There has always been a deep reluctance among what Winston Churchill called ‘the English-speaking peoples’ to acknowledge their predecessors in European empire-building in other parts of the world. Yet wherever the British went in their globetrotting, whether as pirates, traders or governors, they very often found that the Spanish, or their Iberian neighbours the Portuguese, had been there first. In his long and distinguished career as a historian, Hugh Thomas has battled to restore the Spanish to their proper place in world history, for better or worse. This substantial volume completes a trilogy, covering the Spanish imperial adventure from Columbus’s ‘discoveries’ to the death of Philip II just over a century later, in 1598. Primarily concerned with Philip’s time as king of Spain, from 1556 until his death, the book tackles the period, which may be regarded as the highpoint of the Spanish Empire, from a variety of angles.
The first part focuses on the character of Philip II himself, who has often been the butt of foreign criticism as a cold-hearted yet fanatical bureaucrat. A hundred years ago this year, the Spanish writer and translator Julián Juderías published a book to counteract this portrayal, denouncing what he characterised