Imperial Spain I

An elderly Karl V (also known as Don Carlos I of Spain), ruler of the Holy Roman Empire

Carlos I of Spain is better known as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Of the Habsburg dynasty, he was born in 1500 in Ghent, Flanders, of today’s Belgium. His advent to the Spanish throne was the unforeseen result of Ferdinand’s foreign policy. Ferdinand had disputes with France over Catalonia’s borderlands and Navarre and conflicting claims in Italy. He sought allies among France’s foes, and in the diplomacy of the times, he arranged for the marriages of their children to his. He and Isabella had five, a son and four daughters. Isabel, the eldest, married King Emmanuel the Fortunate of Portugal. In 1497, Prince Juan and the second daughter, Juana, married the daughter, Margaret, and son, Philip, of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. An Austrian Habsburg, Maximilian had differences with France over the Low Countries, which Philip had inherited from his mother, Mary of Burgundy. Maximilian also differed with France over interests in Italy. Yet another ally of Ferdinand was Henry VII Tudor of England, whose son Henry VIII married the youngest of Ferdinand’s daughters, Catherine of Aragon, in 1509. The next youngest, Maria, married Emmanuel of Portugal after her sister Isabel died.

Prince Juan died in 1498, only eighteen. His lovely tomb at Avila evokes thoughts of what might have been, had he lived. When his sister Isabel died in 1500, followed by her infant son, Juana became the heiress of her parents. A high-strung princess, she desperately loved Philip, known as “the Handsome.” He philandered, and she came mentally unraveled. Dutifully she bore him six children. After Queen Isabella died, Juana and Philip claimed Castile and embarked from Flanders for Spain. They left their heir Charles in Brussels with his widowed aunt Margaret. Ferdinand reluctantly vacated Castile to Juana and Philip and withdrew to Aragon. All admitted that Queen Juana seemed too unstable to rule, but the Castilian Cortes hesitated to grant regency power and the title of king to Philip, a foreigner surrounded by foreign cronies. Philip suddenly took sick and died, shattering his pregnant wife’s feeble composure. She had his coffin opened as the body was transported across Castile to be placed near Isabella’s coffin in Granada. Ferdinand hurried back to Castile, where the Cortes granted him regency power to act for his distraught daughter. He confined her to a rundown palace at Tordesillas, where she gradually lost touch with the world round her. History knows her as Juana la loco (Joan the Mad). Ferdinand, occupied by the affairs of Aragon and Italy, left Cardinal Cisneros to serve as lieutenant general of Castile.

Ferdinand did not fancy the idea that Charles, growing up in Brussels, would succeed to Aragon, Sicily, and Naples, as well as to Castile, and so he married Germaine de Foix. Despite the use of love potions, she did not produce an heir. When Ferdinand died in 1516, Queen Juana and her son Charles were accepted as heirs to Aragon.

From the Low Countries, Charles, aged sixteen, set sail for Spain with a tribe of greedy Flemish nobles, headed by the Sieur de Chievres. Cardinal Cisneros awaited Charles to give him good advice but died before they met. The Castilian Cortes acknowledged Charles as king alongside his mother but insisted that both sign all decrees and laws to make them valid. When Charles rewarded his Flemish followers with choice Spanish plums, consternation ensued. Chievres played chief minister and nominated his teenaged nephew to be archbishop of Toledo. Charles’s Dutch tutor, Adrian of Utrecht, became bishop of Tortosa, while Charles’s popular brother Ferdinand was dispatched to Austria.

After receiving a grant of money from Castile, Charles traveled to Aragon and was acclaimed king in Zaragoza. Some confusion exists about the legendary coronation oath. It was claimed that Aragonese nobles accepted their king by swearing “We, who are as good as you are, accept you, who are no better than we are, as our lawful sovereign so long as you uphold our laws, rights and privileges; and if not, not.” It took eight months’ haggling to get money. Charles headed for Barcelona to meet the Cortes (Corts) of Catalonia. Early in 1519, he learned that his grandfather Emperor Maximilian had died. Charles inherited the Habsburg Austrian lands, while Maximilian’s bribes to the seven German electors won him the imperial title. Now Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, he postponed visiting Valencia and at the beginning of 1520 hurried back to Castile to get more money. The Castilian Cortes proved reluctant so he dragged them with him to Santiago, near La Coruna, where his fleet waited. A sermon by Bishop de la Mota of Badajoz about the benefit of Charles’s imperial destiny to Castile did not impress them. By a scant majority of eight to seven, with one abstention and neither Toledo nor Salamanca represented, they voted Charles the subsidy he requested. Despite news that Toledo had revolted, Charles sailed and left Adrian of Utrecht as his regent to keep order.

Charles was acknowledged emperor at Aachen, and in April 1521, at the Diet of Worms, he held his fateful confrontation with Martin Luther. Luther stood his ground, and Charles responded that he would support the Church of Rome, even if it cost him his life’s blood. At that moment blood was spilling in Spain. The delegates to the Cortes of Santiago had returned to angry constituencies. Several were mobbed; one was lynched. Throughout Castile rebellion erupted. Instigated by urban communal governments, it is known as the Revolt of the Comuneros. The rebels formed a national junta, headed by Juan de Padilla of Toledo and Juan Bravo of Segovia. They denounced government by foreigners and a king who abandoned Spain for Germany. They urged Queen Juana to resume her throne. They only confused Juana and they alienated the nobility when their revolt spread to villages under noble jurisdiction. When Charles brought the constable and the admiral of Castile into the regency government, and decreed the twenty-five most powerful to be grandees of Spain, the nobles rallied to him. In April 1521, royalist cavalry routed the Comunero host at Villalar and had Bravo and Padilla executed. Inspired by Padilla’s widow, Maria Pacheco, Toledo held out until early 1522. Another revolt had erupted in Valencia and was put down by nobles. Soon afterward Charles returned to Spain, mastered the Spanish language, and pardoned most of the rebels. He met with the Cortes, improved the administration of government which he staffed with Spaniards, and in 1526 married a redheaded Portuguese princess, Isabel. When she gave birth in 1527 to their son, Philip, in Valladolid, Spaniards believed they again had one of their own to inherit the throne. The couple had two other children who survived, Maria and Juana.

Charles matured through the decade of the 1520s, guided by the suave Italian hand of his chancellor, Mercurino Gattinara, and came to be admired in Spain in his own right. Queen Juana was almost forgotten in her rooms at Tordesillas. The years 1522 to 1529 were the most he spent in Spain, where his ministers refined its system of government by councils. To advise him on grand policy, he had his Council of State. For administration there were the councils of Castile, the Indies, and Aragon. A Council of War managed his armed forces, and a Council of the Hacienda (Treasury) oversaw his finances. Each council had its secretaries, who formed a budding bureaucracy.

Charles had a war with France, which his generals waged in the Low Countries and Italy, where they captured King Francis I at Pavia in 1525. Shipped to Madrid to make peace, Francis went back on the terms when he reached home. The pope joined him when he renewed the war, and in 1527, Charles’s soldiers got out of hand and sacked Rome. Francis disputed Charles’s inheritance at every turn, including Castile’s claim to monopoly in the New World. “The sun shines on me as it does on your master,” he told Charles’s ambassador, “and I should like to see the clause in Adam’s will that allots him ownership of the world.” Two sensible women prevailed, Charles’s aunt Margaret, and Francis’s mother, Louise of Savoy. They hammered out “the Ladies’ Peace” of 1529. By its terms Francis married Charles’s sister Eleanor, widow of Emmanuel the Fortunate.

More ominous to Charles than war with France was the threat posed by the expansion of the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. In 1520 Suleiman captured Belgrade and, in 1522, drove the Knights of St. John from the Island of Rhodes. In 1530 Charles gave the Knights the island of Malta as a new base. The great disaster came in 1526, when Charles, on his honeymoon at Granada, learned that his brother-in-law, King Louis of Hungary and Bohemia, had been killed and his army annihilated by the Turks on the distant Danube. The Holy Roman Empire lay open to attack, and in 1529, the Turks besieged Vienna. Vienna held out, but in 1530 Charles embarked for Austria, accompanied by many Spaniards. At Bologna in Italy the pope crowned him emperor. He would be the last Holy Roman Emperor to receive the crown from a pope’s hands. In Germany he temporized with the Protestants so he could assemble an army in which Spaniards marched beside Germans. In 1532 he and his brother Ferdinand paraded along the Hungarian border. Charles had conceded Austria to Ferdinand, who also became king of Bohemia and unoccupied Hungary. When Charles returned to Spain, he organized a Spanish-Italian expedition against Tunis, in order to isolate Algiers, where Suleiman’s admiral Khair-ed-Din Barbarossa had driven the Spaniards from its waterfront citadel. In 1535 Charles’s vast armada, commanded by Genoa’s Andrea Doria, landed an army that conquered Tunis. To govern Tunis, Charles selected a Muslim prince hostile to the Turks. To intimidate its Muslim population, he had his engineers build the fortress of La Goleta, which he garrisoned with Christian soldiers.

In triumph Charles returned via his kingdoms of Sicily and Naples, then proceeded to Rome. He lectured the pope and cardinals in Spanish about his services, the need for an ecumenical council to deal with Lutheranism, and the perfidy of Francis I, who allied with the Turks. A brief war erupted between Charles and Francis before Pope Paul III arranged a shaky truce and brought the two together for personal meetings.

In 1539, Charles lost his wife, Empress Isabel, but found little time for grief. In 1540 he traveled to the Low Countries to deal with troubles there. The next year he proceeded first to Germany, where again he failed to settle the Lutheran issue, then on to Genoa, to coordinate an expedition against Algiers. The army had scarcely landed in late 1541 before the weather turned foul and scattered the fleet. Over the objections of Hernan Cortes, conqueror of Mexico, the bedraggled army reembarked and a humbled Charles returned to Spain.

Francis I declared war on Charles in 1542. In 1543 Charles made his sixteen-year-old son Philip his regent in Spain, then headed for the Low Countries to coordinate the war against France. To guide Philip, Charles chose Fernando de Valdes, archbishop of Seville and Grand Inquisitor; the duke of Alba, his best general; and Francisco de los Cobos, his financial expert. Before sailing, he sent Philip a set of remarkable secret instructions about government and the people who served it. He warned Philip that nobles tended to seek gain at the crown’s expense, while bureaucrats tried to line their own pockets, and he named names. He advised Philip to guard his thoughts and to flatter people as necessary but give nothing away. He warned Philip that women might be employed to win his favor. Worried that sex might tempt the teenaged prince, Charles arranged that he marry a Portuguese princess, Maria, who was his own age. Two years later she gave birth to a son, Don Carlos, then two weeks afterward, she died. In time Don Carlos would prove a problem.

In 1545 Charles obtained a truce with France while Pope Paul assembled an ecumenical council at Trent. The council clarified the religious issues for Charles, who marched against the German Lutherans. In April 1547, his army, which included a large Spanish contingent under Alba, smashed his enemies at the Battle of Muhlberg. A great equestrian portrait by the Venetian painter Titian, now in Madrid’s Prado, commemorates the victory. Charles assembled the Germans at Augsburg in 1548 in hopes of putting the religious issue to rest and arranging the imperial succession to allow Philip to succeed his uncle Ferdinand. In neither quest did Charles succeed.

