend'.

Child Murder and Expulsion of the Jews—Unfortunately, instead of healing anti-Jewish sentiment, certain notorious Inquisitions that exposed actual crimes against Christians only enflamed popular feeling against Jews (i.e., Pedro de Arbues, Holy Child of La Guardia murders). Although some historians give the impression that all charges of child murder were mere hysteria, there is considerable evidence such events did occur. Such crimes would be unthinkable to God-fearing Jews who abhor murder, but considering that a certain number of Spanish Jews were likely of Phoenician heritage, the charges of ritual child sacrifice are quite plausible.

The reaction of Christians in Spain against the 1490 'Holy Child of La Guardia' murder inquisition was extreme. The incident was a direct cause, not only of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain two years later, but also of a series of "blood purity" laws, that excluded Jewish converts from most Church and government offices. The anti-Jewish feeling was so strong that conversos were prohibited even from joining religious orders. The animosity towards Jews in Spain continued for generations and the Inquisition was established throughout almost all Spanish dominions.

The tragedy of the Spanish expulsion of Jews is well documented. The exiles were forced out of a country their ancestors had called home for thousands of years due to the crimes of a few of their number. The Sephardi Jews scattered all over the Mediterranean, preferring port cities where they could participate in trade. Portugal, Italy, and Turkey were a few countries known for harboring the exiles. Many found their way to the New World, often disguised as 'Portuguese' Christians, and taking care to settle in realms such as Brazil that were free from the Inquisition. Over time a large community of Jews settled in the Netherlands and made Holland a world-wide trading power. From there they accompanied William III to England and helped establish British Banks, Publishing, and Trading companies.

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Columbus and the New World—One of the most far-reaching of Isabel's policies in Spain was to fund the voyage of Christopher Columbus. This investment formed the basis of Spain's claim to the New Word and laid the foundation of the Spanish Empire. Columbus first approached the Spanish court in 1486 and waited six years before he was granted the resources he needed. Between 1492 and 1502 he completed four voyages exploring much of the West Indies and Central America. Unfortunately, Columbus was a less successful governor than a navigator, and he soon lost control of New World territories to political enemies and ambitious fortune-seekers.

In the earliest years of Spanish exploration, the initiative for exploration and conquest was driven largely by privately funded explorers rather than being masterminded by the Spanish crown. While Columbus explicitly asked for and received support from the Spanish Monarchs, Vasco Nunez Balboa, Ponce de Leon, Hernando Cortez, Francisco Pizarro, and Hernando De Soto, all undertook ambitious expeditions largely on their own initiative or by drastically overstepping their intended mission. And all but Cortez achieved glory, but came to a bad end.

Until well into the 16th century, the Spanish monarchs had limited resources and little direct control over activities in the New World. Effective laws and governing bodies took a generation to get established, and in many cases, government support was only provided after "proof" of riches had already been established. Isabel is credited for opening the door to New World exploration, but she died twelve years late with only the faintest idea of where that door would lead.

Hapsburg Spain—1520 to 1700

Reign of Charles V to Last Spanish Hapsburg

Spanish throne descends to the Habsburgs—Ferdinand and Isabella had five children, and under Isabel's guidance, all were raised with the utmost care and rectitude. Their son John, the intended heir to the throne, however, died soon after he was married, and two of their daughters and a grandson also died young, leaving their daughter Juana of Castile, and her sons as the rightful heirs to the throne. After much palace intrigue, the throne passed to her eldest son Charles I of Spain, better known as Charles V (of Austria), who was also the sole heir to the Habsburg empire in the east, inherited from his father.

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The vesting of so much power in one throne was bound to cause division and sure enough, the reign of Charles V was an endless series of wars. Some of these wars accomplished worthy goals, such as opposing Turkish advances in the Balkans and defeating the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean, but others were mainly intrigue. The Wars of Italy, for example, were fought between France and Spain for control of Italy, and during the seventy year conflict, virtually every power in Europe was at some point drug into the fray.

The Protestant Reformation occured during the reign of Charles V, but he dealt with the problem much more as a political difficulty than a theological one. He saw his primary enemies as the Ottoman Turks and Catholic France, so to a large extent he tolerated the dissentions in Germany. One of the prominent popes early in Charles's reign was Clement VII, who allied himself with France against Spain and failed to support the idea of a Council to reform problems in the Church. For these reasons, Charles V, the supposed protector of the Church, did not hold the Pope in high regard and allowed his army to sack Rome and take the Pope prisoner.

Also during the reign of Charles V, large quantities of gold and silver were found in the New world colonies, and development of the region expanded rapidly. Likewise, the Portuguese settlements in the far east became firmly established. In a relatively short period, therefore, the Iberian Peninsula became the wealthiest region in Europe.

