In what ways, and to what extent, does the concept of Spain’s ‘Golden Age’ apply more specifically to the reign of Philip II than to the whole period 1474 – 1598? Justify your answer by reference to the similarities and differences you detect between the periods before and after the accession of Philip II in 1556? A ‘golden age’ can be interpreted in many ways; it can be a time of great power for a monarch, or a country. It can be described as a time when some activity is at its peak, or as a period of great peace, prosperity and happiness.
I will look at the period 1474 – 1598 to see if any of the monarchs’ reigns meet any of these interpretations of a ‘golden age’. The kingdom of Aragon had its own Cortes, which limited Ferdinand’s power as he was subject to the fueros1. In Castile however, the Cortes were relatively powerless; not necessary to pass laws and had little interest in taxation. No Cortes was called between 1480 and 1498, which is indicative of Isabella’s power. To help keep peace and control Isabella appointed ‘corregidors’, and town councillors.
However these methods were unsuccessful; the town councils became too large and the ‘corregidors’ were disliked and were withdrawn in some cities; Segovia and Burgos, and Aragon. The Royal Council did not increase much in Ferdinand and Isabella’s reign, as they dealt with matters in person and did not delegate to officials. In Aragon the royal authority diminished, and it was run by viceroys, as Ferdinand spent very little time there. There was also no permanent place of government, as Ferdinand and Isabella travelled most of their life, so the administration was wherever they were.
Charles I of Spain had many problems even before he arrived in Spain; the idea of uniting Spain was under threat. He could not pay officials properly, so administration was corrupt, as bribery was often used. However, Charles did make reforms in the administration of Spain; a new Council of State was set-up in 1522, and others soon followed, giving the impression of centralisation. However, this new system had a limited effect, as they were merely extensions of Ferdinand and Isabella’s councils of Aragon and Castile for example, the Council of the Indies, and were only used to deal with new territories.
Charles was still the source of all power, and the Councils only offered advice to him. Therefore, the administration did not change much, and changes that were made were almost ad hoc, as efficiency was only improved because of financial needs. Philip II had many advisors, but he made the final decisions, and Philip wanted to see all paperwork, even small matters like planning permission. This made the administration very slow, as Philip could not look at all the paperwork from all of Spain and his other territories.
However, Philip did build a castle in Madrid, where he lived and this meant that the administration was stationary, not like with his father and Ferdinand and Isabella; wherever they went. This did improve the administration a little, but not by very much; he was too slow at making decisions and he wanted to know all the facts before he made a decision but rarely he got all of the facts. The administration of Spain did not contribute to any of the monarch’s reigns being a ‘golden age’.
It did not change much in the period 1474 – 1598, and the monarchs did not improve it enough; therefore this period did not experience a ‘golden age’ due to its administration. The little changes that were made, were merely extensions of the previous monarchs, or were not for the benefit of the country; they made the administration too slow. Foreign policy may contribute to a monarch’s reign being a ‘golden age’ as increase in land would mean more prestige and more power, and that is what Ferdinand and Isabella received.
The war with Granada ended successfully, in 1492, bringing unity throughout the whole of Spain, and helping relations between the monarch and the nobles, as the nobles were loyal to the crown because they were fighting together to get rid of heresy. The monarchs gained a huge overseas empire; via expeditions, made by Christopher Columbus, sponsored by Isabella; on the West they gained the New World of the Caribbean, Central and South America. On the South they had ports along the North African coast, and on the East they had Sicily, Sardinia and Southern Italy.
They also acquired Cerdagne and Roussillon in 1493 and Navarre in 1515. Ferdinand and Isabella also used their children for their foreign policy; to create alliances they married their daughter, Isabella to Emanuel I the King of Portugal, and when she died her sister married him. Their eldest daughter, Joanna married Philip of Burgundy, and their fourth daughter Catherine was married to Henry VIII of England. Charles I had a huge empire, not only did he inherit the Spanish lands, but he inherited the family Habsburg lands and then the Holy Roman Empire.
Charles was at war with France, over ownership of Milan and the border between France and Netherlands. Charles fought in wars against the Turks, on many occasions, for example, in the Mediterranean in the 1530s and in 1535 to capture Tunis and expel the Ottoman Empire. Charles’ foreign policy was not very successful, and future rulers suffered from these events. A more successful method of foreign policy was Charles’ marriage alliances; daughter Maria married Maximillian II, his nephew and future Holy Roman Emperor, and his other daughter Joanna married the heir to Portugal.
Philip had problems with the Dutch, they wanted their independence, and were revolting throughout most of his reign. Philip, like Charles I saw war against Infidels as a crucial part of his God-given duty, as well as protecting Spanish interests. He wished to deter the Turks, and after many years of war with them, Philip finally settled with the Turks never to fight seriously at sea again, after the victory, in1571. Philip did not manage to destroy the Turks, as they quickly rebuilt their fleets, but it was a success as it persuaded the Turks never to fight Spain again in the Western Mediterranean.
Spain’s war against England was a failure, Philip was afraid that France and England would make an anti-Spanish alliance, so he was preventing that from happening, and was avenging England as they fought against him, alongside the Dutch rebels. Ferdinand and Isabella’s reign was the only reign, throughout the period of 1474 – 1598, that could be considered a ‘golden age’, due to foreign policy. They improved it greatly by gaining lands, and using marriage alliances to improve relations between Spain and rival countries.
Charles or Philip did not experience this success, as their foreign policy often made matters worse. One of the definitions of a ‘golden age’ is a time of prosperity and Ferdinand and Isabella did bring about prosperity in their reign. They received their income from many places; taxation, loans and the church gave them the cruzada2. The Santa Hermandad3 raised 22 million maravedis a year in 1480, and by 1492 32 million maravedis a year. Ferdinand and Isabella loaned approximately 44 million maravedis from powerful aristocracy.
