Category Archives: Spain

Philippine Basques and World War II

From Basques in the Philippines, by Marciano R. de Borja (U. Nevada Press, 2012), pp. 109-111:

On March 31, 1937, Franco launched the military offensive against Bizkaia. The air force—whose core group was composed of German and Italian pilots—pounded the cities of Eibat, Durango, Gernika, Zornotza, Mungia, and Bilbao, causing hundreds of deaths. As depicted in the famous painting of Pablo Picasso, Gernika was razed. In fact, the town had no military installations and was not sheltering combatants. It became a prime target because it was the place where the fueros of the Basques were traditionally renewed by the Spanish monarchs. It was therefore a symbol of Basque autonomy. The destruction of Gernika was meant to crush the Basque spirit of resistance. The Basque residents in the Philippines were divided. Those from Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa loathed Franco, while those from Navarre backed him. In fact, Navarre was the first province in Spain to throw its support to Franco and supplied troops to the nationalist cause. One of Franco’s able military commanders, General Emilio Mola, was Navarrese.

When the Spanish civil war broke out in 1936, Basque exiles like Saturnina de Uriarte and Estanislao Garovilla settled in Cebu and established the most important fish-canning factory in the country, the Cebu Fishing Corporation. Uriarte was pre­viously a partner in Garovilla Hermanos y Compañia, a canning factory in Bermeo (Bizkaia). Basque philanthropists such as Marino de Gamboa and Manuel María de Ynchausti, and companies, like Aldecoa-Erquiaga and Company, extended assistance to Basque refugees.

Although the Basques in the Philippines were concerned about the Spanish civil war, they were more preoccupied with the imminent war in the Pacific. Japan had invaded China in 1939 [sic!; actually many times in many places, but full-scale warfare commenced in 1937—J.], and its relations with the United States had become antagonistic and bellicose. The Philippine Commonwealth government under President Manuel L. Quezon hired General Douglas MacArthur, the newly retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Army, as field marshal to prepare the Philippine defense in the event of war.

On December 8, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked and destroyed by the Japanese Imperial Navy. Days after, Manila was declared an open city to spare it from destruction. The American air force bases in Clark (Pampanga) and Iba (Zambales) in central Luzon were destroyed. The Japanese forces entered Manila on January 2, 1942, without a fight. The combined American and Filipino forces defended Bataan in a last-ditch effort to halt the Japanese advances. On April 9, Bataan fell, and Japan became the new colonial master of the Philippines. But the resistance movement continued.

During the war, Spaniards, including the Basques, were viewed with suspicion and hostility by many Filipinos. Some Spaniards collaborated outright with the Japanese and openly rejoiced over the initial defeat of the Americans, believing naively that the Japanese would return the Philippines to Spain. All the castilas (Spaniards), therefore, became the target of resentment and were vilified as the “Fifth Column,” a derogatory term meaning opportunists, potential traitors, and outright collaborationists. In fact, assets of Basque families and companies, such as Aboitiz, Ayala, Elizalde, were frozen by the Philippine Commonwealth government, although they supported the American military. For instance, the vessels of La Naviera, a shipping firm partly owned by the Aboitiz and Company, were put at the disposition of the American forces. Aboitiz and Company was singled out because it had had a Japanese director on its board and exported large quantities of copra to Japan in the 1930s, obviously used to fuel Japan’s war machine.

The hatred against the Spaniards was further exacerbated by the fact that General Francisco Franco, the caudillo (supreme ruler) of Spain, sent a congratulatory message to the Japanese command immediately after the fall of Corregidor and Bataan. Spain was one of the eleven nations aligned with the Axis powers that recognized the puppet government established by the Japanese military forces in the Philippines.

Most Basques were fiercely opposed to the Japanese occupation. Many Basque families, like the Elizaldes, the Luzurriagas, and the Legarretas, contributed indirectly and directly to the Philippine guerrilla movement. Others, like the Uriartes, the Bilbaos, and the Elordis, joined the resistance movement in Negros and the Visayas region.

