Feb 26, 2016

From the Ruins of Empire

We met at the Kensington Row Bookshop on February 10, 2016, to discuss From the Ruins of Empire:  The Revolt against the West and the Remaking of Asia by Pankaj Mishra, an Indian born in 1969 and now living in London and Mashobra, India.
Almost everyone agreed that it was an interesting book about a topic with which most of us had little familiarity—a partial history of Asia since the start of European colonial domination, told from the perspective of the Asians themselves.  The author said he defined Asia as the Greeks had; i.e., the land east of the Aegean Sea.  This enabled him to include discussions of Ottoman Turkey and Egypt.
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Some faulted him for being harder on the Europeans than history would suggest, because all conquering empires are rough on the inhabitants, including, conspicuously, the Islamic conquest of a broad swath of land from Spain to Persia that laid to waste so much indigenous culture that not many indigenous languages survived (using just one measure of cultural destruction).  Panjak glowingly describes this as “order” that “wasn’t just political or military.  The conquerors . . . brought into being a fresh civilization with its own linguistic, legal, and administrative standards, its own arts and architectures and orders of beauty.”
This he contrasts with the relatively minor perturbations Napoleon inflicted on the Egyptians during a period of just over a year, from July 1798 to August 1799, which he describes as (quoting Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti):  “great battles, terrible events, disastrous facts, calamities, unhappiness, sufferings, persecutions, upsets in the order of things, terror, revolutions, disorders, devastations.”  
In another example, he portrayed the Ottoman Empire as one whose touch was so lightly imprinted upon the peoples subject to its colonization as to be admirable when compared to European colonial oppression.  Ottoman Turkey was the “most cosmopolitan state in the world . . . a sophisticated political organism capable of accommodating much ethnic and religious diversity.”  One had to laugh when, a few paragraphs later, he noted that the successful Greek insurgency in 1929 led to uprisings all over the “light imprint” zone.
Most of the book was a complaint about European colonial rule.  One member described it as a “rant.”  All agreed that the Europeans had been oppressive and exploitative of a large part of Asia.  It was truly an astonishing enterprise that has led to some lingering problems. 
But the author lays more blame on the Europeans than perhaps warranted.  For example, he complains that the British and the French drew boundaries in the Middle East in a culturally insensitive and destabilizing way, as if the seething centuries of religious violence between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims were of little consequence when compared to events at the end of World War I.
The author approached his ambitious topic by examining the writings of a handful of Asian writers who acquired some prominence in their time, but who are generally unknown to Western readers.  The writings of individuals well known in the West, such as Gandhi, are only briefly mentioned.
The book’s main protagonists were “two itinerant thinkers and activists,” Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-97) and Liang Qichao (1873-1929).  Mishra sees them as intellectuals who protested against the domination by the Europeans and laid the foundation for the subsequent national liberation movements in Asia.  Other Asians whose ideas are analyzed include Rabindranath Tagore, Tokutomi Soho, and Ali Shiatari.
Mishra tracks the evolution of their thinking as they mature.  Both al-Afghani and Liang travelled widely, and their writings are known to have influenced many people, including Mao Zedong, Sayyid Qutb, and Osama bin Laden.  Today, Al-Afghani is seen as the father of modern political Islam.  Mishra characterizes al-Afghani’s actual writing as “often romantic Islamic revivalism” rather than the “language of Jihad,” which is now so much in the news.
Mishra begins the book with a description of how the peoples of Asia reacted to the Japanese defeat of the Russians in a May 1905 naval battle in the Tsushima Strait.  They were elated at the sight of Asians beating a European power.  We noted that this world view effectively blinded many Asians to the real threat.  The threat was not “white Christian Europeans,” but rather “militarily powerful people who seek to exploit you economically.”  Japan went on to subjugate a good part of Asia.  The cruel and corrupt indigenous rulers who came to power in some parts of Asia after colonial rule also demonstrate that the desire to subjugate others is not a uniquely European characteristic.
We talked about the extensive travel undertaken by al-Afghani and Liang and its impact on their thinking.  For example, in addition to his Asian travels, Liang travelled all over Europe and to the United States.  He was surprised by the slums and other indications that American democracy was falling short of its stated purpose.  After viewing the destruction caused by World War I in Europe, he wondered if the West were in decline.

