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pen of the historian and the speculations of the political philosopher.* The division of Spain into numerous small states originated in the wars by which the Christians slowly won back from the Moors the territories they had lost. The districts wrested from time to time from the dominion of the infidels were generally appropriated by the chiefs of the several expeditions, and Spain was thus divided into as many separate kingdoms as it contained provinces. In the progress of time—by intermarriages, succession, or conquest—all the minor sovereignties were annexed to or became dependent on the two powerful kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. Soon after the union of these crowns by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1481 the last of the Moorish provinces was conquered, and Spain regained its unity as a great Christian state. The feudal constitution, howerer, was a great obstacle to the formation of a centralised power, and a contest between the Crown and the nobility was carried on in Spain as in the other kingdoms of Europe. In England the struggle terminated in favour of the Nobility and the Commons; in Spain in the ascendancy of the Crown. The privileges of a powerful and numerous aristocracy had reduced the power of the sovereigns of the Spanish kingdoms almost to a nullity, and the people possessed considerable weight in their councils. Aragon, although monarchical in its form, was democratical in its spirit and its institutions; and the attachment of the Aragonese to their form of government was so great, that in a preamble to one of their statutes they declared that such was the barrenness and poverty of their country, that were it not for the freedom by which it was distinguished, they would certainly abandon it and seek a settlement in some more favoured land. | In Castile the prerogative was extremely limited, and its Cortes were composed of the nobles, the dignified ecclesiastics, and the representatives of the cities. To constitute Spain a powerful kingdom, it was necessary to extend the prerogative. The Cortes had been turbulent and troublesome, but the nobility, by reason of their independent jurisdictions and their armed levies, had come more frequently into collision with the Crown. The object of the first sovereigns of united Spain was first to cripple the power of the nobility, then to humble the commonalty. The nobles were deprived of their seats in the great council of the nation on the principle that since they paid no taxes they had no right to assist in imposing them ; and they cared little for the subsequent suppression
* The Gothic monarchy subsisted in its integrity for nearly three centuries. Although a Christian power, it was rude and barbarous. | Robertson's 'Charles V.,' Introduction.
of popular liberties which they did not share. The royal authority was then exalted on the ruin of the grandees, and the Cortes were reduced to a name, their meeting to a formality, and their power to a shadow. Freedom, however, was not entirely suppressed without a struggle. At the commencement of the reign of the Emperor Charles V., Spain was on the verge of a great rebellion. Several of the cities of Castile and Aragon took up arms, and there were risings in various parts of the country; but the nobility and the commons did not act in concert, provincial jealousies prevented combined action, and gave the Sovereign an easy victory.
To annihilate liberty a more potent instrument was required than any that even a despotic government possessed. The introduction of the Inquisition has been attributed to the religious zeal of Ferdinand and Isabella, but it is certain that political far more than religious views led to the naturalization of the Holy Office in Spain. It was intimately connected with the government, and was dependent upon the civil power for the means of executing its decrees. Professing to root out heresy, it effectually eradicated liberty. The Pope at first hesitated to sanction its introduction, and consented only after a prolonged negotiation. The Aragonese were the first to comprehend the purpose of the new ecclesiastical tribunal. They took up arms against it, murdered the chief inquisitor, and prevented its establishment in their country, alleging that its mode of trial was secret, and therefore incompatible with liberty. It soon, however, covered as with a network the whole of Spain, and entangled in its meshes the reason and the conscience of the inhabitants. The Inquisition wrought upon the imagination of a susceptible people with such effect that it completely fascinated and subdued them. They even became vehemently attached to it, and transferred to the most hateful tribunal ever erected in the world the affection they had formerly entertained for their own municipal institutions and parliaments. A theocratical despotism thus became the permanent form of government ; its portentous shadow gradually fell upon the whole of Spain; the intellectual light of the rest of Europe was then effectually shut out, and bigotry became inseparably blended with patriotism.
Religious wars developed both the military virtues and the
* "To the Inquisition the worst parts of the Spanish character may undoubtedly be traced.'--Southey's • Letters from Spain,' p. 182.
• That the Inquisition was in fact a political engine quite as much as a religious institution, there is now, I believe, no doubt; and much of the odium which it has thrown upon the Church will one of these days, I am sure, be transferred to the State which deserves it.'—Wallis's “Spain,' p. 271.
fanaticism of the Spanish people to an extraordinary degree. At the conclusion of the Moorish contest the country was filled with bold, energetic, fiery spirits, inured to hardship and privation, and an irrepressible desire for war took possession of all classes. There was an universal wish to break through the mountain barriers that had hitherto separated them from the rest of Europe. It was not long before the national ambition found an impersonation in the Emperor Charles V., who made Spain the most powerful monarchy in Europe, and entered upon a career of conquest such as had not been projected since the days of Charlemagne. The objects of Spanish ambition were territorial aggrandisement and Catholic unity. The fanaticism of the Moorish people seemed to have been transfused into the Spanish race, and they were as eager to impose their creed on other nations as the most enthusiastic disciples of Mahomet had been to convert and subjugate the world. The military profession came to be held in the highest repute. Every one aspired to serve under a sovereign who was as great in war as in council, and to contribute to the glory of Spain. Even men of peace, hitherto devoted to literature and art, became soldiers; and if they could not be officers, they were content to be privates. Cervantes and Lope de Vega served in the ranks. As there must necessarily be a limit to the largest army, those who could not be admitted into it, disdaining labour, became vagabonds and freebooters. The serious derangement of life and industry which pervaded Spain during this period is noted and deplored by all contemporary historians.
