During the sixteenth century, Spain became the most powerful country in both Europe and the Americas. Explain how Spain rose to this position of power, including both victories and failures.

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garthman99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Spain rose to that position of power in the 16th century largely because of the emphasis that previous rulers had placed on Roman Catholicism being the dominant religion. Europe was largely Roman Catholic whilst the countries just east of the Mediterranean were largely Muslim. Because of Spain's geographic location- it had access to both the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans, Spain was uniquely qualified to wage a war against Muslim nations. This is what the reconquista in the mid 15th century was all about. The marriage of Ferdinand to Isabella in 1462 unified Spain and the granting of religious power to this union by the pope - who was himself a Spaniard- brought about a powerful linkage of Church and State. Thus Ferdinand and Isabella's daughter wed the heir to the Holy Roman empire which constituted a large part of Europe. This union produced a son Charles V who sought to conquer the entire region and bring it under Roman Catholicism. His sons Ferdinand and Phillip continued with this religious fervor and sought to attack protestant England ruled by Queen Elizabeth in 1588. The Spanish suffered heavy losses to its massive fleet of ships and this naval defeat coupled with an already burdened Spanish economy ultimately led to the demise  of the Spanish hegemony after 1588