Jan 18, 2016

Perhaps We Should Read on Ireland in April 2016

We were unable to choose a book for April 2016 last week. We failed to do so. As the meeting broke up I was reminded that it is the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin this year, and it might be a good time to return to Irish history,

The Easter Rising took place from April 24 to April 29th, immediately following Easter Sunday. It failed, and the leaders -- Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett, Éamonn Ceannt, Seán Mac Diarmada, snd James Connolly were executed. Others who played a lesser role in the uprising were also executed -- Ned Daly, Willie Pearse, Michael O'Hanrahan, John MacBride, Michael Mallin, Conn Colbert, Seán Heuston, Thomas Kent, Roger Casement.

This might not seem a very serious rising, lasting only a few days and involving relatively small revolutionary forces, but in its aftermath public opinion swung heavily against the British, leading to the successful uprising that occurred during World War I.

Click here for the report of our last discussion of related books.

(This is a reduced list after the discussion in June.)

Guerilla Days in Ireland: A Personal Account of the Anglo-Irish War by Tom Barry. 242 pages, 4.8 stars. This was written by one of the IRA flying squad members in the late 40's and was very influential in the liberation movements of the 1950's and 1960's. Plus it is a first person history of the conflict. Here are some reviews of the book from GoodReads. This Book was Chosen.

The Irish War of Independence by Michael Hopkinson. 274 pages, 4.5 stars (but only 4 reviews) The Irish War of Independence was a sporadic guerrilla campaign taht lasted from January 1919 until July 1921. Michael Hopkinson makes full use of the recently opened files of the Bureau of Military Archives in Dublin, which contain valuable first-hand contemporary accounts of the war, meticulously piecing together the many disparate local actions to create a coherent narrative. The first half of this from History Ireland reviews the book.
We considered a historical novel for the first time, and postponed the decision to a later meeting.
A Star Called Henry (Last Roundup) by Roddy Doyle. 400 pages, 4.0 stars. Born at the beginning of the twentieth century, Henry Smart lives through the evolution of modern Ireland, and in this extraordinary novel he brilliantly tells his story. From his own birth and childhood on the streets of Dublin to his role as soldier (and lover) in the Irish Rebellion, Henry recounts his early years of reckless heroism and adventure. At once an epic, a love story, and a portrait of Irish history, A Star Called Henry is a grand picaresque novel brimming with both poignant moments and comic ones, and told in a voice that is both quintessentially Irish and inimitably Roddy Doyle's. Doyle is a winner of the Booker Prize and perhaps the best living Irish writer. Here is The New York Times Review of the Book.  Here is a video of  Roddy Doyle on the book from the Abbey TheaterHere is the trailer for Terry Gilliam's film from the book. This review from an Irish reader: "Certainly a page turner it is a fiction from the perspective of a 'foot soldier' in Dublin IRA. It clearly shows that behind the men of action are a group from whom the soldiers will always be excluded. This group will assume power when the New Day dawns, as such groups do worldwide."

Easter, 1916
poet William Butler Yeats    Click here to hear Yeats read the poem.

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:

The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born. 

Here are a couple of versions of Raftery's Mary Hines, which may be of relevance in the discussion:

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Jan 12, 2016

Comments on Elliott's Imperial Spain under Isabelle and Ferdinand and the Habsb

“One must be careful of books, and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” —Cassandra Clare, The Infernal Devices
"For the better or for the worse." -- John Daly
On Wednesday, the 9th of December, nine members of the club met to discuss Imperial Spain: 1469-1716 by J. H. Elliott. (A couple more contacted me after the meeting reporting problems that prevented their attendance.) Fittingly for the December meeting, the Kensington Row Bookshop was decorated for the season and cookies were served.

A Theory of History

About 10,000 years ago, agriculture began to be practiced by our species. By increasing the amount of food supplied and its dependability, agriculture allowed population size to grow. But the spread of agriculture across continents could not have been rapid. For millenia hunger was a regular part of human existence; in Hobbs phrase, it was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short".