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Basque Pioneers in the Philippines

From Basques in the Philippines, by Marciano R. de Borja (U. Nevada Press, 2012), pp. 40-41:

Discussions of the outstanding Basque missionaries in the Philippines commonly start with reference to the apostolic work of Saint Francis Xavier, a Navarrese and a famous Jesuit missionary, on the island of Mindanao. Standard Philippine history books, however, do not contain any reference to Saint Francis Xavier’s exploits, since the veracity of his travel and missionary work in Mindanao has yet to be confirmed.

What is certain is that the first Spanish cleric, Fray Pedro de Valderrama, arrived in the islands during the Magellan expedition in March 1521. (There were supposed to be two clerics, but the other, a Frenchman, was left on the coast of Brazil.) His achievement was obviously limited. Although he celebrated the first Catholic mass and officiated the first baptisms, the seeds of Christianity never took root. The impact of the new religion on the natives probably dissipated right after the departure of the remnants of the Magellan expedition. The same thing happened with following Spanish expeditions.

It was only after the successful expedition of Legazpi and Urdaneta [both Basques] in 1565 that the Catholic Church was permanently established in the archipelago, starting in Cebu. As previously described, Urdaneta brought with him to the Philippines a contingent of fellow Augustinian missionaries, all of whom were Basques. Andrés de Aguirre, Pedro de Gamboa, Diego de Herrera, and Martín de Rada. Actually, Lorenzo Jiménez, a non-Basque, was also enlisted by Urdaneta, but he died in the port of Navidad before the expedition disembarked. Thus the Basques became the real pioneers in preaching the gospel and teaching catechism in the archipelago.

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Fate of Basque Ethnicity in the Philippines

From Basques in the Philippines, by Marciano R. de Borja (U. Nevada Press, 2012), pp. 138-139:

Today most Filipinos are very familiar with two things related to Basque culture, though without knowing it—chorizo de Bilbao, a kind of sausage, and jai alai. At the same time, the Basque legacy in the Philippines is perhaps manifested most obvi­ously in the number of Basque place-names. Many of Manila’s streets still have Basque names, though many more have been erased and changed in recent years for the sake of modernization and nationalism. The most obvious example is Avenida Azcárraga, which was renamed Claro M. Recto Avenue in honor of the great Filipino nationalist and senator. Among the surviving Basque street names are Ayala, Arlegui, Barrengoa, Bilbao, Gaztambide, Ozcariz, Elizondo, Guernica, Durango, Echague, Goiti, and Mendiola. In Makati, the posh residential and business enclaves are called Legazpi, Salcedo, and Urdaneta.

The current map of the Philippines is still replete with provinces, towns, and cities that bear Basque names, such as Anda, Arteche, Azpeita, Lavezares, Legazpi, Loyola, Mondragon, Nueva Vizcaya, Oroquieta, Oteiza, Pamplona, Urbistondo, Urdaneta, Zarraga, and Zumarraga.

The Basques’ outstanding achievements and the high status enjoyed by their de­scendants in contemporary Philippine society must be considered against the back­ drop of the future of Basque-Philippine identity. We should first answer the follow­ing questions: How do Basque descendants view their ethnicity? Do they still regard themselves as unique? To what extent have they assimilated into the local culture?

The new generation of Basque descendants have little contact with the Basque Country. Some are still proud of their Basque heritage, although compared to their counterparts in Latin America, they are fast losing their ethnic consciousness, if in fact it is not already lost. This is in part a function of the vast distance that separates the Philippines and the Basque Country, as well as a function of the limited number of Basque settlers in the Philippines at any time. Such demographic paucity makes it impossible for a strong Basque-Philippine culture and identity to flourish. Except for some articles that are published occasionally about a few families of Basque origin, many third- and fourth-generation Basques lack ethnic awareness and are oblivious to their roots. And even when they are vaguely aware of their origins, they lack a deeper knowledge, appreciation, and understanding of things Basques. Only a handful have ever been to the Basque Country. As Andoni F. Aboitiz, a fourth-generation Basque has said: “We really think of ourselves as Filipinos first and of Basque descent second.” Even if some descendants are proud of their Basque roots, they seem to prefer not to talk about them. As Robert Laxalt, an American novelist of Basque origin, has observed: “Reticence has always been the deeper mark of the Basque character.”

