Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
History of Spain
It is traditional (at least, since the 19th century) to start the history of modern Spain with the Visigoth kingdom. Although it is debatable whether there is continuity between it and the Kingdom of Castilla and Aragon after the 15th century, a discussion of modern Spain would be incomplete without a mention of the Visigoth Kingdom. Accordingly, both it and Al Andalus have their own sections in this article, but should have full-blown articles of their own.
Before the Roman Empire, the Iberian Peninsula was never politically unified, see Preroman Iberia for a discussion of the indigenous Celtiberian groups and the trading ports established by the Greek, Tyrian (Phoenician), and later Carthaginian along the Mediterranean coast.
Roman Iberia is discussed under Hispania and in entries keyed to the Roman provinces into which it was divided: Hispania Ulterior and Hispania Citerior during the late Roman Republic; and, during the Roman Empire, Hispania Taraconensis in the northeast, Hispania Baetica in the south (roughly corresponding to Andalucia), and Lusitania in the southwest (corresponding to modern Portugal).
Visigothic Hispania (5th-8th centuries)
Main article: Visigothic Hispania
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Germanic tribes invaded the former empire, several turned sedentary and created successor-kingdoms to the Romans in various parts of Europe. Iberia was taken over by the Visigoths after 410.
In the Iberian peninsula, as elsewhere, the Empire fell not with a bang but with a whimper. Rather than there being any convenient date for the "fall of the Roman Empire" there was a progressive "de-Romanization" of the Western Roman Empire in Hispania and a weakening of central authority, throughout the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries. At the same time, there was a process of "Romanization" of the Germanic and Hunnic tribes settled on both sides of the limes (the fortified frontier of the Empire along the Rhine and Danube rivers). The Visigoths, for example, were converted to Arian Christianity around 360, even before they were pushed into imperial territory by the expansion of the Huns. In the winter of 406, taking advantage of the frozen Rhine, the (Germanic) Vandals and Sueves, and the (Asiatic) Alans invaded the empire in force. Three years later they crossed the Pyrenees into Iberia and divided the Western parts, roughly corresponding to modern Portugal and western Spain as far as Madrid, between them. The Visigoths meanwhile, having sacked Rome two years earlier, arrived in the region in 412 founding the Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse (in the south of modern France) and gradually expanded their influence into the Iberian peninsula at the expense of the Vandals and Alans, who moved on into North Africa without leaving much permanent mark on Hispanic culture. The Visigothic kingdom shifted its capital to Toledo and reached a high point during the reign of Leovigild, treated in some detail at its own entry.
Importantly, Spain never entered the period of the Dark Ages such as were endured in Britain, Gaul, Lombardy and Germany. The Visigoths tended to maintain more of the old Roman institutions, and they had a unique respect for legal codes that resulted in continuous frameworks and historical records for most of the period between 415, when Visigothic rule in Spain began, and 711, when it is traditionally said to end. The proximity of the Visigothic kingdoms to the Mediterranean and the continuity of western Mediterranean trade, though in reduced quantity, supported Visigothic culture. Arian Visigothic nobility kept apart from the local Catholic population. The Visigoth ruling class looked to Constantinople for style and technology while the rivals of Visigothic power and culture were the Catholic bishops— and a brief incursion of Byzantine power in Cordoba.
The period of Visigothic rule saw the spread of Arianism briefly in Spain. In 587, Reccared, the Visigothic king at Toledo, having been converted to Catholicism put an end to dissension on the question of Arianism and launched a movement in Spain to unify the various religious doctrines that existed in the land. The Council of Lerida in 546 constrained the clergy and extended the power of law over them under the blessings of Rome.
The Visigoths inherited from Late Antiquity a sort of feudal system in Spain, based in the south of the Roman villa system and in the north drawing on their vassals to supply troops in exchange for protection. The bulk of the Visigothic army was composed of slaves, raised from the countryside. The loose council of nobles that advised Spain's Visigothic kings and legitimized their rule was responsible for raising the army, and only upon its consent was the king able to summon soldiers.
