Historical Eras of Spanish Empire

    Romans and Visigoths     Moorish Spain     Reconquista     Exploration     Hapsburg Spain     Bourbon Spain     Mexico     South America

Romans and Visigoths—250 B.C. to 711

Punic Wars in Spain to Moorish Conquest

Hispania—a Roman Province—The earliest recorded history of Spain dates from the third century B.C., when the Roman Republic was engaged in the Punic Wars, a century long struggle between Rome and Carthage. The coastal regions of Hispania, which at the time were controlled mainly by Carthage, figured prominently in these wars, and when Rome succeeded in vanquishing Carthage, she inherited the Carthaginian Empire in Spain. These holdings, however, represented only a fraction of the Iberian Peninsula.

Most of the interior of Hispania was inhabited by semi-civilized Celts and Iberians. The first battles in the Roman Conquest of Hispania occurred around 210 B.C., but several regions of the interior of Hispania held out against Roman rule for nearly 200 years. By the turn of the millennium, however, Spain was solidly Roman, and for hundreds of years was one of the most important and stable provinces of the Roman Empire.

It is difficult to make broad generalizations regarding the Roman Conquest of Hispania because the country itself was highly diverse both in geography and also in the ethnic mix of the people. The coastal cities of Spain, including those on navigable rivers, were populated by relatively civilized and diverse peoples, including Carthaginians, Greeks, Turdetani, and Celt-Iberian. The inland regions were primarily Celt and Iberians but were broken up into autonomous tribes of varied ancestry. The Roman conquerors included both noble and admired leaders such as Scipio Africanus and Sertorius, who treated the natives with great consideration, and treacherous butchers, such as Lucullus and Cato (the censor). Some of the more civilized regions submitted peacefully, while others, such as the Lusitanians and Celt-Iberians, under the great native chief Viriathus, held out for years, and caused appalling casualties among the Romans. In some cases the native tribes submitted to Roman rule and in other cases, most spectacularly that of Numantia, they annihilated themselves rather than submit.

The conquest of Hispania was a difficult and highly contentious project that caused enormous political problems in Italy, and figured prominently in the decline of Republican Rome. Once Spain was finally conquered however, it became thoroughly Romanized, and therefore Christianized, and remained so even after the fall of the empire. For much of the era of the Roman Empire, Spain was one of the most stable and properous regions of the empire, and it produced many famous Romans, including Trajan, Seneca, and Martial.

Visigoth Spain—During the fifth century A.D., Spain was overrun by various tribes of Germanic Barbarians, including the Suevi, Alans, Franks, Visigoths, and Vandals. The Visigoths eventually emerged as the dominant tribe, but Spain remained relatively Romanized under their reign—the culture and language of the conquered was absorbed by the conquerors rather than vica versa. The Visigoths nobles, who were Arian Christians, eventually converted to the Roman Rite, which did much to help solidify the Catholic Church's influence in Western Europe.

The Visigothic reign in Spain lasted from the reign of Ataulfus, in 410 to the Moorish conquest under Roderic, almost exactly 300 years later. The Visigoth kings spent much of their time driving off other invaders. Led by king Theodoric, the Visigoths allied themselves with the Roman Empire in 451 in order to drive off Attila the Hun. They later contended with the Suevis for control of territory in the mountains of Cantabria, and with the Franks for territories north of the Pyrenees.

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 is blamed for the weakening the power of the Visigoth king, because he was beholden to factitious nobles. Contentious elections resulted in a number of damaging civil wars. Roderic, the last king of the Visigoths assumed the throne during such a period of internal conflict and the resulting division 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 convertion 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 power over Christian subjects. The discontent of Spanish Jews under the Catholic Visigoth government was in important factor in the eventual overthrow of the Visigoth kingdom.

Moorish Spain—711 to 1492

Battle of Guadalete to Fall of Granada

The Moors of Spain—In 623 the followers of Mohammed began a campaign of conquest, and within sixty years were masters of Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Persia, Egypt, and all of North Africa. In many of these formerly Christian regions the people converted to Islam, and the Umayyad dynasty, based in Damascus, held sway.