Intermarriage is another factor that has weakened the Basques’ ethnicity. Al­though it was often the practice for newly arrived Basques during the nineteenth century to marry among themselves, succeeding generations did not follow suit. Many took Spanish and American spouses, while others married mestizos and Malay Filipinos. The Ayala family, example, has practically lost its Basqueness, ex­cept for its name, and that could still be lost since the current heirs of the Ayala clan carry the surname “Zobel.” The most Basque among the present Basque-Filipinos today seem to be the Aboitizes. Looking at their family tree, it is evident that inter­marriage with other Basques has been encouraged. A majority of the Aboitiz clan carry a second Basque name such as Arrizaleta, Luzurriaga, Mendieta, Moraza, Mendezona, Ugarte, Uriarte, and Yrastorza.

In the Philippines, there is no equivalent of the eusko etxea, or Basque center, that is maintained by Basque descendants in Latin America and the American West (par­ticularly in the states of California, Idaho, and Nevada). The United States also has the NABO (North American Basque Organizations, Inc.), the umbrella organization that oversees nearly thirty Basque clubs and provides them with common cause and activity. There is also an Argentinian FEVA (Federación de las Entidades Vascas de la Argentina, or Federation of Basque Entities of Argentina), which links more than sixty Basque centers and institutions. In the Philippines, there is not a single Basque club at present.

Philippine Basque descendants no longer speak Euskara. The predominance of regional languages, such as Ilonggo, Bicolano, and Cebuano; the promotion of Fili­pino, the Tagalog-based national language; and the strong influence of American culture with a corresponding extensive use of English in education, business, and government in the Philippines have together wreaked havoc on the vestiges of Spanish tradition, not to mention the Basque one. The Spanish language, which was still dominant among the Philippine elite during the American occupation, slowly waned in influence. By the 1960s, Spanish lost its premier status, and, although it was included as an official language in the 1973 Philippine constitution, its decline was irreversible. It was finally eliminated as an official language in 1987.

Even as an academic subject, Spanish has dwindled to nothing. Constituting twenty-four required units in the school system in the early 1950s, it was demoted to twelve units in the 1980s. It was subsequently abolished as a requirement. Many Basque descendants today cannot even speak Spanish—considered the language of the aristocracy and landed gentry in the Philippines—let alone Basque.

The new generation is simply too assimilated to the mainstream of Philippine society and culture.

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Gen. Leonard Wood in Cuba, 1899-1902

From The Banana Wars: An Inner History of the American Empire 1900-1934, by Lester D. Langley (Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1983), pp. 15-17:

The most capable of the military governors was probably William Ludlow, governor of Havana, an engineer, who was sufficiently incensed at the wretched condition of the city that he advocated an American occupation “for a generation.” But the departmental commander with the best political connections was Brig. Gen. Leonard Wood, a physician and career soldier, governor of Santiago, who instituted a regime of cleanliness in the city and meted out public whippings to citizens who violated sanitary regulations….

In December 1899 [President McKinley] named Wood military governor of Cuba and instructed him to prepare the Cubans for independence…. Wood had uncommonly broad authority to accomplish that task. He was, wrote his biographer, “practically a free agent.” Ecstatically optimistic about his task, he declared to the press a few weeks after his appointment that “success in Cuba is so easy that it would be a crime to fail.”…

Wood was already demonstrating the “practical approach to nation building. He arose each morning at 5:30 and began a day of furious routine, signing directives, giving orders, hearing complaints, and undertaking inspections of schools, hospitals, road construction, and public projects. He would even investigate the routine operation of a municipal court. He ran the military government like an efficient plantation owner with a show so southern charm for his Cuban wards coupled with a Yankee sense of organization and efficiency. He died with the Cuban social elite and conversed with the lowliest guajiro (rural dweller) in the countryside. For sheer intensity of commitment, Wood was unmatched by any Cuban executive until Fidel Castro. Cubans who remembered the old three-hour workdays under the Spanish now had to adjust to Wood’s bureaucratic regime of 9:00 to 11:00, 12:00 to 5:00, six days a week. Wood’s office ran on a twenty-four-hour schedule, with the day-to-day business supervised by Frank Steinhardt, who later became U.S. consul and in 1908 took over Havana Electric Railway….

