The Struggle For Empire - Europe Discovers The New World

spanish english spain england henry king french dutch royal power

The Spaniards. No nation, as previously shown, was more successful as a colonizer in the sixteenth century than Spain. But its success was ephemeral, for within the polity of Spain there existed fundamental weaknesses. These deficiencies would deny Spain the strength needed in the long struggle for empire. The Spanish kingdom was actually a union of Castile and Aragon resulting from the marriage, in 1469, of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. Spain, as a result, lacked the cohesiveness of common national institutions. The two sections had only the shared experience of centuries of Moorish occupation, and of the unceasing hostility of the Roman Catholic Church to the Moors, to STRUGGLE-EMPIRE-EUROPE-DISCOVERS-WORLD unite them. To maintain the faith intact during the period of Moorish occupation, the Church evolved a church court, the Inquisition, which eventually extended its authority into all corners of the kingdom. The final conquest of the Moors in 1492 at Granada completed the outline of Spain; it did not provide the unifying cement. Unlike their European counterparts, who used the merchant classes in their struggles, the Spanish monarchs seized upon Catholicism as their weapon for uniting Spain. The Sephardic Jews, long resident in Spain, were expelled in 1492 in an attempt to make the faith even more secure. The centuries-old struggle to keep the faith against the allures of the Moor now became a struggle against the Marranos (Jews who had converted to Catholicism) and the Moriscos (Moors who had likewise converted). Spain's national identity was forged with the steel of intolerance: to be Spanish was to be Catholic, and the Spanish king was "His Most Catholic Majesty." Unfortunately for the future of Spain, the refusal to foster the aspirations of an expanding middle class deprived the Spanish monarchy of the ambition and energy that might have enabled it to win the sixteenth-century struggle for empire.

Ruled by a central government with all-pervasive powers, Spain operated under a rigidly defined class and caste system. The authority of the Spanish king was absolute. Royal authority in the colonies was enforced through the Council of the Indies, which was permitted to make laws without consulting the Spanish or native inhabitants, to appoint all governing officials, to serve as a final court of justice, and to regulate colonial economic life. A branch of the council called the Casa de Contratacion rigidly supervised Spanish trade as a royal monopoly, denying access to American ports to all but those Spanish merchants authorized by the Casa. No effort was made to conceal the purpose of the royal trade monopoly - it was to insure the Crown an abundance of precious bullion. This Spanish preoccupation with bullionism resulted in her failure to develop home industry; rather, she looked to northern Europe to supply her with her manufactured needs. It is now evident that Spain, in serving to funnel a vast quantity of new wealth into western Europe, stimulated an infant capitalism that later helped to undermine Spanish hegemony in the New World.

Paralleling monarchical centralism were the activities of the Inquisition. With fierce energy the Inquisitor stamped out heresy wherever found. To keep Spanish Catholicism pure, a rigid and arid censorship repressed the intellectual life of both the Iberian and colonial Spaniard. No nook or cranny of Spanish life escaped the authority of the Crown and the Church. Before the end of the sixteenth century, Philip II had brought priestly asceticism to the monarchy. From the bleak monastery of San Lorenzo de Escorial, Philip launched the Spanish Armada on its mission to subdue the arch-heretic, Elizabeth of England. With the defeat of the Armada in 1588, the power of Spain gradually but steadily declined; and the steady accession of England to world dominance began.

The Beginnings of New France. Britain was not alone in her challenge to Spain. France, struggling to resolve the civil wars that divided her, had neglected empire building before the seventeenth century. Between 1461 and 1483 Louis XI built up a royal army with which he ruthlessly suppressed brigands and recalcitrant nobles. Able to rule, as a result, without the Estates-General, he energetically suppressed feudal rights, forced towns to relinquish their ancient charters, and compelled the nobles to accept his pre-eminence. Francis I of France, who succeeded to the throne in 1515, agreed to divide control of the Gallican Church with the Papacy. In return for a secure income from the French hierarchy, Pope Leo X surrendered appointment of the hierarchy to the French King. A series of struggles between the monarchs, the noblemen, and the Catholic hierarchy ensued.