Wikipedia estimates:
The world population in 35,000 BCE is estimated to have been around 3 million people, all of whom subsisted as hunter-gatherers. The population had increased to around 15 million at the time agriculture emerged in around 10,000 BCE. By contrast, it is estimated that around 50–60 million people lived in the combined eastern and western Roman Empire in the 4th century CE
Today people live in nation-states that control virtually all the the land on earth, and have created multinational organizations such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the World Trade Organization that have global programs doing what the nation states can not themselves do. World population reached 7 billion in about October  2011. The United Nations estimates it will increase to 11.2 billion in the year 2100. More is produced and consumed than ever before. Men have walked on the moon, robotic vehicles have explored some of the plants, and space vehicles have mapped them all,

This has not been achieved by a plan, but rather by muddling through, with many small plans for limited objectives, and even many of these have failed or been only partially successful, For ever two steps forward, one has had to be given up to retreat. Spain from 1469 to 1716 deals with an important culture at an important time. This was a time in which new wealth was entering world commerce, many European nations were modernizing their governments (while Spain lagged) and the modern age had almost arrived in Europe.

The early part of this period saw the Catholic Monarchs succeed in ending Muslim presence in the Iberian peninsula. Then Spain and Portugal gained huge. rich colonies in the Americas, established trading routes from Europe to Asia and established more colonies and trading entrepôts in Asia. At the end of the period, the Hispanic peoples took a huge step back from those successes as the empire collapsed. Elliott seems to suggest that a lot of this history was the result of kings and their subordinates muddling through.

Elliott shows how the huge amounts of gold and silver were raised to fund government activities over this long period. He also goes into detail on how government action emerged from conflict among social classes and among geographic regions -- it was anything by the well organized execution of a rational master plan. Kings and aristocratic leaders were doing the best they could with institutions that were often inadequate raising needed finance or directing the far flung agents of government. Thus seen in one way, Elliott's book is a confirmation that muddling through during this period and in this region worked well, but then stopped doing so. But while Spain was suffering its reverses, other nations were making progress. The book thus involves a serious theory of how government reacts to unforeseen fortuitous and disastrous event, or at least how Spanish governments reacted in the 15th to the 18th century..


Sir John Elliott is a very distinguished historian, well known for his works on Spanish history. This book was originally selected because members felt we should know more about Spanish history, especially during the period in which Spain colonized much of the Americas -- after all, much of the United States was first colonized by Spain -- we are an American club even as we deal broadly with world history,. Beginning the book in 1469 allows the author to begin with the ascendancies of Isabella and Ferdinand, well before the 1492 sailing of Columbus; the final date indicates that the War of the Spanish Succession was over, and Phillip the V had extended Castilian rule over Catalonia and the Basque country.

Here is the Amazon summary of the book:
Since its first publication, J. H. Elliott's classic chronicle has become established as the most comprehensive, balanced, and accessible account of the dramatic rise and fall of imperial Spain.  Now with a new preface by the author, this brilliant study unveils how a barren, impoverished, and isolated country became the greatest power on earth—and just as quickly fell into decline. 
At its greatest Spain was a master of Europe: its government was respected, its armies were feared, and its conquistadores carved out a vast empire. Yet this splendid power was rapidly to lose its impetus and creative dynamism. How did this happen in such a short space of time? Taking in rebellions, religious conflict and financial disaster, Elliott's masterly social and economic analysis studies the various factors that precipitated the end of an empire.
Some videos that are helpful in understanding the book:
As you read the review, you might find it useful to have some Spanish music to listen too. Here is a guitar playing Granada from Albeniz' "Suite Española"

The Iberian peninsula of course had a history before 1469. The various tribes inhabiting the peninsula had been conquered by the Romans, who occupied the territory for centuries. However, as the Roman Empire fell, tribes from the north swept into the area taking political and economic control -- notable the Vandals and the Visigoths