When Wood stepped down in May 1902 Cuba was not militarily occupied in the same way as, say, Germany after 1945, but it had already felt the imprint of American ways and techniques, expressed through a military regime and stern-minded physician turned professional soldier. Mindful of the biblical injunctions on cleanliness, Wood had proceeded to sanitize the island’s towns by strict regulations on garbage disposal (the Habaneros had always thrown their refuse in front of the house), paving the streets, and whitewashing the public places. Wood was convinced that filth explained Cuba’s epidemics of yellow fever, though an eccentric Cuban scientist (of Scottish ancestry), Dr. Carlos Findlay, argued correctly that the culprit was the mosquito. Wood’s vigorous sanitary campaign nonetheless probably helped control another Cuban scourge, typhoid.

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Spanish Colonial Language Policies

From Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830, by John H. Elliott (Yale U. Press, 2006), Kindle Loc. 1598-1612:

Already the process of linguistic change was under way in New Spain, as Indians who moved into the cities picked up a working knowledge of Castilian, while Castilian words were simultaneously being incorporated into the Nahuatl vocabulary on a massive scale. Large numbers of the Indian vassals of the Spanish crown, however, either resisted the imposition of Castilian or remained to all intents and purposes outside its orbit, while many friars were inclined to ignore the crown’s decree. At the same time, creoles with indigenous nurses learnt in childhood the language of the conquered, and in the Yucatan peninsula, which had a high degree of linguistic unity before the conquest, the Maya language, rather than Castilian, became the lingua franca in the post-conquest era. The crown, for its part, was driven in particular by religious considerations to recognize realities. In 1578 Philip II decreed that no religious should be appointed to Indian benefices without some knowledge of the language, and two years later he set up chairs of indigenous languages in the universities of Lima and Mexico City, on the grounds that ‘knowledge of the general language of the Indians is essential for the explanation and teaching of Christian doctrine.’

The English, on finding themselves confronted by the linguistic barrier between themselves and the Indians, at first reacted much like the Spaniards. Indians showed little inclination to learn the language of the intruders, and initially it was the settlers who found themselves having to learn an alien tongue, both to communicate and to convert. Indians in areas of English settlement had less inducement than those in the more urbanized world of Spanish America to learn the language of the Europeans, although by degrees they found it convenient to have some of their number who could communicate in the language of the intruders. As the balance of forces tilted in favour of the settlers, however, so the pressures on the Indians to acquire some knowledge of English increased, until the colonists were securing promises from neighbouring tribes to learn the language as a requirement for submission to their rule. Here there was no question, as there was in Spanish America, of a policy of actively promoting, at least among a section of the colonial community, the learning of indigenous languages – a policy which had the concomitant, if unintended, effect of encouraging not only the survival but also the expansion of the major languages, especially Nahuatl, Maya and Quechua. The powerful impulse to Christianize that worked in favour of the toleration of linguistic diversity in Spain’s American possessions simply did not exist in British America.

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Origins of the Guarani–Spanish Alliance

From Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830, by John H. Elliott (Yale U. Press, 2006), Kindle Loc. 1580-1584:

Unique local circumstances made Paraguay an extreme example of the more general process that accompanied the colonization of Spanish America. The Guarani Indians needed the Spaniards as allies in their struggle to defend themselves against hostile neighbouring tribes. For their part, the Spaniards, moving inland from the newly founded port of Buenos Aires a thousand miles away, were too few in number to establish themselves without Guarani help. An alliance based on mutual necessity was sealed by the gift of Guarani women as wives, mistresses and servants. The continuing isolation of the settlement, and the almost total absence of Spanish women, led to the rapid creation of a unique mestizo society. Mestizo sons succeeded their fathers as encomenderos, and races and cultures mingled to a degree unparalleled elsewhere on the continent.’

