History Individual Study Essay

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How far did the policies of Olivares represent realistic solutions to the problems ofSpain?Introduction‘The view is rapidly gaining currency that not only did Olivares’ policies forSpain and its empire not differ markedly from those of earlier Spanish statesmen, but thatby and large the results of his manifold endeavours were both few and modest. ’This understanding of the historiography of Olivares’ effectiveness from Israel,makes Olivares look unoriginal and ineffectual. However other historians, such as Elliotthave been far more sympathetic. ‘…the first and the last ruler of Hapsburg Spain who had the breadth of visionto devise plans on a grand scale for the future of a world-wide monarchy: a statesmanwhose capacity for conceiving great designs was matched only by his consistent incapacityfor carrying them through to a successful conclusion.
’Were Olivares’ policies a realistic way out of Spain’s difficulties or did theyaggravate the situation? To understand this I am going to look at both Olivares’foreign policy and domestic policy. Within foreign policy I propose to see how farOlivares pushed the reputaci?n of the state before domestic crises forced him to seekpeace. Among others the best areas to examine would be Olivares’ policies during theThirty Years War from 1622; the Mantuan War 1628-31 and the great revolts of Catalonia andPortugal in 1640. As for domestic policy I will need to look at Olivares’ initialreforms of 1623, why they fell through and the effect this had.
Furthermore it isimportant to look at the areas where domestic policy coincides with foreign policy (in adefensive sense) in the Great Memorial, including the Union of Arms. I will also have tofind out if Olivares’ policies were consistent, or whether they became more and moredrastic during his term of office. Firstly though, to understand if the policies wererealistic or not, I will have to look into the real problems of Spain. Where exactly didthese problems lie and what areas required alteration to keep Spain afloat? From thispoint I will go on to see the policies in action and from this I will gather whether ornot they were realistic. 1. The problems with SpainOn an international scale, Spain between 1580 and 1620 was at the crest of her wealth andpower.
Her supremacy was the dread of all other nations, and therefore its destruction wasthe cherished object of statesmen for a century. Her galleons ruled the seas and herarmies were feared. Yet due to the internally bad reputation that industry and commercehad, Spain’s economy was faltering. In comparison with her European neighbours, Spainwas industrially, agriculturally and commercially stagnant and wallowing in herold-fashioned militarism.
With a vast and newly acquired empire, Spain was rapidlypropelled to the front of the world stage, but the costs of maintaining this empire provedcrippling. She manufactured very little that her neighbours required, apart from treasure. Yet with the mass influx of gold and silver from the colonies, treasure prices collapsedand in the long term led to rampant inflation. Table adapted from a graph in Years Imports of treasure in millions of pescos Indexnumbers of prices in silver (taken from the first year i.
e. 1580, 1585, 1590 etc. ) Index numbers of money wages (taken from the first year i. e. 1580,1585, 1590 etc.
)1580-1584 29. 5 98 1001585-1589 24 105 1091590-1594 35 108 1191595-1599 34. 5 118 1211600-1604 24. 5 132 1311605-1609 31 138 1601610-1614 24 129 1651615-1619 30.
5 128 1641620-1624 27 129 1631625-1629 24. 5 121 1621630-1634 17. 5 132 1701635-1639 16 124 1751640-1644 14 133 179Yearly Spain had to acquire more and more wealth to maintain equilibrium and so yearly shespiralled closer and closer to bankruptcy. When silver mines had nothing more to yield ortreasure fleets were lost at sea, Spain was forced to borrow on a tremendous scale withforeign bankers.
Taxes were raised on an already overtaxed private sector. In some years,all the merchants’ profits were seized in order to pay off debts, which either ruinedthe merchants or forced them to leave the country. Therefore Olivares came to his ministry at a time when there was anexpress need for reform. During this time, ideas for reform were mostly forwarded by thearbitristas; literally proposers of reform.
However the bulk of their proposals criticisedwhat was directly in front of them. To find the real source of Spain’s problems amore global perspective is required. It was not the corrupt pensions and favours sappingCastile of its life and blood; it was military expenditure. The protection of such largeand scattered territories was the heart of Castile’s difficulties. From the above one can identify four areas in which reform wasdesperately required.
These areas were: internal corruption; finance; trade and the burdenof the empire and military expenditure upon Castile. 2. What were Olivares’ attempts to curb Spain’s problems, andwere they realistic? Inevitably, under the influence of the arbitristas, Olivares saw thedesperate need for change in order to preserve Spain as a world power. Reform wasgenerally seen as a means to this end, but if reform threatened to upset the balance ofpower within Spain it would probably be dropped.