Muslim armies swept up the peninsula to the border of France. I quote from Wikipedia:
The Umayyad conquest of Hispania was the initial expansion of the Umayyad Caliphate over Hispania, largely extending from 711 to 788. The conquest resulted in the destruction of the Visigothic Kingdom and the establishment of the independent Emirate of Cordova under Abd ar-Rahman I, who completed the unification of Muslim-ruled Iberia, or al-Andalus (756–788). The conquest marks the westernmost expansion of both the Umayyad Caliphate and Muslim rule into Europe. 
Forces commanded by Tariq ibn Ziyad disembarked in early 711 at Gibraltar at the head of an army consisting of Berber Northwest Africans and Arabs. He campaigned his way northward after the decisive Battle of Guadalete against the usurper Roderic. By 717, the Berber-Arabs had crossed the Pyrenees onto Septimania and Provence (734).
 Al-Andalus under the Umayyads

Source: Fred the Oyster - via Wikipedia
The Reconquista had restored Christian domination of the peninsula with the exception of Granada in Andalusia by 1469, leaving only a small portion of the deep south under Muslim rule

Below is a map of the peninsula showing the Catholic crowns of Castile and Aragon as well as the Islamic territory of Granada, with the dates that the territories were incorporated into the Spanish empire. According to Wikipedia:
The Iberian Union was the period between 1580 and 1640 during which the Crown of Portugal was in dynastic union with the Spanish Crown, bringing the entire Iberian Peninsula, as well as Spanish and Portuguese overseas possessions, under the Spanish Habsburg kings Philip II, Philip III and Philip IV of Spain. 
The Iberian Peninsula Showing the Dates Territories were Reconquered by Spain

As the book starts, the last stage of the Reconquista is being prepared.

It is important to realize not only that the political organization of the Iberian peninsula was different in the 15th century than it is today, but that the concepts of states too were different. Thus the Crown of Aragon at the end of the 15th century was composed of the Kingdom of Aragon, the Principality of Catalonia, the Kingdom of Valencia in the Iberian Peninsula, and the Kingdom of Majorca (the Balearic Islands), but it also included the Kingdom of Sicily, the Kingdom of Sardinia. (Thus five kingdoms and one principality were united under the Crown, recognizing a single ruler -- the King of Aragon.) Each of the major subordinate units within a Crown had its own form of government and its own local governors. A new King of Aragon (like a new rulers of Castile or Portugal) occupied the top post, generally without too great a disruption of the governments of the subordinate kingdoms and principalities. Note that Isabella and Ferdinand had a special agreement that each was the co-ruller of others Crown, during their lives,
"The 15th century saw a series of wars between the Kings of Aragon and the Counts of Provence. In 1423 the army of Alphonse of Aragon captured Marseille, and in 1443 the forces of Aragon captured Naples, and forced its ruler, King René I of Naples, to flee. He eventually settled in one of his remaining territories, Provence.......Louis XI of France (was crowned in 1481 and Provence was legally incorporated into the French royal domain in 1486." (Source)
The 15th and 16th centuries in Europe obviously fell between the middle ages and the onset of modern times. They were a time in which some key areas of technology changed, as did the processes of religion, government, war, agriculture, manufacturing, and much else.The global context of the history of Spain in the 15th and 16th century includes:
  • The conflict between Islamic peoples and Christian peoples, which saw the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, was partially resolved in the west in 1492 by the completion of the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula by Christians. The emphasis of the conflict toward Austria after 1453 when the Ottomans sought to move north through the Balkans. (In 2012 the club read The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe by Andrew Wheatcroft.)
  • During the entire period after the Middle Ages, European rulers were seeking to extend the areas that they ruled, and to do so had to better finance their governments. The 17th century European states (except Spain) succeeded in modernizing governmental institutions.
  • There were many armed conflicts among European states achieved some success. Notably, for much of the period discussed in this book, Spanish lands were at war in France, the Netherlands, Italy and/or England,
  • The Reformation and Counter-Reformation. These can be considered to have begun with the posting of Luthor's Ninety-Five Theses. Of course the period say the rise of protestant churches which came to enroll states in northern Europe, This of course weakened the Roman Catholic Church, which in response created the Counter-Reformation, (The club had previously read and discussed The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch.). 
  • The Renaissance (from the 14th to the 17th century), which started in Italy and spread across Christian Europe. Humanism is associated with the Renaissance, but perhaps played a distinct role in some of the theme of Elliott's book. Other aspects of the Renaissance certainly did.
  • In 1453, with the fall of Constantinople, the Silk Road allowing trade between Asia and Europe was closed. That led to exploration around Africa seeking a new trade route, and settlements by Europeans along the coast of Africa. The Portuguese and Spanish were well placed to lead this exploration due to their location on the south-western point of Europe.
  • 1455 also saw the first books printed using movable type -- the Gutenberg Bible. Printed books became more common after 1455 while hand copied books continued to be produced. Still religious, scientific and other learned tracts became much more available as time went by,
  • "The 15th through 17th century saw widespread development in gunpowder technology throughout the Old World. During the 15th and 16th centuries, these developments were more advanced in India and Persia than in Europe, but by the 17th century, technological progress in Europe led to application of gunpowder on a scale and to an effect unprecedented anywhere else, both in warfare and in civil engineering. " Wikipedia
  • The fortuitous discovery of America by Columbus (1492) also led to the rapid conquest of large areas of North, Central and South America by Spain and Portugal, the Colombian Exchange of plants, animals and diseases, and relatively quickly to a huge transfer of gold and silver from New World mines to Spain.
A map of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires in the period of Iberian Union under the personal union of the Spanish monarchs (1580–1640)
Part I of the Book