From 1481 – 1510 the annual income had more than doubled from 150 million maravedis to 320 million maravedis a year and 90 percent of it was from the alcabala4, from which the noble and clergy were exempt. Ferdinand and Isabella did not just introduce new taxes but ensured the existing ones were collected efficiently; stating a record of taxes should be kept and tax farmers have their accounts audited every two years. By the end of the reign royal finances were stable, and had enough income to run the government during peacetime.
In contrast Charles’ finances were very poor; as early as 1523, Charles was told his next year’s revenue had already been spent; Ferdinand and Isabella had mortgaged future income to pay for their wars. Ordinary income from Charles’ kingdoms failed to pay for all of his demands, so to meet them Charles loaned excessively from foreign bankers, and by 1546 the income of Castile had been promised for the next three-and-a-half years to them. In 1534, Charles introduced the encabezamiento5, which brought in about 70 percent of the Castilian revenue.
The Pope also contributed the property and revenue of the three great Military Orders, Santiago, Alcantara and Calatrava. Despite this the reign of Charles had some prosperity, as the population was increasing, the New World’s income was rising, from 65,000 ducats a year in 1536 to 175,000 ducats in 1555. During Philip II’s reign income rose, but so did expenditure. In 1559, Philip received 3 million ducats, and by 1590 it had more than tripled to 10 million, due to income from the Church increasing and a large burden being placed on Castile.
The papacy added to the revenue with the excusado6, and in 1560 the New World gave 90,000 ducats a year and that tripled by 1590s. This meant that revenue from the Church and the New World increased fourfold during Philip’s reign to 1. 4 million ducats a year in the 1590s. He also introduced millones7, sold noble titles and government offices, but the royal expenditure was too great to balance with the income, in fact Philip had to declare bankruptcy four times; 1557, 1560, 1576 and 1596. Philip had inherited large debts from Charles which meant a large part of the annual income was spent paying them off.
The greatest expenditure was on Spanish warfare, paying for the Dutch Revolt started in 1567 but carried on throughout Philip’s reign. There were various other expenditures, such as funding for Spanish army campaigns in France, and the building of El Escorial. Finance was poor throughout the period 1474 – 1598; the various monarchs left debts to their respective successors, despite the fact that in each reign income rose significantly. Ferdinand and Isabella’s reign could be considered a ‘golden age’, because they also made beneficial changes in finance, not only initiating new taxes, but ensuring old ones were collected more efficiently.
At the beginning of Ferdinand and Isabella’s reign the Spanish church only owed allegiance to the Pope in Rome, and the nobility only fought for the church. However, when conquering Granada, Ferdinand claimed he was doing it to ‘expel from all Spain the enemies of the Catholic faith’. Due to this the monarchs got approval as well as funding for the reconquest by the church, as they were spreading Roman Catholicism; this also made them more loyal to the crown. This meant the two most powerful groups; church and nobles were supporting the Crown, so Ferdinand had turned potentially powerful opponents into loyal and trusted allies.
It also did much to enhance the prestige of the monarchs and they received the titles ‘The Catholic Kings’, in 1494 from the Pope. The Pope also granted them complete control over the church in Granada, resulting in an Erastian church8 being established and thus papal control deteriorating. They also introduced the Spanish Inquisition which dealt with Moriscos and Conversos9 that were suspected of reconverting back to their religions. Charles I’s principal aim was to get rid of Protestant Reformation.
He did not however achieve this, so he tried to defeat the Turks, which was unsuccessful too. Therefore religion did not change much throughout Charles’ reign and Charles got on reasonably well with the Popes. Philip devoted more time to religion, as he was a devout Roman Catholic; however he had a stormy relationship with the various Popes. The Popes were concerned with the extent of Philip’s control over the Spanish Church, and that he would not give up the rights and privileges he had inherited.
It was traditionally seen that Philip used the Inquisition as an instrument of repression, which involved prosecution by torture and burnings. Modern historians have found that this was not the case, and usual punishments were mainly fines or public penances. Philip made many reforms in the Spanish church; he reorganised the dioceses, improved the life of the regular clergy and encouraged missionary work. He welcomed other new reforms to the church, such as the Council of Trent which put renewed emphasis on education for clergy and laymen and made parish clergy keep records of births, death and marriages.
Ferdinand and Isabella’s reign could be described as a ‘golden age’, as they made great changes in religion; they made the first steps towards getting rid of Muslims in Spain, with the Granada conquest, and by introducing the Spanish Inquisition they aimed to get rid of all heretics, resulting in more power over the Spanish people. Philip II also made changes in religion; he improved the life of clergyman, as well as reforming the church to make it less corrupt, but his reign could not be described as a ‘golden age’, as he did not increase his power much.
Philip II’s reign was a ‘golden age’ in some areas, the people loved him, and he was eliminating heresy in Spain. He was very powerful; he gained more lands increasing his power and, control over the Spanish church increased. However all the monarchs in the period 1474 – 1598 experienced this, so the whole period could be described as a ‘golden age’, as the monarchs were respected and loved, they had control over the nobles and the church and they had conquered more land making them more powerful.
The concept of Spain’s ‘golden age’ does not apply more specifically to Philip II’s reign as it was not a ‘golden age’ in other ways. Philip endured many problems, experiencing bankruptcy four times, being at war with other countries and not making successful alliances. However, Ferdinand and Isabella’s reign could be described as a ‘golden age’, as they were mainly at peace, they eradicated heresy and internal enemies, their finances were reasonably balanced, and they made Spain a great power in Europe.