It was very easy for Olivares to come upwith grand-scale plans for reform, but he found it impossible to implement them. Furthermore attempting to implement reformaci?n, while still trying to win reputaci?nthrough war, was impracticable. There were definite limits as to how far one could reforman early modern government, steeped in imperfection that had become a habitual part oflife. Many historians have illustrated that Olivares’ inability to see this limit,due greatly to his energy and impatience, was the key reason for his failure both as areformer and a maintainer of Spain’s reputacion. ‘…he tried to take shortcuts to objectives which required a more elaborateapproach.
His vision of a greater Spain was too ambitious for the period of recession inwhich he lived. ’ ‘(Olivares was) very inclined to novelties, without taking into account where theymay lead him. ’Olivares’ first attempt at reform is a chief example of his over-ambitious nature, aswell as his grandiose plans. The Junta Grande de Reformacion had given variousrecommendations; a Junta re-established by Olivares and his uncle, Zuniga, in August 1622. Its main aim was to eradicate corruption.
Some of the recommendations, embodied in aletter of October 1622, were: the abolition of municipal offices; a national bankingscheme, to be funded by 5% of all wealth; abolition of the milliones and alcabala taxes,to be replaced by the institution of a single consolidated tax. Lynch believes thatOlivares may have used Juntas to side-step the councils. However Olivares called theCortes to seek approval, when the proposals for reform became Twenty-three Articles forReformation in February 1623. It was evident by their actions that the proposals hurt toomany vested interests, for example the abolition of offices was naturally opposed sincethe members of the Cortes were all officeholders. Furthermore closing all the brothels andpreventing emigration was simply impractical. These areas of reform show that Olivares waswell aware of many domestic problems which needed addressing.
However domestic reform wasnot Olivares’ first priority. ‘His prime concern was the preservation of Spain as a world power, and this heconceived as a problem not of internal resources but of foreign and military policy. ’Hence when the need for money became absolute, Olivares simply retreated on manyproposals. A good example of this was the reversion to the Milliones in 1624; the end ofOlivares’ attempts to put the crown finances into a sounder state. Olivares returned to the idea of reform again in the Great Memorial, given on Christmasday 1624. Many of his previous ideas were resurrected with a vital new angle; that ofunity.
Olivares saw the monarchy as too varied within Spain, and that the other kingdomswere not pulling their weight. In the Great Memorial, Olivares advised the king to…‘…reduce these kingdoms…to the style and laws of Castile, with nodifferentiation in the form of frontiers, customs posts, the power to convoke the Cortesof Castile, Aragon and Portugal… if Your Majesty achieves this, you will be the mostpowerful prince in the world. ’ Taken out of context this may seem like an attempt to get rid of the privileges (jueors)held by the non-Castilian kingdoms. However it seems Olivares’ intentions in thiscase were to have a mutual and integrated partnership with benefits for all the kingdoms.
‘I am not nacional, that is something for children’. However action went in theopposite direction of intention; for example there was no effort to break the Castilianmonopoly of offices, or to open up trade with the New World. His first step for unity wasin the Union of Arms; a form of collective defence where a large army of 140 000 men wouldbe supplied through a quota system from the constituent parts of the monarchy. The quota of men from each kingdom under the Union of ArmsCatalonia 16 000 Naples 16 000Aragon 10 000 Sicily 6000Valencia 6000 Milan 8000Castile and the Indies 44 000 Flanders 12 000Portugal 16 000 Mediterranean and Atlantic islands 6000This was a clever response to the dire military crisis that Spain was in; being faced by awar on many fronts with England, France and the United Provinces. Unfortunately Olivaresdisplayed minimal tact in his attempts to get the proposal accepted. He devised a tightschedule where the king would address the Aragonese, Valencian and Catalan Cortes in quicksuccession from the beginning of 1626.
His proposals were treated with great suspicion andOlivares’ methods did not endear him to anyone. Not one of the non-Castilian kingdomsgave unlimited support. Most decided to pay money, for example the Vanlencian Cortes optedto pay 72 000 ducats. This ran counter to the whole ideology of the Union of Arms, butnonetheless it was readily accepted.