By 710, when Roderic came to the throne as the result of a civil war between rival Visigoth nobles, the region of North Africa directly across from Spain was held by Musa bin Nusair, an Arab general. Several Visigoth and Jewish refugees who had fled to North Africa, asked Musa to help them overthrow Roderic, so he sent an army under Tariq ibn Ziyad. A great battle was fought at the Guadalete River, and the Moors won an overwhelming victory against the divided Visigoths. Although several towns held out against the Moors, there was almost no organized resistance, and within a few years the invaders had taken almost all the Iberian 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 formerly unders the sway of the Franks. The Kingdom of Asturias was founded by Pelayo, a Visigoth noble, but its population consisted of a collection of Roman Spaniards, Visigoths, Franks, and Suevis who fled from the Moslem persecutions.

Forty years after the establishment of the Moorish empire in Spain there was a great civil war involving the leadership of the Caliphate of Damascus. In the east, the Abbasid dynasty overthrew the Umayyad, but an Umayyad Prince, Abderrahman I, escaped the massacre and fled to Spain. He was declared emir of Hispania, and governed independently from the Syrian Abbasid dynasty. He made his capital in Cordoba and for over two hundred years that city was a leading center of commerce and culture. These were the golden years of Moorish Spain, and although there was some division and infighting among the royal family, the outward show of unity was largely preserved.

The Christian state of Asturias also grew during this period, and split into the kingdoms of Leon, Aragon, and Castile. For the first three hundred years of Moorish rule, however, they lived in relative peace. There were a great many Christians and Jews living under Moorish rule during this time, and although non-Moslems were excluded from power and made to pay special taxes, there was a reasonable degree of toleration between Christians, Jews and Moslems in the early years of the Caliphate of Cordova. This was because the Umayyad caliphate was relatively cultured, cosmopolitan and commerce oriented. Later Moslem Caliphates, that originated in Western Africa rather than the Middle East, we more fanatical and barbarous.

Almanzor, Almoravids, and Almohads —As the authority of the Caliphate waned over the centuries, due largely to a series of decadent and irresponsible Caliphs, a great Moorish general by the name of Almanzor He consolidated Moslem influence and pressed the borders of the kingdoms in the north back to the Pyrenees. During his period of influence, from 970 to 1002 A. D., the extent of Moorish power reached its greatest extent. Because of the common threat, the Christian kingdoms united and successfully opposed him at the battle of Calatanazor. When Almanzor died without anyone to succeed him in influence, Moslem unity, which had been strained by his usurpation of power, broke down altogether. The eleventh century, therefore, was an era during which the Christian kingdoms made significant gains in territory. The Umayyad caliphate of Cordova collapsed in 1031, and in the following generation, the Christians took the great city of Toledo.

In the mid-eleventh century, especially during the reign of Alfonso VI of Castile, the Christian kingdoms of northern Spain won such great victories against the Moors that some of the Moorish princes called upon the Almoravid dynasty in North Africa to help them resist their Christian enemies. Great armies of Berbers crossed the strait of Gibraltar, and resisted the Christian incursions, but they never really unified the Moslem princes under their dominion. During this period Christian vs. Moslem wars were common, but so were palace insurrections and civil war, so the intrigues of various factions are difficult to follow. Rival claimants to power in both Christian and Moslem kingdoms would frequently align themselves with the infidel enemies of their king in hopes of improving their own situation. Overall, however, the tide was in favor of the Christians. It was during this era that the great Christian hero El Cid lived, and his conquest of Valencia, one of the great Moslem cities on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, was one of the turning points in the struggle.

The twelveth and thirteenth centuries saw even more dramatic losses in Moorish territory to the Christians. The Almohads replaced the Almoravids as the ruling dynasty, and they set up their capital in Seville, but never succeeded in uniting the Moorish kingdoms or opposing the Christian powers. The Almohads brought in an enormous army of over 500,000 Berbers from Africa, but were utterly routed on the plain of 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 Fall of Granada —In the early 13th century the kingdom of Granada, along the southern coast of Spain, became a vassal state of Castile. In 1236 a Moslem prince, Mohammed Alhamar, came to power and founded a dynasty that was to remain the last stronghold of Moorish Spain for the next two hundred and fifty years. Although within a few generations the ruling family of Granada became divided, the political situation in Castile was even worse, and all of Europe suffered under the Black Plague. These disruptions delayed the fall of Granada for several hundred years, and during this period, Moorish culture continued to thrive. It was not until after Castile and Aragon were integrated under Isabel of Castile and and Ferdinand of Aragon, that the Spaniards were united enough to tackle the fortified kingdom of Granada. Once Ferdinand and Isabella had committed to driving the last vestige of Moors from Spain, however, they approached their task systematically, and in 1492 Boabdil, the last king of Granada, surrendered the city to the Spanish monarchs.

