At 8am on the 3rd August 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail from the Spanish port of Palos de la Frontera on the voyage that would take him to the Americas. While Columbus captained the Santa María, Palos natives commonly referred to as the Pinzón brothers captained the Pinta and the Santa Clara which is better known by its nickname the Niña. A third Pinzón brother, was the master of the Pinta.
None of the ships belonged to Columbus himself and, despite the voyage officially being supported by the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, they forced the inhabitants of the port to contribute towards the costs associated with supplying and equipping them. In the case of the Pinta, its owners had even been forced to send the ship on the voyage against their wishes, leading to suspicions of sabotage when the rudder broke after just three days at sea.
The ships sailed first to the Canary Islands, which they reached after six days. Here they repaired the rudder of the Pinta and restocked with provisions for the Atlantic crossing, which they began on the 6th September from the port of San Sebastián de la Gomera.
However, it is Palos de la Frontera that holds the real title as the starting point of Columbus’ transatlantic voyage. The town also played a significant role in the later Christianisation of the New World since it continued to be a departure point for later westward voyages and was the location of the Franciscan Rábida Monastery that sent some of the first missionaries to the Americas.
Often referred to as the ‘lost city of the Incas’, Machu Picchu was constructed in the middle of the 15th century but was abandoned barely a century later in 1572. Believed by modern archaeologists to have been built as a retreat for Incan royalty, the city was never found by the Spanish conquistadors and its existence slowly became known only to those who lived in the local area.
Although there is evidence that the city had been visited by explorers before Bingham, he was the first to conduct an archaeological survey of the area and to secure worldwide publicity for it. He did so as a result of leading the 1911 Yale Peruvian Expedition, having visited the country three years previously on his way home from the First Pan American Scientific Congress.
Bingham’s expedition travelled down the Urubamba River, seeking local information about Inca ruins. Eventually he met Melchor Arteaga who led him up the Huayna Picchu mountain. Here the eleven-year-old Pablito, the son of a farmer, led him to the main Machu Picchu ruins.
Bingham first saw the site on 24 July, but the intricate stonework was covered in vegetation from five hundred years of disuse. Consequently he only conducted preliminary investigations before continuing the expedition along the river. He returned to the mountain the following year to clear the overgrowth and conduct an archaeological excavation with the support of Yale University and National Geographic. Artefacts taken from the site by Bingham have since been returned to Peru, and Machu Picchu continues to be one of the world’s leading tourist sites.
On the 15th July 1834 the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, otherwise known as the Spanish Inquisition, was disbanded. Originally established in 1478 by the Catholic Monarchs, the Spanish Inquisition came under the direct control of the Spanish monarchy rather than the church which meant it was used as both a religious and political organization. By the time it was abolished, up to 150,000 people had been tried by the Spanish Inquisition, of whom somewhere between two and five thousand were executed.
The Spanish Inquisition’s main task was to regulate and maintain Catholic orthodoxy within the dual kingdoms of Aragon and Castile. Their main focus was therefore on Jews who outwardly converted to Christianity but continued to practice Judaism. Known as Crypto-Jews, this group was disproportionately targeted by the Inquisition, especially after Ferdinand and Isabella ordered all Jews and Muslims to convert to Catholicism or leave the country in decrees issued in 1492 and 1501. The British historian Henry Kamen estimates that up to 90% of Inquisition trials were for conversos.
The Enlightenment had a significant impact on the activity of the Spanish Inquisition, as the government gradually became more secular. The fact that many of the Enlightenment texts were being brought in to Spain by influential nobles meant the ideas that would previously have been policed by the Inquisition had to be increasingly tolerated. Although the Inquisition made a short comeback after Napoleon Bonaparte’s older brother Joseph dissolved it during his short time as king, the Inquisition was finally abolished by Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies.
Sir Francis Drake entered the Bay of Cádiz and attacked the Spanish naval fleet in an event known as ‘Singeing the King of Spain’s Beard’.
Tensions between Protestant England and Catholic Spain had steadily increased due to a combination of religious, economic and political factors. Alongside ongoing religious conflicts that saw the excommunication of the English ruler Elizabeth I in 1570, the Spanish were frustrated by repeated raids from English privateers against their territories in the West Indies and of English support for the Dutch Revolt against Spain.