Reign of Philip II of Spain—Charles V was succeeded by his son Philip II, who is often portrayed by Protestant historians as a narrow minded bigot for his stalwart defense of the faith. Although he is best known as the Catholic antagonist of Elizabeth I of England and William the Silent of the Netherlands, the most significant military accomplishment of his reign was a crushing victory against the Ottoman Turks. At the Battle of Lepanto, Philip's half-brother, Don John of Austria, demolished the Turkish navy, who in league with the Barbary pirates, threatened all the Christian kingdoms of the Mediterranean.

The Netherlands War of Independence, and the Anglo Spanish Wars also occurred during his reign. Although both these wars are generally thought of as religious conflicts, there were political and commercial aspects as well. The nemesis of Dutch Protestants during the Dutch Revolt was the Duke of Alva but he only served for a few years, and even the Spanish leaders came to see that his heavy-handedness was counter-productive. All following Spanish governors of the Netherlands took a more diplomatic approach, and succeeded in bringing much of the region back to Catholic Spanish control.

Even though Spain eventually lost the struggle against Protestantism in both England and Holland, she remained at the height of her power for several generations, due largely to the vast wealth inflowing from her American colonies. Unfortunately, the inevitable corruptions that follow sudden wealth were soon to bring about her downfall. The Spanish crown received a percentage of revenues from the colonies, but there were many operators involved, including private interests, and the common people benefited very little from the colonial wealth.

Both Charles V and Philip II governed directly with very few ministers, but their descendants, including Philip III, IV, and Charles II were much weaker leaders who left the kingdom in the hands of favorites. During the late Hapsburg era, Spain's American provinces suffered from piracy and smuggling, mainly at the hands of her Protestant enemies. This was the hey day of the 'Pirates of the Carribean', and English privateers such as Francis Drake and Henry Morgan took a toll on Spanish commerce.

Even more destructive, however, was the internal corruption and inefficient bureaucracy that arose around colonial government. There was more money to be made in trade, taxes, and government offices, than in industry or efficient agriculture. Over-indulgence and corruption were as destructive to Spain as conflicts with outside enemies, and during the 17th century she fell from being the leading power in Europe to an inept lackey of France.

The last Habsburg King of France was Charles II, and because he was severely deformed, it was understood even before his death that he was unlikely to produce an Habsburg heir. At this time, France was at the height of her power, and all of Europe feared what would happen if France and Spain were united under one crown. The Austrians, therefore, put forth the claims of a Habsburg cousin, and almost every independent country in Europe joined forces against the behemoth France. The resulting War of the Spanish Succession drug on for 14 years and consumed the whole continent in conflict. Although the allies failed in their objective of placing a Habsburg on the throne of Spain, the conflict curtailed the power of France and stripped Spain of many of her European provinces.

Leaders of the Counter Reformation—Aside from political realignments during the Habsburg era, several important religious developments are worthy of note. The Spanish kings tended to see Protestantism primarily as a political threat, and dealt with it in that manner. They perceived religious divisions as a threat to the unity of the empire and a harbinger of civil war.

There was, however, a tremendous need at the time for genuine reform of the Catholic church and several Spanish religious orders, most notably the Jesuits, took a leadership role in defining Catholic doctrine and clearly establishing the role of the Papacy. Ironically, many of the early Jesuits were descended from converso families and the official Papal theologians of the Council of Trent, most notably Diego Laynez, Alfonso Salmeron, and Juan Polanco were of Jewish heritage. Other prominent leaders of the Catholic reformation from converso families included Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.

Bourbon Spain—1700 to 1900

War of Spanish Succession to Spanish American War

Spanish Crown descends to the Bourbons—On the death of Charles II there widespread concern that the Spanish crown would fall to the descendants of Louis XIV, the powerful monarch of France, upsetting the balance of power in Europe. As a result, most of western Europe was drawn into the War of the Spanish Succession (1700-1714), between France and an Austrian-British alliance. The war failed to prevent a Bourbon monarchy in Spain, but did limit the expansion French influence. The Bourbon Kings were granted rule of much of the Iberian Peninsula, and maintained the Spanish Empire overseas, but they lost control of formerly Hapsburg territories in Italy and Northern Europe. It was finally agreed that the Spanish crown would descend to Philip V, a grandson of Louis XIV, but that the two thrones of France and Spain should never be united.

