The Spanish Explorations conquistodors and the unification of spain.

King Ferdinand II and Isabella I

Isabella and Ferdinand organized the Spanish Inquisition with the goal of ridding Spain of Jews and Muslims primarily, along with heretics who rejected Catholicism. As a result of the Inquisition, Isabella and Ferdinand were recognized by the Pope for their diligent attempts to purify Catholicism in Spain. By 1492, all Jews who would not convert to Christianity were exiled from Spain, as were the Muslims. This is also the year when Isabella and Ferdinand began funding the voyages of Christopher Columbus, who would give any lands he discovered to Castile.

Queen Isabella I

Isabella was an advocate for education, and she educated both her sons and her daughters, one of whom was Katharine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife. She was a patron of several scholars and of the arts. She had a large collection of art established, and she also established a number of educational institutes. Queen Isabella died on November 26, 1504.

The Unification of Spain

Like many other countries Spain was divided at the beginning of the Renaissance into five major territories. These included the independent state of Portugal, the northern state of Navarre, the southern Muslim state of Granada, the large central state of Castile, and the eastern state of Aragon. By the end of the era, however, the states were unified.

What led to the unification was the union of King and Queen Ferdinand and Isabella. They strengthened control of their states, and filled the royal council with middle-class lawyers. The two also managed to create a standing army in Spain that became the best in Europe by the end of the 1500's. Ferdinand and Isabella also secured the right to pick the important figures in the clergy which gave them control of the church in Spain. They also worked, with the Inquisition, to expel the Jews from Spain. Under the Inquisition about 150,000 Jews left Spain. The Muslims were also persecuted against and their state of Granada was taken by the two, ending the large Muslim presence in Spain.

The Conquistadores

Christopher Columbus arriving in the West Indies.

After Columbus discovered the new world, many young men were inspired to travel to the new world and bring back riches, gold, treasure and to find new land. These young men were named conquistadors coming from being both conquerors and explorers. Some of the most famous are Hernan Cortes, Francisco Pizarro, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, Juan Ponce de Leon, and Hernando de Soto.

Hernan Cortes (1495-1547)

Cortes was one of the first Conquistadors. He was responsible for conquering the Aztec Empire and claiming Mexico for Spain. In 1519 he took a fleet of ships from Cuba to the Yucatan Peninsula. There he heard of the rich Empire of the Aztecs. In search of treasure Cortes made his way inland to the great Aztec capital Tenochtitlan. He then proceeded to conquer the Aztecs and kill the Aztec Emperor Montezuma.

Francisco Pizarro (1478-1541)

Pizarro explored much of the west coast of South America. In 1532 he conquered the great Incan Empire of Peru and killed the last Incan Emperor, Atahualpa. He took over the Incan capital of Cuzco and established the city of Lima. He also gained huge amounts of gold and silver.

Vasco Nunez de Balbao (1475-1519)

In 1511 Balboa founded the first European settlement in South America, the city of Santa Maria de la Antigua del Darien. Later he would gather together Spanish soldiers (including Francisco Pizarro) and make his way across the Isthmus of Panama. He became the first European to see the Pacific Ocean.

Juan Ponce de Leon (1474 - 1521)

Ponce de Leon sailed with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage. He stayed in Santo Domingo and soon became governor of Puerto Rico. In 1513, exploring the Caribbean, searching for gold and the legendary Fountain of Youth, he landed on Florida and claimed it for Spain. He died in Cuba from wounds received while fighting Native Americans.

Hernando de Soto (1497-1542)

Hernando de Soto's first expedition was to Nicaragua with Francisco de Cordoba. Later he traveled to Peru as part of Pizarro's expedition to conquer the Incas. In 1539 de Soto gained command of his own expedition. He was given the right to conquer Florida by the King of Spain. He explored much of Florida and then made his way inland into North America. He was the first European to have crossed west of the Mississippi River. He died in 1542 and was buried near the Mississippi.

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