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Henry Kamen’s work re-creates the dazzling world of Imperial Spain, from the capture of Moorish Granada and Columbus’s first voyage in 1492, to its expansion into Europe, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, and the opening up of the frontiers in Texas and California in the eighteenth century. Drawing on the accounts of those who witnessed these great events, whether Aztec chroniclers, Italian explorers or Filipino sultans, Kamen balances the wonders of the Empire (the first sight of the Pacific, the astonishing voyages of the Manila galleons) with the horrors – the slavery, disease, terror and waste of human life it entailed. Throughout he emphasises just how unSpanish this Empire actually was, always relying on the cooperation (willing or otherwise) of non-Castilians for its success: Portuguese, basque, Aztec, Genoese, Chinese, Flemish, West African, Inca and Neapolitan. It was this vast diversity of resources and people which included many of its greatest adventurers and soldiers) that made Spain’s’ power so overwhelming. Henry Kamen demonstrates how the traditional view of the Spanish Empire as the all-conquering enemy of Protestant Europe has distorted our knowledge of its achievements. Shorn of this “black legend”, Spain’s complex impact on world history becomes far more apparent – but also, in new ways, just as disturbing.
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