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Navigating the Pigmentocracy in the New World

From Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830, by John H. Elliott (Yale U. Press, 2006), Kindle Loc. 3058-3101:

The obsessive pursuit by the creoles of the outward marks of social distinction, including the title of don, reflected their deeply felt need to mark themselves out as belonging to the society of the conquerors and to place themselves on an equal footing with the upper strata of the colonial social hierarchy. `Any white person,’ wrote Alexander von Humboldt at the end of the colonial period, `even though he rides his horse barefoot, imagines himself to be of the nobility of the country.’ Yet whiteness, like nobility, was to acquire its own ambiguities in a society where nothing was quite as it appeared on the surface.

By the later years of the seventeenth century, although the creoles retained their tax-exempt status and still nominally formed the society of conquest, the old distinctions between conquerors and conquered were coming to be blurred by racial intermingling and were being overlaid by new distinctions thrown up by the confusing realities of an ethnically diverse society. What became known as a society of castas was in process of formation – casta being a word originally used in Spain to denominate a human, or animal, group, of known and distinctive parentage. The mestizos born of the unions of Spanish men and Indian women were the first of these castas, but they were soon joined by others, like mulatos, born of the union of creoles with blacks, or zambos, the children of unions between Indians and blacks. By the 1640s some parish priests in Mexico City were keeping separate marriage registers for different racial groups.

As the combinations and permutations multiplied, so too did the efforts to devise taxonomies to describe them, based on degrees of relationship and gradations of skin colour running the full spectrum from white to black. In the famous series of `casta paintings’, of which over 100 sets have so far been located, eighteenth-century artists would struggle to give visual expression to a classificatory system designed to emphasize and preserve the social supremacy of a creole elite that felt threatened by contamination from below, even as it found itself dismissed as degenerate by officials coming from Spain. The elaborate efforts of these artists to depict in sets of exotic paintings family groups representing every conceivable blend of racial mixture and colour combination look like a doomed attempt to impose order on confusion. In the `pigmentocracy’ of Spanish America, whiteness became, at least in theory, the indicator of position on the social ladder. In practice, however, as time went on there were few creoles to be found without at least some drops of Indian blood, as newly arrived Spaniards (known to the creoles as gachupines) took pleasure in proclaiming.

Colonial society, like that of metropolitan Spain, was obsessed with genealogy. Lineage and honour went hand in hand, and the desire to maintain both of them intact found its outward expression in the preoccupation with limpieza de sangre – purity of blood. In the Iberian peninsula, purity of blood statutes were directed against people of Jewish and Moorish ancestry, and were designed to exclude them from corporations and offices. In the Indies the stigma reserved in Spain for those `tainted’ with Jewish or Moorish blood was transferred to those with Indian and African blood in their veins. In effect, limpieza de sangre became a mechanism in Spanish America for the maintenance of control by a dominant elite. The accusation of mixed blood, which carried with it the stigma of illegitimacy – compounded by the stigma of slavery where there was also African blood – could be used to justify a segregationist policy that excluded the castas from public offices, from membership of municipal corporations and religious orders, from entry into colleges and universities and from joining many confraternities and guilds.

Yet the barriers of segregation were far from being impassable, and were the subject of heated debate within colonial society. In New Spain at least it was possible to remove the taint of Indian, although not African, blood over the course of three generations by successive marriages to the caste that ranked next above in the pigmentocratic order: `If the mixed-blood is the offspring of a Spaniard and an Indian, the stigma disappears at the third step in descent because it is held as systematic that a Spaniard and an Indian produce a mestizo; a mestizo and a Spaniard a castizo; and a castizo and a Spaniard a Spaniard.’ Genealogies could be constructively rewritten to conceal unfortunate episodes in a family’s history, and retrospective legitimation could be purchased for dead relatives. There were other ways, too, of circumventing the rigidities of a social ranking based on the colour of one’s skin.

