Spain And The Colonies In The Seventeenth Century





Decline of Spanish power in Europe.—After the reign of Philip II the power of Spain steadily declined. The long period of hostility with the Dutch and the war with Cromwell greatly weakened her power upon the sea. The continental wars sapped her military strength and France superseded her as the first power of Europe. Gradually Spain's continental possessions slipped from her. The first loss was the Protestant Netherlands. Nominally independent from 1609, their complete independence was acknowledged in 1648. By the Treaty of the Pyrenees, Roussillon became French territory, and the Spanish power in the Rhineland and Italy had been practically annulled. In 1640 Portugal threw off the Spanish yoke, and when Philip IV tried to reconquer it (1661-1665), he failed completely. With Portugal, Spain lost Brazil and the Portuguese colonies in the Far East.



Colonial expansion.—Nevertheless, the frontiers of the Spanish colonies slowly expanded, and slowly Spain extended her laws, her language, and her faith over lands and tribes more and more remote from the Mexican capital, the struggle with the natives becoming sterner at each step in advance. In the course of the seventeenth century northern Sinaloa and Sonora were colonized; permanent missionary occupation, after many failures, was effected in Lower California; southern, western, and eastern Chihuahua were settled; the new province of Coahuila was established athwart the Rio Grande, and a new and flourishing missionary district was opened in western Florida. In the course of the century the Spanish colonial frontiers began to clash with those of France and England, on the mainland now as well as in the islands, and there ensued a series of border struggles, all a part of the international conflict for the continent. To restrain the encroaching French and English, Texas was occupied temporarily and Pensacola permanently. The principal setbacks on the borders were the loss of Jamaica to England (1655), the contraction of the Florida frontier through the founding of Virginia and the Carolinas, and the temporary loss of New Mexico through the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. Thus the Spanish frontier line swung round as on a pivot, the gains in the west being partly offset by the losses in the east. Meanwhile the English, French, and Dutch occupied most of the lesser islands of the Caribbean, which had been neglected by Spain. At the same time, Spain's hold on her colonial commerce became more and more precarious through the encroachments of her national enemies.







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