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Assess the Significance of Spanish Rulers’ Desire for Religious Uniformity in the Expansion of Their Power 1474-1598

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Assess the significance of Spanish rulers’ desire for Religious uniformity in the expansion of their power 1474-1598

The Spanish expansion of power during the era of 1474-1598 can be clearly categorised into three separate periods, with each different ruler of Spain bringing with them a diverse train of thought in regard to expansion than their predecessor. Firstly, with Ferdinand and Isabella came the union of Iberia under one household, and in 1492 they succeeded in conquering Granada which is seen the first physical expansion of power during their reign, and this period. Granada was of key significance to the monarchs as, for Isabella, it provided a stronghold of Moorish tradition and beliefs, and for Ferdinand it gave his enemies in North Africa a gateway to Spain. so when the announcement came from the crown that it was to begin conquering Granada in 1481 it can be said that both Isabella and Ferdinand had different agendas and motives, however in 1481 Ferdinand was stated to say that he “wished to conquer that kingdom of Granada and expel from all Spain the enemies of the catholic faith and dedicate Spain to the service of God”. Also in a letter from the monarchs dated 1485 they state their intent to spread the catholic faith and remove the “unremitting menace” from the southern lands. Furthermore this source also goes to state that if Ferdinand and Isabella wished to simply expand physical power or gather treasure they would have done so already, assumingly from other areas, rather than a religious crusade. However it is suggestible that Ferdinand simply said this in order to deem his actions for the purpose of Spain and Rome, when in reality his quest for physical expansion will have probably been what fuelled his aspirations. This expansion of power cannot be seen to seek religious uniformity as within the area convivencia, a system of which Muslims Jews and Catholics all coexist peacefully, was still widely accepted and practised. Showing that Ferdinand and Isabella’s motives at this time were not entirely religious and more a territorial gain enforcing the expulsion of the Moors from Iberian land.
The acquisition of the Pyrenees (Navarre, Roussillon and Cerdagne) is also another expansion of Spanish power during the period 1474-1598 completely unmotivated by religious uniformity. Ferdinand took the Pyrenees in 1512 after the king of Navarre, King Jean d'Albret, refused to join a holy league against France, so Ferdinand then seized his opportunity to invade, claiming it as his duty to do so. This is again another example of secular motives driving Ferdinand into the French territory as he sought not for religious uniformity but to recapture previously lost land from the French. It can be said that Ferdinand was simply interested in supporting the interests of his Aragonese people in his attempts to reclaim the land lost by John II, Ferdinand’s father, as Ferdinand and Isabella's kingdom still remained largely divided. The geographical location of Navarre, Roussillon and Cerdagne all support this as they all border Aragon, and therefore posed a threat to Ferdinand at all times during his reign. So to capture Navarre, Roussillon and Cerdagne and make them his own not only expands the power of the united Iberia, but it also strengthens Ferdinand's home nation too.
When the Spanish inquisition began in 1478 the questions about its expansion of power are somewhat flawed. It would be advised to view the inquisition as not only a tool of the monarchy to clear out many ethnic and religious minorities from Iberia but to also limit the power and population of any opposition the catholic monarchs may have had.
During the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella it is notable that their religious policy and certainly uniformity was extremely inconsistent and in many cases their actions in expanding Spanish power undoubtedly had motives other than religion. As Woodward states “few states in Europe exercised as much control over their church” but when talking of expanding power it was very much the case that either personal or secular reasons depicted their actions. The inquisition is the only real stamp of religion over the Iberian states, and although was carried on for many years, still did not enforce uniformity over Spain’s people as it was merely a selection process. This was, as many of the religious changes during the time, Isabella’s idea and she was the driving force behind the movement. And it can be said that Ferdinand was always more interested in the physical act of taking land and the politics that ensue, rather than seeking to bind his people under one religion, Catholicism. In fact the most notable action of Ferdinand’s intentions during this era is when he refused to employ the inquisition within Aragon, even when Isabella had done so in Castile, showing his reluctance to enforce such a scheme and therefore the lack of religious uniformity. It is Kamen who best describes the monarch’s actions during their reign stating “though the monarchs, as fervent Catholics, would have preferred the nation to be united in faith, there is in fact no evidence of a deliberate policy to impose uniformity”.
After their reigns had ended Ferdinand and Isabella were succeeded by Joanna I. Joanna was married to Phillip of Burgundy and therefore the lands of the Netherlands and the Spanish were now united under one name. During their time at the helm of this new kingdom Joanna and Phillip did not actively seek to expand power and therefore to find the next major expansion of power we must look to their successor Charles V.
Charles inherited the throne from Phillip I and Joanna of Castile, and as heir to Hapsburg lands, he brought under the Spanish banner large chunks of territory in Europe, including the Netherlands, parts of Burgundy, Austria and in 1519, the German states were added when Charles was elected Holy Roman Emperor also. Therefore Charles already held nations where Catholicism was the sole religion and when he brought his conglomerate of countries together under one rule they were predominantly Spanish. So it can be said that he faced little opposition in for religious uniformity in his new kingdom. Stewart MacDonald suggests that Charles was elected emperor whom was focused mainly within his religious ploys and as Francis I had other preoccupations Charles was granted the title. Furthermore, Jocelyn Hunt states that Charles had a “sense of religious duty which was a powerful motivator throughout his entire reign”.