A royal decree of 1662 relating to the mixed-blood society of Paraguay did no more than recognize realities when it stated that `it is an immemorial custom here in these provinces that the sons of Spaniards, although born of Indian women, should be treated as Spaniards. Where mestizos were both legitimate and white, or nearly white, their chances of being passed off as creoles, with all the social advantages that this implied, were greatly improved. Already from the late sixteenth century it was possible for mestizos of legitimate descent to purchase from the crown a certificate classifying them as `Spaniards’, which meant that their descendants would have access to institutions of higher learning and to the more profitable forms of employment. In the seventeenth century the so-called gracias al sacar permitted even mulattoes to move from black to white. This kind of legalized ethnic flexibility, facilitated by the crown’s perennial shortage of funds, was almost unheard of in Anglo-American colonial society. Only in Jamaica, it seems, was formal provision made for the social ascent of mulattoes, following legislation in 1733 to the effect that `no one shall be deemed a Mulatto after the Third Generation … but that they shall have all the Privileges and Immunities of His Majesty’s white Subjects on this Island, provided they are brought up in the Christian Religion.’

Yet, for all the deceptions and ambiguities, colonial Spanish America evolved into a colour-coded society, although the equation between darkness of skin and social, as distinct from legal, status was by no means absolute. Black servants, the majority of them slaves, were legally inferior to pure-blooded Indians living in their communities, but in social and cultural terms they tended to rank higher, because their occupations in creole households or as hacienda foremen effectively made them members of the Hispanic world. If Spanish American colonial society was fundamentally a three-tier society, consisting of `Spaniards’, castas and Indians, then the black population, unlike that of Barbados or the Chesapeake, occupied an intermediate position by virtue of its inclusion among the castas, even though Indian ancestry was rated superior to black ancestry when it came to contamination of the blood-line.

The complexities of these shades of ethnic difference, imperfectly superimposed on a traditional society of orders, inevitably made for a volatile society, especially in the cities. The poorer sections of the Spanish creole population, whose `pure’ blood placed them above the castas, clung to the status symbols that differentiated them from people of mixed ancestry who might well be better off than themselves. Simultaneously they resented the airs, and wealth, of the creole elite. In spite of attempts by the authorities to end their exemption, mestizos shared with creoles the privilege of paying no direct taxes. This gave them every inducement to differentiate themselves from tribute-paying Indians. Correspondingly, an Indian who could pass himself off as a mestizo stood to gain substantially because he escaped tribute payments. Yet in matters of the faith he was better off if he remained classified as an Indian, since Indians, unlike creoles and mestizos, were not subject to the jurisdiction of the Inquisition.”

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Early ‘Plantations': Settlers, Not Crops

From Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830, by John H. Elliott (Yale U. Press, 2006), Kindle Loc. 292-308:

Effectively, Cortes‘s company was composed of a cross-section of the residents of Cuba, which was deprived of nearly a third of its Spanish population when the expedition set sail. It was therefore well acclimatized to New World conditions, unlike Newport‘s party, which, within six months of arrival, had lost almost half its number to disease.

The fact that the company on board Newport’s ships were styled `planters’ was a clear indication of the purpose of the voyage. For the English in the age of the Tudors and Stuarts, `plantation’ – meaning a planting of people – was synonymous with ‘colony’. This was standard usage in Tudor Ireland, where `colonies’ or `plantations’ were the words employed to designate settlements of English in areas not previously subject to English governmental control. Both words evoked the original coloniae of the Romans – simultaneously farms or landed estates, and bodies of emigrants, particularly veterans, who had left home to `plant’, or settle and cultivate (colere), lands elsewhere. These people were known as `planters’ rather than `colonists’, a term that does not seem to have come into use before the eighteenth century. In 1630, when the British had established a number of New World settlements, an anonymous author would write: `by a colony we mean a society of men drawn out of one state or people, and transplanted into another country.’

The Spanish equivalent of `planter’ was poblador. In 1498, when Luis Roldan rebelled against the government of the Columbus brothers on Hispaniola, he rejected the name of colonos for himself and his fellow settlers of the island, and demanded that they should be known as vecinos or householders, with all the rights accruing to vecinos under Castilian law. A colon was, in the first instance, a labourer who worked land for which he paid rent, and Roldan would have none of this. Subsequent usage upheld his stand. During the period of Habsburg rule Spain’s American territories, unlike those of the English, were not called `colonies’. They were kingdoms in the possession of the Crown of Castile, and they were inhabited, not by colonos, but by conquerors (conquistadores) and their descendants, and by pobladores, or settlers, the name given to all later arrivals.