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Spain had lost a great deal of territory in Italy during the war and the first order of business of the Bourbon monarch was to attempt to regain these dominions. After this proved futile, Philip V's son Ferdinand IV, attempted to implement a series of reforms aimed at "modernizing" the government. There was, however, much opposition to liberal ideas among the peasants and nobility alike. The modernist faction in Spain tended to be concentrated in the cities and among the upper-middle classes and especially among those who opposed the influence of the church. But a large majority of the Spanish people distrusted change and a strong traditionalist faction survived until the 20th century, making the implementation of progressive reforms very difficult.

The Catholic Church held great tracts of land in Spain and was a prime target for modernist reformers. Confiscation of church property, so that it could be put to "better use" was a primary objective for progressive administrators and Charles III was an "enlightened despot" whose administration was full of such schemers. As a result of much intrigue, both within the state houses of Europe and the church itself, the Spanish government under Charles III broke faith with the Jesuits, who had done so much to Christianize Spain's American colonies, and helped suppress the order (1773). All Jesuits were forced out of the dominions of Spain and their properties were split between local governments and religious orders in better favor with the Spanish court.

The Peninsular War in Spain— At about the same time the rumblings of the French Revolution were felt in France, the Spanish government fell into the hands of Maria Louisa and her deplorable minister Emanuel Godoy, who cravenly submitted to the demands of Napoleon. The Spanish people, however, objected with great vigor to the tyrant and rose against him when he invaded Spain and put his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the throne. At the Battle of Bailen an inexperienced and ill-equipped Spanish force surrounded and defeated a French army, to the surprise of all of Europe. Napoleon responded by attempting to crush the insolent Spaniards, but the whole country rose against him.

In the Peninsular War which followed, Britain joined forces with Spain to oppose Napoleon. Unfortunately, the British supported the liberal rather than the traditional faction in Spain, so many Spaniards fought as guerillas rather than serve under British command. For four years Spain was ravaged by war and during this time the Spanish colonies of Latin America, goaded on by Freemasons, took the opportunity to declare their independence.

As Napoleon's empire began to collapse, the Peninsular war was brought to a close and Ferdinand VII was restored to the throne. Unfortunately this brought little peace. Spain was still so divided between traditionalists and modernists that it was nearly ungovernable. While traditionalists had most of the population on their side, money and foreign influence was on the side of the modernists, so the liberals gradually gained strength. In 1820 there was a liberal coup d'etat in Spain, and shortly afterward conservative and modernist factions in Mexico united to declare independence. The alliance broke down quickly, however, and Mexico suffered a century of civil war. The liberal reign in Spain was short lived and in 1823 Ferdinand was restored to the throne. He remained in power until his death in 1833, hated by liberals, but popular with the common people.

The Carlist Wars—A Divided Country—Before 1830, Ferdinand VII had no heir so the throne was set to pass to his brother, Don Carlo, a traditionalist. In order to prevent this, the liberals passed a law allowing the crown to pass to Ferdinand's infant daughter, Isabella II. This led to a long-running conflict which came to be known as the Carlist Wars. The First Carlist War lasted from Ferdinand's death in 1833 until Don Carlos went into exile in 1843, and it was during this period that the regents for Isabel's government allowed the confiscations of a great deal of Church property. This was a strike against the Church, which supported the Carlists in the dispute, but it also served to enrich and empower a new generation of landowners and administrators who benefited from the confiscations.

About the time the first Carlist War ended Isabella was declared sovereign, but for most of her reign the government remained in the hands of ministers who attempted to maintain order by appeasing both conservatives and progressives. Isabella governed poorly, sometimes favoring traditionalist causes, but tending toward decadence in her personal life. Her court was filled with intrigue and corruption, and she was deposed by another liberal coup in 1868.

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The conspirators who overthrew Isabella, however, had no clear plan of government, and could not agree on the terms of either a republican government or a constitutional monarchy. One European royal by the name of Amedeus of Savoy was offered the Spanish crown, but abdicated after three years, declaring the country of Spain ungovernable. During his reign, a third Carlist uprising broke out, resulting in four more years of civil war and anarchy. By 1876 however, the revolution was spent and its leader, Don Carlos (son of the Don Carlos who led the first Carlist uprising), went into exile. At this point Alfonso XII, son of Isabella II, was restored to the throne.

Constitutional Monarchy——For the following fourty-five years, Spain was ruled as a constitutional monarchy under Alfonso XII, and later under his son Alfonso XIII. The strife between modernists and conservatives continued unabated, but the popularity of both Alfonsos helped to unify the country somewhat. For most of this period the government was run by ministers who systematically rigged elections and alternated power between two political parties. This helped suppress the creation of a genuinely populist political movement, and also avoided accountability for unpopular measures.