These tensions led to the outbreak of the Anglo-Spanish War in 1585. The first months of the conflict saw Drake lead a series of attacks against Spanish possessions in the West Indies and the Americas, which prompted King Philip II of Spain to begin planning the invasion England and the restoration of Catholicism.
The Spanish king began to assemble his fleet, which was later to become known as the Armada, in the Spanish port of Cádiz and the Portuguese port of Lisbon. Meanwhile in England Queen Elizabeth put Drake in charge of a fleet that was to inspect and disrupt the Spanish preparations. He set sail on 12 April with four Royal Navy galleons and twenty smaller ships.
Drake’s fleet arrived at the Spanish port on 29 April and began to attack that evening. Having destroyed or captured numerous naval and merchant vessels Drake spent the next few weeks patrolling the coast between Cádiz and Lisbon and destroying every ship he encountered. Over one hundred ships in total were destroyed or captured, and Spanish plans for the invasion of England had to be put back for over a year.
On the afternoon of 26th April 1937, the Basque town of Guernica experienced what is seen by many as the first large-scale modern air raid against a civilian population.
By the Spring of 1937, Guernica was just 30km away from the front line fighting of the Spanish Civil War, and lay within the focal area for the Nationalist army’s advance on the city of Bilbao. The town was also a Republican communication centre, and was the location of a weapons factory. Documents released in the 1970s show that the attack was part of a larger Nationalist strategy in the north, in which roads and bridges would be destroyed in order to upset Republican troop movements.
However, as historian César Vidal Manzanares notes, the level of destruction was disproportionate to the town’s strategic value. At first, five waves of bombers attacked Guernica over a period of 90 minutes. Further waves came in the early evening, along with a number of fighter planes that strafed the roads leading out of the devastated town, increasing the civilian death toll as people tried to escape the burning ruins.
The number of civilian casualties from the attack has never been fully determined. However, figures in excess of a thousand that were cited until the 1980s are now known to have been exaggerated. Historians now accept that between 170 and 300 civilians were killed in the bombing, although it’s likely that many more died from their injuries.
On the 11th March 1918 the first confirmed case of what was to become known as Spanish Flu was identified at Camp Funston in Fort Riley, a huge military facility in Kansas. Within 18 months the disease had become a pandemic that infected up to a third of the entire world’s population. With between 10-20% of all infected persons dying, modern estimates place the flu as taking anywhere between 20 to 100 million lives.
The exact geographical origin of the disease has never been identified, but the first confirmed case was company cook Private Albert Gitchell in Kansas who reported to the camp’s infirmary when he woke in the morning. By midday 107 soldiers had been admitted with the same symptoms.
The outbreak came while American soldiers were being shipped to Europe to fight in the First World War. The conditions in the trenches of the Western Front accelerated the spread of the virus, and contributed greatly to it becoming a pandemic. Poor hygiene and nutrition provided a fertile breeding ground for the flu, which soon made its way into the civilian populations of Europe as well.
Due to wartime censorship, governments limited reports on the virulence of the flu and played down the death toll. However, newspapers in neutral Spain faced no such limitations, resulting in people believing Spain was suffering disproportionately high cases which led to it gaining the name Spanish Flu.
With even the lowest estimates placing the number of deaths from Spanish Flu at 20 million, the pandemic killed more people than had died on all sides in the First World War itself.
On the 9th March 1841, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that captive Africans who had seized control of the Amistad ship had been taken into slavery illegally and were therefore free under American law. The United States vs. The Amistad case was a landmark legal battle in the struggle against slavery and provided the abolitionist movement with huge publicity.
Early in 1839 a number of Africans, including Joseph Cinqué from Sierra Leone, had been kidnapped by Portuguese slavers and transported to Cuba. This was in clear violation of international laws that prohibited the African slave trade. However, once smuggled into Cuba – where slavery remained legal – they were sold on as slaves and transported along the coast on the Spanish-owned Amistad. It was while on this journey that Cinqué led the slaves in a revolt against the crew that resulted in the deaths of the ship’s captain and cook.