The accession of Henry IV to the French throne in 1589, and the issuance in 1598 of the Edict of Nantes, which assured the Huguenots religious toleration and political safety, eased religious conflicts. As civil controversy declined, Henry IV set out to revitalize French claims to the New World north of the fortieth parallel. The explorations of Verrazano (an Italian sailing for France in 1524), de Gonneville, and the three voyages of Jacques Cartier (1534, 1536, 1541) provided the basis for a royal grant in 1603 to Pierre du Guast, comte de Monts, a Huguenot nobleman, of that part of the North American continent between the latitudes 40° and 46°. This generous grant of land in an area claimed by England became the source of the more than a centuryand-a-half struggle between the English and the French for control of the North American continent.

Almost from the start the French occupied themselves with exploiting the fur trade. Beginning in 1609, under the guidance of Samuel de Champlain, a complex system of alliances between the French king and the Algonquin-Huron Indians was constructed. However, Champlain earned for France the undying enmity of the Iroquois Confederation by helping to drive them from the St. Lawrence Valley. The Iroquois, allying themselves first with the Dutch traders in northern New York and later with the English, presented an impenetrable barrier to French expansion southward. Champlain had also explored (or sent other Frenchmen to explore) much of the upper Mississippi Valley. At Quebec, Champlain and de Monts established a colony which conducted the fur trade. French settlers, known as habitants, farmed the banks of the St. Lawrence River for large landholders who developed a near-feudal system.

As with the Spaniards, French Catholic missionaries, especially Jesuits, actively propagated their faith among the Indian tribes and aided in the exploration of New France. In 1673, Pere Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit, and his companion, Louis Joliet, explored the upper Mississippi River.

Extension of royal supervision became the characteristic policy of the French after Louis XIV assumed personal direction of French affairs in 1661. Canada was ruled by an intendant directly responsible to the king, and vested with the full power of his royal master. Jean Talon, the first intendant, made swift use of his authority by attacking and defeating the Iroquois in 1666. Employing accepted mercantilist principles, Talon reorganized the fur trade with the intention of maximizing profits for France. A successor, Louis, Count de Frontenac, using the talents of the brilliant Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, erected a series of forts as far west as the Illinois River. In 1684 La Salle himself launched an attack upon Spanish holdings at the mouth of the Mississippi River, but this effort failed when La Salle was murdered by members of his expedition.

When, in 1689, Louis XIV questioned the legitimacy of William of Orange's accession to the English throne, the first of four wars between France and England erupted. Known in America as King William's War, it was but a minor skirmish in the larger struggle of Louis XIV to establish French dominance over western Europe. Unable to best the combined fleets of England and the Netherlands, France finally accepted the Peace of Ryswick (1697), which left unresolved the issues that had provoked the war. In the New World, English efforts to conquer Quebec failed.

The tendency toward an increasing concentration of power within the French monarchy, amply evident after the accession of Louis XIV to the throne, fostered a crucial weakness. What the king willed was done; what he ignored was left undone. An all-pervasive power, extended into the New World, eventually proved stultifying.

The Dutch. The Spanish Hapsburgs had inherited the Netherlands through a wisely arranged marriage. But the antagonisms between the Netherlands and Spain intensified as religious controversy accentuated the obvious differences between the two countries. The bleak Calvinism of Holland, supplemented by its love of personal liberty, proved a vigorous match for the severities of the Spanish Inquisition and the feared Spanish infantry. The repulse of the Armada intensified the Dutch revolts which terminated, in 1648, in the establishment of Dutch independence. The Dutch Republic, ruled by a States-General and a hereditary staathalter, the eldest male of the House of Orange, then launched a vigorous campaign to create an empire of its own.

The Dutch East India Company was organized as early as 1602 to guide Dutch expansion abroad, and within a short time it had practically expelled the Portuguese from the East Indies and gained a near-monopoly in the distribution of spices in Europe. In 1621 the West India Company was formed to supervise Dutch exploitation of New World wealth. In 1609 Henry Hudson, searching for the Northwest Passage, established the Dutch claim to the majestic harbor and river valley that would become New York, but it was not until 1624 that the West India Company exploited this claim with the establishment of New Amsterdam at this vital point as a trading post. The energetic Company traders, who had already built a merchant fleet of more than 10,000 ships, gave to the Dutch settlement here and northward in the Hudson Valley one of its essential characteristics - the pursuit of profit. Equally important, the extension of toleration in 1632 to the Arminians, a radical Protestant sect, inaugurated the policy of religious tolerance that soon made New Amsterdam a polyglot port.