Weakened by nearly a century of civil wars, a corrupt government, and widespread resistance to modernization, the country was in no condition to defend itself when the United States declared war on Spain in 1898. The justification for the Spanish American War was that Spain had cruelly repressed peasant rebellions in Cuba and the Philippines. Both rebellions, however, were orchestrated by American-backed secret societies with the express purpose of overthrowing Spanish rule, and making her colonies protectorates of the United States. Predictably, Spain suffered a humiliating defeat, but the disaster had a silver lining. The fact that Spain had a weak navy, was financially exhausted, and was no longer an imperial power helped her remain neutral during World War I. This improved her condition somewhat, especially relative to those portions of Europe devastated by the Great War.

The Spanish Civil War—The conflict between traditionalists and liberals continued for the first decades of the twentieth century. In 1921 a coup broke out and a military dictatorship ruled until 1930. Soon after, Alfonso XIII went into exile and a Second Republic was attempted, but this only worsened the long-running dispute. When liberals were in power they confiscated Church property and attempted to secularize the country, and when conservatives were elected to undo the "reforms" the left responded with strikes and uprisings. Both left and right were composed of various factions with irreconcilable goals so there was little hope of peace or unity no matter who was in power. Eventually, however, a coalition of left and center managed to wrestle power from the conservatives, and shortly afterward a military coup led by Francisco Franco ushered in a bitter civil war.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) was fought between the conservative Nationalist Party and left-wing Republicans, but various international political movements that were active throughout Europe at the time (Communists, fascists, socialists, anarchists, etc.) became involved in the struggle, particularly on the side of the left. The struggle for power among Republicans ended up helping the Nationalists and the conservative party prevailed after years of brutal conflict. The Spanish Civil war ended just as the second world war began and once again Spain benefitted by its neutrality during a conflict that engulfed almost all the rest of Europe.

Franco ruled Spain as a dictator for nearly four decades, but his rule was relatively mild, and Spain transitioned peacefully to a constitutional monarchy in 1974.

New Spain—1520 to 1820

Conquest of Mexico to Grito de Dolores

Spanish Mexico—The history of Mexico since its conquest by Hernando Cortez in 1520, can be divided into two periods. From 1535 to 1821, Mexico was known as Nueva Espana (New Spain) and it was ruled as a Spanish province, under the direction of a Viceroy. In the early 19th century, Mexico broke its ties with Spain and shortly afterward, the government responsible for declaring Independence was overthrown by a group of Liberals, who declared Mexico should be governed as a republic, rather than a constitutional monarchy. The terms on which the Mexican republic was founded, however, lacked consensus or legitimacy so over a century of Civil Wars followed.

This unit covers the first three hundred years of Mexican history, while the region was under the government of Spain. The anarchy and conflict which characterized Republican rule in Mexico stands in stark contrast to almost 300 years of peaceful Spanish governance, beginning with the government of Antonio Mendoza, the first Vicery, ten years after the Conquests of Cortez.

Important topics covered in the the "New Spain" unit include 1) The conquest of Cortez, 2) Spanish government and the early Viceroys, 3) Franciscan and Dominican missions to Mexico and conversion of the natives, 4) Spanish exploration and Missions beyond central Mexico, and 5) Later Viceroys and the first stirings of independence.

Conquest of Mexico—The conquest of Mexico was accomplished by Hernando Cortez, an ambitious adventurer who sought his fortune in the New World and established his reputation during the conquest of Cuba. In 1518 he was put in charge of organizing an expedition to the mainland, but fell out of favor with the governor of Cuba. Fearing loss of his position, he set forth without permission, landed on the Yucatan and made peace with some of the coastal natives. There he learned details of the fabulous city of the Aztecs. One of the female slaves that in the area, whom Cortez called Dona Marina, spoke both Mayan and Aztec languages and she became his advisor and translator. After burning his boats, Cortez marched on the capital city, vanquishing several hostile tribes en route. He also made alliances with natives who were enemies of the Aztecs, including the ferocious Tlaxcalan tribe, who submitted to Cortez only after a decisive battle.

The Spaniards, with their Tlaxcalan allies, marched to Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) unopposed, and soon got the emperor Montezuma under their power. Thus far things had gone well, but they quickly got out of hand. First Cortez had to leave the city to fend off an unfriendly Spanish army sent by the governor of Cuba. While he was gone, his men attacked a group of Aztec priests, and set the whole city in rebellion. Montezuma died; and the Spaniards scarcely escaped with their lives. Even after this disaster, however, Cortez managed to turn the situation around by making more alliances with native enemies of the Aztec. In a few months he was sufficiently recovered to make another attack on the city, but the Aztecs refused to submit until the entire city was destroyed. For the first several years, Cortez ruled Mexico as governor, and placed much emphasis on converting the natives. As soon as the region was pacified, however, the Spanish king appointed a viceroy, and Cortez was richly rewarded but allowed no further role in government.


