J. H. Elliott’s Imperial Spain provides the reader with a concise, detailed comprehension
of the social, political and economic history of Spain, commentating on the
period of time between the dynastic union of Ferdinand and Isabella and the
accession of Philip V to the throne. Elliott is widely regarded as a leading
hispanist thanks to his extensive research into Hispanic history, particularly
17th century Spain, and the publication of his works, such as Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and
Spain in America, 1492 -1830 and Spain
and its world 1500 – 1700: Selected Essays. Published in 1963, while Spain
was still under the control of General Franco’s dictatorship, Elliott’s work intended
to challenge the version of history Franco favoured, which presented a focus on
state centralisation, and to present ‘a balanced account of the Spanish past’ (Elliott,
rather than the commonplace Castilian inclination.

explores the unification of Spain to make it the country it is known as today,
the imperialist expansion that led to Spain’s greatness, and the finances of Charles
V’s reign which subsequently caused the decline of Spain and its empire. Touching
on issues of differing levels of development between the kingdoms of Castile, Aragon
and Catalonia, we see the prosperous history of Catalonia, outshining Aragon,
the devastating effects of the Black Death on the kingdom’s population, and the
start of a strained relationship between kingdom and king under the rule of
Alfonso V. Elliott also covers the suppression of Catalonia and the Catalan resistance,
with his previous work The Revolt of the Catalans:
A Study in the Decline of Spain, 1598-1640 allowing him to provide great detailed
understanding of the subject area.

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Elliot also dedicates
a whole chapter to the economy of Charles V’s reign, detailing the struggles with
the French, Turks and imperial losses that resulted in economic decline, as
well as the following chapter highlighting the negative effects of religious
imperialism that not only Charles V in his role as Holy Roman Emperor suffered
but his son Philip II too, through their failed attempts to convert the many
heretics of the world including Protestants in Germany and the failed Armada
launched against England. Another topic covered briefly by Elliott is the
political bias shown by monarchs, if not through the close relationship the
Lanuza family shared with the Crown of Aragon, then through the appointment of
validos such as the Duke of Lerma.

Imperial Spain

Elliott’s focus in the book is on the monarchy and
their relationship with events that unfolded between the unification of the
crowns of Castile and Aragon and the rise of the Bourbons, rather than the actions
and reactions of

The piece is an excellent synthesis of many specialised
studies and works on Spanish history, however many of these are inaccessible,
either due to the rarity and age of the works and their not being documented,
or the fact that they were never actually published, which therefore could call
into question the validity of the sources Elliott used.

Furthermore, at times Elliott appears to focus too much
on monarchs, and although his detail on the reign of Charles V proves an
insightful look into the start of Spain’s demise/decline/financial
difficulties, he does not focus so much on other issues such as the