A context for the first part of the book -- that dealing with the Catholic monarchs of Castile and Aragon (Isabella and Ferdinand) is the completion of the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims. It also saw the expulsion of the Jews and Muslims. 

Of course, the region had been part of the Roman Empire, and then occupied Vandals and Visigoths. The Muslims after sweeping through North Africa, invaded Europe via the Iberian Peninsula and were not stopped until the reached the Pyrenees and the French  The Christians on the Peninsula began to take back the land, supported by the rest of Europe, with the notable support of the papacy, By 1468 only Granada was in Muslim hands, the rest of the peninsula was Christian.

While there were many trained and experienced warriors among the Christians, how were they to be paid? The union of Castile and Aragon was a start, since a large area of the region was now under under the Queen of Castile and the King of Aragon, each of whom made the other co-monarch of her/his own domain.

The book focuses on an important economic development -- the development of the woolen cloth industry. A large wool market existed in the north of Castile. The Catholic Monarchs arranged that wool from that market would be transported to a port on the north coast of the Iberian peninsula, from there to be taken by convoy to France where it would be processed into cloth. Not incidentally, this made taxes on the wool easier to collect and a large source of income. A further step was to fence a large area of (relatively poor soils) in the highlands of Castile and reserve them for sheep. Thus the book presents us with an example of commercialization of agriculture to serve the state's need for money.
A member complained during our meeting that while the book was full of descriptions of people and events, she felt is lacked clear organizing principles. (Perhaps, in defense of author Elliott, he might have assumed the readers would have a broad understanding of the historical situation and processes of the time which would have served that need,)
I suggest that "muddling through" is that organizing principle. 
Isabella and Ferdinand worked first to undo damaging changes that had been made to earlier practices in the years before their elevation to office. They also succeeded in bringing Castile and Aragon closer together, especially by each recognizing the other as co-monarch over her/his inherited domain. Their work was complicated in that they did not have the modern understanding of administration that has developed over the centuries since they lived. Especially, they did not have the experience of developing professional civil service that we now enjoy.

They were successful in putting together the money to fund a large army, and with that army to defeat Granada and capture the remaining parts of Andalusia from the Muslims. Their expulsion of the Jews led to the loss of that population with its wealth and business experience a serious blow to Castile and Aragon, and indeed the entire Iberian peninsula.

They had good luck, especially in that Columbus discovered America, and America proved to be rich in gold and silver as well as domestic plants. it quickly proved to be a captive and lucrative market for European exports, all of which were shipped on Spanish vessels; hundreds of years of experience fighting Muslims had prepared the Spanish to accomplish exception conquests with tiny forces. None of this could have been imagined when Isabella and Ferdinand agreed to finance the expedition, 

Part I of the book emphasizes the many factions involved in policy making with regard to raising funds, organizing the government, conducting military affairs, and conducting relations with the Muslim opposition, The royals themselves, the aristocrats (who were by no means united, and indeed could have various factions for a single issue). the church, the leading townsmen, the lower class townsmen and the peasant farmers. The Inquisition existed, and the church's influence depended in part on that institution, as well as the papacy, the many thousands of priests and other employees; it was especially influential in promoting the crusade to reconquer all of the land on the Iberian peninsula from the Muslims.

