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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

Spain could not supply the needs of her own colonies


But

between Spain and her "sinews of war" lay 3000 miles of ocean. To hold the colonies themselves, to guard the plate fleets against French, Dutch, and English raiders, to protect her own coastline and maintain communications with her possessions in Italy and the Low Countries, to wage war against the Turk in the Mediterranean, Spain felt the need of a navy. Indeed, in view of these varied motives for maritime strength, it is surprising that Spain depended so largely on impressed merchant vessels, and had made only the beginnings of a royal navy at the time of the Grand Armada.[1] Not primarily a nation of traders or sailors, she had, by grudging assistance to the greatest of sea explorers, fallen into a rich colonial empire, to secure and make the most of which called for sea power.

[Footnote 1: "For the kings of England have for many years been at the charge to build and furnish a navy of powerful ships for their own defense, and for the wars only; whereas the French, the Spaniards, the Portugals, and the Hollanders (till of late) have had no proper fleet belonging to their princes or state." Sir Walter Raleigh, A DISCOURSE OF THE INVENTION OF SHIPS.]

It is possible, however, to lay undue stress on the factor just mentioned in accounting for both the rise and the decay of Spain. Her ascendancy in Europe in the 16th century was due chiefly to the immense territories united with her under Charles the Fifth (1500-1558),

who inherited Spain, Burgundy, and the Low Countries, and added Austria with her German and Italian provinces by his accession to the imperial throne. Under Charles's powerful leadership Spain became the greatest nation in Europe; but at the same time her resources in men and wealth were exhausted in the almost constant warfare of his long reign. The treasures of America flowed through the land like water, in the expressive figure of a German historian, "not fertilizing it but laying it waste, and leaving sharper dearth behind."[2] The revenues of the plate fleet were pledged to German or Genoese bankers even before they reached the country, and were expended in the purchase of foreign luxuries or in waging imperial wars, rather than in the encouragement of home agriculture, trade, and industry. While the vast possessions of church and nobility escaped taxation, the people were burdened with levies on the movement and sale of commodities and on the common necessities of life. Prohibition of imports to keep gold in the country was ineffectual, for without the supplies brought in by Dutch merchantmen Spain would have starved, and Philip II often had to connive in violations of his own restrictions. Prohibition of exports to keep prices down was an equally Quixotic measure, the chief effect of which was to kill trade. Spain could not supply the needs of her own colonies, and in fact illustrates the truth that a nation cannot, in the end, profit greatly by colonies unless it develops industries to utilize their raw materials and supply their demands.

[Footnote 2: DAS ZEITALTER DER FUGGER, Vol. II, p. 150.]

For some time before the Armada Spain was on the downward path, as a result of the conditions mentioned. On the other hand, while the Armada relieved England of a terrible danger and dashed Spain's hope of domination in the north, it was not of itself a fatal blow. The war still continued, with other Spanish expeditions organized on a grand scale, and ended in 1604, so far as England was concerned, with that country's renunciation of trade to the Indies and aid to the Dutch.


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