Spain’s perceived “Golden Age” is a broad classification unconfined to a specific era. The Golden Age has long been affiliated with the growth of a uniquely Spanish identity that arose with the flourishing of arts, architecture and literature expanding notably in the years of Phillip II, and flourishing in the 17th century – the same century traditionalist historians identify as the decline of Spain. To consider the golden age of Spain on a purely art and literature basis however misses the point, the Golden Age in all contexts appeared from the development of the Spanish Empire. On the European stage Spain appeared at the height of its “Golden Age” during the reign of Phillip II, Spain was the centre piece of the world’s greatest power controlled by the Hapsburg dynasty. Outwardly Spain was a religiously unified nation of great power, wealth and honour. Yet the “Golden Age” was of little substance on a domestic scale, built on a perceived vision of what Spain was like, whilst its periodic decline was built upon greater understanding of what Spain was. There was little to show of a “Golden Age” outside the confinements of the inner aristocracy in the 16th century, it’s so called decline thereafter were the true colours of Spain shining though. Failure at a domestic level inevitably brought down the golden era of foreign policy. The Catholics Kings role in this dramatic rise and fall in the Golden Age was limited, yet essential. As the founders of Spain, they set the tone of foreign and domestic policy, religion and most importantly (although indirectly), the succession.
Ferdinand and Isabella presided over the making of Spain; as young heirs and monarchs they united Aragon and Castile under one crown. For Aragon this was overwhelmingly desirable, for political reasons more than any imperialistic view of unification and described by Lotherington as “Undoubtedly the most politically effective partnership” . In Aragon expansion in Italy had stalled and she was threatened by the French in both the Mediterranean and to the north in Navarre. In Castile there was much opposition to the marriage; as noble factions of great power and influence were split over the two potential Castilian heirs Juana and Isabella. Alfonso the archbishop of Toledo proposed Isabella’s marriage to Ferdinand in search of allies, and despite her young age Isabella herself proved to be influential in the decision making. Unification had been attempted before as both monarchs where cousins, yet their marriage in 1469 would be of deciding significance in the making of Spain in the Golden Age to come.
The Peninsula was the bedrock of the Catholic Kings foreign policy. For Isabella “Her greatest ambition was to carry to completion the reconquista of the peninsula” ,thus naturally Portugal was the first choice of succession for the monarchs of both kingdoms, but their fortunes were not to be fulfilled due to the misfortune of the deaths of their two children. This dream of a united Peninsula was not lost however, and stayed in the minds of Castilians and was notably evident in the demands of the Comuneros revolt “They should choose her (Isabella of Portugal), according to the desire of his kingdoms” The Catholic Kings influential desire of a united peninsula had worn off on future generations and laid the foundations for their great great grandson Phillip II to unite Hispania under one monarch. .
The foundations of a united Spain however where no more than a “dynastic bundle of states” and lay in the balance following Isabella’s (of Castile) death in 1504. Despite the unity the Catholic kings displayed swearing to the Cortez of Aragon and Castile and administrating both kingdoms together such unity always was a one sided arrangement. Ferdinand under the marriage arrangements was contracted to live in Castile and govern Aragon though the newly formed Councils of state, Kamen explains “The Marriage treaty drawn up for Ferdinand laid down the basic...
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