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In what ways, and to what extent, does the concept of Spain's 'Golden Age' apply more appropriately to the reign of Philip II than to the whole period 1474-1598? Explain your answer

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Introduction

In what ways, and to what extent, does the concept of Spain's 'Golden Age' apply more appropriately to the reign of Philip II than to the whole period 1474-1598? Explain your answer by reference to similarities and differences you detect between the periods before and after the accession of Philip II. The epithet 'Golden Age' is arguably over-simplistic, in that it implies an epoch of universal success, and thus leads to a tendency to mythologize and idealise a period. It would be na�ve to suggest that any age could be entirely 'golden,' for successes in one sphere are almost always counterbalanced by failures in another. In a heterogeneous society such as Spain, comprised of divergent and often oppositional political, economic and religious groups, the concepts of 'success' and 'failure' become ever more intermingled; what benefits some will inevitably have negative consequences for others. Whilst such complexity renders the concept of a 'Golden Age' dependent upon historiographical interpretation, the result of which, as Kamen states, may be to a degree dependent upon 'one's political and moral views,' it does not render it a useless term. ...read more.

Middle

Morris claims that all Spanish monarchs thought only of short-term interest, abusing the bullion ' in such a way as to bring little long-term benefit to the Spanish economy.' However, 1556 was not a turning point in economic policy, it did mark the start of a period when the frailty of the economy began to become all too obvious. None of the period was an economic 'Golden Age,' but Philip's reign heralded the beginning of economic collapse. Economic weakness was not only a key problem for Philip, who was forced to declare bankruptcy four times, and had to sell off vast tracts of land and mortgage crown income to raise money for loan repayments, but also for Castile. The long-term diversion of bullion to foreign bankers had not enabled it to benefit the economy, and Spain's palpable wealth merely culminated in rocketing inflation that marked the beginning of an age of mass poverty, and crippled any attempts to develop industry because Castilian goods were priced out of the international market. Throughout the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the interests of the Spanish economy were continually subjugated to the monarchs' political and religious aims, and the damage caused by such long-term neglect render it erroneous to claim that an economic 'Golden Age' ever occurred. ...read more.

Conclusion

Whilst the accession of a new sovereign, particularly in a period where the monarch was endowed with absolute power, inevitably caused some changes - in Philip's case notably the move towards centralised rule and the development of Castile as a military power - instances of continuity outweighed the differences. Bequeathed large amounts of his father's patrimony and a firm believer in both imperialism and militant Catholicism, Philip was, as Lockyer claims, ultimately committed not to change, but to the 'maintenance of the status quo.' This he achieved, but his reign signalled little forward, positive development for Spain, and is thus not distinctive enough from the preceding period to merit the epithet of a 'Golden Age' in its own right. Indeed, attempting to demarcate solely one reign as the elusive Spanish 'Golden Age' is largely a futile exercise, for although there are evidently changes and developments both positive and negative throughout the period, the underlying characteristics of the age, namely political diversity, economic mismanagement and rampant imperial ambition underpinned by a militant religious zeal, are manifest from the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella and essentially change little. Ultimately, whether one feels that such an age deserves the appellation 'golden' is, as Kamen claims 'dependent upon one's political and moral views...and on the perspective one takes of history. ...read more.

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