Early in 1552 a revived league of German Protestant princes struck a secret deal with Henri II, the new king of France, and chased Charles from Germany. While Ferdinand patched up a truce in Germany that led to the Religious Peace of Augsburg (1555), Charles failed against Henri II. Embittered, he withdrew to Brussels but saw a chance to get England back as an ally when his cousin, Catholic Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, succeeded Edward VI to the English throne. He arranged for her to marry Philip, though she was thirty-eight. Dutifully Philip embarked in 1554 for England and left his nineteen-year-old sister Juana as regent. Juana was the widow of Prince Joao of Portugal, whose posthumous son Dom Sebastian she had just borne.

As husband of Queen Mary, Philip became England’s titular king. With England again an ally, Charles signed a truce with the French king and took the opportunity to abdicate his inheritance to Philip. Early in 1555 Queen Juana had died, leaving Philip’s succession unimpeded. In January 1556 Philip became king of Castile and Aragon.

Leaving Philip to settle matters in the Low Countries, Charles sailed to Spain. For his retirement he selected the monastery of Yuste in the wild Sierra de Credos. He had a small dwelling built against its chapel and could hear Mass through a special door from his bedroom. There he prayed and ruminated, though he still followed the affairs of the world and showered advice on Regent Juana and Philip. In September 1558 he died.

Philip had been successful in the north. With England as an ally, his armies defeated the French at the Battle of St. Quentin in 1557, and in 1559 he made peace with Henri II at Cateau Cambresis. Queen Mary of England had died in 1558, without child, and England passed to her half sister, Elizabeth 1. Although Philip feared that Elizabeth would return England to Henry VIII’s Protestantism, he preferred her to her Catholic rival, Mary Queen of Scots, wife of the Dauphin of France. He did not trust France, but for the sake of peace, he married Henri’s daughter, Elisabeth de Valois, aged thirteen. He was ready to return to Spain, above all to repair his finances. In 1557 he had been forced to declare bankruptcy and renegotiate the huge debts he had inherited from Charles, to which the last war added more. War required, Philip admitted, “money, money, and more money.”

Philip faced not only money problems on his return to Spain. In Seville and Valladolid the Inquisition had discovered cells of people harboring Protestant ideas. When Charles learned about them from Regent Juana, he thundered back that Protestant heresies had to be uprooted at first sight, lest they disturb the community and lead to rebellion, civil war, and the loss of the kingdom. Juana and Philip agreed. She presided over a major auto defeat Valladolid in the spring of 1559, and Philip presided over a second after his return in the autumn. Others were held in Seville. Some 60 people went to the stake, and perhaps 200 were given other punishments. Having nipped Spanish Protestantism in the bud, the Inquisition stepped up its assault on the writings of the great Dutch humanist scholar Erasmus, which seemed too critical of Church institutions and traditional theology. To protect Castilian collegians from dangerous ideas, Philip forbade them to study outside the peninsula, save for the universities of Rome and Bologna in the Papal States. It mattered little, since most Spanish students were career oriented, with law school, which led to government jobs, the favorite choice. Serious, if sporadic, efforts were made to limit access to universities, and church and government posts to those of “pure” Old Christian descent. While the Inquisition worried about religious controversies and backsliding among conversos, it paid little heed to science. The idea of Copernicus, that the earth went round the sun, did not bother the Spanish inquisitors. Spanish students showed little interest in abstract science, and those pursuing medical degrees took no more than they had to.

To find money Philip first tried to make tax collection more efficient and to recover revenues from mineral rights, salt flats, and customs houses conceded to grandees during the previous century. Yet during his reign he sold land s and other jurisdictions to them and to municipalities for hard cash. He received generous grants from the Cortes of Castile, pleased to see him in Spain again, and lesser sums from the Cortes of Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia. Steadily increasing during his reign were revenues due him from the New World.

The mines of the New World had become a significant source of income and a major prop of Spain’s power in Europe. Most lucrative were the mines of Potosi, a virtual mountain of silver discovered in 1545 in Upper Peru (today’s Bolivia) and made immensely productive by the employment of mercury brought from Spain. In its peak years, 100,000 people, white, black, and Indian, free and slave, worked Potosi. Almost from the start, pirates, and in wartime privateers, threatened the transatlantic routes that brought American gold and silver to Spain’s coffers. Spain made its merchant ships sail in convoy. In time two fleets a year sailed, one to New Spain, as Mexico was called, and the other to Tierra Firme, the Spanish Main (the coast of today’s Venezuela and Colombia). To escort the fleets and chase pirates from the Caribbean, Philip established an armada of it dozen galleons, the principal warships of the age. The stiff tax imposed on merchant ships to pay for their escort would over time contribute to the decline of Spain’s merchant marine.

Philip would have preferred to concentrate on providing good government for his subjects and took particular care in making judicial and episcopal appointments. He established separate councils for Italy and Flanders, as the Low Countries were called in Spain. However, larger problems involving the defense of his imperial interests occupied too much of his time (see Map 3). Though Philip preferred diplomacy, he became engulfed in costly wars. The religious wars against the Ottoman Turks in the Mediterranean and North Africa were popular with Spaniards, and the Cortes were willing to find money for them. Wars against Catholic France were less popular, though they had a long tradition. What posed the chief drain on Spain’s resources, the Revolt of the Netherlands, was perceived as a dynastic rather than Spanish concern, and as the original determination to combat Protestants as heretics faded, finding money to suppress the revolt became thoroughly unpopular.

Imperial Spain II

Battle of Lepanto, on October 7, 1571, by Paolo Veronese

In 1555 the Turks seized two of Spain’s North African strongholds, Tripoli and Bona. In 1559, Philip permitted his viceroy of Sicily and the Knights of Malta to attempt the recovery of Tripoli. They failed and suffered heavy losses in men and shipping. In 1562 storms cost Philip a squadron of galleys and forced him to dun the Cortes for money to build more. When the Turks besieged Malta in 1565, Philip organized a powerful relief armada in time to drive them away. The next year, Suleiman the Magnificent, Charles’s implacable foe, died, and Philip had a brief respite. He needed it to deal with mounting troubles in the Netherlands and the rebellion of the Moriscos of Granada. To the Netherlands he dispatched an army under the duke of Alba to impose order. To subdue the Moriscos, who controlled a remote and rugged part of Granada known as the Alpujarras, he appointed his twenty-three-year-old half-brother, Don John of Austria, an illegitimate son of Charles V, who overrode rival local authorities and pacified the Alpujarras by the end of 1570. In the aftermath, the Moriscos of Granada were dispersed throughout Old and New Castile in an effort to assimilate them into the Old Christian majority of Spaniards.

The Morisco rebellion was still aglow when in 1570 the new Ottoman sultan, Selim II, invaded the Venetian possession of Cyprus. Turks had already seized control of Tunis, although the fortress of La Goleta held out. Venice sought allies through Pope Pius V, who turned to Spain. After contentious negotiations, Pius, Spain, and Venice formed a Holy League. Philip agreed to foot half the costs and obtained the supreme command for Don John. Through him Philip meant to direct the League’s strategy. For Cyprus it was too late, although at the Battle of Lepanto, on October 7, 1571, Don John and the League armada of over 200 galleys and six heavily gunned galleasses defeated the Turks’ near 300 lighter and less well-gunned galleys. After achieving little in 1572, mainly because Philip was distracted by developments in France and the Low Countries, the League broke up in 1573, when Venice defected. Later that year, Don John recovered Tunis, but the Turks retook it in 1574 and kept it. Don John was preoccupied with Genoa, where he assisted the government of Philip’s allies to maintain control. Genoa did Philip’s banking and was troubled by his skyrocketing debts, incurred to maintain a big army in the Low Countries and a big armada in the Mediterranean. In 1575 Philip had to declare bankruptcy and renegotiate his debts with his Genoese creditors. He summoned the Cortes of Castile and cajoled them into tripling the basic tax rates. He was fortunate to see his revenues slightly more than double. None doubted that the burden on Castile’s tax base had become dangerous, but the wars, which Philip believed justifiable in defense of religion and his patrimony, demanded it.

The revolt in the Low Countries would lead to the division of the region between the Spanish Netherlands (today’s Belgium and Luxembourg) and the Dutch Republic. For five generations of Spanish soldiers it meant “trailing a pike in Flanders.” The seeds of the revolt were many and included national differences and resistance to taxation over endless dynastic conflicts with France. However, the chief problem was religion. Before he returned to Spain, Philip learned of the spread of Calvinist Protestantism among the Low Countries’ population. To check it, he had Rome establish fourteen new bishoprics, in addition to the four long there, and assign two inquisitors to each. Traditionally the Low Countries had been relatively tolerant and held small numbers of Lutherans and Anabaptists, as well as Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal.

Most of the Low Countries’ population opposed the new bishoprics, despite the efforts of Philip’s governor-general and half sister Margaret, an illegitimate daughter of Charles V and duchess of Parma, to establish them. The principal nobles, led by William the Silent, prince of Orange, joined the opposition and demanded an end to the inquisition and a moderation of penalties for heretics. Although Philip temporized, he did not give in. In 1566 riots erupted in most of the chief towns. Calvinist mobs looted Catholic churches and preached from their pulpits. Local authorities were slow to react, and on receiving the news, Philip was stunned. He knew that he ought to visit the Low Countries and settle matters with the States General, but he agreed to the duke of Alba’s plan that an army precede him to ensure order. He put Alba in charge of what history knows as the Army of Flanders and reluctantly prepared to follow.

His main worry was his son, Don Carlos. Now twenty-one, Don Carlos had proved to be unstable and erratic in his behavior. Most, save his indulgent father, thought him unfit for the business of kingship. In 1568, Philip learned that Don Carlos meant to flee court and confined him. He died of fevers six months later.

Alba found the situation in the seventeen provinces that comprised the Low Countries worse than he expected. Margaret resigned and left him with the government. He subdued the opposition, but it cost money; Philip told him to find the money locally. Alba browbeat the States General and tried to impose new taxes unilaterally. Rebellion revived on land and sea. Protestant Queen Elizabeth I grew nervous about Alba’s big army and Catholic talk of invading England, and aided the rebels, who were mainly Protestants. French Protestant Huguenots also aided them. Philip tried amnesty to win peace and replaced Alba, but he would not yield on the matter of keeping the Low Countries Catholic. The revolt raged on, “a voracious monster,” according to one minister, “that devours the men and treasure of Spain.” With a simultaneous war against the Turks, Philip could not pay his soldiers, who mutinied and ran amok and drove Catholics to join the rebels. Don John, the hero of Lepanto, became governor and dismissed the army. Failing to appease the rebels, he again resorted to arms. Distressed, Philip became involved in scandal when he permitted his secretary Antonio Perez to have Don John’s secretary murdered as a security risk.

But religious division also plagued the rebel ranks, and Don John’s successor, Alexander Farnese, Margaret’s son and, after 1586, duke of Parma, won the Catholics back and established an obedient “Spanish” Netherlands that consisted of the ten southern provinces. The seven northern provinces formed the Dutch Republic (which we often call Holland, from its richest province), under its States General and the House of Orange.

At first Philip had little money and few men for Parma, because the death in 1578 of King Sebastian of Portugal, on a mad crusade against Morocco, opened the succession to the Portuguese throne. Philip claimed Portugal by right of inheritance through his mother and made his claim good with an army led by the duke of Alba and an armada commanded by the marquis of Santa Cruz. In early 1581 Philip entered Portugal and summoned its Cortes to acclaim him king. Portugal retained its laws, institutions, and the administration of its empire in Asia and Brazil. When Philip left in 1583 for Madrid, he made his nephew Archduke Albert his viceroy in Lisbon. In Madrid he established a Council of Portugal to advise him on Portuguese affairs.