Catalonia however remained intransigent and refusedto pay at all. In the New World the Union of Arms equated to a new tax. Peru raised350,000 ducats; New Spain and Central America raised 250,000 ducats. Despite the ideologyof the Union of Arms failing, it succeeded, if laboriously, to raise men and money fromthe various kingdoms of Spain.
In the European provinces, and notably Italy, a hugequantity of men and money was provided; Naples and Sicily provided around 4 million ducatsand 6000 men alone each year. On the other hand it could be said that the money and menraised in Italy were more to do with the immediate military emergency rather than a pushfor reform prompted by the Union of Arms. Therefore Olivares’ success lay inachieving the tapping of the monarchy’s resources at a scale previously untried, notin making any radical innovation facilitating a steadier income for the crown. Despite many early successes abroad under the new regime, the internalstructure of Spain was facing collapse.
Unless Castile could be relieved from the massivefinancial strain that was sapping all of its resources, the monarchy faced disaster. Although treasure fleets were bringing around 1. 5 million ducats annually, most of thecrown’s expensive policies were borne by Castile. Between the years of 1627-8 thecrisis accelerated; mass inflation was caused by both poor harvests and the introductionof 20 million ducats of vellon which were recently minted.
A reflex price fix failed, andthe vellon was withdrawn and debased by 50%. Although this deflation brought ruin uponmany individuals it relieved the massive burden on the treasury. Since hostilities withEngland had faded; the Hapsburgs were secure in Germany; and Richelieu was busy with theHuguenot problem in France; now was the time to make lasting fiscal reform. Unfortunatelythis final chance to economise and reform was ruined by the Mantuan War. In December 1627 the Duke of Mantua died and consequently there was adispute over who should succeed his position. It seems that the candidate who held thebest claim was the Duke of Nevers; a French Noble.
Hence there was a distinct Frenchthreat to the security of Spain’s Italian possessions in the north of Italy, notablyMilan. In response the Milanese governor, C?rdoba, sent his troops to Monteferrat inMarch 1628. Olivares did not publicly endorse this move but he probably gave privateencouragement to C?rdoba. In doing so Olivares found he had provoked a French war againstSpain in Italy. Elliott states that the Mantuan war was the biggest blunder inOlivares’ foreign policy.
It had major repercussions throughout Europe stirring upthe old fears of Spanish aggression. Furthermore, having committed Spain to war withFrance over Mantua, he failed to keep the French Duke off the throne. Cordoba nevermanaged to break the siege of Moteferrat, partly due to his tardiness; he did not beginthe siege until five months after the Duke’s death. France made an attack on Savoy inFebruary, and by March Duke Charles Emmanuel surrendered. Exactly one-year later Francemade a second invasion, taking the fortress of Pinerlo. Since Spinola died in September ofthe same year, Olivares knew that he had to negotiate with France.
The Treaty of Cherascoin June 1631 recognised Nevers as the Duke of Mantua, and granted France Pinerolo – auseful foothold in Italy. From this point it was clear that France and Spain would soon beat war again, and, as a consequence, the chance of any peace in Europe was lost. The warhad cost 10 million ducats and gained nothing; it just put Richelieu in a much strongerposition since one of the gates into France was more secure. Since Richelieu was planning the emancipation of France from Hapsburgencirclement, there was heavy expenditure in Italy and further subsidies to the Emperor,whose territorial gains were being made worthless by the Swedes – a ‘hired’force acting in France’s interests.
The financial crisis mounted in 1628, when therewas a deficit of two million ducats in the year’s provisions. However the mostvisible economic downturn came in September when Piet Heyn captured the New Spain treasurefleet; the first time that a treasure fleet had fallen into foreign hands. With the hugesum gained from this capture, the Dutch dropped any plans for peace and immediatelyembarked on an offensive. Frederick Henry, the Stadholder, whose army outmatched theSpanish Flanders army by two to one, made successful attacks both on Wesel in August(1629) and Bois-le-Duc in September. These attacks came at a time when Spain wasconcentrating on the Mantuan war, and due to the diversion of her resources, it seems thatmaking a favourable peace with the Dutch was now out of the question. Therefore a newforce headed by the Cardinal Infante Ferdinand was sent to settle the area and force amore favourable peace with the Dutch, following the death of the Archduchess Isabella inDecember 1633.
For Olivares this was diplomacy by more forceful means. The Cortes hadvoted 4 million ducats for the campaign and by September 1634 the Swedes were defeated atNordlingen. Following this confidence boost, Olivares threw away the great opportunity tosettle a favourable peace with the Dutch, and instead, he proposed to make furtherattacks. By doing so, he pushed the French into direct and open conflict in 1635.
