Enlightenment in Spain

The ideas of the Age of Enlightenment (Spanish: Ilustración) came to Spain in the 18th century with the new Bourbon dynasty, following the death of the last Habsburg monarch, Charles II, in 1700. The period of reform and 'enlightened despotism' under the eightenteenth-century Bourbons focused on centralizing and modernizing the Spanish government, and improvement of infrastructure, beginning with the rule of King Charles III and the work of his minister, José Moñino, count of Floridablanca. In the political and economic sphere, the crown implemented a series of changes, collectively known as the Bourbon reforms, which were aimed at making the overseas empire more prosperous to the benefit of Spain.

The Enlightenment in Spain sought the expansion of scientific knowledge, which had been urged by Benedictine monk Benito Feijóo. From 1777 to 1816, the Spanish crown funded scientific expeditions to gather information about the potential botanical wealth of the empire.[1] When Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt proposed a self-funded scientific expedition to Spanish America, the Spanish crown accorded him not only permission, but the instructions to crown officials to aid him. Spanish scholars sought to understand the decline of the Spanish empire from its earlier glory days, with the aim of reclaiming its former prestige.[2] In Spanish America, the Enlightenment also had an impact in the intellectual and scientific sphere, with elite American-born Spanish men involved in these projects.[3] The Napoleonic invasion of the Iberian peninsula was enormously destabilizing for Spain and the Spanish overseas empire. The ideas of the Hispanic Enlightenment have been seen as a major contributor to the Spanish American wars of independence, although the situation is more complex.[4]