The mode in which the Transatlantic dominions of Spain were acquired was as marvellous as any of the wonders they contained. The colonial empire was founded by men who carried with them from the Old World no commission or authority beyond a general permission to make settlements, and to plant the standard of their country and the Cross. Successful adventurers returned, with unheard-of productions and fabulous wealth, having, with a mere handful of men, conquered kingdoms as remarkable for their ancient civilization as for the boundless treasures which they contained. Half frenzied with excitement, multitudes quitted their native land for the marvellous regions beyond the seas. The decline of Spain has been sometimes attributed to the loss of population which this event entailed, and doubtless of the many thousands who left their native shores a large proportion never returned, but sank under the influence of new and pestilential climates; but colonization does not permanently impair the energy of any country that contains within itself the elements of a healthy reproduction.
England has suffered no exhaustion in the process of peopling her colonies.
It never entered into the thoughts of the rulers of Spain, after they had taken possession of nearly one-half of America, that it could not be always retained as a dependency. Of what use, they doubtless said, were distant possessions unless they could be turned to profitable account, and governed for the benefit of the mother country? That regions embracing nearly a quarter of the known globe could not for ever be held in subjection to an European state, and made subservient to its commercial interests, was certainly the last idea that would have occurred to the statesmen in the sixteenth century. Their only object was to obtain from colonies as much as they could extort, and give them as little as possible in return. It passed into a political maxim that colonies should buy everything they wanted very dear, and sell everything they possessed very cheap. But the most singular effect of the colonial system of Spain was to give an impulse to the industry of all other countries rather than her own. It had long been a principle of Spanish economy to base the prosperity of the kingdom on the wealth of towns rather than on agriculture. Barcelona, in 1491, was considered equal to Naples in splendour, to Florence in elegance, and to Venice in wealth. In the fifteenth century, at Toledo, Segovia, and in the district of La Mancha, the number of hands employed in the manufacture of woollens and silks was 127,823; in the city of Seville alone they numbered 30,000; and Granada and Valencia were rivals in their varied productions. Manufactures were not produced for home consumption alone, but formed the basis of an export trade almost co-extensive with the world. Commerce was held in the highest repute; the merchants of Barcelona were the honourable of the earth, and its chief magistrates ranked as grandees of the kingdom.*
Notwithstanding this manufacturing development, the trade with America fell into the hands of foreigners. In 1542 the Cortes of Valladolid complained that strangers possessed so alarming a monopoly that they had the supreme control over the public wealth. The immense importations of the precious metals necessarily had an immediate effect on the value of money, which fell below that of other countries, and not
* The first effect of the American trade was to give a great impetus to the manufactures of Spain. In the year 1545, while Spain contrived to depend upon its own industry for the supply of the colonies, so much work was bespoken that it was supposed it would hardly be furnished in less than six years; yet in a short time not above a twentieth part of the commodities exported to America was of Spanish growth or fabric.-Robertson’s ‘History of America,' book viii.
only raised the price of food and labour, but enabled many foreign goods to be imported cheaper than similar articles could be manufactured in Spain. The fiscal system of the Government, moreover, loaded with the heaviest duties all native
prᏅ ductions, but allowed foreign produce and manufactures to be imported almost free. Thus foreign silk was admitted at a duty of five per cent., while native silk was taxed a hundred per cent. ; and other products were treated much in the same manner. Manufacturing production must have soon altogether ceased in Spain, for a writer of the sixteenth century states that in his day one-half of his countrymen wore no shirts because they had no money to buy them; and those of the other half were made of fabrics imported from abroad.* The commodities for carrying on the American trade were chiefly supplied from abroad ; and the greater part of the treasure which flowed into Spain from the Indies was consigned to aliens, and found its way ultimately into German, Dutch, and Italian banks. Agriculture was unfairly treated. If there was a scarcity, corn was admitted at a low duty; but if there was an abundant harvest, the farmer could reap no benefit, for exportation was subject to an enormous duty. Districts that had once teemed with abundance were consequently thrown out of cultivation ; and the scarcity of grain was sometimes so great that in remote provinces many died of starvation. Such was the deficiency of labour that it was long customary for large numbers of the French peasantry to enter Spain to gather in the harvests. The precious metals flowed in an apparently exhaustless stream into Spain; but the true sources of prosperity and revenue had dried up; and while the treasure-ships of the Indies were discharging their golden freights on the quays of Cadiz and Seville, the Government was in absolute want of money to pay the troops, and to meet the current expenses of the royal household. The public treasury was empty, but the vaults of the foreign merchants who traded to the Indies were filled with gold. The Emperor Charles V., impatient at the contrast between the wealth of these alien traders and the poverty of his own beggarly exchequer, devised a notable expedient for obtaining the command of a portion of this American gold. He ordered that all the bullion imported from the Indies should be deposited in the Casa de Contractation, or Board of Trade, and there registered in the names of its owners; and he claimed a right, in virtue of his prerogative, to help him
* Moncada, quoted by Baumgarten, ‘Geschichte Spaniens,' p. 8.