Reconquista—1050 to 1516

Reconquest of Toledo to Death of Ferdinand

Rise of the Christian Kingdoms—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 in 1031 A.D. The legendary leader of the band of exiles that fled to the Cantabrian Mountains after the battle of Guadalete was Pelayo, a Visigoth prince. However, the kingdom of Asturias that he established was not Visigoth but rather it was a combination of indigenous Basques and Celt-Iberians, and exiles and refugees from various regions, including Spaniards, Visigoths, Suevi, and Franks.

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In the earliest years of its existence, the kingdom of Asturias was not recognized as an independent kingdom. The dominant Christian power in the region was the Franks, who successfully drove the Moors out of Gaul and under Charlemagne even crossed the Pyrenees to give battle to the Mohammedans on the peninsula. But in 778 the Franks retreated, leaving Asturias as the predominant Christian kingdom in the region.

During the early years of the Moorish empire, there was a large population of Christians still living within its bounds and paying special taxes while being denied full rights of citizenship. Considering the large population of tax-paying Christians in their realm and the ferocious Franks immediately to their north, the Cordova Caliphate was not inclined to take aggressive measures against the small and seemingly insignificant independent mountain kingdom.

The region immediately south of Asturias was Leon, and early on the northern Christians gained tentative control of this strategic region. The territory of Asturias-Leon expanded in the 9th and 10th centuries as a result of Christian victories against the reginal Moors, but also due to Christian migration from Moorish domains into Christian territory. In 910 the king of Asturias moved his capital to Leon and his was henceforth known as the kingdom of Leon. The kingdom of Castile, which was originally a duchy of Asturias was "declared independent" by Fernan Gonsalez in 932, but continued to be overshadowed by Leon until the reign of Alfonso VI, several generations hence.

Other Christian kingdoms in the region were Navarre in the Pyrenees, 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 of were Galicia and Portugal, vassal kingdoms of Leon that achieved a certain degree of independence. The Christian kingdoms of Leon, Castile, Navarre, Aragon, Galicia and Portugal together controlled all of Northern Spain, and for several hundred years warred with each other as well as the Moors. The wars between the Christian kingdoms are generally known as the Castilian Wars , because Castile was of central importance and came to be the dominant kingdom on the Peninsula.

The Christians kingdoms were able to gain significant territory and autonomy during the ninth and tenth centuries 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 regions along the Mediterranean coasts. Al-Andalus was the center of Moorish commerce and culture and the poor, remote Christian territories to the north seemed of little significance. In the late 900's, the Moslem general Almanzor briefly retook Christian territory, but the Cordova caliphate collapsed several years after his death and the empire became divided in to fiefdoms (called Taifas) of warring Moslem princes.

Victories against the Moors—The eleventh century was a critical one for the rising Christian kingdoms. Soon afterward the breakup of the Cordova caliphate, Ferdinand I of Leon united Galicia and Castile under the crown of Leon. He split his kingdom among his sons upon his death, but this only resulted in years of civil war during which Alfonso VI regained control of all three kingdoms. It was during this period that the famous El Cid, a knight loyal to Alfonso's brother, was banished from Castile and took Valencia, a prosperous Moorish trading city on the Western coast of Spain. Eventually Cid and Alfonso were reconciled and in 1085 they reconquered the old Visigoth capital of Toledo.

As a result of the Christian conquest of Toledo several Moorish princes invited the Almoravids of Morocco to help them regain their territory, a move they soon regretted. The Almoravid's were of little help in reconquering Christian territory, but they deposed many of the Taifa rulers, most of whom had become luxurious and decadent. The Almoravids, like the Alhomads who followed them, were desert warriors of a stern faith, who despised the cultured and religiously indifferent Moorish nobles, and the prosperous trading culture of Al-Andalus declined greatly under the new leadership.

The Christian victories against the Moors continued during the twelfth century, especially under the kings of Aragon and Castile. James I of Aragon added the prosperous coastal region of Catalonia and the Balearic Islands to the domain of Aragon during his reign, and the kingdom of Portugal rose to prominence under Afonso Henriques. The greatest twelfth century Christian warrior of all, however, was St. Ferdinand III of Castile, also known as St. Ferdinand, who conquered Seville and Cordoba, and brought Dominican and Franciscan orders to Al-Andalusa to help re-Christianize southern Spain.

The Moors, now under the rule of the fierce Alhomads, continued to lose territory until 1212 at which time they were utterly defeated at the terrific battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. In this key battle, the united Christian armies defeated and nearly annihilated a combined army of Spanish Moors and African 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. The conquest of Granada however, was delayed for nearly 200 years, due to the Black Plague and continued wars among the Christian Kingdoms.