Once Portugal and its empire were added to his worldwide dominions, Philip regularized the pay of Parma’s Army of Flanders. While Parma recaptured Antwerp, Queen Elizabeth signed a treaty of alliance with the Dutch, which led to open war. Already some of her subjects, like Sir Francis Drake, had raided Spanish commerce in the Caribbean and the Pacific. In 1586 Drake ravaged the Caribbean and in 1587 struck Cadiz as Santa Cruz struggled to form an armada. Concerned about costs, Philip devised a complicated scheme whereby Santa Cruz would cover the passage to England of Parma and the Army of Flanders. By February 1588 Santa Cruz had assembled a vast but motley armada of Spanish, Portuguese, and Mediterranean ships, but then he died. The duke of Medina Sidonia, a naval administrator rather than a sailor, took command and with the assistance of his admirals got the armada into the English Channel. The English fleet proved more maneuverable and far better at gunnery and frustrated the armada’s attempt to “join hands” with Parma. Forced into the North Sea, Medina Sidonia returned to Spain by sailing north of Scotland and around Ireland. Storms slammed the battered armada, and nearly half its ships and more of its men were lost, the men mostly to disease.

Philip ascribed the defeat to God’s punishment of sin, then pressed on. A siege mentality grew in Madrid. The Dutch held on, Parma reconquered little more, and after his death in 1592, his successors lost a bit. France under its new king, Henri IV of the Bourbon dynasty and once a Huguenot but now a Catholic, declared war on Philip. With his people fighting in France, too, Philip rebuilt his armadas and renewed his attacks on England. His armed forces were stretched thin, his royal officials scrambled to maintain them, and to sustain Spain’s war effort, he had to enlist the cooperation of local powers whose enthusiasm would not last. To foot the bills, he summoned the Cortes and appealed to their loyalty to him and to God. They voted him money on stiff terms that allowed urban governments to dump more of the tax burden onto ordinary folk. The amounts were reckoned in millions of ducats and known as the millones. Although treasure from the Indies managed to get through English blockades, rising taxes and war costs began to impair the economy of Castile. Major epidemics in the years round 1600 added to Spain’s woes.

Yet during Philip’s reign, Spanish Golden Age culture flourished. Lope de Vega commenced writing for the Madrid stage. El Greco, born on Crete and trained in Venice, painted his masterpieces in Toledo. St. Theresa of Avila inspired religious reform and revival, while St. John of the Cross wrote perhaps the finest mystical poetry in any language.

Before Philip died in September 1598, he obtained peace with France. He tried to solve the dilemma of the Low Countries by transferring them to his daughter Isabella, sometimes called the Great Infanta, and her husband Archduke Albert. But when Albert died in 1621 they had no heir, and the Low Countries reverted to the Spanish crown. Isabella continued to govern the ten obedient provinces until her death in 1633. The Dutch Republic persisted in its independence.

Philip III (1598-1621), an indolent youth of twenty when he became king, allowed his favorite minister (valido), the duke of Lerma, to run the government. Spain made peace with England in 1604 and a Twelve Years’ Truce with the Dutch in 1609. The power of Spain still seemed awesome, and a few years of peace did the economy no harm. Yet many feared that things had gone seriously wrong, and men known as arbitristas bombarded the government with proposals of what might be done to improve matters. Little was done save to expel the Moriscos, who had not assimilated into Old Christian society. After 1609 over 200,000 Morisco men, women, and children were dumped on the beaches of North Africa.

Four years earlier in Seville a novel appeared, the first part of Don Quixote de la Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes. The complete novel is one of those rare great books into which we can read almost anything. Cervantes fought at Lepanto, where his left hand was maimed. Later captured by Algerian corsairs, he spent five years as a slave. When ransomed and returned to Spain, he took up writing plays, with little success. He landed a government job collecting taxes for the armada. An audit of his accounts put him in jail, where he supposedly conceived Don Quixote. The gaunt old don, pursuing his chivalric dreams, seems a fit symbol for an exhausted Castile, persisting in wars it could not afford.

But Castile protested through its Cortes and, increasingly, through tax evasion and resistance to recruiting. It was the Habsburg dynasty, its dependent ministers, and a handful of loyal grandees who persisted in the struggle. The Count-Duke of Olivares, the valido of Philip IV (1621-1665) becomes the archvillain. An intelligent but overbearing man, determined that his sovereign should be the world’s greatest, Olivares took up with energy the wars that began to sputter out in Philip III’s last months. In the Holy Roman Empire, the Army of Flanders intervened in support of the Viennese Habsburgs in what would become the Thirty Years War. Then the Dutch War resumed. Olivares mobilized Spain’s resources, and in 1625 the Spaniards won a spate of victories. But the French, guided by the brilliant Cardinal Richelieu and fearful of revived Spanish power, played the role of spoiler, aiding the Habsburgs’ enemies and bringing the Swedes into the conflict. In 1628 near Havana, Cuba, the loss of a silver fleet to the Dutch proved a setback. With desperate effort Olivares gathered new forces, and in 1634, Philip IV’s younger brother, the Cardinal-Infante Don Fernando, defeated the Swedes at Nordlingen in Germany. In 1635, France entered the war openly. The array of powers against Spain became overwhelming, while in Spain opposition to Olivares mounted. Spain’s best admiral called him a fat, desk-bound bureaucrat without knowledge of war and got thrown into prison. In 1639, the Dutch virtually destroyed Spain’s last major armada in the Battle of the Downs.

Olivares had long urged that Spain’s kingdoms form a Union of Arms for common defense, but Aragon, Catalonia, and Portugal opposed him. When he lodged Castilian troops in winter quarters in Catalonia, close to southern France, the Catalans in 1640 rose in revolt. As more Castilian troops marched against Catalonia, Portugal took the opportunity to rebel and proclaim the duke of Braganza as King Joao IV. Soon after, Olivares nipped in the bud a conspiracy to make the ninth duke of Medina Sidonia king of Andalusia. The whole peninsula seethed with revolt and sedition.

Surrender of Breda. La rendición de Breda (English: The Surrender of Breda, also known as Las lanzas – The Lances) is a painting by the Spanish Golden Age painter Diego Velázquez.

In the Netherlands, in 1643 after the Cardinal-Infante died, the French at the Battle of Rocroi inflicted on the Army of Flanders its greatest defeat. When the gun smoke cleared, most of its Spaniards lay dead, still in their ranks. In Spain Philip IV dumped Olivares, who soon went mad and died in 1645. A new ministry sought peace, and to end the war with the Dutch, Philip IV acknowledged the republic’s independence in 1648. Before he died in 1665, he also acknowledged the independence of Portugal. He did recover Catalonia. His last portraits, painted by Diego de Velazquez, reveal a broken but still proud man. Velazquez is arguably Olivares’s greatest legacy to Spain. Olivares brought the promising young Sevillian painter to court in the 1620s. There Velazquez painted portraits of the king and royal family and the bombastic Olivares. He painted the remarkable Surrender of Breda, one of the Spanish triumphs of 1625. In it, the commander of the Army of Flanders, Ambrogio Spinola, a Genoese banker turned Spanish general, graciously receives the surrender of the Dutch. While the Dutch pikes droop, those of the Army of Flanders stand upright, causing Spaniards to call the painting Las lanzas (the Lances). The most charming of Velazquez’s paintings is called Las Meninas (the ladies-in-waiting). While the artist stands at his easel, painting the king and queen-whose reflections can be seen in a mirror-their daughter Margarita and her ladies-in-waiting burst into his studio. A court dwarf, her son, and a pet dog also appear in the picture. When Margarita left for Vienna to marry Emperor Leopold I, Philip had the huge canvas hung in his small office as a memento of a happy moment.

At his death, Philip IV was hardly a happy man. He had yielded the northern Netherlands and Portugal and had seen Spain broken by war. He had given his eldest daughter, Maria Teresa, as bride to Louis XIV, king of France and arbiter of Europe. She had renounced all rights to Spain for herself and her heirs, though most legal experts thought she could not justly renounce the rights of her heirs. Philip’s only other surviving child was Prince Carlos, who succeeded to the Spanish throne in 1665, not quite aged four.

The reign of Carlos II is often considered the low point of Spain’s long history. With the death of playwright Calderon de la Barca in 1681, Spain’s cultural Golden Age ended. Yet sometime in the later 1680s the economy and population began to show faint signs of recovery. Carlos II, a product of excessive inbreeding between the Habsburgs of Madrid and Vienna, never knew good health. He had an indifferent education, and people in the streets believed that his mother, Mariana of Austria, regent during his minority, cast him under a spell: He is thus known as Carlos el hechizado (the bewitched).

His uncle, Don Juan Jose de Austria, provided some energy to government and Spain’s meager war efforts. Son of Philip IV and an actress, he was ever at odds with the queen-mother and her lowborn valido, Fernando de Valenzuela. Don Juan Jose led a faction of grandees, who again became active in government. When he finally got the upper hand in 1676, he had Valenzuela exiled and initiated a series of needed reforms. He died at age fifty in 1679 and was followed in office by a string of grandees who survived in office through intrigue and made use of government professionals. The best was the count of Oropesa, chief minister between 1685 and 1691, when he fell victim to infighting. The government’s main achievement was reform of the currency, which had become so debased as to be nearly worthless.

As the sickly Carlos grew up and in 1679 married a niece of Louis XIV, rumor grew that he was impotent. The question of the Spanish succession became the overriding issue of European diplomacy. Spain’s former enemies, England and the Dutch, did what they could to prop up sagging Spanish fortunes against the mounting power of Louis XIV. After the death of Don Juan Jose, Spain took little initiative abroad. Shipments of silver from the New World became intermittent as pirates and enemy fleets infested the Caribbean. In 1697, a French fleet in combination with a force of buccaneers sacked Cartagena de Indias, capital of the Spanish Main.

Making peace in 1697, Louis XIV and his chief foe, William III, king of England and leader of the Dutch Republic, developed a plan to partition Spain’s empire between the Bourbon and Habsburg dynasties to avoid another ruinous war. The Italian share would go to Louis’s second grandson, Philip, duke of Anjou. Spain, the Spanish Netherlands, and the overseas possessions would go to Emperor Leopold’s younger son, Archduke Charles. Leopold strenuously objected, claiming all belonged to the Habsburgs. In Madrid, Louis’s and Leopold’s ambassadors intrigued for influence with Spanish ministers of state and members of the royal household. The queen mother died in 1696, but the pro-Habsburg faction at court continued under the direction of Carlos’s second wife, Mariana of Neuberg, and her German entourage. To dominate the king, she implied that she was pregnant with the heir he so desperately wanted. But when Carlos died on November 1, 1700, and his will was read, France had won. The Spaniards around Carlos, led by Archbishop Portocarrero of Toledo, wanted their world empire to remain intact. Though humiliated on the battlefield and the high seas by the French, they preferred the Bourbon candidate to the Habsburg candidate. Louis XIV not only had Europe’s most powerful army; he also had a strong navy, which Emperor Leopold did not. The will stipulated that Philip of Anjou had to accept the entire inheritance, which meant that Louis would have to reject the partition agreements. If Philip did not, then Spain and its empire would pass to Archduke Charles. Charles hardly intended to reject the offer; if he did, the whole would pass to the duke of Savoy. A week after Carlos II died, the news of his will reached Louis XIV at Versailles. After weighing his options and giving Leopold a chance to agree to partition, Louis dispatched Philip to Spain. In February 1701, seventeen-year-old King Philip V arrived in Madrid. His House of Bourbon replaced the House of Habsburg on Spain’s throne.