The English, by contrast, were always `planters’, not `conquerors’. The discrepancy between English and Spanish usage would at first sight suggest fundamentally different approaches to overseas settlement. Sir Thomas Gates and his fellow promoters of the Virginia Company had asked the crown to grant a licence, to make habitation plantation and to deduce a Colonic of sundry of our people’ in `that part of America commonly called Virginia …’ There was no mention here of conquest, whereas the agreement between the Castilian crown and Diego Velazquez in 1518 authorized him to `go to discover and conquer Yucatan and Cozumel’. But the idea of conquest was never far away from the promoters of English colonization in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

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Medieval English and Spanish Colonial Expansion

From Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830, by John H. Elliott (Yale U. Press, 2006), Kindle Loc. 437-457:

Medieval England pursued a policy of aggressive expansion into the non-English areas of the British Isles, warring with its Welsh, Scottish and Irish neighbours and establishing communities of English settlers who would advance English interests and promote English values on alien Celtic soil. The English, therefore, were no strangers to colonization, combining it with attempts at conquest which brought mixed results. Failure against Scotland was balanced by eventual success in Wales, which was formally incorporated in 1536 into the Crown of England, itself now held by a Welsh dynasty. Across the sea the English struggled over the centuries with only limited success to subjugate Gaelic Ireland and `plant’ it with settlers from England. Many of the lands seized by the Normans in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were recovered by the Irish during the fourteenth and fifteenth; and although in 1540 Henry VIII elevated Ireland to the status of a kingdom, English authority remained precarious or non-existent beyond the densely populated and rich agricultural area of the Pale. With the conversion of Henry’s England to Protestantism the effective assertion of this authority over a resolutely Catholic Ireland acquired a new urgency in English eyes. The reign of Elizabeth was to see an intensified planting of new colonies on Irish soil, and, in due course, a new war of conquest. The process of the settlement and subjugation of Ireland by the England of Elizabeth, pursued over several decades, absorbed national energies and resources that might otherwise have been directed more intensively, and at an earlier stage, to the founding of settlements on the other side of the Atlantic.

In medieval Spain, the land of the Reconquista, the pattern of combined conquest and colonization was equally well established. The Reconquista was a prolonged struggle over many centuries to free the soil of the Iberian peninsula from Moorish domination. At once a military and a religious enterprise, it was a war for booty, land and vassals, and a crusade to recover for the Christians the vast areas of territory that had been lost to Islam. But it also involved a massive migration of people, as the crown allocated large tracts of land to individual nobles, to the military-religious orders engaged in the process of reconquest, and to city councils, which were given jurisdiction over large hinterlands. Attracted by the new opportunities, artisans and peasants moved southwards in large numbers from northern and central Castile to fill the empty spaces. In Spain, as in the British Isles, the process of conquest and settlement helped to establish forms of behaviour, and create habits of mind, easily transportable to distant parts of the world in the dawning age of European overseas expansion.

The conquest and settlement of Al-Andalus and Ireland were still far from complete when fourteenth-century Europeans embarked on the exploration of the hitherto unexplored waters and islands of the African and eastern Atlantic. Here the Portuguese were the pioneers. It was the combined desire of Portuguese merchants for new markets and of nobles for new estates and vassals that provided the impetus for the first sustained drive for overseas empire in the history of Early Modern Europe. Where the Portuguese pointed the way, others followed. The kings of Castile, in particular, could not afford to let their Portuguese cousins steal a march on them. The Castilian conquest and occupation of the Canary Islands between 1478 and 1493 constituted a direct response by the Crown of Castile to the challenge posed by the spectacular expansion of Portuguese power and wealth.

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Spain’s Era of Desengaño: ‘Queremos comer sin trabajar’

From Imperial Spain: 1469-1716, by J. H. Elliott (Penguin, 2002), 2nd ed., Kindle Loc. 5112-5153:

The great plague of 1599–1600 wiped out at a single blow much of the population increase of the sixteenth century, and opened a new era in Castilian demographic history: an era of stagnation, and perhaps of demographic decline.

