Years of Crisis

  • Richard J. Pym


In 1631, in his treatise Restauración de la antigua abundancia de España, Miguel Caxa de Leruela, a retired official of the Mesta, described war as an ‘horrendous beast, worse than hunger and pestilence, for it is the cause of both these things, and swallows up honour, lives and fortunes’.1 As they looked back over their nation’s recent history, Spaniards had good reason to appreciate his sentiments. Debilitating conflict in the Netherlands from the late 1560s; interventions by Spanish troops in the French civil wars of the 1590s; the sack by the English in 1586 of Santo Domingo, Spain’s principal city in the New World; their humiliating defeat of the Armada in 1588; and the occupation and sack of Cádiz in 1596 by the Earl of Essex, all had helped to sap Castile’s confidence and exhaust both its human and material resources. Despite increased contributions to the royal purse from the Indies and significantly higher tax revenues, at least from Castile, the financial burden of so many military commitments had finally proven overwhelming. In November 1596, Philip II had been forced to suspend payments to his creditors, just as he had done twice previously in 1557 and 1575. Signs of serious disaffection in Italy and Portugal served further to darken the horizon.2 Food prices were meanwhile soaring and famine years, while not frequent,3 were nevertheless particularly acute in Castile in 1585 and Andalusia in 1599, serving further to exacerbate the sense of crisis and malaise; and as if all this were not enough, from 1596 to 1602, plague swept through Castile from north to south, taking with it some 600,000 lives, roughly 10 per cent of the population.4


Retire Official Ship Transport Gypsy Group Fixed Residence Ecclesiastical Authority 
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© Richard J. Pym 2007

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  • Richard J. Pym

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