From the reign of Charles V into the reign of Philip IV, the Spanish Monarchy–as contemporaries called Spain, the king’s other European dominions, and Castile’s overseas empire-had seemed the greatest power in Europe. Philip II had been the first sovereign in world history on whose dominions the sun never set. However, when he died in 1598, the structural weaknesses of a world monarchy that depended overmuch on Castile and American treasure had become apparent to many. The treasure did not cover the gap between revenues and expenditures, and the other kingdoms of the monarchy did little more than pay their own ordinary expenses. In any emergency, Castile covered the difference, to the detriment of its own fragile economy.

Outside Madrid, the chief architectural monument of the Habsburg era, the Escorial, built by Philip II, rises on the slopes of the rugged Sierra. Geometric and austere, it looks over the stark Castilian countryside rolling southward. Part palace and part monastery, it is above all a mausoleum to Spain’s kings since Charles V, and its vastness resounds with echoes of faded glories.

The Manila Galleons

The replica of the Galeon Andalucia visits the Philippines in celebration of the Dia del Galeon Festival, a commemoration of the 16th century galleon trade. Video by Yahoo! Southeast Asia sports producer Izah Morales. Photos by Voltaire Domingo/NPPA Images.



Pacific Routes-Manila Galleons

They sighted Cape San Lucas on 2 November 1709 and took up their stations. They spread out so that between them their lookouts could spot any vessel which appeared between the coast and a point some sixty miles out to sea. The Marquiss was stationed nearest the mainland, the Dutchess in the middle and the Duke on the outside, with the bark roving to and fro to carry messages from ship to ship. Sir Thomas Cavendish had captured the Manila galleon on 4 November 1587. Cavendish had two relatively small ships, the 18-gun Desire of 120 tons and the 10-gun Content of sixty tons. The Manila galleon that year had been the Santa Anna, a much larger ship of 600 tons, but she had no carriage guns because the Spanish were not expecting a hostile attack. When Cavendish moved in to attack, her crew had to resort to hurling javelins and throwing rocks on to the heads of the English sailors. Thanks to the massive construction of the galleon her crew battled on for five hours but suffered such heavy casualties that her Spanish commander was forced to surrender. Many of his seamen were Filipinos and among his many passengers there were women and children. The total value of the galleon’s cargo was reckoned to be around two million pesos.

The annual voyage of the Manila and Acapulco galleons across the Pacific was the longest non-stop passage made by any ships in the world on a regular basis. The westbound voyage from Acapulco took between two and three months and was made easier by a call at the island of Guam towards the end of the voyage, but the eastbound voyage took a gruelling five or six months and sometimes as long as eight months. This put a considerable strain on food and water supplies and inevitably resulted in deaths from scurvy. The track of the galleons was determined by wind and weather patterns and by ocean currents. The shorter and quicker westbound voyage taken by the Acapulco galleon took advantage of the north-east trade winds and a westerly current in the region of latitude 13 degrees north, known as the North Equatorial Current. The eastbound Manila galleon had to follow a curving track some 2,000 miles to the north which took her past the islands of Japan with the help of the Kuro Siwo Current, then across the Pacific with the aid of the westerly winds and then south-east to Acapulco assisted by the California Current which flows along the coast of North America.

It took some years of trial and error before the winds and currents were worked out and the situation was complicated by the typhoons – the cyclonic storms which sweep across the Philippines with a destructive power similar to the hurricanes of the Caribbean region. To take advantage of prevailing winds and avoid the typhoons it was reckoned that the Manila galleon must set sail in May or June, which meant that she could be expected to arrive off the coast of California at any time between October and December unless delayed or blown off course by storms – and many of the galleons had to endure a succession of violent storms during the voyage. In 1600 the Santa Margarita was so disabled by months of heavy weather that she was driven south and wrecked on the Ladrones Islands (Islas Ladrones), off the coast of Panama. Only fifty of the 260 men on board survived the shipwreck and most of the survivors were then killed by the native islanders.

The annual crossings of the Pacific had begun in 1565 and over the following 250 years more than thirty galleons were lost in storms or wrecked. Since no more than one or two galleons made the crossing each year this was a heavy toll in lives, ships and treasure. ‘The voyage from the Philippine Islands to America may be called the longest and most dreadful of any in the world,’ wrote Gemelli Careri, an experienced traveller, ‘… as for the terrible tempests that happen there, one upon the back of another, and for the desperate diseases that seize people, in 7 or 8 months, lying at sea sometimes near the line, sometimes cold, sometimes temperate, and sometimes hot, which is enough to destroy a man of steel, much more flesh and blood …’

Hernán Cortés


Conquistador and conqueror of the Aztec Empire. Born in Estramadura, Cortés studied at a fairly high level at Salamanca but, at age 19, he left for the Caribbean to try his hand as a plantation farmer in Hispaniola. He first fought in the New World with a conquistadore army that brutally occupied Cuba in 1511. There, he witnessed a mindless slaughter of Indians. A decade later he said he was determined to avoid repeating this error when he invaded Mexico. It was not moral sensibility that drove him to that conclusion: his preference was to instead exploit Indian labor within the encomienda system. He left Cuba on February 18, 1519, under orders from the governor of Cuba, Diego Velásquez, to conquer Mexico. He had just 11 ships carrying 550 men, 16 horses, some war dogs (mastiffs), and 10 brass cannon. They landed on the Tabasco coast where they allied with the Totonac people, a coastal tribe that was nominally a vassal of the Aztec. They supplied 20 young girls and women slaves to Cortés, who took “La Malinche” as his interpreter and mistress. Cortés moved up shore, then paused for four months to reconnoiter the Aztec position. Bypassing his superiors in Cuba, he sent a ship laden with gold and a secret letter written directly to Charles V, asking for the concession of the conquest of Mexico. Meanwhile, he mishandled two Aztec tax collectors, the first representatives of that empire he met. Puzzled, Emperor Moctezuma (Motechuzoma) II sent an embassy bearing gifts of gold, religious costumes, and food. Cortés thereafter received orders from Diego Velásquez, who had learned of his insubordinate correspondence with Charles V, to return to Cuba. Cortés disregarded the command and instead made his base camp at a site he named Vera Cruz (“The True Cross”). From there he gathered more intelligence from the Totonac and other tribes. He learned that many tribes and cities were fiercely opposed to the Aztecs and hated their submission to a tribute system that exploited them economically and took people from their communities for ritual sacrifice in the Great Temple in Tenochtitlán. Indian warriors willing to fight alongside Cortés were thus legion. In the Spanish telling, Cortés added thousands of Mesoamerican slingers and javelin throwers to his tiny army. From the vantage point of the Totonac and other Indians, they added small but unique Spanish military capabilities to an armed rebellion they were preparing to rid themselves of the Aztecs.

Before moving inland Cortés sank his remaining ships to show there was no going back and to leave his reluctant men no choice but to follow. On August 16, 1519, he started for Tenochtitlán 150 miles inland, across a range of volcanoes. Over the mountains, he arrived at Tlaxcalan, an independent city-state 70 miles from Tenochtitlán which the Aztecs had never been able to conquer. An army came out to crush the strangers and their Indian allies. In a sharp battle, Spanish discipline and firepower won the day: arquebuses and muskets broke up loose Tlaxcalan lines before their warriors could approach to hurl stones and javelins. The 16 Spanish lancers then further deformed the Indian ranks and picked off their leaders. Then the Spanish foot charged, shoulder-to-shoulder with swords and pikes, slashing and stabbing hundreds of warriors to death before they could swing heavy obsidian clubs in reply. Armor and steel, but even more discipline and ferocity, won over the Mesoamerican style of warfare that emphasized individual heroism in loose, lightly armed formations, and taking an enemy alive so he could be sacrificed later. This victory at Tlaxcalan was a key moment in the conquest because the Tlaxcalans immediately allied with Cortés. They, too, thought his unusual military skills could be used against the hated Aztecs. Tlaxcalan henceforth provided tens of thousands of dedicated, veteran Indian warriors. And it became the key forward base and logistical center for the Spanish for the next two years. Reinforced with 3,000 more Mesoamerican allies, Cortés reached the Aztec tributary city of Cholollan (modern Cholula). Moctezuma tried a stratagem: the Spanish were invited into the city where a trap was laid of missile troops hidden on the rooftops, with ditches filled with sharp stakes to impale riders and horses. But the trick was betrayed so that Cortés struck first, killing Cholollan troops and commanders without mercy.

Moctezuma was unable to muster his full army because it was harvest season. Instead, he made a fatal-and fateful-decision: he invited Cortés, the conquistadores, and 3,000 Tlaxcalan warriors into Tenochtitlán, which the expedition reached on November 8. Possibly, Moctezuma hoped to arrange a second, larger Cholollan-style trap, using urban confinement to neutralize the demonstrated superiority of the Spanish in the field. Far less likely is the widely popular legend that he lost confidence due to belief in an old prophesy that Cortés appeared to fulfill, which foretold of a feared, pale Aztec deity (Quetzalcoatl), who would return from the east to reclaim his Aztec kingdom. The allied intruders were quartered in an older palace, off the ritual square at the city center. After two weeks, Cortés feared such a trap and decided to spring his own first. He asked for an audience with Moctezuma, whom he seized and kept prisoner for six months, effectively decapitating the regime and paralyzing its response. The Aztec nobility obeyed Moctezuma’s initial command to bring the city’s gold to the conquistadores, to whom they also brought food and women. Doubt about the superiority, let alone quasidivinity, of their guests grew as they watched the Spaniards eat, rut, and defecate as did other men, and exhibit an extraordinary lust for gold. A crisis for Cortés came when he led most of his men back to the coast to fend off a rival force of 900 conquistadores from Cuba. This group knew of the planned conquest, had orders to arrest Cortés, and intended to take their share of gold. Cortés attacked by surprise, killing a few and capturing their leader (Pánfilo de Narváez). With oratory laced with Crusader ecstasy and promised plunder, he persuaded the survivors to join his little army and together they returned to Tenochtitlán. However, so cruel was the occupation of the man he left in charge in the city, Pedro de Alvarado, so insatiable was the Spanish lust for gold, and so numerous the murders of priests and Aztec nobles they committed (probably on the orders of Cortés), the Aztecs at last rebelled. But first they shrewdly let Cortés re-enter the city, which he did against the advice of his Mesoamerican allies.

On June 24, 1520, the Aztecs cut the causeways that led to the city, trapping 1,200 Spanish and about 2,000 Tlaxcalans, along with mounds of hoarded gold in the temple and palace complex. The First Siege of Tenochtitlán lasted a week. After several sorties failed, on the night of June 30, Cortés led an effort to sneak out of the city which ended in a desperate flight that left half his men dead or trapped in the temple complex, surrounded by tens of thousands of enraged Aztecs. As Cortés pulled out from Tenochtitlán he left it burning and Moctezuma dead (whether from errant Aztec missiles or Spanish strangulation is unclear). Streams of Spanish and Tlaxcalan blood literally flowed down the temple steps as men left behind or cut off were captured and ritually sacrificed for all to see. The remnant fled with Cortés down the causeway, fighting off thousands of pursing Aztec warriors en route to a dramatic stand at Otumba. The Aztecs were by now in full roar: they had killed enough Spaniards, in battle or by ritually cutting out their hearts, to know they faced not demi-gods but mere men who bled, screamed, died, or ran in fear like other men. Their horses, too, were demystified by death and dismemberment.

