Spanish Decline. Dutch Success

Chapter four of The Atlantic World examines the escalating rivalries between the kingdom of Spain and English, French, and Dutch. During this time, Europe was in turmoil. The Reformation, started by Martin Luther as Diana Tran mentioned in her post, created a religious crisis that fractured the Catholic Church between devout Catholics and Protestants. To respond to this exigency, the Spanish monarch, Phillip II through his use of the mass material wealth of his American possessions, tried secure his influence and control in Europe. Phillip II’s repression and intimidation of Protestant Europe along with Bartolome de las Casas’ disastrous account of the Spanish cruelty towards the Native Americans (Egerton 126), mobilized the Protestant English, French, and Dutch to take action against Spain’s detestable conduct. Having an ideal to rally behind is all well and good, but in reality the English, French, and Dutch were looking for an angle to disrupt the Spanish and Portuguese stranglehold over the American and African trade market.
According to the English clergyman Richard Hakluyt, Pope Alexander VI’s decree that Spain had exclusive rights over the American continent carried no weight in the Protestant world (Egerton 130). So other European nations (England, France, and the Netherlands) should be able to seek their own fortunes. Even though Spain warned its adversaries that severe repercussions would happen if they decided to set up a settlement or trading out post on New Spain soil, as the French could attest to, the English, French, and Dutch were determined to claim their own wealth of the Americas. Securing themselves strategic positions to attack Spanish shipping (Egerton 135), the resulting English, French, and Dutch piracy (or known as privateers if they were given a contract to plunder Spanish ships by a monarch or ruling body (Egerton 135)) exploited a weakness that sent shock waves throughout the Spanish kingdom. As a result, these Spanish competitors harassed and robbed the Spanish galleons laden with riches from their colonies. Without his American resources, Phillip II found it difficult to buy influence and carry out his holy war throughout Europe. Hence the effect of the piracy was one of the factors that lead to Spain’s diminished power through the Atlantic.
With Spanish Atlantic power waning, the English, French, and Dutch had an opportunity to capitalize. While the English and French were setting up small trade ports hoping to carve themselves out a small part of the American and African trade market, the Dutch created a system that allowed them to profit off the diminished power of the Spanish and Portuguese. The Dutch East and West India Companies executed a private semi-capitalist model of business that rivaled and overtook the state run concept of the Spanish and Portuguese (Egerton 144). With their shareholders in mind, these Dutch Companies were less interested in land acquisition than creating well-armed trading centers (Egerton 145). Since they were not beholden to the state and had nearly sovereign political power, the Dutch East and West India Companies were able to build an extensive and well-armed shipping fleet (Egerton 144). With the advantage of their ships, the Dutch were able to acquire or takeover the Portuguese trading outposts in Brazil and along the Atlantic coast of Africa which reduced the Portuguese hold on the Atlantic. As a result, by 1650 the Dutch trade networks between Europe, Africa, America, and the Caribbean eclipsed the ones by the Spanish and Portugal (Egerton 146).

One Reply to “Spanish Decline. Dutch Success”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *