Friday, October 12, 2012

Silver Spoon

I love grounding an event I'm examining by also looking at its context, seeing what surrounds it; if it's an historical event, what else was going on in the world at the same time?

The day that Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo arrives at San Diego bay, September 28, 1542, Spain is the most powerful empire in existence. Charles I is king. Having inherited The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Artois and Burgundy on the death of his father Philip I -- who was no slouch at expanding the empire himself -- Charles must have been born with a gigantic silver spoon in his mouth. A ladle, perhaps. Not big enough, though. Shall we upgrade? Say, to a silver bowl, one the size of the Pacific? 

When his maternal grandfather Ferdinand II dies, Charles inherits Aragon, Navarre, Granada, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, Spanish America, and Castile. Okay, technically, he shares this monarchy with his mother, Joanna the Mad. (Odd nicknames were all the rage for monarchs at one time. Charles's father was Philip the Handsome. What a legacy. The handsome and the mad. As you can imagine, she doesn't get much credit.)

It's like the greatest prize show in history, because: wait! There's more! He is also king of Germany and Austria, a monarchy he inherits from his other grandfather, Maximilian I. And since the 10th century, the German king has automatically been the Roman Emperor as well. So...Charles I of Spain is also Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. (Keep in mind that Europe in this time bears little resemblance to the divisions of countries we map now.) 

No other monarch in European history wields so much power. The time period will come to be known as Spain's Golden Age. A halcyon time of...ahem, economic stimulation and cultural explosion, which is what allows a rather ordinary army officer such as Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (he'd served as captain of crossbowsman under conquistador Hernan Cortes) to elevate himself and end up leading a 3-ship expedition to explore the pacific coast north of Mexico.

It's also a period of incredible religious intolerance against both Jews and Muslims. Struggles back and forth between and amongst these three for expansion and political control are ancient, and still bubble furiously during Spain's Golden Age..which if defined in comparison to modern ages, isn't so golden. The Roman, Portuguese, and Spanish Inquisitions are all going on. Ignatius Loyola is about to found the Society of Jesus -- the Jesuits -- another strategy, this one intellectual, to counter rising protestantism. The Reformation has happened, Charles indirectly having prevented Luther's execution, and the Counter-Reformation is in full swing, permeating art and culture across Europe. 

The Renaissance is only recently dead, killed by the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Michelangelo, now an old man, has adapted his career to the changes wrought by the church, and is painting the fresco Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel; shortly he'll be selected to design the basilica of St. Peter. Art all over Europe is edging toward Mannerism; Baroque is just around the corner. 

Across the oceans, the Ming Dynasty is in power and has recently completed building the Forbidden City.  In Japan, Zen Buddhism (long introduced before) is suddenly taking strong root, and Portuguese trade in Asia is about to take off.

Also at the same time that Cabrillo is landing at Point Loma, Henry VIII is king of England. Henry is about to marry his sixth and last wife. The relationship between Henry and Charles, based on each of their troubles with various popes, is the stuff of soap operas. The pope had previously formed an alliance with Henry, the Venetians, the Florentines, and the Milanese to resist imperial domination of Italy. In the ensuing war, Charles sacked Rome and imprisoned the pope, preventing him from annulling Henry's marriage to Charles's aunt, Catherine of Aragon. With a new pope in place, Charles and Henry have allied against France; a war which will bankrupt England. For most of Charles's reign, he will continue to wage war with France.  

Charles has already conquered the Inca Empire and the Atzec Empire, and Francisco de Orellana is on an expedition to explore a river in South America, conquer any native settlements he finds, and claim that land for Spain as well. Stories of his encounters with Icamiaba natives along the river will later result in the name "Amazon", after the mythological women warriors. He also discovers the mouth of the Amazon and opens the river to further navigation, including the expansion of colonization and religious settlements by Portugal and Spain. 

Spain's interest in what will later become California is less immediate. After Cabrillo's exploration, Spain will not attempt to colonize the newly claimed lands for another two centuries.

The world's a rapidly changing place that September day in 1542.

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