The impact of Visigothic rule was not widely felt on society at large, and certainly not compared to the vast bureaucracy of the Roman Empire; they tended to rule as barbarians of a mild sort, disinterested in the events of the nation and economy, working for personal benefit, and little literature remains to us from the period. They did not, until the period of Muslim rule, merge with the Spanish population, preferring to remain separate, and indeed the Visigothic language left only the faintest mark on the modern languages of Iberia. The most visible effect was the depopulation of the cities as they moved to the countryside. Even while the country enjoyed a degree of prosperity when compared to the famines of France and Germany in this period, the Visigoths felt little reason to contribute to the welfare, permanency, and infrastructure of their people and state. This contributed to their downfall as they could not count on the loyalty of their subjects, when the Moors arrived in the 8th century.
Al-Andalus (8th-15th centuries)
Main article: Al Andalus
In 711, Arabs and Berbers had converted to Islam, a religion founded in the 7th century by prophet Muhammad and which by the 8th dominated all the north of Africa. A raiding party led by Tariq ibn-Ziyad was sent to intervene in a civil war in the Visigothic kingdoms in Iberia. Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, it won a decisive victory in the summer of 711 when the Visigoth king Roderic was defeated and killed on July 19th at the Battle of Guadalete. Tariq's commander, Musa bin Nusair quickly crossed with substantial reinforcements, and by 718 the Muslims dominated most of the peninsula. The advance into Europe was stopped by the Franks under Charles Martel at the battle of Poitiers (France) in 732.
The rulers of Al-Andalus were granted the rank of Emir by the Umayyad Caliph in Damascus. After the Umayyad were overthrown by the Abbasids, Abd-ar-rahman I declared Cordoba an independent emirate. Al-Andalus was rife with internal conflict between the Arab Umayyad rulers, the Berber (North African) commoners and the Visigoth-Roman Christian population. Many of the Berbers, who had been given poor land in the northern parts of the peninsula, soon abandoned their estates and returned to Africa after a number of years with failed harvests. The lands were left unclaimed through disinterest, and this created a power vacuum where Christian kingdoms later would rise.
In the 10th century Abd-ar-rahman III declared the Caliphate of Cordoba, effectively breaking all ties with the Egyptian and Syrian Caliphs. The Caliphate was mostly concerned with maintaining its power base in North Africa, but these possessions eventually dwindled to the Ceuta province. Meanwhile, a slow but steady migration of Christian subjects to the northern kingdoms was slowly increasing the power of the northern kingdoms. Even so, Al-Andalus remained vastly superior to all the northern kingdoms combined in population, economy, culture and military might, and internal conflict between the Christian kingdoms contributed to keep them relatively harmless.
Muslim interest in the peninsula returned in force around the year 1000. Under Al-Mansur (a.k.a. Almanzor), who sacked Barcelona (985), and subsequently his son, Christian cities were subjected to numerous raids. After his son's death, the Caliphate plunged into a civil war and splintered into the so-called "Taifa Kingdoms". The Taifa kings competed against each other not only in war, but also in the protection of the arts, and culture enjoyed a brief upswing. The Taifa kingdoms lost ground to the Christian realms in the north and, after the loss of Toledo in 1085, the Muslim rulers reluctantly invited the Almoravides, who invaded Al-Andalus from North Africa and established an empire. In the 12th century the Almoravide empire broke up again, only to be taken over by the Almohad invasion, who were defeated in the decisive battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. By the mid-13th century Granada was the only independent Muslim realm in Spain, which would last until 1492.
Reconquista (8th-15th centuries)
Main article: Reconquista
The expulsion of the Muslims was reputedly started by the first King of Asturias, named Pelayo (718-737), who started his fight against the Moors in the mountains of Covadonga (722). Later, his sons and descendants continued with his work until all of the Muslims were expelled. See Pelayo for more information.
