The Decline of Spain

Spain had stepped onto the stage as a world power with several key events that occurred in the late 15th century. With the marriage of King Ferdinand of Aragon to Queen Isabella of Castile in 1469, Spain went from being several small kingdoms to nearly what we would recognize today. In addition, the Muslim stronghold in Spain was finally defeated at the recapture of Grenada in 1492 after nearly 800 years of occupation. This new strength gained from centralization gave Spain the means to expand further, reaching out to the New World. However, all good things must come to an end.

The decline of Spain was marked by a crucial event that took place in 1588. Philip II, who was also the governor of the Netherlands, was the King of Spain. He believed that religious unity would strengthen his territory, so he began an inquisition of the Protestants. However, after pressure from his daughter, the regent of the Netherlands, he ended the persecution. The Protestants then began getting fearless, holding large public meetings where members showed up armed. Radical iconoclasts also vandalized Church property. Eventually the situation escalated into a rebellion when Philip sent in the Duke of Alba with 10,000 troops. During this time the English had been aiding the Dutch revolt by attacking Spanish shipping. Philip retaliated by sending in the Spanish Armada, a fleet of 130 ships, with the purpose of escorting the Spanish army to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I. The Armada was decisively defeated by the English in 1588. Spain suffered great loss, and the Armada returned with only 67 of the 130 ships that had went out. 15 ships were wrecked on the return voyage. 20,000 men were dead, and those that remained were nearly dead from disease by the time they made their way home. This event marked the decline of Spain as a world power

Economic issues also contributed to the Spanish decline. Many industries were controlled by government aided monopolies, excluding any beneficial competition. Much of Spain’s wealth came from New World gold, which would not last forever. Severely effected by plagues, the population was devastated. In Aragon and Castile, the population went from 10 million in 1590 to 6 million in 1700. The Duke of Lerma, a government official appointed by Philip III, expelled all of the Moriscoes (converted Muslims) from Spain, an act the severely disrupted the economy. Around 400,000 people were told they had to leave the county in three days. There were several rebellions, among which were the Catalonian Rebellion and the rebellion of the Portuguese, who won their independence in 1668. All of these are examples of factors that contributed the decline of Spain in the years following the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

The defeat of Spain’s naval fleet at the hands of the English, the government monopolies, the reliance on gold from the New World, the plagues and rebellions that devastated Spain; all these are examples of how this once-great country fell into decline. One of the most important outcomes of this decline was that Spain was forced to scale-back on its exploits across the seas and focus more energy on the issues at home.


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