The Spanish Monarchy and Conquest of the Americas

The Spanish Monarchy

– The marriage of Isabel and Fernando supposed the union of Castilla and Aragon

  • It was a dynastic union because each territory maintained its own institutions, laws, currency…
  • Strengthening of the state because the Catholic Monarchs reinforced their power by establishing the authoritarian monarchy
  • The main political decisions were:
  • Territorial unification with the annexation of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada and the annexation of the kingdom of Navarra
  • Religious unity
    • Creation of the Tribunal of the Inquisition to persecute heretics
    • Expulsion of the Jews
    • They forced the Muslims of Granada (Mudéjares) to submit to baptism or leave the country
  • Establishment of the modern state
    • Imposing its authority on the nobility and the clergy
    • Reforming the administration with the creation of the Chancillerías (courts) and Santa Hermandad (a kind of police)

– The expansion of their territories was very important during their reign, especially the discovery of America

Carlos and Felipe

– Carlos and Felipe consolidated the authoritarian monarchy that had been introduced by the Catholic Monarchs

  • They governed an extensive empire which enabled them to impose the Hispanic hegemony
  • Their reigns coincided with a period of demographic and economic prosperity as well as a flourishing of culture known as Golden Age

The reign of Carlos I

– He inherited a lot of territories from his paternal and maternal grandparents and he was elected Holy Roman Emperor, so also ruled over Germany

  • He started the Spanish branch of the House of Austria (Habsburg)
  • He had to face domestic and foreign problems:
    • Domestic:
      • He was not well received in Spain because he was considered a foreigner
      • He asked for enormous sums of money for his international policy
      • He left the government to his Flemish advisors
      • He had to face two important revolts: Comuneros in Castilla and Brotherhoods in Valencia, confrontation between people and nobility. The king ended the revolts with the use of force
    • Foreign conflicts:
      • Confrontation with France for control of northern Italy and victory in the battle of Pavia
      • The Turks were a threat to the Empire with Suleiman the Magnificent and arrived at the gates of Vienna
      • Religious war with Protestant German states because they wanted autonomy. The Peace of Augsburg resolved the problem

The reign of Felipe II

– He created an enormous empire upon which ‘the sun never set’

  • Like his father, he also faced domestic and foreign problems:
    • Domestic:
      • Rebellion of the Moriscos in Las Alpujarras because they wanted to conserve their customs. Finally they were defeated and expelled from Granada
      • Rebellion in Aragon because the people considered that the king had not respected their fueros. Also is known as the problem of Antonio Perez
    • Foreign conflicts:
      • Victory against France in the battle of Saint Quentin
      • Victory against Turks in the battle of Lepanto
      • Confrontation against the northern provinces of the Netherlands because they adopted Protestantism and became independent from Spain (Birth of Holland and Belgium)
      • He also confronted England because it was a Protestant country, supported the uprising in the Netherlands and the attacks by corsairs on Spanish trade with America
      • Felipe II planned to invade England by sending the Invincible Armada, but its failed invasion attempt became the first major defeat suffered by the Hispanic Monarchy

Conquest of the Americas

Characteristics of the process

  • It was a rapid process because the conquistadors were equipped with superior weapons and were identified as demigods
  • The conquistadors were a mercenary army who wanted to become rich
  • It was based on capitulations with concessions to the conquistadors in exchange for abiding by crown rules

The phases of the conquest

  • In the first phase annexed the majority of the territory thanks to the conquistadors Cortés y Pizarro
    • Hernán Cortés arrived in Mexico in 1519 and faced his Aztec king Moctezuma but he could not conquer the capital Tenochtitlan until two years later
    • After defeating Aztecs, Cortés controlled the entire territory and was named Nueva España
    • Francisco Pizarro reached Peru in 1531 and took advantage of the rivalries within the Inca royal family. Atahualpa was elected king against the wishes of his brother Huascar
    • Pizarro murdered Atahualpa and finally defeated his other brother of the King, Manco, and controlled the capital Cuzco and the Inca Empire
  • In the second phase the rest of the territory was conquered including the Mayan culture and others secondary cultures

Government and administration

  • The new territories were governed by the Council of the Indies, created in 1524, which controlled American affairs from Castilla and drew up the Laws of the Indies
  • The administration of the territories was divided into two viceroyalties, one for New Spain and the other for Peru and both were governed by viceroys
  • These territories were divided into provinces with a governor in charge

Economic activity

  • The main economic activity was mining with the exploitation of gold and silver from the mines of Zacatecas and Durango (Mexico) or Potosí (Peru)
  • A new way of exploiting the land appeared called Encomienda (large farming and livestock farming properties)
  • La Casa de Contratación was the institution in charge of organizing all the trade between Indies and Spain
  • Thanks to this trade, species such as maize, tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, peppers, cocoa, etc..

Renaissance Architecture

Three styles

  • The plateresque style
    • Characteristics
      • Abundant decoration (medallions, shields, grotesques)
      • Thoroughness in decorating (akin to the work of a silversmith)
  • The classicism style
    • Characteristics
      • Smoother walls
      • Scarcer decoration
      • Exclusive use of the semicircular arch
  • The Herrerian style
    • Characteristics
      • Absolute lack of decoration
      • Geometric rigor with straight lines and cubic volumes
      • Sobriety in architecture



  • Importance of polychrome wood carving
  • The moments of most pain are chosen to shock the viewer
  • Mainly religious scenes

Characteristics of painting

  • Influence of Italian painting
  • Importance of medieval Christian tradition
  • Religious themes and portraits
  • El Greco
    • Figures with elongated proportion
    • Great expressiveness of their models
    • Elaborate compositions
    • Use of cool colours (blue, grey..)