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42 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History that needed to be known, 14 Dec 2003
This review is from: Rivers Of Gold: The Rise Of The Spanish Empire (Hardcover)
The Spanish Empire is one of history’s turning points, which makes the significant lack of information available to the English reader inexplicable. We know it existed, but we know very little of its nature and compositions, indeed, I’ve met people who believe that the Spanish only ever held Cuba and the Philippines, which they lost to America in 1898.
Recently, however, there has been an upsurge in books dedicated to that period of history. Spain’s Road to Empire is one such book – and now Hugh Thomas has added his own book on the subject. In doing so he provides background to ‘The Conquest of Mexico’, which he wrote several years before and is still the definite (if long-winded) word on the subject.
Thomas begins by examining the victory of the two monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, perhaps the ablest monarchs in an outstanding generation of European rulers, over the Muslims. This victory completed their quest to unify Spain under their banner. He then discusses the processes and politics that led to Spain (and Portugal) becoming involved in the New World and the development of what we, in later years, would call the ‘white mans burden’. Not unlike the British, the Spanish monarchy would consider the native Americans their responsibility, while adopting an attitude of complete unconcern over the fate of Jews, Muslims and Conversos, who were Jews who had embraced Christianity.
There is frustratingly little detail on the problems in Spain that resulted from Charles becoming Holy Roman Emperor. The Commeros revolt looks a little like the Nomonhan incident – we know its important, but how many sources are there on it?
There is ample ground for alternate history speculations. The link between the mother nations and the early colonists was fragile, it may have been cut at any time, leaving the colonies as independent nations. A bid for independence on the part of Cortes was apparently expected (although it never materialised) by the royal agents, who spent considerable effort in neutralising him. Other possibilities along those lines came very close to frutation when the Spanish court tried to press laws that granted natives some basic rights, or when the religious orders tried to press their own power and influence over the Indians.
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