Cortés lost 70 percent of his horses and 65 percent of his men. The Tlaxcalans suffered as heavily, and in far greater numbers. In the Spanish accounts, it was now that Cortés proved himself an exceptional leader with qualities of strategic foresight, tactical brilliance, and above all, thorough ruthlessness and pitiless single-mindedness of purpose. He spent the rest of 1520 gathering a new anti-Aztec alliance from surrounding cities, and awaiting the successive arrival at Vera Cruz of seven squadrons of ships bringing new cannons, arquebuses, crossbows, powder, and shot. With the weapons came more conquistadores, some intent on revenge for dead brothers or fathers, others keen to crusade against the rumored pagan “empire of cannibals.” The smallpox that came with the Spanish now decimated Aztec ranks, killing Cuitláhuac as well. This reduced the numbers of warriors the Spanish faced and may have undermined Aztec morale, but it also ravaged the Tlaxcalans and other tribes allied with the Spanish. Cortés busied some men with raids against Aztec tributaries, cutting off supplies to Tenochtitlán. Others he set to building 14 brigantines, using timber and struts from the wreaks at Vera Cruz. He then had these small ships dismantled and hauled to the shores of Lake Texcoco by thousands of Mesoamerican porters. The 500 Spaniards Cortés had left after Otumba were reinforced by 400-500 fresh arrivals at Vera Cruz, who brought much-needed fresh horses and more arquebuses and cannon. This still left him mainly reliant on Tlaxcalan warriors who were determined to overthrow the Aztecs. Some Indians adapted their weapons to make them more lethal, for instance, switching to copper-tipped arrows with metal obtained from the Spanish. The second expedition-was it a Spanish assault with Indian allies or the reverse?-arrived at the foot of the causeways across Lake Texcoco on April 28, 1521. The aqueducts were quickly broken, cutting off Tenochtitlán from its supply of food and fresh water. The brigantines went into the lake to destroy the Aztec war canoes. This was quickly accomplished. The Second Siege of Tenochtitlán now began. It lasted three months. On August 13, 1521, the third and last Aztec leader to face the Spanish assault and Indian vassal rebellion, the boy-emperor Cuauhtémoc, surrendered the city.

Cortés subsequently became governor of the conquered Aztec lands and one of the richest men of the Age. He ruled cruelly, in accordance with his nature: he was an unimaginative, brutal kleptocrat with no regard for the welfare of the Indian population, except an instrumental concern with Indian welfare such that the encomienda system was sustainable. Tenochtitlán was razed so that a Christian citadel of the Spanish Empire in America, Mexico City, might be built atop its ruins. Cortés called in Franciscan priests and other religious radicals to destroy the last temples and indoctrinate Mesoamericans with the usual Catholic pieties. Those Indians who survived were weakened morally as well as physically by pandemic diseases, and were also politically weak and divided. They were effectively enslaved by Spanish settlers who hurried to Mexico following the conquest, many of whom demonstrated even less conscience than did Cortés. The native economy was destroyed, its riches plundered and exported to buy estates or pay royal taxes in Spain. Central Mexico would take centuries to recover from the decimation.

Cortés led several more expeditions to expand “Spanish America,” including to Central America in 1524 (during which he had Cuauhtémoc murdered), and later to Baja California. In 1528 he returned to Spain to regain his Mexican governorship, which had been taken from him by a royal appointee. He was unsuccessful, but received a captaincy, a noble title, and a huge land grant in Mexico along with tens of thousands of encomienda forced laborers. Ever the conquistador, he did not rest content in landed wealth. He later fought in Africa, joining the Habsburg attack on Algiers in 1541. He died of dysentery, amidst his riches, in Spain.

The siege of Ostend and the Spinola offensives 1601-8

Ostend’s military machines by Pompeo Giustiniani 1 & 3, the construction of wicker filled with stones and earth were buried in the trenches by the besiegers; they were used in the western part of the town to allow the fording of the Old Haven. 2 & 4, to the east, the deeper flowing channel Geule of the Old Haven, a dam was constructed by Count Bucquoy’s troops on which rode artillery pieces to prevent the entry of ships into the harbour during low tide; 6 Cannons mounted on parapets on top of boats that ventured close to bomb the city; this design would be a failure as it sank on its maiden voyage without even firing a shot. 8 Mobile drawbridge or Targone bridge: this too was a failure after it took a direct hit.

Maurice of Nassau’s foray along the Flemish coast brought home to the Spanish the need of doing something about the Dutch coastal enclave at Ostend, which the enemy had been diligently fortifying for some years:

Quite apart from the fact that the Archduke Albert was denied the use of such a good port, the presence of the garrison compelled him to maintain a war in his own territory, added to ‘The Eighty Years War in the Netherlands 1566-1648 85 which the land had to bear the ruinous cost of paying an extra army – Flanders in particular was the prey of the soldiers, whereas in peacetime it was reckoned to make up a fourth part of the whole Seventeen Provinces in wealth (Haestens, 1615, 98).

Albert therefore decided to reduce Ostend. His ambition resulted in a contest which lasted for three years, and bears comparison with the sieges of Vienna in 1683 and of Stalingrad in 1943 for the interest which the rest of the world attached to its outcome.

The Duke of Parma himself had never dared to tackle Ostend, which possessed free communication by sea to Zeeland and Holland, and was surrounded by water on almost every side. The sea ruled out all serious attacks against the Old Town, or northern portion of the fortress, while the landward fronts were protected by two tidal creeks: the Old Harbour on the western side, and the New Harbour or Geule (the present port of Ostend) on the eastern side.

The landward approaches represented ‘a plashy moor (Vere, 1672, 126) on all sides except the coastal dunes. These sand hills offered the only tracts of dry ground over which siege guns could be brought close to the fortress, but if they chose this path of advance the Spanish would be presented with the problem of crossing the Old Harbour and the Geule at their deepest and widest points.

The man-made defences of Ostend consisted of two perimeters. The inner enceinte owned eight earthen bastions, in front of which was a broad and deep ditch of sea water. The bottom was ‘a glutinous impermeable mud, which supported no vegetation . .. and always retained its water’ (Montpleinchamp, 1693, 152). Beyond the ditch ran a very thick counterscarp, or rather outer enceinte, which conformed approximately to the trace of the inner enceinte, and consisted of long branches which ran forward into bastion-like salients. The works as a whole were high, well-flanked and strongly palisaded, though built of a ‘sandy and mouldered earth’ (Vere, 1672, 121).

On 5 July 1601 the Spanish appeared before Ostend in the strength of about 12,000 men. Over the following months they proceeded to drive the defenders back from their positions in the marshes to the two enceintes. They simultaneously planted some heavy siege batteries in the western dunes, from where the guns kept up a heavy fire against the Sandhill Bastion, which stood at the north-west corner of the outer enceinte and overlooked the point where the Old Harbour entered the sea. The cannonade was so violent that the work

might rather have been called iron-hill than sandhill: for it was stuck so full of bullets, that many of them tumbled down into the fausse-braye, and others, striking on their own bullets, breaking into pieces flew up into the air as high as a steeple (Hexham’s account, Vere, 1672, 166).

The besiegers paid heavily for their gains. The newly-arrived troops from Spain and Italy perished miserably in the bitter weather, and they were cut down in scores by the fire from Ostend. ‘The ground was strewn everywhere with arms, legs and hands . . . surgeons came out of the town, and brought back bags full of human fat which they had stripped from the bodies’ (Haestens, 1615, 147). (This disgusting material was prized as a salve for wounds.)

Possibly as many as 2,000 men were lost on the single night of 7-8 January 1602, when the Spanish launched an assault along the beach at low water against the Sandhill Bastion. Archduke Albert had committed precisely the same mistake as Parma at Maastricht in 1579, throwing his men into the assault over open ground against prepared defences. All along the ramparts of Ostend lay the people who had paid for his error:

whole heaps of dead carcasses, forty or fifty upon a heap, stark naked, goodly young men, Spaniards and Italians: among whom, some (besides other marks to know them by) had their beards clean shaven off. There lay also upon the sand some dead horse, with baskets of hand-grenades; they left also behind them their scaling-ladders, great store of spades, and shovels, bills, hatchets, and axes and other materials (Hexham’s account, Vere, 1672, 174)

For the rest of 1602 and the best part of 1603 the siege settled into a noisy but indecisive routine. The Spanish never again essayed an assault, but contented themselves with cannonading the town from a high platform built on the western dunes.

Compared with the Spanish host, the garrison was not particularly big (in March 1602, for example, it stood at 7,000), but in compensation the defenders were continually reinforced and replenished from the sea. So sure, indeed, was the traffic that many civilian spectators, including women, made the trip to Ostend to view the siege.

This period was enlivened for the Spanish by the arrival in their camp of a present from the Pope, in the person of the engineer Pompeio Targone (1575- c. 1630). Targone had

a very ready wit, which made him apt for inventions in his calling: but having never till then passed from the theory to the practical part in military affairs, it was soon seen, that many of his imaginations did not upon trial prove such, as in appearance they promised to be (Bentivoglio, 1678, part III, book 7).

Targone bent his imagination to the task of pushing forward the approaches from the eastern dunes, but he failed dismally in everyone of the devices he contrived: first a monstrous rolling gabion, then a floating battery, and finally a dyke which broke apart in the north-western storms.

Such was the state of affairs when the Spanish officers heard that yet another Italian dilettante was coming out to Ostend, not merely to invent siege engines but to take charge of the whole army. This gentleman was one Ambrogio Spinola, a scion of a wealthy Genoese family. The signs could hardly have been worse. Spinola was known to be devoid of all military experience, and to have been brought up in comfortable, not to say sumptuous surroundings. Moreover, the family had virtually bought the command for its pampered son, by offering to put the Spinola riches and credit at the disposal of the army in the Netherlands.

In one respect the Spanish expectations were fulfilled, for as soon as Spinola reached Ostend in the late summer of 1603 he charged a large proportion of the costs of the siege to his own account. As early as 10 December Archduke Albert could write to King Philip III that since Spinola had taken charge

the siege has been progressing very quickly. With the help of the money which the said Marquis is providing … we have overcome many difficulties which hitherto impeded the course of the works. All of this gives us good cause to be optimistic (Villa, 1904, 73-4).

What was much more surprising was that Spinola proved to be that rarest of creatures, a man who had equipped himself to be a complete commander from the study of books. Not only did he show himself to be an expert engineer, but he won over the ordinary soldiers by leadership of the most direct and forceful kind. In the quiet of his library he had absorbed all the lessons which Parma and Archduke Albert had had to buy with the blood of their men.

Spinola’s main objective was to force the crossing of the Old Harbour from the west. If he could gain the counterscarp on that side, he explained to the king, ‘Your Majesty would have a guarantee that the town would be yours’ (ibid., 76).

Reviving the ferocious emulation which had existed among the Habsburg contingents in the days of Charles v, Spinola arranged his Germans, Spanish, Italians, Burgundians and Walloons in order of battle along the bank of the Old Harbour from its mouth to the marshes behind the town. The troops then threw causeways of. earth and fascines across the creek. This was a difficult and bloody business which was helped by screens of gabions, but not at all by the employment of the last of Targone’s inventions, a mobile drawbridge mounted on four ten-foot wheels. A single cannon shot shattered one of the wheels and immobilised the machine for good.

Spinola was everywhere, ‘exposing himself as much as any of the rest to all the labour and dangers, encouraging some, rewarding others’ (Bentivoglio, 1678, part III, book 7). The Walloons and Burgundians were the first across, for the water was shallowest at the head of the creek, but the other contingents were not far behind, and on 4 April 1604 the besiegers surprised and took a number of redoubts on the counterscarp opposite the Sandhill Bastion. Maurice received the news in Holland with astonishment, and began to harbour his first fears as to the fate of Ostend.

