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Empires of the Atlantic World

Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830

J. H. Elliott
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 560
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  • Book Info
    Empires of the Atlantic World
    Book Description:

    This epic history compares the empires built by Spain and Britain in the Americas, from Columbus's arrival in the New World to the end of Spanish colonial rule in the early nineteenth century. J. H. Elliott, one of the most distinguished and versatile historians working today, offers us history on a grand scale, contrasting the worlds built by Britain and by Spain on the ruins of the civilizations they encountered and destroyed in North and South America.Elliott identifies and explains both the similarities and differences in the two empires' processes of colonization, the character of their colonial societies, their distinctive styles of imperial government, and the independence movements mounted against them. Based on wide reading in the history of the two great Atlantic civilizations, the book sets the Spanish and British colonial empires in the context of their own times and offers us insights into aspects of this dual history that still influence the Americas.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13355-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. List of Maps
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction. Worlds Overseas
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    ‘On how much better the land seems from the sea than the sea from the land!’¹ The Spanish official who crossed the Atlantic in 1573 can hardly have been alone in his sentiments. After anything up to twelve weeks tossing on the high seas, the European emigrants – more than 1.5 million of them between 1500 and 1780s² – who stumbled uncertainly onto American soil must have felt in the first instance an overwhelming sense of relief. ‘We were sure’, wrote María Díaz from Mexico City in 1577 to her daughter in Seville, ‘that we were going to perish at sea, because...

  6. Note on the Text
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  7. Part 1. Occupation

    • CHAPTER 1 Intrusion and Empire
      (pp. 3-28)

      A shrewd notary from Extremadura, turned colonist and adventurer, and a one-armed ex-privateer from Limehouse, in the county of Middlesex. Eighty-seven years separate the expeditions, led by Hernán Cortés and Captain Christopher Newport respectively, that laid the foundations of the empires of Spain and Britain on the mainland of America. The first, consisting of ten ships, set sail from Cuba on 18 February 1519. The second, of only three ships, left London on 29 December 1606, although the sailing date was the 19th for Captain Newport and his men, who still reckoned by the Julian calendar. That the English persisted...

    • CHAPTER 2 Occupying American Space
      (pp. 29-56)

      Europeans engaged in the conquest and settlement of America were confronted by a challenge of almost inconceivable immensity – the mastering of American space. As described by William Burke in hisAccount of the European Settlements in America, first published in 1757, ‘America extends from the North pole to the fifty-seventh degree of South latitude; it is upwards of eight thousand miles in length; it sees both hemispheres; it has two summers and a double winter; it enjoys all the variety of climates which the earth affords; it is washed by the two great oceans.’¹

      As Burke indicates, American space varied...

    • CHAPTER 3 Confronting American Peoples
      (pp. 57-87)

      If the America encountered by the Spaniards and the English consisted of a multiplicity of micro-worlds, each with its own geographical and climatic characteristics, the same was no less true of the peoples that inhabited it. Something of this diversity became apparent to Columbus as he reconnoitred the Caribbean islands, although in his effort to make this strange new world comprehensible to himself and his fellow Europeans, he ignored or failed to detect many of the social, political and linguistic differences among the peoples he encountered, and simply divided them into two contrasting groups, the Taínos or Arawaks, and the...

    • CHAPTER 4 Exploiting American Resources
      (pp. 88-114)

      The first European images of America were images of abundance – of a terrestrial paradise with sparkling rivers, fertile plains and luxurious fruits.¹ Above all, there was gold, first of all in the rivers of Hispaniola,² then in Mexico, and finally in Peru, where Atahualpa’s ransom – a staggering 1,326,539pesosof gold and 51,600 silver marks, by official, and no doubt undervalued, reckoning³ – set the seal on the image of fabulous wealth. But, as the humanist chronicler Pedro Mártir de Anglería observed, ‘it is to the South, not the icy North, that everyone in search of fortune should turn.’⁴ And it...