Rule of the Viceroys—For three centuries, from 1535 until 1821, the Spanish colony of "New Spain" was ruled by Viceroys. The first two Spanish viceroys, who each served for over 15 years, were Antonio de Mendoza and Luis de Velasco. In an age of greed and conquest, they exemplified the best of Spanish character and laid a solid foundation for the government of Mexico. Their treatment of the natives was as just as possible under the circumstances and many submitted to Spanish rule peacefully. Velasco, especially, was noted for protecting the Indians and freeing thousands from slavery in the mines. The early Viceroys were helped in their efforts by a multitude of monks and missionaries who built schools, converted the Indians to Christianity, and helped protect them from the abuses of Spanish adventurers and encomenderos (Spanish landholders).

A few other notable leaders were Vasco de Quiroga, a judge-cleric who led the 2nd Audiencia to Mexico and laid the groundwork for Mendoza and later Viceroys. He did all his power to protect the Indians, and was later appointed as the first bishop of Michoacan. As bishop, he built towns, schools, and hospitals, converted thousands, and was greatly loved by the natives. Juan Zumarraga was the first archbishop of New Spain and worked closely with Mendoza and other good administrators to rule justly and prevent abuses. Pedro de Contreras was other notable leader, who served as both Archbishop and viceroy fifty years after Zumarraga and Mendoza.

In 1542 Charles V promulgated the "New Laws of the Indies" aimed at assuring fair treatment of the natives, but when the Vela, the Viceroy of Peru attempted to enforce them, he was murdered by irate landowners. Mendoza, who recognized that some of the Encomienda owners would refuse some of the provisions, enforced all that he could, and patiently waited for the right time to make further improvements. In general, the Spanish king's edicts and the Church's official teachings on the treatment of the Indians was invariably charitable, but not always heeded.

Friars and MissionariesWhile the early Viceroy's and Bishop's deserve credit for prudent government of New Spain, it was the Franciscan and Dominican friars who arrived in the region shortly after the conquest who deserve much of the credit for the mass conversion of Mexican natives to Christianity. The two orders had somewhat different approaches, but both worked to protect and educate the natives, and their efforts produced astounding results. Peter of Ghent, and the "Twelve Apostles of Mexico" were all Franciscan Friars who arrived with a few years of the Conquests of Cortez, and they set to work, not only converting, Christianizing, and educating the natives, but helping to write their histories. The Franciscan's approach was to freely baptize any natives who agreed to live as Christians and educate them by example into the tenets of the faith. The Dominicans were more concerned with proper teaching and defense against heresy in the new world, but they deserve credit for insisting that the rights of the natives were protected by Spanish law, and that their abusers were punished.

The heroic efforts of the Spanish Friars as educators, historians, and protectors of the natives is not told in most student histories of Mexico, which is a shame because their stories are tremendous. The following list of important missionary historians is taken from Heritage History's 'Catholic Knowledge' unit on World Missions. They summarize the work of just a few of Early Mexico's greatest educators and Scholars.

The complete articles from the Catholic Knowledge game provide more information and are found here:

Spanish in America I: Mexico Read Online
Spanish America II: Peru Read Online

Bourbon 'Reforms'—During the first two hundred years of Spanish rule in Mexico, the Hapsburg kings permitted a great deal of local autonomy and regional government offices were frequently under the control of native born creoles. It was not until the 18th century, under the Bourbons, that an attempt was made to centralize power in the hands of the Spanish king by making all important offices in New Spain, including those which benefitted from access to trading monopolies, available only to Spanish born officers. This policy created a rift between Spanish born peninsulares and native born creoles and inspired many men from the Mexican upper classes to favor independence and join secret political societies.

The Spanish Empire in the new world was far-flung and sparsely populated. Spanish rule was confined mostly to highly populated areas and although vast tracts of North America were claimed by Spain, little was done to develop the northern regions until the 18th century. For many years North American Indians traded with the Spaniards but were not ruled by them. Junipero Serra was a Franciscan monk whose work building missions along the coast of California was especially noteworthy, but as late as 1846, at the opening of the Mexican American War, the Spanish presence in much of the American southwest was very limited.

Independence and Empire—At the turn of the 19th century, the idea of Mexican independence was only entertained by a small, intellectual class of liberals, centered mainly in Freemason lodges. In 1808, however, the Spanish king was deposed by Napoleon, and all of Spain rose in rebellion. The Spanish people refused to acknowledge the illegitimate government and wage a guerilla war against France, leaving the government of the American colonies in confusion. The crisis in Spain provided an opportunity for Mexican revolutionaries to make a strike for independence while the mother country was in disarray. In Mexico, the first outbreak, known as "Grito de Dolores" was led by Miguel Hidalgo, an apostate priest associated with Freemasonry. He was captured and executed for treason, but the Mexican revolutionaries, backed by a strange mix of liberals, soldiers, peasants, and aristocrats, continued to press for independence until Ferdinand VII was restored to the throne of Spain.

Once the Spanish king was back on the, the Independence movement in Mexico faltered, but in 1820 Ferdinand was again over thrown by a liberal coup d'etat. At that point, conservatives and monarchists began to see independence as a means of preserving Mexico from the chaos and anti-Catholic policies of the Spanish liberal regime. Agustin Iturbide, the leader of the Spanish army in Mexico had been fighting revolutionaries for ten years, but after the overthrow of King Ferdinand he feared that Mexico would come under the influence of the Spanish Liberal Republicans. He saw independence was the best way of preserving the status quo so he made an alliance with the revolutionary leader Vincente Guerrero to break Mexico's ties with Spain.

Iturbide made himself emperor, but since he had no children, his real purpose was to maintain the principle of monarchy and hold open the position for Ferdinand VII or his descendants. The revolutionaries, on the other hand, wanted power in their own hands and had only agreed to support Iturbide as a temporary strategy. They rebelled against the emperor at the first opportunity and sent him into exile in Europe, assuring him he would be charged with treason if he returned. The revolutionary leaders appointed themselves heads of state and set about writing a 'Federal' Constitution, favored by their co-conspirators in the United States, that granted a great deal of independence to the states and preserved very little power for the central government.

Mexico—1820 to 1930

Mexican Independence to Cristeros War

In the early 19th century, Mexico broke its ties with Spain and shortly afterward, the government responsible for declaring Independence was overthrown by a group of Liberals who declared Mexico should be governed as a republic rather than as a constitutional monarchy. The terms on which the Mexican republic was founded, however, lacked consensus or legitimacy so over a century of Civil Wars followed.

The anarchy and conflict which characterized this period of Republican rule in Mexico stands in contrast to almost 300 years of peaceful Spanish governance, yet the reasons for continuing discord and violence are not well understood, and they are hard to discern from reading 'official accounts' of what occurred.

We prefer to stick to basic historical facts when possible, but in this case some over-arching explanation may be necessary, especially regarding the 'secret societies' that manipulated events from behind closed doors. Mature students with some knowledge of political history who would like to better understand the reasons for a century of turmoil in Republican Mexico can read Causes of Political Unrest in Mexico as an introduction.

A summary of Mexican history since declaring Independence from Spain follows. The three periods of Republican history listed below correspond roughly to the three Constitutions of Mexico, enacted in 1824, 1857, and 1917, under which the Mexican Republic has supposedly been governed.

Early Republic 1820-1855 Santa Anna, Farias, Victoria
Reform Period 1855-1911 Alvarez, Benito Juarez, Maximilian of Austria, Porfirio Diaz
Mexican Revolution 1911-1934 Francisco Madero, Venustiano Carranza, Calles, Cardenas

Independence and Empire—At the turn of the 19th century, the idea of Mexican independence was only entertained by a small, intellectual class of liberals, centered mainly in Freemason lodges. In 1808, however, the Spanish king was deposed by Napoleon, and all of Spain rose in rebellion. The Spanish people refused to acknowledge the illegitimate government and waged a guerilla war against France, leaving the government of the American colonies in confusion. The crisis in Spain provided an opportunity for Mexican revolutionaries to make a strike for independence while the mother country was in disarray. The first rebellion, known as "Grito de Dolores" was led by Miguel Hidalgo, an apostate priest associated with Freemasonry. He was captured and executed for treason, but unrest continued until Ferdinand VII was restored to the throne of Spain.

The Independence movement in Mexico faltered as long as a 'legitimate' Catholic prince was on the throne, but in 1820 Ferdinand was once again overthrown, this time by a liberal coup d'etat. At that point, conservatives and monarchists began to see independence as a means of preserving Mexico from the chaos and anti-Clericism of the Spanish liberal regime. Agustin Iturbide, the leader of the Spanish army in Mexico had been fighting revolutionaries for ten years, but after the overthrow of King Ferdinand he feared that Mexico would come under the influence of the Spanish Liberal Republicans. He saw independence was the best way of preserving the status quo so he made an alliance with the revolutionary leader Vincente Guerrero to break Mexico's ties with Spain.