Rise of the Trastamaras and Conquest of Granada—The late fourteenth century was a sorry one for all of Europe and it produced some unfortunate tyrants in Spain, including Pedro of Castile. He murdered a number of family members, instigated civil wars and impoverished his country, but was eventually overthrown by his illegitimate half-brother Henry Trastamara. It was several generations before a worthy successor rose to power in Castile, in the form of Isabel of Castile, a princess who descended from both the Trastamara and legitimate kingly lines. Her marriage to Ferdinand of Aragon the Catholic united the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, and under their competent leadership the united Christians were able to drive the last Moorish kingdom from the peninsula. These monarchs, who reigned for over forty years, ruled competently, paid off debts, put down a rebellion in Portugal and brought stability, unity, and prestige to their kingdom.

One of the most far-reaching of Isabel's policies in Spain was to fund the voyage of Christopher Columbus and lay Spanish claim to the New World he discovered. The following thirty years saw the discovery and conquest of the Aztec Empire in Mexico, the Inca Empire in Peru, the establishment of the Portuguese Empire in India, and many related feats of discovery. These early explorations were so important to world history that they are dealt with in a separate section.

Exploration—1430 to 1540

Prince Henry the Navigator to Discovery of Mississippi

Hispanic Exploration—During the fifteenth century, the countries of Portugal and Spain embarked on an adventure of sea-faring exploration, the results of which were to dramatically change the course of world history, and thoroughly upset the existing balance of national powers. It is almost impossible to overstate the significance of European exploration and conquest, led by the Iberian states of Spain and Portugal during this era. More than any other factor, the discovery of the new continents of the western hemisphere, and just as significantly, the increased trading opportunities in the far east, changed the entire outlook of European thought and the western economy. Eventually other nations besides Spain and Portugal, most notably France, Holland, and England, became involved in trade and exploration, but the Hispanic explorers and conquistadors were the first and most significant.

hispanic exploration

Portuguese Exploration—The first notable name in sea-faring exploration was Henry the Navigator, a Portuguese Prince, who undertook many ground-breaking projects in navigation, map-making, and ship-building. In particular, he popularized the use of the caravel for long-distance voyages, and collected all known knowledge of the geography of the continent of Africa. From his base at Sagres in the south of Portugal he sent off numerous expeditions to the mysterious regions of Africa. Each expedition proceeded further than the one previously, and each crew returned with reports of new sites and new geographic discoveries. These explorations culminated in the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope by Bartholomew Diaz in 1488, and the first sea-faring voyage to India, by way of Africa, by Vasco da Gama in 1498.

Once a path to the rich markets of the east was open to westerners, the colonization of territories in the east, to serve as trading stations, was undertaken. Portugal succeeded in setting up colonies that would serve both as trading ports and also as refueling stations along the way. Although the Portuguese sought trade with the mainland in the east, they generally colonized islands in the far east rather than attempting to set up trading stations on the mainland, since islands were more easily defended. Some of the earliest Portuguese settlements were on Socotra, Ceylon, Goa, Ormuz, Malacca, Macau, and Nagasaki. Several of these islands were already controlled by Moslem traders rather than natives, so most of the combat that the Portuguese was involved in during their early years of conquest was directed against the Moslem Turks rather than the native princes of the region. Two of the most famous sailors involved in establishing the Portuguese empire in the east were Alfonso de Albuquerque and Francisco de Almeida. The Portuguese domination of the eastern trade lasted only until the late 1500's, when they began to lose ground to the Dutch, but they retained important colonies in the east and in Africa until the twentieth century.

Columbus and the West Indies—During the same era that Portugal was establishing trading routes to the east, the Spanish, led first by Christopher Columbus, were establishing colonies in the New World. Whereas the Portuguese, once they doubled the Cape of Good Hope, encountered the advanced civilization of the east, and from the first had access to maps and navigational aids used by the Moslem traders, the Spanish in America had no clear idea of the geography of the region, and there were no previously established trading ports. There were, however, (very unfortunately for the natives), rumors of gold and silver, so from the beginning the exploration of the new world was driven by adventure seekers, and grasping, greedy, and brutal soldiers-of-fortune, rather than established merchants. The atrocities committed by the Spanish explorers against the native inhabitants of the west Indies was therefore, far worse than that inflicted by the Portuguese in the east.