Olivarescould not afford to push Spain into a war of attrition against France, simply because shedid not have the resources. In 1635 France spent roughly 13-14 million ducats on the wareffort while Olivares could barely raise 7. 25 million. Therefore a quick and decisivedefeat of Richelieu’s forces was required. Olivares’ squandered peace with theDutch in 1634, was very similar to the failure to make a very favourable peace with theFrench in 1637.
To relieve the French pressure on Franche-Comt?, Ferdinand, the CardinalInfante, made a diversionary attack on France. This attack had much more effectivenessthan originally planned, and a short deterrence attack turned into a full-scale invasionas France’s resistance deteriorated. By August 15, Corbie was taken and Paris waswithin Spain’s grasp. When Richelieu offered a favourable peace settlement, Olivareswas in no mindset to consider it. However the backing from the Empire, under Count Gallas,did not arrive in time, and Ferdinand simply did not have enough manpower to drive home aneffective defeat. By November Corbie was re-captured.
‘The Count-Duke, on hearing the news, wanted only to lie down and die. ’However all hope of peace was not lost, and in March 1637 Richelieu was willing to discussconditions for peace. It is probable that this was not due to any Spanish influence, butbecause Richelieu was facing conspiracy and popular unrest. However the great distrustthat emanated from both sides prevented any agreement, if anything they just wanted todisrupt each other’s alliances. Richelieu wanted a treaty maintaining the status quo,while Olivares had great ambitions for the following year, making it very difficult tocommit to anything. Again one can witness Olivares’ overconfidence backfiring on him.
Although Spain managed to thwart a French invasion into Catalonia; her militaryconcentration was elsewhere and Frederick Henry inflicted a severe defeat by taking Bredain October 1637. Defeat would possibly have been avoidable if Olivares could have attainedpeace with at least one of his enemies, thus allowing him to concentrate on one target. Due to the financial strain of war there was a desperate need to find new and more stablesources of revenue. Since the councils were becoming more obstructive, Olivaresincreasingly relied on the Juntas or sub-committees to aid his policymaking. In 1634 theJunta de Ejecaci?n effectively replaced the council of state as a policy making body.
Within these Juntas Olivares placed able and loyal men who were responsible forimplementing various new taxes. For example there was a new salt tax in 1631; in 1635 thejuros was attacked. This was the annual interest that was paid off on loans. For all thejuros held by natives, half of the yield was confiscated, while for any foreign juros theentire yield was taken. This method was continually employed throughout the followingyears. In 1637 all legal or official documents had to be written on a stamped paper, whichwas taxed.
In the same year 487,000 ducats of American silver was seized and incompensation juros were distributed. There was a great deal of office selling, and areturn to feudal dues, where the nobles were expected to provide men and their arms. Earlyon, it seems that Olivares’ schemes worked very well in the short run. In 1634,Hopton, the British ambassador, stated that the Spanish crown’s revenue had doubledover the past four years.
However the practicality of Olivares’ policies wasbeginning to wane, since there was a limit as to how far one could keep draining theresources of the nobility. Though he was very effective at squeezing money out of Castile,there was fast coming a time when it would be squeezed dry. Many of his measures, such asthe mass office selling, were only successful in the short-term. Therefore a steadiersource of income was required. For Olivares, the only conceivable way of doing this was by making amore concerted effort to make the Union of Arms work. Following various successes inFrance and Germany, the war was rapidly degenerating again with the loss of Breda 1637 andBreisach in December 1638.
The loss of Breisach meant that the Spanish road was severedand the only way to get reinforcements in to the Spanish Netherlands was by sea. InOctober 1639, Tromp, the Dutch admiral, defeated the fleet of Don Antonio de Oquendo, atthe Battle of the Downs. This took out Spain’s naval capability in one blow. Furthermore control of Brazil was lost to the Dutch after a joint Portuguese and Spanisheffort failed in 1638.
From all these events Olivares felt that all of his gargantuanefforts were doomed to failure. His contempt for the nobility was clear. He felt there wasa distinct lack of leadership from any of the nobles, despite his efforts to train men inthe Imperial College of Madrid. It was this lack of leadership that pushed Olivares tolook for peace in 1640.
