The Golden Empire: Spain, Charles V, and the Creation of America
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From a master chronicler of Spanish history comes a magnificent work about the pivotal years from 1522 to 1566, when Spain was the greatest European power. Hugh Thomas has written a rich and riveting narrative of exploration, progress, and plunder. At its center is the unforgettable ruler who fought the French and expanded the Spanish empire, and the bold conquistadors who were his agents. Thomas brings to life King Charles V—first as a gangly and easygoing youth, then as a liberal statesman who exceeded all his predecessors in his ambitions for conquest (while making sure to maintain the humanity of his new subjects in the Americas), and finally as a besieged Catholic leader obsessed with Protestant heresy and interested only in profiting from those he presided over.
The Golden Empire also presents the legendary men whom King Charles V sent on perilous and unprecedented expeditions: Hernán Cortés, who ruled the “New Spain” of Mexico as an absolute monarch—and whose rebuilding of its capital, Tenochtitlan, was Spain’s greatest achievement in the sixteenth century; Francisco Pizarro, who set out with fewer than two hundred men for Peru, infamously executed the last independent Inca ruler, Atahualpa, and was finally murdered amid intrigue; and Hernando de Soto, whose glittering journey to settle land between Rio de la Palmas in Mexico and the southernmost keys of Florida ended in disappointment and death. Hugh Thomas reveals as never before their torturous journeys through jungles, their brutal sea voyages amid appalling storms and pirate attacks, and how a cash-hungry Charles backed them with loans—and bribes—obtained from his German banking friends.
A sweeping, compulsively readable saga of kings and conquests, armies and armadas, dominance and power, The Golden Empire is a crowning achievement of the Spanish world’s foremost historian.
Ortiguera would one day put it, “there followed him in that undertaking a large number of the noblest and most prominent people of the realm.” Ortiguera added, “It was a great achievement to have been able to bring them together and with them 260 horses,” as well as a good number of arquebuses and crossbows, munitions, other implements of war, slaves, and Indians—a “magnificent body of men and one well prepared for any adventure.”1 They began by going east over the Andes, where Gonzalo reported:
intelligent and so “will be able to come into a knowledge of our Holy Catholic Faith.” Because of that, he beseeched the King “to see fit to give it to me as territory to be held by me as governor in order that I may be able to explore it and colonize it on behalf of Your Majesty.”3 The Council of the Indies was more cautious in respect of this demand than it would have been a generation before: “It may be a rich country,” it conceded, “and one by which Your Majesty might be rendered a service.”
the Low Countries, such as the Prince of Orange and Count Egmont, both fatally associated with him later in life. On July 12, Charles and his son went on a tour of the Netherlands, which lasted till the end of October. There was a formal swearing in of Philip as the heir to the throne, and also a celebration at the beautiful palace of Binche, between Charleroi and Mons, at the end of August 1549. At Binche, Philip saw The Descent from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden, which he had copied by
Defourneaux, Marcel. La vie quotidienne en Espagne au siècle d’or. Paris, 1964. Deive, Carlos Esteban. La Española y la esclavitud del Indio. Santo Domingo, Dom. Rep. 1995. Delmarcel, Guy. Los Honores: Flemish Tapestries for the emperor Charles V. Mechlin, Belg., 2000. Díaz del Castillo, Bernal. Historia verdadera de la Nueva España. 2 vols. Madrid, 1982. Translated by P. P. Maudslay, The True History of the Conquest of New Spain. 5 vols. London, 1908–16. Díaz y Mesa, Guillermo. Leyendas y
Spain, and that to the east to Portugal. But there had been no discussion of where the west was to begin in the world of the Far East. Spain now believed that the west was theirs, the Far East included. Francisco García de Loaisa wanted to prove the point, and an expedition set off from Corunna on July 24, 1525, with seven ships, one of which was commanded by the immortal Elcano, who three years before had returned in command of Magellan’s Victoria. The journey did not prosper. But at least it