Topic: Spain 1469-1556

Topic: Spain, 1469-1556

Which of the following was of greater importance as a reason for Spanish overseas exploration and conquest during the period 1469-1556?

  • Spain’s social and economic problems
  • The desire for a Catholic crusade

Explain your answer with reference to both (i) and (ii) (12 points/marks)

High level Student Response: (Exceeds the Standard)

Social and economic problems within Spain were a major factor in encouraging overseas exploration and trade. As with all European economies, there was widespread resentment at the cost of importing spices by land from Asia and one of Columbus’ reasons for launching his expeditions was to find a sea route to the east so that Spain could take out the Venetian and Genoese monopoly on the trade. The Spanish were also competing with the Portuguese to control the spice trade and it was this that led to the accidental discovery of the Americas, which then led to Spain exploiting that. The concern over spices was given an even greater incentive because there were fears that the Ottoman Turks would soon monopolize the route and therefore either rise prices further or disrupt the trade. Closely linked to spices was the a general shortage of gold in Europe, most gold came from West Africa and was transported to North Africa where it was sold to merchants, as much of this route was dominated by the Portuguese the Spaniards hoped to find gold in the lands they discovered in the Americas and this played a very important role in the conquests, such as the Aztecs, undertaken during the reign of Charles I. Once Spain had discovered the Americas it gave the opportunity to those who lacked wealth at home to acquire land, but this was more of a consequence of the exploration and discovery than a cause.

Initially it was the desire for a Catholic crusade that drove Spain’s involvement in the voyages of discovery. This was because they were already engaged in a struggle with the Moors in Spain, and after defeating them in 1492 they looked to continue the struggle against Islam and spread Christianity, hence Isabella’s patronage of Columbus and the presence of priests on his ships. Moreover, Spain also looked to spread Christianity to North Africa, but this failed and the bases at Algiers and Tripoli became little more than trading posts, suggesting that in practice trade became more important. It would also appear that at first the spreading of Christianity in the Americas was more important as large numbers of native Americans were converted by Cortes, however with both Cortes and Pizarro the main objective soon became to find gold, driven by the dream of discovering El Dorado.

Therefore, although there was encouragement from priests at home to continue the struggle against Islam and the missionary zeal that had been ignited by the struggle against the Moors it was usually the economic factors that soon came to dominate. Some individuals, such as Isabella and even Columbus who wanted to find gold to pay for a crusade against Islam, may have had religious motives, but wealth and trade soon became more important to most, seen in the conquest of the Inca empire in Peru, where huge silver mines were opened up at Potosi.

Teacher Comments: This student earned 12 out of 12 points/marks

  • Both of the factors are analyzed and there is a weighing up of the relative importance of each, which leads to balanced and supported judgment as to their relative importance.
  • The supporting detail is sound and precise examples are provided to back up the argument put forward.

Medium Level Student answer (Meets the Standard)

The voyages of exploration and conquest helped Spain to solve some of its social and economic problems. The rising cost of spices was important in motivating the explorers as spices were vital for everyday life to flavor and preserve food. Spain did not want other countries to have control over this trade as it was very profitable. There was also a shortage of gold and silver in Europe and Spain hoped through these voyages and conquests to find a source of these precious metals, as happened with the conquests in South America. There were some explorers who wanted to find the city of El Dorado, whilst others hoped to find silver. This can be seen to be important because the large silver mines were set up in Peru. Some people in Spain were also motivated by a desire to find more profitable land. Much land in Spain was dry and not easy to farm and therefore some hoped that they would be able to acquire land elsewhere which would bring in more money and make them wealthy. They also used the conquests to establish large landed estates called encomiendas where huge flocks of sheep or herds of cattle were often kept, and a range of goods were grown – often resulting in the establishment of plantations, which suggests that economic factors were important to many.

Religion was also important. Spain had been fighting a struggle against Islam in Granada, which it had won in 1492 and now wanted to continue this struggle, defeat Islam and spread Christianity to other areas. Columbus’ voyages were sponsored by Isabella of Castile who was a very religious woman and she wanted to spread Christianity. Columbus himself hoped to use the voyages to find gold to pay for a war against Islam and spread Christianity. Isabella believed that the people who were conquered should be converted to Christianity, therefore it shows religion was important to her.

Teacher Comments: This student earned 7 out of 12 points/marks

  • Although both factors are discussed, there is much description rather than analysis of their role in exploration and conquest.
  • There is no real evaluation of their relative importance and judgment is absent.
  • A conclusion where the two named issues are compared and a judgment is reached is missing.
  • The knowledge is sound, but quite general and would benefit from reference to some specific examples.