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In the earliest years of Spanish exploration in the new world, the initiative for exploration and conquest was driven largely by individual explorers, rather than being masterminded by the Spanish crown. In many cases, government support was only provided after "proof" of riches had already been established. Vasco Nunez Balboa, Ponce de Leon, Hernando Cortez, Francisco Pizarro, and Hernando De Soto, all undertook ambitious expeditions largely on their own initiative, and almost all either came to a bad end, or were bypassed by the Spanish government, who put their own functionaries in charge of governing the newly-discovered region.

Some of these early governors, including Pedrarias Davila and Nicholas de Ovando, were much worse villains than the famous explorers, and were largely responsible for the systematic atrocities against the natives and their eventual extermination. While the explorers themselves undertook tremendous personal risks, endured insufferable hardships, and in all cases encountered the natives in situations in which they were overwhelmingly outnumbered, the cowardly and despicable governors lived in state and security, attacked and pillaged defenseless villages with enormous armies, and enslaved the native populations, so that they might gain promotion by sending gold home to Spain. Too much calumny, in modern times, is heaped on the well-known explorers, who were in every case, at least extraordinarily brave and interesting characters, and not enough on the craven and villainous adventurers who followed them, who are far more deserving of scorn.

In the years after Columbus established the first European settlement in the Americas, on the Island which is now the Dominican Republic, (then known as Santo Domingo), the region was thought to be a group of islands to the east of India; hence they were referred to as the "West Indies". Columbus made four voyages, and during each explored more of the region, but never found a passage to the orient, much to the disappointment of many of those who joined him on subsequent voyages, expecting opportunities for quick riches. He was stripped of his title, and replaced as governor of Santo Domingo and generally badly treated by the Spanish government after the death of his sponsor, Isabella, due to the fact that the riches anticipated by his discoveries were slow to materialize.

Later Explorers—Later explorers, such as Ojeda, Pinzon, and Vespucci finally established, by sailing up and down the coast of south American and Mexico, that the new world was, in fact, a new and unknown continent. About the same time this knowledge came to light, Vasco de Gama successfully sailed around the Cape of Africa, and successfully established a sea-route to the Orient. The combination of the two events changed the aspect of things considerably. Henceforth, serious traders and merchants focused their efforts more on establishing fixed routes by way of Africa, leaving the Americas to be explored primarily by adventurers and relatively unsavory types, whose main interest in the region was plunder and gold rather than trade.

The Spanish governors who followed Columbus began to "pacify" Santo Domingo and neighboring islands, often in the most brutal manner imaginable. Their only concern was to gain riches to send back to Spain, and this could only be done by plunder and enslavement of the natives, and still, there was great disappointment because although the natives had some gold ornaments, no gold mines, or large reserves of gold were ever found.

The first Spanish settlement on the mainland was at established at Darien near the Isthmus of Panama in 1510. A few of the famous names associated with Darien include Pedrarias Davila, Francisco Pizarro, Hernando De Soto, and most famously, Vasco Nunez Balboa. Balboa was the original founder of the colony, and a few years after establishing himself in the region and making peace with most of the native chiefs, Balboa and a small crew crossed the isthmus and discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513. When he returned to Darien, however, he was replaced as a governor by Pedrarias, a thoroughly wretched creature, who makes even the murderous Balboa look sympathetic by comparison. On his travels Balboa had also heard rumors of the great Incan Empire to the south, and spent the last few years of his life building a small fleet on the Pacific Ocean with which he could explore the western coast of South America. Pendrias, however, was jealous of Balboa and had him tried and executed on trumped-up charges.

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Exploration of Florida—It is fortunate for current residents of the American southwest the eastern half of the United States is almost devoid of gold, silver, or precious metals. This is the main reason the region was left relatively free from conquistadors, soldiers-of-fortune, and rapacious governors during the 16th century, so that it could be settled later by farmers, traders, and craftsmen rather that plundered for loot.

Rogues, mercenaries, scallywags, butchers and scoundrels were not lacking in England or France, but they simply became pirates and privateers and stole gold from the Spanish galleons. They also sacked and plundered Spanish towns to the muffled cheers of their governments.

Early Spanish explorers, most notably Ponce de Leon, Hernando De Soto, and Francisco de Coronado did explore the regions of America north of Mexico, which the Spanish called Florida, but did not find major empires, advanced civilizations, or gold. Ponce de Leon considered his exploration of the Peninsula of Florida a failure because he failed to find the Fountain of Youth, and De Soto, upon laying eyes on the great Mississippi, was discouraged and considered it only "another river to cross". Both had set their hearts on discovering great empires in the region, but found only hostile natives.

