Historical Context

The First Global Empire: Philip II
The marriage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1469 unites the kingdom of Spain. After defeating the Moors in 1492, as well as financing the expedition of Christopher Columbus, Spain becomes a global empire. Spain also benefits from an early form of capitalism amongst its merchant classes—a force Spain weakens by deporting its Jewish citizens. The remaining Moors fill the void, however, and Spain flourishes.

Using the influx of wealth from the New World, Spain remains a superpower for more than one hundred years. Consolidated and powerful, leadership is passed to Philip II in 1556. He commands fifty thousand soldiers, the best generals, a navy of 140 vessels, and collects an annual revenue ten times that of England.

In addition, Philip reigns over all of Central America and parts of North and South America; also the Netherlands, several kingdoms in Italy, the Philippines, protectorates in Europe, and the West Indies. The Spanish court is the most splendid, its nobles are the proudest, and its architecture is on display on five continents.

Philip II nearly doubles the size of the empire when he absorbs Portugal and its holdings in 1580 (Portugal regains independence in 1640). However, despite his meticulous attention to detail, Spain's economy begins to decline. Prices skyrocket and wages fail to catch up. Industry, never a strong part of Spain's economy, simply grinds to a halt.

To compound these dire circumstances, wars...

(The entire section is 624 words.)