Meanwhile, in the east of the peninsula the Frankish emperors established the Marca Hispanica across the Pyrenees in part of what today is Catalonia, reconquering Girona in 785 and Barcelona in 801. It was a buffer zone against Islam.
The idea of the Reconquista as a single process spanning eight centuries is historically inaccurate. The Christian realms in northern Spain warred against each other as much as against the Muslims. The ancient Kingdom of Asturias clung to the loose mountains of northeastern Spain, with its capital at Oviedo, while the Basques in Navarre retained sovereignty through the period of Muslim rule. The military decline of the Ummayads in Spain led to the creation in 913 of the Kingdom of León. Sancho III of Navarre - a man of considerable military skill - placed his son Fernando on the throne of the County of Castilla in 1028, propelling Christian Spain yet further into the south. Ferdinand was a prudent and pious monarch, unifying Navarre, Galicia, Asturias, and León under his leadership. Because the tradition of primogeniture did not yet exist in Spain, upon Fernando's death in 1065 his lands were divided among his sons, Alfonso VI of Castilla, Sancho II of Castilla , and García of Galicia . Alfonso attempted to take Sancho's land, although the latter apparently inherited more of his father's tact and strategy, and after defeating him sent Alfonso into exile. García never ruled, and was imprisoned for the duration of his short life.
Sancho's death in 1072 meant that Alfonso VI had the superior claim, and he returned to power, once again in command of all of Fernando I's domains. Alfonso was an impressive leader as well, and did much to improve his realm to become one of Christian Europe's foremost monarchies, tolerating Muslims to an extent remarkable for his time. During his reign, El Cid, the 11th century hero of Spain's epic poem was banished and found refuge with the Muslim king of Zaragoza. With the collapse of the Caliphate of Córdoba, Al-Andalus had broken apart into a number of small, warring domains, which contributed to the success of Alfonso's southward expansionist drive of the Christian kingdoms, culminating with the conquest of Toledo in 1085. After the invasion of the Almoravides, his progress was checked.
On the death of Alfonso VII, León and Castilla were again divided, although the division was not permanent: Alfonso IX's son Fernando by Berenguela of Castilla, united the two realms on his accession to Leon in 1230. Called the Saint, Fernando fought for most of his reign against the Moors in the south. The reconquest of Spain had been declared a crusade at the turn of the 13th century, but when all lands but Granada had been conquered, most of its energy was spent. Fernando's reign was the beginning of Spain's prominence in European affairs, ending the diplomatic isolation brought on by his father's clashes with the Pope over his marriages. The University of Salamanca - one of Europe's oldest - was built during his reign and spawned an early Christian school of thought in economics. Ferdanado's successor, Alfonso X the Learned, helped to reintroduce classical thought to Europe from the Moorish libraries and universities. Succeeding monarchs, allied to the Kingdom of Aragón, succeeded in driving the Muslims further south, capturing Gibraltar in 1309. The despotic and bloody rule of Pedro el Cruel caused him to be ousted in 1366 briefly. Pedro's wars with Aragón caused Castilla's power to weaken briefly.
A revived movement for the Christian unification of Spain was capitalized on by the "Catholic monarchs" (Reyes Católicos in Spanish) Isabel I of Castilla and Fernando II of Aragón in order to justify their invasion of Granada, the expulsion of the Jews and the forceful conversion of the Moors. In the 15th century, the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were united under Isabel and Fernando. These two able rulers ruled jointly and worked to consolidate the power of the monarchy at the expense of the nobility. During their reign, the castles of many nobles (symbols of aristocratic independence from the monarchy) were demolished, and a system of regular taxation was established. Fernando and Isabel established the basis for the unification of Spain religiously as well as politically and economically. Under their rule the Muslims were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula. Aragón was at that time already an important maritime power in the Mediterranean, and Castile was in competition with Portugal for domination of the Atlantic Ocean. After the final conquest of the last Moorish stronghold at Granada in 1492, Spain started financing voyages of exploration. Those of Genoa-born Cristoforo Columbo brought a New World to Europe's attention, and were followed by the Conquistadores who brought the native empires of Mesoamerica and the Inca under Spanish control. At the same time, the Jews of Spain were ordered on March 30, 1492 to convert to Christianity or be exiled from the country.