In many cases, the North American Indians did an effective job of massacring Spaniards and keeping foreigners out of their territories. Tuscaloosa was one of several native chiefs that made a names for themselves by fending off the Spaniards. That their resistance succeeded in leaving them unconquered for an additional three hundred years, however, had more to do with their lack of material wealth than their dauntless courage. Latin American tribes fought just as valiantly, but were ultimately overcome by endless hordes of treasure-seekers.

Hapsburg Spain—1516 to 1700

Charles V, Emperor to War of Spanish Succession

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 intrique. 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 easy and sudden wealth were soon to bring about her downfall. During the late Hapsburg era, Spain's American provinces suffered from piracy and smuggling, mainly at the hands of her Protestant enemies. Even more destructive, however, were the indulgence, bureacracy, and lack of industry bread by excessive wealth. 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 dramatically curtailed the power of France.

Leaders of the Counter Reformation—Aside from political developments during the Habsburg era, several very important religious occurances are worthy of note. The Spanish kings tended to see Protestantism primarily as a political threat, and dealt with it in that manner. 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, led these critical reforms.

Besides Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuits, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Bartholomew de Casas, were at the forefront of both the reform of exisiting orders, and the propagation of the faith in the new world. Since the interests of the bishops and parish priests were closely aligned with those of the state, it was primarily the religious orders who had enough independence to promote the interests of the universal church, especially when it opposed the material interests of the crown.

Bourbon Spain—1712 to 1931

Peace of Utrecht to Spanish Civil 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 suprise of all of Europe. Napoleon responded by attempting to crush the insolent Spaniards, but the whole country rose againt him. In the Peninsular War which followed, the 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 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, but in the meantime managed to displease everyone so that he was distrusted by all sides.

The Carlist Wars—A Divided Country—Before 1830, Ferdinand 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 accountabililty for unpopular measures.

Weakened by nearly a century of civil wars, a corrupt government, and widespread resistence 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 devasted 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.

Mexico—1520 to 1921

Conquests of Cortez to Mexican Revolution

Spanish Mexico and Republican 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.

The following summary of Mexican history, including timelines and character lists, is divided into six historical periods, including two major divisions. An outline of the major periods of Mexican history is as follows:

Conquest of Mexico 1519-1535 Hernando Cortez, Dona Marina
Rule of the Viceroys 1536-1810 Antonio de Mendoza, Zumarraga, Juan Diego
Independence and Empire 1810-1823 Miguel Hidalgo, Morales, Guerrero, Agustin Iturbide

Early Republic 1824-1855 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

Note: The three periods of Republican history correspond to the three Constitutions of Mexico, enacted in 1824, 1857, and 1917, under which the Mexican Republic has supposedly been governed.

The anarchy and conflict which characterized 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. Mature students with some knowledge of political history who would like to understand the reasons for a century of turmoil in Republican Mexico can read Causes of Political Unrest in Mexico.

Spanish Mexico

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 rapine greed, cruelty, 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).

In 1542 Charles V promulgated the "New Laws of the Indies" aimed at assuring fair treatment of the natives, but when the Viceroy of Peru attempted to enforce them, he was murdered by irate landowners. Likewise, the Church's official teachings on the treatment of the Indians was invariably charitable, but not always heeded. The racial caste system in Spanish America was another complicating factor, since and there was an influential population of mestizo, or mixed-race citizens, who were often more oppressive of lower-caste Indians than pure-European Spaniards. It is fair to generalize that some of the natives were treated badly, but many others were content to live as Christian peasants and the worst offenses against them were usually the result of local abuses, not official government or Church policy.

During the first two hundred years of Spanish rule in Mexico, the Hapsburg kings permitted a great deal of local autonomy and regional ruled 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 all 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 overthrown 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, 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.

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 promulgated the Monroe Doctrine, which forbid European "interference" with the newly independent American Republics. The decree had nothing to do with promoting Mexican self-government, but was instead motivated by the desire of American and English financial interests to keep access to the markets of Latin America open to them at exactly the time that popular feeling in the newly liberated countries tended to favor a return to their traditional form of government.

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 the mid-1980's, Mexico was run as a single party system. The PRI was corrupt and engaged in blatant voter fraud, but at least it avoided civil war. Only in the last two decades has Mexico developed a genuine multiple-party system.

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.