Parma now undertook a second, formal siege of the inner enceinte. In the summer the Dutch were forced to abandon the inner rampart altogether, and they retired to a large bastioned retrenchment which· they had heaped up in the north-eastern corner of the town.

In order to complete these fortifications the defenders had to dig up a number of dead bodies, and heap up the heads and bones of their late comrades like fascines. Since these works were made of dead bodies and freshly-dug earth, they could not offer adequate resistance to cannon-fire (Baudart, 1616, II, 340).

Unseasonable storms completed the Spaniards’ work for them. The Dutch supply ships found it increasingly difficult to make their way into Ostend, and on 22 August a combination of tempest and high tide swamped the grisly retrenchment and carried large sections of it away.

The States General finally authorised the last governor, Daniel d’Hertaing, to seek a capitulation on good terms. He shipped off all the gunners, engineers, Spanish deserters, heretical preachers and other folk who were calculated to awake the Spanish ire, and then opened negotiations with Spinola. On 20 September 1604 he was granted a free evacuation for the remaining 3,000 men of his garrison.

 Archduke Albert and the Infanta Isabella came from Ghent to view the conquest, but they could see

nothing but a misshapen chaos of earth, which hardly retained any show of the first Ostend. Ditches filled up, curtains beaten down, bulwarks torn in pieces, half-moons, flanks and redoubts so confused with one another, as one could not be distinguished from another; nor could it be known on which side the attack, or on which side the defence was (Bentivoglio, 1678, part III, book 7).

The scale of the struggle for Ostend resembled that of a war rather than a siege. The contest lasted three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours, and the losses of the Spanish from all causes are variously estimated at between 17,000 and 80,000 dead. The impartial Carnero (1625, book XV, chapter 10) puts the figure at 40,000, which seems a good average. The casualties of the Dutch are quite impossible to estimate, for their vessels made something like 3,000 round trips, bringing reinforcements to Ostend, and carrying away the sick and wounded to die or recover in their homeland.

The siege, long and costly though it was, must be accounted a major victory for the Spanish, for they had evicted the Dutch from their one remaining foothold in ‘Belgium’, and so completed the work which Parma had begun in the 1580s. The technical lessons were obvious enough: in the first place, that it was extremely difficult to take a fortress which could receive reinforcements and replenishment throughout the siege; then again, it was clear that an unprepared assault would almost certainly meet with a bloody repulse, and that it was essential to shelter the besieging troops with all the cover that earth and brushwood could provide.

Maurice and the Dutch field army had meanwhile been striving to draw the Spanish away from Ostend by reducing fortresses in other parts of the Netherlands, applying the technique of trying to break a stranglehold by stamping on the strangler’s foot. Maurice captured Rijnberk in 1601, Grave the next year, and in 1603 he essayed a determined but vain siege of s’Hertogenbosch – all without persuading the Spanish to move from Ostend. At last in the spring of 1604 the Dutch army undertook a direct offensive along the Flanders coast. Sluis and its fine harbour fell to Maurice on 19 August 1604, hardly a month before the Spanish conquered Ostend.

If the siege of Ostend had established Spinola as a master of fortress warfare, then his capacity in the open field was proved beyond doubt in the brief (but for the Dutch extremely alarming) period of fighting which preceded the Twelve Years Truce. In 1605 Spinola took a leaf out of Maurice’s book. He advanced threateningly on Sluis, then swung eastwards with 15,000 men, crossed the Rhine at Kaisersworth, and in August reduced the fortresses of Oldenzaal and Lingen. For the first time in two decades the main Spanish striking-force had been transferred to the vital pivotal area east of the Ijssel, and Maurice spoke wonderingly of the movements of this ‘flying devil’ who seemed to read his thoughts like a crystal ball.

The Eighty Years War in the Netherlands 1566-1648 89 Grol fell to Spinola on 14 August 1606, so deepening the area of his conquests in Overijssel and eastern Gelderland. Heavy rains ruled out any exploitation westwards across the Ijssel, or northeastwards towards Friesland. Spinola accordingly turned on his tracks, and strengthened his hold on the middle Rhine by taking the much-disputed fortress of Rijnberk.

Despite his recent conquests, Spinola was one of the leading advocates of a truce with the Dutch. He knew that the Spanish finances could not possibly support the strain of further campaigns. A preliminary armistice was concluded in April 1607, which led to an agreement to conclude a truce with a term of twelve years dating from 1608. The demarcation confirmed the status quo, leaving the Dutch with a narrow foothold in northern Brabant and Flanders to the south of their river line; further east, the Spanish reaped the benefit of Spinola’s recent successes, and retained Oldenzaal and Grol as tiny enclaves lodged on the borders of Germany and the Dutch provinces.

The Battle of Garigliano

Second Italian War

In the aftermath of the First Italian War, Cordoba overhauled the Spanish army. He reorganised his infantry by replacing the bulk of his swordand-buckler foot soldiers with pikemen and arquebusiers. His pike and shot troops were taught to manoeuvre over rough ground, resist cavalry attacks, and deliver shock attacks.

Charles VIII died in 1498 and was succeeded by Louis XII. Louis was keen on retaining some portion of the Kingdom of Naples and therefore proposed to Ferdinand that they divide the Kingdom of Naples between themselves. Pope Alexander, who condoned the agreement, conveniently deposed the Trastamara ruler of the kingdom. A treaty signed in 1500 gave Charles the northern part of the kingdom and Ferdinand the southern part.

Ferdinand, who became dissatisfied with the arrangement, went to war in 1502 to win control of the Kingdom of Naples for Spain. The French made the first strategic move when Louis d’Armagnac, Duke of Nemours, besieged Cordoba in the Apulian fortress of Barletta. After receiving a large body of reinforcements in early 1503, Cordoba seized the nearby French base at Cerignola.

Cordoba ordered his troops to widen a ditch at the base of the hilltop town. His men drove sharp stakes into the bottom of the ditch to prevent the enemy from crossing the ditch. The excavated dirt was then used to build a parapet behind the ditch.

As the French approached Cerignola, Cordoba deployed his 2,000 arquebusiers four ranks deep in the centre behind the parapet. To protect them, he placed 1,000 pikemen on each side of the arquebusiers. Any French troops near the ditch would be within the 40-metre range of the arquebusiers. Spanish guns on the hillside supported the troops behind the rampart.

Clash at Cerignola

Even with the field works the Spanish were in for a desperate battle. Nemours’s 9,000-strong army was nearly twice the size of Cordoba’s army; however the various arms were not well integrated. The French right division consisted of lance-wielding heavy cavalry, the centre division was composed of mercenary Swiss pikemen, and the left division was made up of French and German crossbowmen.

Nemours attacked before his artillery had a chance to deploy. Cordoba’s Spanish jinetes screened the ditch so superbly that the French had no knowledge of the existence of a ditch until their heavy cavalry reached it.

The French cavalry attack stalled at the ditch. As Nemours looked for a way through the ditch he was slain by the arquebus fire. When the surviving French gendarmes withdrew from the ditch, the Swiss pikemen attacked with all of their fury. Although they tried desperately to fight their way into the Spanish position they could not breach the field works.

As the French army began withdrawing Cordoba launched a counterattack with his pikemen. The Spanish swept the field, inflicting 5,000 casualties on the French at the loss of a few hundred Spanish troops.

Stalemate on the Garigliano

The remnant of Nemours’s army withdrew to the safety of the citadel at Gaeta to await the arrival of a new French army. King Charles XII sent 20,000 French troops overland to Naples and gave overall command of the army to Italian Condottiero Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua. Meanwhile Cordoba took possession of the city of Naples on 13 May 1503.

Cordoba deployed his 12,000 troops behind the Garigliano River in October to block the anticipated French advance against Spanish held Naples. As expected Mantua marched south only to find Cordoba’s army heavily entrenched on the south bank.

After his pioneers laid a pontoon bridge over the lower Garigliano, Mantua established a tete de pont on the far bank in early November, but Cordoba bottled up the forces in the bridgehead. When Mantua was stricken with a fever command devolved to Marquis Ludovico II of Saluzzo.

A six-week stalemate followed. Troops on both sides suffered acute hardship encamped on the marshy ground during the rainy season. While Cordoba remained at the battlefront with his troops throughout this time, the high-ranking French commanders billeted themselves in comfortable quarters in nearby towns. Believing the Spanish would remain on the defensive the French did not keep a close watch on the Spanish.

Flank attack

Spanish ally Condottiero Bartolomeo d’Alviano reinforced Cordoba’s army with 5,400 troops in mid-December. In preparation for a surprise attack on the French army Cordoba instructed his chief engineer, Pedro Navarro, to construct a pontoon bridge that could be deployed in a matter of hours when needed.

In a driving rain in the pre-dawn darkness of 29 December Navarro’s pioneers laid the bridge on a narrow portion of the swollen river opposite the extreme left flank of the French army.

For the surprise attack Cordoba had organised his army into three divisions. Alviano led the vanguard, Cordoba led the centre division, and Fernando Andrada commanded the rearguard. Alviano’s Italian troops streamed across the bridge at dawn while the French and Swiss foot soldiers were fast asleep in their huts. His light cavalry swept past the disorganised French infantry and turned east to secure the village of Castleforte to prevent the French from using it as a strongpoint. Believing the day was lost the troops on the French left streamed north towards Gaeta.

Cordoba then led his mounted Spanish men-at-arms and pikemen across the pontoon bridge to the north bank. He caught the French centre in the flank and dislodged it from the river line. At that point Saluzzo ordered a general retreat to Gaeta. A heroic French nobleman, Pierre Terrail, Seigneur de Bayard, began rallying the retreating French at a defile between the mountains and the sea near the village of Formia.

Meanwhile Andrade crossed the French bridge on the lower Garigliano and captured most of the French artillery since the French gendarmes had fled north to Formia.

Up to that point there had only been light fighting, but the two sides became locked in furious combat for an hour at the defile. When Andrada’s troops arrived to reinforce the Spanish forces already engaged at Formia, it proved too much for the French. Those French soldiers who had not been taken prisoner proceeded west to Gaeta.

Viceroy of Naples

On 1 January 1504 the French capitulated. Cordoba freed his French prisoners on the condition that they return home by sea. At the end of the month, Charles XII and Ferdinand of Aragon signed the Treaty of Lyon by which Charles ceded the Kingdom of Naples to Spain. In appreciation for the military achievement of defeating the French, King Ferdinand made Cordoba the Viceroy of Naples.

Isabella, who had always championed Cordoba, died in November 1504. Ferdinand who grew jealous of Cordoba’s reputation recalled him to Spain in 1507. He was called out of retirement in 1512 to command the Spanish forces in Italy after a major reverse at the hands of the French at Ravenna during the War of the League of Cambrai. Three years later, at the age of 62, he returned to Spain stricken with malaria. He died at Granada on 1 December 1515.

Cordoba’s genius lay in his ability to correct the shortcomings of his forces by adopting the best tactical concepts of his enemies. He readily embraced the greater use of firearms in the belief that they would transform infantry tactics. In this he was correct, for his initial integration of shot and pike troops laid the foundation for the Spanish tercios. From a geopolitical standpoint his decisive victories in the First and Second Italian Wars enabled Spain to control Sicily and southern Italy for two centuries.

Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard (1474-1524)

Nobleman, military leader Known in legend and tradition as “chevalier sans peur et sans reproche” (fearless and blameless knight), Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard, considered a model of chivalry, was born in Dauphiné, near GRENOBLE. As a young soldier, he came to the attention of CHARLES VIII, and was knighted for his bravery after the battle of Fornovo in Italy (1495). He was cited for contributing to LOUIS XII’s conquest of Milanais (1499-1500) and distinguished himself in the defense of the bridge at Garigliano (1503) against a Spanish force, and in the battle against the Venetians at Agnadel (1509). Such was Bayard’s reputation for valor that several incredible stories were told of him, including one in which he singlehandedly defended a bridge against 200 of the enemy. He was captured twice, but his chivalrous character and reputation secured his release without a ransom payment. During the war between FRANCIS I of France and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Bayard held the fortress town of Mezieres with only 1,000 men for six weeks, against a force of 35,000. He also played a part in the decisive victory of Marignan (1515). Bayard was mortally wounded while covering the retreat at the Sesia River in Italy.

The Battle of Aljubarrota 1385 AD

The choice of the cortes notwithstanding, in the spring of 1385 João I’s throne was far from secure. The legitimists remained strong in the north, and Juan was preparing a new invasion; João knew he must fight, and he desperately needed allies. With this in mind, even before his election he had sent emissaries to England to seek recruits and urge Gaunt once again to revive his claim to the crown of Castile. With difficulty, his agents engaged a small Anglo-Gascon force which reached Portugal while the cortes was still in session. Once proclaimed, João moved quickly to secure a formal alliance with Richard II, and the outcome was the treaty of Windsor signed in May 1386. Under the terms of this treaty each king agreed to provide the other with military and naval assistance on request and to grant reciprocal trading rights to their respective citizens in each other’s territory. Richard also promised to support João against any enemy who tried to overthrow him, and João sent Richard a squadron of galleys. The treaty of Windsor was the foundation stone of the long-lasting Anglo-Portuguese alliance.

Nuno Álvares Pereira meanwhile had been appointed constable of the king’s army, and in 1385 both he and João campaigned in the north where they took a string of legitimist towns, including Braga. Early in July a large Castilian raiding party was defeated at Trancoso in Beira Alta; then a few weeks later Juan crossed the border with the main Castilian army. Juan, whose force numbered perhaps 20,000 men including many legitimist Portuguese and a contingent of French men-at-arms sent by Charles VI, planned to crush the patriots with overwhelming force. He advanced towards Lisbon along the well-worn invasion route down the Mondego valley. João, on Nuno Álvares’s advice, decided not to retreat behind the walls of his capital, but to stand and fight. On 14 August 1385 João’s army of about 7,000, including the small contingent of men-at-arms and archers recruited in England, occupied defensive positions on a ridge called Aljubarrota, overlooking the Leiria-Lisbon road. The van was commanded by the constable, the main body by the king. A division of Portuguese knights and bowmen was on the right flank and the Anglo-Gascons on the left.

This was a battle between João of Portugal and Juan I of Castile, rival claimants to the Portuguese throne. The Castilian army comprised 6,000 men-at-arms (including 800 or 1,500 French mercenaries under Geoffroi de Parthenay), 2,000 jinetes, 10,000 infantry (archers, spearmen and dart-throwers) and 16 light cannon (which fired off only a few inconsequential rounds during the action). João’s forces were somewhat smaller, though numbering at least 7,000 including 2-3,000 men-at-arms; Ayala says there were 2,200 men-at-arms and 10,000 others, Froissart giving 2,500 men-at-arms and 12,000 infantry. The infantry included many archers, mostly Portuguese but including some English longbowmen (commanded by 3 esquires according to Froissart); the English element probably numbered about 700 and certainly not less than 400, Froissart saying that there were about 500, one-third of them companions.

After several hours of jockeying for position the Portuguese were formed up amidst orchards half-way down a slope by the abbey of Aljubarrota; they had felled brushwood waist-high to cover both flanks, behind which were drawn up their archers and crossbowmen (with the English on the left wing), with men-at-arms formed up on foot in the centre in a hollow square behind the single narrow passage through the archers’ barricades. They also dug a trench to their front, with two further shallow ditches containing streams providing additional protection for the flanks.

Juan, inadvisably forced to take action by young Castilian hotbloods, resolved to advance against this strong Portuguese position, despite the fact that his army had been marching for several hours and it was already late afternoon. He advanced in 3 lines, the first of his French mercenaries, the second of the Castilian horse in 3 divisions, and the third of the crossbowmen and other infantry.

Coming upon Joao’s positions, the French dismounted and began their attack without awaiting the arrival of the rest of the Castilian army. Heading for the gap between the abattis on the Portuguese flanks they were enfiladed by archers and javelinmen and despite making an initial impression in the Portuguese line they were soon repulsed by Joao’s men-at-arms, losing hundreds killed and 1,000 captured, these being subsequently killed by the Portuguese, who became concerned at having so many prisoners in their rear. Juan, failing to realise the magnitude of his van’s defeat, then launched a cavalry charge against the Portuguese, whom he was unable to outflank because of the nature of the battleground, which channelled his entire force directly at their dismounted men-at-arms so that the Portuguese infantry could enfilade them just as they had the French. The ditch presented a serious obstacle, allegedly only becoming passable when, in 40 places, it had become filled with the carcasses of shot-down horses, and reputedly not a single Castilian of some 500 who crossed over it came back alive.

When after less than an hour’s confused fighting Juan’s standard-bearer fell the exhausted Castilians began to falter, to break in rout soon after following Juan’s own flight from the battlefield. They had lost 7,500 men including 2,500 men-at-arms according to João’s own account, among them the Masters of Calatrava and Santiago, both Castilian marshals, de Parthenay and many other leading noblemen. Predictably, Portuguese losses appear to have been minimal.

Fighting in the van, many of the Portuguese legitimist leaders were mowed down – an outcome with major long-term political consequences. The rest of the invading host simply disintegrated; Juan himself was forced to flee, his campaign ending in ignominious failure. Aljubarrota proved one of the most consequential victories in Portuguese history. It confirmed the rule of João I and the house of Avis, demonstrated Portugal’s emphatic rejection of the idea of Iberian union and constituted a defining moment in the evolution of national consciousness.

Afterwards, near the place where the battle had been won, and in fulfilment of his vow on the day it was fought, João ordered an abbey be raised. Builders worked on its construction for almost 150 years, and even then it was never completed. Nevertheless, the unfinished monument – which was called Batalha (battle) abbey – is unquestionably a magnificent example of late Gothic architecture and one of the few truly outstanding buildings ever created in Portugal. It was and is a fitting symbol of the new dynasty and the triumphant reassertion of the kingdom’s independence.


A major battle involving the use of black powder weapons was at Aljubarrota on 14 August 1385, fought between the Portuguese and the army of the Spanish kingdom of Castile. The Portuguese had inferior numbers and took defensive positions behind a trench and brushwork palisades in order to keep the Castilian cavalry from making a charge. As an added measure they dug a chequered pattern of holes in the field in front in order to trip up their opponents’ horses. Creeks and steep terrain protected their flanks. The Castilians, seeing a direct assault would be risky, deployed 16 cannon and opened up on the Portuguese position. The defenders wavered, frightened by the sight and sound of the artillery more than the effect it had on their ranks, but they did not retreat because the Castilians had already sent some light cavalry around to their rear. Having nowhere to run, the Portuguese held their ground. The Castilians finally lost patience and charged, but a determined Portuguese defence won the day. Once again black powder had struck fear in the hearts of the enemy, but failed to be the deciding factor in battle. A fixed position of relatively exposed, massed men had been able to withstand an artillery barrage.


Castilian-French men-at-arms are forced to attack on a narrow front, where they are hammered by a blizzard of arrows from the flanks. Archaeological excavations of the battle site have revealed a network of defensive pits and ditches to protect the contingent of Anglo-Gascon archers fighting for the Portuguese; in addition, Froissart records that the archers cut down trees to make cavalry-proof fences.

The Rif War


Francisco Franco with fellow soldiers in Ras Medua, 1921.


“Moroccan Bomber: American Fighters in the Rif War, 1925” (by Colonel Paul Ayres Rockwell, ed. Dale L. Walker; Aviation Quarterly, Volume 5, Number 2, 2nd Quarter 1979)


Territory under the control of the Republic of the Rif (bordered in red) within Spanish Morocco.

Colonial administrators in Morocco were confronted with a major armed uprising that targeted both Spanish and French rule. Between 1921 and 1926, the Rif War posed the greatest challenge yet to European colonialism in the Arab world.

France was given the green light by the European powers to add Morocco to its North African possessions in 1912. The Moroccan sultan, Moulay Abd al-Hafiz (r. 1907–1912), signed the Treaty of Fez in March 1912, preserving his family’s rule in Morocco but conceding most of his country’s sovereignty to France under a colonial arrangement known as a protectorate. In principle this meant that France would protect the government of Morocco from outside threats, though in practice France ruled absolutely, if indirectly, through the sultan and his ministers.

The first thing the French failed to protect was Morocco’s territorial integrity. Spain had imperial interests in Morocco dating back to the sixteenth century, its coastal fortresses having long since evolved into colonial enclaves (Ceuta and Melilla remain under Spanish rule to the present day, fossils of an extinct empire). France had to negotiate a treaty with Spain setting out their respective “rights” in Morocco, a process concluded in November 1912 with the signing of the Treaty of Madrid. Under the terms of the treaty, Spain claimed a protectorate over the northern and southern extremities of Morocco. The northern zone comprised some 20,000 square kilometers (8,000 square miles) of the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastline and hinterlands, and the southern zone covered 23,000 square kilometers (9,200 square miles) of desert that came to be known as Spanish Sahara or Western Sahara. In addition, the port city of Tangier in the Strait of Gibraltar was placed under international control. After 1912 the Moroccan sultan ruled a very truncated state.

Though Morocco had enjoyed centuries of independent statehood before becoming a protectorate, its rulers had never succeeded in extending their authority over the whole of their national territory. The sultan’s control had always been strongest in the cities and weakest in the countryside. This situation was only exacerbated when Morocco came under imperial rule. Soldiers mutinied, many returning to their tribes to foment rural rebellion. The Moroccan countryside was in turmoil when the first French governor arrived to take up his post in May 1912.


Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey (November 17, 1854 – July 27, 1934) was a French general, Marshall of France, the first Resident-General in Morocco.

During his thirteen-year tenure in Morocco, Marshal Hubert Lyautey (1854–1934) would prove to be one of the great innovators of imperial administration. He arrived in Fez the day before a massive attack on the city by mutinous soldiers and their tribal supporters. He saw firsthand the limits of what French diplomats had achieved in securing European consent for French rule in Morocco.

Though trained as a military man, Lyautey did not wish to repeat the mistakes made in Algeria, where hundreds of thousands of Algerians and Frenchmen had perished in the decades it took to “pacify” the country by force. Instead of imposing European forms of administration, Lyautey hoped to win the Moroccans over by preserving local institutions and working through native leaders, starting with the sultan.

The French sought to control the cities of Morocco through the institutions surrounding the sultan’s government, known as the Makhzan (literally, the land of the treasury). Lyautey made a great show of respect for the symbols of the sultan’s sovereignty, playing the Moroccan anthem at state occasions and flying the Moroccan flag over public buildings. But such respect for the office of the sultan did not always extend to the office-holder. One of Lyautey’s first acts was to force the abdication of the reigning sultan, Moulay Abd al-Hafiz, whom he found unreliable, and his replacement with a more compliant ruler, Moulay Youssef (r. 1912–1927).

