On the 17th April 1492, the Catholic Monarchs of Spain – Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand – signed an agreement to support Christopher Columbus’ voyage in which he crossed the Atlantic and discovered the Americas.
The Capitulations of Santa Fe granted a number of official titles to Columbus as well as ten per cent of any treasure he was able to secure. The Capitulations mention the possibility of pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices, and – just in case he found anything else – “other objects of whatever kind, name and sort”.
Columbus’ plan was not to reach the Americas. He was trying to find an alternative route to the valuable spice markets of Asia by sailing West across the open Atlantic, rather than having to navigate around Africa. The modern belief that people at the time feared he would drop off the edge of a flat earth is a myth, since people had accepted that the Earth was a sphere since the time of the Ancient Greeks.
Columbus’ fleet of three ships set off from the Canary Islands on 6th September 1492. 5 weeks later they landed in what are now the Bahamas. Despite significant evidence against him, by the time Columbus died in 1506 he still refused to acknowledge that he had not, in fact, discovered the Western route to Asia. However, he was made Governor of the Indies by the Catholic Monarchs, although they removed him after accusations of cruelty. The Spanish rulers said that this cancelled the Capitulations of Santa Fe, and so refused to give him to 10% of all profits originally agreed.
The Spanish Civil War began in July 1936 after a military coup by Spanish forces in North Africa failed to secure complete control over the country. Their unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government of the Second Spanish Republic left the country divided between the generally left-leaning and urban Republicans and the conservative Nationalist rebels.
Having unified the Nationalist forces in 1937, Franco secured assistance from Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy who provided both military equipment and personnel. Meanwhile the USSR provided assistance to the Republicans, even though all three countries had previously signed a non-intervention agreement.
By the end of 1938 the Nationalists had split the Republican-controlled areas in two, allowing them to focus on capturing Catalonia while keeping Madrid under siege. The fall of Catalonia in February 1939 triggered the resignation of the President of the Republic and the decision by both Britain and France to recognise the Nationalist government.
With Republican forces fleeing across the border into France, a coup was launched against the Prime Minister Juan Negrín with the intention of negotiating a peace deal with the Nationalists. However, Franco refused to accept anything other than unconditional surrender. By 27 March the Nationalists were facing virtually no resistance as they marched into previously Republican-held territory. Madrid surrendered the next day, and Nationalist troops seized the remaining Republican areas by the end of the month. On 1 April, Franco went on the radio to proclaim victory.
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 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.
Raleigh had been a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, who granted him permission to lead three expeditions to the Americas. Although he had inspired the Queen’s fury after secretly marrying one of her ladies-in-waiting, Raleigh had returned to her favour by the time she died in March 1603.
In November, Raleigh was found guilty of treason for his involvement in the Main Plot that sought to depose Elizabeth’s successor James I and replace him with his cousin Arabella Stuart. The King suspended the death sentence and instead imprisoned Raleigh in the Tower of London, where he lived for thirteen years before being pardoned.
Raleigh was freed and granted permission by James to undertake an expedition in search of the fabled city of El Dorado, which began in 1617. In January 1618 a group of his men ignored an order to avoid confrontation with Spanish settlers when Lawrence Keymis, Raleigh’s closest companions, led an attack on the Spanish outpost of Santo Tomé de Guayana on the Orinoco River. This was in direct contravention of peace treaties signed between England and Spain. Raleigh’s son, Walter, was also killed in the attack.
Although Raleigh himself had specifically ordered his men not to attack, he knew that their actions had broken a key condition of his pardon. On his return to England the Spanish ambassador demanded the earlier sentence be reinstated, and King James had little option but to order Raleigh’s execution. He was beheaded in the Old Palace Yard at the Palace of Westminster on 29 October 1618.
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.