The above painting is part of a larger painting depicting a war between Spanish and Dutch warships. Through a crazy pattern of inheritance, the Kings of Spain claimed lordship over Holland. There was war between them for decades in the 1500’s. This was one of those wars beyond Spain’s borders that, ultimately, led to Spain’s financial ruin.
Catalunya’s marriage to Castilians
In 1467 the Kingdom of Castile and the Kingdom of Aragon would be united under one crown, though, Castile and Aragon, like Aragon and Catalunya, would each have their own internal rule. Externally they became one. The history of the entire world would change forever because of this. This isn’t exaggeration.
After some drama as Ferdinand and Isabella consolidated power unto themselves, and doused Portuguese aims to control the Castilian Crown, one critical order of business was get rid of the Muslims, once and for all. The combined manpower of Aragon and Castile was the death knell for the Emirate of Granada. 1492 saw the surrendering of the Alhambra to the Catholic Kings. La Reconquista – the Reconquering of Iberia from Muslims – had ended.
That same year Ferdinand and Isabella took a chance by financing an exploration headed by the Italian Christopher Columbus. His tutelage under the master navigators at Lisbon made him bold. He sailed west across the unknown Atlantic hoping to find a trade route to the Orient, and bypass the sea lanes controlled by the Portuguese around the southern tip of Africa that led them to the Orient. Instead, Columbus discovered North and South America. This is why the history of the world would change forever.
Spanish Conquistadors, with militant characters forged in La Reconquista, conquered Mexico, Peru and the lands in between. Their stories are some of the most epic in all history. The gold and silver that was to come from plunder and mining in the New World would help make Spain become the most powerful kingdom in Europe in the 1500’s. It had created a world empire, though, technically, Portugal’s was first.
As students of European history know, the Mediterranean lost its commercial significance as a result of the creation of the Iberian Empires. The gateway to the riches of the world now lay through the Atlantic. The Mediterranean was no longer the “center of the world” – you know “Mediterranean” means exactly that, right? A new world order was coming into existence. Its foundation was commerce. Modern capitalism was being born. Portugal had bypassed the Silk Road to bring goodies from Asia. Spain brought silver to Europe and Asia and created a common currency that all the world could trade with.
Thus, the Catalan-Aragonese empire, married into the Castilian Crown, though continuing, was destined to become less and less significant during the race to establish world empires in the 1500 and 1600’s. After all, Venice lost its power as Portugal found a new way to get Oriental spices. This would reduce Catalan power and wealth as well. Thus, there was a stagnation to the Catalan economy, and it would become worse as Spain’s glory began to fall.
That fall really began in the 1600’s. Corruption, micro-management and incessant wars to conquer European lands far from Spain’s borders crumbled its internal finances. As Spain’s power waned, with other European powers marauding its overseas empires, the Crown of Castile began to encroach ever more on what was supposed to be the autonomous Catalan-Aragonese kingdom through higher taxation and conscription. Catalan animosity towards Castile went from mistrust to hatred.
This led to revolt by the Catalans in 1641, who sought help from France. The Catalan efforts failed. Then there was another revolt against Madrid during the War of Spanish Succession from 1701 to 1714. This effort failed too. The result of the famous Siege of Barcelona on September 11th 1714 was the new Spanish Bourbon king’s destruction of any trace of Catalan autonomy that was supposed to have existed since the Catalan-Aragonese union with Castile. Their parliament was now gone.
This didn’t fix the situation. There were were more than a few attempts by Catalans to win their independence in the 1800’s, especially after Catalunya’s industrialization and the consequent desire to control their new wealth and economic destiny without interference from autocratic Madrid. This dynamic continued into the 20th and even 21st centuries. In 2017 Catalunya made headlines across the world because of yet another attempt to divorce itself from Madrid.
I’m leaving out a ton of history of course. Certainly occurrences in recent times have driven Catalan desire for independence more than what happened in the 1600’s and 1700’s. However, my overarching point to this section is that there’s always been a sense of separateness felt by the Catalan people with respect to the Castilians. It goes back to 1467. It’s real. They have their own language and culture. Thus, they want their own nation.
Many Catalans will always consider Madrid as a tyrannical usurper of authority Catalans should have over their own lands, especially when paying taxes. Many will always want independence, as many in Scotland want their independence from England. Time will tell what happens.
So, again, a Catalan is not something that comes out of a cat’s throat.
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