Lyautey built his control over the countryside on three indigenous pillars: the “big qa’ids,” or tribal leaders; the tariqas, or mystical Islamic brotherhoods whose network of lodges spanned the country; and the indigenous Berber people. The big qa’ids commanded the loyalty of their fellow tribesmen and were capable of raising hundreds of armed men. Having witnessed a tribal attack on Fez immediately after his arrival, Lyautey recognized the importance of securing their support for French rule. The tariqas represented a network of faith that transcended tribal ties whose lodges had served to shelter dissidents and mobilize religious opposition to repel non-Muslim invaders. Lyautey knew that the Algerian tariqas had played an important role in Abdel Kader’s resistance to the French in the 1830s and 1840s and was determined to co-opt their support for his government. The Berbers are a non-Arab minority community with a distinct language and culture. The French sought to play the Berbers of North Africa against their Arab neighbors in a classic divide-and-rule strategy. A law of September 1914 decreed that Morocco’s Berber tribes henceforth would be governed in accordance with their own laws and customs under French supervision as a sort of protectorate within a protectorate.

This Lyautey system was no less imperial for preserving indigenous institutions. French administrators ruled in all departments of “modern” government: finance, public works, health, education, and justice, among others. Religious affairs, pious endowments, Islamic courts, and the like came under Moroccan authority. Yet Lyautey’s system provided local leaders incentives to collaborate with, rather than subvert, the French colonial administration. The more Moroccan notables implicated in French rule, the fewer Lyautey had to “pacify” on the battlefield. Lyautey was feted as a great innovator, whose concern for preserving indigenous customs and traditions was seen by his contemporaries as a compassionate colonialism.

Even under the Lyautey system, however, a great deal of Morocco remained to be conquered. To reduce the drain on the French army, Lyautey recruited and trained Moroccan soldiers willing to deliver their own country to French rule. Though he aspired to total conquest, Lyautey focused on the economic heartland of Morocco, which he dubbed le Maroc utile, or “Useful Morocco,” comprising those regions with greatest agricultural, mining, and water resources.

The conquest of Useful Morocco proceeded slowly against sustained resistance from the countryside. Between the establishment of the protectorate in 1912 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, French control stretched from Fez to Marrakesh, including the coastal cities of Rabat, Casablanca, and the new port of Kéni-tra, which was renamed Port Lyautey. There matters were left to stand for the duration of the war years, when 34,000 Moroccan soldiers were called to fight France’s war with Germany, suffering high casualties for their imperial overlord. Lyautey himself was recalled between 1916 and 1917 to serve as the French minister of war. Even so, the system held, with the big qa’ids proving France’s greatest supporters in Morocco. The rural notables met in Marrakesh in August 1914 and acknowledged their dependence on France. “We are the friends of France,” one of the leading notables declared, “and to the very end we shall share her fortunes be it good or bad.”

In the aftermath of the war and the Paris Peace Conference, Lyautey resumed the conquest of Morocco—and faced stronger opposition than ever. In 1923, over 21,000 French troops were fighting an estimated 7,000 Moroccan insurgents. Yet his biggest challenge would come from outside the territory of the French protectorate, from the Berber people of the Rif Mountains of the northern Spanish zone. His nemesis would be a small-town judge named Muhammad ibn Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi, better known as Abd el-Krim. From his native Rif Mountains, overlooking the Mediterranean coastline, Abd el-Krim mounted a five-year rebellion between 1921–1926 that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Spanish soldiers in what has been called the worst defeat of a colonial army in Africa in the twentieth century.

Conflict between the people of the Rif (known as Rifis) and the Spanish broke out in the summer of 1921. Inspired by debates about Islamic social and religious reform, Abd el-Krim rejected French and Spanish rule alike and aspired to an independent state in the Rif quite separate from the Kingdom of Morocco. “I wanted to make the Rif an independent country like France and Spain, and to found a free state with full sovereignty,” he explained. “Independence which assured us complete freedom of self-determination and the running of our affairs, and to conclude such treaties and alliances as we saw fit.”

A charismatic leader, Abd el-Krim recruited thousands of Rifis into a disciplined and motivated army. The Rifis had the double advantage of fighting to protect their homes and families from foreign invaders and doing so on their own treacherous mountain terrain. Between July and August 1921, Abd el-Krim’s forces decimated the Spanish army in Morocco, killing some 10,000 soldiers and taking hundreds prisoner. Spain sent reinforcements and, in the course of 1922, managed to reoccupy territory that had fallen to Abd el-Krim’s forces. However, the Rifis continued to score victories against Spanish troops and managed to capture more than 20,000 rifles, 400 mountain guns, and 125 cannon, which were quickly distributed among their fighting men.

The Rifi leader ransomed his prisoners to get the Spanish to subsidize his war effort. In January 1923, Abd el-Krim secured over four million pesetas from the Spanish government for the release of soldiers taken prisoner by the Rifis since the start of the war. This enormous sum funded Abd el-Krim’s ambitious plans to build on his revolt to establish an independent state.

In February 1923, Abd el-Krim laid the foundations of an independent state in the Rif. He accepted the Rifi tribes’ pledges of allegiance and assumed political leadership as amir (commander or ruler) of the mountain region. The Spanish responded by mobilizing another campaign force to reconquer the Rif. Between 1923 and 1924 the Rifis dealt the Spaniards a number of defeats, crowned by the conquest of the mountain town of Chaouen in the autumn of 1924. The Spanish lost another 10,000 soldiers in the battle. Such victories gave Abd el-Krim and his Rifi legions more confidence than prudence. If the Spanish could be defeated so easily, why not the French?

The Rif War provoked grave concern in France. On a tour of his northern front in June 1924, Lyautey was alarmed to see how the defeat of Spanish forces left French positions vulnerable to attack by the Rifis. The Rif was a poor, mountainous land that was heavily reliant on food imports from the fertile valleys of the French zone. Lyautey needed to reinforce the region between Fez and the Spanish Zone to prevent the Rifis from invading to secure their food needs.

Lyautey returned to Paris in August to brief the premier, Edouard Herriot, and his government on the threat posed by Abd el-Krim’s insurrectionary state. Yet the French were overstretched, in occupation of the Rhineland and setting up their administration in Syria and Lebanon, and could not spare the men and material Lyautey believed the absolute minimum to preserve his position in Morocco. Whereas he requested the immediate dispatch of four infantry battalions, the government could muster only two. A life-long conservative, Lyautey sensed that he did not have the support of Herriot’s Radical government. Seventy years old, and in poor health, he returned to Morocco with neither the physical nor the political strength to contain the Rifis.

In April 1925, Abd el-Krim’s forces turned south and invaded the French zone. They sought the support of the local tribes that claimed the agricultural lands to the south of the Rif. Abd el-Krim’s commanders met with the tribal leaders to explain the situation as they saw it. “Holy war had been proclaimed by Abd el-Krim, the true Sultan of Morocco, to throw out the infidels, and particularly the French, in the name of the greater glory of regenerated Islam.” The occupation of all of Morocco by Abd el-Krim’s forces, they explained, “was no more than a question of days.” Abd el-Krim increasingly saw his movement as a religious war against non-Muslims who were occupying Muslim land, and he staked a claim to the sultanate of Morocco as a whole, and not just the smaller Rif Republic.

As Lyautey had feared, the Rifis swept rapidly through his poorly defended northern agricultural lands. The French were forced to evacuate all European citizens and to withdraw their troops from the countryside to the city of Fez, with heavy casualties. In just two months, the French had lost forty-three army posts and suffered 1,500 dead and 4,700 wounded or missing in action against the Rifis.

In June, with his forces encamped just 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) from Fez, Abd el-Krim wrote to the Islamic scholars of the city’s famous Qarawiyyin mosque-university to win them over to his cause. “We tell you and your colleagues . . . who are men of good faith and have no relations with hypocrites or infidels, of the state of servitude into which the disunited nation of Morocco is sunk,” he wrote. He accused the reigning sultan, Moulay Youssef, of having betrayed his nation to the French and of surrounding himself with corrupt officials. Abd el-Krim asked the religious leaders of Fez for their support as a matter of religious duty.

It was a persuasive argument, put forward in sound, theological terms supported by many quotes from the Qur’an on the necessity of jihad. But the Arab religious scholars of Fez did not throw their support behind the Berber Rifis. When it reached the outskirts of Fez, Abd el-Krim’s army came up against the solidly French-controlled “Useful Morocco” created by the Lyautey system. Faced with a choice between the aspiring national liberation movement from the Rif and the solidly established instruments of French imperial rule, the Muslim scholars of Fez clearly believed the Lyautey system was the stronger of the two.

Abd el-Krim’s movement came to a halt at the walls of Fez in June 1925. If the three pillars of French rule in the countryside were the mystical Muslim brotherhoods, the leading tribal notables, and the Berbers, then Lyautey had secured two out of the three. “The greatest reason for my failure,” Abd el-Krim later reflected, “was religious fanaticism.” The claim is incongruous in light of Abd el-Krim’s own use of Islam to rally support for a holy war against the imperial powers. But the Rifi leader was actually referring to the mystical Muslim brotherhoods. “The shaykhs of the tariqas were my bitterest enemies and the enemies of my country as it progressed,” he believed. He had no more success with the big qa’ids. “At first I tried to win over the masses to my point of view by argument and demonstration,” Abd el-Krim wrote, “but I met with great opposition from the main families with powerful influence.” With one exception, he claimed, “the rest were all my enemies.”18 In their opposition to Abd el-Krim, the big qa’ids and the shaykhs of the brotherhoods had all upheld French rule in Morocco as Lyautey intended. As for the Berbers—Abd al-Krim and his Rifi fighters were themselves Berbers. They took Lyautey’s policy of Berber separatism further than Lyautey himself ever intended. It is of no doubt that the Rifis’ Berber identity played a role in discouraging Moroccan Arabs from joining their campaign against the French.

Though his system of colonial government held, Lyautey himself fell to the Rifi challenge. To his critics in Paris, the overflow of the Rif War into the French protectorate proved the failure of Lyautey’s efforts to achieve the total submission of Morocco. As major reinforcements from France flooded Morocco in July 1925, Lyautey—exhausted by months of campaigning against the Rifis compounded by ill health—asked for another commander to assist him. The French government dispatched Marshal Philippe Pétain, the hero of the World War I battle of Verdun, to assist. In August, Pétain took control of French military operations in Morocco. The following month, Lyautey tendered his resignation. He left Morocco for good in October 1925.

Abd el-Krim did not long survive Lyautey. The French and Spanish combined forces to crush the Rifi insurgency. The Rifi army had already withdrawn back to its mountain homeland in northern Morocco, where it came under a two-front siege by massive French and Spanish armies in September 1925. By October, the European armies had completely surrounded the Rif Mountains and imposed a complete blockade to starve the Rifis into submission. Abd el-Krim’s efforts to negotiate a resolution were rebuffed, and in May 1926, the Rif Mountains were overrun by a joint European force of some 123,000 soldiers. Rifi resistance crumbled, and Abd el-Krim surrendered to the French on May 26. He was later exiled to the Indian Ocean island of Réunion, where he remained until 1947.

With the collapse of the Rif War, France and Spain resumed their colonial administration of Morocco unencumbered by further domestic opposition. Though the Rif War did not engender sustained resistance to the French or Spanish in Morocco, Abd el-Krim and his movement sparked the imagination of nationalists across the Arab world. They saw the Rifis as an Arab people (not as Berbers) who had led a heroic resistance to European rule and had inflicted numerous defeats on modern armies in defense of their land and faith. Their five-year insurgency (1921–1926) against Spain and France inspired some Syrian nationalists to mount their own revolt against the French in 1925.