Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

Grudge Match

Posted in General on July 8th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 5 Comments

Spain-Netherlands: World Cup Finalists

JOHANNESBURG — The first World Cup in Africa appropriately presents something new: Spain or the Netherlands as a first-time champion.

This could be a revenge match for the Treaty of Westphalia.  The last time the teams played, the match lasted 80 years and the Dutch won.

The source of the conflict was existential.  The Spanish asserted their right to burn the Dutch alive, and the Dutch disagreed.  Now, from a purely legal perspective, the Spanish were correct.  Thanks to a skein of marriages, the King of Spain was named Hapsburg and he was the sovereign ruler of the Low Countries.  And thanks to a Spanish upbringing, Philip II was a religious fanatic.  When he inherited the crown in 1558, Philips did not regard the Netherlands as a prosperous, happy land that filled the royal coffers.  No, he viewed it as a haven of heresy.  You can’t quibble with Philip’s knowledge of demographics.  Calvinism, with its tenets that money is God’s expression of congratulations, had appealed to the Dutch love of commerce.  The Protestants now made up a majority of Philip’s Dutch subjects.  And as their sovereign, Philip had the right to persecute them.

His most Catholic Majesty had hoped that an Inquisition would suffice.  It had proved a success in Spain.  In 1560, he appointed an archbishop as Prime Minister of the Netherlands and you can guess his primary purpose.   However, the Inquisition–with its legal procedures, etiquette of torture, and theatrical executions–really was time-consuming and laborious.  It worked well dealing with a minority with a suspicious reluctance toward pork; but the Inquisition simply couldn’t process all the Dutch Protestants who required trial and incineration.  Nor were the Calvinists affable  enough to baste themselves with oil and proceed to the nearest bonfire.

The cinders from the uncooperative victims were only inflaming the unrest in the Netherlands.  Even the Dutch nobility, many of whom were Catholic, objected to the Inquisition and signed petitions in protest.  The King only noted the names, not their grievances.  He did agree, however, the Inquisition had failed to crush the heresy.  In 1567 Philip named the Duke of Alva to be the governor of the Netherlands, and the Duke brought with him 12,000 soldiers.  Upon the Duke’s arrival in Brussels, he was met by a delegation of the leading nobles of the Netherlands.  They were all Catholic but many of them were moderates who had pled for an end to the Inquisition.  The Duke demonstrated his idea of tolerance by having the moderates beheaded.  That gave the Protestants a clear impression of the Duke’s attitude toward them.

The Duke of Alva knew how to start a war but, even with an army of 12,000, he didn’t know how to end it.  His troops might sack and massacre Dutch towns, but only the dead were pacified.  The Netherlands were in revolt.  The Spanish were so unpopular that they could not even count on Catholic support, and the Calvinists were fighting for their survival.  Alva needed more men, but Philip was preoccupied with fighting the Ottomans.  The Dutch, however, did have allies.  The Protestant princes of Northern Germany provided assistance, subsidizing armies of mercenaries for the Dutch leader William of Orange.  And despite Queen Elizabeth’s charming and straight-faced assertions of neutrality, England was providing haven for Dutch privateers.

In 1573, Philip dismissed Alva, hoping to find a better general.  Three governors and five years later, Philip found him:  his own nephew, the Duke of Parma.  Through Parma’s efforts, the Spanish regained control of the Southern provinces of the Netherlands; it was to become the country we know as Belgium.  But the northern provinces successfully resisted the Spanish.  By 1586, the English had abandoned all pretence at neutrality.  An English army was fighting in the Netherlands; even if it only lost battles, it still was a drain on Parma’s resources.  The exasperated Philip II concluded that conquering England would also break the Dutch resistance.  He assembled an Armada…but you know that story.  Let’s just say that the Duke of Parma never got to London or Amsterdam.

Having successfully defended themselves, the Northern Provinces simply declared themselves a Republic in 1588.  So what if the Spanish wouldn’t recognize it?  The Dutch state existed and was in business.  The war tapered down to token skirmishes and by 1609 the Spanish agreed to a 12 year truce.  In 1621 the war officially resumed, and there was a major battle in 1624–which the Spanish won!  The Spanish gained a suitable subject for a Velazquez painting, and that was about it.  Finally, in 1648, as part of the Treaty of Westphalia the Spanish conceded the independence of the Dutch.

And the outcome of the World Cup match probably won’t change that.

Mission Accomplished, circa 1808

Posted in General, On This Day on May 2nd, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

May 2, 1808:  Goya Gets Inspiration and the French Get Target Practice

Whatever Napoleon’s motives for invading Spain, they were not petty. He had no Gallic version of Halliburton, and Sevres was not trying to annex Lladros. None of his siblings were unemployed and needed a spare throne. First, Spain really was a cultural embarrassment; still shackled to its repressive Catholicism, Spain’s political and social development was two centuries behind the rest of Western Europe. (Spanish painting was excellent, however; the Church never discouraged that.) The ruling Bourbons had brought French debauchery to Spain, but not the Enlightenment. In fact, the Bourbons were eager to assimilate Spanish prejudices and rekindled the Inquisition. (There were not any Jews left but Freemasons proved to be flammable.) Furthermore, neither Spain nor Portugal were enforcing Napoleon’s trade boycott of Britain. Napoleon was resolved to “liberate” Spain.

In 1807 the Emperor actually persuaded Spain to permit the entry of the French army. The French purpose was ostensibly to invade Portugal; for its collaboration, Spain expected to be rewarded with most of the conquered country. However, Napoleon had other plans. In 1808, Napoleon coerced the King of Spain and the Crown Prince to abdicate, freeing Spain from Bourbon ignorance and incompetence. In their place, Napoleon set up as King his reluctant brother Joseph–who had been quite happy as the French satrap of Southern Italy. Bringing the Enlightenment to Spain, Joseph abolished the Inquisition and the remaining vestiges of feudalism. Unfortunately, the Spanish preferred their own ignorance and repression to foreign liberation.

On this day in 1808, Madrid revolted. A rallying cry of the resistance was “Down with Liberty”. Of course, the French army crushed the uprising. In his paintings, Francisco Goya depicted the initial slaughter and the summary executions that followed. Madrid may have been pacified, but the revolt spread throughout Spain. The French were unprepared to fight partisan warfare, with the Spanish resistance ambushing the French and then disappearing amidst a sympathetic civilian population. Furthermore, the war had an unparalleled savagery. The Spanish tortured to death their French prisoners; the French responded with wholesale slaughter. Goya also depicted these atrocities in a series of drawings called “The Horrors of War.” Indeed, a word was coined for this type of war: guerrilla–the Spanish for “little war.”

But it was not a little war. The initial uprising drove the French out of most of Spain in 1808. Then Napoleon had to invade the country a second time. He did regain control of the major cities, but he had to leave 300,000 men to hold Spain. Two-thirds of the army were assigned to protecting the supply lines against the Spanish guerrillas. The rest of the French force had to contend with the British force that occupied Portugal and was supporting the Spanish resistance. The British commander was unusually competent, a chap named Arthur Wellesley. Wellesley had already established himself (and a fortune) in India, where he had been a tax collector and enforcer (the two professions overlapped). Now this younger son of Anglo-Irish gentry would really make a name for himself; the French would certainly remember it. Leading the British as well as Spanish and Portuguese troops, Wellesley began a five-year campaign that would drive the French from Spain; and this time, the French could not afford a third invasion. There was no additional army to sacrifice. The Russian campaign precluded that possibility. For his victories in Spain, Wellesley was granted the title of Duke of Wellington in 1814. (And we should be grateful that the Duke was too important to be sent to America in 1814. Otherwise, Francis Scott Keyes would have composed the “White Flag Rag”.)

Perhaps the French also should have been grateful to Wellington. At least, they could fight a conventional war against him; when they lost, it was within the rules of military etiquette. But there were no rules, no etiquette in the war with the Spanish guerrillas; the French were trying to fight an enemy whom they could not find and could never understand. The French had cannons but were not sure where to aim; the Spanish had daggers and no doubts.


Posted in General on January 2nd, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

January 2, 1492:  Alhambra Becomes the Name of Trailer Parks

Muhammed XII Abu Abdullah is better known as Boabdil because he was never worth the effort of a correct pronunciation.  Even his Moorish subjects did not think much of the last Emir of Granada; they kept trying to oust him.  However, one person did appreciate Boabdil’s myopic and incompetent leadership: Ferdinand II of Aragon.  The wily Ferdinand–one of Machiavelli’s pinups–was always willing to encourage civil wars among the Moors and support Boabdil against anyone more capable.

By 1487, Boabdil had been restored to the throne of the emirate, but his Spanish allies kept seizing Moorish cities–no doubt for safekeeping.  Indeed, the armies of Castille and Aragon were so solicitous that they were encroaching ever closer to the walls of Granada.  In 1491, the Spanish asked Boabdil if he would like to express his friendship and gratitude by surrendering his city.  Boabdil tried resisting, at least by looking for someone else to protect him.  He appealed to Morocco, Egypt and and the Ottoman Empire.  However,  Morocco knew he wasn’t worth the effort, Egypt was more worried about the Turks than the Spaniards, and the Ottoman Empire had a surprisingly peaceful sultan (but his son would fully justify Egypt’s fears).  On January 2, 1492 Boabdil surrendered Granada to Ferdinand and Isabella.  The last Emir of Granada was allowed safe passage to North Africa; he certainly proved that he was no danger to the Spanish, and even the Moroccan rulers found him too trivial to fear.  He and his family were relegated to obscurity and destitution in Fez.

Granada had been the last Moslem enclave in Spain, a remnant of a caliphate that once had controlled most of Iberia.  You might imagine that the Reconquista had been a continuous, unrelenting campaign by the Spanish to reclaim their land.  Think of the film “El Cid” lasting 7 centuries; it certainly seemed that long.  In fact, the Spanish had won the war more than 250 years earlier.  In 1212, the armies of Castille, Aragon, Portugal and Navarre had confronted the amassed Moslem forces at Las Navas de Tolosa in central Spain.  The battle was decided when the Christians attacked before the Moslems were ready.  (Chivalry was generally a theory even among Christians, and it was never meant to extend to heathens!)  The Caliph fled to North Africa while the remnants of his realm shattered into petty emirates.  Against the Christian forces, they offered little resistance.

Castille took Cordoba and Seville, Aragon conquered Valencia, while Portugal doubled in size.  (Navarre got moral satisfaction.)  Granada alone survived and it did so by surrendering; in 1238, the Moorish principality had become a vassal state of Castille.  The emirs of Granada now reigned at the sufferance of Castille, but there is steady work in being a toady.  As a center of commerce, industry and learning, Granada had much to exploit.  Castille even promoted Granada as a tourist attraction.  If a noble were obligated to perform some form of penance, killing a Moslem was a popular means of redemption.  But why go all the way to that godforsaken Holy Land, or to Egypt or Turkey–where those Moslems were inconveniently tough–when the aspiring Crusader might enjoy the proximity and weakness of Granada. “Visit Southern Castille:  slaughter and salvation in the morning, sangria for lunch!”

So, while Granada enjoyed this unique status, how did the Christian kingdoms of Spain occupy themselves for the next two centuries?  Castille tried to take Portugal, Aragon plotted against Navarre and fought France for control of Southern Italy, Portugal frustrated Castille while looking for sea routes to India, and Navarre tried surviving–see your atlas of Aragon for further details.  And given the surplus of princes and the scarity of thrones, Castille, Aragon and Portugal each had many civil wars.  The Castillian royal family was so enthusiastic about fraticide that by 1469 the remaining heir was Isabella.  And with a dowry like Castille, how could Ferdinand of Aragon resist her?

Boabdil never guessed what he would be providing as a wedding gift.

What Balboa Really Discovered

Posted in General, On This Day on September 25th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 5 Comments

September 25, 1513:  Balboa Discovers the Pacific Ocean

balboa with bonesThe geezers among us (40 years old or worse) will remember being taught that Vasco Nunez de Balboa (1474-1519) discovered the Pacific Ocean.  We now realize that reflects a slight European bias.  The Chinese may have noticed a mass of water to their east.  The Japanese could hardly ignore it; in fact, they appreciated the ocean’s isolating charm.  (It kept out Mongol cavalry.)  Even if we only count Europeans, then Marco Polo discovered the Pacific Ocean.

So today’s school textbooks–at least the ones that don’t attribute everything to Jesus–now credit Balboa as being the first European to see the Pacific Ocean from the American shore.  It happened this day in 1513.  At the time, he was touring the area we know as Panama, introducing himself to the local tribes and charging them all their gold and gems for the privilege.  For a conquistador, Balboa was considered quite humane.  He rarely attacked without warning, and he did not regard the natives’ attempt at self-defense as a personal affront or as a justification for genocide.  Once he had thrashed any resistance, he was willing let the remnants of the tribe become his “allies”–a better social standing than slaves but not quite as dignified as toadies.

While making new allies, Balboa heard reports of a great sea to the south and west.  His interest was not merely academic; the coastal tribes were said to be rich in pearls.  A rumor is as good as invitation, and what more did a conquistador need?  With 190 Spaniards and 1000 native levies, Balboa proceeded on his quest.  The distance from the Spanish base on the Caribbean to the Pacific would not seem very great; but that narrow isthmus had hostile tribes, dense jungles and steep mountains.  It was nearly four weeks before Balboa came within sight of the southern sea, and it would be another four days before he was standing in its waters.

Balboa claimed the ocean on behalf of Spain; but it would be at least three centuries before the Chinese and Japanese learned that they were trespassing.  However, the conquistador was far less audacious in coming up with a name for Spain’s new waterworld.  When in doubt, a prudent Spaniard would think of something impeccably Catholic.  As far as the Inquisition was concerned, the whole world should be named for the Virgin Mother.  A clever courtier might have gratified the Church and the King:  the San Ferdinand Ocean?  But, at his moment in history, all Balboa could think of was “Mar del Sur”:  the South Sea.  (Seven years later, Ferdinand Magellan offered a Pacific alternative.)

Balboa then returned to the Caribbean and the far greater dangers of Spanish politics.  The conquistadors were not a corps of civil servants or even army regulars; they were an assortment of cutthroats and sociopaths tolerated by the Crown so long as they remembered that the King received 20 percent of the loot.  The quickest way for a conquistador’s promotion was to oust his superior.  That had been Balboa’s path.  A younger son of a minor noble and a failed pig farmer fleeing his debts, Balboa joined an expedition whose commander intended to overthrow a provincial governor.  Balboa instead ousted him, organizing a mutiny and then arresting the commander for embezzlement against the Crown.  Embezzlement was an useful charge because it was usually true, and the King was always ready to believe it.  So the arrested officer was off to Spain, and now Balboa was the commander.  As for the expedition’s original mission, Balboa soon was governor of Panama too.   Of course, to justify his usurpations, he had to send ample loot to Spain.

King Ferdinand appreciated  a lucrative rogue like Balboa; but the Crown still had to protect the dignity of its governors.  So Ferdinand came up with a compromise, appointing a new governor but elevating Balboa to be Admiral of the South Sea; the two were expected to cooperate and rule together.  The new governor was an elderly aristocrat; how long do you think that he would last against the younger adventurer?  Wrong!  It was Balboa who proved the guileless dupe.   The wily courtier bided his time and encouraged the marriage of his daughter to Balboa.  Over the next few years, Balboa launched expeditions in the South Sea searching for a fabulously rich empire.  However, none of the ships evidently reached Peru; and the Admiral’s repeated failures were accumulating as evidence to justify his ouster.  Unfortunately, the governor also wanted Balboa out of the family.  In 1519, Balboa was arrested for treason and beheaded.  So it seems that aristocrats can be cutthroats, too.  After all, that is how they first got their titles.

As for that fabulously rich empire to the south of Panama, the rumors persisted.  And one of Balboa’s soldiers was an illiterate ruffian named Francisco Pizarro.

Your Saint of the Day

Posted in General, On This Day on July 25th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

On this day in 1536, the Spanish founded the town of Santiago de Cali.  Only the more formal Colombian drug lords use the the full name of their pharmaceutical capital.

On this day in 1538, the Spanish founded the town of Muy Noble y Muy Ciudad de Santiago de Guayaquil.  Yes, it was mercifully shortened to Guayaquil.  Given the altitude of Ecuador, pronouncing the city’s full name would be the country’s leading cause of asthma.

On this day in 1567, the Spanish founded the town of Santiago de Leon de Caracas.  For some reason, the Venezuelans do not call their capital Leon.

And perhaps out of pure whimsy, Santiago, Chile was not founded on this day.

