Iberian Empires, 1600-1800

Jane Landers

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online May 2010 | | DOI:
Iberian Empires, 1600-1800

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  • History of the Americas
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By 1600 Spain had completed the conquests of the core areas of its vast empire and established an elaborate network of administrative, legal, religious, and commercial institutions. Viceregal capitals in Mexico City and Lima and hundreds of smaller municipalities attempted to recreate Spain in the New World. Persons born in the Iberian Peninsula were accorded the highest social status, but wealthy Creoles formed a local elite. From first contact, Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans created new mixed-race peoples in the Americas known as castas. American societies were further transformed in the 17th century by the decimation of native peoples and the resulting expansion of the African slave trade to the Spanish colonies. Elaborate naming and legal systems failed to enforce racial separation because factors such as education, wealth, and patronage networks could modify racial categories. Some form of Catholicism connected all the varied groups, although indigenous and African religions proved resilient. Portugal, meanwhile, established a royal colony in Brazil, headquartered in Salvador da Bahia, while also maintaining smaller trading posts (feitorias) scattered along the coasts of Africa and Asia. On the death of King Sebastian during a North African Crusade in 1578, Spain assumed control of the vacant Portuguese throne and held it from 1580 to 1640. The Atlantic consequences of this union were many. Dutch forces attacked and seized formerly Portuguese areas of Brazil and Africa. Dutch, French, and English corsairs also attacked Spanish silver fleets and cities around the Caribbean. In 1640, Portugal launched a war of independence against Spain, and in 1655 the British seized Jamaica. Over the course of the disastrous 17th century, a terrible cycle of droughts, famines, and epidemic diseases decimated remaining indigenous populations in the Americas, silver revenues dropped, and Spain entered a period of severe economic depression. Brazil also suffered economic decline after local forces finally ejected the Dutch from northern Brazil in 1654 and the Dutch transferred their sugar technology, investments, and slaves to the Caribbean. The Brazilian economy only revived at the end of the 17th century, when frontier slave raiders (bandeirantes) in search of indigenous captives discovered gold and diamonds in what is now the state of Minas Gerais. In 1700, Charles II died without an heir, and the War of the Spanish Succession ended with a French Bourbon ruling Spain. The Bourbon kings launched a major economic, administrative, and defensive overhaul of the weakened Spanish Empire, designed to enhance royal control and revenue flows. From 1750 to 1777 Portugal’s Minister of the Kingdom, the Marquis of Pombal, launched enlightened reforms similar to those of Spain, designed to centralize, modernize, and rationalize the administration of Brazil.

Article.  4808 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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