In 1496, the arranged marriage between the daughter of the Catholic Monarchs, Joanna, to the Habsburg Philip the Fair takes place. Through this marriage, previously isolated Spain acquired a powerful position in Europe.
For the wedding that takes place in Bruges, Joanna comes from Spain with a retinue of no less than 20,000 people. The company travels with 130 ships to Zeeland. The marriage will eventually lead to Philip Habsburg, in addition to being ruler over his own contribution, Austria and the Netherlands, also becoming king consort of Spain. This marriage thus creates a bond between Spain and the Netherlands that will last for 200 years.
Love at first sight
The first meeting between the two future spouses takes place on the day before the wedding, and it turns out that there is love at first sight. Philip and Joanna have 6 children, the second of which is a son, the later Emperor Charles V (1516 – 1556) of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1506 Philip was installed as King of Spain as Philip I. Three months later, however, he dies under unclear circumstances, it is whispered that he would have been murdered, there was quite a bit of resistance in Spain against the kingship of this foreigner. Poor Joanna cannot recover from the shock and continues through life as Joanna the Mad (Juana la Loca). Due to her psychological condition, Joanna is released from her duties and imprisoned in a monastery in Tordesillas where she will die in 1555.
Ferdinand of Aragon takes care of the affairs until Charles V comes to the Spanish throne in 1516. In 1521, Charles V becomes emperor of the “Holy Roman Empire”. “The realm where the sun never sets”, includes the Netherlands, Austria, Burgundy, North Africa, and large areas in North and South America. After the abdication of Charles V, the world empire is divided into a Spanish part (Spain, the American territories, the Netherlands and Southern Italian territories) under his son Philip II and an Austrian part under Ferdinand I, the brother of Charles V.
Under Philip II, Spain reached the peak of its power, enormous riches came from the world empire to the motherland, which also resulted in a great flourishing of art and literature. Philip II was in poor health and moved his residence to the mountains 43 kilometres outside Madrid where the air was healthier. The new residence, the Escorial, was built between 1563 and 1584 and, in addition to the royal palace, also included a monastery and a hospital. The Escorial is the largest Renaissance building in the world and is still completely intact. A visit takes a full day.
Spain became increasingly wealthy thanks to the ever-increasing yields (gold and silver) from the colonies. Corruption was rampant in the euphoria of the seemingly infinite amount of available resources. The nobility lived mainly on income from the state treasury allocated by the king and the proceeds of the rent on their territories.
But the enormous and initially steadily increasing income also had its downside. From 1550 inflation increased sharply at the expense of the standard of living of the ordinary Spaniard. The trees seemed to grow into the sky, and the state borrowed more and more at ever higher interest rates to finance ambitious building projects. This way the rulers wanted to underline the prestige of the kingdom and for the defence of the world empire. However, ordinary citizens became increasingly poor due to inflation and increasing tax burdens needed to finance wars and avert state bankruptcy.