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Imperial Spain: 1469-1716 Paperback – September 24, 2002

4.4 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


A major work on Spanish history (The Economist)"

About the Author

J H Elliott recently retired as Regius Professor of History at the University of Oxford.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 2nd edition (September 24, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141007036
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141007038
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 16, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Over the years I have managed to read a fairly large number of historical works dedicated to surveying particular periods of history, but I have rarely found one that managed to combine learning with readability as well as this one. Although a historian, Elliott must of necessity tell a story, and that is how Spain went from being a relatively unimportant afterthought on the tip of Europe to being for a period of time perhaps the dominant power on the globe, only to fall into a state of decline and veritable collapse. It is an amazing, improbable story, yet Elliott manages it without ever losing the reader in historical minutiae.
Elliott tells his story by focusing on the reigns of the great monarchs of the 15th and 16th centuries of Spain, and the considerably less great monarchs and their "favorites" (noblemen who actually ran Spain--as Elliott puts it at one point, the kings reigned, but the favorites ruled) of the 17th century. The highpoint of the story comes rather early, with the remarkable reign of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, surely the greatest monarchial partnership Europe has known. Two gifted, talented, and powerful monarchs, they worked together brilliantly to create one of the great empires of Europe, managing such feats as driving the Moors out of Spain and creating a dynasty in the New World (as well as funding Columbus' discovery of it). Unfortunately, they, the Most Catholic Kings, also were responsible for the Inquisition. Elliott takes a balanced approach to the Inquisition (not my own inclination, since it seems to me to be an unmitigable horror), not minimizing its effects, but trying to understand it in context.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is very good about a number of aspects of internal politics and economics for the period. But it omits almost entirely one of the most important features of Spanish history at this time, namely its foreign wars and empire. The brief statement near the beginning of the book that it will not investigate the internal histories of Spanish colonies does not prepare one for the big black hole encompassing almost all of Spain's overseas adventures. We get very little about the struggles in the Low Countries, even though these imperial possessions provided important personages in the Spanish ruling house and played an important part in the origins of the terrible Thirty Years' War. There is very little also about the exploitation of New World gold and silver resources, although they funded the Spanish empire. As another reader complained, the book tells us nothing but bits and pieces of the Spanish royal house's complex and crucial interpenetration with the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburg dynasty. Most annoying of all, we get NOTHING about the Aragonese and royal military involvements in Italy, which stripped the Spanish treasury and hastened the decline of Spanish dominance in Europe, not to mention devastating much of Italy. I read in another book of the fact that Charles V's Spanish army sacked Rome in 1527 and dealt a terrible blow to that city, but there isn't so much as a mention of that fact here. What was a Spanish army doing in Italy in the first place? Beats me. We hear time and again about the fact that Charles V was off in Italy, or the Netherlands, or central Europe, attending to wars about which we hear not a word; but the author is careful to provide us with detailed information about the wool trade in mainland Spain. Same story with Philip II's war against England. I bought this book to get an account of Spain's golden age of European power, in other words of "Imperial Spain 1469-1716", and didn't get it.
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Format: Paperback
Spain experienced a metamorphosis in the 16th century. It had been a divided country battling with an age-old enemy. Its separate parts worked more against each other than with each other; Castile concentrated on the fight to reconquer the land from the Muslims, while Aragon and Catalonia fixed their sights on a Mediterranean trading empire and control of southern Italy. Under Ferdinand and Isabella, well-known as the patrons of Columbus, the Moors were conquered, the Jews expelled, and all three main parts of Spain joined under one crown. Spain soon acquired a vast empire in the Americas and Asia. Through marriage, its fortunes were hitched to the Habsburg crown, thus despatching Spanish arms and treasure to the endless European wars in Italy, Germany, and the Low Countries. Spain rose to a certain proud zenith, both in war and in administration of its vast lands. The arts began to flourish. Portugal came under the Spanish crown for sixty years. The glory days did not last long as history goes. By 1640, Spain had crashed. It was bankrupt, taxed-to-the-limit, and losing everywhere. Its European empire fell away, even Portugal threw off Castilian rule. Government fell to mostly incapable favorites of the weak and indecisive kings. Bereft of a middle class, the only good income was to be had from the church or the court. In short, the imperial greatness, which had shot across the world like a brilliant comet, had winked out in financial collapse and administrative failure, though literature and painting continued to shine. Poor education and religious ultra-conservatism had denied Spain the leaders that might have saved it.

Elliott's history of Imperial Spain paints a clear picture of the reasons for this abrupt rise and decline.
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