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EMPIRE by Henry Kamen

EMPIRE

How Spain Became a World Power 1492-1763

By Henry Kamen

Pub Date: March 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-06-019476-6
Publisher: HarperCollins

Wide-ranging survey considers Spain’s conquest of much of the Americas in the light of conditions and developments back home.

Kamen (The Spanish Inquisition, 1998, etc.) amplifies here his previously stated view that the Spanish military adventure in the New World was Spanish in name only; it relied on legions of foreign mercenaries, Catholics displaced from Protestant lands in rebellion, and would-be Crusaders, all of whom served in far greater numbers than Spaniards themselves. It relied, too, on the cooperation of conquered peoples. The Spanish assumed control of local polities, Kamen notes, by “placing themselves at the top in the place previously occupied by the Aztecs and Incas” but otherwise leaving the pyramid of power largely intact. The process of conquest helped Spain forge itself as a nation; where formerly it had been a congeries of small kingdoms united only provisionally by the task of driving out the Moors, in the face of the common goal of subduing faraway lands “the Galician, the proud Asturian and the rude inhabitant of the Pyrenees,” in the words of a contemporary observer, joined with fighters from Castile, La Mancha, and Andalusia to create something new: Spain. This is a history of large forces moving sometimes of their own accord and by their own logic: the institutions, for example, that slowly replaced adventurers and conquistadors with bureaucrats, and the elaborate trade networks that developed to cart off and distribute all that New World loot to a waiting Europe. Kamen does a fine job of answering such thorny questions as: “Who gave the men, who supplied the credit, who arranged the transactions, who built the ships, who made the guns?”

Well written and exactingly researched, of much appeal for professional historians and general readers with an interest in the world-systems view of things.