Further evidence of Charles’ drive for religious uniformity in the expansion of his power can be seen with his discovery and foundation of the Indies. When Cortez conquered Mexico in 1521 Charles gave him permission, being the God’s representative in Spain, to convert the natives to Christianity. The discovery of the Americas was undoubtedly a huge expansion of power abroad not only in physical terms but also in power amongst Europe’s hierarchy. With the Americas came the trade in gold, silver and many other precious stones but yet again Charles saw to it that the natives be converted to Christianity and Hernando Cortez led the whole operation. With the conversion to a religion practised in Charles’ empire he could attempt to then colonise the new found land and its inhabitants and as Henry Kamen suggests this colonisation is a key motive of European expansion as Charles now has a foothold over the Americas. Although there were other motives for Charles in the Americas it can still be said that to conquer and convert the natives was fulfilling he duty as not only a catholic monarch, but as Holy Roman Emperor too.
However once more the question must be asked about whether or not Charles actually gained anything from the upholding of his faith. There are far more examples of Charles’ expansion of power being motivated by secular issues and possibly financial (with the crowns upkeep was extremely expensive, along with many European wars and tax dodging nobility). So in to summarise the expansion of Spain within Charles’ era, although on the surface could appear religious, was significantly secular.
Into the final phase of Spanish expansion during the period 1474-1598 and to Phillip II whom, after Charles’ abdication in 1555, assumed control of Spain and the Netherlands. During his reign Phillip protected a vast empire under his Hispanic banner and Geoffrey Parker states he did so as to bring Catholicism to his people, as well as his new kingdoms as well as Hunt who claims that Phillip regarded himself as “the sword of God”.
Further evidence of Spanish power abroad was the constant warring with the Turks. Although this is seen as a religious crusade and therefore technically a “desire for religious uniformity” overseas, the ongoing battle would serve to protect other things necessary for Phillip. For to have control over the Turkish ensured Phillip’s precious shipping lane’s safety, showing his secular motives and securing Spain’s wellbeing.
Phillip also attempted to add England to the Hispanic banner through his marriage to Mary I queen of England. This expansion swelled not only his ever increasing global empire but also his power and influence throughout Europe; however the religious aspects of this are small. As Mary was already a catholic monarch and enforcing strict Catholicism in her kingdom, however during Elizabeth’s reign his attack with the armada was purely down to a “war on religion” and so can be said to show Phillip’s pursuit of religious uniformity. Although, the launch of the fleet could be accredited to Phillip feeling scorned after Elizabeth’s rejection of his marriage proposal.
Arguably one of the greatest acquisitions during Phillip’s reign was that of the Portuguese throne, which finally united Iberia under one ruler and bringing together two vast nations, and greatly increased Phillip’s power within Europe. However, as this possession was largely due to “dynastic ambition rather than religion”(Phillip’s nephew dying in battle)and a little bit of chance, with Henry IV dying soon after claiming the throne as well as childless, it cannot be said that Phillip’s motives behind one of the greatest Hispanic gains in the period were religious, as the Portuguese had already begun converting the Brazilian, Japanese and other areas to Catholicism meaning the religious change was already in motion.
Therefore, in conclusion, it must be said that religion during the period 1474-1598 played an undeniable factor within monarchy and it was always a significant issue. To uphold a kingdom the size of the Spanish empire would require the sovereign to do so with religion most definitely at the forefront, however to suggest that religious uniformity is at the sole centre of any Spanish plans for expansion into a bigger kingdom is rather flawed. It cannot be suggested that all monarchs expand their country for the sole benefit of religion as to do so may see a kingdom collapse in on itself, however throughout the 124 year period it can be said that the attitude to religion most certainly changed. For Isabella, and frequently Charles, her staunch catholic beliefs did direct her into religious changes and expansion, e.g. the inquisition being so fiercely enforced in Castile. Whilst Ferdinand can be seen to make decisions based much more on physical gains and political aspects, as is seen when upon Isabella’s death he furthered his conquest of France and his ambition of recapturing dynastic lands. Finally to Phillip, who sought more to protect what was already his, although suggestions could be made that the majority of actions regarding religious uniformity had already been completed before his time. Ultimately, Spain’s leaders sought to protect what they already had before attempting to change anything else, although the monarch’s views of religion may have differed they continuously cast these aside in favour of aiding and developing their kingdom.

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[ 1 ]. Castilla y la conquista del reino de Granada, M.A. Ladero Quesada
[ 2 ]. Castilla y la conquista del reino de Granada, M.A. Ladero Quesada
Word Count: 502
[ 3 ]. Spain in the reigns of Ferdinand and Isabella 1474-1516, Geoffrey Woodward
[ 4 ]. Charles V, Stewart MacDonald
Word Count: 537
[ 5 ]. Spain 1474-1598, Jocelyn Hunt
[ 6 ]. Spain 1469-1714, Henry Kamen
[ 7 ]. Phillip II, Geoffrey Parker
[ 8 ]. Spain 1474-1598, J Hunt
Word Count: 510
[ 9 ]. The Grand Strategy of Phillip II, Geoffrey Parker
Word Count: 390
Total Word Count: 1956

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