The economic consequences of the plague were to be seen in the labour crisis with which the new century opened, and can be traced in the 30 per cent increase in salaries in the three years that followed it. González de Cellorigo, an official in the chancellery of Valladolid who published in 1600, under the shadow of the plague, a brilliant treatise on the problems of the Spanish economy, accurately prophesied its effects: ‘Henceforth we can only expect that everything requiring human industry and labour will be very expensive… because of the shortage of people for tillage and for all the types of manufactures that the kingdom needs.’ The acute labour shortage, and the consequent upswing of salaries, were, as González de Cellorigo appreciated, irreparable disasters for the Castilian economy, since they destroyed the possibility that the years of peace might be used to build up Castilian industry to a point at which it would again be able to compete with foreign industries in the home and overseas markets.

But the most serious long-term consequences of the plague may have been psychological rather than economic. Already, before it was struck by the plague, Castile was weary and depressed. The failures in France and the Netherlands, the sack of Cadiz by the English, and the King’s request for a national donativo in 1596 as bankruptcy struck, completed the disillusionment that had begun with the defeat of the Invincible Armada. Then, to crown it all, came the plague. The unbroken succession of disasters threw Castile off balance. The ideals which had buoyed it up during the long years of struggle were shattered beyond repair. The country felt itself betrayed – betrayed perhaps by a God who had inexplicably withdrawn His favour from His chosen people. Desolate and plague-stricken, the Castile of 1600 was a country that had suddenly lost its sense of national purpose.

Castilians reacted to the moment of disillusionment in different ways. Optimism had gone, to be replaced by bitterness and cynicism, or else by the resignation of defeat. The new mood of fatalism and disillusionment naturally tended to reinforce certain latent tendencies that had already been encouraged by the unusual circumstances of the sixteenth century. During that century, events had conspired to disparage in the national estimation the more prosaic virtues of hard work and consistent effort. The mines of Potosí brought to the country untold wealth; if money was short today, it would be abundant again tomorrow when the treasure fleet reached Seville. Why plan, why save, why work? Around the corner would be the miracle – or perhaps the disaster. Prices might rise, savings be lost, the crops fail. There seemed little point in demeaning oneself with manual labour, when, as so often happened, the idle prospered and the toilers were left without reward. The events of the turn of the century could only increase this sense of insecurity and strengthen an already widespread fatalism. It was fatalism that characterized the outlook of the pícaro, and the seventeenth century was essentially the age of the pícaro, living on his wits – hungry today, well fed tomorrow, and never soiling his hands with honest work. ‘Queremos comer sin trabajar’: we want to eat without working. The words could be applied to Castilians in many walks of life, from the townsman living comfortably on his annuities to the vagabond without a blanca in his purse.

It was in this atmosphere of desengaño, of national disillusionment, that Cervantes wrote his Don Quixote, of which the first part appeared in 1605 and the second in 1614. Here, among many other parables, was the parable of a nation which had set out on its crusade only to learn that it was tilting at windmills. In the end was the desengaño, for ultimately the reality would always break in on the illusion. The events of the 1590s had suddenly brought home to more thoughtful Castilians the harsh truth about their native land – its poverty in the midst of riches, its power that had shown itself impotent. Brought face to face with the terrible paradoxes of the Castile of Philip III, a host of public-spirited figures – such men as González de Cellorigo and Sancho de Moncada – set themselves to analyse the ills of an ailing society. It is these men, known as arbitristas (projectors), who give the Castilian crisis of the turn of the century its special character. For this was not only a time of crisis, but a time also of the awareness of crisis – of a bitter realization that things had gone wrong. It was under the influence of the arbitristas that early seventeenth-century Castile surrendered itself to an orgy of national introspection, desperately attempting to discover at what point reality had been exchanged for illusion. But the arbitristas – as their name suggested – were by no means content merely to analyse. They must also find the answer. That an answer existed they had no doubt; for just as Sancho Panza had in him something of Don Quixote, so also even the most pessimistic arbitrista was still something of an optimist at heart. As a result, the Government of Philip III found itself bombarded with advice – with innumerable projects, both sensible and fantastic, for the restoration of Castile.

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