In the Devil's Snare Book Report

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Elliot, J.H., Imperial Spain: 1469-1716. London: Penguin Books, 1963. 423pgs. In Imperial Spain, J.H. Elliot examines the history of early modern Spain from the reign of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, to the reformation of the Spanish government by the first member of the Bourbon dynasty. According to the author, at the start of the 15th century, Spain was internally weak, hopelessly divided and isolated from the continent by the Pyrenees. Yet, by 1492, Spanish society experienced a tremendous transformation which allowed Isabella and Ferdinand to unify the country, secure the largest transoceanic empire the world has ever known, and for a few decades become the strongest nation in all of Europe. Unfortunately, Elliot asserts, whatever dynamism animated this miraculous ascendancy did not last very long and Spain became once again a second or third-rate nation. The personal rule of the Catholic Monarchs, Elliot argues, is what made Spain a dominant world power; when the Habsburg dynasty ascended to the throne, their cosmopolitan imperialism led them to neglect the nation that Isabella and Ferdinand had begun to create and led to the decline of Spanish power at home and abroad. The book presents the information chronologically and topically. The first four chapters deal with the geographical, social and political changes that took place during the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand. Chapters five through ten analyze the Habsburg dynasty's role in the undermining of the Spanish Empire. The extensive bibliography includes a topical section and several bibliographical essays. Six maps and five tables round out the work.

In Chapter One entitled “The Union of Crowns” Elliot contends that the marriage of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon on 19 October 1469 made the idea of Spain an established fact. Even though there were still large sections of present-day Spain outside of the monarchs' control, the union of Castile and Aragon created a situation in which the total unification of the peninsula could not be far off. While the marriage did not technically consolidate Aragon and Castile into one political entity, the author continues, the close relationship between Isabella and Ferdinand assured that they would act in concert for the betterment of their peoples. It was in this context, Elliot goes on to say in Chapter Two titled “Reconquest and Conquest,” that the Catholic Monarchs undertook the first step towards empire: the ReconquistaC the final elimination of the Moorish kingdom of Granada. Once the Reconquista was accomplished, the author avers, the monarchs could turn their attention to other matters. These included the consolidation of monarchical power in Castile, the financing of the Columbus expedition, the establishment of the New World empire when the expedition proved successful, and the hammering out of a favorable understanding with the Catholic Church. In Chapter Three, “The Ordering of Spain” Elliot continues by stating that Castile was to be the base for the Spanish empire. Not only was Castile the larger and more populous of the two kingdoms, its political situation allowed for a consolidation of monarchical power that was not possible in Aragon. The Cortes (parliaments) and medieval fueros (far reaching privileges) of the towns and other organizations of Castile were not as strong or as well established as in Aragon and could be more easily circumvented or ignored. With the reorganization of the Council of Castile in 1480, the author asserts, Isabella had gathered not only the executive but the judicial power of the kingdom into her hands. Once the Reconquista was finalized in 1492, Granada and its resources fell under the jurisdiction of Castile.

In addition, Isabella and Castile, Elliot explains, solely financed the Columbus expedition and when the Grand Admiral proved successful, the...
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