Here the muddled through successfully, and had the good luck to find a route to Asia and to discover a new world filled with riches.

Part II of the Book

A Habsburg Dynesty ruled Castile during the period covered by the larger part of the book. When Isabella died in 1505, her grandson, Charles V, was the clear inheritor of the position of King of Castile, but was to wait 18 years his majority to assume his duties, The Union of Crowns was preserved during these years, and Charles V was therefor also to be the King of Spain ruling over possessions of Spain in the Americas, Sicily and southern Italy. He was a Habsburg as a result of the complex mating rituals practiced by the royals. His descendants ruled for about a century.

He was also elected Holy Roman Emperer, which brought him large territories in Europe as seen in the map.

Charles V's European and Mediterranean Territories
(North African Territories Added After the Reconquista)
Source: Wikipedia
Map of the empire of Roman Emperor Charles V (as king of Spain Charles I).    Castille    Aragon    Burgundian possessions    Austrian hereditary lands    Holy Roman Empire

The obvious implication of the map is that it placed a lot of ground under the control of Charles V (if he and his descendants could hold it). Charles and his advisers were faced by a protestant revolt against the Catholic control of the Netherlands, It devoured money, as Charles had to send troops via Flanders after traveling across a lot of Europe. The royal cashbox was always bare, and from time to time Charles V would have to borrow large sums of money -- exacerbating the problem since he did not reduce expenditures on the Roman Empire, but would need to pay more and more interest.

The 16th century began well for Charles V in terms of the Spanish possession in the America. Since Columbus had landed in the Caribbean, the first explorations started there, and continued in Florida, However, more propitious discoveries were made in Mexico and the Andes, where large populations of relatively highly organized Indians were found, and even more to the Spanish liking, large deposits of Silver.

DECADE Value (million pesos) GOLD (tonnes) SILVER (t)
1503­-1510          1.18                        5.0                      0
1511­-1520          2.18                        9.2                      0
1521­-1530          1.17                        4.9                      0
1531­-1540          5.58                      14.5                    86
1541-­1550        10.46                      25.0                  178
1551­-1560        17.86                      42.6                  303
1561-1570        25.34                      11.5                  943
1571­-1580        29.15                        9.4                1119
1581­-1590        53.20                      12.1                2103
1591-­1600        69.60                      19.5                2708

Expansion of European Empires 
through the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries

As Spanish moved to the Americas to exploit the land and the Indians, supplied with silver and gold as well as a variety of local products that would at least have had interest value in Europe, these immigrants to the Americas began to demand European goods -- wine, foods that could not be obtained in local Mexican or Peruvian markets. Not only did Castile take the largest share as the largest Kingdom in Spain, it made the Americas part of the Kingdom of Castile,

Apparently, the impact of European diseases on American natives who had not been exposed to them had not been predicted, The Indian populations were decimated by disease (and other things) and the labor force greatly reduced over time. The gold and silver became harder to find and to get out of the ground (although Potosi was an amazing mine). Improved silver recovery technology was developed to get more pure silver per ton of ore, but still silver production went down,

Early on there was a windfall of money and it goods that could have been produced in Spain were imported at lower prices. It was noted that the innovators -- people engaged in commerce who would detect problems or unmet needs -- were disappearing. The King and the leading aristocrats didn't seem to recognize these as the grave problems that they would become, or at least didn't propose solutions that worked. Muddling through would not be enough;