Iturbide made himself emperor but since he had no children, the real purpose was to reserve the monarchy and so it could later be bestowed on Ferdinand VII or his descendants. The revolutionaries, on the other hand, wanted power in their own hands and had only agreed to support Iturbide as a temporary strategy. They rebelled against the emperor at the first opportunity and sent him into exile in Europe. The revolutionary leaders appointed themselves heads of state and set about writing a 'Federal' Constitution, favored by their Freemason co-conspirators in the United States. The 'Constitution of 1824' granted a great deal of independence to the states and preserved very little power for the central government.

Soon after the Republican takeover of Mexico's government, the Liberal regime in Spain was toppled, and Ferdinand VII reclaimed the throne. The United States, however, had a vested interest in preventing Spain from reclaiming Mexico, and keeping the Mexican government in disarray, since powerful economic interests sought to annex Mexican territory. President Monroe therefore promulgated the Monroe Doctrine, which forbid European "colonization" in the Americas. This prevented Spain from reclaiming her colonies, even though popular feeling strongly OPPOSED republican government and favored Spanish rule once Ferdinand VII had been restored to the throne. The Monroe doctrine was especially favored by private American and English financial interests who desired to keep access to the markets and resources of Latin America.

Republican Mexico

The Early Mexican Republic (1824 to 1855)—The first thirty years of Republican government in Mexico was utterly chaotic. (Actually, the entire history of Republican Mexico is chaotic, with the sole exception of the rule of Porfirio Diaz 1876-1911, but we'll start with the first 30 years.) The constitution of 1824 granted the central government very little power and the President was entirely subject to congress. But even the congress had limited powers because its leaders were subject to the machinations of the military who could sometimes bring down a government without firing a shot, just by issuing a pronunciemento. This explains why there were over twenty five-different Presidents of Mexico during its first three decades, only two of whom served out their full four years terms.

The individual states in Mexico were granted so much independence by the Constitution of 1824 that local leaders could rule as they wanted without regard to national laws or a central judicial system that could reign in abuses. This allowed local leaders to pass laws favorable to themselves and unfavorable to their political rivals. This division of power was intentional, since the Freemasons who crafted the Constitution of 1824 did not want a strong central government that could reign in regional corruption or protect Mexican territory in the north from Annexation by the United States. Much of the mischief done in the early years of the republic was done by regional rulers and included abuses such as expelling Spanish citizens from Mexico and confiscating their property, taking foreign out loans, interfering in Church affairs, redirecting tithes to government coffers, looting churches, raising local taxes, and tolerating slavery.

After ten years there was a conservative reaction to the abuses of local governments and conservatives altered the constitution to strengthen the presidency and make regional governments subject to national laws. The changes were strongly opposed by several outlying states, most notably Texas, which declared its independence, and defeated a Mexican army led by Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto. Unfortunately, the changes to the constitution did little to increase stability, and Mexico's influence over its sparsely populated northern territories weakened since the central government had few resources to invest in defense or colonization. The United States was, of course, always ready to take advantage of its weakened southern neighbor and in 1846, President Polk ordered American troops into a disputed region between Texas and Mexico in order to provoke a conflict. As soon as Mexican troops fired a shot, Americans soldiers quickly occupied all of the territory they hoped to win from the Mexicans. Although the United States defeated all of the forces sent against in Northern Mexico, the Americans were unable to get any Mexican statesmen to cede territory or sign a peace agreement until a naval force was dispatched to Vera Cruz, and an American army occupied Mexico city.

The Reform Era (1855 to 1911)—The disastrous loss of territory, and devastating costs of the Mexican American war doomed the government and eventually led to the overthrow of Santa Anna, a general who had held the office of Presidency eleven times and taken part in every conflict since from the War of Independence to the Mexican-American War. The divisive political sects in the country, which had caused so much turmoil in the first few years of Mexican history, worsened after the conflict with America.

A new twist in the ongoing conflict between conservatives and liberals in Mexico developed in 1855 when Benito Juarez and his henchman issued the "Plan of Ayulta", deposed Santa Anna, oversaw the writing of the Constitution of 1857, and ordered a new round of confiscations directed against the Catholic Church. The anti-Clerical measures in the new constitution were so intolerable that even the liberal President resigned rather than enforce them, and the Reform War broke out in earnest. The United States unofficially intervened on the side of Juarez and his liberals but withdrew its support during the American Civil War.

The crisis eventually led to the occupation of Mexico by French soldiers, invited by the conservative faction which sought to restore a Christian monarchy by placing a Habsburg on the throne of Mexico. The reign of Emperor Maximilian lasted only three years, since he proved too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals. He was deposed and executed in 1867 after the French army withdrew and for a brief time following, Juarez led a liberal government under the terms of the Constitution of 1857.