In 1499, about 50,000 Moors in Granada were coerced by Cardinal Cisneros into mass baptisms and conversion. During the uprising that followed (known as the First Rebellion of the Alpujarras ), people who refused the choices of baptism or deportation to Africa, were systematically eliminated. What followed was a mass flee of Moors, Jews and Gitanos from Granada city and the villages to the mountain regions (and their hills) and the rural country, however by 1500 Cisneros reported that "There is now no one in the city who is not a Christian, and all the mosques are churches".
Through a policy of alliances with other European nobility and the conquest of most of South America and the West Indies, Spain began to establish itself as an empire. The Treaty of Tordesillas, negotiated by Pope Alexander VI between Portugal and Spain, effectively divided up the non-European world between these two budding empires. Massive amounts of gold and silver were imported from the New World into Spain's coffers. However, in the long run this hurt the Spanish economy much more than it helped it. The bullion caused high inflation rates, which undermined the value of Spain's currency. Additionally, Spain became dependent on her colonies for income, and when Queen Elizabeth I of England began to capture Spanish vessels on the way to and from the New World, Spain suffered massive economic losses. These effects, combined with the expulsion of Spain's most economically vital classes in the late 15th century (the Jews and the Moors), caused Spain's economy to collapse several times in the 16th century, bringing the Golden Age of Spain to a close.
Spain under the Habsburgs (16th-17th centuries)
Main article: Habsburg Spain
Spain's powerful world empire of the 16th and 17th centuries reached its height and declined under the Habsburgs. The Spanish empire reached its maximum extent under Charles I of Spain, who was also (as Charles V) emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
Charles became king in 1516, and the history of Spain became even more firmly enmeshed with the dynastic struggles in Europe. During his reign, the Spanish economy was drastically reoriented by the beginnings of the influx of precious metals from America. The king was not often in Spain, and as he approached the end of his life he made provision for the division of the Habsburg inheritance into two parts: on the one hand Spain, and its posessions in the Mediterranean and overseas, and the Holy Roman Empire itself on the other. The Habsburg possessions in The Netherlands also remained with the Spanish crown.
This was to prove a difficulty for his successor Philip II of Spain, who became king on Charles's adbdication in 1556. Spain largely escaped the religious conflicts that were raging throughout the rest of Europe, and remained firmly Roman Catholic. Philip saw himself as a champion of Catholicism, both against the Turks and the heretics. In the 1560s, plans to consolidate control of the Netherlands led to unrest, which gradually led to the Calvinist leadership of the revolt and the Eighty Years' War. This conflict consumed much Spanish expenditure, and led to an attempt to conquer England – a cautious supporter of the Dutch – in the unsuccessful Spanish Armada.
Despite these problems, the large inflow of American gold and the justified military reputation of the Spanish infantry made Spain the leading European power, a novel situation of which its citizens were only just becoming aware. The union with Portugal in 1580 not only unified the peninsula, but added that country's worldwide resources to the Spanish crown. However, economic and administrative problems multiplied in Castile, and the weakness of the native economy became evident in the following century: rising inflation, the expulsion of the Jews and Moors from Spain, and the dependency of Spain on the gold and silver imports combined to cause multiple bankruptcies and economic crashes in Spain.
Philip II died in 1598, and was succeeded by his son Philip III of Spain, in whose reign a ten year truce with the Dutch was overshadowed in 1618 by Spain's involvement in the European-wide Thirty Years' War. Government policy was dominated by favourites, but it was also the reign in which the geniuses of Cervantes and El Greco flourished.