The Dutch temporarily extended their influence in 1655, when they expelled the Swedes from a colony they had established in 1639, under the Swedish flag, in the lower Delaware Valley. But the Dutch had failed in several respects, and what had at first seemed a flourishing colony was actually entering a sustained decline. A lack of political rights for colonists had highlighted the autocratic regime of the West India Company from the beginning. Though Peter Stuyvesant is probably best remembered as a colorful, peg-legged governor, he was - as were his predecessors - a petty tyrant. In addition, the Dutch, fearful of the growing power of the English settlements north and south of their holdings, encouraged settlement in the New Amsterdam area by offering vast grants of land to anyone who brought fifty families to the New Netherlands at his own expense. These patroons exercised (even into the nineteenth century) a near-feudal power over their tenants. When the West India Company went bankrupt in its unsuccessful attempt to invade Brazil, the Dutch North American colonies fell easily to the aggressively expanding English and their New England colonies.

The English. Each of the colonizing powers in the New World, whether Portugal, Spain, France, or the Netherlands, soon had to contend with England's ambitions. England, which first challenged rival claims in the New World and eventually seized nearly the whole of the North American continent, owed its ability to do so to its peculiar institutional development, specifically the establishment of a government in which the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy was accepted. Although English colonizers shared the same aims in colonization as did the other empire builders, they possessed a flexibility in meeting novel experiences that made it possible for them to adjust more readily to the experience of the frontier. But ultimate English success did not prevent other European colonizers from leaving their strong imprints upon the vast region which was to become the United States.

In England, the same social forces were at work as in the other emergent nations of Europe. The War of the Roses decimated the nobility as they divided and fought for the conflicting claims of Lancaster and York. When the war finally ended in 1485, Henry VII, who resolved the conflicting claims of both factions in his birth and marriage, secured national control by denying to the surviving nobles, or to newly created nobles, the right to maintain private armies. The Star Chamber dispensed ruthless justice under the king's authority. Henry was both calculating and cautious, seeking to preserve his country from further war and to secure his hold upon the throne. His legendary miserliness also added to the throne the strength of independent means.

When Henry VIII succeeded his father in 1509, he inherited a stable throne. Tearing a leaf from his father's book - Henry VII had married Elizabeth of York to terminate the hostilities that had riven England - Henry VIII married his brother Arthur's widow, Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, for which marriage he had received a papal dispensation. The king candidly admitted that his queen was a link in his proposed chain "to bridle French ambition." It was a marriage which had explosive consequences. Henry was determined to have a son, and when, after eighteen years of marriage, it appeared that Catherine would have no more children (she had given birth to only one child who survived infancy - Mary), the king determined to divorce her, claiming that the original papal dispensation had been invalid. Although Henry had earned from the Pope the title "Defender of the Faith," he could not earn the necessary papal decision to annul his marriage to Catherine. (The Pope could scarcely offend Catherine, whose nephew was the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.) Instead of acquiescing, Henry severed his relations with Rome and created the curious English brand of Protestantism, the Anglican Church - which some have described as the Roman Church without a Pope. With himself at the head of the new church, Henry divorced Catherine and married Anne Boleyn. Within three years, however, having given birth only to a princess - Elizabeth - Anne was arrested on trumped-up charges and sent to the headsman's block, leaving the path clear for another royal marriage. Henry VIII married, in all, six wives, and added a lusty patina to kingship.

Both of the Henrys Tudor worked through Parliament in the belief that the royal will, combined with that of the chosen spokesmen of the people, secured for the monarchy an unchallengeable position. The Act of Supremacy, passed in 1534, gave the king supreme ecclesiastical power, and obliged all his subjects to swear an oath accepting the supremacy of the king and rejecting that of the Pope. Henry, eager to replenish the royal coffers, then seized the vast monastic lands of England for use as rewards to the faithful retainers of the monarchy. When he died in 1547, he bequeathed to his young son Edward VI a monarchy greatly expanded in its power. During the six years of the boy king's reign Protestant influence was extended in the developing Anglican Church. Though Henry VIII had not intended to reform the Church, he established a critical precedent the moment he usurped papal power: if papal power were in error, then it was reasonable to assume that other religious practices were also open to question. Whatever his original intention may have been, his divorce opened thirteen decades of civil strife.