The anger of the peripheral states at the Spanish King and at Castile increased. I quote from Wikipedia:
From 1630 onward, the Dutch Republic came to control almost half of Brazil's area at the time, with their capital in Recife. The Dutch West India Company (WIC) set up their headquarters in Recife. The governor, Johan Maurits, invited artists and scientists to the colony to help promote Brazil and increase immigration. The Portuguese won a significant victory at the Second Battle of Guararapes in 1649. On 26 January 1654, the Dutch surrendered and signed the capitulation, but only as a provisory pact. By May 1654, the Dutch demanded that the Dutch Republic was to be given New Holland back. On 6 August 1661, New Holland was formally ceded to Portugal through the Treaty of The Hague.
Recall that (Wikipedia)
The Iberian Union was the period between 1580 and 1640 during which the Crown of Portugal was in dynastic union with the Spanish Crown.
 And recall further that
The Catalan Revolt (1640–52) saw Catalonia rebel with French help against the Spanish Crown for overstepping Catalonia's traditional rights during the Thirty Years' War. Most of Catalonia was reconquered by the Spanish monarchy but Catalan rights were recognized. Roussillon was lost to France.
And (according to Wikipedia)
The Portuguese Restoration War......began with the Portuguese revolution of 1640 and ended with the Treaty of Lisbon in 1668.
Elliott suggests that the Portugese followed the lead of the stronger Catalan-French battle for Catalan freedom, and with Catalan success Portugal too gained it freedom from Spain, 

A critical moment in the conflict between Islam and Christianity was 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire. (The History Book Club read 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West by Roger Crowley.) This effectively blocked Christian Europe from access to Asian goods which they had been obtaining via the Silk Road. (The club also read The Silk Road in World History by Xinru Liu.) This in turn led to efforts to find a new route to Asia, notably by ship around Africa. The Iberian peninsula had an advantage in this effort due to its geographical location and direct access to the Atlantic. Thus in 1492, when Grenada fell, it was not strange that Castile and Aragon chartered Columbus' voyage to seek a direct Western route to Asia, assuming that the earth was indeed spherical. What was unexpected was that Columbus discovered the Americas and not Asia, (Muddling though!)

The conquest of Constantinople also opened a route into Europe for the Ottoman armies through the Balkans, and thus a serious threat of Islamic intrusion into the eastern lands of Christian Europe. (The club had also read The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe by Andrew Wheatcroft.) With this new threat, European Christians sought to reorganize to be able to bring forces to oppose invading Islamic forces; money would be a problem. The Holly Roman Empire, by its size and wealth would be an obvious leader.

Division of the Iberian Peninsula into Political Units
at Different Times, Showing the Reconquista

In 1492 the Kingdom of Castile and Leon was the largest Christian kingdom, with Aragon and Portugal somewhat smaller, the Muslim Kingdom of Granada on the coast in the south, the Kingdom of Portugal on the west, and a small Kingdom of Navarre on the east, But the history of these kingdoms remained alive, Thus the Kingdom of Aragon (in addition to its lands outside of the peninsula) included Aragon, Catalonia and Barcelona. Barcelona had a history as a trading state, dominating sea trade in the north western Mediterranean -- a powerhouse of commerce. Aragon's history included a key role in the defense of the frontier. Catalonia had its own language (with many French roots) and cousins over the border living on French territory. Muddling through never succeeded in bringing Aragon and Castile needed to make Spain a single state serving a single nation, That was more true of the failed experiment with unification of Portugal and Spain, The muddling through approach to unification of Spanish and Moors. the Catholics, Protestants and Jews failed even more dramatically,

In the 17th century there was again a change of dynasty -- from Habsburg to Bourbon, from Austrian to French. It was decided on after the War of the Spanish Succession, A french Bourbon ruler was duly installed in Madrid, and many of the innovations introduced in French government structure and function came to Spain. The Austrians stripped Spain of the territory it had held in Italy and the surrounding Mediterranean Islands.

It would be a shame not to mention the magisterial final section that author Elliott provides to the book, titled "Epitaph to an Empire". In the previous chapters he has delved in great detail to who held what position of what issue related to what decision. It was this detail (involving people the non-historian reader would often soon forget) that so annoyed out member (cited above). In the final section of the book Elliot points out how great were the accomplishments of Spain under Isabella and Ferdinand as well as under the early Habsburgs. The world still has the imprint of those accomplishments. Looking at governments and the people who run them today, one wonders if we have really made advances in 400 years.

Apologies for the late posting of this discussion of Elliott's book on Imperial Spain. The holidays, and a lasting problem with allergies were responsible, John Daly