So who was Santiago, the apparent patron of realtors?  Well, his mother and Jesus called him Jake.  The New Testament refers to him as James the Greater–to distinguish him from James the Lesser and James the Just (who may have been the same person).  Spain calls him Iago and claims him as its patron saint.  Although he lived and died in Judea, legend has it that James found time to preach among the Iberians.  The distance between Spain and Judea is just a brisk walk across the Mediterranean Sea.  

But what especially endeared him to the Spanish was his enthusiasm for killing Moors.  Decapitated around A.D. 44, James apparently developed a posthumous interest in swords.  After 8 centuries in the afterlife practicing fencing, James was ready to demonstrate his skill.  According to medieval chronicles, St. James materialized at the battle of Clavijo and started slaughtering the Moors.  Perhaps the saint was simply trying to protect his tomb, which had just been discovered in northwestern Spain–the only area of the peninsula that the Moors had yet to overrun.  (What a miraculous coincidence!)  St. James was given the credit for the victory and henceforth was known as “matamoros”–the Moor Slayer.

He proved just as invincible helping the Conquistadors win the Americas, although much of the victory could be shared with St. Smallpox.  Subsequently, James was presumed to apply his martial skills against the humanist French, and atheist Spanish Republicans.  (For some reason, he was not particularly effective against Protestant Englishmen.)

Happy Saint Day, Jake!

Blue Blooded Fractions

Posted in General on March 13th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Looking up one topic, I often find fascinating tangents. For example, in my research on Generaleastimmo Santa Anna I became diverted to the topic of Spanish snobbery. While Santa Anna was not an aristocrat, he was in the second best stratum: a Criollo. We would recognize the term in its French spelling, Creole. Being a Criollo meant that Santa Anna was of pure European blood. That certainly distinguished him from the vast majority of Mexico’s population whose genetic foundation was Spanish rapists and native victims.

The specific term for Santa Anna’s impeccable pedigree was “liempieza de sangre“–the cleanliness of the blood. Such lineage meant more than social status; it was a prerequisite for any position in the Spanish civil service, an officer’s rank in the army or admission into the Jesuits. (The Jesuits, unlike the civil service or the officer corps, also required brains). To qualify for such distinction, one had to prove a racial purity going back four generations. This strident snobbery was not incited by a fear of an Aztec great-great grandparent but rather of a Jewish one.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, many Spanish Jews found conversion preferable to massacre. These “conversos” initially found no social restrictions on them. The more successful ex-Jews were even encroaching on the aristocracy. A threadbare grandee could be quite ecumenical about marrying the heiress of the nouveau riche, nouveau Catholic. This infiltration was occurring throughout the upper classes, and the Old Order began to panic. Just because “they had stopped being Jewish” did not mean “they” had stopped being insidious. These reactionary “blue bloods” were the first to regard the Jews as an indelible, incorrigible race rather than–in the words of the Church–“a blind people” whom conversion would cure.

So in the 16th century, the Old Guard persuaded the Crown to enact the laws and restrictions of “liempieza de sangre.” Now any aspirant to rank or office had to prove that all sixteen great-great-grandparents were born Catholic, using their umbilical cords as rosaries. Given the fluid social mobility of preceding two centuries, many Spanish aristocrats found themselves either barred or forced to forge Gentiles on the family tree. Consider the irony: it was easier for a Spanish peasant to prove his racial purity. (Sancho Panza brags about it, while Don Quixote maintains an intriguing silence on the topic.)

Furthermore, one exception had to be made to the Blood Laws restrictions: the monarchy. Had the Laws been enacted in 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella would have had to expel themselves. The Queen of Castille was one eighth Kosher, and the King of Aragon was 3/16ths. The fact that they were first cousins did not dilute the fraction in their children. Their grandson and successor Charles V, thanks to his all-Aryan dad, got the fraction down to about 3/32s but then he had to marry his Portuguese cousin (and she was about one eighth). So His Most Catholic Majesty–and pinup of the Inquisition–Philip II is approximately 3/16th you-know-what. In fact, an antagonistic Pope made an Anti-Semitic remark about Philip. Philip and his heirs did make a practice of marrying their Austrian cousins, finally diluting the Jewish factor to an acceptable Gentile fraction–but also increasing the tendency toward congenital idiocy.

And while one could denounce Santa Anna as an incompetent tyrant, he could not be called loud or pushy. His pedigree proves it.