This collection of essays draws on some of the classic literature dealing with Spain and its empire in the sixteenth century, as well as recent additions to that literature. The 19 chapters and a brief conclusion are arranged in roughly chronological order, designed as a teaching manual. Although the chapters cover a variety of topics on sixteenth-century Spain and its empire, most attention seems to focus on matters of special interest to the author. In many ways, the bibliographical essay following the text is the most valuable part of the book, mentioning and briefly commenting on a wide range of works in several languages; there are no source notes to the text itself. Specialists will know the scholarly controversies surrounding each chapter. Students trying to make sense of the historiography of early Hapsburg Spain may be confused at times.
The essays are gracefully written and well detailed, particularly in diplomatic and political matters. A brief survey of the geography of the Iberian peninsula emphasizes the difficulties to human settlement posed by terrain, climate, soil, and variations in rainfall. The essay on Charles of Ghent’s Hapsburg inheritance of Spain and its embryonic empire in 1517 rightly stresses the unplanned character of that inheritance, and its disastrous consequences for Spain. Another essay ably summarizes Charles’s imperial career and the continuing dynastic struggle with France.
The early history of conquest and colonization in the Americas takes up 60 pages of text, in places an extended summary of recent works mentioned in the bibliographical essay. The best chapters in the volume concern imperial finance and Spanish relations with northern Europe. The intricate financial arrangements of the Hapsburgs are well explained, drawing heavily on the pioneering work of Felipe Ruiz Martín, as well as on Lovett’s own research. The essays dealing with the Netherlands rebellion, the armada against England, and Spanish intervention in the French Wars of Religion are similarly detailed and, for the most part, presented with fairness to all sides. One reads with dismay, therefore, of the author’s great admiration for John Lathrop Motley (p. 321), whose 1856 analysis of Philip II can properly be described as vitriolic and untempered bias. Relations with the Ottoman Empire get short shrift, and the bibliographical essay fails to mention John Guilmartin’s pioneering book on Mediterranean warfare.
Surprisingly, given the title of the volume, Spain itself receives cursory attention, and, although recent works are mentioned in the bibliographical essay, Lovett’s general conclusions hark back to an earlier time. The discussion of demographic growth in the sixteenth century makes little attempt to relate population to the economy. Moreover, the seven-page chapter on the economic life of the peninsula deals only with wool production and export, despite the availability of many recent works on agrarian and industrial development as a whole. The author blames the failure of rebellions in Castile (the comuneros) and Valencia (the germanías) in 1521 for Spain’s character as “monarchical,” “aristocratic,” “agrarian,” and “authoritarian” (pp. 35, 39). One might ask how many unified monarchies in the 1520s were anything else?
The religious life of the peninsula is better served, largely due to distinguished publications on the Inquisition, popular religion, and related topics in recent years. It is misleading, however, to portray converts to Christianity from Judaism and Islam as the only Spanish middle class. It is also misleading to blame religious intolerance for stunting economic growth. The economic effects of religious belief are far from clear, and the ups and downs of Spanish economic and political power have no simple explanations.
The study of Hapsburg Spain is undergoing major revisions. Until a new synthesis emerges, Latin Americanists looking for a comprehensive survey of the early Hapsburg period may find several of Lovett’s chapters useful in updating John Elliott’s Imperial Spain and John Lynch’s Spain Under the Hapsburgs.