Philip III was succeded in 1621 by his son Philip IV of Spain. Much of the policy was conducted by the minister Gaspar de Guzman, conde de Olivares. In 1640, with the war in central Europe having no clear winner except the French, both Portugal and Catalonia rebelled. Portugal was lost to the crown for good, Catalonia was suppressed. In the reign of Philip's son and successor Charles II of Spain, Spain was gradually being reduced to a second-rank power.
The Habsburg dynasty became extinct in Spain and the War of the Spanish Succession ensued in which the other European powers tried to assume control of the Spanish monarchy. King Louis XIV of France eventually "won" the War the of Spanish Succession, and control of Spain passed to the Bourbon dynasty.
The Enlightenment: Spain under the Bourbons (18th century)
Main article: Enlightenment Spain
Philip V, the first Bourbon king, of French origin, signed the Decreto de Nueva Planta in 1715, a new law that revoked most of the historical rights and privileges of the different kingdoms that conformed the Spanish Crown, unifying them under the laws of Castile, where the Cortes had been more receptive to the royal wish. Spain became culturally and politically a follower of France. The rule of the Spanish Bourbons continued under Ferdinand VI and Charles III.
Under the rule of Charles III and his ministers, Leopoldo de Gregorio, Marquis of Esquilache and José Moñino, Count of Floridablanca, Spain embarked on a program of enlightened despotism that brought Spain a new prosperity in the middle of the eighteenth century. After losing alongside France against the United Kingdom in the Seven Years' War, Spain recouped most of her territorial losses in the American Revolutionary War. The reforming spirit of Charles III was extinguished in the reign of his son, Carlos IV, seen by some as mentally handicapped. Dominated by his wife's lover, Manuel de Godoy, Charles IV embarked on policies that overturned much of Charles III's reforms. After briefly opposing Revolutionary France early in the French Revolutionary Wars, Spain soon allied with her northern neighbor, only to be blockaded by the British. The loss of commercial and political ties to her colonies would lead to the independence of most of the Spanish Empire in the New World. Charles IV's vacillation as a loyal French ally led Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, to invade Spain in 1808, beginning the Peninsular War.
Under the Bonaparte dynasty, Spain failed to embrace the mercantile and industrial revolutions of the 18th century, and also failed to absorb the ideals that of the Enlightenment that were revolutionizing European thought. These missed opportunities, combined with the economic and military failures of the 17th century, caused the country to fall desperately behind Britain, France, and Germany in economic and political power.
Napoleonic Wars: War of Spanish Independence (1808-1812)
The Napoleonic invasion gave the opportunity to the American colonies, led by Libertadores, to claim their independence. Between 1810 and 1824, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and the other colonies declared and won their independence. The only New World colonies Spain was left with were the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico.
The Allies fought Napoleon's forces in the Peninsular War, with Joseph Bonaparte ruling as king at Madrid. In 1812 the Cortes took refuge at Cádiz and created the first modern Spanish constitution, the Constitution of 1812 (informally named La Pepa).
Reign of Fernando VII (1814-1833)
1814-1820 [Vivan las caenas] - The Spanish people, blaming the liberal, enlightened policies of the francophiles (afrancesados) for the Napoleonic occupation, at first welcomed the authoritarian rule of Fernando VII. The Constitution of 1812 was immediately revoked by the returning king Fernando VII in May 1814.
1820-1823 [Trienio Liberal] - After the pronunciamento (coup d'etat) by Rafael del Riego, the king was forced to accept the liberal Constitution of 1812.
1823-1833 [Decada ominosa] - Another coup d'etat revoked the Constitution, executed Riego, and restored Fernando VII as absolute monarch.
Regency by Maria Cristina
see also Tomás de Zumalacárregui
Amadeus I of Spain of the House of Savoy
The "disaster" of 1898
In 1898 Spain lost the Spanish-American War. Cuba gained its independence, and Spain lost its remaining New World colonies—Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico—to the United States. Spain's colonial possessions were reduced to Spanish Morocco, Western Sahara and Equatorial Guinea.
