1516 is an important date in the history of the Spains, as it is the year of the accession of Charles V. The Spains were not one country in this time; they were composed of: Each had its own laws and traditions and was not keen to change them. Castile and Aragon were merged in 1461 when King Ferdinand married Queen Isabella, becoming known as the "Catholic Kings". The Basque country was a small country on the border with France. Granada was an "emirate of Granada" in the south of Spain run by the Moors (Arabs). Sardinia, Sicily and Naples were all controlled by Aragon following King Ferdinand's wars. Although Castile was the biggest of the Spains, much of its territory was composed of mountains and therefore not that useful for farming or living on.

All the countries were geographically united. Attempts had been made to centralise the bureaucracy of the government, and Ferdinand and Isabella had restored order after a period of chaos. The Inquisition was an influence throughout all the countries, but was generally despised and more bothered about religious conformity than politics.

Ferdinand and Isabella had tried hard to present the image of unity, but in reality this was idealistic. The reality was that the Cortes (Spanish "parliaments") were different in each Kingdom, and each Kingdom cherished its identity and constitution. Although Castile was the dominant language, the other Kingdoms resisted it because they feared their identity would be swamped.

Economic barriers also existed between the Kingdoms: each had its own currency. New land and trade went to seperate Kingdoms rather than the Spains as a whole: trade from the New World went to Castile, for instance.

Many historians argue that the true unity of Spain came out during Charles V's reign, because:

  • One King ruled all the Kingdoms.
  • Troops fought abroad from all Kingdoms.
  • The Kingdoms finally had a common unit of currency: the gold ducat.
  • Royal administration was made up of councils based in Castile.

The Rule of Isabella and Ferdinand in Spain

Isabella and Ferdinand's secret marriage unified not only rulers of rival Spanish kingdoms, but Spain itself. Throughout their rule, they worked together to accomplish what neither could apart: the continued progress of a united Spain. Together, the united kingdoms of Castile and Aragon conquered the remaining Moorish kingdom of Granada. Isabella's vision of Catholic rule for Spain was successfully put into practice during their rule, and order was restored throughout the country. The pair implemented religious and domestic reforms to realize their vision. The conquest of Granada and the expulsion of the Moors came at a critical time in Spanish history; the new era of peace and prosperity brought about by Isabella and Ferdinand gave rise to a new western Empire through the financing of Christopher Columbus' voyages and subsequent conquering of the Western world. Neither Isabella, nor Ferdinand individually brought about these beneficial changes; the union between them, and the power intrinsic in that union, allowed the creation of a stronger and more unified Spain than ever before.

The unification of Spain was due largely to the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand. Each ruled one of the two largest kingdoms in Spain; Isabella ruled Castile, a largely agricultural and less organized kingdom, while Ferdinand ruled Aragon, a more organized kingdom with trade at its foundation. After their marriage, each continued to rule their own kingdom; Ferdinand played a minor role in the administration of Castile, whereas Isabella had no say in the rule of Aragon. However, the marriage between them allowed decisions to be made by both in the best interests of a unified Spain, rather than in the best interests of individual rival kingdoms. The new monarchs of Spain attempted to bring order to Spain as a whole; a national police force was created, and answered directly to the monarchy. Tribunals existed for the punishment of criminals. The Moors were expelled from Spain, and a new, powerful army led by Ferdinand recaptured the kingdom of Granada. Also, the feudal system was ended throughout Spain, and land was given to serfs. The era of anarchic feudalism had come to an end, but with a new order came major societal changes.

Because the Pope recognized Isabella and Ferdinand as a Catholic monarchy, he granted them the power to appoint religious leaders within Spain. Isabella, as part of her vision for a unified Spain, expanded Catholic influence throughout the country. Eventually, she went so far as to expel all non-Catholics from the country, a decision that would leave a stain on her reputation as a leader. Isabella and Ferdinand also implemented economic reforms. They forbade the export of gold and silver, insisting that wealth remain within the country. They encouraged artisans from other countries to live and work in Spain, thus benefiting the economy of Spain. Also, the monarchy subsidized the shipping industry, which helped to build a strong foundation of trade upon which Spain's economy was built. This economic transformation led to further developments.

After the conquest of Grenada and the new era of economic prosperity, Spain was in a position to finance Christopher Columbus' expedition. This proved to be a pivotal point in the history of Spain; the results of the expedition led directly to an increase in Spanish influence. Because Spain could now control much of the profitable New World, it was in a position to become a world power and empire to rival England. Spain's conquest of the New World was profitable, because of the vast untapped resources on the western continents; this profit served to benefit Spain and the monarchy.

By uniting together two kingdoms of Spain, Isabella and Ferdinand paved the way for a united and prosperous Spain. They brought about a metamorphosis of Spain's economy, and ultimately its entire society. The unification of Spain led to the end of the chaotic feudal system, and a new era of economic prosperity, for the middle class as well as the monarchy. Isabella and Ferdinand became monarchs of Spain with a vision for the future; they eventually lead Spain through that future. The prosperity that came with Isabella and Ferdinand's rule benefited not only the monarchy, but Spain itself.

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