The Africans demanded the remaining crew return them to Africa, but instead they sailed north for 60 days, where the ship was taken into US custody off the eastern tip of Long Island, New York. A long legal battle then ensued, with Cuba demanding the return of the apparent ‘slaves’, Spain demanding them go on trial for piracy and murder, and abolitionists pushing for their return to Africa.
A key argument in the case was that, since the Africans had been illegally captured, they were free rather than slaves. The long case eventually went before the Supreme Court who ruled that they had been unlawfully held as slaves, and thus rebelled in a natural right to self-defense. The court set them free.
On the 28th February 1525 Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec Emperor, was executed on the orders of the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. Cuauhtémoc, which means “One who swoops down like an eagle” continues to be a highly regarded in modern-day Mexico as the only Aztec emperor to have survived the Spanish conquest.
Little is known of Cuauhtémoc’s early life and, by the time he was elected leader of Tenochtitlan in 1520, the Aztec city-state had already been invaded by the Spanish and experienced the successive deaths of Moctezuma II and his brother Cuitlahuac. The new ruler attempted to defend the city against the continued Spanish attacks, but was captured on the 13th August 1521 while trying to escape.
Cuauhtémoc surrendered to Cortés and was spared, with contemporary sources claiming that the conquistador initially treated his captive with respect. However, having failed to find large quantities of gold in the city, he tortured Cuauhtémoc by covering his feet in oil and placing them over a fire. Despite this ordeal, Cuauhtémoc allegedly refused to give away the location of his treasures, though a small amount of gold was later found in the house of a noble. Afterwards he was allowed to keep the title of tlatoani but was stripped of his sovereign powers.
In 1525, when Cortés undertook an expedition to Honduras, he took Cuauhtémoc with him. Some suggest that this is because he was concerned the former emperor might lead a revolt in his absence. While they were away Cortés was informed of a rumour that Cuauhtémoc was conspiring to kill him. He was hanged on the 28th February alongside other nobles.
On the 28th November 1520, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan led the first European ships from the Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific as part of his planned circumnavigation of the earth. Magellan’s route into the Pacific took him through what we now call the Strait of Magellan. After emerging in calm waters on the other side he called the new ocean Mar Pacifico, or the Pacific Ocean, as the waters were very calm.
Magellan’s voyage was funded by the Spanish king, Charles I, who is better known by his subsequent title of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. By the early 1500s it had become evident that Christopher Columbus’ voyages had not found a westward route to the Indies. Consequently the Spanish crown sought to find one, since the eastward route around Africa had been reserved for the Portuguese under the terms of the Treaty of Tordesillas signed in 1498.
Having crossed the Atlantic, Magellan’s fleet searched the South American coast for a channel that would lead them through the land mass. On the 21st October they concluded that they had found the passage at Cape Virgins, and entered it on the 1st November. As a result the channel was first known as the Strait of All Saints.
Three weeks later, Magellan and three ships emerged into the calm waters of the South Pacific. They soon made landfall at the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, so called due to the fires lit by the inhabitants to ward off the low temperatures. The fleet reached South East Asia the following spring, where Magellan was killed in battle on the 7th April.
On the 17th November 1558, Elizabeth I succeeded her half-sister Mary to become queen of England. The last of the Tudor dynasty, Elizabeth’s reign is seen by many as a ‘golden age’ in English history. A period of relative political and religious stability, her reign saw unprecedented foreign exploration and expansion, while at home the English Renaissance brought about enormous cultural developments and the rise of one of the greatest playwrights ever to have lived – William Shakespeare.
Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and, despite being declared illegitimate following the annulment of her parents’ marriage, came to the throne as the next in line behind her Catholic half-sister under the terms of the Third Succession Act. Having become queen when she was 25 years old, Elizabeth relied heavily on a group of advisers led by Robert Cecil and is generally seen as providing stability through her long reign, in comparison to her two siblings.
Soon after assuming power she introduced the Elizabethan Religious Settlement consisting of two Acts of Parliament which resolved much of the Protestant/Catholic divide that had characterised the years before and after her reign. However, this did little to appease the Catholic Philip II of Spain who famously launched the Spanish Armada against England in 1588 but was defeated.
Elizabeth never married nor had any heirs, leading to her becoming known as the Virgin Queen. When she died, the lack of an heir led to the end of the Tudor dynasty and the beginning of the Stuarts after James VI of Scotland became James I of England.