Unfortunately, the bitter animosity between rival political factions was so great following the Reform War that the government was always on the brink of crisis. In 1876, Porfirio Diaz, a popular general who was respected by both liberals and conservatives was elected president. Although he stepped down briefly after his first term was over, it soon became apparent that he was the only man who could hold the country together, so he was re-elected in 1884, and from that point on reigned as a virtual dictator until 1911.

Diaz was liberal but pragmatic, and did not share the anti-Catholic biases of many of the other "reformers". He kept oppressive anti-Clerical laws on the books, but did not enforce them, so for the first time in 50 years, the Church enjoyed a degree of liberty and prosperity. His first priority was to keep order, so he allowed liberty of opinion, but crushed rebellion. Diaz sought alliances with both liberal businessmen and conservative land-owners, and got along with both Catholics and Freemasons. He welcomed foreign investment, reformed the army and made great improvements in infrastructure, but he made no serious attempt at land reform, and permitted corruption, cronyism, and exploitation of landless peons. The 35 year reign of Porfirio Diaz was certainly the most peaceful and prosperous era since the dawn of the Republic, but such tranquility did not long survive the death of the "dictator".

The Mexican Revolution (1911 to 1934)—Diaz enjoyed a great deal of popular support at the beginning of his reign, but by the early 1900's there was widespread opposition. He decided to retire in 1910 and hold free elections, reneged and was accused of voter fraud. His various opponents, who had been plotting to assume power rose in rebellion and the elderly Diaz was forced to flee to France. This was the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. In the following years, leadership of Mexico changed hands several times, between 'Federalist' supporter of the old Regime and his 'Constitutionalist' opponents. Eventually, however, the government fell into the hands of Carranza, a governor and leader of the 'Constitutionalist' army.

From the beginning the 'Constitutionalist' enemies of Diaz were united in their desire to overthrow him, they had conflicting ideas of the type of government that should replace it. Some of the most famous Revolutionary generals, such as Pancho Villa, and Emiliano Zapata, were radicals. Carranza (by revolutionary standards) was moderate, but the Constitution he proposed in 1917, was strongly anti-clerical. The purpose of taking such a strong stand against the Catholic Church, of course, was to provide a basis for the wholesale confiscation of Church property by the new government. The anti-Catholic provisions were so severe and unpopular that the Cristeros broke out a few years later. After five more years of fighting it was resolved that the government would not enforce all of its anti-Catholic laws.

From the late 1920's until times Mexico has been run as a single party system. The PRI is corrupt and engages in blatant voter fraud, but at least it avoids civil war. The criminal cartels that run drug and human trafficking rings along the American border have nothing to fear from government law enforcement. They are merely the minions of the same criminal mafia that has been running the Mexican government for almost 200 years.

South America—1525 to 1921

Conquests of Pizarro to Early 20th Century

Conquest of Peru—The conquest of Peru is often told simply as the story of the battle of Caxamalca, during which Francisco Pizarro and his men massacred a group of unarmed Incas, and captured their leader, Atahualpa. It was a shameless deed, and Pizarro is deserving of his poor reputation, but the conquest of the Incas was far from a single-battle event. Pizarro had spent eight difficult years exploring the region and trading with the natives on his own initiative. It was only after he survived a series of perilous expeditions and returned to Spain with samples of gold and silver, that he was given the men and resources he required to complete the conquest.

Even with government support however, the obstacles to conquest were almost insurmountable. The climate and terrain were very difficult, and to even reach the coast of Peru one had to march through a trackless jungle, embark on a small boat, and sail through treacherous waters, only to find oneself at the base of an enormous mountain range. The Incan capital was dozens of miles inland, at a high altitude and the entire region was populated with tens of thousands of Inca warriors. In addition, there were severe conflicts and jealousies among the Spaniards, and Pizarro had many enemies. In the end however, he rose (or rather sunk) to the occasion, and using a combination of brutality, superstition, terror and treachery, managed to get the Inca into his control, and ward off challenges from his Spanish rivals. He was granted governorship of the new province, which proved to be the richest in Spanish possession, but was soon murdered by partisans of a man he had betrayed.

Rule of the Viceroys—With its immense wealth in silver and gold, Peru quickly became the focal point of Spanish interest in South America. The city of Lima was created, and it became the center of Spanish trade and government. During the viceroyalty period, the province of Peru referred to the entire west half of South America, encompassing everything but Portugal's Brazil. By the 18th century, the viceroyalty in South America had broken into three portions. New Granada consisted of modern day Columbia, Venezuela, and Panama; Rio de la Plata consisted of Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay; and Peru consisted of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador. These divisions are important for understanding how the Independence of South America came about.

Wars of Independence—The most famous early advocate of South American Independence was Miranda.