However this was to be difficult since Richelieu was unlikely tomake any reasonable agreement, while France was in a stronger position than Spain. Howeverthe war effort simply could not go on, since Castile was drained of men and resources, aswell as the economic situation being grave. Due to the seizing of silver, the tradebetween Seville and America had collapsed, as merchants had lost confidence. This lastsource of income was now crushed and the principle foundations of Spain were slippingaway. To make the Union work, the kingdoms of Portugal and Catalonia would have to pull theirweight a great deal more, due to their increasing reluctance to grant economic andmilitary assistance to the king. However, Olivares would need to alter the constitutionsof both the kingdoms; this would be especially hard within Catalonia.
It seems thatPortugal held the best scope for manoeuvre, and in 1634 Princess Margaret of Savoy becamegoverness of Portugal. Through Margaret, Olivares hoped both to quench the lamentations ofRoyal neglect and achieve greater control over Portugal, by infiltrating the governmentwith Castilians disguised as advisers. Unfortunately for Olivares, the Portugueseimmediately saw through the ‘advisor’ scheme, leading to constant argumentwithin the government. The populace had never favoured the union with Castile, andalthough the taxes were going towards the defence of her possessions in Brazil, it didnothing to reconcile the population. In 1637 the aristocracy still felt isolated from theCrown, and minor riots broke out.
Although these came to little, they were an ominousindication of the potential for revolt. When France declared war upon Spain in 1635,Catalonia was in a strong bargaining position, since her eastern border was with France,thus opening the possibility of co-operation with France. Olivares decided to challengethe Catalans head on by using their boarder in the war against France, bringing Cataloniain to the war whether she liked it or not. Therefore he hoped to force Catalonia in theUnion by more covert means, because all prior attempts for direct action had failed. However Olivares’ plan backfired, seemingly because he failed to recognise the deephatred of Madrid, the viceroy and all royalty among the Catalan people.
Following thefailure of a six-month siege against the French at Salses, Olivares was furious andordered the royal ministers of the principality to ignore the Catalan constitution sincedefence of the realm outweighed it. This confirmed to many Catalans, the suspicions ofOlivares’ ultimate motives – the Castilianisation of Catalonia. Hence the peoplebecame more and more reluctant to stop the French. The fundamental agitators for revoltwere the Catalan clergy, lead by Pau Claris, who appealed to the peasants to hold fast toCatalonia’s historic liberties.
In February, Olivares planned to meet with the Cortesof Catalonia to discuss the Union, with the shadow of the army backing him. However theCortes never met and between February and March 1640, the Catalonians clashed with thearmy. The pace of the revolt increased as prisoners were taken, notably Tamarit, acolleague of Claris. It was only on learning that Claris had been freed and Barcelona hadbeen marched on, that Olivares woke up to the fact that he was facing a large-scalerebellion. From that point he reversed his policies and on the 27th May, he ordered stepsto be taken to re-conciliate the Catalans.
However his actions were just too late and ariot on 7th June, put the diputcio in control following the brutal murder of the Count ofSanta Coloma. Meanwhile the events within Catalonia had severe repercussions on Portugal leading to arevolt on 1st December 1640, when the Duke of Braganza was proclaimed King John IV. Olivares, seeing that total anarchy was a close possibility, looked to make peace with theDutch and the Catalans. However the Catalans were not interested since Spain’s troopswere still advancing towards Barcelona.
On 23rd January, it was stated that Catalonia wasallied to the King of France. Immediately French forces aided the rebels and the Spanisharmy under Los Velez, was thwarted at Montjuich. This defeat set the seal of the 1640 disasters. Following years of neglect andexploitation the economy and political system were now in a state of disintegration.
Although the process of disintegration had begun before Olivares, he can be seen toundermine the Castilian economy and furthermore cause the implosion of the Americaneconomy. Montjuich spelled the end for Olivares, although he made superhuman attempts toraise more men to form an army. However the opposition to him was too strong. He was hatedas a tyrant in Castile, and even nobles within his family were plotting against him.
Philip IV was very reluctant to part with his valido since he had brought him up frombirth. However Olivares’ worsening of the economy through his meddling with thevellon currency, and failure to prevent the French from taking Rousillon in Septemberdisplayed that he was simply incompetent. The Count of Castrillo was working in Madrid toundermine the valido’s position, and on Olivares’ return it was made clear thathis time in office was limited. On 17th January 1643 the decision was taken to giveOlivares his leave, and on 23rd January he left for exile following twenty years in Madridunder his king. A statesman whose capacity for conceiving great designs was weakened only by hisconsistent incapacity in carrying them through to a successful conclusion.

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