The "disaster" of Annual (1921)
Mistreatment of the Moorish population in Morocco led to an uprising and the loss of all North African possessions except for the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in 1921. Abd el-Krim, Annual. In order to avoid accountability, the king Alfonso XIII decided to support the dictatorship of general Miguel Primo de Rivera.
The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923-1930)
The dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera collapsed in 1930. Disgusted with the king's involvement in it, urban population voted for republican parties in the municipal elections of April 1931. The king was forced to resign and a republic was established.
The first governments of the Republic, were center-left, headed by Niceto Alcalá-Zamora, and Manuel Azaña. In 1933, the right-wing CEDA won power; an armed rising of workers of October 1934, which reached its greatest intensity in Asturias and Catalonia, was forcefully put down by the CEDA government.
See: Spanish Civil War
Spain remained officially neutral in World Wars I and II, but suffered through a devastating Civil War (1936-39). During Franco's rule, Spain remained largely economically and culturally isolated from the outside world, but slowly began to catch up economically with its European neighbors.
Under Franco, Spain actively sought the return of Gibraltar by the UK, and gained some support for its cause at the United Nations. During the 1960s, Spain began imposing restrictions on Gibraltar, culminating in the closure of the border in 1969. It was not fully reopened until 1985.
Spanish rule in Morocco ended in 1956. Though militarily victorious in the 1957-1958 Moroccan invasion of Spanish West Africa, Spain gradually relinquished its remaining African colonies. Spanish Guinea was granted independence as Equatorial Guinea in 1968, while the Moroccan enclave of Ifni had been ceded to Morocco in 1969.
The latter years of Franco's rule saw some economic and political liberalization, the so-called Spanish Miracle, including the birth of a tourism industry. Francisco Franco ruled until his death on November 20th 1975 when control was given to King Juan Carlos.
In the last few months before Franco's death, the Spanish state went into a paralysis. This was capitalized upon by King Hassan of Morocco, who ordered the 'Green March' into Western Sahara, Spain's last colonial possession.
The transition to democracy 1975-1978
At present, Spain is a constitutional monarchy, and is comprised of 17 autonomous communities (Andalucía, Aragón, Asturias, Illes Balears, Islas Canarias, Cantabria, Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha, Catalunya, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, País Vasco, Comunitat Valenciana, Navarra, Ceuta and Melilla). One of the most important problems facing Spain today is ETA's terrorism - this illegal organization defends Basque independence through violent means, which is condemned by both Central and Basque government, although there is tension between these governments since PNV (the party presently governing Basque Country) longs for greater autonomy from Spain, including the possibility of independence, something Spanish government doesn't accept.
Spain since 1978
[Spain 1978-1982] The Unión del Centro Democrático governments. 1981 The 23-F coup d'état attempt. On February 23 Antonio Tejero, with members of the Guardia Civil entered the Spanish Congress of Deputies, and stopped the session, where Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo was going to be named president of the government. Officially, the coup d'état failed thanks to King Juan Carlos.
[Spain 1996-2004] The Partido Popular governments of José María Aznar. On January 1, 1999 Spain exchanges the peseta for the new euro currency. On March 11 2004 a number of terrorist bombs exploded on busy commuter trains in Madrid during the morning rush-hour days before the general election. José María Aznar quickly accuses ETA however soon after it becomes apparent that the bombing was the work of an extremist Islamic group linked to Al-Qaida. Many believe that this attack directly influenced the results of the election. Opinion polls at the time show that the difference between the two main contenders was too close to make an accurate judgement.
[Spain 2004-] José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's Socialist government.
- Calendario del siglo de oro, a timeline of Spain's Golden Age 1469-1700
- The Transition and After, a timeline of Spain 1975-present
- Spanish Empire at MSN Encarta
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