E09: The Role of Spain

Hoping to discover new routes to the Spice Islands that were shorter than the long trip around the Cape of Good Hope, Columbus set out across the Atlantic, but found an unknown continent was blocking his path. It fell to Magellan in 1520 to discover that the only way to the east by sailing west was by the equally long and dangerous route around the tip of South America. It was clear that there were no short cuts. However, the opening up of the South American route was a great bonus to Spain for, it led to her vast south and Central American empires with their untold riches. It also gave control of the trans-Pacific routes and the opportunity to claim much new territory. Spain established a major colony in the Philippines as a result of Magellan’s territorial claim in 1521. Sadly, Magellan was killed there in a conflict with natives, but El Cano, his second in command, sailed Magellan’s ship, Victoria, back to Spain to claim the world’s first circumnavigation.

The Spaniards too were keen to get into the spice business, and made constant raids on colonies in the East Indies from their base in the Philippines, whilst the English and Dutch entered the fray soon after. A diplomatic and military struggle for power between the main European protagonists was almost continuous from around 1550 to 1850 with swings in dominance by one side or another.