Mary Tudor, a true daughter of Catherine of Aragon - bitter, implacable, and possessed by the Spanish obsession to defend the true faith - worked to restore Catholicism to England when she succeeded Edward VI to the throne. Her marriage to her distant cousin, Philip II of Spain, sharpened the classic English suspicion of Iberian intentions, especially insofar as it gave her Spanish husband the title of King of England. She gained her infamous nickname of "Bloody Mary" by mass executions of suspected heretics. Historians have noted that scarcely three hundred persons perished in this fashion; but unfortunately for Mary's reputation, the English viewed these events with undisguised horror. Unwittingly, Mary had embedded a deep-rooted suspicion of Roman Catholicism in English Protestantism, one that time and distance did not quell.

The coronation of Elizabeth I completed the succession of the "Tudor bastards" to the throne - Henry VIII had pronounced both his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, illegitimate. Harassed by the perpetual danger inherent in being a Tudor heir, Elizabeth had developed in her journey to the throne a character that was most remarkable in its capacity for dissembling. She had learned to hold her tongue, to bide her time, and to avoid trouble, sensibly assuming that trouble left alone is trouble that disappears. In another sense, Elizabeth chose simply to muddle through. Under her the Anglican Church drifted in a Lutheran direction, though it is just as likely that she would have permitted Anglicanism to drift back toward Rome had English opinion so wished.

Between Elizabeth and her subjects there existed a rapport that grew ever greater with time. "I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects," she asserted. Deeply concerned with the problem of conserving the royal finances, she nevertheless subsidized the eventually profitable depredations of Francis Drake and John Hawkins upon the Spanish treasure fleets. Grudgingly, she parted with the subsidies used to finance the Protestant armies on the Continent who were opposing the Spanish Hapsburgs and the House of Valois. She pursued with great diligence the policy of binding the interest of Parliament to that of the Crown, though by the end of her reign a well-defined Puritan opposition had developed. Yet even this opposition was still loyal to its queen; they might be "doctrinaire and fanatical," she "politique," but between them there existed a mutual loyalty that excluded any thought of divorce. In Elizabeth the Tudor dynasty was fused with an emergent English nationalism, and during her lifetime the inherent conflict between monarch and Parliament remained subdued. But with her death the Tudor dynasty came to an end.

James I, previously James VI of Scotland, son of the tragic Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, came as a foreigner to the English throne. Where Elizabeth had carefully avoided the shoals of parliamentary dispute, James inaugurated a ferocious rivalry between monarch and Commons. Though diffused in its original form, the struggle increasingly focussed on those aspects of taxation which were under direct royal control. Projects for the union of England and Scotland readily stirred national feelings, no matter how strongly the king desired the union; but the growing suspicion among Puritans that the Stuarts contemplated a return to Rome aroused them to increasingly vigorous parliamentary opposition. When Charles I actively aided Archbishop William Laud in his efforts to impose high Anglican doctrine, the Puritans were compelled to resort to drastic remedies - migration and revolution. Between the conservative and radical Protestants the gulf widened. In spite of the Elizabethan example of conservative moderation in matters of religion, the Stuarts attempted to actively stem the tide of Protestant revisionism, and failed because they did not assess accurately the force of Puritan resentment.

The Stuarts also inherited the aggressive Tudor policy of securing wealth for England. The Tudor willingness to rest content with lunges at the Spanish treasure fleets, a tacit recognition of the formidable power of the Spanish, dissolved after the repulse of the Armada. Though Spanish power still commanded respect, it had lost its reputation for invincibility. The English thought increasingly of establishing colonies on the eastern shores of the North American continent. Sir Humphrey Gilbert flirted with the idea of setting up North American plantations as early as the 1570s. A Bristol clergyman, Richard Hakluyt, set forth the case for English colonization in his classic A Particular Discourse concerning Western Discoveries, a manuscript copy of which reached Queen Elizabeth. In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh, under a patent from the queen, established two colonies on Roanoke Island. One group of colonists returned to England within a year; when ships returned to the colony in 1590 its remaining members had disappeared, their fate uncertain to this day. But the interest in colonization had been firmly established; the question was no longer whether, but when, the English would finally begin full efforts at settlement of the New World. The decision of James I to end the war with Spain shortly after his accession in 1603 permitted the full energy of the British nation to turn to colonization. In 1607, English colonial settlement began in earnest.

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or

Vote down Vote up

about 6 years ago

hi am looking for how spain defended her monopoly in the Caribbean any assistance would be greatly appreciated

Popular Pages