  8. Part 2 Consolidation

    • CHAPTER 5 Crown and Colonists
      (pp. 117-152)

      On 13 May 1625, following the dissolution of the Virginia Company in the previous year and the imposition of direct royal rule on the struggling colony, Charles I issued a proclamation stating that Virginia, the Somers Islands and New England formed of right a part of ‘Our Royall Empire, descended upon Us and undoubtedly belonging and pertaining unto Us’. ‘Our full resolution’, the proclamation continued, ‘is to the end that there may be one uniforme course of Government, in, and through, our whole Monarchie . . .’¹

      ‘Our Royall Empire’ . . . These were high-sounding words, with a portentous,...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Ordering of Society
      (pp. 153-183)

      Family and hierarchy were the twin pillars supporting the social structure of Early Modern Europe. The ordered family, under the control of the head of the household, patterned the state in microcosm, just as the state, under royal government, was a microcosm of the divinely ordered universe subservient to its Maker. Some in this universe were born to rule and others to obey; or, as John Winthrop expressed it in his famous sermon,A Modell of Christian Charity, said to have been preached on board theArbella, but more probably in Southampton before the ship’s departure: ‘in all times some...

    • CHAPTER 7 America as Sacred Space
      (pp. 184-218)

      For Protestants and Catholics alike, America held a special place in God’s providential design. ‘The overrulingProvidenceof thegreat God’, wrote Cotton Mather, the Puritan divine, in 1702, ‘is to be acknowledged, as well in theconcealingof America for so long a time, as in thediscoveringof it, when the fulness of time was come for the discovery . . .’ For Mather the coincidence of the discovery with the ‘Reformation of Religion’ in Europe was part of God’s providential plan. With America now revealed, ‘theChurchof God must no longer be wrapped up in Strabo’s...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  10. Part 3 Emancipation

    • CHAPTER 9 Societies on the Move
      (pp. 255-291)

      When two Spanish naval officers, Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa, were ordered by Madrid in 1735 to accompany a French scientific expedition to the kingdom of Quito, they were instructed to gather information on the character and condition of Spain’s Pacific coast territories. Their report, written in 1747 on their return after ten years of travel, contained a devastating account of administrative corruption and the ill-treatment of the Indians. But the two men also commented on the enormous wealth, both mineral and agricultural, of the viceroyalty of Peru, and described in their prologue the countries of the Indies as...

    • CHAPTER 10 War and Reform
      (pp. 292-324)

      The great international conflict known to the colonists as the French and Indian War, and to Europeans as the Seven Years War, was a struggle for global primacy between Britain and France. In that struggle, in which Bourbon Spain was to be directly involved in its closing stages, the fate of North America would be decided. Not only were the lives and prospects of millions of North Americans – the Iroquois and other Indian peoples, French Canadians, colonial Britons, West Indian planters and their slaves – to be changed for ever by the conflict and its aftermath, but its impact would be...

    • CHAPTER 11 Empires in Crisis
      (pp. 325-368)

      In the space of ten years, between 1773 and 1783, a series of convulsions transformed the political landscape of the Americas. In British America the Boston Tea Party of December 1773 opened a new and dangerous phase in the deteriorating relationship between Britain and its mainland colonies, that would descend in the next two years into rebellion and war. The colonists convened their first Continental Congress in September 1774. In April 1775 British troops and colonial forces clashed at Lexington and Concord. The first shedding of blood was followed by the summoning of the second Continental Congress, the proclamation by...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 403-411)

    In the early 1770s, J. Hector St John de Crèvecoeur, who won fame a few years later with hisLetters of an American Farmer, wrote an unpublished ‘Sketch of a Contrast Between the Spanish and the English Colonies’. ‘Could we have a perfect representation’, it began, ‘of the customs and manners of the Spanish Colonies, it would, I believe, exhibit a most astonishing contrast, when viewed in opposite to those of these Provinces. But they have kept their country so invariably shut against all strangers, that it is impossible to obtain any certain and particular knowledge of them.’¹ Yet Spanish...

  13. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 412-412)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 413-480)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 481-516)
  16. Index
    (pp. 517-552)