Castillans - History and Cultural Relations

Originally populated by Iberian and later Iberoceltic peoples, Castile was for a time ruled by Rome and, later, the Moors. For a time it was governed by counts under the supremacy of Asturias and Leon; it was later annexed by Sancho of Navarre (1026-1035), who gave Castile to his son Ferdinand I in 1033. Leon was united to Castile in 1037, separated in 1065, and reunited under Alfonso VI in 1072, who also annexed Galicia. Afterward, Castile and Leon were separated but were finally reunited under Ferdinand III in 1230, when he conquered large parts of southern Spain from the Moors. Other noted kings were Alfonso X and Pedro the Cruel.

Isabella of Castile married Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469, and became queen of Castile in 1474. Ferdinand became king of Aragon in 1479, from which time Castile and Aragon were united. Under Ferdinand and Isabella, not only was the Spanish territory consolidated, but authority was finally Centralized in the hands of a single royal government, and Castile became the regional seat of that authority. Prior to this Centralization, the independence of feudal nobles meant that the territory was riven with lawlessness and disorder. By legislating property and personal rights and stripping the nobility and the great crusading orders of much of their former independence and power, Ferdinand and Isabella gained great support among the populace. The ruling pair acquired from the pope the right to nominate all the higher ecclesiastical officers in Spain, and they used that right to reform the church by filling its offices with men of unquestioned orthodoxy and unwavering loyalty to the crown. Thus the church became an extension of royal power.

The Inquisition, begun in 1478 under the control of the monarchy, was directed from Castile to root out heresy and crush what remained of Muslim religious practice, often bloodily. The Inquisition soon developed an independence and momentum of its own, and by 1492 it had far exceeded its original purpose of ensuring that Moors and Jews were expelled from the country. In 1609, Philip III ordered the expulsion of the Moriscos (descendants of Christianized Moors) as well. As a result, when Charles II took the throne in 1665, he inherited a country that had been stripped of nearly all of its tradespeople and artisans. Agriculture declined; arts and literature degenerated.

In 1700, the death of King Charles II of Spain opened the door to dispute over who should be his successor. France favored Charles II's own choice, Philip of Anjou (grandson of Louis XIV), of the Bourbons. But France's adversaries of the time were less pleased with this choice, and they formed a "Grand Alliance" in an attempt to wrest control from the French favorite. Thus began the Wars of Spanish Succession, which raged throughout Europe until 1713-1714, ending with the Peace of Utrecht and leaving Philip V on the throne.

In 1808, Napoleon's brother Joseph succeeded to the throne. His efforts to modernize Spanish institutions led to a backlash against liberalism. By this time the populace consisted of wealthy noble, ecclesiastic, and military groups on the one hand and poor agriculturalists on the other. Because crafts and trade had been largely the province of the original Jewish and Moorish peoples in Spain, when they were suppressed and later expelled from the region there was no powerful or progressive middle class to serve as a source of reformist sentiment, so that such movements became concentrated in the military and among the intellectuals. In 1822, the crown reacted against liberal pressures, and Ferdinand VII acted against the wishes of his own people to secure the assistance of other European powers in controlling his now rebellious colonies in the Americas. Ferdinand set aside established laws of succession and transmitted the throne to Isabella II in 1833, sparking the Carlist Wars (1833-1840), in which supporters of his brother Charles challenged her succession. In 1868, a revolution drove Isabella from the throne, and the period that followed was a confused succession of contenders—each briefly securing, then losing, control over the country.

In 1870, the throne was offered to Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. This move incited a diplomatic crisis in Europe as a whole, and for the French in particular, precipitating the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. Still unable to settle their problems of government within the country, the Spanish offered the throne to Prince Amadeo of Savoy, but he abdicated in frustrated discouragement three years later. Then a brief period of republican rule ensued, which lasted until 1875, when Alfonso XII assumed the crown and restored peace to the nation. When he died in 1885, he was succeeded by his posthumous son, Alfonso XIII. Until Alfonso was declared of age in 1902, however, Maria Cristina (widow of Alfonso XII) served as regent.

The last of Spain's colonial holdings in the Americas broke out into open revolt, beginning with the island of Cuba in 1895. U.S. intervention resulted in the loss by Spain of not only Cuba but also Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam, which resulted in the impoverishment of the Spanish Economy. A coup d'etat in 1923 established General Primo de Rivera as chief minister of the Spanish cabinet with dictatorial powers, and he managed to enforce a period of quiescence, though one could hardly call it peace, until 1931, when revolution broke out.

Alfonso XIII fled Spain in 1931, and a republican constitution provided for the confiscation of church property, the suppression of religious instruction in the schools, and the expulsion of all religious orders. The attacks on the church, intended to destroy a major source of the monarchy's power and influence, were resented by the largely pious population. This policy, as well as plans for land reform and an attempt to curb the power of the military, alienated the three most powerful traditional elements of Spanish society. The "Popular Front," composed of leftists (including Communists and Socialists), won the elections in 1936. The disgruntled military reacted by revolting, initiating the Spanish Civil War in 1936, aided by arms, planes, and artillery from Germany and Italy. The Soviets aided the Republican side against the Fascist "Nationals," but the Nationalists, under General Francisco Franco, emerged victorious in 1939.

The Franco regime remained nominally neutral but actively favored the Axis powers during World War II, so in the postwar years there was no incentive for the Allied powers to provide economic development aid to Spain. Thus Spain was left out of the Marshall Plan for aid to Europe. These postwar years are known in Castile as the "years of hunger," when the economy was so devastated that even the dogs and cats disappeared from Spanish streets—they either starved to death or were eaten. Although Franco continued in power (he was made acting head of state for life), Spain was in theory still a monarchy.

By 1950, economic recovery was slow at best, and the government's efforts at social and economic reform simply meant a greater intrusion of the state into the lives of Individuals, minor industrial development of the urban centers, and the introduction of foreign firms. This meant that the rural areas benefited little from development, except for Franco's public-works schemes. Agriculture remained largely unchanged, and people from predominantly rural areas, including Castile, were forced to emigrate to the major cities and foreign countries. In 1973, Franco made Adm. Louis Carrero Blanco prime minister in the hope that Blanco would continue his policies after the end of Franco's rule. However, Basque terrorists assassinated the admiral six months after his appointment. The admiral was replaced by Carlos Arias Navarro (Arias). Franco's death, in November 1975, Returned power to the crown. King Juan Carlos selected Adolfo Suarez as prime minister, inaugurating a period of massive reform, both political and economic. A new Spanish constitution was passed in 1978 and was hailed as the most liberal constitution in Western Europe. It defined Spain as a parliamentary monarchy with no official religion and prescribed a limited role for the armed forces, the abolition of the death penalty, and an extension of suffrage. But although political reform earned the government a great deal of popular support, resentment and dissatisfaction grew among the military. When Suarez resigned the premiership in 1981, and before his successor was sworn in a month later, this dissatisfaction was vented in a rightist coup attempt which, although foiled, persuaded the government to take steps to appease the military. Since that time, the country has attempted greater Economic development, particularly of its agriculture, and has moved toward greater provincial autonomy.


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