Spanish Empire

The Spanish Empire (Spanish: Imperio español), also known as the Hispanic Monarchy (Spanish: Monarquía Hispánica) or the Catholic Monarchy (Spanish: Monarquía Católica)[4][5][6] was a colonial empire governed by Spain and its predecessor states between 1492 and 1976.[7][8] One of the largest empires in history, it was, in conjunction with the Portuguese Empire, the first to usher the European Age of Discovery and achieve a global scale,[9] controlling vast portions of the Americas, Africa, various islands in Asia and Oceania, as well as territory in other parts of Europe.[10] It was one of the most powerful empires of the early modern period, becoming known as "the empire on which the sun never sets".[11] It reached its maximum extent in the 18th century.

Spanish Empire
Imperio español (Spanish)
Flag of Spanish Empire
Motto: Plus Ultra (Latin)
"Further Beyond"
Anthem: Marcha Real (Spanish)
"Royal March"
The Spanish Empire at its maximum extent during the second half of the 18th century
The Spanish Empire at its maximum extent during the second half of the 18th century
The areas of the world that at one time were territories of the Spanish Monarchy or Empire
The areas of the world that at one time were territories of the Spanish Monarchy or Empire
CapitalMadrid[lower-alpha 1]
Common languagesSpanish (Official, Royal and ruling government and State Language, de facto)
Latin (Official, Royal, Religious, Pontifical, Catholic and ruling government and State Language, de jure, formal)
Other languages
Roman Catholicism[lower-alpha 2]
Demonym(s)Spaniard or Spanish
Head of state 
Catholic Monarchs (first)
Juan Carlos I (last)
 Spanish landfall in the Americas
 Establishment of the Spanish East Indies
 Dissolution of the Iberian Union
 Withdrawal from the Spanish Sahara
1780[3]13,700,000 km2 (5,300,000 sq mi)
CurrencySpanish real
Escudo (from 1537)
Spanish dollar (from 1598)
Spanish peseta (from 1869)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Crown of Castile
Crown of Aragon
Emirate of Granada
Kingdom of Navarre
Burgundian Netherlands
Episcopal principality of Utrecht
Aztec Empire
Maya Civilization
Inca Empire
Rajahnate of Maynila
Kedatuan of Dapitan
Rajahnate of Cebu
Kingdom of Butuan
Sultanate of Maguindanao
Sultanate of Sulu
Louisiana (New France)
Kingdom of Spain
Kingdom of Naples
Duchy of Milan
Kingdom of Sicily
Austrian Netherlands
Dutch Republic
Gran Colombia
United Provinces of the Río de la Plata
First Mexican Empire
Protectorate of Peru
Republic of Chile
Equatorial Guinea
Louisiana (New France)
Florida Territory
US Military Government in Cuba
Puerto Rico
First Philippine Republic
United States Military Government of the Philippine Islands
German New Guinea
Western Sahara

An important element in the formation of Spain's empire was the dynastic union between Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon in 1469, known as the Catholic Monarchs, which initiated political, religious and social cohesion but not political unification.[12] Castile (formed in 1230 from the Kingdom of Leon and the Kingdom of Asturias) became the dominant kingdom in Iberia because of its jurisdiction over the overseas empire in the Americas.[13] The structure of the empire was further defined under the Spanish Habsburgs (1516–1700), and under the Spanish Bourbon monarchs, the empire was brought under greater crown control and increased its revenues from the Indies.[14][15] The crown's authority in the Indies was enlarged by the papal grant of powers of patronage, giving it power in the religious sphere.[16][17]

In the beginning, Portugal was the only serious threat to Spanish hegemony in the New World. To end the threat of Portuguese expansion, Spain invaded its Iberian neighbour in 1580, defeating Portuguese, French, and English forces. After the Spanish victory in the War of the Portuguese Succession, Philip II of Spain obtained the Portuguese crown in 1581, and Portugal and its overseas territories came under his rule with the so-called Iberian Union, considered by many historians as a Spanish conquest.[18][19][20][21] Phillip respected a certain degree of autonomy in its Iberian territories and, together with the other peninsular councils, established the Council of Portugal, which oversaw Portugal and its empire and "preserv[ed] its own laws, institutions, and monetary system, and united only in sharing a common sovereign."[22] In 1640, while Spain was fighting in Catalonia, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands, Portugal revolted and re-established its independence under the House of Braganza.[23] Iberian kingdoms retained their political identities, with particular administration and juridical configurations. Although the power of the Spanish sovereign as monarch varied from one territory to another, the monarch acted as such in a unitary manner[24] over all the ruler's territories through a system of councils: the unity did not mean uniformity.[25]

The Spanish empire also included European territories, of which the Spanish Netherlands were the richest. Following the Italian Wars against France, which concluded in 1559, Spain gained control over half of Italy (Kingdom of Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, Duchy of Milan) with the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis. These territories remained under Spanish rule until the War of the Spanish Succession.

The Spanish empire in the Americas was formed after conquering indigenous people and claiming large stretches of land, beginning with Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean Islands. In the 16th century, the Spanish empire conquered and incorporated the Aztec and Inca empires, retaining indigenous elites loyal to the Spanish crown and converts to Christianity as intermediaries between their communities and royal government.[26][27] After a short period of delegation of authority by the crown in the Americas, the crown asserted control over those territories and established the Council of the Indies to oversee rule there.[28] The crown then established viceroyalties in the two main areas of settlement, New Spain and Peru, both regions of dense indigenous populations and mineral wealth. The Maya were finally conquered in 1697. The Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation—the first circumnavigation of the Earth—laid the foundation for Spain's Pacific empire and for Spanish control over the East Indies.

The structure of governance of its overseas empire was significantly reformed in the late 18th century by the Bourbon monarchs. Although the crown attempted to keep its empire a closed economic system under Habsburg rule, Spain was unable to supply the Indies with sufficient consumer goods to meet demand. This allowed foreign merchants from Genoa, France, England, Germany, and the Netherlands to take advantage of the trade, with silver from the mines of Peru and Mexico flowing to other parts of Europe. The merchant guild of Seville (later Cadiz) served as middlemen in the trade. The crown's trade monopoly was broken early in the 17th century, with the crown colluding with the merchant guild for fiscal reasons in circumventing the supposedly closed system.[29] Spain was largely able to defend its territories in the Americas, with the Dutch, English, and French taking only small Caribbean islands and outposts, using them to engage in contraband trade with the Spanish populace in the Indies.

Spain experienced its greatest territorial losses during the early 19th century, when its colonies in the Americas began fighting their wars of independence.[30] By 1900, Spain had also lost its colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific, and it was left with only its African possessions. In Latin America, among the legacies of its relationship with Iberia, Spanish is the dominant language, Catholicism the main religion, and political traditions of representative government can be traced to the Spanish Constitution of 1812.

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